Tuesday, 12 December 2017

snowy walks, the snow-muffled land, widford church, an unmissable walk

























Walks from Burford over the weekend, including one through the snow on Sunday.

It was as if we were the only people - with the only dog - in the Windrush valley.

The snow was thick and the going tiring.

Sometimes I felt afraid - even though we were never far from one of the villages. The snow-muffled land can be a lonely place. There are just the animals and birds and the crunch of your steps. Once, the sound of a branch falling from a tree under the weight of the snow in a nearby wood.

A few minutes later we passed the 13th century church of St Oswald and the ground where once was the medieval village of Widford.

I wouldn't have missed that walk for anything.

More photos on Instagram.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

finished digging, chard for lunch, chomping deer























Finished digging the allotment today.

Most of it, I did in the early autumn but three beds remained till last weekend, when I dug two of them.

I was fortunate that it hadn't got too wet. Some years it would be waterlogged by now.

Picked some chard for lunch. The plants that were sown this year are still going strong, although the self set ones have been chomped by deer...

Oxford full term is over. A very busy eight weeks it has been!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

portrait unveilings, wio competition winners, outrageously beautiful views























I was pleased to be invited to the unveiling of the portrait of the Bodleian's 24th librarian, Sarah Thomas. The event took place in the gorgeous, fan-vaulted Convocation House, where the Lords sat during Charles I's Oxford Parliament in 1644. The portrait was painted by New York artist Ted Minoff, who gave a speech explaining some of the techniques he used and the portrait's underlying themes.

Not having been to portrait unveilings before, this is the second in a month. At the end of October, I attended the ceremony at St Antony's at which Benjamin Sullivan's painting of Professor Margaret MacMillan, the college's fifth warden, was unveiled by Lord Patten.

A fascinating tradition, this portrait unveiling.

Meanwhile the winners of the Writers in Oxford Young Oxfordshire Writers competition are celebrated on the WiO hompage. I've been enjoying re-reading the winning stories.

More outrageously beautiful views of Oxford on my walks to work this week, which the picture above only does partial justice to.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

stupendous sunny days, tumbling bay, twenty pound meadow, monkey puzzle, wio 25th anniversary party and competition winners























There have some stupendous sunny days - in between the rainy ones - this last week.

The photo above was taken from the Thames towpath looking upriver towards the entrance to Tumbling Bay where there used to be an attended open-air swimming pool, now long gone. On the left bank are the Twenty Pound Meadow allotments, where we had a plot when we lived on Osney Island.

I remember one day at the Monkey Puzzle cider house in Worcestershire chatting to the landlady's father, who it turned out had grown up in west Oxford and used to swim at the Tumbling Bay pool. He said that as schoolboys they had crossed the railway tracks just to the north of Oxford station to get to the old chain ferry that used to cross the part of the river shown in the photo. He recalled how the drivers of the shunting engines used to open their throttles with the brakes on so that the wheels revved round menacingly, but without the engines moving forward, to give the kids a scare.

Really enjoyed the Society of Authors and Writers in Oxford party at Balliol. Lovely to see old friends and to find out the winners of the Writers in Oxford twenty-fifth anniversary Young Oxfordshire Writers competition. Will link to the competition page when the winners are posted there. I was part of the judging panel and was fascinated to learn the identities of the winners - there were no names on the stories when we read them, just numbers.

The above photo is the latest jtns photo to be posted on Instagram. See: https://instagram.com/justthoughtsnstuff.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

soaked, logs, ug diploma, ten years, wio, twenty-five years, young oxfordshire writers competition





Got soaked cycling this morning.

But at least it was going to brighten up later, I consoled myself... True, the rain stopped mid-morning but it's been dark and damp all day...

A log delivery at lunchtime. Nice to have a full store of wood.

Preparing for my Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing seminars. Can't believe it was ten years ago that I taught on the course for the first time.

Looking forward to the Writers in Oxford/Society of Authors party next week. It's the twenty-fifth anniversary of WiO. Can't wait to find out who has won the Young Oxfordshire Writers competition.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

mist, trust, central heating, awp writer to agent series

























Several misty walks to work this week.

The landscape is certainly autumnal now - though it has become especially so in the last couple of days.

Harvested three beetroots today. We'll have cheesy beetroot sauce with hock of ham tomorrow and J is going to experiment with freezing beetroot for our Christmas soup. We suspect that the other beetroots might not last well.

Finished rereading Trust: A family story this week. The suggestions made by colleagues and friends make sense now and I can see what needs to be cut and reworked. What was heartening was that after a nine-month gap, I felt that the story was mostly very strong. I'm looking forward to the editing and rewriting process.

Put the central heating on this evening. Partly because it was cold; bit more so because of the damp, even though we have had log fires since the middle of September. (Log delivery next week.)

Recommended an Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 'Writer to Agent' webinar* to students today. It's from a US agencies perspective but contains much that is universally valuable about genre, character and voice, as well as about the editorial role that agents take on nowadays.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkPXZqqJNsA

Sunday, 29 October 2017

lord poulett, nightmare journey, autumn sunlight, errol morris, conspiracy theories, documents...
























On Friday, we stayed the night at the Lord Poulett pub in Hinton-St-George in Somerset. We were meeting old friends who we hadn't seen for two years. It was wonderful to catch up with them. Though the journey there was a nightmare, taking four and a half hours - involving traffic on the M5 grinding to a standstill after an accident, a protracted detour through Bristol - where did the signs for the A38 go? - and a cross country route with queues in almost all the villages (though the Mendips at sunset were beautiful!).

--

The autumn sunlight spilling into the spare bedroom office this afternoon is rich and gorgeous.

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I was intrigued by a feature on the Broadcasting House programme* on Radio 4 this morning about the release of documents relating to the assassination of JFK. Paddy O'Connell asked Errol Morris**, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, whether he knew why people cling to conspiracy theories. Morris replied:

'They cling to conspiracy theories because conspiracy theories simplify the world. If the world was just utterly chaotic without rhyme or reason that in itself would be a very, very frightening thought. Conspiracies give us solace. They tell us that there were those malefactors rubbing their hands Iago-like in the wings, plotting, conniving, figuring out a way to create the malefaction in the world.'

This resonated because I've been reading some of my parents' papers recently. Over a thirty-eight year period, my Mum and, eventually, my Dad were cursed by conspiracy theories that were supposed to account for why a painting that they owned was really worth some thirty-six times the artist's market value. The conspirators were said to include the great and the good in the worlds of the art market, the racing establishment and the government.

In order to buy time so that they could prove the conspiracies, my parents spent all their money, plundered trust funds to get more cash and ran up debts of nearly a million pounds before being declared bankrupt, their assets, including the painting, realising a fraction of what was owed.

Mum was secretive about what she and Dad were up to, although it became obvious that something was very seriously wrong. Only for a short while in the early 1990s did she confide in me. This stopped because I was very doubtful about the accuracy of what she was saying. She wanted affirmation not questions.

I was struck by how reductive her theories were. All the people in them behaved in the same simplistic way, with exactly the same limited range of motives. There was no allowance for individuality. Everyone - business associate, friend or family member - was portrayed in comic-book terms. Mum could imagine the malefactors rubbing their hands in the wings. I think that believing that she could see through their plots gave her a sense of control over things she had no control over and brought her considerable solace.

Looking at my parents' documents, I am struck by their mundane clarity. In black and white one reads why sums way in excess of the painting's market value couldn't be realised. Experts, friends, family told them this again and again.

For a long time, once I suspected that my parents were in trouble, I gave them the benefit of the doubt about certain things: did they perhaps not understand what the market was doing? Did they not know how the trusts worked? But obviously they did know about these things. They simply chose to ignore them. Anyone reading the documents would realise within minutes that they were deluding themselves and needed help. But my parents knew a different story. One that they created in order to prove that the facts were wrong. The conspiracy theories were magic bullets that shot down any suggestion that they had lost everything.

--

The greatest puzzle is how my Dad got sucked into the theories that Mum dreamt up. He always seemed so straightforward and sensible. Yesterday, I looked at his summary accounts for the period 1970 till just before his death in 2012. Loose leaf pages in a blue plastic ring binder. The entries are precise, measured. In 2007 he wrote the figure for that year's interest payments, £77,935.75. He would have known that he had borrowed money in order to pay this. That he was being pursued by his creditors. That he would soon be declared bankrupt. Yet he must also have had an unshakable conviction that he was, as he told me, a multi-millionaire. That he would trump his creditors and his doubters in the end.

 * http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09bxjzy

** https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Errol_Morris