Tuesday, 31 December 2013

happy new year!!!!

















Happy New Year!!!!
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Friday, 20 December 2013

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

stark, green, low light, roddy doyle's the commitments

































The cultivated fields look stark, what with their brown tilth and the bare hedges and trees. Yet elsewhere the grass remains green and surprisingly spring-like.

The low light levels make the days seem very short indeed - can't wait for the spring!

Though the excellent Radio 4 production of Roddy Doyle's The Commitments does much to cheer things up: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03lknpn!
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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

view from the bampton bus stop, mist, low light, wintry

















Misty start to the day.

Not quite at the shortest day but it certainly feels like the depths of winter - a state of mind brought about by low light levels, I feel, more than temperature or wintry conditions.
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Monday, 9 December 2013

cycling, folly hill, harrowdown hill

















It was good to have time to cycle this morning (due in at 11 am again because I'm working late).

Took this photo from Calcroft Lane (the gated road) looking towards Folly Hill at Faringdon - it is visible, just, in the far distance, a little to the right of centre.

I alluded to Folly Hill in my comments on the use of the locus amoenus in Renaissance literature in the piece on Harrowdown Hill that I wrote in 2005 (see 2008 revised version on my website: frankegerton.com/nonfiction.html).

When I walked to Harrowdown Hill that morning, it was grey and there was a light mist, like today.

Now on the bus to work, almost at Oxford.
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Sunday, 8 December 2013

up early, lime tree, oclw lunch, glasses, bike ride, christmas




















Up early because there was work to do.

The photos above are of the lime tree at the end of our garden at dawn this morning. Its winter look is very different to when I photographed it on 1st June.

I was sad to miss the life-writing lunch on Tuesday but it was fully booked by the time I knew I would be free to go. I look forward to more life-writing events in 2014!

Collected my new glasses on Thursday. Things are a little sharper but fortunately there wasn't too much to correct.

A lovely bike ride this afternoon when the work was done.

Looking forward to the Christmas break!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

in oxford, tute, library, novella, icarus, lovely memories, shropshire

















In Oxford for a creative writing tute first then a day at the library.

Lovely walk along the Oxford canal, followed, now, by camomile tea at Caffè Nero.

Have enjoyed working on a novella this week, provisionally entitled Icarus, the first draft of which was written some time ago. It's always been in the back of my mind to rework it but I couldn't see how. Now I believe I can. The novella is about a young film maker researching a story for a script in the 1980s. The story concerns a 60s political scandal and the novella is set in both decades.

Lovely memories of last weekend in Shropshire seeing family and old friends.
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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

oak

















Working late tonight, so I don't have to be in till 11 am, and as I don't have online teaching to do (the course ended last week), I went cycling.

A dull morning but the autumn colours are all the more vivid for that! Including those of this oak tree.
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Friday, 22 November 2013

jfk

















I can't remember where I was when JFK was shot. I can't remember much about the aftermath either, although at some point I must have learnt that we were distantly related. (His sister, Kathleen, had married a third cousin (shot by a sniper during the Second World War just weeks after Kathleen's brother Joe Jr was killed when his plane exploded on a bombing mission). Some years later, Kathleen was herself killed in an air crash. Such sad stories.) I remember more about Bobby's assassination. As a boy, it seemed strange that unknown relatives were being murdered in a far off land.
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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

lovely walk, heavy rain


















Lovely walk to the south of Bampton this morning. Though heavy rain came in as we were on our way back.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

time off

































Lovely couple of days off. Yesterday, a relaxing walk along the Thames from Lechlade to Kelmscott before lunch at the Five Alls at Filkins - thefiveallsfilkins.co.uk.

Today a walk from Bledington to Church Westcote followed by a pint at the Kingham Plough - thekinghamplough.co.uk - a pub I last visited nearly 30 years ago when a land agent. In those days the lunchtime pint(s) were all part of the working day. Times have changed. For the better, I feel. How did anyone stay awake!

Off to Biztro - www.biztro.co.uk - earlier this evening. Excellent.
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Saturday, 16 November 2013

malcolm parkes, punctuation

PS During Frank Cottrell Boyce's address this afternoon, it was great to be reminded of something that Malcolm said in respect of the study of medieval manuscripts that had a profound effect on me as a writer. As Frank put it, punctuation 'brings to us the voice of someone who is absent.'
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malcolm parkes

















































On my way to Oxford and the memorial service for Malcolm Parkes (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_Parkes) who taught me when I was at Keble.

Malcolm was one of two tutors who interviewed me for a place at Keble. For much of that half-hour, though, it was difficult to see him. He was seated in a bay window smoking his pipe and it was only when he wanted to ask a question that his hand batted away the smoke and his face appeared momentarily.

I owe Malcolm, Stephen Wall and Frank Cottrell Boyce (who marked one of my two entrance papers) so much. Sitting the Oxford entrance exam and those thirty minutes being interviewed by Malcolm and Stephen were events that changed my life.

Malcolm was a hugely inspiring academic but also a very warm, kind man. I remember how he arrived at my door the day before my first-year exams (moderations) and handed me a packet of sweets and wished me good luck.

As a tutor, he gave me a love of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English literature that will stay with me always.

The last time we met, I heard his voice first as he called out his habitual greeting, 'Hello squire!' While he was frailer than even a year before, which was a shock, he was in good spirits and it was lovely to see him. We were in Sainsbury's in Kidlington.

It's a grey misty, cocooning day in west Oxfordshire as the 18 bus carries me through the autumn countryside. A melancholy day, perhaps, when I think of how long ago that interview was. Yet a beautiful day too - and I try to remember that my time at Keble taught me to value every day and all the opportunities it offers.
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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

sunrise

















Glorious sunrise (as seen from the bus stop); gorgeous, if chilly, morning.
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Saturday, 9 November 2013

freeeezing, spoilt, what's the tree?, old friend, eagle and child

















It's freeeezing!

Still, as more than one person said yesterday, it is November.

We were spoilt having no frosts until last week.

There is some beautiful autumn colour, as the photo above shows (what's the tree, though?). A lot of leaves remain green even so.

Great to meet up with an old friend from Germany last night, who was in Oxford for a conference. Lovely chat over a couple of pints in the Eagle and Child.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

cultural evening, history in the making, jeremy hughes, wingspan

































Excellent cultural evening.

A fascinating seminar at the Taylor Institution given by Sir John Elliott, who was talking about his life as a historian and the inter-disciplinary study of early 17th century Spanish history and art (drawing on his book, History in the Making).

Then it was up to Kellogg College for the launch of my colleague Jeremy Hughes' new novel Wingspan (see pics above). The novel is published by the new Manchester-based firm Cillian Press (http://www.cillianpress.co.uk/wingspan). A terrific reading! Lovely to see colleagues and former students too.
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Sunday, 3 November 2013

ethereal skies, first frost, mowing the lawn, berkshire logs, biztro, swiss chard, breathing spaces


















First cycle ride for a couple of weeks. Beautiful day with the most amazing clear sunlight and fantastic ethereal skies.

Midweek there was the first frost of the autumn but it's still warm outside today and I cut the lawn this morning - for the last time this year, I presume. Though one never knows! A log delivery yesterday - ash, silver birch and sycamore from a few miles into Berkshire.

Another delicious meal at Biztro when our friend came to stay earlier in the week.

Just been up to the allotment to harvest some Swiss chard - the only veg growing there now.

Enjoying re-reading A Spy in the House of Love by Anaïs Nin.

Needless to say, it's been a busy week, though there are some breathing spaces coming up soon. Hooray!

Monday, 28 October 2013

reviving weekend, autumn leaves, friend staying, kings of leon, london grammar, lou reed, osney sundays

















































A weekend away. Very reviving - lovely company.

This morning we were fortunate in west Oxfordshire and Oxford to be relatively unaffected by the storm that sped across southern England. Although there were a couple of small trees down on the Oxford canal when I walked to work (see photo above) and a lot of leaves have been scattered.

Meanwhile, Oxford Michaelmas term is settling down - a touch - and this evening, a friend is coming to stay, which I'm looking forward to.

Oh, and I recently downloaded Mechanical Bull by The Kings of Leon and If You Wait by London Grammar. Both excellent. Especially like the latter now I've listened to it a couple of times.

Sad to hear about the death of Lou Reed. Happy memories of listening to a Velvet Underground cassette on Osney Island at Sunday lunchtimes in the late 80s. And of an arrangement of Sunday Morning, played at our wedding blessing at Keble College chapel.
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Saturday, 19 October 2013

full term, full swing, oxford, late lunch, hollybush, ramblings, cathy dreyer, finals, allotment




















Oxford full term in full swing.

Lots going on at the libraries and in the world of creative writing.

Working in Oxford all today up to a v late lunch at the estimable Hollybush in Witney.

A grey, autumnal but incredibly warm day. Enjoyed my walk along the Oxford canal--photos above. (See the reed bed from the same angle in the summer.) Amazing ash keys this year!

Loved listening to Ramblings on Radio 4 this morning. There I was, lying in the bath, when I suddenly realised that the person being interviewed by Toyah Willcox was a former student, Cathy Dreyer. See her wonderful blog, Shortcircuit.

Tomorrow there will be finals marking and, hopefully, some more work on the allotment.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

murky, josé, desktop, calming, digging?, 0th week


















Got soaked when cycling this morning.

Some years ago, a Venezuelan friend fell in love with the English word 'murky' because he felt that its sound summed up much of our weather. Well, José, this morning was certainly murky, as the two photos above show. Incidentally, these contrast with a pic taken from a similar angle back in the summer (the photo btw that I use as my desktop background at work - I find it very calming).

Now, fortunately, the sun is shining and I'm hoping that the allotment will soon dry out, so that I can do some more autumn digging this afternoon.

Meanwhile, we've just had Oxford 0th Week - the time when the Freshers arrive and inductions are held at the libraries. A very busy few days but great to be meeting the students for the first time.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

promotion, mst, morris

















A strange week.

Promotion within the library - a wonderful privilege but also much to take in. The MSt residence and meeting the students - a lovely, exciting few days.

Then the funeral on Friday. Very moving. A warm, life-affirming service in the middle of which the Morris side that is based at Alan's pub danced in the church crossing.

With apologies to Milan Kundera.

We sit in the chancel with the other latecomers because the church is so full and half-way through the service we hear the familiar sound of Morris bells. We stand up, lean forward and catch glimpses, imagining what must be happening.

Men in white with bowler hats dance in a ring, others skip in from the side chapel. Big men, slender men, young and old, each dainty enough to dance on a penny piece. Round and round they go then they step into the air - surely they must do - spiralling past the Anglo-Saxon stones, up through the floor of the belfry, past ropes, before bursting out of the medieval masonry, to join with jackdaws circling the tower. They look down at the ancient barrow in the churchyard, spy the outline of a Roman temple in an autumn lawn, wonder at the remnant of the Burford road heading for a ford in the Thames now long gone, the little market square at the base of the minster (where these days film makers create Downton).

Then they are suddenly back with us, drawing on every ounce of energy and poise, gleaming white and kicking chinkling bells, dancing for Alan. They tip their bowlers to the coffin and are gone.

(The photo? The three-fields walk, done early on Friday before the funeral.)

Sunday, 29 September 2013

digging

















A busier day than expected. Though I did manage to put work aside for a while and start the autumn digging on the allotment. Therapeutic.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

mst residence, allotment, memories, autumn



















It's the MSt residence this weekend. Looking forward to meeting the students I'll be supervising over the coming year. We've spoken and they've sent work for me to read but we've not met.

Went up to the allotment just now and harvested what must be nearly the last lot of runner beans, courgettes and cucumbers. In Bampton and in the countryside, rather a beautiful autumn is beginning.

Yesterday was a sad day because a friend has died, the landlord of our local.  He died while we were away. Going to the pub last night, at first I thought all the cards and flowers were for a birthday or some other celebration. What had happened was so sudden and it was hard to take in.

I remember that not long after we moved to the village, we were talking to him and I said I'd just had a novel published. He asked if I had any spare copies and I delivered a dozen which he displayed in the pub, selling all of them.

It was sometime later that I met another friend when out walking. He told me that his wife liked reading fiction and had bought my book at the pub. He said he didn't tend to read novels but his wife had suggested he read mine. He finished by saying that he must have enjoyed it because when he got to the end, he read it again. He said nothing more about the book and we've never talked about it since. But what more could a writer want.

Thanks for these and other memories, Alan.

Revised 29.09.13

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

three horseshoes, batcombe

















Lovely days away, staying at the Three Horseshoes at Batcombe, Somerset. (See Telegraph article.) Great to be walking valleys - a contrast to the flatlands at home.

Also, wonderful to be staying at a pub we first stayed at in 1986, when it was a bikers' pub. A little different now - more up market, it has to be said, but still a local with terrific food and fantastic beers and ciders, including the Wild Beer brews.

Many of the walks through the countryside hereabouts are like stepping back in time.
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Saturday, 21 September 2013

misty morning, mount owen, cucumbers and runner beans, oudce open day, a conscious englishman


















Although it's my birthday, I was up early because there's work to finish before any celebrations can begin.

A slightly misty start to the morning, which softened the views when I was cycling. I did the Mount Owen route but going in the other direction, starting with Mount Owen and ending up at the allotment. I realised I'd never done this route like this before--in fact I don't remember cycling up Mount Owen from Bampton since 2001. It's a much longer slope going this way and I was quite surprised by how demanding it was. It was extraordinary to see the countryside from this direction--familiar places looked like they were in another part of England altogether.

On the allotment, I harvested a couple of cucumbers, one green, one crystal lemon (round, yellow) and masses of runner beans (which have been amazing this summer). The courgettes have pretty much stopped on the allotment, although they are still going strong at the house, with its sheltered lighter land.

Meanwhile, looking forward to the Oxford Department for Continuing Education Open Day on Thursday--in particular, the authors event, which features Margaret Keeping reading from A Conscious Englishman. (I notice that there have been one or two returns for both this event and mine in the last 24 hours--and indeed other events that were fully booked--so places are available again now. There are some excellent events in prospect!)

Sunday, 15 September 2013

onions

















Sorted out the onions today. I harvested these a couple of weeks back and they've been drying on a tray in the shed. This morning, I pulled the stalks off and tidied the bulbs before bringing them back to the house for netting. They and the spuds lifted yesterday are now hanging from the rafters in the outhouse.

This year we grew three varieties of onion: Setton, Sturon and Stuttgarter--all mixed together in the bucket above.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

five alls, lifting spuds, gosford park, dog better, first log fire of autumn





















Lovely short break at the beginning of the week. Very much enjoyed having lunch at the Five Alls at Filkins, a neighbouring village, on Tuesday.

The return to work was, of course, busy--but fulfilling.

Today I lifted our spuds on the allotment. They have done amazingly well--not least because they were planted SO late (27th May). There were three varieties, starting from the top: Kestrel, Estima and Desiree (also shown bagged up). The haulms of the last of these were still strong and growing and I wondered if I should leave them for a few weeks. I decided to crop them because time will be precious over the coming month and if the weather is against me I will struggle to get them harvested and the plot dug for autumn. In any case, there were more than enough potatoes for us over the winter today.

During the week, we finished watching the excellent Gosford Park. A proto-Downton, perhaps, being penned by Julian Fellowes, but a tremendous script all the same, with wonderful, subtle direction (and social observation) from the director Robert Altman.

I'm pleased to say that our dog is much, much better after losing his footing, spring down the stairs and spraining his ankle (if dogs have ankles, that is). He's such a brave little dog.

Today, the first log fire of autumn is burning in the grate.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

trap grounds, graffiti, bedroom window, serge doubrovsky, autofiction, hero of herat, cuba





















I worked in Oxford yesterday and beforehand diverted to the Trap Grounds nature reserve while walking along the Oxford Canal (last visited on 13th July). Signs of autumn, with brown and orange-coloured leaves strewn on the walkways and spiders' webs in the trees and strung between the stems of plants. Grasses and reeds seeding.

Further down the canal I came across a footbridge stantion painted with graffiti.

Today, I finished brushing the last coat of gloss onto our front bedroom window. Painting this has been one of my holiday projects. It's been quite tricky, what with having to use a different undercoat for each of the two colours, dark blue and bright white, and lots of masking. This was the one window we didn't paint a couple of years ago and it needed doing, although the hardwood frames--over a hundred years old--seem as tough as iron.

My other holiday project--done during the first stage of the break, the week before this one--was re-felting a pitch of the allotment shed roof. Again, finishing off something started a couple of years ago. A fun, satisfying thing to do, if a little over-designed to the professional, I dare say.

Last week, I spent time researching Serge Doubrovsky on the bus to and from work. He is a French novelist who coined the term 'autofiction'. I'm interested in looking at the different ways that authors have approached the fictionalisation of biographical events because I want to write about what has happened to me in recent years. I don't, however, think I would like to have a fictional Frank Egerton and create fictional versions of family members, as Doubrovsky does, but would prefer to distil human truths from my experiences and develop imagined scenarios from those. We'll see.

Midweek, a friend sent me a scan of a book chapter about Eldred Pottinger, one of my ancestors, known as the Hero of Herat. Fascinating to read about his exploits--and indeed about his uncle, the first governor of Hong Kong, and his cousin, Frederick who ended up in Australia. (I'm looking forward to visiting cousins descended from Frederick in Canberra soon).

Lastly, there's a good article on free-enterprise reforms in Cuba in the Sunday Times today--for those with access beyond the paywall.