e-Matters June 30th 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 a grey, damp and much colder Oxford. Perhaps we have had our summer?

This second June edition of e-News features, amongst other things, a piece on the Portland Banquet in 1793 by the archivist, a tremendous thought provoking article on the effect COVID-19 has had on the Music world and the arts by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, news from Chris Aycock in New York City, and John Brisby takes issue with a previous article in e-Matters on who really is the best loved Englishman in Bulgaria!

The first tentative steps towards reopening are taking place. Some staff are back from furlough, including some of the gardeners. John James, the Head Gardner writes: “After 12 weeks of lockdown and no gardeners on site, we started to bring some of the team back to work from June 1st. Whilst we are still at less than 50% staffing we have begun to return the gardens to their previous standards. Thankfully the Clerk of Works and one of his team had been able to cut most of the lawns at least a couple of times, but it will take a while to get them back to normal, this has been exacerbated by the recent dry weather causing them to go very brown, but luckily the recent rain has already made a difference.
The biggest victim of lockdown has been the summer bedding display in the Rose Garden area of the Memorial Gardens, since as we had no gardeners on site we had no plants to put in to replace the dying winter bedding. Instead we have sown the beds with a cornfield annual style seed mix, which is already establishing well and should bring a riot of colour in a few weeks’ time.”
Some areas seem to have thrived on the relative neglect. See John’s Blog for more wonderful pictures like these of the wild flowers in the Meadows which have done very well this season enjoying the lack of people treading on them, and some rare Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids.

The shop has also opened in the Meadows. An immense amount of planning is going on to deal with the return of staff and students for the Michaelmas Term, which we all fervently hope will be the case.

And in case you are wondering the photograph at the top of the page is of a makeshift scare crow designed to keep the heron off the carp in Mercury!

Please feel free to join us by following us on social media, posting your own pictures (#ChristChurchTogether), and thus helping us all stay connected at this challenging time. 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: June 30th 2020

Judith Curthoys: From the Archives…

Archivist, Judith CurthoysAs the last few, strange weeks have progressed, many of us have begun to look forward to the simple pleasure of a pint at the local pub or a meal out.  Takeaways are just not the same.  Gaudies and other events have had to be put on hold and we are missing the conviviality of meeting friends, sharing wine and good food.

Back in 1793, the notion of social distancing was unheard-of and Christ Church was packed to celebrate Encaenia and the installation of the Duke of Portland as Chancellor of the University.  The duke was an alumnus of the college - he had come up as William Cavendish-Bentinck, Lord Titchfield, in 1755 – and Christ Church pulled out all the stops for an incomparable feast.
Detail from a portrait of Lord TitchfieldSoon after 2pm on 4 July, a huge banquet was held in Hall.  Preparations had been going on for weeks, and we can almost hear the Treasurer wincing as the bills began to pile up on his desk: £15 for sixteen pineapples and six melons; £11 11s for 72 plates of fruit; £16 for six dozen bottles of claret; and £25 10s for one turtle to make Christ Church’s popular soup (which reputedly was put in Mercury for a final swim before its date with the chef’s cleaver) ......

Ephraim Ward’s Flying Stage Waggons charged 11 shillings to bring wine in from London, his bill written on the back of an advertising flyer. Extra provisions were hired including green baize cloth for the tables, glassware, crockery, and flatware, and additional mahogany tables and chairs. Even the horses, which pulled the carriages of the guests, were provided with oats, hay, and straw at a cost of £2 17s 6d.
Mr Cluff, the Christ Church chef, assisted by his own second and third cooks, and a visiting chef, Lizeron, prepared a meal beginning with the turtle, dressed with brandy. The Chancellor and his guests were then treated to turbot and lobster, salmon, trout, pigeon, crayfish, chickens with sauce, ducks with sauce, geese with sauce, guinea fowl, turkey, lamb, veal, pork, sweetbreads, cucumber salad, beans, potatoes, root vegetables, peas, beef, venison, hare, pineapples and melons. Cluff’s bill for his services came to more than £30 - about £1700 in today’s money.
At the end of the meal, the Chancellor made himself popular with the assembled company by drinking to the prosperity of Christ Church.  His gesture was greeted with loud and enthusiastic applause.


Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood CBE, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music:
Surprises from a Lockdown Bunker

Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood CBE, Principal of the Royal Academy of MusicThe word ‘surreal’ has been used often to describe the experiences of lockdown. For musicians and performing artists in general it has raised a litany of issues from short-term survival to matters of existential strategies for organisations and individuals. At the Royal Academy of Music in mid-March, our young musicians were working intensely in that Behemoth of collaborative creative endeavour, opera – and specifically Massenet’s exquisite Mozartian homage, Chérubin. A few days later the momentum of ‘real time’ learning and performance exposure for those musicians hit the buffers. Singers due to move onto preparing for the summer production, Albert Herring, a series of masterclasses, Glyndebourne, Garsington and all kinds of auditions in European opera studios, returned to their halls of residence bedsits or homes and had to re-invent themselves fast from the inside out.

From this point, the surprises from a virtual community on the Marylebone Road have been far from depressing and often deeply inspiring. A collective body of around 1500 students and staff have made serious statements about the value of what they do. If music is essentially a collaborative art, and teaching generally requires a dedicated space for sound to be critiqued by the mentor who is honing the craft of his/her apprentice, the serious handicap of having neither ensembles nor space renders alternative prospects – on the surface – seriously underwhelming.

The resolve to learn and to continue to feed a love of music has led to a transformation in the potential for online learning. Teachers and students have found ways of discovering concentrated incremental methods of communicating technical and musical challenges, stripped away from distraction. People are practising better, learning how to use technology with hundreds of astonishing virtual performances (#RAMplaysON) from musical theatre showcases to a Mahler symphony, jazz big bands, the astonishing students from a single family, the Kanneh-Masons, who have put out some amazing videos of ‘Hausmusik’ at its most imaginative, and departmental arrangements – including a virtuoso version of ‘a bugler’s holiday’ by ten young Academy trumpet players which has had massive exposure.

Now the finalists return in small steps to the building to prepare for their recitals – two of them are fine postgraduates from Christ Church, a violinist and bassoonist. No-one is taking anything for granted, the assumptions have been stripped back, a certain graciousness is apparent in how people are greeting each other. It has required understanding, teamwork and patience. It’s not been without its significant trials but after this experience we have learned more about our community, how the syllabus needs to adapt for the better with our increasing grip on technology and assessing value for money.

Outside the walls, there are no surprises. This country is one of the last to recognise culture as the heartbeat of a nation’s life and identity, not to mention its benefits to education and well-being. The one thing you would have expected the government to acknowledge is that the creative industries bring almost unrivalled sectoral profit to UK PLC, greater revenue than even the airline industry. So, we see orchestras, theatres, festivals, arts companies and thousands of dedicated freelance musicians on their knees. The delay in providing mechanisms for survival seems as surreal as anything, given that the UK is the weighing station for arguably the most prestigious and voluminous range of artistic output in the world. It’s one of the few things we British still do magnificently and we forget it at our peril.

Christ Church Music Society YouTube Channel

The Christ Church Music Society have recently set up a new YouTube channel to celebrate the musical activities of Christ Church staff and students.

Please click here if you would like to visit the channel and subscribe.


Dr Robin Thompson: COVID-19 Research

Dr Robin ThompsonDr Robin Thompson has continued to work on mathematical modelling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He has been leading a section of reviews of modelling analyses for government advisory groups (SPI-M and SAGE) as part of the Royal Society’s “Rapid Assistance in Modelling the Pandemic” initiative. 

Robin recently wrote a report, with modellers who are providing evidence to governments worldwide, about some of the key open questions for planning COVID-19 exit strategies.







Emily Robotham: Wine Blog

Buttery Manager, Emily RobothamButtery and Wine Cellar Manager, Emily Robotham, takes a look at some of the college's own wines.

Eschewing commercial brands and images, college events are often served with the House’s own line of wines, made by our favourite suppliers. These now include:

The House white and House red, a Sauvignon- and a Rhône-blend respectively from the South-West of France. These will be familiar to anyone who has taken apéritif at the House, while they are also immensely popular in the Buttery.

The House Claret, made by the owners of Châteaux Palmer and Angludet, with a classic right-bank style of a rich Merlot base of plum pudding, figs and spices. It makes a superb accompaniment to roasted dinners of all stripes.

The House Prosecco, the easy-going product of a house ensconced in the hills of Valdobbiadene, an hour north of Venice. Expect floral and white peach flavours with small and persistent bubbles.

All of these are now or soon to be found in the college shop, either physically or online to be shipped to your door. For those seeking stronger stuff, the Jabberwocky Gin is also online: a bottling of garden botanicals made in collaboration with Head Gardener John James.

If you would like to purchase any of our wines, then please click here to visit our new online shop.

Chris Aycock: Lockdown in New York City

Chris AycockLife in lower Manhattan has quieted dramatically during the pandemic. A somber calm has descended over the once-busy streets and packed bars, similar to the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Ubiquitous masks add a new angle compared to previous crises.
In some ways, the daytime aspects of my life are the same as before, though I do deliberately order take-out more often now so as to inject some money into the restaurant economy. I work from home on my software startup, so I code away in my apartment as I have always done.
But where I used to go out most evenings, I now contend solely with walking along the waterfront. With the gyms and pools closed, my exercise has consisted of a yoga mat and the stairwell. And instead of getting drinks with friends, I now make do with video chats and text messages.
We've made jokes to lighten the mood during isolation. "I party like it's COVID-1999." "My hand sanitizer is Macallan 18." "Been social distancing since before it was cool." Our mood for jokes has soured in the last few weeks.
NYC photos by Chris AycockThe recent killing of George Floyd has turned the frustrations during social distancing into full-on rage in New York. My part of town was spared the looting, though I could hear the protestors in the early days. A citywide curfew only added to the feelings of disconnect.
But there is hope for the future. Recent police reform efforts have passed at the state and local level. Also, New York City just entered Phase II of its reopening, which I celebrated by getting a haircut for the first time since before the pandemic. And I recently ventured to the outdoor pubs on Stone Street with my neighbor, who coincidentally happens to be the brother-in-law of my Christ Church flatmate.


John Brisby (1974): William Gladstone and Bulgaria

Portrait of William GladstoneAs a former member of the House with Bulgarian connections, I turned with interest to read the piece captioned "The Best-Loved Englishman in Bulgaria" in the 12th June edition of Christ Church e-matters. Imagine my surprise when I learnt that the apparent object of Bulgarian adulation was Frank Thompson, a minor Marxist poet with no obvious connection to Christ Church, who sadly met his death fighting alongside communist partisans in Bulgaria in June 1944. Whatever his talents as a poet (quite good in fairness to him), his following in Bulgaria is limited to adherents of the discredited former communist regime, which fell from power in the early 1990s.

If members of the House are interested in knowing the identity of the most popular Englishman in Bulgaria, after whom streets are still named in many if not most Bulgarian towns, they will be pleased to know that it is in fact William Ewart Gladstone, who read Greats and Mathematics at Christ Church between 1828 and 1831.

In April 1876, having retired as Leader of the Liberal Party following his defeat in the 1874 general election, Gladstone was galvanised back into political life by moral outrage over the massacres being committed by Ottoman irregulars against the Christian population in Bulgaria, and the indifference of the Disraeli government to their fate. His pamphlet "The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East" , published in September 1876, was an instant success, and at mass rallies up and down the country, the public pressure he unleashed was instrumental in deterring the Disraeli government from going to the assistance of the Ottoman Empire when the Russian Tsar Alexander II declared war in April 1877 in support of his Orthodox co-religionists in the Balkans. Result:

(1) in March 1878, Bulgaria gained its independence after 500 years of Ottoman rule, with my great great grandfather becoming its first Prime Minister the following year.
(2) Gladstone became Prime Minister for the third time following the April 1880 General Election.

The Gong Tormented Sea by Patrick Tobin

Cover of The Gong-Tormented Sea by Patrick TobinThe book launch of The Gong Tormented Sea: The Norman Kingdom of Sicily and The Byzantine Empire by alumnus, Patrick Tobin (1960), who sadly passed away earlier this year, took place on 25th June 2020.

The Gong Tormented Sea explores the collision between the empire founded by Constantine and the Norman adventurers who wrested southern Italy from Constantinople and captured Sicily from its Arab conquerors. It was a collision that first triggered and then exacerbated the schism that separated Greek from Latin Christendom. A struggle to the death led to the appalling events of 1204, the results of which endure.

To purchase a copy of The Gong Tormented Sea:
Please pay ₤19.99 to Margery Tobin, 54-10-34, 47709634 and send your name and address to emmatobin@yahoo.com


Please write a cheque for ₤19.99 payable to Margery Tobin and send it with your name and address to: Glentruim, Ashlake Copse Lane, Wootton Bridge, Ryde, IoW. PO33 4AG.


Women's 40th Online Celebrations

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

An Alumnae Book Club:
The Book Club is easy to join. The next Book Club will take place on Wednesday 15th July at 7:30pm, where we will discuss George Eliot's Adam Bede:
•    Please email your intention to read the book by the 12th July to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk and we will send you a Zoom link to join in the discussion.
•    Becky Walsh (Quintavalle) has kindly agreed to lead on Adam Bede by George Eliot on Wednesday 15th July at 7.30pm for the Zoom chat.
Screen showing some members of the Alumnae Book Club    Aileen Thomson will lead on Zadie Smith's On Beauty on Wednesday 12th August at 7.30pm for the Zoom chat.
•    You will need to have Zoom version 5 on your computer or phone.
If you would like to suggest a book and lead that discussion, please also email the office.

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

•    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 24th July; marking 495 years since Cardinal Wolsey began building on the site of St Frideswide’s.
•    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.

Alumnae Interview Series:
We will soon be releasing a series of interview with women. Our first interview will be with Professor Judith Pallot, the first female member of Governing Body.

Lodge Manager Mandy Roche modelling a scarf
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.




Poem for the Fortnight

What is it with the 100 metres?

By Barnaby Powell (1962)

                         Look, to run this race is flight and fight at once:
                          You flee your primal fears and carve your fate.
                             The feral crowd responds to this as they
                       Would watch a pack of dogs go chasing rabbits,
                         All competing for the kill. The sprinter loves
                                The dry rush of adrenalin, the surge
                                 Of hitting sweet spot on full stride,
                               Go blazoning a trail in crazed cavort
                           To victory in this most antic of extremity.
                           The terror comes in the interminable space
                            Between the crouch and the gun. The pity
                            Comes with hollow devastation of defeat
                                 For those anointed ones puffed up
                             As victors. Now is the dare phenomenal,
                              In which each runner vies to spring out
                             First to ratchet up, sustain the stride rate
                                  Long enough to overhaul the rest.
                              You have to run the race to know this.
                         Ask Alan Wells if ever you should meet him –
                           He will tell you how Olympic edge is won.
                          Don’t see ‘the hundred’ as a circus feat. It’s
                           Something unrehearsed and fleeting, where
                        Suspense hangs briefest, maddening the crowd
                    With its intensity, what makes them jump and shout.
                            It’s flash in pan of eight men shot out from
                               A gun with just one bursting on ahead -
                            A shooting star. By contrast, all other such
                           Events are calmer, measured, more strategic
                            And more rational, which makes this race
                                 The blue riband or stand-out event
                            With its rough scramble straightening up
                           To smooth in seconds in a searing struggle,
                            Which allows minutest margin of an error
                         In avoiding sudden death. It is the total focus
                           And attention span allotted by the runners
                        To the feat, which galvanises, even hypnotises
                         The spectator. There you have it - on the line.

A selection of alumni poetry is available on our website.

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.


Poetry Prompt

Poetry Prompt - image of an office chair by large recycling binsThe 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:
•    Have a look at our Alumni Poetry Page.
•    Take a photograph inspired by one of the poems on the page.
•    Email development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk with the photograph attached. Please specify which poem the photograph was inspired by.