Saturday, 27 April 2013

first week of term, learning from students, cold again, biztro, allotment, fur, tls review


















First week of term, so lots to do. Nice to see students back at the libraries and to be meeting creative writing students for tutorials. The online course I teach started this week too. I've been teaching this course since 2008, three times a year. I have to say that I still love returning to the exercises. I suppose this is because the discussions are always so different--as individual as the students in each group--and, of course, I always learn new things about the stories and issues we're looking at, as well as about how I might present my ideas. You learn from your students--one of the great things about the job.

Colder again today. Such a contrast to the sitting-out-at-the-top-of-the-garden miracle-of-a-day last Saturday. And yet spring has started and the grass, flowers, shrubs, trees and crops are all growing inexorably, all of a sudden. In the fields, the oilseed rape is just coming into flower, as the pictures above show (taken near the neighbouring village of Black Bourton).

Guests staying on two days this week, which meant a couple of visits to the excellent Biztro.

Went up to the allotment to try and get the seized-up padlock off the shed, so that I can start clearing out all the rubbish that's accumulated in there over the last decade. I need the sense of a new start to get my enthusiasm back. Then I'll prepare the ground. So late, though. After such an awful year. I've found myself wondering if the allotment is worth the effort. I dare say I'll get back into it. Wresting the padlock off was a struggle but I won in the end.

Well, demand outstripped supply as far as our dog's fur was concerned (see last week's post), once the great tits began taking it for their nests. There's only so much fur a little dog is prepared to part with!

An iffy review of A Conscious Englishman in the Times Literary Supplement this week. On the one hand I was really pleased to see the book appearing in such a prestigious publication but on the other I was disappointed by the rather cheap points the reviewer scored. The novel does divide people. Which, according to Martin Amis, is what you want in a book--it gets people talking. Still, I liked this quote from the review: 'A Conscious Englishman...turns its subject into a twentieth-century equivalent of the old-fashioned notion of Keats: a poet misvalued by his times and cruelly cut down...'

Saturday, 20 April 2013

top of the garden, grrrr!, sweet tooth, nesting material, twists

















Beautiful sunny day. Late lunch at the top of the garden after a trip to the Plough at Kelmscott (a pint of Lion--Grrrr!). The manor must have been open (the first time this year?)--a huge coach lumbering up one of the little lanes into the village and cars in a field on the outskirts.

A taste of summer, today. And how hungry I am. Thank goodness this winter is over (I surely can't be speaking to soon--it's nearly May!).

Now just about to finish Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth. It's held me till nearly the end and from the 'tipping point' (around p.210) had me in thrall, desperate to find out what happened next and admiring of McEwan's handling of suspense and his generation of inexorable momentum. But, with six pages to go, I'm not sure about ending the novel with Tom's letter. It seems a bit of a cop out. What I really want is more Serena. She's fascinating and I suspect this Tom finale gives a false sense of 'conclusion' without satisfying the deeper needs of the reader. Still, I shall read on--of course...

Ah well, the novel has kept me more than entertained most of the time.

Meanwhile, we put our dog's groomed-out fur for the birds--see above photo. It seems it is much prized as nesting material, especially by blue tits!

...And now, having read those six pages, I can report that McEwan turns the end of the novel pretty magnificently. Yes, a clever last-minute twist and then another twist. Expertise, he has. I should have remembered that!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

warmer, frog spawn, busy, noughth week, uk web archive, e-legal deposit



















Significantly warmer today--and indeed all this week. Frog spawn has started to appear in our new pond! Though out in the countryside, there are still places that remain flooded--the hedgerow shown above stands in about a foot of water. Even so, it's nice to see fields being cultivated and sown now.

Am I feeling the benefits of my holiday, after the first week back at work? Hmm, just, I think. It has been busy, as Oxford prepares for Trinity Term. We're about to go into Noughth Week.

One thing that's been talked about quite a bit this week, in library circles, has been the British Library's hugely ambitious plan to harvest and store billions of webpages for future scholars--see the Guardian's report on this. And this in the same week that electronic legal deposit started (as discussed on the UK Web Archive blog). Big information science advances.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

last day of holiday, grafton lock, kelmscott, invisible, tom and sarah


















Last day of holiday.

Had a lovely walk along the Thames from Grafton Lock to Kelmscott.

The above photo was taken just below William Morris' Kelmscott Manor. It was about here that I set a scene in Invisible. In a chapter, late in the novel--Daddy, I Hardly Knew You--Tom and Sarah have a picnic by the Thames and he begins to understand more about her complex, troubled relationship with her father. Here is an extract.

--

I didn't quite understand what she was driving at, although I dare say I picked up enough--from her demeanour, if not her words. Selfishly, I didn't want to get too heavy, what with Dad's visit and the fact it was such a beautiful day.

It was a Sunday and I'd driven us to Kelmscott. I'd prepared us a picnic which I packed into a wicker hamper just as Sarah liked. Tara helped me sort out the details, although I chose the wine.

We called at the Plough for a pint, then walked along the lane, past William Morris's manor and onto the watermeadows. Appropriately, we spread out our rug under a huge willow on the river bank.

In the gentle late-autumn sun, Sarah's pale complexion, dark feathery hair and green eyes looked quite, quite beautiful. But there was hurt in her expression. A tension. I'm not the most observant bloke in the world but it’d been there ever since I picked her up. It was like she couldn't let her features respond to the magic of the day. Instead they were frozen by some as yet barely guessed-at ice field spreading across her mind.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

refreshed, sweet tooth, guardian books blog, claire armitstead, margaret keeping's a conscious englishman, easter discovery


















Holiday nearly over.

Feeling refreshed, though the time passes so swiftly.

Continuing to enjoy Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth.

Really pleased to see the fantastic Guardian Books Blog piece by Claire Armitstead on StreetBooks and Margaret Keeping's A Conscious Englishman: "Reader reviews roundup: A biographical novel about the poet Edward Thomas and a child's eye view of life on the margins head our reviewers' Easter discoveries".

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

sun, reed bed


Sunny today! It even felt hot in the shade, though the relentless north east wind continues.

Taking a few days off.

This reed bed is grown for thatching. Thatched houses used to be very common in our part of west Oxfordshire in Victorian times and earlier. While there are still quite a few thatched houses, the majority were tiled during the last century.
--
http://streetbooks.co.uk website
http://justthoughtsnstuff.com blog

StreetBooks is a new micro-publisher based in west Oxfordshire

A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping published on Thursday 7th February 2013

Sent using BlackBerry® from EE

Monday, 1 April 2013

buckland marsh, two degrees, disputed land by tim pears, sweet tooth, ian mcewan


















Walked from Tadpole Bridge to Buckland via Buckland Marsh this morning. By the time we returned to the car the temperature had soared two degrees to a heady four. Still, the keen wind is at last drying out the land. The scene on the marsh (top photo) was quite a contrast to that on 1st January, one of the last times I did this walk.

Delighted by the elegant ivy arch seen in a wood near the 'Hansel and Gretel' house--anyone who travels the Oxford-Swindon road will know the house I mean. (There have been a quite a few friends who've said, 'When I was a child I wanted to live in that house.')

Finished reading Disputed Land by Tim Pears last night. Seemed appropriate, given the trip to see family in Shropshire (where the novel is set). Not that there was quite as much intrigue nor as many undercurrents at the family gathering. Almost but not quite :-) Now started on Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.

I remember interviewing McEwan ages ago and talking about how far he had come by the time Enduring Love was published (1997). How much further he has come now. Here is an extract from that old interview (see frankegerton.com/reviews).

'I couldn't have done you a kind of Balzacian novel with neighbours in it.' I have just reminded Ian McEwan of a critic who saw conflict in his first novel, The Cement Garden, between its theatrically dislocated setting and the realistic treatment of character.

It is evident that the idea amuses him. 'I conveniently have the house standing in a street where all the others have been bulldozed--bulldozed out of fear, if I then had to have Mrs Smith popping in.'

We are sitting opposite each other on large comfortable jade-green sofas in his North Oxford home. His gentle voice expresses a wide range of subtle emotions. The candid point he is making here is that his early stories were of their time. He feels that there is a world of difference between them and his latest novel--a tour de force, by anyone's standards--Enduring Love.

'I was 21 and I was desperate to invent, to be vivid and different, without knowing much about the world, which is partly why those stories were rather bizarre.' He is frustrated at still being judged by their standards: 'I read accounts that try to fit later novels into the scheme of First Love, Last Rights, and it makes very awkward reading.'

He believes his writing divides into two periods. The first ending with The Comfort of Strangers, which cast a fairly cold eye over sado-masochism and patriarchal societies. 'It's really my last novel of not naming anything. The Venice is a sort of mental one--the Venice of Thomas Mann...'