Friday, 14 September 2018

happy memories, cow bells, catching up, rewriting and editing, tls life-writing special issue, coxes, 30th reunion gaudy...






Such happy memories of our holiday near La Chapelle d'Abondance.

The pictures above show the Eglise St Maurice and the post office. The bottom photo is of the wonderful mountain restaurant on the Col de Bassachaux a few miles away. See the website of the Office de Tourisme de la Chapelle d'Abondance.

If you'd like to hear the cow bell recording I mentioned last time, you can do so at my SoundCloud account.

I'd expected that I would make this post earlier but there is so much to catch up on workwise after a holiday. Also, I've been doing some furious rewriting and editing of Trust: A family story in the early morning and in the evening, inspired by the response to my talk about it at the summer school. Well over half of it done now.

On the subject of life-writing, this week's Times Literary Supplement is a life-writing special issue.

Finishing up beans, courgettes and cucumbers, all of which are running out of steam on the allotment. Very early finish this year. In the garden, we have moved from the James Grieves to the Coxes - which are fantastic!

Keble 30th reunion gaudy tomorrow. Thirty years - unbelievable!

Saturday, 1 September 2018

holiday, montreux, freddie mercury, abondance cheese, dippers, back to west ox, the black prince by iris murdoch







A brilliant trip to the French Alps, via Montreux, Évian-les-Bains and Lausanne.

Photos and post, part one.

In part two there will be a recording of cow bells from the high meadows.

Delicious Abondance cheese.

Amazing walks. Saw so many dippers - a dozen or more - on one particular walk beside an Alpine river just before thunder and storms, including the one getting ready to dive in the video.

Also a lovely visit to the Casino restaurant in Montreux - past the Freddy Mercury memorial statue on Lac Léman. (Generous, beloved hosts' uncle Jim soon to be seen played by Tom Hollander in Bohemian Rhapsody.)

Back to a still summery west Ox. Some of the fierceness has gone out of the days but they remain gorgeous.

Decided to take a break from Jane Eyre and read The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch. What a novel - dated to begin with but then the sense of past idioms falls away and one is immersed in the essential humanity of the writer. And what momentum. Unputdownable!

Some prime quotes - three rather bleak, if wry, a fourth rather sublime:

--

The wicked prosper in front of our eyes and go on and on and on prospering. What a blessing it must have been once to be able to believe in hell.

--

The wicked regard time as discontinuous, the wicked dull their sense of natural causality. The good feel being as a total dense mesh of tiny interconnections. My lightest whim can affect the whole future.

--

It stirred some memory of a childhood holiday. Once in an endless meadow, just able to peer through the tawny haze of the grass tops, the child who was myself had watched a young fox catching mice, an elegant newly minted fox, straight from the hand of God, brilliantly ruddy, with black stockings and a white-tipped brush. The fox heard and turned. I saw its intense vivid mask, its liquid amber eyes. Then it was gone. An image of such beauty and such mysterious sense. The child wept and knew himself an artist.

--

Some clever writer (probably a Frenchman) has said: it is not enough to succeed; others must fail.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

oxford creative writing summer school, self-explanatory?, riverbank plants, produce, kentish treasures
























Gosh, the Exeter College Creative Writing Summer School sped by. Two groups this year so quite a lot to do. But what groups - loved working with them.

Talked about and read from Trust: A family story at my plenary session, which was entitled Self-explanatory? The blurb read as follows:

This talk is about life, fiction and some of the varied forms of life-writing: memoir; real-time (blogging); and poetry. It is a personal story that explores broader writing questions, including relative truth – neither the self nor the past stand still, it seems – the value of life-writing and our ethical responsibilities to others... and to ourselves. The talk includes readings of prose and poetry.

There were a lot of questions at the end. I was touched by the positive comments.

Worked in Oxford yesterday. Lovely walk beforehand, including along the Thames to Port Meadow from Osney. Took the photos above on Fiddler's Island. The banks orgiastic with riverbank plants.

Have been enjoying the James Grieves. They are delicious this year - sharp but sweet. Today I harvested some 'quick' beetroots, spuds, French and runner beans, courgettes and cucumbers. Also did some digging - this was before the still-fierce sun came out and the plot felt quite autumnal. J is making cheese sauce for the beetroots to have with ham hock.

Meanwhile, J went to Kent last week and came back with three excellent Shepherd Neame beers, including the classic Master Brew, and a bottle of Westwell Naughty Hare Chardonnay. The last of these was outstanding! An extraordinary mineraliness that reminded me of the curious flint you get in some of the more intriguing Côtes du Rhônes.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

first james grieve, roasting hot!, cucumbers, onions and shallots























Our first apple of the season - a James Grieve faller.

Softer flesh than last year but an intense sweet flavour.

Roasting hot out - and inside the house. Yet things on the plot are keeping going. Excellent cucumbers this year! Onions and shallots lifted yesterday in the end.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

downpour, harvests contd, creative writing summer school, mst alum daisy johnson, everything under, man booker, beware the bonak

























Downpour at about five this morning. Ran to close the wide-open windows - though in about ten minutes it was gone. Welcomely cool now.

Harvested the last of the blackcurrants earlier in the week. Delicious lightly stewed. Intensity of flavour; rich fruity syrup!

The apples are rounding, despite the drought. If they grow to maturity, their taste will be the best, according to a piece in the Times.

Am hoping to dig the first spuds tomorrow - Maris Peer - but am not hopeful of a big crop.

Will lift the onions and shallots this afternoon, all being well, and put them in trays to dry.

The Creative Writing Summer School is underway. Wonderful to meet the students.

Took a break from Jane Eyre to read Daisy Johnson's debut novel Everything Under. An alum of the Oxford MSt in Creative Writing, her book has just been long-listed for the Man Booker.

Oxford canals, modern-day Oedipal plotline, lexicography, monsters, myths, identity, the persistence of past in present... What's not to like.

Not that the canals remain 'Oxford' ones for long. Realism shading into Gothic psycho-landscapes and dramas. The waterways - are they rivers or canals? - peopled by outsiders making their own rules, telling their own stories, living individual lives in a strung-out parallel society.

Humans and animals appear and disappear (sometimes underwater and for good), fear stalks the towpaths in the form of a jaw-snapping beast - the Bonak.

Johnson is excellent on the bewildering tangle of deep-riverside wastelands, inescapably littered with human detritus. The nymphs have certainly departed. There is a relish of the grime and filth of nature into which the characters slip and slide and are coated by. Childhood fascinations lingering in adulthood that you find in Sartre's La Nausée, perhaps.

I also liked her observations of a delightfully dysfunctional - house-living - family that the principal narrator Gretel stays with for a time on her quest for the mother who abandoned her. Johnson is great at evoking the impulsive behaviour of the kids, the scars born by the house - 'toys with no heads, holes in the walls, the handle to the bathroom pulled right off'. There is relentless inquistivness, experimentation and lifefulness. Small wonder the dad is a secret drinker.

The family, though, isn't what it seems. The couple's children are adopted, a child who was their own has disappeared. Part of the jigsaw of changeable human relationships, psychologies and sexualities that the novel pieces together.

Are there things that don't work? Of course. The balancing of the characters is somewhat uneven. Gretel is the principal narrator but her story can be overshadowed by those of the other characters. Not necessarily a problem - plenty of novels do this - The Great Gatsby for one, Elmet by Fiona Mozley for another - but I felt that if Gretel's prominence could have been amplified a touch more from time to time, the relationship between the reader and her would have been stronger. This would have made the book's final pages more powerful. I also felt that the moment when Gretel realises her and her mother's private language has set her apart from the rest of society could have been done more convincingly.

But such quibbles can't take away from this novel's vividly created world, the range and complexity of its emotional and psychological preoccupations and its shear un-put-downable momentum.

I knew what the Bonak would look like a long time before it appeared. I know that beast.

With Everything Under, Johnson taps into the zeitgeist of our terrors, needs, confusions and desires.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

harvests, high water, spider's web, tim pears' the wanderers, charlotte brontë's jane eyre, downton abbey the movie























Harvested blackcurrants on the allotment earlier. Also French and runner beans and several different kinds of Italian courgette. Lots of watering having to be done too. The plot is amazingly parched. Although the rivers and streams of west Oxfordshire are remarkably full of water, given the last time it rained was ages ago. Perhaps all that snow during the winter stocked up the aquifers.

Yesterday, when arriving at the allotment early, I saw this spider's web on the gate, drenched in dew.

Finished reading Tim Pears' The Wanderers this week. What a wonderful book! Gentle and relatively slow of pace but totally involving. Such vivid evocations of rural life and a remote country estate just before the outbreak of the First World War. Can't wait for the third part of the trilogy to be published.

Have now started re-reading Jane Eyre. What a writer, Charlotte Brontë is!

Meantime, Downton Abbey the movie has been given the go ahead - wonder if they will be filming it in Bampton. Hope so.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

common?, hh, ci, ba, strolling through the showers, harvests























Saw this 'Common' Brimstone butterfly in the garden of Howard's House hotel.

Excellent stay in Wiltshire at the Compasses Inn, Lower Chicksgrove, with excursions to HH and the Beckford Arms.

Somewhat stunned by the hot weather, although there was welcome rain on our Wednesday walk. We took an umbrella but in the event just enjoyed strolling through the light showers.

No rain at home. Lots of garden and allotment watering. But first French beans and Italian courgettes have been picked.