From the postbag

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The big junket

April 2014

Your account of Blücher’s visit to Oxford (Trinity 2014) offered a highly amusing portrait of Regency England and also evoked a personal association stemming from my time as an undergraduate in Modern Languages. In 1963–4 I took a year out to teach as an English assistant at a German Gymnasium in the town of Lippstadt, Westphalia. There I lodged with the family of a Lutheran minister, a dispossessed nobleman by the name of Graf von der Schulenburg, whose family was implicated in the plot against Hitler. His countess turned parson’s wife was a member of the Blücher family. As refugees from the Russian occupation at the end of World War II, the Schulenburgs had managed to bring with them a few treasured artefacts from their mansion, including a portrait of the illustrious Fürst Blücher von Wahlstatt, which hung incongruously on the wall in their modest new home.

My landlady spoke with pride of her family connection but did not, as I recall, mention the behavioural and mental excesses noted in your article! A few years ago I self-published a translation of this lady’s memoirs which contain a chapter on the Blücher family. During my follow-up research I discovered more about the Marshall’s immense popularity in England, including the fact that George Stephenson named a locomotive after him and that there was in fact a ‘Blücher boot’, which rivalled the species of footwear named after his ally the Duke of Wellington. If the former had prevailed no doubt we would now be talking of taking our ‘bluchies’ with us on inclement days.

On an unrelated topic, but one which has also come up in a recent edition of Oxford Today (‘Rendezvous with death’, Michaelmas 2013), Countess Schulenburg (geborene von Blücher) brought me the news of the assassination of President Kennedy and remained convinced that the Russians were behind it!

Norman Diffey

Queen’s, 1961


The rise of lab-lit

May 2014

As I read Dr Maxwell’s article about laboratory literature (Trinity 2014) I was disappointed not to see reference to a couple of very old friends. I was assigned in my science-oriented high school to read Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer-awarded 1925 novel Arrowsmith (Harcourt, Brace & Co). The anonymous writer of a Wikipedia article on this book says, ‘Arrowsmith is arguably the earliest major novel to deal with the culture of science.’ Although required to read and comment on it, I found it tragically compelling. And then, while in college, I read voluntarily CP Snow’s The Affair, a 1960 (MacMillan) member of his Strangers and Brothers series. Although the series was structured around the human conflict as seen in an Oxbridge college, the main plot device in The Affair was an investigation into alleged scientific fraud. Timely then and timely now.

LW Saperstein

Queen’s, 1964

 

Michaelmas 2013

September 2014

This issue was, to my mind, the best ever.

Women at Oxford never received such good coverage before, with Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Pym, and Jennifer Cole featured. Now, if we only had more than one woman out of ten musicians in ‘The sound of changing music’; Elizabeth Eva Leaches was sort of lonely there.

Men at Oxford received a brilliant linking together of disparate individuals in ‘Rendezvous with death’, on the deaths on the same day of Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis, and JF Kennedy. I think Oxford Today does the same thing in every issue, bringing disparate topics together in a single issue. ‘Eye of the beholder’ on Oxford architecture and ‘Varsity wine-tasting’ may well bring more letters to the editor than all the ones which particularly attracted the attention of an English Language and Literature student.

John Willoughby

Wadham, 1952

 

Get it right

April 2014

I’m a bit late with catching up on reading Oxford Today, but I wanted to let you know that I was surprised to read in the Michaelmas issue 2013 that ‘a weather vane shows a member of the college peddling a bicycle’ (p 55). I’m used to such confusion in less erudite publications — but in OT? I’m disappointed.

Angus Johnson

Christ Church, 1976

 

May 2014

According to the second paragraph of the very interesting article ‘The big junket’ (Trinity 2014), the great dinner occurred 13 June 1814. How then can the day after, when ‘there was more to come’, (p 40) have been Wednesday 15 May?

Lester O’Shea

Pembroke, 1959

 

Class of 2012

May 2014

I read Tom Doak’s letter (Trinity 2014) in ‘Class of 2012’ and can completely support his views on the lectures and tutorials in Modern Languages. I read Classical Honour Mods in 1957/8 and had excellent lecturers and a great tutor at Jesus, John Griffith, who later became Emeritus Professor of Latin. I then transferred to read Russian, and both the syllabus (which included etymology, phonology, etc.) and the lecturers were awful. There was a shortage of transcripts from the Cyrillic bible, Dr Unbegaun was a distinguished but uninspiring lecturer and the majority of the tutors — scattered at various homes in the Oxford area to which I had to travel — were more interested in writing books on aspects of Slavonic language and literature than inspiring their students. It was with an enormous sense of relief that I escaped with a decent degree into the working world.

Jack Jagger

Jesus, 1957

 

Tutes and tech

August 2014

I was at BNC from 1953 to 1958, and I read Classical Greats, with Maurice Platnauer as my tutor, a fine experience. In your last issue (Trinity 2014) I read three versions of My Tech Diary. Here is my own version:

6am. I rose (in digs in Juxon Street — I was in college for my first two years). 1–1½hours of work (prose, essay or text) followed by breakfast.

8am. Breakfast & cycled to BNC.

8.30-9.30am. In college JCR. I read Daily Telegraph and Racing Post (occasionally followed by a visit to 30 George Street – my bookmaker, Fred Bailey)

10–11am. Usually work in the BNC library or in the Sheldonian, or early lecture.

11am–1pm. I cycled to lectures

1–1.30pm. Lunch — usually in college hall

2–4pm. Athletics training. In winter for cross-country (we won Cuppers for 3 successive years — Olympic athlete Ian Boyd was our captain). In summer for athletics at Iffley Road. My coach was Franz Stampf, the coach of Emil Zátopek, Roger Bannister, my orienteering friend Chris Brasher and Christopher Chataway.

4–5pm. ‘Recovery’ — usually tea and dripping toast in Oxford Market!

5pm–7pm. Work usually in college or the Sheldonian

7pm–8pm. Dinner — either college, where I read grace in my turn and enjoyed beer our silver tankard; or in the Stowaway café (south of the High Street).

8–9pm. With friends in Turf, Turl, King’s Arms, Bird & Baby or Gardener’s Arms (max. 2 pints).

9–12am. Work in Sheldonian.

12–1am or later. Further work at Juxon Street.

Once a week I enjoyed a cello lesson in Norham Gardens; and once or twice a week rehearsals with the Oxford Bach Choir (B Minor Mass and Judas Maccabeus) instead of the pub. About every month I went to Snowdonia to climb with friends for a weekend, and in the long vacations mountaineering with our Oxford University Mountaineering Club in the Alps and elsewhere. I also enjoyed concerts (especially under Sir Thomas Beauchamp) and occasionally films (I remember The Wages of War, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, and we all liked Brigitte Bardot!).

I cannot help thinking that in some ways our lives were more interesting. Your three writers make no mention of music or sports, and their lives are much taken up with emails and their computers — necessarily I realise. I achieved a good ‘Second’, and enjoyed myself immensely.

Ted Norrish

Brasenose, 1953


All images by Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr under Creative Commons licence.