Master's Blog

Trump and ‘The New York Times’.

by Mark Damazer on Jan 26, 2018

Steve Erlanger, one of the great contemporary New York Times journalists, a Pulitzer prize winner, and currently the Brussels-based Diplomatic Correspondent (Europe), came to talk about Trump – and more particularly his foreign policy – to a crowd of 70 plus in the Dorfman Centre.

He began with some personal background: he had written a piece about Trump and his yacht in 1988. The yacht had been as garish as we now all might imagine, but, intriguingly, even in 1988 (and at this point nowhere near being a Republican), Trump felt America was being taken for a ride, ‘treated as a chump’ – not least on trade matters. We should not be surprised at the America First policy he now espouses.

Steve sketched out the business background: Trump had flirted with bankruptcy, was not much of a regular bill-payer, and had not been overly fastidious about regulatory niceties. He had, however, been exceptionally good at brand-building.

There  followed an erudite and richly informed tour of large parts of the globe, beginning with a look at the ‘bromance’ with Putin, motivated on Putin’s part by his belief that Hillary Clinton had been central to a policy of fomenting unrest in Russia from 2011 on. Now, because of the Mueller investigation, any hopes of a re-set of the US relationship with Russia were on hold. Steve noted the Russophobia of many parts of the US government’s policy apparatus.

On Europe, Trump had not had any interest, which might be better for Europe than vice versa. But Macron had ‘seduced’ him. Merkel was not ‘Trump’s kind of woman’ – apart from anything else, she likes evidence – and May, having rushed off to Washington, was now nowhere in particular with the White House, with Trump hating the fact that London had a Muslim mayor, and so on.

Steve thought the wild gyrations of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements might, just might, be working with North Korea, and even with China. But overall he had hugely weakened America’s soft power – ‘the idea of what America represents’.

There were questions galore: a little about journalism (Trump has had a benign impact on New York Times subscriptions), some about the challenge posed by authoritarian characters in democracies (Trump, Berlusconi, Erdogan, etc.), and a discussion about Obama’s diplomatic policy, too. Syria was his biggest failure, and although Obama was still pleased that American had not repeated the mistake of Iraq (in particular) it had been at a catastrophically high price. The loss of life in Syria dwarfs that of Kosovo in the late 90s.

We adjourned, but a crowd gathered around for more discussion. The planet’s problems had not been solved, but brain stimulation had been achieved.

On Saturday, the college held a memorial service for Prof David Wulstan, a formidable scholar and a musician of the greatest importance in the history of the scholarship and performance of choral music, and an Honorary Fellow of St Peter’s.

David was the founding genius of the Clerkes of Oxenford, created in 1961, which reinvigorated the standing of early English music, particularly 16th-century music. For more than two decades or so, the Clerkes, under his leadership, were pre-eminent in Tudor choral singing. Here is a sample of the discography, and if you are in need of some ethereal Anglican sound, I recommend it. The Clerkes sang at a higher pitch (a minor third) than had previously been the case for performances of Tallis, Gibbons, et al, and the effect is stunning. (David Wulstan rooted this decision in his scholarly understanding of the music of the period – of course – and in particular the voices of those who were singing these pieces.)

There were many in the chapel nave, and as the first hymn began I realised that something unusual was occurring. The vigorous but imprecise singing of a normal congregation at Evensong was replaced by a confident, clear and brilliant sound. The Clerkes had reunited for the occasion, and then sang, extraordinarily, doing the service a Thomas Tomkins anthem and, together with the college’s own choir, Libera nos, salva nos by John Sheppard. It was a superb exposition of choral singing.

David Wulstan had given the college an important collection of musical books and manuscripts, the most beautiful of which are facsimiles of Iberian medieval music. We have placed one of them in a beautifully-lit museum display case in the chapel. It is sumptuous.

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.


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.”