Tuesday, 30 August 2011

chimney, shifford, duxford, tenfoot bridge
















Had a lovely walk today along the Thames from Tadpole Bridge, via Chimney Meadows, to Shifford Lock. The first part was familiar but instead of turning back at the lock we crossed the river and continued on and round to the beautiful hamlet of Duxford and back along the other bank to Tenfoot Bridge (above) and the last mile or so of the usual walk.

Duxford was a surprise--an idyllic Berkshire stone farmhouse with red brick surrounds to the windows (the hamlet would have been in Berkshire before the boundary changes in the 1970s) and a handful of cottages, three of them the tall narrow Thames Valley thatched kind that are similar to those that appear in a junk-shop watercolour we have of cottages in North Hinksey by J Allen Shuffrey. (Shuffrey was part of a Witney blanket-making family named in one of the Witney Museum exhibits we saw last week. He specialised in Oxfordshire landscapes and architectural paintings.)

The walk was an antidote to the impending visit to claim my one or two childhood pieces from the mass of furniture that has to be sold. More on this, I dare say, over the coming week or so.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

change, time off, kite, witney etc
















Two photos of scenes that first appeared in this blog earlier in the year. The top photo shows a recently cultivated field--the picture of the ripening corn that stood here was posted just a few weeks ago. The oak in the lower picture was originally photographed back in March--its bare branches looking like a representation of a brain against the white sky.

The oak stands about two-thirds the way along the gated road towards Broadwell. Oaks are said to indicate good soils. They are noticeably absent from Bampton and the surrounding countryside--only one or two in Hayway Lane about half a mile from Rushey Lock.

The photos above show the changing landscape. Up to now, this summer, I've felt somewhat bewildered by the rate at which things have been changing. I've been so busy with the libraries and teaching that I've lost touch with the allotment and garden, beyond picking veg and mowing the lawn. I've not walked my favourite walks for months. Cycling has kept me sane.

Now, though, I'm taking almost a fortnight off. It's great to stop for a bit. Particularly at this time of year--a time when the countryside seems to slow for a while and take stock. But perhaps I'm projecting the rhythm of my life onto the year!

Be that as it may, it's great to be on holiday. Today when cycling, a red kite flew across the road near Kencot, just after I'd taken the photo above. It was pursued by a crow and was so close it was amazing to be able to see all its plumage and how big a bird it is--its body, as well as its wingspan. The kites that were released in the Chilterns many years ago only appeared as far west as here the year before last but have become an increasingly common sight.

Jess' mum came to stay on Thursday. Visit to Witney Museum yesterday afternoon--a great social history museum--then a late lunch at the Hollybush (excellent that you can eat there all day), and a delicious supper at the Bell at Langford (thanks Jess' mum).

Sunday, 21 August 2011

bindweed, lewis, keith douglas
















Bindweed flowers always seem to me to be really pretty. It's a shame that the plant is so pernicious and impossible to eradicate. It thrives on our allotment and tries to twine its way round every plant. No matter how much I pull it up or dig it out, it's always back with a vengeance within a week or two. Digging it out is, of course, a joke--its roots go down for miles.

I saw these flowers along the gated road when cycling this morning. At least they are several miles from the allotment.

Enjoyed the end of Summer School dinner in Exeter College hall on Friday night. Great food and company.  When I got to Exeter an episode of Lewis was being filmed in the quad. Judging from the number of forensics people whatever happened inside staircase four looked grim. A surreal moment occurred as the Summer School tutors and students headed to the fellows' garden for the reception. We had to make our way through a whole load of actors pretending to be tutors and students. Who was who?

During the speeches Professor Jon Stallworthy read a wonderful poem entitled Oxford by Keith Douglas. I'd never heard it before but will certainly be seeking it out.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

waterman's arms, osney, now the punter















Had great fun at our friend's 60th birthday party last night. It was held at The Punter on Osney Island.

When we lived on the Island this Thames-side pub was called The Waterman's Arms, which had been its name for over a hundred years. I still can't get used to the new name. Where are the punts? I did see someone attempting to punt on this stretch years ago but the water is too deep.

I'd not been into the pub since it was taken over. I have to say that the name apart the pub is excellent. The interior is upmarket now but the changes have been sympathetically done, so that you still get a sense of the rooms as they once were. The food was delicious.

A fictional incarnation of the pub featured in John Wain's wonderful Where the Rivers Meet trilogy which follows the fortunes of the landlord's two sons before the Second World War. One son gets a job at the newly-opened Cowley car factory and the other wins a place to study at the University before becoming a don.

The pub also appeared in my first novel The Lock, which rather amazingly ended up being published by John Wain's son Will.

In this scene, two Oxford dons, Gerald and Jonathan meet at the Narrow Boat, as the pub is called in the book. Jonathan soon reveals that he saw Gerald at the pub on an earlier occasion with Alex, with whom he is having an affair.

Half an hour later Jonathan and Gerald were sitting out in the yard at the back of the pub.

When Gerald had found Jonathan, who had been sitting up at the bar chatting to the landlord, they had gone through the brief ritual of offering to buy the first round.  On this occasion the ritual was briefer than usual, with Gerald capitulating rapidly, which surprised Jonathan, and then proclaiming that he would go outside into the yard and sort out a table.  Jonathan found him sitting at the table nearest the street by the low wall that gave onto the Thames.  When he arrived Gerald was sitting with his legs either side of the bench staring at the river and the islet in front of the house on the opposite bank, a fact which, under the circumstances made Jonathan feel irrationally guilty...

...Gerald inclined his head slightly.  The expression he adopted was, perhaps, that of someone who is thinking, though his stare seemed curiously placid, even vacant.

‘Would you like to go for a walk?’ Jonathan asked.

He gave a snort of surprise and furrowed his brow.

‘No.’

‘It’s probably nothing, but some friends of mine have recently bought the house over the river there.’

‘So?’

‘I’ve been helping them out with their garden.’

Gerald smiled.  ‘Sounds very unlikely.’

‘About a month ago I was there and I happened to look across at the pub.’

Gerald bent his head forward, took hold of the rim of his glass between his thumb and forefinger and gave it a little twist, twice.  Then he tossed his head back and stared at Jonathan as if he was standing above him looking down.

Jonathan noticed how the skin over the purple smudge below his right eye had begun to pulse, though whether this was from a vein or from a nervous tick, he could not tell.

‘And you saw me here,’ said Gerald.  His head came forward again a fraction.

‘Yes.’

‘And I was with Alexandra Thorpe.’

‘Yes.  As I said it’s probably nothing.’

‘What did you have in mind?’

‘There are other things as well that made me think there might be something in it.’

He sensed that Gerald was trying to get out of something and this made him, suddenly, angry.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

time, ripening, mushroom risotto















The creative writing summer school seminar series I'm teaching at Exeter College, Oxford is about to enter its third and final week. Colleagues said the time would pass quickly and it has. It's whizzed by. Not least because the group is a great one to work with.

Talking of time passing fast, we're off to a 60th birthday party this weekend. Was it ten years ago that our friend was fifty? I suppose it must be. Help!

The weather was wet and overcast this morning when I went cycling, adding to the landscape's already autumnal look. Most fields are now cut and many have been cultivated. The hawthorn berries are full and the crab apple trees laden with fruit.

Another year is ripening.

Meanwhile, had lunch with two colleagues yesterday at Branca in Walton Street, Oxford. By chance we all wanted the mushroom risotto, which was simple and delicious. We also had great fun chatting.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

oxford, northmoor sheep, sunday

Working in Oxford today.

Earlier in the week, the bus pulled up in the middle of Northmoor as a flock of sheep were driven through the village. No contest.

Meanwhile, now sipping wine and contemplating a free Sunday. No, I can't believe that either.

Have a good weekend.