Sunday, 31 March 2013

frosty morning, shropshire, lince, happy easter!


















Two pictures from early morning cycle ride.

Later, drove to Shropshire for a lovely family gathering.

Meanwhile, a friend has asked about the meaning of the word 'lince' as used by Edward Thomas. I don't know but perhaps Margaret Keeping does?

Belated Happy Easter!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

bitter wind, sun, in pursuit of spring, book reviews, richard jefferies, daffs and scillas

















The wind was much more bitter this morning, even though there was much more sun. The only time I felt warm was when I was standing by the bin outside the back door, opening up the bag of birdseed about to top up the feeder. At that precise point there was no wind and the sun on my back was hot. A few steps towards the bird feeder, though, and the wind whistled and it was freezing again.

Loving listening to In Pursuit of Spring--listen again on the iPlayer: One; Two. Last episode goes out tomorrow at 2.45 pm.

Shocked to learn that Edward Thomas wrote some 1,300 book reviews--over one million words--in his short life (makes my 100 book reviews, extending to some 40,000 words seem pretty feeble).

Episode Two is very interesting on the great Richard Jefferies, amongst other subjects.

Saw these lovely daffodils and scillas in what looks like something of a 'wilderness' opposite a very Jane Austenish big house in Kencot, west Oxfordshire.

Friday, 29 March 2013

willow wands, purity, regrowth, yellow flag, in pursuit of spring, edward thomas, a conscious englishman by margaret keeping, guardian books




















Saw the old barge loaded with what I took to be willow wands moored on the Oxford canal earlier in the week. As you can see there was bright sun that morning. That was a treat--there's warmth in the sun when it appears and just the sight of the sunlight is enough to cheer you.

Most of the time, though, the north east wind is unrelenting. It's drying out the land and leaving it looking dead and dessicated. As the other photos show, the land and the trees are so bare. There's a kind of purity, I suppose, as if everything has been stripped back to the bone--while we wait patiently for regrowth. As mentioned a few weeks ago, there are always some signs of life, even so--the yellow flag iris plants in the stream alongside Calcroft Lane, for example.

I'd hoped to get all my work done before today, so I could enjoy the long weekend but alas am having to finish up this morning and the early part of this afternoon. Aiming to stop before In Pursuit of Spring--the first part of the Radio 4 series about Edward Thomas, as prose writer, which goes out at 3.30 pm. Speaking of which, I found this page about the Thomas book of the same name on a site that has been put up by, I think I'm right in saying, the Edward Thomas Fellowship. There's also an excellent piece about Thomas and the broadcast on the Guardian Environment Blog. It's great that the Guardian is such a Thomas fan: A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping was recently featured on the Guardian Books Blog and is available via Guardian Books.

Hope you're having a good Good Friday!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

spring?, periwinkle, snowy churchyard, in pursuit of spring, spuds and onions, creative writing


































Spring? It's nearly April and there's an easterly wind and patches of snow on the ground. The temperature is barely above freezing and the outlook for Easter is hardly any better...

The only cheerful sight on our walk near North Leigh last Tuesday was a bank of periwinkle in a green lane (top photo). The plants must have escaped from a garden or been introduced but were lovely to come across. The photo of St Peter and St Paul's, Broadwell was taken when cycling this morning--compare this with the ones I posted on Sunday 3rd February, when the countryside seemed on the verge of spring. Some beautiful colours in the landscape, nevertheless, like the burgundy willow stems in a hedge along the gated road, Calcroft Lane.

Talking of spring and Easter, I'm looking forward to three programmes about Edward Thomas as prose writer, entitled In Pursuit of Spring, the first of which will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Good Friday at 3.30 pm.

Ordinarily, I'd be working on the allotment over Easter but it's been so long since I've been able to do anything up there that I've almost forgotten where it is. Still, last year's spuds and onions are keeping well and bring back memories of better times.

A weekend of creative writing work--MSt and online courses. Rewarding.

Monday, 18 March 2013

jtns ebook

















Misty morning--have a couple of days off, so had a lie-in and a bike ride.

Meanwhile, you can now download an ebook of the first three years of justthoughtsnstuff.com.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

cold, wet, brightbox good but 3g useless, disputed land, a conscious englishman, maconochie, multitrack



















House is really chilly today, even though the central heating is on. The east wind whizzes through the ground floor from outside door to outside door. I'm maybe also tired from a busy week. Plus I got soaked cycling this morning. As the above photo shows, the floods are back. It doesn't take much to top up the water table it seems.

Looking forward to catching up on some sleep tomorrow and the early part of the week. Time off. Yippee.

Meanwhile, EE's new wireless router arrived this morning--a BrightBox. Have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I imagined myself spending hours setting the thing up, much of the time trying to get hold of the support centre. But all was fine--really easy to install and much easier to connect to with the computer than the old one. Signal strength in furthest away parts of the house is much better too. If only I could be as positive about the experience of EE's 3G coverage in parts of west Oxfordshire--between Standlake and Eynsham especially. The signal is far worse now than it was before Christmas.

Continuing to enjoy Tim Pears' Disputed Land. It's a joy to read. Even managed to stay awake long enough to read five or so pages every night this week. A rare occurrence these days. OK, 'stay awake' is a bit of an exaggeration--the book does have crumpled corners from when it fell onto the floor as I dozed off--but each time I started reading again and got to the end of the next section. Must be good.

Talking of good books (A Conscious Englishman), do have a look at author Margaret Keeping's Wednesday blog post, which not only has a recipe for 'Making good, fresh Maconochie' (a First World War soup prepared by British soldiers in the trenches--well, not necessarily to everyone's taste) but, under 'Publishing news' (at the bottom of the page), a lovely quote from Robert Macfarlane and mention of enquiries about foreign rights.

Lastly (but not leastly, I hope), I've posted a draft of the first chapter of my new novel on my website. The working title is, Multitrack.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

brrr!, almond blossom, king cups, guardian books blog, disputed land by tim pears, the next day


















Can't believe it's forecast to be only one degree above freezing tomorrow. I was quite getting into the comparatively balmy temperatures of a few days ago.

Some signs of spring, nevertheless. Spring is late, though. Saw the almond blossom above out on an Oxford street midweek and was thrilled to see the first king cups out in a ditch along Calcroft Lane.

Oxford full term ends this week but as far as creative writing courses are concerned, it's business as usual till almost Easter.

Was really pleased that A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping got a terrific mention in the Guardian Books Blog last Tuesday. Btw you can now follow StreetBooks on Twitter.

Yesterday, I started reading Tim Pears' 2011 novel Disputed Land, which is set in a big house in Shropshire and is told from the point of view of a perceptive 13-year-old boy called Theo (they grow up so fast these days!). It's a great read!

Meanwhile, I haven't looked forward to a new David Bowie album so much since Scary Monsters!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

waterways, craft, grebes, the lock, picnics



















I was working at the Taylor yesterday but beforehand walked along the Oxford canal where I took the photos of the rowing boat and the narrowboat rudder above.

The great crested grebes I saw on the Thames near the train station earlier in the week. When we lived in Oxford I used to love seeing these birds on different parts of the river. On Saturdays, when my wife finished work, we often used to cycle to Port Meadow and have a picnic beneath an evergreen oak on the bank of a narrow arm of the river and watch the pair of grebes that always nested there. In my first novel, The Lock, I used this place as a setting for a couple of the scenes. In the following extract, Elizabeth and her daughter Alison are walking along the bank and see the grebes.

****

They passed an evergreen oak and the line of trees to their left gave way to a broad grassy expanse of bank running down to a dense margin of water forget-me-not, mint and woundwort. The pool itself was formed by the stream broadening out at a point where it forked. Both arms flowed into the Thames a little further on from here. The main one arrived at a weir beyond the end of the next bit of avenue. The other one flowed down the side of an island that was covered in rosebay willowherb and alders, joining the river near the railway station.

‘There they are,’ said Alison, pointing at the pair of grebes.

‘Oh yes.’

‘And they’ve got little chicks. They hatched just the other day. There – the little stripy heads are poking through her wings.’

‘Oh, yes, two of them.’

‘I can never work out which of the adults is which, let alone the chicks – both sexes look more or less the same. The other one, though, seems to have a more peachy-coloured throat.’

‘Dad would know.’

The grebe that was not carrying the chicks promptly dived, to re-emerge some way off from its partner almost half a minute later with a straggling piece of reed in its bill. It propelled itself gracefully towards their nest with its prize. The other grebe swam up to the nest now too and both prodded the reed into place.

‘I wonder if they really are the same pair Dad used to bring us to see?’

‘I should think so. Do you remember seeing them down by the lock?’

‘Yes, that was brilliant. I didn’t believe they were the same ones that time. The city seemed so big then – I didn’t understand how all the waterways linked up. Funnily enough we were down at the pub on the Island the other night.’

****

That bit about all the waterways connecting up is significant because a lot of the story unfolds on the banks of the Thames, Cherwell and Oxford canal. When the location shifts from Oxford to Gloucestershire in the second half of the book, the scenes are set on the banks of a different canal--the Thames and Severn. In the novel, waterways link the characters even though they are at odds with each other.

Meanwhile, today I cycled towards Tadpole Bridge and along the Great Brook for the first time in several months. The Great Brook lane had been closed because of flooding. It was nice to go that way although the land looks as if it has been picked clean by the water and there is that strange cement-like smell in the air that lingers for a long time after flooding.