Wednesday, 31 March 2010

post...

On a bus tootling through west Oxfordshire, Kings of Leon rocking through phones. Flatlands, Thames Valley lands glimpsed over high hedges, sheep nibbling roots scattered round their troughs, twenty-to-thirty swans devastating a patch of spring corn. A landscape that has been familiar in its Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire manifestations for thirty years.

Unusually, I don't have my nose buried in a short story that I'm marking, nor in some other work-related document. Yes, the assignments were returned last night and I am, at last, in post-teaching mode for a few weeks, after which...

And coming up is Easter, which I can't wait for.

Post-festival too, although Oxfringe 2010 still has a long way to run (see http://writersinoxford.org for WiO involvement).

Loved the tiny bit of the festival and fringe that I was involved in--the Blackwell's reading, the Initiate launch (a terrific event) and doing the WiO festival'n'fringe website pages. A huge thank you to Jane Bingham for organising the WiO introducers this year.

Uh-oh Use Somebody's just kicked off--not surprised it won that big US best humdinger of the year award.

Of course, I'd have liked to see more at the festival but work got in the way. Next year. Would have especially liked to see Philip Pullman, who was everywhere, but had to content myself with an excellent profile of him on Radio 4 last Sunday morning at 5.45 am and Bryan Appleyard's interesting article in the Sunday Times.

I meet Philip every so often at WiO and Oxford-related events but can't say I know him. He always knows he knows me but doesn't know where from. We meet, he asks me whether, say, I am reading at this year's festival too (he always over-promotes me), I explain that I'm editing the WiO newsletter or chairing the society but next time it's just the same. My happiest memory of him is of a hazy evening whisky tasting at his house that was led by the late drinks writer Michael Jackson. I love the way Philip has kept up his involvement with WiO after his big (big? humongous!) break. On the R4 profile it was said that he is a loyal person, which he is.

Nearly at Oxford. Looking forward to working on StreetBooks this afternoon and the coming weeks (http://www.streetbooks.co.uk). Not to mention the new novel.

Friday, 26 March 2010

nature notes

Early start this morning, so I could drive into Oxford for my 8 am MSt tute at Rewley with time to spare for a double espresso at Green's cafe. It was amazingly light when I was eating breakfast. Loved sitting in the kitchen looking out into the garden while munching toast and marmalade, no need of electric light, the door open.

April showers are here before the event, it seems. The air is warm and they will soon get the spring flowers moving. The daffs that ring the plane trees in Broad Street are finally out now and when I was walking back to the park-and-ride this afternoon it looked like the buds on the horse chestnuts in front of St Frideswide's church, Osney were about to burst open. Those trees are always well before most others--although I'm sad to say I think it is because they are stressed. Awful to imagine them being permanently under pressure for at least the last twenty-three years--I think it's some sort of strange fungus that they've got.

At the risk of sounding like a sadist, they do look great in the spring and early summer. It's when they get black and gummy later on that they're sad.

A weekend of marking online assignments beckons.

Right now, though, my printer has just entered 'power saver mode' and I think I'll do the same.

(Meanwhile, photoed these larch roses in the Parks, Oxford yesterday. Jess and I used to go and look at the roses on this tree when I was at Keble.)

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

blackwell's, initiate and two former students

Enjoyed reading at World Writers at Blackwell's. It's a fun, good-natured event that gives unpublished writers the chance to read their work alongside published ones, including the writers in residence--this year, Roma Tearne and my colleague on the Oxford MSt course, Jane Draycott. (Roma will also be taking up a week's residency at Blackwell's from 26th April-1st May.)

This year the Blackwell's audience was particularly giving, I thought, and the overall effect of the event was of successive voices--each so different, each so thought-provoking. The World Writers at Blackwell's festival series will continue at the Marquee Christ Church tomorrow, Thursday 25th March, 7.15 pm-7.45 pm, and at Blackwell's, 50 Broad Street, 1 pm-2 pm, Friday 26th and Saturday 27th March. Admission is free.

These events are the result of the unflagging determination of Rita Ricketts, the Blackwell's organiser.

Rita and Jane are also colleagues on the editorial panel of the new creative writing anthology, Initiate, that will be launching at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival tomorrow, Thursday 25th March, 6 pm. The event is billed as follows and it's a privilege to be involved:

A special preview of exciting new voices from Oxford's MSt in Creative Writing, alongside established names such as Tim Pears, David Constantine, Grevel Lindop, Fred D'Aguiar and Christina Koning, all appearing in the first Blackwell/Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing annual anthology, INITIATE (published in autumn 2010). The readings (including by the winner of the A M Heath Prize for Fiction) will be introduced by Jon Stallworthy, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Oxford, and Dr Clare Morgan, Director of the MSt and co-editor of the anthology with Rita Ricketts, Blackwell's historian. 

Meanwhile, today brought news of two former students. One, Liz Gifford, will be reading at Oxfringe's China Evening on 31st March at the Malmaison Hotel , 7.15 pm. Liz will be reading from her book Into the River. I also heard from Norma Sit, who sent me a link to a fascinating TV chat show interview she did on channelnewsasia.

Today was great.

new bus ticket 2

Yes, of course it was a monthly ticket. I wouldn't get so excited about a single, would I? That really would stupid.

new bus ticket

New bus ticket, new start...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

snippets

It was great being out on the new bike--rain or shine. I loved seeing the countryside again and felt so much healthier. Realised how important cycling is to my fitness. Walking just ain't the same. Today's cycle was the best in terms of weather and landscape--warm (car said 12° later), beautiful spring light, the grass greening up in the water meadows near the Thames. I did the route that takes you along the Great Brook to Aston and then to Mount Owen via Lew lane (from the top of Mount M you can see as far as Didcot power station and the Ridgeway). The Mojave went pretty well, although 5th gear on the big cog jumps occasionally. A pain because it's a useful gear when you need to catch your breath. Physically, I felt ok most of the time, even on the long haul back from Oxford. The worst day was yesterday when the sides of my knees ached for a bit after the first mile. Raising the height of the saddle helped.

Loved listening to Frank CB on Desert Island Discs. He's such generous-hearted man. It was because he liked my Oxbridge close reading paper that I got in--so I was told. When I met him years later he said he could still remember that exam paper. I will always be grateful to him for the kind things he said about Invisible and for allowing me to quote him on the cover. I know how much of his valuable time he gave up to read it. If I can track him down at the Oxford Literary Festival, I'll give him a copy.

I'll be reading from Invisible at Blackwell's on Wednesday sometime between 1 and 2 pm. It'll be just a short reading--3-4 pages with maybe the tardis poem thrown in at the end (see below). It'll be fun to read again.

I'm concerned about YouWriteOn's distribution to bookshops--the Anchor Book Club have been having problems getting their 12 copies. This shouldn't happen and I've emailed Ed at YWO about it. An incentive to get StreetBooks edition out.

Very proud to be chair of WiO when I prepared the Oxford Literary Festival and Oxfringe 2010 pages for the society's website (see http://www.writersinoxford.org).

Looking forward to Initiate preview at festival on Thursday 6 pm.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

i remember, i remember

This afternoon at the LAC library I felt as if I was beginning to achieve something--for the first time since I started my new job, back in September.

It was the simplest thing that made me feel that way. I was just taking batches of weeded books off the shelf and marking their flyleaves in pencil so that I knew where each was destined. That this part of the weeding project had been completed seemed like a small triumph.

Then I thought about my first library, which I set up many years ago.

As a boy I was a compulsive--and, I have to admit, pretentious--reader. (Balzac's Black Sheep at ten... Did I understand it? Only a little, I suppose...) By the time I was in the 5th form at prep school I had about fifty books and I added them to the small collection that was kept in our classroom and was known as the Upper School Library. I got a notebook from the stationery cupboard so I could keep track of who the books were lent to.


A lovely profession, librarianship, I have to say. I'm glad I ended up going into it.

Thinking about my little library reminded me of my friends at Heatherdown, including Andrew. He was not my best friend but we got on well and he was in any case hard to ignore.

Did he use my library? Maybe, but I can't remember him doing so at all. (Andrew and I vied for 11th and 12th place all through our school careers and it must have seemed so odd to the masters, thinking about it, that I loved books so much).

We started at the school on the same day, mum and dad and all the other parents lining up in James Edwards' curiously sterile white drawing-room to meet Andrew's mum. My dad looking like a schoolboy--just like all the other dads, whether banker or marquess.


Rupert my cousin was there--his mum, Aunt Meg, had been, or still was, a lady-in-waiting.


Such a strange place, looking back, my prep school.

I remember Andrew, James S and me hanging from the hot pipes in the drying room like baby orangutans. We were trying to square our story, having been reported to the headmaster. The energy we put into that; the scenarios we created...

Not that we'd done anything serious. What we'd done was so innocent. Today, parents would laugh if they were told.

Mosaic.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

heading for ox

On my way to Oxford.

Just watched Squeeze Cool for Cats video on youtube mobile. Vid seems familiar, although I can't be sure. Must've seen it at the time, even if I can't remember the pink vinyl 12" that Peter mentioned in his comment (see below).

The amazing thing about the vid is that it comes at the start of a Kenny Everett show, which kicks off with the Thames TV logo then bounces into sequences of cartoons (so psychedelic) and wacky KE appearances as he introduces the prog. Great. (I'll post link to this later).

Now listening to Sometimes it Snows in April by Prince. Had to switch off youtube because high-speed mob internet cuts out round Wytham Hill.

As I was writing above, Prince faded out and Marianne Faithful got going with As Tears Go By. Can't remember that one when it came out. First heard it when holed up in a farm cottage near Chichester in the early 80s at New Year. As soon as I got home I went to a record shop and scoured the catalogues. You could still order a 45 in those days.

Lovely walk this morning. But no pools--the fresh wind has licked them all dry.

Now in Ox, accompanied by Peter Gabriel and Games without Frontiers. (There's a lot of new stuff on this machine, honest. Shuffle's just in yesteryear mode...)

OMG it's Whiter Shade of Pale. Freaky.

Friday, 12 March 2010

weekender

Weekend. What weekend? Off to Taylor tomorrow for most of the day, then going through an extended essay on Sunday. Well, a good weekend, actually. True, I can't wait till next week and a short break but I love working at the Taylor, in the main reading room at the enquiry desk, and working on essays and stories is like breathing, really.

I wonder what the light will be like in the Taylor tomorrow. Those huge windows are amazing--views of Oxford and big skies, moods passing across the library, spilling, bursting, filtering.

I'll go on a longish walk before I set off. It's been fun exploring the countryside around the village again, since the bike broke down irretrievably. Particularly in the twilight at 6, 6.30 am (though now astonishingly it'll almost be light): the shapes of hedgerows, flooded hollows, the far escarpment, inquisitive deer peering, screech owls soaring--all emerging, muted, calm.

Next week, next week--I shall, with luck, buy a new bike, and be back cycling. It'll be fun exploring my favourite routes and seeing how things have changed over the last month.

Off to the Horse Shoe later for a pint or two of Peroni. FAB.

Monday, 8 March 2010

monday

It was great to get away to Shropshire at the weekend, even if it was only for a few hours. As we drove out of Oxfordshire into Gloucestershire, I suddenly realised I hadn't left the county for yonks. The only drives I've done since Xmas have been back and forths to Oxford.

Is it the getting away or the driving that's important? Life's 'never' either or, so it's got to be both. I suppose the point I'm making is that you shouldn't undervalue the effects of the drive. There's a particular quality to the thoughts that empty themselves out as you bat along, leaving somewhere, heading for somewhere else. They're thoughts that have been waiting, that couldn't form before then. Laying-to-rest thoughts.

The hills round Oswestry were beautiful in the sunlight and there were loads of snowdrops out in the gardens. The fields were quite yellowy-looking, though, because, it turned out, they've been under snow for weeks--it's only just thawed. Shropshire Alps, must've seemed.

Busy at Taylor, everyone keeping going till end of 8th week. After which comes? A whole lot of 9th week... But it is an important psychological barrier. Library guides working party lasted 2 1/2 hours and ushered in yet another new digital era.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

snort

Over breakfast, I read a disturbing Times article about the jailing of a Porsche-addicted cocaine-dealing gangster and Britain's burgeoning love affair with the drug. From what the journalist says, you might be forgiven for thinking that people are so busy snorting coke they don't have time for anything else. (Maybe that's true, maybe financial meltdown was caused by everyone borrowing cash to fuel their habit. Not to mention paying for the nose refurbs.)

I have to admit I've only ever come across someone snorting coke once, and that was at a party over twenty-five years ago. Which probably makes me sound like the judge who asked who the Beatles were. But I wonder if anyone else has similar inexperience.

What I am addicted to, come to think of it, are articles about drug addicts, drug barons and the effects of drugs. Can't get enough of those.

On a happier note, there's also a great-sounding article on why owning a dog is good for you. As the coke dealer starts his eight year sentence, bet he wishes he'd just gone out and bought a pooch.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

tardis

He looks through the window at the passing country,
at the hill in the distance where they last met,
its trees like lichen, purple and orange and emerald.

A screech owl flaps mechanically in the valley, stops short and swoops.

He thinks of another time, the first time, at her flat,
wishing he could rewrite it like a scene in one of his stories,
and that narrative could carry him to this parallel place:

She does not drink their bottle of wine the night before...
He brings food...
He does not doubt her, nor has reason to...
She doesn't doubt him...

He types into his phone and when he stops
the road ahead is a tunnel through the night.

In front of the hill a screech owl flaps mechanically, stops short and swoops.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

fragment

...it's a gleaming, sugared-grass morning
but its chill is gentle and when I went to the pond
its surface was just a soft skim of ice
and the eastern sky was blue foil at half six, if not before,
whereas only a week ago, it seems like, it was still dark at seven...