Oxford is beautiful in September. I had forgotten how the sunlight falls on the mellow stone that make up so many of the college buildings and the leaves, just turning, add to the golden glow. The city hums with life on a weekend like the one just past, but it is not yet dominated by students as it soon will be: rather by clusters of tourists and the constant activity of markets and shops.
This Sunday the city opened up for its Oxford Open Days. Local residents and visitors alike were invited to explore places that are not usually open to them. I was delighted that Somerville took part in this friendly programme. Hundreds of visitors followed our “Margaret Thatcher and Dorothy Hodgkin trail” celebrating two of our most famous alumnae, with displays in the Council Room, the library and the Margaret Thatcher Centre, and a special quiz for children. They were also free just to enjoy the gardens, which are looking beautiful. Yesterday the college played host to a Somervillian wedding, and conferences have occupied part of the buildings for most of the week: hard work for our unfailingly welcoming porters and other staff.
There is a virtually limitless supply of possibilities for future trails and college open days. We could celebrate the long tradition of Somerville novelists, from Dorothy Sayers and Winifred Holtby to Iris Murdoch, Penelope Fitzgerald, AS Byatt and onwards. Or we could turn to the achievements of politicians, writers and statespeople like Baroness Shirley Williams and her mother Vera Brittain, who is now commemorated with a special library room; not to mention Indira Gandhi, Somerville’s first prime minister. Perhaps the five current Members of Parliament, who add new lustre to our traditions of public service, might contribute to this theme.