Saturday, 10 March 2012

life writing, party, vodka, cadiz constitution, calcroft lane home movie, helen r



video


It's been a busy week with lots happening at work.

Though there have also been, I'm pleased to say, cultural and social things. On Tuesday, I went to an inspiring talk at Wolfson College that rounded off the Oxford Centre for Life Writing's Hilary series of events. Dr Olivia Smith from St John's spoke about John Locke in an informal dining-room setting, the spring sunlight streaming in, as we ate our sandwich-and-fruit lunch and listened. (At one point, I was distracted by a long-tailed tit that repeatedly flew at one of the panels in the vast concrete-mullioned window and pecked, apparently in disbelief, at the glass. Mercifully, the flights were carefully judged and gentle and the bird didn't seem to harm itself.)

The talk touched on areas of life writing that seemed to have a direct bearing on the novel I'm working on at present. I was particularly interested in what was termed 'aggregation versus disaggregation'. Here are the relevant notes:

'Tendency to split different parts of a life up in modern biographies...Whereas perhaps in earlier times things were more mixed up. More like the diary approach--Bridget Jones talking about booze and fags one minute, more serious things the next. More realistic perhaps? (Post modern, maybe?) Shandyan. A wish to not tie things up too tightly...Compartmentalism--and people not letting you into vulnerable areas of their life. Coping with life today leads to more fragmentation and compartmentalisation...Do novels often seek to rationalise or unify people's lives? A simplification? A tidying up?'

Compartmentalisation, fragmentation and the way people modify their behaviour in different areas of their increasingly complex lives are all themes that I'm exploring in the novel.

I was glad to be able to attend the lunch and talk, having missed all the evening lectures in the series, despite promising myself I would attend every one of them at the start of the year. I shall have to do better in Trinity.

On Thursday I had another delicious and convivial lunch at St Antony's and in the evening went to a staff party that was hosted by a colleague in her lovely house in Temple Cowley. Everyone was very relaxed and the atmosphere was great. My colleague is Russian and produced some vodka at one point which she was keen everyone should down in one. A bracing experience--that made me realise it must be twenty years since I last drank vodka.

Yesterday, I attended the Colloquium on the Cadiz Constitution of 1812, which was held at the Taylor Institution and was part-organised by a colleague. The event was sponsored by the Instituto Cervantes and there should be a film of some of it on the institute's TV channel pages shortly. What struck me most about the event was the clarity and vividness of the speakers' talks. That given by Sir John Elliott was of particular interest to me because he discussed the roles played by Spaniards from Latin America during the promulgation of the constitution and how the freedoms the constitution attempted to enshrine were the same ones that were rapidly leading to the disintegration of the Spanish Empire.

After the talks we all went through to a terrific exhibition, organised by my colleague, of books associated with the constitution held in Oxford libraries, including José Maria Blanco White's personal copy of the constitution's text. The exhibition was formally opened by the Spanish Ambassador, Carles Casajuana, before things were rounded off with a wine reception.

Meanwhile, the day was warming up when I went cycling earlier and now there is bright sun. The daffodils planted round the trees is Bamton and neighbouring villages are coming into flower. Those in the photo are at Black Bourton. I also took the little video of part of Calcroft Lane during the cycle ride. It shows--in rather home-movie style--such things as the heavy farm machinery that gets put in front of gateways to prevent fly-tipping, the bridge over the old Oxford branchline, the hedging I've been talking about recently and the way that the landscape opens out, as you near Clanfield, onto Thames Valley, which is especially wide round here--stretching for one-to-two miles.

Is Calcroft Lane good telly? Probably not but it keeps me amused.

Good to hear my friend Helen Rappaport on Radio 4 this morning, discussing Victoria and Albert.

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