Saturday, 14 April 2018

white violets, liber digital conference in the hague, noughth week, sir roger bannister

On the last but one day of our holiday, I went cycling and saw the big patch of white violets along Calcroft Lane, near Broadwell.

They bring such joy and freshness to the landscape, especially this gloomy spring. (Though all that may be about to change, if the weather forecasters are to be believed.)

On Sunday, I flew to Rotterdam from London City Airport for a conference at the KB National Library in The Hague. A truly rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable event, which, on the first day, focused on the Cultural Heritage Re-Use Charter, which is currently being drafted by LIBER, the Association of European Research Libraries. The second day was the members meeting of the LIBER Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage Working Group, which included excellent presentations and break-out sessions. The latter were a great opportunity to meet colleagues and to learn new ideas and gain knowledge of innovative programmes and resources.

Although the conference was based in the commercial - high-rise - part of the city, there was a chance to do an hour or so of sight-seeing in the old quarter around the Binnenhof and the Mauritshuis (sadly closed by then) before everyone met at the EetcafĂ© de Paraplu for supper.

Overall, an exhausting but unmissable two days. Quite difficult to separate out the fizzing thoughts and write up my report now!

Not much time to collect my thoughts, because Oxford Noughth Week and the return of the undergraduates are almost upon us.


I recently contributed to a Department for Continuing Education article on the late Sir Roger Bannister. I taught Roger long fiction when he was studying for the Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing some years ago. It was a great privilege to do so and I was very sad to learn of his death. As the article suggests he was a truly inspirational devotee of life-long learning.

Friday, 6 April 2018

flooded landscape, first chiffchaff, first swallow

The plan was to work on the allotment this week but our holiday didn't turn out like that.

Good walks - splashes - through the flooded landscape, though!

We saw our first chiffchaff yesterday. J saw first swallow today.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

time flies, waterlogged allotment, barrington park estate,fifteen clumps, the horseman by tim pears

Time has flown.

Much of it spent trying to catch up with everything so that I could take a few days off around Easter.

The aim of this holiday was to prepare the allotment for sowing and planting... Not a chance. It was waterlogged after the recent snows and now the rain doesn't stop.

Talking of the recent snows, we went for a lovely walk on the Barrington Park Estate after the last lot. Rather beautiful views. Some deep - three to four foot - drifts on the old drove road, though.

There was ice on our pond that weekend and I don't yet know whether the clumps of frog spawn that had been laid by then survived. Time will tell. Though there is now no shortage of frog spawn - there are fifteen clumps. More than I have ever seen in our pond before. There was a lot of splashing!

Reading a brilliant book at the moment - one of the two by Tim Pears that I mentioned the other day: The Horseman.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

first frog spawn, forecasted freezing temperatures

First frog spawn of the spring in our pond. Worried, though, by the forecasted freezing temperatures.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


When the snow cleared - almost as soon as it cleared - the spring came. On Sunday I looked at one of the big pots on our terrace and saw daffodils amongst the snow, their heads bent but starting to flower, the yellow petals unscathed, the leaves bright green. Ready to go. It was as if the spring would not be stopped.

At dawn the chorus has started and on the water meadows beside the Thames at Old Man's bridge the curlews have returned to nest.

Elsewhere - as in the photo above, taken near Raleigh Park in Oxford - the old is giving way to the new.

I've started reading Tim Pears' The Horseman. Though not before finishing Elmet, the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted first novel, by Fiona Mozley. I read about half around New Year and wondered whether I would go back to it. I'm glad I did. I can see why it was shortlisted - it's a thorough piece of work and its world and characters stay in the mind. Not that all the characters are that developed. Some are stock.

Elmet is set in South Yorkshire, in former mining villages and deep in the countryside. A time before mobile phones, I think I'm right in saying - don't remember one cropping up. A primitive-seeming time, where things have regressed to a kind of medieval lordship and serfdom society. The evil Mr Price, manor-owner, and his other land-owning cronies, grinding down their tenants and workers, who mostly live in privatised council houses that Price et al snapped up for song.

The story is told by Daniel, whose family - sister Cathy and their Daddy - have claimed squatters rights on Mr Price's land. Daddy has built a stout, primitive but snug family home in the middle of a dense copse that was once part of a farm owned by Daniel and Cathy's mum, who sold up after she spent all her money and then left the area. Life is rich in its simplicity and individualism. Life follows the patterns and rhythms of nature.

That the idyll can't last is a given. You know that something has gone horribly wrong from short sections set in the present that are interspersed with the main narrative. The latter tells of how the family came to the plot of land and how relations with Mr Price deteriorate.

Daddy, nearly seven-foot tall, used to work for Price as a bare-knuckle fighter and rent collector. The emotional complexities of his and Price's previously deeply entwined lives are what resurface and drive the tragic events that conclude the book.

The novel occupies a curious fictional and generic space. Neither quite real nor made up. There are echoes of contemporary Britain. The style is both naturalistic - sometimes beautifully, lyrically so - and that of a folk tale. There are long passages of narrative and not that much dialogue. While there is conceptual plot-arc suspense there is often not too much powering the story at scene-level other than the charm and vigor of the prose. One could imagine readers giving up, as I almost did. When characters do speak, they often do so in long blocky monologues, filling in events that have happened off-stage. I wasn't sure whether this was early-career writing or an intentional part of the folk tale style.

Yet, the novel is something of a triumph. You can tell that Mozley knows what she is about, even if she stretches scenes and sections - and patience -  almost to the limit, at times. You know she has a novelist's stamina and is thoroughgoing. I think this is, despite its faults, a very striking and special book. Mozley is definitely one to watch.


Though not a Theresa May fan, I was impressed by her article on the new Domestic Violence Bill in the Guardian, entitled, 'Our new domestic violence bill will outlaw economic and physical abuse'.
For me, one paragraph stood out:

'Not all abusive behaviour is physical. Controlling, manipulative and verbally abusive behaviour ruins lives and means thousands end up isolated, living in fear. So for the first time, the bill will provide a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes economic abuse, alongside other non-physical abuse.'

If the new bill confronts the misery caused by non-physical and economic abuse, it will be very welcome.

I've written about my own experiences in this blog and elsewhere. I am mindful, though, that I was in a privileged position: a very good education; a significant degree of financial independence. Yet still the reach of the abusive behaviour was long and devastating, even when I had moved away. What horrifies me is what life must be like for those who are trapped and cannot escape.


On Saturday I read a letter that I inherited that confirmed, painfully, something that I had suspected for many years.

As at other times I wondered why I feel driven to get at the truth, even though doing so causes the extension of suffering.

On Sunday, when listening to the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan on Radio 3's Private Passions, I heard an answer that made sense to me. He was talking about a logging scandal in Tasmania that he had protested about. It involved politics and big business and was causing the destruction of areas of rain forest. In the context of the slow process of people trying to find out what was really happening, Flanagan said (00:45:27):

'The truth is slow but it's inexorable and...people have a profound hunger for the truth that's as real as their hunger for food and water and sex - it's a fundamental need in us.'


Did a spot of DIY data recovery the other day after the hard drive of my laptop crashed. Used Recuva software and Bipra USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE Adapter Kit with Power Adapter for 2.5/3.5/5.25 inch SATA or IDE Drive. Both excellent!

Saturday, 3 March 2018


The village was cut off on Friday. No 19 buses; roads blocked by stalled cars or inundated by drifts. Some 4x4s got through, probably.

Today snow ploughs have been out and traffic is passing along the streets again. It was quiet and still yesterday.

Apart from in the pubs. When I took our dog for a walk at about five-thirty, I could hear the voices and see how full the rooms were through the steamed up windows.

When later we went for a pint the snow made the night air excited and you could hear it in everyone's voices. I could feel echoes of feelings from snowfalls over the decades.

This morning the shelves in the Co-Op were bare, where there should have been fresh veg, fruit, meats, pizzas, cheeses and milk.

Last night there were ice-needles beneath the stone window ledges but this afternoon the snow is dripping and slipping onto the white and grime on the pavements.

In the garden drifts remain. Plants and ornaments are hidden up to a certain height. Fieldfares have come to feed, seeing off blackbirds and thrushes. I hope the frogs are all right beneath the thick ice.

Yesterday I worked at home. Accessing systems by virtual private network and apps. I might have been in my Oxford office, were it not for the dog snoozing by my feet.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

east wind, defining sunshine, the horseman and the wanderers by tim pears - spring reading!

Bitterly cold east wind. Yet there is also amazingly rich and defining sunshine.

Snowdrops are beginning to go over in the garden. Crocuses are in their prime.

Read a review in the TLS the other day of Tim Pears' latest novel The Wanderers, the second part of a trilogy that began with The Horseman. I have to confess that in the midst of last year's busy-ness, I missed the publication of the latter novel and am now really pleased to have been alerted to both. (Links above take you to Guardian reviews of the books.)

Set in the West Country during the early part of the twentieth century, the novels sound intensely alluring, with their promised evocations of the countryside and rural ways of life. Oxford vacations are never that much less busy than term times but there is perhaps a fraction or two of time to spare in the evenings and at weekends. I have found my spring reading!