Master's Blog

Drama on the stage and in the field

by Mark Damazer on Jun 5, 2017

Midsummer Night’s Dream in late May – the annual students’ garden play. The predicted monsoon duly arrived and so the supremo, Marina Goodman (Law), moved the whole caboodle to the JCR. 

The JCR was nicely occupied and one or two brave finalists dropped by for some escape. Plenty of our Visiting Student contingent turned up, and one (Sarah Bai) made a balletic and mellifluous Titania. She had been practising with great focus outside the Dorfman.

Not everyone had perfected all their lines, although some most certainly did, but that is excusable given the pressures of an exam term, and the occasional (sic) hiccup was dextrously managed.

It is a notoriously complicated play – Shakespeare at his most cross-dressingly convoluted – but piercingly brilliant and funny. Bottom (Sam Bodansky, Maths ) is one of his great comic creations, and this was a very rumbustious performance, with controlled bellowing and a satisfactorily extended fake death. “This was lofty” after a Bottom tirade did well, as did “I’ll speak a monstrous voice.”

It always takes a few minutes for me to find a rhythm for the piece, but it does not take long for the laughs to come.

Starveling’s “I am slow of study” elicited a strong response in a sophisticated student audience. As did Hermia’s “high and low” speech.

The use of a cucumber slice as a love potion was inventive if minimalist. Puck and Oberon did fine work with it. The Pimm’s, which had been intended for the outdoors warmth, was poured from the outset to set a mood and then turned into a prop for Lysander and Demetrius.

Overall – a hoot and valuable college tradition sustained.

Cast

Bottom - Sam Bodansky Philostrate - Charlie Gill Starveling/Peaseblossom - Marina Goodman
Titania - Sarah Bai Helena - El Blackwood Snout/Cobweb - Phoebe Ashley-Norman
Oberon - Ed Rawlinson Hermia - Ella Ditri Snug - Mark de Courcy Ling
Theseus - Willem La Tulip Troost Lysander - Jossy Munro Puck - Alice Robinson
Hippolyta - Georgina Hayward Demetrius - Isabella Rooney Mustardseed - Rosie Crawford
Egeus - Henry Proto Francis Flute - Immy Vorley  

The SCR v JCR cricket match (the organisational maestro here is Professor Tom Adcock) produced a tie. A historic result, almost unknown in any cricket game.

The normal accoutrements and rituals were in evidence – tea, cakes, Tom’s drone, some adventurous running between the wickets, overthrows, huge collapses, heroism and so on. Rosie (as in my wife) scored for the second year in a row and lived through the stress (considerable). Photos from the match, which was played in glorious sunshine, as opposed to the intermittent rain and hail of previous years, can be viewed here.

Here are some excerpts from the Bursar’s version of events:

“The SCR secured an historic tie against the JCR with an heroic, last-ball-of-the-match catch by Kyle Turner (Junior Dean), who jumped high to his left to catch a stinger of a drive. ‘I didn't think it would stick, mate’, said a breathless Kyle shortly after the match. 

Ably and decisively captained again by Professor Tom Adcock (who claimed three wickets in his first over), the SCR celebrated long into the night. At some point the Bursar was persuaded to invest in a SCR v JCR trophy by the Archivist, who, having researched the history of the match, established that it has been taking place since at least 1969. 

By a wonderful coincidence, Professor Henry Mayr-Harting, who umpired yesterday, played in that match. Prof M-H displayed a fine understanding of the spirit of the game in his wise judgements throughout the keenly fought contest. After a brief conference, Dr Allen and Professor M-H, both historians, concluded that, aside from the two previous years, and in absence of any firm evidence to the contrary, the SCR has won every other match. This heritage will be reified (?) on the trophy … to be continued.”

Elections and Teachers

by Mark Damazer on May 23, 2017

Two big events last week.

On Wednesday 17th, Helen Lewis and Ben Wright, two former students, came back here and powered their way through 75 minutes of election discussion.

About 175 people abandoned – for a brief period – exam preparation, or some such, and paddled their way into the chapel. (It was one of those soggy, chilly spring evenings that seem an Oxford speciality.) We had quite a few sixth formers from nearby schools – always good.  

Helen and Ben have done this before – in 2015 and last year for the Brexit vote, normally with Martin Ivens of The Sunday Times. They said, to my surprise, that there was a big chance that the polls are yet again overstating Labour’s vote, as they have done in almost all recent elections. They have both been out and about and, as of Wednesday, do not detect a Corbyn surge.

We discussed why it was not quite the Brexit election Theresa May had called for; why she was quite so (surprisingly) popular; why Labour had to work out how to define itself as a party that both does not want anything that feels like Blair, but could not rely on its historical roots with manual labour; why Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats could not expect to get a big Remain boost; aspects of media coverage; and the need not to confuse the collapse of UKIP’s fortunes with the collapse in the passions of UKIP voters.

On Brexit, a late question from a St Peter’s Northern Ireland student, about the future of Northern Ireland post-Brexit, provoked a burst of feeling about the importance of this issue relative to its minuscule coverage.

A recent PPE student wanted to know what a modern version of Butskellism would look like – a different political centre. We all agreed that the UK voting system made a new centre party a very elusive prospect. 

I resisted pinning Helen and Ben to a prediction, but nobody seemed to me to be expecting a big surprise on 8 June. The St Peter’s election prediction game will be launched this week. A Hungarian Maths professor and a German PPE undergraduate have won the previous two political prediction exercises. The Brits are not much better at this than they are at the Eurovision Song Contest.

On Friday (19th), we were again the host of the Oxford University Inspirational Teachers Awards. This is a magnificent occasion held every year, which celebrate teachers who have done something extraordinary to help someone succeed in getting a place at Oxford. The students, during their first year, nominate a teacher who went beyond the call of duty to help them, and the wining teachers, from all over the UK, come to spend a day and a night in Oxford in May. The video of the teachers’ efforts is unfailingly powerful and moving. This year there were stories of teachers using 80s music, of ridiculous ties, of moving schools but continuing to help pupils in a previous school, of teachers who never gave up expanding the horizons of their best pupils – and much more. 

I have been to quite a few schools this year, and remain overawed by how good the most committed teachers are. I am coming to the end of a four-year stint as deputy Chair or Chair of the University’s Admissions Policy committee, and these visits are both a stimulus and a reminder of some of the inequities in school provision. What I now understand better than I did when I arrived at Oxford is the utterly central role of an individual teacher – or perhaps two – in constructively pushing the benefits of an education here.

There are many things that might yet be done to try to get more of the best students, no matter their background, to apply here and, indeed, to succeed in getting a place … but no amount of digital marketing and outreach will work without teachers’ support, which is often there, but not always.

And here is a link to a piece I wrote in the New Statesman about statistical illiteracy and interviewing in political discussion.

Tulips and blossom

by Mark Damazer on Apr 25, 2017

The not-yet-complete renovation of the college has had many benefits: better disabled access, much better entry from the street, better teaching spaces, and so on, but the tulips should not be under-estimated. The planting scheme has erupting moments – and April excels. Not the cruellest month - at least for those who like simple, bold colour schemes.

Here is the evidence: