Saturday, 19 May 2018

oxford canal mural project, sunny days-chilly evenings, where are the bees?























One of the highlights of my Oxford canal walk is the Oxford Canal Mural Project. Perhaps the most striking work is Richard Wilson's kingfisher under the bridge near the Trap Grounds. Though all the murals are a joy to see.

Loving the sunny weather. Great to sit at the top of the garden at sunset - despite the chilly evenings.

What isn't so great is the almost total absence of bees this summer. With shrubs like the weigela in bloom and aquilegia flowering, I would have expected the garden to be buzzing but there's hardly anything.

As the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust says, 'Heavy use of toxic sprays on flowers, intensive agriculture and a reduction in the number of insect pollinated crops has brought about a huge drop in bee populations. Urbanisation and loss of habitat have hit bees hard. Indeed some wild bee species are close to extinction. Never more so than now, bees need your support.' But, can this sudden absence be explained by sprays or was the hard winter to blame? Will numbers increase? If so when? The garden soundscape without bees is so unnerving.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

amazing bank holiday weekend, late lunches, rediscovering oxford canal walk, library tour























What an amazing bank holiday weekend! So hot and sunny!

Wasn't able to get to the allotment till Monday afternoon because I had office work to do but we had some lovely late lunches at the top of the garden by the frog pond.

Went to the allotment today to catch up. No sign of the spuds yet, although the shallots and onions are doing well. Last year's chard has come back. Should be picking some tomorrow.

Have been rediscovering the old Wolvercote Green-Oxford Canal-Jericho walk I used to do before the 18 bus route was axed. Having enough time to do this walk before work is dependent on traffic on the A40, which is why I've not done it for ages. There used to be long queues but I'd heard rumours that things were better, so, knowing that the mud on the towpath would have dried out by now, I decided to catch the S2 from Witney rather than the S1 and see what happened, Wednesday and Friday. Plenty of time! (I think also that in part I may have avoided doing the walk because it seemed so sad that the 18 had been cut...) The photo shows graffiti and lichen on a wall beside the Oxford canal near Jericho.

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Very much enjoyed showing Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, 2011-2016, round the Bodleian Library prior to her lecture at St Antony's on Monday.

Friday, 4 May 2018

let's hear it for the nettles!, mark cocker's our place, busy start, planting























When walking through the churchyard of St Thomas the Martyr in west Oxford last Saturday - I was on way to work (one of my library Saturdays) - I saw bluebells growing amongst nettles.

I was reminded of a sobering Sunday Times book review by Christopher Hart of a few weeks ago. The book was Our Place: Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? by Mark Cocker (Cape, £18.99, pp.349). A self-evidently hard-hitting work that, amongst other things, challenges the British love of nature. Here's a quote:

'Cocker makes no apologies for the bleakness of his book. Truth matters. He also queries the sacred idea that the British "love the countryside". Do we mean, we love driving through it? Visiting pretty villages and nice pubs for lunch? He suggests that we are really a nation of gardeners: fatally tidy-minded, the wild joy of nature's riotous abundance lost to us, instead spraying weed killer on stinging nettles even though it's the weed killer that’s carcinogenic, not the nettles - which are crucial larval plants for peacock, red admiral, painted lady, comma and small tortoiseshell butterflies.'

Enough to make one unplug the strimmer's battery charger for good? Possibly.

Certainly a case of, Let's hear it for the nettles!

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A busy start to the term. Without good spring weather to keep up energy levels. Still, the forecast is promising for the bank holiday weekend and I should be getting more spuds planted. The Maris Peer rows went in last weekend and onions and shallots the week before.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

spring flower walk, fritillaries, cowslips and a snail on a thorn, pippa's song by robert browning, sackler sundays

























Too wet to garden last weekend, so starting on the allotment was delayed yet more.

Went on a spring flower walk beside the Thames instead. Wonderful!

Love snake's head fritillaries!

Was intrigued by the snail on the blackthorn, though - and there were many more of them.

Brought to mind Robert Browning's poem, Pippa's Song:

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!

Why do snails like to climb thorns!

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At the Sackler Library, we recently introduced Sunday opening - all the year round. This has been an exciting development - one which has been really popular with readers. I wrote a piece about it for the library blog before Easter. While it has my byline, however, this was very much a collaborative post involving a number of colleagues, who added design and editorial content. Then there's the Sunday team, who make everything work!

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.

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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.