Saturday 17th September 2022

Words given by Nicky Bull (Harper), 1972 Biochemistry, at lunch.

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Nicky Bull – Nicky Harper during my time here – and I would first like to thank Honor and her colleagues in the Development Office for inviting me to say a few words as we enjoy our 1972 matriculation year reunion lunch. I apologise that this is something of a hiatus in our meal – quite possibly my fault as I am juggling attendance at the Meeting Minds Weekend alongside our anniversary Gaudy and so couldn’t be here earlier today.

I was a Biochemistry undergraduate, and enjoyed four years living in Oxford, three of them in College. I suspect I am not alone in scarcely being able to believe that it is now 50 years ago that we first came here, from a variety of backgrounds but having all passed entrance exams and probably having received offers of a place at LMH if we achieved just 2 Es at A level. I often reflect on the fact that given today’s requirement to achieve a raft of As and A*s I might not have made it. Which would have been a shame – because my time at LMH certainly changed my life. It cemented a love of learning that dated back, I suspect, to my very first days at a tiny school in Kent; it gave me a stable home for what felt like the first time in my life, after 18 years as a peripatetic child in an RAF family; it introduced me to a group of lovely people, a number of whom have remained friends ever since; it encouraged me to explore the Christian faith – which has been important to me ever since; and it was also where I met my husband, a 1972-entry Geology student at Teddy Hall.

If LMH felt like home back in the 1970s, I have continued to regard it as a second home ever since and although, in the early years of marriage and with a young family, there never seemed to be time or opportunity to come back to Oxford, I did stay in touch with my tutor, the late Dr Margery Ord – exchanging Christmas letters, or latterly December phone calls, for many years. She never met my four children but often enquired after them in footnotes and although I had been rather scared of her while a student I became fond of her over the years. She and Mrs Chilver, our Principal, had been especially helpful when I was considering what to do after graduating and it was thanks to their contacts that I spent a fascinating summer between my third and final years working in Zambia, which led on to a Masters from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I joined the scientific civil service in early 1979, working as a Nutritionist in the Food Science Division of what was then the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and spent some time specialising in food survey work but ‘retired’ from full-time employment at just under 30 to be a home-based mum. Some years later, and having completed a further science degree in late 1989, I changed course altogether and became a freelance copy editor and proof-reader, something I have done ever since. I am sure it was the rigour we learned to apply here in our essay writing – even as science students – that helped enormously as I followed this new career.

Although all Oxford students wrote essays, as science undergrads we had a very full timetable, with lectures and labs pretty much 9 to 5 each day and lectures on Saturday mornings, while the humanities students seemed to spend their days in libraries, poring over books. There was no register taken, but skipping a lecture would have felt like bunking off school; I did, however, sleep through much of one Saturday morning session, after a marathon overnight cinema screening of the War & Peace films lasting over 7 hours. 

Over the last 15 years or so, and especially with the start of the annual Meeting Minds weekends, I have been a much more regular visitor back to LMH. My husband has been very happy that we have always stayed here rather than at Teddy Hall – he maintains that the plumbing at his old college was always vastly inferior to that at the women’s colleges and he is happy not to risk it, even after such a long time. We also enjoy the fact that a day of lectures starts with an excellent breakfast here in the dining hall and a walk across the University parks, and during Frances Lannon’s years as Principal there would be a dinner on the Saturday evening at which we enjoyed meeting up, over a number of years, with other LMH alumni and their husbands. George has another reason to be grateful to LMH – and in particular to the night porter back in the 1970s, Mr Phipps. Although I believe my future husband did at least once scale the side wall in order to leave College after staying later in the evening than men were allowed to, in time he and Mr Phipps came to recognise each other and he would be let out through the locked front door ‘after hours’. I believe that Mr Phipps may have received a bottle of something from my fiancé at the end of my third year when I moved out of College.

During the tenure of Alan Rusbridger my visits to LMH became more frequent: I really enjoyed coming over to join the audience for his ‘In Conversation’ evenings and it was good to continue to enjoy these online when Covid intervened. Over recent years I have been hugely encouraged by two particular aspects of College life – the pioneering introduction of the Foundation Year that is now being rolled out across both Oxford and Cambridge; and the example LMH has set to other colleges in terms of environmental and sustainability measures. I am now looking forward to seeing how things develop under the new Principal in the years ahead. But whatever changes occur I feel sure that LMH will always offer a warm welcome to its alumni and as we celebrate our Gaudy here today I would like to close by making particular mention of Carrie Scott; since she joined the Development Office and established regular contact we have become friends and I have felt much more the significance of being an LMH Senior Member; so thank you to her for keeping in touch and for encouraging all of us to do the same. Enjoy the rest of your day!

Nicky Bull (Mrs)