St. Catherine’s College

King for a day…

There comes a point in the life of a doctoral student where the weight of the thesis becomes so unbearable that the mere sight of it leads to a state of nausea.

Then life moves on slowly and sooner or later, it becomes possible to say the word ‘thesis’ again, without any visible signs of discomfort. I am gradually making my way into the latter territory, and this weekend marked the passage of a key event in this healing process, graduation day.

At Oxford (and elsewhere, of course), this is a big thing. My brothers stole my camera for most of the day and took some jolly pictures.

Here are my favourites:


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A new chapter begins

Pre viva

The black cloud that has been hovering above my head for the past four and a half years has finally disappeared. This may sound like a trivial anecdote to some, but the damning feature of a doctoral thesis is that it never escapes you. This is something you can never understand unless you go ahead and write one. I certainly had no idea about it when I – as a matter of coincidence – started out.

It has been a marvellous time and I am happy and proud to have worked with some of the best brains around the globe at Oxford, Berkeley, CERN and in the Hague. The backside has been the inevitable frustration, solitude and sometimes petty politics of the academy.

The picture, featuring my colleague Linsey and I, was taken just minutes before my long walk to the School of Geography where the viva took place. And no, before you ask, I tend not to walk around with a red carnation in my button hole.

I was too nervous to arrange for celebrations in advance, but Sam took control, sorted out the weather and organised a champagne and strawberries get together in the University Parks.

The result? A pass and virtually no corrections. Hell yeah.

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Writing about buildings/architecture for lay people

St Catherine's in the autumn
I am planning to write a New Yorker-style article on the construction of St. Catherine’s College and need your help.

Most of the people who knew Jacobsen and worked with him during the construction will not be around for that much longer, yet I feel there is a need to articulate some of the untold stories about the initial phase and the socio-material developments since then.

I know very few good ‘accounts’ of buildings or sites but have had a couple of recommendations so far:

Pretty much anything by John Betjeman (books – including the Shell County series – and TV programmes – some of the latter may be available on DVD). He was a real English eccentric with a particular love of Victorian buildings and railways – which came together in his campaign to prevent the demolition of St Pancras (there is a statue of him in the new Eurostar station). His gift was, I think, to communicate his passion for the subject and he wasn’t afraid to be critical. He also founded the Private Eye column that highlighted how our traditional and beautiful buildings were being demolished/desecrated to feed the modernistic tendencies of the 1960s and 1970s.  

One of my favourite books – for obvious reasons – is Christopher (who died very recently) and Edward Hibbert’s Encyclopedia of Oxford. It covers the architecture of the various colleges (and other buildings) and does a good job of explaining how and why things were built.

Can you think of any other sources of inspiration; fiction, factual, written, on screen, online? – any help appreciated.

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Monday morning and nothing better to do

Yes, Kevin Spacey will be a visiting professor at Catz next term, adding to a fine list of specimens such as Patrick Stewart and Cate Blanchett. Perhaps I should stick around a little longer…

The Guardian has asked Mark Haddon, author of the delightful book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, to write about current UK refugee policies. Reading it is like receiving a punch to the gut.

I ask Sergey what he wants from life. ‘For myself I want to be kind. If you are cold I can give you this jacket. But this jacket, it is rubbish. If you say you need money I have no money to give you. What has happened to me? I try to be kind, to be kind, to be kind. I want my two sons learning that. To be kind. To be polite. To be gentlemen. I am their father, I am the head of the family, but I cannot help. I am like a dead man here.’

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Summer Eights


This time of year everything fades into the background; when all the hours spent on the river and the erg must be converted into bumps; when eating becomes obsessive; when hundreds of students feel, for a few minutes only, that the universe revolves around them.

It is the feeling of listening to your own heartbeat as you count down the seconds to what will inevitably feel like a controlled demolition of your lungs, legs, arms, and back.

Luckily, ‘my’ boat is blessed with some very mean machines in the engine room and a skilled captain on the bridge.

It is, of course, pure pleasure.

Picture courtesy of Anu Dudhia.

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Thesis, what thesis?

There are few pleasures as pure as that of punting.

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The Boat Race 2008

However wonderful things are in sunny California, I thoroughly regret missing out on the Boat Race tomorrow.

Gamblers and others with money to spare should place their bets on the Dark Blues, let there be no doubt about that.

Today’s Guardian features a nice series of pictures, and the BBC’s Martin Gough talks about why he loves the Race, despite the usual allegations over elitism, etc. It is funny how the English like to see everything as a class struggle.

[Update: yay!]

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Blades in the water

Celebrating the outcome
Possibly the only thing that puts a smile on my face at 6am.

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My day in a few words

Torpids. Thank God for insurance.

PS. There is a reason why it is called a bumps race.

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Almost famous

St Catherine's in the autumn
I feel most delighted to have my picture above, St. Catherine’s in the Autumn, featured in the 2008 Schmap guide to Oxford.

Schmap is, as only the blatantly ignorant would not know, a world famous web 2.0 outfit, which makes it even more of an achievement to have this honour, not cash, bestowed upon me.

Yeah right. And the server happens to be down at the moment of posting…

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