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.

Friday, 29 June 2018

potato dibber catch-up, maris peer, bike in the mud, the sentence by stephanie scott, mary anne sate, imbecile by alice jolly


























I realised that I never posted pictures of the potato dibber this year. Well here it is - and here are the Maris Peer spuds I planted, almost ready to be lifted.

And on a mud and bike theme, here is a bike in the mud on the bank of one of the streams near Osney that flows into the Thames. Photographed on my walk to work earlier in the week.

This weekend, it's the MSt in Creative Writing Guided Retreat - the last time the tutors meet their students before finals. On Monday there will be the annual end-of-course student readings at Kellogg College, which I'm really looking forward to.

Talking of the MSt, a student I supervised several years ago got in touch to say she had sold her first novel, The Sentence. That neutral-sounding 'sold' doesn't say the half of it - see the MSt blog! So  pleased for you, Steph!

And again, talking of the MSt, I was thrilled to receive my copy of my fellow tutor Alice Jolly's brand new novel, Mary Anne Sate, Imbecile. A summer reading treat!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

in flower, heady scents, end of the academic year, education continuing, vibrant expectation






So much is in flower in J's garden now, as we approach the longest day.

Heady scents too.

Can't quite believe that Oxford has reached the end of the academic year. University spaces are suddenly significantly quieter.

Though many courses - particularly Department for Continuing Education ones, which include Creative Writing at masters and undergraduate levels - never stop. Some even only begin to pick up outside full term.

A time of mild exhaustion and vibrant expectation.

Friday, 8 June 2018

angelica, digital editions, guide to northern archæology, great-great-great granddad, invisible









Alternating between walks across the shoulder of Cumnor Hill and along the Oxford canal.

This photo of a stem of grass and a wild angelica plant was taken beside the canal just below Wolvercote.

A highlight of the past two terms has been the Taylor Digital Editions course, which I did in Hilary before presenting two of the sessions in Trinity.

The course has been written by my colleague Emma and is tremendously rewarding and hugely enjoyable. It introduces both students and librarians to techniques used in the creation of digital editions. Course participants choose interesting texts from the Taylor collections and week by week learn skills including creating digital images of selected pages, encoding text according to Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) principles and depositing their digital edition in the University's data archive.

From the librarian's point of view, the course gives valuable insights into the world of our Digital Humanities researchers.

The book that I chose was one that my great-great-great grandfather edited, entitled Guide to Northern Archæology, which includes a translation of an academic paper written by the Danish antiquarian Christian Jürgensen Thomsen (1788-1865), which sets out his system of dating archaeological artifacts by reference to co-occurrence and archaeological context, including ancient literature. The inscription on the Taylor copy says it was presented by my ancestor on the 19th February 1852. Little did he know that one of his descendants would be working there many years later!

It was great fun to work on a few pages of a book that my ancestor had edited and presented to the library.

The images of the pages were uploaded to the Bodleian Special Collections Flickr group and the edition itself appears on the course webpage. The image and xml files were deposited in ORA-Data.

The last of these tasks means that the record for my ancestor's book sits alongside the uncut, unedited version of my second novel Invisible, which was uploaded into the research archive not long after it was published. Because it was written when I was teaching creative writing at Oxford, the work represented a research output. The version is a curiosity - there were reasons that some 10,000 words were cut!