Sunday, 25 September 2011

crystal lemon, three horseshoes, batcombe, wildcru








Instead of cycling this morning, I went up to the allotment to do some digging and tidying. Taking advantage of the dry weather. Came back with lots of spinach, much of it self-set, some courgettes, a patty-pan squash, a round yellow cucumber (Crystal Lemon), some runner beans and carrots. Well, that should probably read 'the' carrot. Not a good year for carrots on our allotment...

Got back yesterday from a short break in Somerset. We stayed at the Three Horseshoes in Batcombe, just south-west of Frome. A very relaxing place to be, with good food, four delicious farm ciders and beautiful surrounding countryside to walk in (photos above).

Meanwhile, I was sad to read in the Times about a report from Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru), which suggests that red squirrels could be extinct within twenty years and that hedgehog and Scottish wildcat populations are falling rapidly (only 400 wildcats are left and hedgehog numbers have fallen from 30m plus in the 1950s to 'well under 1m now').

The decline of the hedgehogs is blamed on 'pesticides and the destruction of the hedgerows and rough land on which they depend. Dormice and harvest mice have also been hit.'

The Times also reports that the 'destruction of habitat is affecting not just animals but the rural economy too, because it creates a monotonous countryside devoid of wildlife that discourages the walkers, birdwatchers and other recreational users whose spending is key to rural prosperity.'

To underline the importance of recreational users to the rural economy, the Times article points to the profits from farming amounting to £4.4 billion, whereas rural tourism 'generates sums estimated at between £70 billion and £80 billion a year across Britain.'

The report should be available on WildCru's website but when I tried to access it the link was broken.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

spuds, snow patrol, kasabian






Lifted spuds this morning (planted 9th April). Weather was better than forecast and sacks were dry, although the moment I'd dug the last root there was a light shower that soon turned heavy and was quickly followed by another and another.

Still, this afternoon the wind had dried the spuds and I was able to bag them up. A better yield than expected. The four varieties should keep us going until the late spring--as long as the mice don't get them.

Potatoes are quite cheap and there isn't much of a saving in growing one's own, if any, but the pleasure of heading to the garden shed in the depths of winter and bringing back stored spuds is great.

The four varieties--shown above--are Charlotte, Cara, Kestrel and Estima.

Meanwhile, didn't really go for One Direction but loved Snow Patrol's Called Out in the Dark and Kasabian's Days Are Forgotten.


Saturday, 17 September 2011

bleak, toadflax, wales, yorkshire, stories
















The landscape looked harsh and bleak when I set off cycling this morning, especially to the east, thick cloud dulling the rising sun.

A few miles in, though, the light picked up and I saw a patch of toadflax by Kencot. Toadflax has been plentiful this year. Cheerful flowers.

I'd intended to lift spuds on the allotment this morning but the potato sacks aren't dry yet after I washed them on Thursday. Not that I'll need that many sacks. I dug some Cara last weekend and while the potatoes themselves were great--firm textured and delicious--the yield was poor. The dry start to the summer didn't help. Still, the spuds should be OK in the ground for a couple weeks before the keel slugs start munching them.

When I got home from cycling I was sad to read about the deaths of the four miners in south Wales.

It's a hundred years since my ancestors left Tredegar in the Rhonda for a new life but my mum passed down the old stories about my grandfather when he was a boy and what it was like in the mining villages when she visited Great-Granny Thomas during the thirties. Those stories are part of me somehow, just like the ones my dad told me about growing up in Yorkshire.

I'm grateful for those stories. They are a part of the family culture that withstands life's upsets. A part of me will always be Welsh, will always be Yorkshire, however imaginary that might seem.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

the lock on kindle




Today sees the republication of my first novel The Lock as a Kindle ebook from StreetBooks.

The ebook is available from amazon.co.uk, amazon.com and amazon.de.

That the novel should come out on Kindle seems appropriate given that it first appeared as an ebook back in 2001, two years before it was published in paperback. It went on to be shortlisted for the Independent e-Book Awards in Santa Barbara in 2002.

Regular readers of this blog might recognise the photo on which the Kindle cover is based, which appeared here in June.

The cover shows the last lock on the Oxford Canal before it comes to an abrupt halt at the city centre. The lock and bridge appear in the closing chapters of the novel when Gerald, an unfaithful Oxford don, is on his way to try and make things up with his younger daughter Alison, who lives on a narrowboat called Civil Liberty.

'He marched up, round, over and down the S of the beautiful wrought-iron bridge crossing the last lock.  From the top he could see the green roof and purple side of Civil Liberty.  As before there was a column of smoke rising from its stack.  The smoke went straight up then spread out horizontally as if it had reached an invisible ceiling.

'The mist was clearer around the canal – just a low bed of it above the channel – but the landscape, the glimpses of dead water, the frosted grass, the bare trees, looked bleaker and colder than by the grebe pool.  But Gerald could feel nothing of the cold anymore.'

To the left of the bridge on the cover, you can see the last section of the canal which follows the western boundary of Worcester College. It was on this part of the canal that a friend called Lizzie used to moor her barge and it was she who told me all about what it was like to live on a narrowboat when I was researching the novel.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

swindon viewpoint













On a lighter note, I was excited to read a comment made recently on my post mentioning Swindon Viewpoint community TV. It turns out that there is a Swindon Viewpoint website, www.swindonviewpoint.com.

I was fascinated by the project's long history and was really pleased to learn that the project continued after the cable TV funding ran out in 1980.

Terrific!

furniture, the past, forgiveness, new start
















Later this month I shall travel to a warehouse in which the furniture and personal possessions I grew up with are stored. I was away in Shropshire when these things were put there. I was working on a farm, doing my year’s practical before agricultural college. I have not seen the furniture and possessions since I left for Shropshire. That was nearly thirty-four years ago.

At the warehouse I will identify the few items that were in my childhood bedroom. These will be saved, the rest will be sold.

During my recent holiday I have thought about the past and about what the trip to the warehouse will be like. I cannot imagine what it will be like.

A family’s whole culture obliterated--by what? By a strange way of thinking about a painting of the Godolphin Arabian that robbed time of its meaning and caused incredible mental distress. What happened went against, it seems to me, all the usual norms of good sense, humanity and compassion.

I have thought of the essay I wrote for my cousin in 1998, in which I tried to outline my concerns about what was happening and what it had been like to live with the pain for so many years. The essay resulted from insights I gained into what was happening after I wrote a simple letter to a lawyer on another subject. The past suddenly started to fall into place. As I said to someone recently, I felt like a cult member emerging from years of isolation. I saw the past very differently. The essay was therapy, a cry for help and, it has to be stressed, an act of love. As I have said during talks about the origins of my second novel, which is partly about writing therapy, you do not spend so much time trying to get at the truth of a situation if you do not care about the people involved. I still love the people at the centre of this tragedy. They should have been protected against themselves.

I have thought over the past weeks of those who were there to protect my interests--amiable but hapless men, who I am sure never meant things to turn out this way.

I have thought about forgiveness. I approach this from the standpoint of a religious humanist, not as I was once, a Christian. Forgiveness is, I believe, something that will come with the passing of the seasons, as death is followed by rebirth, the cycle that defines the world in which we live. Forgiveness is not something that can be forced.

I am aware that there are others, like me, who have decided not to make a claim in respect of what has happened, even though they have suffered financial loss and unhappiness. I also know that others who have claimed have suffered a great deal--materially and emotionally. I sympathise with both groups of people.

I have to say I do not understand how a bank (HSBC) could allow a debt to escalate so much that it destroyed their client--destroyed not just them but, as I have said, a whole family culture--as well as damaging many others. (Not good for the bank's shareholders either.) I suppose things in the banking world have changed in the last couple of years. I hope very much that is the case and that other families will be spared this kind of distress in future.

I think of my great-grandfathers who I never met but who entrusted so much to future generations. I am pleased that I managed to save a small part of their legacies and, I hope, do some good with it.

I am grateful for the support I have received over this last year from members of my family, from Jess’ family and from colleagues at the University. Above all I am grateful for Jess’ love and support.

Later this month I shall travel to a warehouse in which the furniture and personal possessions I grew up with are stored. After that I shall start the rest of my life.

[23.01.12 and 03.02.12: In the light of recent sad events I have decided to rewrite parts of the above post. I have kept a copy of the original post. 05.15: Further revision.]

Saturday, 3 September 2011

kennington literary festival

Kennington Literary Festival programme just out. I'll be reading from Invisible on Saturday 15th October, 1.40 pm.

bell, oaks, alvescot, black bourton church, doll

















We walked from Bampton to Langford yesterday for a delicious lunch at the Bell. Amazing weather and scenery.

A lot of oaks to the east of Broadwell, though some seemed to be dead or dying. Signs of acute oak decline disease or some other problem?

I'd never realised how beautiful the lower part of Alvescot village was--it's almost like a separate Cotswold hamlet. Also visited Black Bourton church for the first time. Charming medieval building with great thirteenth century wall paintings, described in the guidebook as visual aids to the Bible stories, which I rather liked.

Saw the slightly disturbing clown doll by the old mill steam below the church.

Friday, 2 September 2011

himalayan balsam

















I was amazed by how much Himalayan Balsam there was along the banks of the Thames between Tadpole Bridge and Shifford Lock earlier in the week.

Some stands were over six foot tall and in places the plants were several yards deep.

On the plus side, the flowers are beautiful and bees love them. At this time of year the air is filled with the plant's heavy scent--dry and herby--and occasionally you can hear the click-click of the seed pods firing across the bank and river.

But what used grow here? I can't help think these aggressive plants are drowning out older species.