An Exciting Year
With the advent of the summer recess, we can look back over an exciting year for the Cambridge Society of Paris.
But before looking back, let us consider the present, for the Society has changed considerably over this past year. Last summer, we set the ambitious target of doubling the membership within eighteen months. Now, to my delight, thanks to the enthusiasm of the core team, this objective is close to being fulfilled. Taking a snapshot in time, the AGM of last year and this, the membership a year ago stood at 93. At the equivalent AGM today, the paid membership amounted to 167. Since then, further members have renewed, and others joined, so the target has very, very nearly been reached, and the trajectory is heading fast towards 200.
Another structural change has been the creation of College Representatives providing a direct link between the Colleges and the Cambridge Society of Paris. At present we have College Representatives for two thirds of the Colleges, with others identified to create a complete network of Representatives for every College in Cambridge. The system has already proved its worth in boosting the membership, and we have plans for further liaison with the Colleges in the context, for example, of the Trevor Brown Bursary. Many thanks to every College Representative. You have all been a tremendous help and, in some cases, the results have been stunning, starting with St John’s (thanks to Edward Archer) and Fitzwilliam (care of Edward Bryant).
A third fundamental, game changing improvement, about to be revealed, thanks to committee member Stephanie Coutu, is the website. Our current website is, in fact, not too bad, kept up to date minute by minute thanks to Tony Banton. But Stephanie’s new website will be light years ahead. Much more interactive; with online transactions, ticketing and membership; more visual; and under our direct control. Also, a link to Mailchimp, our new publicity package that has had a preliminary outing for the Garden Party and will emerge in full high-tech glory with the launch of the website.
Finally, the start of our plans to widen the reach of the Cambridge Society of Paris geographically and in terms of younger members. The groundwork has been laid with two amendments to the Constitution: a change in the cost of Country Membership from €40 to €20, and automatic three-year free membership for new student members.
To extend our membership, to encompass more Cambridge alumni, and to better serve the University, we hope to assist other groups of Cambridge alumni to emerge across France, with reciprocal relationships to Paris. The first was to have been the 189 Alumni in and around Lyon. A stalwart Lyon based alumnus very kindly offered himself as the focus, and Tony Banton and I worked with him to set the wheels in motion. Suffice to say this was thwarted as a text book reliance on marketing and excessive enthusiasm for fundraising on the part of the Development Office so annoyed our intrepid Lyonnais, that he disappeared into the sunset. I don’t doubt however that other opportunities will emerge and the concept of reciprocal links across France is enticing.
Time now to look back over the past year, picking up some of the many activities that we have embarked upon along the way:
The post rentrée season began with the traditional, but increasingly important Freshers Party. One of our current objectives is to increase the number of younger members, and this event is a prime source. Happily, the Freshers Party produced the highest number ever of freshers, current undergraduates and graduates, so much so that we had to turn away alumni. Consequently, the formula is being re-thought and, this time, in September, we shall hope to welcome just as many freshers, but also a good number of our members.
Next event, one of our regular debates, but with a change of venue from the Victoire, to the 5ème Cru wine bar, resulting in a subtle change of ambience. The wine bar was convivial, cosy and cheap. Slightly chaotic, and very popular with most of the Cambridge attendees, including the lively group of friends kindly invited by Moez Draief. The motion, “This House believes that the Technological Revolution has brought more good than evil to our communities” was debated for the motion by Christopher Chantry and Andrew Lyndon-Skeggs, and against by Andrew Torrence and Clare Hohler. The latter won!
In November, it was the turn of the university, with a Global Cambridge event for alumni group leaders, followed by a one-day Conference attended by alumni from France, Benelux, Germany and the UK. A useful exchange of ideas and a good source of new members for the Cambridge Society of Paris.
At the start of December, Edward Archer, again, very kindly, arranged Christmas Carols at the Travellers. This has become a regular fixture superbly run by Edward with mulled wine, music by Christopher Wells and team, and all the best loved Christmas Carols. Eagerly anticipated by our members, this event marks the start of Christmas and provides a great gathering of Cambridge, Cambridge, Oxford and friends. Long may this continue; thank you, Edward!
Later in December, the Cambridge Blockbuster! A totally new event. The Cambridge Christmas Party. With 35 outstanding jazz musicians, an attendance of near on 400, glittering and outrageous ‘20s costumes, tap dancing and Charleston, it was Midnight in Paris off the silver screen and into the beautiful Salons Venitiens of the Musée des Arts Forains. Here, to give a flavour, I will leave the words to others: “It was a dream come true” “Last night was like flying through a time machine; wonderful!” “Certainly the best party I have been to since I arrived in Paris” and many more. Yes, it was great and served not a little to show that Cambridge can Party! Have a look on You Tube and, when you do, please click on Subscribe, we need 100 subscribers.
From hedonism to asceticism. From the fabulous Cambridge Christmas Party to an event just as important, and far more so historically, the Cambridge Union Challenge Debate. Earlier, we threw down the gauntlet to the Cambridge Union, challenging them to visit us in Paris to debate a topic of their choice against a team from the Cambridge Society of Paris. To their eternal credit, they accepted without hesitation, the first time ever in their 160-year history outside the UK. The Union team was headed by Jonah Surkes their president, supported by Tom Mc Arthur, their two speakers Penelope Jones and Jali Packer, and guest speaker computer genius, Rand Hindi. Camsoc fielded Edward Archer and myself, plus guest speaker Calum Chace, introduced by Terry Quinn. Thank you, Terry! The debate took place in the exotic Hotel Paiva (otherwise known as the Travellers Club), the motion being “This House believes that we shall have a post human economy run by robots with artificial intelligence within twenty years.” Conclusion; we lost! Quite wrongly you understand but, yes, we lost. However, it was the most fantastic occasion, attended by 100 guests, a landmark in the history of the Cambridge Union Debating Society, and indeed of the Cambridge Society of Paris.
Phew, draw breath, this is becoming a roller-coaster. But the fun and magnitude of events does not diminish. Next, in January, the annual dinner with a splendid turn-out of approximately 80 Cambridge Alumni and guests to listen to Robert Tombs, professor of French history at St John’s and author of “That Sweet Enemy” the relationship between the French and British from the Sun King to the present. Though a leading proponent for Brexit, Professor Tombs was careful not to touch on Brexit, but nevertheless gave us a fascinating and inciteful analysis of the close and paradoxical relationship between the two Countries. Questions followed, ably fielded by Professor Tombs eventually concluding “all of this is what I believe should happen; none of this I fear will happen!”
A complete bonus, a very kind offer from Valerie Hess, a new member of the Society, to conduct a guided tour around Christies at 9 Avenue Matignon. This was a resounding success and one of the most enjoyable events of the year. The eye-catching headline was the chance to view the works from the Rockefeller collection including Picasso’s Young Girl with a Flower Basket, later sold for $115m. But this, though the gem, was certainly not all, and the tour was fascinating for its breadth of interest, including the Hessel Family Collection, Impressionists and Modern Art, the André Level collection and a special demonstration by Valerie explaining the use of ultra violet light in the restoration of oil paintings. Thank you, Valerie, you were a star!
In April, Edward Towne gave us a most interesting talk in a vaulted cellar, below a house once owned by the great grandfather of George Sands, about the Cambridge Spies, focusing on the political influences that had compelled these five upper crust people to .. betray their country.
The Trevor Brown Bursary, instigated by Trevor Brown, the founding president of the Cambridge Society of Paris, is an important facet of the Society, offering bursaries to current Cambridge students visiting France to study French life or culture. However, despite its significance, it is not sufficiently widely known, and we therefore decided to bring it more main-stream by requiring the recipients of the bursaries to give a talk about their projects. Consequently, following the AGM on 22nd May, all four of the latest TBB students, gave a presentation including: Carl Frayne, Exiled French Religious Congregations; Auriane Terki-Mignot, Women’s Work in Industrialised France; Emma Sharples, Medieval Modernisms; and Alice Limb, Royal Collections in 18th C Paris. Fascinating; this policy will be pursued.
Soon thereafter, in May, the Oxford and Cambridge Garden Party, one of the great fixtures in the Camsoc calendar, usually in the glorious gardens of the British Ambassador’s Residence. This year the Garden Party took wings with the addition of the fabulous Fingask Follies, the Glyndebourne of the north (with a dash of Kit and the Widow) founded by Andrew Murray Thriepland, the owner of Fingask Castle. I have received so many enthusiastic comments about this event, and the Follies in particular, not least from Pierre Amouyel-Kent, husband of Oxford president Carol. Thank you all!
Another delightful hardy perennial, Shakespeare in the Shakespeare Garden of the Bois de Boulogne, so capably organised with strawberries and champagne by Camsoc vice president, Clare Hohler. This year The Winter’s Tale, mid-summer in glorious sunshine. We are all very grateful to Clare for organising these joyful Shakespeare evenings.
Finally, another of George Young’s supremely interesting guided tours, this time through the Marais, followed by lunch for the 23 attendees at Bistro Renaissance, Porte St Martin.
Over the summer, the informal and well attended Monthly Drinks at Murphy’s Bar will continue, coordinated for us by Chau Pak-Lee. Thank you, Chau for your sterling work.
That aside, the Cambridge Society of Paris will now go into holiday mode until September. But, thereafter, we have some super plans emerging.
First, the Freshers Party, in new guise, Tuesday 18th September at the Frog and Revolution, 9 rue de la Bastille. The revised format will enable us to give the Freshers more information about Cambridge and leave more space for our members.
We shall aim to arrange a pétanque tournament against Oxford in the Tuileries and then, lest anyone should think that the present president is more interested in Jazz, Follies and Berlin Cabaret (!) the emergence of two new ventures: The Cambridge Cutting Edge Lectures and Glory Days of Paris. These two series of lectures will be important and will form a major aspect of our forthcoming programme. More anon.
But now it’s time for summer holidays, with one last thought: as well as taking part in as many of these activities as possible, is there anything that can be done by members of the Society, outside the work done by the committee? Indeed there is and I shall tell you all about that… another time!
Meanwhile, I am really delighted you are a member of the Cambridge Society of Paris. Thank you, everyone, for your enthusiasm and your support. It has been ‘an exciting year’
With very best wishes,
President Cambridge Society of Paris
1st July 2018