Summer Schools in the making: news from the front


A return to the quill after a long silence. Welcome! all who have signed up for the Summer Schools since my last blog posting. To anyone who is considering applying: sign up as soon as you can, to try to secure your first choice of courses. Many are now full or are filling fast, and some of the accommodation options are now full for this year.

What’s going on in the Summer Schools’ office? Applications and enquiries a-plenty. (Sorry if your message or application has had to join the pile jostling for attention: we will attend to all messages and mail as quickly as possible!) Snatchings of leave amongst the seven of us, as we catch a little respite before period of total focus leading up to – and running right through – the Summer Schools. Confirmations to our course directors about all the courses which Summer School courses will run and, very regrettably, notification of the very small number which will not.

We make decisions early in May each year about any courses which do not enrol enough to make them academically viable, and then contact anyone enrolled on them as swiftly as possible to offer places in second-choice courses. It’s never an easy task, and, thankfully, has an impact only on a very small number of students and lecturers.

This is also the time of year when we have been interviewing for, and offering posts to, the Cambridge students who provide invaluable support front of house as our ‘resident assistants’. (We shall shortly revise our terminology, as for years we have called them ‘Resident Tutors’: one of those historical and delightfully misleading terms, as teaching is the one thing they do not do). Speaking of delightful historical quirkinesses, I’m thrilled that the first evening lecture for all Summer School participants will be from Tim Milner, on ‘Why some be abolished, and some retained: formal and ceremonial traditions in the university at the start of the twenty-first century’. A little later, Stefan Collini will talk about ‘The idea of the University, Newman and now. We’ve many other treats in store amongst the plenaries (whether they are for specific programmes or are shared). Rather than tempt you with ones which might only be for a Summer School which you are not attending, I’ll just mention the ones which are for more than one programme.

We have introductions to the plays people can see on Saturdays: ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ and ‘Macbeth’; a talk on ‘Dambusters: building the bouncing bomb’, an all-too-topical discussion centering on ‘The Middle East: a wind of change?’ There’s a first-time showing of a film on Churchill, and an ever-popular lecture on ‘Code-breaking and the ENIGMA machine’. Those staying into weeks five and six (7-20 August) will have the delights of actors Vivien Heilbron and David Rintoul performing scenes which show Shakespeare tackling ‘Matters of life and death’ on the Lady Mitchell Hall stage, and ‘minstrel extraordinaire’ Trevor James talking about and playing instruments and music which would have been familiar to medieval and Shakespearean audiences. Those in the earlier part of the summer have a chance to hear the world-renowned Alberni String Quartet and also to hear music from another very English tradition: a silver band. And then, of course, there are the ceilidhs, folk dances in which you participate.  They are great ice-breakers.

And as to weekends… if you are coming to a programme this summer, we strongly urge you to take the opportunity to go on one of the excursions. If my drive across country last weekend is anything to go by, even the bus rides there should be enjoyable: the English countryside is looking gorgeous right now, all green and lush. We’ve been short of rain, so hope things don’t dry out too much before you get here… and that the overdue rain doesn’t decide to come in July and August.

Since some of us are on leave, I had better rush back to emails and such. We are delighted that (leave-taking aside) we are back to full strength: Louise Gutteridge has joined our team this week, and is already so immersed in sorting, filing, and a huge pile of enquiries, it’s as though she’s been here for ages.

Other than that, I have to say that the department’s investment in an instant hot-water boiler in the kitchen opposite my room has had two great outcomes. Firstly, I no longer have to stand and wait for a kettle to boil to get the coffee I need to keep going through the roller-coast months of May and June. And secondly, as it ticks over between dispensings, it makes a soft, gentle ‘whooshing’ noise, like small waves lapping on a pebble beach. It’s not quite as good as being by the sea in Cornwall (the connection is my excuse for the sea front picture above, since one of our number has just returned from that glorious county in south west of the country), but as I toil at the computer and wade through the sea of paperwork on my desk, it is strangely comforting.…….