Archive for Magdalene College

R.I.P. Bamber Gascoigne

Posted in Biographical, Television with tags , , , on February 8, 2022 by telescoper

I was saddened this morning to hear of the death at the age of 87 of Bamber Gascoigne who was best known as the original presenter of University Challenge. He was an excellent quizmaster, not least because he actually seemed to know the answers to the questions (rather than just reading them from the cards like his successor Jeremy Paxman did) and often supplied extra pieces of information off his own bat.

Though he cut a stern figure whenever anybody transgressed e.g. the “no conferring” rule, he always seem to be generous in his praise and people who took part in the show say he was very gentle with the contestants who were often very nervous.

I never met Bamber Gascoigne in the flesh, although I attended the same college (Magdalene College, Cambridge) as he did when he was an undergraduate (though not at the same time) and I’m sure he was around at some dinners and other events while I was there.

I used to watch University Challenge a lot when I was at school. It’s sad to have to say goodbye to yet another figure from the era.

Rest in Peace Bamber Gascoigne (1935-2022)

Charles Kingsley on the Irish

Posted in Biographical, History, Politics with tags , , , , on September 4, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve been aware since my schooldays that there has been (and still is) a significant tendency among the English (especially their governing classes) to regard the Irish as lawless barbarians, but this quote which I found in a book I’ve been reading really took my breath away. It’s from a letter written by Charles Kingsley to his wife in 1861, while he was travelling through an Ireland still reeling from the devastation of the Great Famine:

But I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don’t believe they are our fault, I believe that there are not only more of them than of old, but that they are happier, better, more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.

This passage is revolting in so many ways that I don’t think it needs any further comment, but it is worth mentioning that Charles Kingsley was, by the standards of his time, regarded as something of a progressive. As well as being a Church of England priest, Professor of History and a novelist (I read The Water-Babies when I was a child), he was also a social reformer involved in such initiatives as the working men’s college and labour cooperatives. Clearly his concern for the poor and oppressed didn’t extend much beyond his own people.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that Charles Kingsley did his undergraduate studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as did I (thought not at the same time).

The Parnell Connection

Posted in Beards, Biographical, History with tags , , , , on April 19, 2018 by telescoper

Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891)

Taking a short breather and a cup of coffee in between this morning’s lecture and a forthcoming computer lab session I thought I’d do a quick post following on from a comment on yesterday’s post about an O-level History paper.

I was an undergraduate student at Magdalene College, Cambridge, which just happens to be where 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell (above) studied, although I hasten to add that we weren’t contemporaries. There is an annual Parnell Lecture at Magdalene in his honour; an annual Coles lecture is yet to be established. Parnell is widely remembered here in Ireland too, not least in place names: there is , for example, a handsome Georgian square in Dublin named after him.

Parnell was one of the most charismatic, capable and influential Parliamentarians of his era, and led the Irish Parliamentary Party at the forefront of moves for Home Rule for Ireland. He also had a splendid beard. His career was cut short by scandal in the form of an adulterous relationship with Kitty (Katherine) O’Shea, whom her husband divorced in 1889 naming Parnell in the case, and whom he married after the divorce. (Kitty, that is, not her husband.) They were not to enjoy life together for long, however, as Parnell died in 1891 of pneumonia in the arms of his wife in 1891 at their home in Brighton (Hove, actually).


Admissions to Degrees

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on June 20, 2015 by telescoper

My trip to Cambridge earlier this week along with talk of other anniversaries made me a bit nostalgic this morning so I dug out the papers I kept about my own graduation.


It turns out I graduated on Saturday 22nd June 1985. You can see my name on the list of graduands at the top left of this montage.

I don’t remember much about the actual ceremony nor the rest of the day, perhaps because I was hungover from the night before..

On the right you see details of the Graduation Dinner held on Friday 21st June. When that ended, a large crowd went to the Pickerel where I remember singing all the verses of the Blaydon Races although I don’t remember why..

Freshers’ Week Reminiscences

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , on September 13, 2014 by telescoper

So here I am again, on campus, on a Saturday, this time to attend some receptions for new students (“Freshers”) who have just arrived at the University of Sussex to start their courses. I always enjoy meeting the new intake at this time of year; we sometimes call them “The Autumn Collection”, although it’s only mid-September and definitely not autumn yet. In fact it’s very warm and sunny and summery on Falmer campus today. The  downside of these annual events is that the students look much younger every year, so every one makes me feel a lot older than the one before!

Looking through my back catalogue of blog posts I realize that this blog is six years old next week. One of my first blog posts was about  memories of my own first day at University and it seems appropriate to repeat some of it here. I notice actually that virtually all Freshers’ weeks I’ve written about over the past six years have been accompanied by fine weather. I find this kind of weather a bit spooky because it always takes me back to the time when I left home to go to University, as thousands of fledgling students are about to do this year in their turn. I did it 32 years ago, getting on a train at Newcastle Central station with my bags of books and clothes. I said goodbye to my parents there. There was never any question of them taking me in the car all the way to Cambridge. It wasn’t practical and I wouldn’t have wanted them to do it anyway. After changing from the Inter City at Peterborough onto a local train, we trundled through the flatness of East Anglia until it reached Cambridge. The weather, at least in my memory, was exactly like today.

I don’t remember much about the actual journey, but I must have felt a mixture of fear and excitement. Nobody in my family had ever been to University before, let alone to Cambridge. Come to think of it, nobody from my family has done so since either. I was a bit worried about whether the course I would take in Natural Sciences would turn out to be difficult, but I think my main concern was how I would fit in generally.

I had been working between leaving school and starting my undergraduate course, so I had some money in the bank and I was also to receive a full grant. I wasn’t really worried about cash. But I hadn’t come from a posh family and didn’t really know the form. I didn’t have much experience of life outside the North East either. I’d been to London only once before going to Cambridge, and had never been abroad.

I didn’t have any posh clothes, a deficiency I thought would mark me as an outsider. I had always been grateful for having to wear a school uniform (which was bought with vouchers from the Council) because it meant that I dressed the same as the other kids at School, most of whom came from much wealthier families. But this turned out not to matter at all. Regardless of their family background, students were generally a mixture of shabby and fashionable, like they are today. Physics students in particular didn’t even bother with the fashionable bit. Although I didn’t have a proper dinner jacket for the Matriculation Dinner, held for all the new undergraduates, nobody said anything about my dark suit which I was told would be acceptable as long as it was a “lounge suit” (whatever that is).

Taking a taxi from the station, I finally arrived at Magdalene College. I waited outside, a bundle of nerves, for some time before entering the Porter’s Lodge and starting my life as a student. My name was found and ticked off and a key issued for my room in the Lutyens building. It turned out to be a large room, with a kind of screen that could be pulled across to divide the room into two, although I never actually used this contraption. There was a single bed and a kind of cupboard containing a sink and a mirror in the bit that could be hidden by the screen. The rest of the room contained a sofa, a table, a desk, and various chairs, all of them quite old but solidly made. Outside my  room, on the landing, was the gyp room, a kind of small kitchen, where I was to make countless cups of tea over the following months, although I never actually cooked anything there.

I struggled in with my bags and sat on the bed. It wasn’t at all like I had imagined. I realized that no amount of imagining would ever really have prepared me for what was going to happen at University.

I  stared at my luggage. I suddenly felt like I had landed on a strange island where I didn’t know anyone, and couldn’t remember why I had gone there or what I was supposed to be doing. I’ve had that feeling ever since, but after 32 years I think I’m used to it.

The Joy of Pepys

Posted in Biographical, History with tags , , , , on May 3, 2013 by telescoper

Twitter is much maligned by those who don’t use it, and I’d be the first to admit that it has several million downsides, but every now and again you come across something truly wonderful which makes it worthwhile putting up with the dross. Here’s an example. Some time ago, a nameless genius came up with the idea of tweeting excerpts from the Diaries of Samuel Pepys.  Those of you on Twitter can follow Samuel Pepys by clicking here:

For those of you not familiar with Twitter, its main characteristic is that messages posted on it (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters. To outsiders this seems to imply that all tweets are banal and pointless, but this is far from the case. The strict length limit forces a form of creativity that is both rare and wonderful. The stroke of genius in this case was to realize that the Pepys Diaries could be tweeted in chunks of the right size, in a manner that almost suggests they were designed for the purpose!

Pepys was a high-ranking naval administrator and Member of Parliament so he had detailed knowledge of the momentous political events of his period. He’s currently tweeting from May 1660 (near the start of the diaries), giving a vivid insight into the background to the Restoration of the Monarchy. Parliament should be recalled in a few days time, on May 8th…

Here is a selection of recent examples:

But it’s not just the fascinating political context that makes these tweets so interesting. They also give glimpses of everyday life in the 17th Century. Pepys was in poor health for much of his life, for example, and there are frequent references to various physicians and their quack remedies. He also manages to conjure up in just a few words the extraordinary atmosphere and energy of the London of the period, along with some of its excesses (especially drinking and fornication).

Following Pepys’ Twitter feed opens a window into 17th Century England, and what comes through it is both refreshing and illuminating. The reason I find this particularly delightful is something that I’ve blogged about before, so won’t repeat at length. I was a very late developer from an education point of view until I was helped with my reading and arithmetic by a wonderful old lady who lived next door. She encouraged me to read and, after a big struggle, I eventually got the hang of it. After a time I had caught up with the rest of the class in School and eventually managed to read just about every book the School had to offer, including the Diaries of Samuel Pepys which were for some reason on the shelves in Class 2 and which I was allowed to borrow. I don’t think anyone had read them before so nobody, including the teachers, knew how rude they were in places. The Restoration period was generally rather bawdy, and Pepys’ Diaries reflect that.

I had no idea at that time, of course, that less than ten years later I would be studying at Magdalene College, Cambridge, site of the Pepys Library where the orignal diaries are kept as well as the rest of Pepys’ own collection of rare books and music.

Alma Mater

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , on March 22, 2013 by telescoper

During my short visit to Cambridge on Wednesday I happened to pass through Magdalene College (on my way to a couple of pints in The Pickerel). I couldn’t resist taking a pic of the Lutyens Building, where I lived in the first year (1982/3). My room was second from the far end, on the first floor. I wonder who’s in there now?

Smalltown Boy

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , on September 13, 2010 by telescoper

This time of year always fills me with nostalgia. All the talk of new students arriving, taking their first steps on a new life away from home, reminds me of the time many years ago when got on the train in Newcastle and made the long journey to Cambridge with most of my belongings in suitcases. No-one in my family had ever gone to university before I went to Cambridge – and  none have gone since, if truth be told!

I’d only been to Cambridge once before (for the interview). When I got there, after several hours’ travel, and sat down in the room in Magdalene College that had been allocated to me, I felt someone (possibly me) had made a terrible mistake and there was no way I would ever feel like I belonged there.

In fact, I’m now feeling second-order nostalgia, because one of my very first blog posts, almost two years ago, was about that trip. I remember sitting in the garden writing it just as I remember sitting in my new room in Cambridge all those years ago thinking “What on Earth am I doing here?”.

Having set  off on a sentimental journey, I might as well complete it with this  track from Bronski Beat which – for reasons which I hope are obvious – completes the sense of wistfulness. This was released in 1984, a  couple of years after I left home, but I’ve never been one to let mere chronology get in the way of self-indulgence.