Monday, 31 December 2012

luminous moss on a cotswold wall, the ups and downs of 2012, looking forward to 2013, happy new year!!!!

Saw this mossy Cotswold stone wall while walking between Windrush and Sherborne this afternoon. The moss glowed in the fading four o'clock light and cheered the otherwise muddy and waterlogged landscape.

Now, as the new year approaches, I think of the things that have happened in 2012.

There have been sadnesses. Dad dying, nearly a year ago now, was the worst. Over the last year, I've learnt things about him that I didn't know before--things that bring him alive as a person I wish I had known. Earlier in the week, I wrote about people failing to communicate. Despite all the education and the supposed erudition (so hard won), despite the advances in human understanding, we failed to say what we meant in his later years. I miss him very much.

The sale of family possessions not seen since 1978 was--well, not a sadness exactly, but something so bizarre and odd that normal phrases can barely convey my feelings about the experience. Of looking through the online catalogue and glimpsing childhood memories that were hidden in crates all that time, only to emerge and be destroyed as a collection of meanings and memories. I hope their new owners find happiness in these things.

Recently, a friendship changed suddenly due to misunderstandings. I hope that 2013 will see renewal.

But there have also been rather wonderful experiences in 2012. The trip to San Francisco in May, which had an unexpected, almost life-changing effect on me. To travel at last to a place I'd dreamt of going to when in my teens and to find it more real and more fascinating than I thought it ever could be.

Driving to the South of France in the late summer with J and T. Inland from the tourist beaches, high up in the chestnut woods in the medieval village, the pace of life was gorgeous and reviving. Lovely that our friends from the Alps were able to join us.

I've loved preparing the novel A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping for publication in February 2013. The book is a fictional account of the last years of the First World War poet, Edward Thomas, and his work has a special significance to me. When I was just beginning to unravel the family mysteries back in the mid-nineties, I became pretty depressed and Thomas' poetry about the simple beauty and magic of the countryside sustained me, brought me back from gloominess, gave me hope. His poems and the complimentary paintings of John Nash were so important to me then.

I'm pleased to have started writing the 'proper' version of my third novel. It has taken many years to find the right path.

Writing an extended essay about my family's experiences over the past two decades last Easter was cathartic--the start of coming to terms with things and healing. Also, on the subject of non-fiction, attending talks at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing has been inspirational.

I have loved working with my creative writing students and my lovely, supportive colleagues at the University.

A year of warmth and sadness. Of happiness, of pain, of keeping going. In many ways, a year like any other. I'm looking forward to 2013, though. I don't know why exactly but I am.

Happy New Year!!!!
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Sunday, 30 December 2012

biking, water still, friends round for drinks, t growing up...a bit

















Good to get out on the bike today. Love long country walks--that I don't get the chance to do for much of the year--but cycling is special. It's the sense of freedom as you spin through the countryside, lost in thoughts and views.

Still a lot of water in the fields but no flooding of people's homes round here that I'm aware of. The outlook is better for the coming week, so the land should get a break.

Enjoyed having friends round for drinks at lunchtime. T reasonably well behaved--at over 7 he seems to be calming down...a bit.

Friday, 28 December 2012

blenheim, henbane, woodman, frosty bells, downton, reflection, tim parks, ebooks, reading






















Walked round Blenheim today--the long route through the woodland to the south of the house--for the first time in nearly 20 years. I'd forgotten so much, including the verge near Springlock Gate where we saw henbane for the first (and only) time.

Dropped in at the Woodman, North Leigh, on the way back--excellent pint of Howell's Frosty Bells. (Not too strong but a brilliant full malty, seasonal flavour.)

Watched some Downton Abbey Series 3 on DVD later. Fascinating to see the village in its 1920s fancy dress. The holes in the road by the library/hospital must be left deliberately to help the film makers!

This midwinter time of year continues to be one of reflection and looking to the future. What a year. What a future? (Let's hope!)

Terrific article recommended by Facebook friend Julia Bell about ebooks. Apart from anything else, the author, Tim Parks, describes the techniques and activity of reading wonderfully!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

rain is the new snow, happy swans!


















Took these photos when walking yesterday.

Rain is very much this Christmas' theme--such a contrast to the snow in 2010.

Still, the swans in the top pic seem happy!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

goodnight, john mcgahern, moving forward?, contemplating the past, saying what you mean, happy days! :-)

Goodnight all. Xmas Day is almost over for another year. A warm day, both literally and metaphorically. Also a day when I began re-reading That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern. In truth I began reading this book at Easter 2006 (I think it was that Easter) but set it aside about a third the way through. Somehow I believe that the interruption was significant and beginning the book again is the start of moving forward. I wonder. In any case, the prose is beautiful, characterful and redolent of place. Inevitably too this Xmas was a time for contemplating the past. In this regard, I was struck by a scene in Marigold Hotel, which we watched a bit of at the end of the day. Ronald Pickup--appropriately named--is trying to chat up a woman in a club in India. Suddenly he drops all pretence and is just himself and whereas he would have lost the woman with his dreadful 'seductive' patter, suddenly he is in with a real chance. Why do people waste so much time by talking rubbish and by not saying what they really mean or who they really are?

Happy days! :-)
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happy xmas!!; wreath, walks, pints, pheasants & rioja; more bampton-downton

Happy Xmas!!

J's Xmas wreath is on the front door, we've done one walk with T, delivering cards, enjoyed a pint or two with Alan and Cathy at the Horse Shoe, and are about to go on another walk with T while the pheasants roast and the Rioja breaths.

Meanwhile a further Bampton-Downton property article has appeared in the Mail: http://bit.ly/V1xtGa.

Not sure 'tiny' is quite right, though.

Weak but welcome sunlight and only an early downpour today. What a wonderful surprise!!
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flooded farmland and allotments, morris and talbot, midnight mass, humanist, happy christmas!!!!



















Lots of flooding in west Oxfordshire when I drove to Witney and Burford for last-minute Christmas shopping--though thankfully it looks like only farmland is under water (above are the Windrush valley by the Swan at Swinbrook and east of Burford). The allotments are pretty soggy too, of course.

Went down to the Morris Clown and the Talbot this evening. Nice to see friends.

Also nice to hear Midnight Mass on Radio 4, despite being a Humanist!

Happy Christmas!!!! Have a wonderful day!!!!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

first walk together in ages, bampton-downton, profumo, log and twig deer





















Pre-Xmas guests left this morning--great to see Deci and Margaret.

Took T for a walk afterwards. The first time we've walked on our own together since I can't remember. A beautiful day for it, with the sun coming out every now and then and thankfully no rain. Water, water everywhere, though. T was reluctant to walk off the lead as we headed away from the village but was brisk off the lead on the way home! It was strange, somehow, getting used to walking together.

Meanwhile, an extensive article in the Sunday Times about Bampton property and the Downton Abbey effect, entitled, Live Abbey ever after in your own piece of the real Downton (not sure about that pun!). Bampton is where the village scenes in the TV series are filmed, though the Big House itself is actually 30 or so miles away.

Also intrigued by the second extract from a new book about Stephen Ward and the Profumo scandal, An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo by Richard Davenport-Hines, a story that has always fascinated me.

Loved the deer made of logs and twigs in front of a house further down the street.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

soaked, flooding, logs, near-boiling, holiday, still work to do, moan, moan, moan

Soaked to the skin when I went cycling.

Fields I've not seen flooded before are now under water.

Expecting a delivery of logs in a minute, which I'll trundle up the garden path--one long puddle.

What happened to the coldest December for a hundred years! It's wet but near-boiling for the time of year.

Good to be on holiday, though there are still a fair few things to get done before the 25th!

Moan, moan, moan!
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Sunday, 16 December 2012

frozen oxford canal, east oxford art & book fair, brian levison, yehuda amichai, fox at great barrington, sir bradley






















Warm today but SO cold earlier in the week!

Oxford canal froze over (above)--a very different scene at the last lock before the city centre to the one a couple of months ago, let alone the one that was used as a basis for the cover of the Kindle edition of The Lock.

StreetBooks was at the first East Oxford Art & Book Fair yesterday, which was an excellent event. In the photo above, Margaret Keeping signs a copy of her wonderful novel about Edward Thomas, A Conscious Englishman. It was also lovely to see friends there, including many fellow members of Writers in Oxford. The event was opened by Brian Aldiss. It was nice to talk to him and to remember the extraordinary fox sighting before the Writers in Oxford twentieth anniversary party.

Thrilled to buy a copy of Adding An A by my friend Brian Levison at the fair. The estimable Henry Shukman said of this poetry collection, 'This is a warm-hearted, good-humoured collection that both celebrates everyday pleasures and explores common tragedies with wit, candour, and a delightful fluency.'  When I was editor of the Oxford Writer, I was proud to include one of the poems, At a lecture on Yehuda Amichai. These are lines from the poem:

'...I stare through the pages at the Old City
smelling the narrow alleys, old stoves and simmering pans
dazzled by the light bouncing off buildings
obliterating for a moment
the mortar and bullet marks,
picked scabs on the face of the walls.'

Today, we were supposed to be walking near Hay-on-Wye but sadly this mini-break fell through when the hotel's boiler packed up... Very disappointing. Although the walk we did near the Barringtons and Windrush village did a lot to make up for it! Beautiful unspoilt countryside round there. The walk only marred by a nasty incident when Tufty was attacked by a vicious bull terrier. He seems OK now, though, thank goodness. Nice to round off the walk with a pint of Donnnington BB at the Fox at Great Barrington.

PS Ace that cyclist Bradley Wiggins has just won Sports Personality of the Year.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

rare walk (sad), turkey n all, ace, east oxford art & book fair

























Beautiful morning but too icy to cycle first thing. Decided to go for a walk instead--only to realise that the last time I did that particular walk must have been Christmas 2011. Sad!

Was struck by the vividness of the dropped larch needles and tufts of grass in the morning sunlight on Mill Green as I was coming back into the village (above).

First work Christmas party earlier in the week (Latin American Centre). Turkey and all the trimmings--good to have because the other big work party is at an Indian restaurant this year and on Christmas Day we'll be having pheasant, as usual.

The review copies of A Conscious Englishman have been printed and are being put into envelopes this weekend for sending out. Have to say that Lightning Source have done a great job of printing the book and have made Marc Thompson's painting on the cover look terrific (thanks also to Marie O'Hara who photographed it and Andrew Chapman for designing the cover). It was lovely to see the author, Margaret Keeping, on Thursday and hand her a copy of the book.

Next weekend, pre-publication copies of the book will be on sale at the East Oxford Art & Book Fair at the  Cowley Road Methodist Church--Saturday 15th December, 11 am-4 pm.

Monday, 3 December 2012

assignments, frosty bampton, a conscious englishman, life-writing lunch, lincoln college, letters, end of term





















Missed cycling this weekend due to work, including writing up comments on assignments. Enjoyed doing the assignments, though--they were the final ones of the course and it's always exciting to see how people have developed as writers over the ten weeks.

Did manage to get a walk round the village on frosty Sunday morning to collect Sunday Times. Bampton looked beautiful but the cold weather made the house difficult to keep warm, even with a log fire and the heating on. It's all down to the original windows, which we prefer to double-glazing.

Proof copy of A Conscious Englishman arrived earlier in the week and the first batch of books is now printing.

Last Tuesday, I went to the Life-Writing Lunch at Wolfson College--part of the Oxford Centre for Life Writing series of events. Great fun. This time, Dr Oliver Herford of Lincoln College gave a preview of his next research project: a study of the circulation and publication of the letters of nineteenth-century poets and novelists, especially Henry James and John Keats. [Lincoln College was, by-the-by, where Edward Thomas was as an undergraduate.]

Among the many interesting things Dr Herford said was that the recipient of a letter is fifty percent of the context. In relation to this point, he was reluctant to see any one of the apparently contradictory personas of Henry James that appear in different letters as being the more true. Dr Herford emphasised the complexity of the writer that the different letters reveal. He said that some things are sayable to one recipient and not another. He also pointed out that letter writers don't tend to write with the thought that letters to different recipients will one day be scrutinised side by side. A fascinating area--not least when these observations about letter writing are applied to one's own emails, perhaps!

Hard to believe that another Oxford full term is at an end. They are so chock-a-block with things happening and just whiz by.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

flooding, tredegar, edward thomas, insecurities, visconti, clair, such a strange experience




















The rain was relentless yesterday, pouring down on ground that was already saturated.

The fields and the allotment are awash. On the latter this is a miserable end to a miserable year.

So far, though, no significant flooding of roads in our village or neighbouring ones, apart from some water flowing across the Black Bourton road in Clanfield just beyond the Plough. But only a few inches. The water was lapping over the Shill Brook on Mill Green in Bampton but hopefully this will subside soon--the water does seem to be getting away much quicker than it did during the dreadful floods of 2007 (some 200 houses were flooded then).

As I mentioned on Facebook earlier in the week, I was intrigued to find out that Edward Thomas' father was from Tredegar in the Rhondda Valley. This was where my maternal grandfather came from--also called Thomas, though no relation to the poet that I know of. When I told the author of A Conscious Englishman, Margaret Keeping, about this, she said in passing that she thought that I was 'not unlike' Thomas. Well, if I only had his gifts... But what I do relate to when reading the novel, is his insecurity and lack of confidence. I've sometimes wondered if these are traits that other descendants of people who left Wales feel. I certainly noticed this in my cousins on the Welsh side, who now live in England. In fact I wrote about these issues in The Lock. Gerald's best friend, Jonathan (a Welshman living in Oxford), manifests just such insecurity and lack of confidence, despite being successful (and nearly all my Anglo-Welsh cousins are successful). I don't understand why being of Welsh descent living in England should produce these traits but perhaps it has something to do with feeling deracinated and not fitting in.

Having said that, in the Times' review of The Lock (for those with access beyond the paywall) there was mention of 'hearty northerners', which I think referred to Jonathan--so perhaps I didn't make it clear enough that he was Welsh, after all :-)

Meanwhile I unpacked some paperbacks yesterday that I hadn't seen since January 1978. My reading from the 1970s, including scripts of early Luchino Visconti and RenĂ© Clair films, which I must have been going through shortly before everything was put in store (regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the odd saga that is behind the unpacking of the books). Such a strange experience, seeing them again. Hard to get my head round it.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

trailer, autumn days, wio 20th, fox, snowdrops, tunes






















A mix of gloomy, leaden days, this week--like yesterday--and beautiful sunshine, like Wednesday and today. On the sunny days the autumn leaves have been glorious.

Yesterday we went to the Writers in Oxford (WiO) twentieth anniversary party, which was held in the room in Worcester College where the society was founded. It all came about when two Oxford-based writers were returning from a Society of Authors meeting in London and decided to see if there was any interest in a more local group. When they contacted fellow Oxford authors, far more than expected turned up to the inaugural meeting and WiO was born. It now has around 200 members. I edited the Oxford Writer, the society's newsletter, in the early Noughties and was chair from 2008-2010.

When we arrived at Worcester we met Brian Aldiss, who used to send me updates when I edited the newsletter, including news of the Steven Spielberg film AI, which was based on one of his stories (Super-Toys Last All Summer Long). As we wandered towards the building where the party was being held we saw first a fox, nonchalantly strolling across the lawn, and secondly, clumps of snowdrops out beneath one of the trees. A somewhat surreal experience!

It was lovely to see so many old friends. There were speeches from Brian, Philip Pullman, the current chair Denise Cullington and one of the two people who came up with the idea for a society on the train, Jenyth Worsley. (Sadly the other founder, William Horwood couldn't be at the party.) Philip remembered a memorable gathering at his house, when the whisky writer, the late Michael Jackson, gave a talk and cracked open many rare whiskies from his private collection. I remember that evening well--it was the greatest of fun.

Today, I got up early to work on A Conscious Englishman--the typesetting is nearly done. I also downloaded Daniel Merriweather's Red and Mad World by Gary Jules (loved the film in which the Tears for Fears cover featured, Donnie Darko). I bought T-Mobile versions of both tracks but they don't work on the Blackberry and I've been meaning to replace them for ages! Yesterday evening, after getting back from the party, listened to David Gray's Life in Slow Motion. Hadn't heard that for a while--still pretty great.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

autumn leaves, aa gill, edward thomas, a conscious englishman by margaret keeping, streetbooks

















A beautiful autumn day. Or should that be winter's day? Not quite winter, I think. Not least because there are still so many autumn leaves on the trees. The relentless rain seems to have been good for keeping them on, if for nothing else.

A great article on Edward Thomas by AA Gill in the Sunday Times. (Sorry that link won't work for those who don't have access beyond the News International paywall...)  I liked the following especially:

'Barely two of his poems mention the war and then only in passing. But altogether they are an almost unbearable memorial to the trenches, not as dispatches from the front or descriptions of horror, but as a departing view of what was fought for and what was lost.'

The article anticipates the play about Thomas by Nick Dear at the Almeida. Meanwhile, A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping, which will be published by StreetBooks on 7th February 2013 is showing on Amazon, Blackwell, Waterstones and other major online retailers. See also, Margaret's excellent blog, Publishing my Edward Thomas.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

rain, waterlogged fields, first log delivery, brazil, in trouble again

















Rain overnight was heavy by at least 4 am and lasted till midday. Lots of waterlogged fields by the time I went cycling.

First log delivery of the winter this afternoon (we've been using up what was left of the last spring delivery till now).

Enjoying Michael Palin's Brazil on iPlayer. In episode 2, Into Amazonia, Palin visits the Yanomami, recalling Redmond O'Hanlon's adventures, recounted in In Trouble Again.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

greylags, signet, running to catch up, family (1 unkown before now), hunger

Working in Oxford today but don't have to be in until 10, which means I had time for a decent walk along the canal, across Port Meadow and down the Thames path to the city centre. (Now having regular Americano in Caffè Nero.) As always, a delight to walk the byways I loved when living on Osney Island.

Finished the last of the marking for a few weeks on Monday. Spent the rest of the week running to catch up, it seemed. Lots of things happening. Lots to prepare for.

Delicious meal at Biztro, Bampton last night. Family staying on both Thursday and Friday this week. Lovely to see H then S!

Also nice to hear from a distant cousin, RS, earlier in the week--who I knew nothing of before then.

The treat at the end of the working day will be late lunch at the Hollybush. Witney. Worth the hunger!
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