At Somerville, the arrival of a steady stream of applicants for next year’s undergraduate places heralds the onset of two weeks’ hard work, and then the approach of Christmas. Michaelmas Term is always long, with two weeks of Admissions administration added to an already heavy work load. For the Housekeeping and Catering departments and the ever-welcoming Porters’ Lodge, and for the Academic Office and all the tutors, the work is incessant. But there is something really energising about the arrival of so many potential freshers, and the student helpers unfailingly live up to Somerville’s reputation as the happiest college.
I missed part of the excitement this year because I was away in India for ninth week, drumming up support for our Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development. Back in College, the Development Office worked more than overtime to arrange and support my schedule with all its last minute twists and changes. For me it was an exhilarating honour to be welcomed at a press conference in Delhi arranged by the Government of India, who are giving a grant of £3 million to the College to support our endeavours in scientific fields like Food Security, and in bringing over postgraduate students from India whose work ultimately will bring great benefits to their own country and to the world environment. It felt like a totally different world and I loved it –but I was glad to get home too. Now, with the jet-lag slept off, there is much more work to be done on all the fine print.
Christmas celebrations always begin early at Oxford in order to fit in with the end of term. There was a really delicious (and also boisterous) Michaelmas dinner, carols for an audience that packed the chapel to capacity on the last Sunday of term, and our fantastic College choir performed again at a special carol concert for Somerville alumni and supporters. A dusting of snow greeted some of our admissions candidates, and there appeared on the chapel lawn an enigmatic message written in the snow, which turned out to be an answer to one of the biochemistry test questions (e = 0), fortunately long after the test in question had been and gone.
Next up is the staff Christmas party, to be held at the Randolph Hotel this year so that for once all the kitchen and catering staff can relax and enjoy themselves: a richly deserved break from waiting on the rest of us. The College’s round of hospitality will continue unabated in the New Year, with guest nights and special dinners on average at least once a week; so a moment of respite and appreciation is definitely in order.