In case you missed it: A message from the Vice-Chancellor

23 March 2020
Dear alumni,


Greetings from a very quiet Oxford. I’m sitting in my office in the Clarendon Building looking out at the beautiful Bodleian quad entirely empty of students and visitors. In the absence of the usual bustle, the University remains open.


I wanted to write to you as members of the alumni community to update you on how Oxford is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic.


We had eight confirmed cases in the student body when we broke for the Easter holidays. The timing of the break was fortuitous in that it has given us time to develop plans for moving all our teaching and assessment online for Trinity term.


We mobilised Bronze and Silver emergency management teams many weeks ago to help us anticipate the implications for a uniquely complex institution. Our international staff and student body belong to 39 colleges and 6 PPHs and many were conducting research, field-work and language training all over the world.


The collegiate University have come together as one to ensure that our students are cared for, our research protected, and our staff supported. Most of our students have returned home while those that remain are supported here. Most of our staff are now working remotely.


While things are quiet on the surface, we have been very busy. The Bodleian has responded to the crisis by launching a campaign to ‘Keep Oxford Reading’. When students left at the end of Hilary term they took 35,000 books with them. On 17 March, the day the library closed, a further 5,000 books were borrowed. The Bodleian is making available a vast array of digital reading material and working with other libraries and academic presses to make e-Book catalogues openly accessible. Finally, the library is also providing an eReference and eEnquiry LiveChat.


Across the divisions our academics have been contributing to the national effort to combat the pandemic; from expert modellers in the Department of Statistics, to engineers developing medical apps and, of course, our medics supporting the NHS and working on developing a vaccine. Please take a look at this microsite which provides information on some of the extraordinary research that is being done in Oxford. One cannot read this material without feeling enormous admiration for the talent of our colleagues and pride in the work they are doing to save lives, both at home and abroad.


As I write, UKRI is announcing government funding for six coronavirus related research projects. Three of these are in Oxford: Professor Sarah Gilbert’s team working on developing a vaccine; Professor Peter Horby’s team testing new and existing drugs on patients with confirmed coronavirus, and Dr Sandy Douglas’s team developing manufacturing processes for mass production of vaccines.


We have not forgotten our local community in the midst of this crisis. The Oxford Hub has launched a campaign, ‘Oxford Together’, to mobilise volunteers across the city. They have divided the city into 600 streets with ‘neighbourhood captains’ arranging assistance for vulnerable members of our community.


This crisis has posed some very real challenges to the University and it will continue to do so as we enter the very difficult times to come. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we will learn a great deal from this experience and will emerge stronger for it. The enduring value of our core mission – conducting cutting edge research, educating the next generation of responsible citizens, and contributing to the society around us – has never been more evident.


I would like to thank you, our alumni, for your ongoing support of our efforts. You are our best advocates and ambassadors, and are key members of the University community.


Sending my best wishes to you and your families.


Professor Louise Richardson


La Halle aux Grains – a great venue

Last Friday we had the joy of hearing a top orchestra – the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse – at the magnificent Halle aux Grains in Toulouse; with Sibelius and Richard Strauss, two of my favourites, as well. If you haven’t been to an event there, do make an effort to do so = it’s a great venue and the acoustics are surprisingly good for a building which wasn’t purpose built. There’s a designer-type hotel literally next door, Les Bains Douches, on the site of the old Toulouse public baths I believe; it’s a bit bizarre but it has some secure parking and there are plenty of good restaurants close by (and the Irish pub if you like Guinness and boisterous patrons).


The Bonjour Effect reviewed by Fiona MacKenzie

Our first book review on the site: many thanks to OUS SW France member, Fiona McKenzie. The book was offered to Marion for review by the publishers Duckworth.

Review – The Bonjour Effect

By Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoit Nadeau

Published by Duckworth Overlook, July 2016

The Bonjour Effect by the husband and wife team of Canadian writers, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow is an intriguing guide to understanding what the French are really saying. It’s written on the premise that even if you think you’re pretty fluent in French, the simple literal translation can leave out many of the cultural and societal nuances that hide behind the words.

Nadeau and Barlow have a good track record in tackling the complexities of France and the French. The authors of Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong and The Story Of French, they’ve lived and travelled extensively in France and French-speaking countries, and for their latest book, they spent a year living in Paris with their two young daughters from 2013 to 2014.

They start with one of the most familiar French words, ‘Bonjour’. Getting this wrong can lead to some very Gallic cold-shoulders. After eleven years living in the South West of France I dare not board a bus, buy an apple, walk into a bar, or sit down in a doctor’s waiting room, without saying Bonjour. Many of my French friends who have small businesses frequently complain about how rude the English tourists are – walking into their shops without even saying ‘bonjour’, rummaging through the racks, and walking out again without saying ‘Merci, au revoir’. For the leaving is as important as the arriving (something which sadly Nadeau/Barlow miss out in their chapter on Bonjour).

This is most definitely not a book to help you improve your French in the sense of a language/grammar guide book, although the authors did originally set out to write a learners’ guide called “How to Speak to the French in Twelve Easy Chapters.” Somewhat disarmingly, they confess that they departed from this structure because they, “met fascinating people, had surprising experiences, and ended up with lots of stories to tell.” And that’s exactly what makes this book a pleasure – the amazing number of anecdotes and observations on current French society from sexual mores to politics to business to education. Nadeau and Barlow then add in a layer of anthropological, linguistic, and historical details that make this book a fascinating exploration of French as spoken by the French.

It’s great to read alongside a fellow Francophile as the temptation to interrupt them in their activities and share nuggets of information is overpowering. As a life-long enthusiast with a view that my cup is always half full, I was puzzled by the French always moaning. But I now know why my French friends thought my enthusiasm was ‘charming but quaint’. In their eyes, ‘being happy seems naïve’. As the authors put it: “Overt pessimism has an elegant anti-establishment quality about it, like wearing all black.”

Concepts like ‘terroir’, the French obsession with food, the importance of philosophy for the French, how they approach education and raise their children, getting to grips with French identity (and the current issues surrounding racism in France) – all find a place in this book.

I wish it had been written before I came to live in France eleven years ago. Some things I’ve learned through trial and error, but some things – despite speaking pretty fluent French – have passed me by, and this book provides a brilliant explanation of aspects of French life and culture that for me, had got ‘lost in translation.’

Fiona McKenzie

August 2016