OUSL News

Some of our recent activities …

Monday 27th February - “Play it again” - an OUSL dinner with the Principal of LMH

Alan Rusbridger, the Principal of Lady Margaret Hall and a former journalist and editor-in-chief of “The Guardian”, was the guest speaker at a dinner hosted by the Society in the elegant premises of House 17. He gave a thrilling presentation of his book ““Play It Again: An Amateur Against The Impossible”.

While professionally dealing with, inter alia, Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, the “News of the World” phone-hacking scandal and the rescue of a captured journalist in Libya, Alan Rusbridger managed to learn, in the course of a year, Chopin’s Ballade No.1 in G minor, which is one of the most challenging pieces ever composed for the piano and well known to cinema lovers from the film “The Pianist”. In his presentation, Alan Rusbridger mixed his private story of how he managed to achieve this task with anecdotes of his professional encounters and meetings with famous pianists, piano teachers and amateur musicians. 39 members and distinguished guests formed an enthusiastic audience.

Whilst he was in Luxembourg Alan Rusbridger also visited the European School II at Mamer to talk to pupils, teachers and parents about studying at Oxford.
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Thursday 16th February - Annual General Meeting

With 16 members present the 2017 AGM was more than just a formality run by the Committee. The Chairman and Treasurer reported on a very successful year in 2016, with a strong series of varied events and a membership that had risen to 73 by the end of the year. It was gratifying to see that the Society is attracting new members and that the membership spans all ages and backgrounds. The Chairman’s and Treasurer’s reports will shortly be available on our Members’ page. Our honorary auditor, Richard Goddard, reported favourably on our accounts (also to be published shortly) and was duly re-elected to do the job again! All the current members of the Committee stood for re-election and were joined by Paschalis Paschalidis. Having an extra Committee member was a welcome move, as the current Chairman announced his intention of resigning and leaving the Committee on his 75th birthday in August.

Our custom is never just to do routine business but to add something extra to the AGM. This year Francis Carpenter, one of the original founders of the LOUDIES dining society, an early pre-cursor of OUSL back in the early 80s, gave us a fascinating insider account of a recent, and rare, hostile take-over of a Luxembourg company, where the Board (including Francis), using little-known defence tactics, forced the bidder to seriously increase its offer, before yielding to the inevitable, but honorable, surrender, and winning rare plaudits in the “Financial Times’s” influential LEX column. Details cannot be revealed here, but it was quite a thriller. Many thanks to Francis for lifting the curtain.

The society is most grateful to David and Marilyn Clark for once again hosting the AGM at their appartment on Luxembourg city.
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Tuesday 17th January - Visit to the Luxembourg National Centre for Literature

Oxonians turn up everywhere, so it was no surprise to find that one of our members, Pascal Seil, had become a curator at the Centre National de Littérature in Mersch. He and his director Claude D. Conter kindly invited OUSL to hold their first meeting at the Centre and for nearly all of us it was a revelation. The Centre archives, conserves and promotes literature written in Luxembourg or about Luxembourg, no matter in what language. Luxembourgish obviously takes pride of place but local authors write in French, German and English as well. Indeed, we discovered that another of our members, James Leader, writing in English, was already amongst the established local authors.

The Centre is housed in a lovely old bourgeois house that used to belong to the Servais family, which included Emmanuel Servais, the fifth prime minister of Luxembourg from 1867 to 1874. We were a group of 16 Oxonians who were given a complete tour of the Centre, which has been extensively restored and modernised, for example, to conserve the archives, including precious personal papers, under controlled conditions. We finished the visit in the “Café Littéraire”, a modern extension built to house events such as ours where talks can be given and literature discussed.

On April 6th there will be a lecture on literature in English from Luxembourg which members might like to attend. The Society is most grateful to the Centre for giving us this visit and we hope that many members will have the pleasure of discovering the Centre for themselves.
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Monday 26th September - Freshers’ Dinner

Just before their departure for Oxford the Committee enjoyed a pleasant evening with the new Freshers at the Brasserie de Kirchberg. This year Luxembourg is sending three students: Sibylle Bandilla (Modern Languages, St. Hilda’s); Cameron Bissett (Biochemistry, Worcester) and Adrien Wald (Biochemistry, Pembroke). It was an excellent opportunity for our Committee members to talk with the Freshers and learn about their plans, and also to recollect their own start in Oxford some years — or decades — ago.
OUSL wishes the three new undergraduates an excellent start and many exciting encounters.
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Saturday 9th July - Luxembourg Varsity Cricket Match

The weather was beautiful, although fortunately not as hot as last year. Once again we were the guests of the Wykes family at the Schuman Farm in Evrange. After worries that the ground would be too soggy, the wet weather finally ended and a few warm days dried out the Evrange Oval just in time.

The representatives of the other place manned the barbecue, with other aspects of the organisation ably managed by Lisa Francis-Jennings and other OUSL members. The atmosphere was relaxed and there were many children and babies enjoying themselves along with their parents

Oxford snatched victory from a strong Cambridge side in the last over, making the score 1-all so far. More details of the scoring will follow shortly. We are already looking forward to repeating this very successful event next summer!
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Wednesday 6th July - Annual Dinner

Members and their guests gathered in the convivial setting of the Cercle Munster for our annual dinner, where the guest of honour was the former Mayor of the city of Luxembourg, Paul Helminger.
Mr Helminger gave us a very informative and entertaining overview of the history and outlook for Luxembourg in his speech “Cannons, Beams and Rulings”, the text of which is available for download.
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Wednesday 20th April - Visit to European Court of Auditors

One of the lesser-known parts of the European institutions is the Court of Auditors, which is based in Luxembourg. The British Member of the Court is OUSL member Phil Wynn Owen. On a sunny evening on 20th April, eighteen members and guests were treated to a reception and a fascinating talk “Auditing the European Institutions” about the work of the Court, given by Phil and his assistant Simon Dennett, also an OUSL member.

The members of European Court of Auditors are appointed for 6-year terms and the Court has a collegiate structure designed to ensure complete independence from political interference. Just like an Oxford college, the Members elect their own President.

The Court of Auditors is deeply concerned to improve the workings of the European institutions. Their audits are not just concerned with the financial accounts but also with the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of EU spending. However, the Court’s powers are limited to those of recommendation and publication. To this end they publish a stream of special reports, such as on regional spending, the EU energy market, and migration. You can read more details in Phil’s presentation or on the court’s own website.
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Wednesday 13th April - Information Evening: “Study in the UK"

This year’s event at the École de Commerce et Gestion attracted a record audience, estimated at around 250 people, a mixture of students, parents and teachers. What had previously been an event for Oxford and Cambridge alone was for the first time a UK-wide event, with the participation of the Luxembourg alumni associations from LSE and from Warwick University.

The meeting was opened by the new UK ambassador, Mr John Marshall, who was followed by Mr John Beard of the Cambridge Admissions Office. John Beard gave an engaging talk about the merits of UK universities, particularly the way in which they selected and then supported their chosen students. The special features of Oxford and Cambridge were not forgotten but potential applicants were encouraged to think broadly about their choice of possible courses in the UK. Steve Brabbs of the Cambridge Society backed this up with his well-polished account of the UCAS application process and Lucas Carbonaro and Jessica Whyte gave brief overviews of the distinguishing features of LSE and Warwick.

During the talks more members of the public and alumni from the four universities kept flowing in, so that by half-time we were ready for a mammoth get-to-know-you session, in which students, parents and teachers discussed the choice of courses and universities face-to-face with the alumni. Interest in Oxford was as high as ever. As in previous years, the final measure of success was our difficulty in persuading people that the meeting was over.

The alumni societies are deeply grateful to Mme Weirig, Director of ECG, and to her energetic staff for their generosity and assistance in mounting this event.

John Speed’s presentation is available to download.
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Tuesday 15th March 2016 - Talk by Luxembourg architect Emmanuel Petit

The OUSL had the privilege of hosting the architect Emmanuel Petit for a talk about the architectural history of the “Double House” in postmodernism.
Emmanuel is a partner of Jean Petit Architectes S.A. in Luxembourg and EPISTEME in New Haven, Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. and MA from Princeton University, and his MSc in architecture from the ETH in Zurich. He has taught at different institutions internationally: he was Sir Banister Fletcher Visiting Professor at University College’s Bartlett School of Architecture in London, Associate Professor at the Yale School of Architecture, and Visiting Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and at MIT.

Emmanuel’s talk focused on postmodern architects’ fascination with the ‘Double House’ — a particular typology of houses that represents a critique of the modernist idea of the “synthetic” house-as-machine, and emerges from architecture’s speculative interaction with questions of psychoanalysis, literary theory, history, and philosophy.
As the talk progressed, it became clear that Emmanuel was making a broader point: Architecture is not merely a technique to achieve pragmatic goals. It is a cultural discipline of its own. The constant interaction between the architect’s ideas and the physical order of things makes for a particularly enthralling tension.

Following the talk, what was supposed to be a brief Q&A session turned into an engaging exchange with a critically-minded audience. Emmanuel agreed that there was a big gap between architecture as a discipline and the real world of what gets built. He insisted however that new ideas do in fact gradually percolate through. He condemned the idea of specialised disciplines of ”town planning“ and “city management” as historically emerging from pragmatist roots, and reminded us how much their positivism had destroyed cities as liveable spaces; he argued that the design of urban space ought to be returned to the hands of architects. The place of aesthetics and the idea of beauty remained as an area of debate between architects and the rest of society. After more than half an hour of questions, we moved to dinner, where lively discussions continued.
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Tuesday 5th January 2016 - Talk by Professor Paul Jankowski on the Battle of Verdun

Prof. Paul Jankowski of Brandeis University treated us to a wide-ranging talk about the Battle of Verdun, which began 100 years ago. The meeting was held jointly with the University of Luxembourg and took place in the University’s Weicker Building on Kirchberg.
Prof. Jankowski studied History at Oxford and is now a specialist in modern French history — political, social and military. He showed us how the German attack started without an agreed strategy behind it and how the war of equipment, explosives and gas caused the attack to bog down into a nightmare of more or less static fighting. French politicians had overruled their own military advisers and insisted that Verdun be defended at all costs — and what a cost!
Once locked into the battle neither Germany not France were prepared to relent, because of the loss of prestige this would entail. It was natural then that after the Great War, Verdun should become a national myth of heroic sacrifice. Closer examination of the records by historians shows however that the men on both sides were more or less resigned to do the job they had to do and went on with a dogged determination rather than heroism. In Germany, after the war, this led to the creation of a myth to mirror the French myth of heroic sacrifice: the “stab in the back” of the ordinary German soldiers by a high command and ruling elite — which was forcefully promoted by the Nazis.
In response to a question, he explained that folk memory and myths have certainly hindered a proper assessment and understanding of the First World war: it was only in the 70s and 80s that historians began seriously to explore the actual experience of the battles for those involved in them and for the societies behind them.
“Was there a winner?” he was asked. Well, yes, it was France because the battle ended in a stalemate and they could claim victory as the defenders.
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