Sunday, 24 October 2010

jo thoenes, kate saunders, oxford street, kc, stephen

On Thursday I appeared on BBC Oxford's Jo in the Afternoon programme, talking about Invisible and the big chunk of my life that I've lived in Oxford and Oxfordshire.

I was a bit nervous before I entered the studio but was immediately put at my ease by Jo Thoenes. It was fascinating seeing how she produced the programme as it went along while developing the interview and making me feel very much at home.

One of the things we talked about both before and during the interview was an incident years ago when I met the descendant of one of the characters in DH Lawrence's The White Peacock.

My girlfriend at that time was studying English at Nottingham University and I used to visit her a lot when I was studying agriculture at Cirencester. We used to go and explore the places DH Lawrence used in his novels, as described in a lovely little book called The Country of My Heart.

One afternoon we went to a churchyard beside a huge mansion which featured in his first novel. It was really exciting to see things like the flight of steps from church to terrace that were so vivid in the novel (glimpsed by moonlight in the book, if I remember rightly).

Anyway by then the house was a football academy and you couldn't visit, only look at it from the churchyard. When we were there we became aware of a man standing nearby. We got talking to him and he told us that his family used to own the big house. He looked as though he'd fallen on hard times because his clothes were frayed, although he was wearing gold cufflinks with his family crest on them. He invited us back to his 'new' house for tea.

Well, the new house was pretty big too and there were Stubbs paintings on the walls and beautiful furniture. We talked to him and his wife for an hour of so. It turned out that his grandfather had been the squire in The White Peacock. This character had been criticised by Lawrence and his descendant was keen to set the record straight, revealing lots of stories about 'nasty' Mr Lawrence in the process.

Lawrence, incidentally, had particularly objected to the fact that the squire had fenced off the rabbit warrens on the estate and stopped the miners from snaring a free meal.

From what I remember, the rabbits were killed by the gamekeeper and sent by train to London for their meat and fur. I think Lawrence thought this mean-spirited. The squire, like his real-life counterpart, was, of course, the mine-owner.

If you'd like to listen to the interview, it's available on the iPlayer till Wednesday and my piece starts 19 min, 10 sec into the programme: http://bbc.in/9A2nlZ.

I was thrilled that Invisible got a favourable review in the Times yesterday from Kate Saunders. The web version is behind the News International paywall: http://bit.ly/aTBvVt. But the best bit is: "This is Posy Simmonds territory; we're among fretful middle-class types who take themselves very seriously and make an enormous meal of every bit of slap-and-tickle. That these people are bearable company is entirely down to the author's lively wit and acute understanding of the emotional landscape."

Canada seems long ago now, although I have such happy memories of Toronto--including my last supper there at the Duke of York and of Oxford Street (which looked as if it were in... Oxford).

Yesterday, I went to Stephen Wall's memorial service at Keble college chapel. Stephen was the man who interviewed me when I was applying to the college to read English and was my tutor when I was an undergraduate there. I owe him so much. He gave me an opportunity that transformed my life.

The service was secular, as Stephen must have wanted. Family and colleagues talked about their memories of him and read from his fiction and his criticism. I had not realised that one of those who spoke, Val Cunningham, had been one of his first Keble students. Neither did I realise that the brilliant critic Ian Hamilton had also been taught by Stephen. What an influential man Stephen was.

It is appropriate, perhaps, that Posy Simmonds is mentioned in the Times review of Invisble. It was Stephen who introduced me to her work. I remember vividly him telling me about Tesoddit and chuckling.

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