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Rounding up the summer

September 23, 2012

Summer’s past in sunshine and the good temper of the Olympic month, which seems to have affected everyone I meet in this country with a kind of surprised, collegial friendliness. Gazing out of the window at a day of mid September rain, I still think back on the pleasures of the past three months gratefully. Most memorable of all were the four days that Frank and I spent as guests of an extremely generous host, in the mountains outside Salzburg, treated to a feast of opera and concerts, and fantastic Austrian hospitality. The Mozarteum Orchestra and an inventive puppet theatre provided unalloyed delight, and Simon Rattle’s Carmen, criticised for a lack of lustiness by some of our company, nevertheless was a great treat for someone who last saw the opera decades ago. We struggled with Die Soldaten, the bleakest of operas by Zimmerman, and came away pitying the Vienna Philharmonic for being put through that. Still, the use of real horses in opera was a first for me. (It was staged in the former equestrian centre in Salzburg, now a theatre and opera house.) I don’t suppose the horses minded as much as at least some of the audience did, though a favourable review of this same production in the TLS succeeded in making me feel uninitiated and low-brow, as such disagreements can do. That aside, we have golden memories of a stay in the most stunning surroundings and cultivated company. A few days in France after leaving Austria completed a good length of break and helped me return to Oxford feeling I’d had a real holiday.
Somerville has much to celebrate in the wake of the summer: the successful appointment of a new Treasurer who will follow the long and highly effective tenure of Helen Morton, starting in January. It will be sad to lose Helen to a well earned retirement, but we look forward eagerly to welcoming Andrew Parker, joining us after a successful decade as finance director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I anticipate a creative and challenging fresh look at the College’s potential.
That potential is developing in exciting ways, for instance with the establishment of the Global Ocean Commission, which was another high point of the last six months in the College. Yet to be launched formally, the commission, which is funded by a partnership led by the Pew Charitable Trusts Environment Group, is still in the process of being set up, but its secretariat staff, now appointed as full members of the College, have premises at Somerville’s front entrance and are beginning to plan for interactions with our Fellows and students. New internships and seminars will offer the stimulus of contact with world-leading science and policy making in one of the most challenging sets of problems that we face: the future of the oceans, food security, biodiversity, and the urgent need for international governance to arrest potentially catastrophic deterioration.
As I welcomed a large crop of new graduates at the weekend for a celebratory degree day ceremony, I was hugely encouraged to see so many of them embarking on careers, including postgraduate study, that will realise the potential they have demonstrated so richly as students. I’m looking forward to hearing about the summer internships and adventurous travels of our current students as they return for the new academic year.

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