e-Matters 18th August 2020

Amongst our membership lies great experience, wisdom, and insight, so rather than stay silent (not a modus to which the Development & Alumni Relations Office subscribes!) we thought we should bring you some thoughts and reflections from our own broad community. These pieces are also featured in our regular e-Matters newsletter. If you would like to sign up to receive e-Matters please contact development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk


Dear Members and Friends,

Greetings from cloudy and rainy Oxfordshire!
Wherever you are, we hope you are well.
This latest edition of e-Matters includes some great news stories from Christ Church, and a message from Steven Grahl about how music has continued to flourish at the House despite all the difficulties. Alumni contributions vary from Jeremy Austin and Vladimir Mau's respective experiences of COVID-19 in Brasil and Russia, to a piece on Nick Bamford's new film, Butterfly Boy, and a fine selection of alumni book reviews to boot. Major William Frank Thompson's centenary birthday is remembered by Simon Kusseff, and David Dunmur reviews a new book on Einstein. There is also news of the launch of OxCAN — the Oxford Climate Alumni Network. 

We understand that there are concerns from Old Members about this year's offer holders, please scroll down to read the House's response to the A-levels situation.

Don't forget to keep reading the various blogs on the website, where you will also find more news stories and can follow us on social media, posting your own pictures (#ChristChurchTogether). And do send us any news that we might share with everyone, whether to educate, help, or entertain!
With best wishes,
Mark Coote and the Development Team


Archive News from the House 18th August 2020

Christ Church's Response to the A-levels Situation

Many of our alumni will share our concerns about the Government’s handling of A-level results. Prior to A-level results day, we had already scrutinised our offer holders’ grades, identified those who might have been unfairly disadvantaged, and offered them places. We admitted the majority of our offer holders who had been allocated grades below what they had been predicted and all our students on the University’s Access programme, Opportunity Oxford. 

In making these decisions, we reviewed each candidate individually, taking into account contextual data and a range of mitigating circumstances, including the negative impact of the Government’s algorithm particularly on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We also confirmed that we would take all offer holders who appealed successfully. In doing so, we were mindful of the fact that the University as a whole had to adhere to a Government-imposed cap on student numbers. This cap has now been lifted, but had a blanket acceptance policy been applied before the cap was lifted, some of Christ Church's candidates, regardless of contextual information, could have taken places from more disadvantaged students at other colleges. We were also aware that deferring students to the next academic year (which may be necessary in order to accommodate and teach this year’s cohort safely) would potentially reduce the number of students who could be admitted in 2021, which would most likely particularly affect candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds. We also appreciate that an unexpected gap year may be more difficult for some students to cope with than others.  

However, it was obvious from the start that the initial allocation of A-level grades was completely unsatisfactory and we worked with colleagues across the collegiate University to make this clear to the relevant authorities. We therefore very much welcome the Government’s announcement that teacher-assessed grades will be used to allocate A-level marks and we have contacted our few remaining offer holders about their places. 

We are now expecting to have a record first-year intake at Christ Church. As a result of interrupted schooling, many of these students are likely to need additional academic support, and we are working to put that in place. 

Throughout this rapidly-changing situation, Christ Church has sought to uphold the unity of the collegiate University’s admissions process. We continue to believe that the University and colleges need to work together cooperatively and in consultation with one other in order to ensure that all students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not unfairly penalised as a result of the current extraordinary circumstances. 

We are grateful to our alumni who have expressed their concerns to us about this situation—these are concerns that we very much share. 

Geraldine Johnson (Senior Censor)

Jennifer Yee (Tutor for Admissions)


Professor Roger Davies elected to Academia Europaea in the Earth & Cosmic Sciences section

Professor Roger DaviesProfessor Roger Davies, Philip Wetton Professor of Astrophysics and Dr Lee’s Reader in Physics at Christ Church has been elected to the Academia Europaea Earth & Cosmic Sciences section. His election, in recognition of his groundbreaking studies of early-type galaxies, will see him join a global cohort of 400 world-leading physicists and earth scientists.

Professor Davies’ work has transformed our understanding of the physical processes at work in assembling massive galaxies. Early-type galaxies account for half the starlight in the Universe, and they are the dominant population in clusters of galaxies where the most massive galaxies are found. Professor Davies’ work includes the measurement and modelling of the structure, age, composition, star-formation history and dark-matter content of galaxies. He has led major surveys and developed novel instruments and techniques, most recently a new class of mapping spectrograph that has been applied in many fields of astronomy.

Click here to read more about the election of Professor Davies




Dr. Toluwalase Awoyemi is named one of the UK's Top 10 Black Students

Dr Toluwalase AwoyemiDr Toluwalase Awoyemi, Rhodes Scholar and doctoral candidate in Health Sciences at Christ Church and the University of Oxford, has received a Rare Rising Stars Award 2020 as one of the UK’s Top 10 Black Students. Dr Awoyemi was ranked second in this year’s awards. 

The Rare Rising Stars Award was set up in 2009 by the diversity recruitment consultancy Rare Recruitment in association with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

The award aims to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the best Black students in the UK, and to inspire the next generation of bright young Black people.

Click here to read more about Dr Toluwalase Awoyemi







Dr. Cristina Neagu: Bringing to Light an Unknown Manuscript in the Allestree Library

MS Allestree M.3.1Until now, the manuscript known as "MS Allestree M.3.1" has never been carefully examined. It is one of the many notebooks written by Tristram Sugge and consists of a doctrinal manual for the Christian Church discussing mainly patriarchal kingship, authority, ecclesiology, the Law of Moses and the Sabbath. This is the latest in the series of Christ Church fully digitised manuscripts.
To see it, please go to https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/35d9ece0-d2b5-44c5-94eb-2f14dd1c6c4c
For more details on the topic, please see https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/library-and-archives/bringing-light-unknown-manuscript-allestree-library
For other news related to Special Collections, please go the library Exhibitions and Events https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/library-and-archives/christ-church-library-exhibitions.
To see the library holdings digitised so far, please go to Christ Church Digital Library. "MS Allestree M.3.1" is listed in Western Manuscripts. 
Dr Cristina Neagu
Keeper of Special Collections


Professor Steven Grahl explains some of the work undertaken by the choir over the last term:

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, music has continued to flourish at Christ Church. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing some new content and recordings produced during lockdown. To begin with we’d like to share a message from Organist and Tutor in Music, Professor Steven Grahl, and a recording of Psalm 137 composed by Piers Connor Kennedy. 


Funeral of Doug and Phyllis Simms

Funerals of Doug and Phyllis SimmsThe funeral of the late Doug and Phyllis Simms took place on 12th August in Christ Church Cathedral.

Doug was Christ Church's talented pastry chef for many years, and was the brother of Head Chef, Chris Simms. Family, friends and colleagues of Doug and Phyllis Simms (his mother, who also died recently) gathered at Tom Quad to pay their final tribute and goodbyes.

The funeral service, limited to immediate family and close friends, followed in the Cathedral.



Matilda Hadcock (2017): Finals in Lockdown

In my sitting room on Wednesday 10th June, at 1:29pm, I double checked that the selected file was correct and submitted my answers. It is not how I imagined the end to my Finals, but the relief of making it through without any major mishaps would probably have been similar had I been sitting in Exam Halls in gown, sub fusc and a red carnation. Over the three months before exams I had tried my hardest to block out the bizarreness of the global situation, to concentrate on revision; only once my laptop was shut and I had a glass of prosecco in hand did I start to process that everything about revision and exams was odd. At a makeshift standing desk and with a mug of coffee, my exams felt strangely comfortable and nothing like the atmosphere of Exam Halls. For others, I know that even the practicalities of doing exams at home, let alone the emotional and mental strain, were problematic. I won’t try to speak for anyone else’s experience of lockdown exams, and I can barely cover all of the aspects of my own.

Matilda HadcockThat the Finals landscape was vastly different to ‘normal’ was a cause of concern for my friends and me. My degree is in Ancient and Modern History, and previously to Finals, I had completed two pieces of coursework, meaning my end result would very much rest on exam performance. After the initial confusion of moving away from Oxford, abandoning the sacred space of the library and my friends, there was an agonisingly long wait to find out the form these new exams would take. In the end, one of my exams (on set texts) was cancelled and the rest of my papers were changed to open-book, online, four-hour exams. It was daunting, to say the least, to have the whole format of exams altered only about six weeks before the start date. Different challenges materialised for each of my friends, and I found that the stress of exams became much less about the content to revise and more about how to deal with doing exams at home, online, in a pandemic.

I’m hugely grateful to many people for easing the pressure. My parents were amazing throughout and regular zoom meetings and ‘pub’ quizzes with friends provided lightness and a great sense of community. My tutors adapted quickly, giving online revision sessions and constantly being at the other end of emails to answer my sometimes-ridiculous questions. The Library staff at Christ Church were heroes, working non-stop (or so it seemed) to scan, send and buy books for us desperate students. Reviving walks in the Lancashire countryside were a definite advantage of studying at home and although I hated the lack of team sport, distractions and relaxation, I think it did make me work harder than ever before.

It is impossible to know how I would have dealt with the Final Honours School at another time, in another place, and I think that to compare to other year groups would not be fair or conducive. Taking Finals is never without obstacles for the individual and the class, it’s just the challenges in 2020 were unprecedented. And now, in the strangest way, my degree is over and it is time for the next step to begin.


Emily's Wine Blog

Buttery Manager Emily RobothamButtery and Wine Cellar Manager, Emily Robotham, shares some tips about chilling wine:

How chilled should my wine be?

This week in the UK we have seen the hottest day of the year so far and muggy temperatures stretch late into the night. Such a time might leave you asking if you need to stick to hard and fast rules about how you should be drinking wine. Here are some refreshing suggestions to try during a heatwave:

  1. Barossa shiraz from the fridge. This is a well-kept secret from Australia. The problem with chilling red wine usually is that the tannins feel more pronounced and even unpleasantly astringent. However, tannins are usually very ripe or well-hidden in juicy shiraz. Try it with your next barbecue. 
  2. Cheap, neutral white wine, very, very cold. At low temperatures, aromatics and minerality go out the window: they might as well not be there. This is an excellent excuse not to use your best bottles on a day when everyone is too hot and bothered to enjoy them. Throw a Pinot Grigio/Airen/Colombard in the freezer for just over an hour. The condensation should bead like sweat down the side of your glass. Incidentally, this is why wine never tastes as good as when you had it on holiday. 
  3. Sweet wines. The rules are to aim for 8°c (46°F), which is roughly 3 hours in the fridge or 1 hour in the freezer. A light sweet wine like Vouvray or Moscato are delicious on hot days, especially with a salty snack on the side. 
  4. In Burgundy, some light reds are served more chilled than the region's whites. Entry-level red Burgundy and Beaujolais are obvious contenders for chilling; as are the light reds from the Loire, including Chinon and Borgeuil, although the sometimes chewy tannins in these Cabernet Francs can stick out a bit after twenty minutes in the fridge

There are some trusted ways to bring wine quickly down to a cool temperature. Wrapping a bottle in a wet tea towel before placing in the refrigerator or freezer works effectively, but the fastest way is to place your bottle in a bucket with ice and water at about a 50:50 split, mixed with a couple of spoons of salt. This can bring your bottle down to 10°c (50°F) in 15 minutes.


Jeremy Austin (1982): São Paulo and COVID-19

Jeremy AustinIn Brasil, the land of football, samba, and the Amazon, COVID started to appear in the headlines soon after Carnaval, which had gone ahead and was certainly a mistake. After all, the Venice Carnaval was stopped midway, but no politician, at a time of uncertainty, would have then dared to voice their opinion and say "NO" to Carnaval, a sacred moment for most Brasilians, who eagerly await it's passing every year.

COVID arrived then or shortly after, either via tourists or Brazilians who had been travelling abroad and then continued to spread exponentially. Thus, whilst the initial popular belief was that it was a disease of the rich, especially those who could afford to travel overseas, perception would quickly change as it dawned on everyone that COVID could indeed infect anyone. 

Meanwhile, the implications remained unclear and inconsistent, Hydroxychloroquine became a major topic, as our President, Jair Bolsonaro, a notorious figure for not holding his tongue or remaining discreet, continued to not only support the use of Hydroxychloroquine but went as far as to voice his contrarian opinion, that COVID was merely a  little flu and the country would swiftly get over it, even against the advice of the many Health Ministers that have been unfortunate to hold the post and eventually resigned or were outright dismissed. According to the WHO, since the 26th of February and as of the 15th of August 2020, there have been 3,224,876 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 105,463 deaths.

State and Federal leaders remain in conflict regarding how to best proceed. Respirators, bought in preparation, have been acquired at suspect prices,  indicative of corruption no matter the situation. With no solution in sight, COVID has started to reach the most remote areas of the Amazon, infecting indigenous tribes, attacking all and at great cost.

Favelas (the slums districts), some of which house over a million people,  could have been a disaster in terms of transmission but are independently organising themselves to make the best of the threat. At one point, the Government stopped providing official statistics or daily updates, a function that some news agencies voluntarily picked up by organising themselves and supposedly keep the population informed, but with elections approaching, it remains very hard to obtain unbiased truths. The level of testing is low, as few can afford to pay for tests.

Today, five months on from when a sort of lockdown started, people have slowly returned to a new normal, but the country is vast and disproportional, whereas more advanced economies such as Sao Paulo are getting over the curve, other areas are still on the rise. Those who left the City to spend lockdown at their fazendas (farms) have returned to the City as the risk of infection in the Interior (Countryside) is picking up.

Home offices have become the new normal, the question remains for how long? As increasingly more companies are moving out of the main cities, land value outside of Sao Paulo is shooting up in value, especially as the population is coming to terms that with the increasing acceptance of home offices and video conferences, employees do not need to spend so much time in traffic jams or endure the many inconveniences of Alpha cities.

Brasil is an agricultural powerhouse. Agriculture continues. Crops are being harvested. Products are being exported and in record numbers. Infrastructure is holding up. China, where everything started, is buying huge amounts of corn, soy and sugar. Due to the lockdown, fuel use drastically dropped enabling the sugar cane sector to switch a significant amount of production originally destined to ethanol (to fuel the large fleet of flex cars, which can use ethanol or gasoline) towards sugar.

On a more personal basis, I caught COVID, took the Hydroxychloroquine on my doctor’s instructions and suffered little in terms of health, but did not enjoy the total isolation in a single bedroom at home. Nevertheless, my struggle sounds insignificant compared to the many who have not only lost family members but continue to struggle psychologically and financially as they have had to go through the already naturally complex process of funeral arrangements, which in many cases have had to occur without even a single family member being able to participate, all whilst also having to deal with the various economic issues which will inevitably beset the country for years to come

Politics in Brasil has not made dealing with this crisis an easy issue.  Beautiful beaches have had their access banned. Masks have become obligatory. Parks remain closed at the weekends, but life is finding a way to move forwards. Restaurants are opening, with restrictions, such as having menus via QR reader. People look to the history of the Spanish flu and optimism returns after noting how the country eventually blossomed after that event. As the new normal takes place, the inevitable issues of discussion are now in regards to the vaccines and who will be first to have access to them? 

Argentina, our neighbour to the South, took a more radical stance from the start, closing borders and has had a much lower incidence of the disease. All countries have has their way of dealing with the disease and time will tell which has been the most effective between first and second waves and the economic hangovers. Meanwhile, we are all hoping the World gets over this quickly, so some measure of normality can return. In the 17 years that I have lived in Brasil, I have never spent such a long period in the country without travelling abroad, and it makes the distance from family seem huge. I think everyone will rethink their lives after these sad times.

In conclusion, at the start of COVID, Brasil believed the heat, the sunshine, would spare some of the worst effects, the fact is that it is the second country in the world, after the United States, in terms of deaths and cases, shows that God is not necessarily Brasilian, as many here believe.

I hope and trust that those of you reading this have managed to overcome and that you have been able to stay safe. We all depend on our Politicians to define a way forward in these times of crisis and we get what we elect! We should remember that at the next elections!


Professor Vladimir Mau (1997): Managing RANEPA in a pandemic

Professor Vladimir MauHave you ever thought what it is to manage a big University? What amount of information, people, documents pass across your desk every day? At the end of March, we were faced with a unique situation, when our normal routine ceased, gone – maybe forever. Within several days we had to switch the educational process into online mode, but the most difficult element was switching the entire management and administration of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). It is the largest University in Russia, where about 200,000 people study in various programmes in Moscow and 52 regional branches.

When the pandemic started, we already had the online (distant) capability. We knew how to present lectures, provide tests and other materials remotely. Many people were already familiar with this. It wasn’t complicated to transfer our study sessions from the physical rooms into MSTeams, Skype, Zoom or any other platform.  Recently, we thought it was impossible to get higher education distantly. Today it has become common. No doubt COVID-19 facilitated the digitalization of education. It was an interesting challenge to standard approaches.

Daily meetings in person, document flow, phone calls – we had to change the basics of our management system. Meetings online turned out to be rather convenient. They are convenient to such an extent, that we still meet online, despite most of the restrictions have been removed.   During quarantine, we decided not to cancel all planned events. That’s why hundreds of webinars, seminars, lectures and even several conferences have been broadcast live. Thousands of people attended these events. RANEPA’s work not just continued, but we also established new cooperation with our foreign partners. New international professors joined us.

The enrolment campaign was a big challenge. We had to schedule an Open Doors Day. Traditionally we used to gather in auditoriums, conducted question-and-answer sessions, communicated with the potential students and their parents. But direct and live communication became impossible. So, we presented all our educational programs digitally and our communication was transferred into social nets and the website.

We realized back in March that RANEPA would not conduct its enrolment campaign in a standard way, so we developed an online system for documents submission. This system proved to be more convenient than the traditional one when a candidate came personally to submit the documents and candidates from other cities had to travel all the way to Moscow. 

In midsummer we started to get back to our usual working format. We finally came back to our home turf and again had meetings in person. However, we had to use masks and measure everyone’s temperature.

I hope, in September, we will return fully to our usual routine. Nevertheless, many of the new ways and achievements from the coronavirus period will remain with us forever. 


Dr. Nick Bamford (1971): Beleaguered Butterfly

Dr Nick BamfordGetting a movie into production is always a lengthy and difficult process – a tortuous trek through trackless forests, offering blind alleys and broken dreams aplenty.  But when at last you are glimpsing sunlight through the trees it’s hard suddenly to find your way barred by the biggest boulder yet – that working on your set could put your cast and crew at risk from a potentially lethal disease.  But those are the times we now live in – and it’s hard to film a love story which obeys social distancing rules.

My movie, Butterfly Boy’s journey has been at least as long, complex and difficult as any other.  It began life nearly ten years ago when, after 30 years directing TV, I became an academic, and course leader for TV Production at Bournemouth University.  The job required me to do a PhD – a somewhat daunting prospect at the age of 58, but a requirement.  I soon decided that if I was to find the motivation to achieve this alongside a full-time teaching job then it had to be a passion project, and, as a practitioner more than a theorist, a PhD by practice seemed the way forward.  These involve creating an artefact along with an accompanying thesis about some aspect of it. 

I had, for a number of years, been writing gay adaptations of iconic love stories from opera to demonstrate, particularly in less-enlightened days than these, that gay affairs can be as romantic, as complex and as passionate as straight.  And an idea had been lurking to offer a contemporary version of the story made famous by Puccini in Madama Butterfly.  Given that this is effectively about sex tourism, the contemporary resonances were instantly clear, and setting it in Bangkok seemed the obvious choice, aided by my visits there for conferences and teaching which enabled me to do some research.  Five years, and more than a dozen drafts later I was Dr. Bamford and the script – then called Bangkok Butterfly - was complete. 

Had I been a pure academic I might have been happy with that.  There is a branch of that profession which believes that a screenplay is a pure and complete artefact which should not be sullied by contact with actors, directors etc..  But I am a practitioner, and for me a screenplay is merely a blueprint for a film – like an architect’s plan for a building – and having lived with it so long I was determined to get it made if humanly possible. 

The long trek began, and, after a couple of false starts, by last summer I finally had a UK and Thai producer interested.  People in Bangkok saw it as an utterly authentic story, and all was looking promising.  But the first elephant trap was ‘cultural appropriation’.  In these ‘woke’ days Westerners making films about Asians, especially if they intimate in any way that life in the West might be preferable, are no longer acceptable.  Potential funders evaporated.  There have been suggestions that the original story should no longer be presented, given its representation of utter exploitation of East by West, so we should not have been surprised.

Butterfly BoyBut there was still a story here – with interesting echoes of its literary ancestor.  So a massive rewrite began, and by early this year we had a story which was considered altogether more acceptable while still maintaining its roots in the original.  We pushed ahead with budgets and recces and mood boards, and prepared an application to the BFI.  While all that was going on, Christopher Granier-Deferre, my UK producer, happened to contact an old colleague in the Philippines who is very interested in making LGBTQ films there and can possibly access money.  Suddenly another change offered itself – Bangkok and its reputation are well-known, but what about Manila?  It has a similar, if less notorious, sex industry. 

A potential source of money, a new and less well-known location – in these diversity-conscious days it seemed that yet another rewrite was indicated, albeit slightly hindered by my lack of knowledge of the Philippines.  But the internet is a wonderful thing…

So the funding applications are in, there’s interest from Falmouth University, where I have been teaching after my departure from Bournemouth last year, and we forge ahead, possibly looking at shooting at the end of this year.  But then news breaks of a Covid-19 spike in the Philippines and a new lock-down there.

Films will get made again, somehow, and hope springs eternal...  Some companies have already found ways to ensure cast and crew safety.  And if I need a zimmer frame to get round the set, so be it.  But one thing I can certainly say is that this long and arduous journey has always been interesting.  As it continues, if it offers nothing else, it keeps at bay any sense of being retired!


Dr. Seb Falk (2000): The Light Ages

Dr Seb Falk - Photograph by Jason ByeDr. Seb Falk (2000) introduces his new book, The Light Ages, an illuminating guide to the scientific and technological achievements of the Middle Ages through the life of a crusading astronomer-monk:

The Middle Ages were a time of wonder. They gave us the first universities, the first eyeglasses and the first mechanical clocks as medieval thinkers sought to understand the world around them, from the passing of the seasons to the stars in the sky.
In this book, we walk the path of medieval science with a real-life guide, a fourteenth-century monk named John of Westwyk - inventor, astrologer, crusader - who was educated in England's grandest monastery and exiled to a clifftop priory. Following the traces of his life, we learn to see the natural world through Brother John's eyes: navigating by the stars, multiplying Roman numerals, curing disease and telling the time with an astrolabe.
Book The Light of Ages, by Dr Seb FalkWe travel the length and breadth of England, from Saint Albans to Tynemouth, and venture far beyond the shores of Britain. On our way, we encounter a remarkable cast of characters: the clock-building English abbot with leprosy, the French craftsman-turned-spy and the Persian polymath who founded the world's most advanced observatory.
An enthralling story of the struggles and successes of an ordinary man and an extraordinary time, The Light Ages conjures up a vivid picture of the medieval world as we have never seen it before.
The Light Ages will be published in the USA and Canada on November 17, 2020, and in the rest of the world on 24 September. Foreign language editions are coming soon in Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.
You can now pre-order both the UK edition and the US edition.
Read more about the review of The Light Ages


Hester Grant (1987): The Good Sharps

Hester GrantThe Good Sharps’ tells the story of a remarkable 18th century family. Today the Sharps are known principally as the subject of Johan Zoffany’s celebrated group portrait ‘The Sharp Family’ (on loan to the National Gallery), which depicts the seven siblings playing musical instruments on a barge on the Thames at Fulham. But the brothers and sisters were also exceptional individuals in their own right, and their lives illumine the age in which they lived.

John, the eldest sibling, established a model welfare state at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, providing free healthcare and education to the poor, while also commissioning the first known lifeboat. William was a fashionable London surgeon, whose clients included George III – but he also ran a free surgery for the poor of London. James was an energetic inventor, engineer and canal pioneer, who manufactured trailblazing agricultural machinery and a ‘rolling cart’ that anticipated the modern steamroller. Elizabeth ran a large estate in Northamptonshire on the philanthropic principles espoused by her siblings. And Granville, the youngest brother, is remembered as the first great abolitionist: his chance encounter with the young slave Jonathan Strong launched him on a campaign that would culminate in the one of the great set pieces of English legal history – and the judgement, delivered by Lord Mansfield in Westminster Hall, that a slave becomes free on British soil.

Cover of The Good Sharps by Hester GrantFamously close, loyal and mutually reliant – one contemporary observed that she knew of no family ‘wherein more true brotherly kindness appears / While unenvying each shines in their diff[e]rent spheres’ – the Sharps bound their lives together in a complex web of practical and emotional support. They were also renowned amateur musicians: William gave fortnightly sacred music concerts at his mansion in the City, featuring the most sought-after virtuosi of the day; and in the summer months the family hosted musical water parties on barges sailing up and down the Thames. The Sharps can even lay claim to having invented the canal boat holiday, thanks to James’s invention of a ‘travelling house’ which could be installed on a coal barge to provide it with the amenities of a pleasure boat.

Johan Zoffany’s glorious depiction of the siblings aboard their favourite barge, the ‘Apollo’, brilliantly conveys the spirit of this most harmonious of families. Two hundred and fifty years later, the story of the Sharps remains a testament to the power of the family to enrich and sustain the individuals within it.


Click here to order The Good Sharps.



Miriam Quick (2000): I am a Book. I am a Portal to the Universe.

Miriam QuickPick up a book from your shelf and hold it in your hands. Feel how heavy it is. Now, how much more would it weigh if it were made of gold? Or you found it on Jupiter?
If you find these quantities hard to imagine, don’t worry. None of us has been to Jupiter. It has an unbreathable atmosphere and no surface. Still, gravity pulls around 2.5 times as strongly on Jovian cloud tops as on earthly ground, so a book weighing half a kilo here would weigh almost 1.3 kilos there, around the same as a terrestrial bottle of wine. Cheers!
I am a book. I am a portal to the universe, my new book co-authored with Stefanie Posavec, explores this and other data-driven thought experiments through the unique lens of book design.
Cover of I am a book. I am a portal to the universe by Miriam Quick and Stefanie PosavecI have worked in information visualisation for almost a decade as a researcher, writer and data analyst and I like to explore novel, multisensory ways of communicating data that bridge the arts and sciences. I write data-driven stories and co-create artworks that represent numbers using images, sculpture and sound. Stefanie is an artist and designer, an expert in information and book design, and my long-time friend and collaborator.
Bored of charts and infographics, we realised it was time for a shake-up in how we communicated information. We wanted to reach the widest possible readership.
I am a portal is the result. Each one of the book’s measurements, from the thickness of its pages to the noise it makes when slammed, embodies a fascinating fact or data point. Every dimension of the book is infused with data. There is not a single chart. 
Some examples:

  • Hold the book to the sky. How many stars lie behind its two pages?
  • In the time it took to turn a page, how many babies were born?
  • How many molecules is the book made of?
  • Stand the book upright. How much slower does time pass at the bottom of the page compared to the top?
  • And how does the book’s height compare to future sea-level rise projections? 

Using playful design to uncover the stories hidden in the everyday and embody the wonders of the cosmos on a 1:1 scale, I am a portal is written for children and adults alike. It’s our love letter to book design – and to the universe around us – as manifest through data.
I am a book. I am a portal to the universe. will be published in the UK by Particular Books (Penguin) on September 3rd and is suitable for everyone aged 8 and up.

I Am a Book. I Am a Portal to the Universe can be pre-ordered here.


Mark Bradley (1978): Blood Runs Coal

Cover of Blood Runs Coal by Mark BradleyFormer CIA officer Bradley (A Very Principled Boy) delivers a page-turning study of the 1969 triple-murder of union leader Joseph Yablonski and his wife and daughter, and the crime’s impact on the United Mine Workers of America and organized labor in general.

Head of his local district of the UMWA in southwestern Pennsylvania, Yablonksi was locked in a power struggle with union president Tony Boyle, who had provoked outrage by publicly defending the Consolidation Coal Company in the aftermath of an explosion that killed 78 miners in West Virginia. Yablonski challenged Boyle for the union presidency in 1969 and lost, but asked the U.S. Labor Department to “impound the ballot boxes and investigate the election’s irregularities.” Less than a month after the election, three hit men hired by Boyle (with funds embezzled from the UMWA) murdered Yablonski and his family. The killings galvanized a reformist takeover of the union that advanced the interests of rank-and-file members on safety standards, wages, and health benefits. Bradley fluidly interweaves union politics with insider accounts of the murder plot and details of the investigation and five trials it took to bring Boyle to justice.

The result is both a juicy true crime story and a tribute to the power of effective labor movements.
‘Blood Runs Coal’ can be pre-ordered here.



Simon Kusseff (1967) writes further about Frank Thompson on the centenary of his birth

August 17th 2020 is the Centenary of the birth of Major William Frank Thompson, born in Darjeeling, India.

In June 1939, having voted in a debate at the Oxford Students Union to fight for the Polish City of Danzig, Thompson, although under age, volunteered to join the British army, two days before the Nazi invasion of Poland, on September 3rd, 1939. He pronounced the war as the last stand for Humanism.

Major Frank ThompsonIn late May 1944 , Thompson led a 4 man British Liaison Mission, accompanying the 200 strong 2nd Sofia Partisan  Brigade which marched from Serbia into Western Bulgaria. The British military aim was to pressurize the Bulgarian government to abandon its wartime alliance with Nazi Germany and thus cut off the German forces occupying Greece. But Bulgarian gendarmerie hunted down the Brigade. The mission and several partisans were captured after bitter fighting at the village of Batuliya.

Following his capture, the Gestapo interrogated Thompson, demanding to know if his mission was part of an Allied Second Front in continental Europe. In January 1944, unbeknownst to Thompson, Hitler had given an order that any allied uniformed personnel caught behind enemy lines were to be denied Prisoner of war status. On June 10th 1944, Thompson was shot by Bulgarian soldiers, on the orders of the Gestapo, with his captured Partisan comrades, by firing squad at the village of Litakovo.

At school, Thompson had written an essay on the mythical Greek God, Apollo whom he characterized as a rebel and fighter and as his ideal of manhood who made seasonal migrations to Hyperborea, Thracia, the Latin name for Bulgaria. Thompson was both a Slavophile and a Bulgarophile. He learnt Russian at school and added Polish, Serbo Croat and Bulgarian during the war. As a poet, he believed the Arts gave meaning and purpose to life. Thompson thought his forte would be writing about Slavs or Balkan people, their histories, lives civilization and wanted to spend the rest of his life reading and translating the Russian novelists, whose characters he said, however villainous never, let you forget their humanity.

When he was captured his translation of a Yovkov short story was found in his Knapsack. Thompson thought highly of Bulgaria’s Medieval grandeur and admired Alexander Battenberg who led the Bulgars to victory over the Serbs at Slivnitsa. Thompson followed in the footsteps of other English Bulgarophiles, Henry  Nevinson, the Buxton brothers and James Bourchier who had been involved with the Balkan Committee which had campaigned for Macedonian liberation from the Turks.

Thompson had a family link with Bulgaria, his maternal great grandfather had visited Varna on his honeymoon. In 1941 Thompson had written sympathetically of the sufferings of the slavonic peoples during the Nazi invasions of Eastern Europe. He recorded the comment of Polish exiles during the battle for Stalingrad that the Russians were always about to suffer or inflict some bloodcurdling catastrophe.

During his war service in the Middle East Thompson met Polish and Greek refugees and told them
He wanted to help liberate their homelands. He had while at school and university undertaken voluntary work for Spanish and Jewish refugee children victims of Fascist and Nazi persecution. Involved in the liberation of Sicily Thompson had written Freedom had gained a footing on the Sicilian coast. Italians were saying in the streets for the first time, in 21 years, what they really thought.

Thompson later said he must be a slavonic type having become something of a fatalist. He knew well the myth of the Greek tragic hero of Aeschylus Agamemnon, whose goddess mother tells him, he can choose between a long life and anonymity, or a short life and fame. Thompson commented remember Achilles for his kindness, sacrifice.

In March 1941 before he went abroad, Thompson wrote a poem, Polliciti Meliora, meaning having promised better things, anticipating his own death “We left in the hills our books and flowers, descended and were killed”  and so it transpired at the battle of Batuliya, he was killed, in the foot hills of the stara planina.

Thompson, a keen botanist had also written before he left England “If my body is meant for fertilization , it will be no mere English daisies that I nourish, but deep red anemones and wild blue irises” which are plant species native to Bulgaria. One of Thompson’s partisan comrades said after Thompson was killed “he was a good man, he understood our problems, learnt our songs and shared our hardships”.

The brigade had to contend with the fiercely cold winter of 1944, sleeping out in the open, in a huddle to keep warm, enduring night marches, on one such occasion, Thompson fell in a river from exhaustion, hunger, ambushes, betrayal by local guides, and beatings instigated by his captors.

In the First World war Thompson’s paternal uncle, Frank, for whom his nephew was named, was shot in Belgium at the age of 23. In 1940 Thompson had joked to a girlfriend he must seek an early death at the age of 23 to preserve his fame intact and so it turned out. In 1941 Frank had told his family he wished to be the best loved Englishman in Bulgaria. In March 1945 a commentator on Sofia radio described Thompson as the Byron of Bulgaria.

Thompson’s muse, Iris Murdoch, who would after Thompson’s death, become one of England’s most celebrated novelists, whom he had told, her letters fired him. Characterized Thompson, relishing his own description of himself as, someone who had been wandering down a winding English lane of impulse and instinct, as a “ Romantic  Individualist”,a character he surely shared with Byron.

And Norman Reddaway, one of Thompson’s brother officers and later British Ambassador to Poland wrote “Not one of the hundreds of officers, I served with during the war, aroused such love and affection in his fellows, as everything Thompson did was good humored and gay. Laughter followed him as closely as his shadow. The men loved him as one who was considerably more concerned about their comfort than his own”.


Professor David Dunmur: Einstein on the Run

Cover of Einstein on the Run by Andrew RobinsonDavid Dunmur (1959) reviews a new book by Andrew Robinson on Christ Church’s most celebrated scientist Albert Einstein.

Pictures of eminent former members of The House adorn the walls of the Senior Common Room, and alongside Viceroys and Governors General of India and umpteen former British Prime Ministers there is one scientist. Albert Einstein has become the iconic celebrity scientist of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The enduring image of a tousle-headed figure in a crumpled suit clutching a pipe is instantly recognisable as the scientist of the age. Einstein and his work have attracted many biographers and commentators, and aspects of his eventful life spanning the two World Wars have been examined by many authors. This latest book on Einstein from Andrew Robinson, “Einstein on the Run”, tells the story of the persecution and flight of the world’s greatest scientist from Nazi Germany to the safe sanctuary of Britain in the 1930s.

Einstein under guard.Over the period 1931 to 1933 Einstein spent a number of weeks in Oxford each year, and this famed scientist was elected as a Research Student (Fellow) at Christ Church. The college had hoped that Einstein would become a regular visitor and contributor to life and science in Oxford and Christ Church, but developments in Europe soon overwhelmed the plans. These events form the core of Andrew Robinson’s book, and they make an excellent story. In 1932 the Einsteins left their house in Berlin, never to return, and the family was forced into exile at Le Coq in Belgium.

Things took a sinister turn in mid-1933 when Einstein was identified as “the leader of anti-Nazi propaganda” and an enemy of Germany. It was at this point that Tory MP Locker-Lampson stepped in, and, following a speech in the House of Commons where he referred to “…Albert Einstein, a citizen of the world without a house…”, Einstein was offered a secret refuge on Locker-Lampson’s estate in Norfolk.

Einstein was a brief resident of Christ Church, but his time in college is still revered. A stained glass window in Hall is one of his permanent memorials, along with the portrait by Rizzi in the SCR.

Andrew Robinson’s book “Einstein on the Run” is published by Yale University Press.


Stargazing with Dr. Joseph Caruana (2009)

Neowise, captured from the Dark Sky Heritage Area of Dwejra in Gozo (Malta)Once feared to be the harbingers of bad news, comets are something of a treat for astronomers. Composed of rock, ice, and dust, these distant visitors from the outskirts of our solar system warm up as they approach the sun. In the process, dust and gasses are expelled, creating the tails comets are known for, and from which they get their very name (komḗtēs means 'long-haired' in Ancient Greek).
Oftentimes, comets do not survive this ordeal and end up fragmenting. For this reason, they are notoriously unpredictable. Thankfully, Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE lived up to the expectations, and provided a stunning sight for many days throughout July.
This photograph was captured from the Dark Sky Heritage Area of Dwejra in Gozo (Malta), the site of the former Azure Window (a natural arch which collapsed in 2017). Besides NEOWISE, one can also make out the seven stars of the ‘Plough’, Ursa Minor (one of whose stars is the North Star), and Cassiopeia. The fainter part of the Milky Way can be seen arching across the right side of the image. 
NEOWISE had last passed by some 4,500 years ago, and it will not be back for another 6,800 years. While it is no longer visible with the naked eye, it can still be seen with binoculars and telescopes, as it recedes into the depths of space."

Click here for more pictures of the night sky taken by Dr. Caruana.


Readers' letters

Following the last e-Matters the Venerable Paddy Benson (1967), previously Archdeacon of Hereford, sent in this rather amusing anecdote:

Dear Friends,
Thank you for e-Matters. Like many other alumni I continue to hold ChCh in my prayers as you seek a resolution to the present unpleasantness. 
The note of the biography of Hugh Trevor Roper reminds me of an incident from my time at the House (1967-70). I was in Tom Quad one afternoon, catching bumble-bees in a net (as one does) when an elderly academic who was passing enquired what I was doing. I explained that I was catching bees. "I hope you will put them in Trevor-Roper's bed" he said, before moving on.
Yours sincerely,
Paddy Benson


Women's 40th Online Celebration

40 Years of Women at the House logoA reminder of our online initiatives to celebrate 40 years of women at the House:

Alumnae Poetry Competition: 
We are currently running an Alumnae Poetry Competition. To enter please send your poems to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk 

Lodge Manager Mandy Roche modelling one of the new silk scarves.Guidelines: 

  • The competition is open to all members of the House who identify as women. 
  • Entries must not be longer than 2 x sides of A4.
  • Entries must be received by the development and alumni office by 12 noon on the 31st August.
  • The judges’ decisions will be made public at the September event, and a pamphlet of the best poems will be produced for the event.
  • There will be a first prize of a two night stay for two in the best guest room in Christ Church, including full board and lodging.

40th Anniversary Silk Scarves
A reminder that our limited-edition 40th Anniversary silk scarf can be ordered through the new online shop. To visit the shop please click here. 

Christ Church's New Online Shop

The old shop has been moved from the cloisters to the wonderful Thatched Barn building, thus freeing up the magnificent Chapter House for other uses.
The new shop opened at the end of 2019, but for obvious reasons had to close on account of COVID-19. It has now reopened, but members may also buy on-line.  In addition to being able to buy the Women’s 40th Anniversary silk scarf, you can purchase the House’s own Jabberwocky gin, and House wines!

Click here to visit Christ Church's online shop.


Poem for the Fortnight

By Lucy Pearce (2014)

Now take my hand and hold it tight,
Entwined in yours throughout the night
And don't even think that you might
Dissolve my grip before daylight.

The rays of our love create a blinding light
That shines throughout our hearts at night,
So don't you think the ends insight.
The time you're claimed is not tonight!

But alas this cannot be so,
And your heart, though it does glow
The strongest rays become softened, faint, more mellow
As the pulse begins to slow.

I gaze above the stars at night
And when I see them burning bright,
I know that the most dazzling light,
Is she who put up the strongest fight,

The one that has longest endured,
And she who could not have loved me more.

A selection of alumni poetry is available on our website.

All members of the House are welcome to submit poetry. If you would like your poetry considered for feedback from the judges of our poetry competition, then please send your poems to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk A poem will be selected every fortnight from St Frideswide's Well and the poet will receive feedback via email. Poems will also be featured on our website.


Poetry Prompt

Poetry promptThe judges of our poetry competition are providing fortnightly poetry prompts to pique your thoughts. 
The House is eager to see the results. Please send poems for possible inclusion in e-Matters to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk.

This week's prompt:


Alumni Photography

We encourage all alumni and friends to submit photographs to us inspired by the poems featured on our Alumni Poetry Page. Poems and photographs will be collected together in the coming months and will eventually form an online exhibition celebrating alumni creative work. 

To submit your photograph please: 


Oxford Climate Alumni Network

OxCan logoOxford Climate Society, in collaboration with the Oxford Alumni Office and University departments, including the Environmental Change Institute, are launching OxCAN — the Oxford Climate Alumni Network. 

OxCAN is an inclusive network, open to all alumni with any interest or concern in climate change and sustainability. OxCAN specifically aims to connect climate conscious alumni to: one another; the latest climate research; and to climate and sustainability initiatives at the University.

Ahead of the Network’s launch in September, it is important for Oxford Climate Society to understand what role OxCAN can play in connecting, inspiring and co-ordinating Oxford’s Alumni to work together for the planet.

In order to create the best network possible, they have created a 10-minute OxCAN consultation so that they may hear directly from alumni about their climate experiences and how to create the most meaningful platform possible.

Click here to fill out the consultation.