Saturday, 29 May 2010

shirt race

Whitsun weekend is special in Bampton.

Morris dancers, folk singers and musicians come to the village from Friday onwards for the Morris festival on the bank holiday. Bampton has an unbroken tradition of Morris dancing going back to the seventeenth century--or even earlier.

The pubs stay open late and I love listening to the singers and musicians who start up when the mood takes them and often sound like they have just stepped out of a Thomas Hardy novel. One of my favourite memories is of listening to a folk oboist in the Elephant and Castle with James and Nathalie. Sadly the Elephant closed some years ago, although the last landlords Pat and George are up this weekend from the Forest of Dean where they now live.

This evening was the Shirt Race, which has been held annually since the 1940s. There's a children's and an adult version. The competitors push or drag their pram or float from refreshment table to refreshment table round the village, grabbing a glass from each as they pass. Beer for the adults.

We went down to see the start by the Morris Clown. The picture shows the tail enders--at the beginning, that is. When they got back to the pub they looked remarkably relaxed.

Friday, 28 May 2010

updates



justthoughtsnstuff.com is the blog of novelist Frank Egerton. www.frankegerton.com

The Downton Abbey film crew returned this week, setting up a mini funfair in the square below the church.

I assumed they would be filming during the day but just after I'd got off the bus back from work yesterday, I bumped into my friend John. And he said they were doing night filming.

So off I went at ten-thirty or so to watch a few scenes. Couldn't get too close and didn't spot anyone famous, but the set was great. The helter-skelter is apparently an authentic early twentieth century one--the last of its kind (but maybe that's a village myth). Then there was this extraordinary inflatable glowing sausage roll jigging about in the sky just to the right of the church's east window. A prop? No, some sort of helium filled lighting rig--intended to suggest moonlight?

Anyway the crew seemed to be having to reshoot a few scenes and the buzz was that they might be back tonight. Yesterday was supposed to be their last day in Bampton.

How appropriate to have a funfair in the little square. Not that people probably think of it as a square because it's so tiny. And yet it is certainly four-sided and was, according to the prof from Queen's College, who knows about village history, the original market square in the days when the church served an Anglo-Saxon monastery. (You can still see some of the higgledy-piggledy Anglos-Saxon masonry inside the twelfth century tower.)

Meanwhile on the banks of the Oxford canal the duck family is growing up--and snoozing. Hard work, growing.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

ridging up

It's been a week, shall we say.

Some good things, such as the amazing Holguin gift to the Bodleian Latin American Centre Library, and the Writers in Oxford AGM.

The latter was a positive, constructive event and I was thrilled to receive six bottles of wine as a leaving present. Thanks to the committee for these and for the good wishes. Thanks also to members who have emailed, tweeted and facebooked lovely messages.

Today I went up the allotment and ridged up our spuds (see above), put up the wigwams for the runners and raked the ground that I'd cleaned. After a late breakfast I went back and planted beans, chard, pumpkins, carrots, New Zealand spinach, beetroots and parsnips. Feels good to have got this done.

Working there was respite from the sad events of this week. I wish Mum a speedy recovery and hope we can sort out everything else quickly and peacefully. I am grateful to my family, colleagues, students and above all Jess for their support at this difficult time.

Friday, 21 May 2010

wio farewell

On Wednesday, I stood down as chair of Writers in Oxford after two years.  I was sad to do this but my life has changed so much over the last couple of years that I can no longer devote enough time to the society.

I wish my successor, Peter Groves, who I have worked with on the committee, every success.

Here is an edited version of my farewell speech.

'As you will know by now, I am standing down as chair of the society at this meeting. While I would have liked to continue for another year my professional life has changed significantly during 2009/10, leaving increasingly small amounts of time for other things.

I hope that the last year has built on the hard work of the committee during my first year as chair and on the work of my predecessor, Julie Summers.

The committee has continued to organise a full calendar of events that centre around the most popular of them all, Drinks and Digressions. Thanks to all members who have hosted parties at their homes and put so much effort into creating memorable evenings.

WiO visits to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, the History of Science Museum and the recently-reopened Ashmolean Museum have also proved highly popular.

There have been some terrific Topical Suppers led by WiO members, most recently Maggie Black and Renee Hirschon. The committee is aware that some members feel that we should invite more visiting speakers to lead Topical Suppers and this issue will be discussed, along with other events suggestions, towards the end of this meeting. I would say, however, that during the economic uncertainties of the past 18 months, it has seemed sensible to keep money in reserve. Now, though, may well be the time to loosen the purse strings.

At last year's AGM I mentioned that we hoped to organise WiO readings at Borders, an initiative that grew out of Cherry Mosteshar's book fairs. I was delighted when Jane Robinson, Julie Summers and Nikki van der Gaag took part in what was intended to be the first WiO evening of many. Sadly, this was not to be because Borders went into administration--a terrible loss to us and to the city. I would like to extend thanks to Victor Glynn of Borders for his help with running the first event and other WiO-related events and readings over the past couple of years. I hope very much that he and the other members of staff who lost their jobs have found new positions.

I would like to thank Joy Hendry and Denise Cullington for their hard work in putting together the programmes of events over the last year.

As in previous years WiO members were very much in evidence at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival and Oxfringe 2010, both as speakers and as writer-minders. This year the writer-minder scheme was run by Jane Bingham who put in a fantastic amount of effort--for which many, many thanks…

…During the latter part of 2009 WiO launched a new website, which was constructed by Andrew Chapman. Members have been extremely complimentary about the new site and its features. Many thanks to Andrew for this and for maintaining the site.

The society also has a Twitter page, which is a useful way of getting updates about forthcoming events. If you are on Twitter, do check out this page and become a follower.

I would like to thank Dennis Hamley for the three entertaining and thought-provoking issues of the newsletter which he has edited over the last year.

This year has seen two members retire from the committee, Andrew Chapman…and Rita Carter, who has made an outstanding all-round contribution to the society. Her latest contribution being a terrific article for the current newsletter. Rita was on the committee the last time I sat on the committee several years ago. Thank you so much Rita for all you have done for WiO.

At the last AGM, I mentioned that I hoped to introduce a microfiction page on the new website and find ways of involving WiO with the MSt in Creative Writing course on which I teach. Sadly, time prevented me from achieving these goals but I hope they will be ideas that the committee will consider in future.

In a few minutes, the committee will stand for re-election and I would personally like to nominate Peter Groves as the committee's new chair. Peter was a member of the society at the very beginning and has been a consistent and very energetic contributor to its continued development and success…

…So, my time as chair is almost over. I have loved chairing the society. It is the most fantastic group to be involved with. Thanks for all the fun over the last couple of years. And especial thanks to the members of the committee for all their support and hard work. It has been a privilege to work with you--members of the committee past and present.

Thank you.'

Sunday, 16 May 2010

sunday

Had huge lie-in this morning. Was exhausted after yesterday's teaching and general admin, which started at 7 am and went on to 4 pm.

Mowed lawn then headed for allotment, once I surfaced. Spuds are showing on allotment, although some had been touched by the frost. They'll come back. Shallots and onion sets are slow. Always the way. One forgets how much later the ground up there is compared to the garden at the house. Latter is free draining light soil over gravel, former is dear old Oxford clay.

I went to a talk given by the local historian once, a fellow at Queen's college, where the free draining village soil was explained. Bampton's church is a Minster, which means that it was a monastery church (during the Anglo-Saxon period). The historian showed us a geological map of the area with the numerous A-S monasteries marked on it--they, and their settlements, were all built on little outcrops of gravel amongst the Oxford clay. The founders of those villages obviously knew what they were about.

Next week, weather permitting, I'll do a bit more forking through then get the rest of the seeds planted.

Have now dug in the winter roots but came back with a big bag of spinach for Sunday lunch.

Although next week is supposed to be hot, it's still been chilly today, so we had a log fire. Comforting--as was the hock of ham and parsley sauce.

Tomorrow morning I'll be writing my speech for the Writers in Oxford AGM on Wednesday. My farewell event. I'm quite relieved to be standing down even though I've loved the last two years as chair. My working life has got so busy over the past year, though, that I had to give something up to make room for home life and my writing. Starting a new novel. Yey!

Hate to finish on a sad note, but when I walked along the Oxford canal on Friday morning there were three ducklings left... Nature's cruel.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

ducklings

















When I was walking along the Oxford canal this morning, I came across this little family--there is a fourth duckling but he shot ahead.

Ducklings are such wilful little things, determinedly getting on with their lives.

Meanwhile, I'm glad the government is sorted (if that's not too strong a word for what's happened). It's been a surprisingly unsettling period.

I thought Gordon Brown's speech outside Number Ten was moving, not least because Sarah Brown was standing beside him--she seems very dignified and loving. Then when they and their boys set off down the street GB seemed approachable in ways that he's not seemed for a long time.

In fact his speech was gentle--and, dare I say it, humble. No, actually to call it humble is to devalue it. When he spoke, he seemed warm and human. He came across as charismatic, I would have said.

A momentous day.

And in many other ways, enjoyable--a delicious, convivial lunch in Jericho. Thanks Malcolm.

Also got the flights, accommodation and congress registration sorted out for October, when I'll be Toronto bound. A privilege to be going.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

lol


Cycled gated road this morning because I didn't think allotment would be dry enough to fork through. In the end, when I went up there in the afternoon, it was fine--if anything nearly too dry. Weird.

Things have really started to get going on the allotment over the last few days. Spuds are motoring and onions and shallots are poking through. Still, it's a lot slower up there, what with the Oxford clay and it being pretty exposed, compared to the garden, where the light soil is much more sheltered. The garden veg is well ahead.

Came across loads of Jack-by-the-hedge along the gated road (see above pic, where it's growing alongside wild clary, I think--always get a bit muddled by those low blue-flowered plants). Jack-by-the-hedge looks so bright this time of the year. Apparently you can use it in salads. See http://www.naturessecretlarder.co.uk/wild-food-useful-plants/jack-by-the-hedge-alliaria-petiolata.htm, which says:

LEAVES – the leaves make ideal sandwich fillers, and if the leaves are finely chopped and mixed with a little olive oil, they make a refreshing and delicate salad dressing.
FLOWERS – the flower have a punchy flavour and can also be added to salads.
SEED PODS – for me the seed pods are best eaten as a wayside snack, and although have the same flavour as the rest of the plant, they won’t make your breath smell as it would if you had eaten a clove of true garlic!

Not tried using J-b-t-h in salads myself, although on a related theme, Jess intends to make nettle soup this week...

Also saw a beautiful clump of white bells in amongst some nettles along the gated road--see other pic above.

Opened a bottle of Côtes-du-Roussillon last weekend and finished it off today. A Sainsbury's M Chapoutier 2007. It was as good as I remember C-d-R to be, only better. So packed with berry flavours, full (but not too so) and round. You used to find C-d-R everywhere at one time but it was a casualty of the waning French wine industry in the noughties. During the nineties it became our Sunday wine (just the ordinary Sainsbury's version). It was a real treat. Those Sundays—the Classic Serial, Sunday dinner and C-d-R--were oases of happiness during those years of misery and sadness for my family.

Listened to the Classic Serial today--Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie.

I met LL once, though I didn't believe it. It was during my first year at Cirencester and one Saturday I got in the car and drove through the lanes beyond Sapperton towards Stroud. I didn't know where I was going but I ended up in a pretty Cotswold village on the edge of a valley. I entered the pub, which was dark inside and flagged floored. When I asked for my pint one of the old men asked me if I'd heard of Laurie Lee. I said yes, because we'd studied Cider with Rosie at school. The man then pointed to another old chap sitting on a stool in the shadows and said, Well, this is Laurie Lee. I thought he was having me on--people you studied at school were long dead. We chatted for a minute of two before I went outside and drank my pint and smoked a couple of cigarettes and smiled to myself at the joke.

Lol.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

what a gaggle

Was just checking Facebook on my phone, Thursday morning, scrolling down, when I saw, 'We are off to Oxfordshire for Saturday night. Anyone fancy a drink in the Morris Clown at about 6 pm?'

So off we went this evening to meet our friends Mark and Emily, who we haven't seen for too long. It was wonderful to spend an hour chatting. They used to be our near neighbours but moved to Dorset to run a pub called the European. Subsequently they bought the Gaggle of Geese at Buckland Newton--a Hardyesque name if ever there was one (http://www.thegaggle.co.uk).

It's the first time they've been away for three years and it was a shock to realise that so much time has passed since we last saw them.

It was also fun to be in the Clown--for various reasons we haven't been there for a while. Nice pint of Brakspear's.

It's been so cold in Bampton today. And wet. I got up at five, hoping the weather people had got it wrong and I'd be able to fork through more ground on the allotment but no, it was raining... Had a brilliant but chilly cycle ride instead. Countryside lush now, what with all the rain...

I was quite pleased with progress on the allotment a fortnight ago and thought that even if I missed a couple of weekends through bad weather all would be ok. Now I'm a tad worried. Come on sun, where are you?

Trying to push the election result from my mind. Hate all the uncertainty.

Needless to say the willowy UKIP-representing Count Tolstoy and the druidical Wessex Regionalist candidate failed to unseat David Cameron in west Oxfordshire!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

rum dos


Spent a really enjoyable evening at Oriel College over the weekend, dining at high table at a black tie do. Amazing menu, sumptuously cooked. Loved in particular the puddings' dining-room at the other end of a side quad from the main hall, all astonishingly weighty silver, crystal chandeliers, cheese, fruit, claret and port. Apparently an austerity menu following government cuts. Wonder what the old menu was like?

Cycled quite a lot over the weekend because it was too wet to garden. On Sunday I did a circuit that included the old gated road west of Clanfield, now minus its gates and called Calcroft Lane. The steep hedges shown above will be laden with blackberries come the autumn. The disused railway line (middle photo) was closed in the 60s as a result of the Beeching cuts, although there is a rumour that if Brize Norton airfield had shut down a few years back (in the end it was decided that Lyneham would close and Brize would stay open), Sir Richard Branson had designs on the site for an international airport, linked to Oxford by a revamped branch line. Would have been very handy for us.

Talking of Sir Richard B, there was a nasty story about his, and my, old school, Stowe, at the weekend. Something to do with a knife fight. What really caught my attention, though, in the Sunday Times piece about it was a reference to a Facebook page called, Just because I went to Stowe doesn't mean I'm stupid... The name picks up on the fact that a lot of Stoics are supposed to be Eton and Harrow rejects. Many pupils probably do end up at Stowe because they fail common entrance to somewhere else, although Stowe was my first choice. I quite like the humour behind the Facebook site and am not surprised that it has over four hundred fans. Even so, I'm glad I went to Stowe. For me the school's heroes are creative people like the poet and glass engraver Laurence Whistler and the potter Alan Caiger-Smith. (LW also wrote a poignant memoir about his marriage to the Jill Furse called The Initials in the Heart.)

Another social networking site that's been in the news is the whirlwind success story http://www.thefitfinder.co.uk, which enables students at various universities, including Oxford, to post Twitter-style declarations of lust for someone they've seen in the library or quad.

Tomorrow evening I'm off to my last Writers in Oxford committee meeting before I hand over to the next chair at the AGM later in the month. I'll be sad to go but work pressures are too great to be able to chair anymore. Two very fun, happy and rewarding years.

Last of all, congratulations to my friend José Angel Rodriguez, whose book about the history of rum, Al Son del Ron, is being published in Venezuela later this week.

Oh, and the third pic above? Kingcups in a ditch along the gated road. Another favourite childhood plant.