Last weekend was, as always in term time, studded with a host of contrasting events. It started with the Colleges Committee – a rather formal body which meets just once a term, with the Heads of Houses (as Masters are collectively called) and a number of senior officers of the University. We learnt of developments in strategic priorities, and heard from the Vice-Chancellor of his plans for the year. The brief meeting ended with a toast to Sir John Bradfield, Senior Bursar of Trinity College for a significant part of the 20th century – it was suggested that he may have had as significant an effect on the financial success of Trinity as Henry VIII.

Back to College to greet Sir Dennis Byron (Law 1962, Hon Fellow) who had kindly agreed to talk with students about his career. Sir Dennis is now President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, but before this he was President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). It is now 20 years since nearly a million people (yes, nearly a million people) were butchered in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority people. Perhaps 20% of the country’s population died, 70% of the Tutsi population of the country. Once relative calm was restored, 130,000 suspects were held in Rwandan jails, but with only about 50 lawyers in the country the Rwandan judicial system could not cope – and the ICTR was established by the United Nations Security Council to try war crimes. Sir Dennis spoke passionately of the tragedy that Rwanda faced, and of the achievements of his court. He contrasted the ICTR’s achievements with the impossibly slow legal processes faced by those many Rwandans who escaped to France. Sir Dennis’s audience was charmed by both his empathy and wisdom.

An informal lunch party preceded the memorial service for Sir James Holt, Master of Fitzwilliam College from 1981-1988. He was a renowned medieval historian, author of the hugely admired Magna Carta and Mediaeval Government which I hope we will celebrate in College next year (for obvious reasons, I hope – Magna Carta was signed in 1215). Two splendid tributes paid homage to a great man, one by Professor John Hudson of St Andrews University, the other by Professor Robert Lethbridge (Senior Tutor, 1982-1992; Master 2005-2013). Fitzwilliam and Emmanuel choirs joined together magnificently, but perhaps the musical highlights were the organ preludes played by Senior Organ Scholar, Charles Gurnham (Natural Sciences 2012), including Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s Freu dich sehr. Jim would have enjoyed them.

We enjoyed two pancake parties on Sunday. We have been inviting all the undergraduate freshers to the Master’s Lodge in small groups for piles of pancakes and waffles cooked by my long-suffering husband, Christopher (Engineering 1968). A nice way to have some informal conversations and to learn some surprising things about the College. The week-end ended with a splendid piano recital under the umbrella of Fitzwilliam College Music Society: Anna Sozanska, second year medical student, treated us to a short programme of Polish piano music.  Anna, who is Polish, had carefully chosen the repertoire – she started off with the Waltz in E-flat minor by Stanisław Moniuszko, who is not only regarded as the father of Polish national opera, but also composed a series of Songbooks for Home Use, in which he used folk tunes to create inspiring patriotic songs that could accompany everyday lives of all, not just the professional musicians. The waltz was followed by the first two Nocturnes from Opus 9 by Chopin. The next piece, Chant d’amour, was composed by Ignacy Paderewski, KBE, who, apart from being an excellent pianist and composer, was also a committed and passionate diplomat and politician, involved in the development of Poland, particularly in the years that followed restoration of its independence. The final piece, Ballade in G minor, returned to Chopin. The concert embraced a mixture of feelings and emotions – from love to melancholy, from hope to desperation, from exultation to suffering – all of which have been so close to the hearts of Poles over the course of last centuries; but its recurrent theme was always patriotism and great pride in being Polish.

I thoroughly enjoyed the music, and was also led to think about what it means to be Polish, both in the 19th century and today: Chopin, for example, had settled in Paris by the time he was 21, and spent his remaining 18 years there. Yet his music is very “Polish”… Many Polish expats of course remain ardent patriots – despite their total immersion in a foreign culture, they remain Polish, always supporting their homeland and spreading its cultural heritage.

Next weekend we add one of the regular student tandem rides: Christopher saw my election to the Mastership as an excuse to increase considerably the number of tandem bicycles in his stable, and we have much enjoyed gentle rides via ancient churches and convivial hostelries with a series of delightful students.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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