Welcome to justthoughtsnstuff

I started posting to jtns on 20 February 2010 with just one word, 'Mosaic'. This seemed an appropriate introduction to a blog that would juxtapose fragments of memoir and life-writing. Since 1996, I'd been coming to terms with the consequences of emotional and economic abuse that had begun in childhood, and which, amongst other things, had sought to stifle self-expression. While I'd explored some aspects of my life through fiction and, to a lesser extent, journalism, it was only in 2010 that I felt confident enough to write openly about myself. I believed this was an important part of the healing process. Yet within weeks, the final scenes of my family's fifty-year nightmare started to play themselves out and the purpose of the blog became one of survival through writing. Although some posts are about my family's suffering - most explicitly, Life-Writing Talk, with Reference to Trust: A family story - the majority are about happier subjects (including, Bampton in rural west Oxfordshire, where I live, Oxford, where I work, the seasons and the countryside, walking and cycling) and I hope that these, together with their accompanying photos, are enjoyable and positive. Note: In February 2020, on jtns' tenth birthday, I stopped posting to this blog. It is now a contained work of life-writing about ten years of my life. Frank, 21 February 2020.

New blog: morethoughtsnstuff.com.

Monday 29 December 2014

cotswolds, the fox great barrington, notes from an exhibition by patrick gale

Glorious walk in the Cotswolds near Great Barrington, ending up at the Fox.

Continuing to love Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale.

Sunday 28 December 2014

late breakfast, long walk cross country to clanfield, steam engine, the clanfield tavern, sandford's piece, downton series five

Lovely late breakfast of porridge followed by sausage and bacon from the local butcher.

Then a long walk via Weald, across farmland and along green lanes to Clanfield, where we saw a steam engine and had a drink in front of a roaring fire at the Clanfield Tavern. I had a pint of Ringwood Best - delicious and very refreshing for the walk back.

Returned to the village as dusk was falling. We crossed Sanford's Piece with the church silhouetted against a nightening sky on the far side.

Passed the spot where Lord Grantham and others discuss the possibility of building new houses in Downton Series Five, which we're watching this Christmas. Seeing this scene made sense of the bridge that had mysteriously appeared on Sandford's in the summer before vanishing.

Friday 26 December 2014

boxing day walk, pint at the morris

A lovely Boxing Day walk along the Thames from Buckland.

Quite a contrast to our walk in January 2013 - when the water meadows were well and truly flooded.

A quiet walk - the distant sound of a Boxing Day shoot but hardly anyone about between Buckland and Shifford Lock during the two hours we were out.

Later a pint at the Morris Clown - lovely to catch up with friends.

Thursday 25 December 2014

happy christmas!!

Happy Christmas!!

Frank Egerton

Visit http://www.justthoughtsnstuff.com

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone

Saturday 20 December 2014

winding down, the white peacock, dh lawrence, nottingham, the squire and his descendant

Oxford is beginning to wind down.

The library will close at 5 pm on Tuesday and won't reopen till the New Year.

It's nice to have a little space in which to catch up with oneself and one's work. Moments in which one can see where one's got to and contemplate what to do next.

It's also been great to go to parties, to see old friends and have time to be with colleagues rather than us all dashing about.

On the bus into work, in between going through the last creative writing submissions of 2014, I'm reading The White Peacock by DH Lawrence. This is the third time in my life when I've read this novel. I love it. It's so beautiful - the evocations of the countryside and of the people and buildings within it. It's also fresh and vivid and full of life, with none of the somewhat deranged tub-thumping and one-pacedness of later Lawrence.

I first read the novel when I was at Cirencester Ag College. What it did then was to put into words all the freshness and beauty of the rural world that I knew was there but couldn't fully identify or describe. Then I re-read it when I was living on Osney Island in the 1990s and was writing my own first novel. This was also a time of numbness and distress, when the truth about the family and the trusts was coming out. Not a pleasant time but the misery was helped a lot by books like The White Peacock. Now I'm living in yet another age. One where former incompetences and cruelties have run their course and are receding into the past, and where hard work and trying to balance this with quieter moments are the major issues. It's fascinating to read the book for the third time and to see what I missed the first and second times round.

When I used to drive up to Nottingham in the late seventies and early eighties to see my girlfriend, Belinda, we used to go walking in the places where Lawrence's novels were set. One time we visited the little church above the stately home that features in The White Peacock and saw the ballustraded terracing that Lawrence mentions. The big house was by then a football academy. After a while we noticed a man standing in the graveyard. We got talking - I remember noticing his frayed cuffs and old-looking gold cufflinks as he began to tell us about the house and his ancestors. He was a descendant of the landowner on which Lawrence's squire was based. The man invited us to the family's current home, which though much smaller, was still pretty massive. An ancient wood-panelled place with Stubbs painting hanging on the walls and a blazing log fire. The squire was portrayed by Lawrence as a despot who had no time for the welfare of the people that lived on his estate. The man we met had some choice stories about Lawrence and why he wasn't a decent chap and was over-rated as a writer. I loved the fact that there we were with the battle between the family and the author still going on in front of our very eyes.

Saturday 13 December 2014

coppicing, first light

They've been coppicing along the south-west boundary of the Millennium wood.

Gorgeous walk in the first light this morning.

Thursday 11 December 2014

sorting, dog-walking, gathering storms, hollybush, st a's

‎Another day spent sorting.

Though it was wonderful to be out dog-walking early in the morning as the storms gathered.

A fine late lunch at the Hollybush Witney followed the sorting.

Looking forward to the St Antony's Christmas lunch tomorrow.

Frank Egerton

Visit http://www.justthoughtsnstuff.com

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone

Wednesday 10 December 2014

days off, sorting papers..., lovely walk, orinoco: festive swap shop

Taking some days off this week - not to go on holiday but to sort out papers that have been building up over the years. Since we moved to Bampton, in fact. A curiously satisfying exercise, so far. You look at some of the stuff (well, most of it actually) and think/gasp, 'Why's that been sitting under the bed for the last fourteen years!'

A lovely walk to start the day, which took in the Thatcher's Fields (top photo) and Hayway Lane (the other two pics).

Meantime, a colleague emailed round this morning about a charity in Headington that she volunteers for called Orinoco that 'promotes re-use, art and creative play through education and direct action'. They're running a festive swap shop event this Saturday: 'This Saturday we’re having a bit of a festive Swap Shop from 11:00 til 13:00 and there will be Christmas food, a tombola, and possibly even a visit from Father Christmas!' Sounds great!

Saturday 6 December 2014

frost, early walk, sunrise, hiroshima mon amour, images, life-writing lunch, jm coetzee, dr michelle kelly, confession, heart speech, trust, pint

A frosty start. The first time the pond has frozen over this autumn.

The roads were too treacherous for cycling - memories of coming off the bike the winter before last returned as a warning. So I went for a good walk - round the village, into the valley and back via the Millennium wood. A beautiful rich egg-yolk sunrise. Loved the effects of the frost on the post-top, the tyre track and the old roller.

Watched Hiroshima Mon Amour for the first time, midweek. I'd intended to watch just the first half but was so drawn into it that I continued to the end. Mesmerisingly photographed and acted. It reminded me slightly of In the Mood for Love. I read Marguerite Duras' screenplay about thirty years ago - more than that - several times and have always wanted to see the film. I had to wait for the convenience of iTunes to do so!

The copy of the script I had featured stills from the film. It was amazing to see the images in context - they kept cropping up and I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I could still identify the exact frame of each image.

On Tuesday I went to the Life-Writing lunch at Wolfson. I love this event, which always happens in the last week of term. This time, the speaker was Dr Michelle Kelly from the English Faculty. She talked about JM Coetzee and confession - she explained that her area of expertise was not life-writing as such but that she is currently working on a book about confession in literature. [With apologies for any transcription errors.]

She pointed to the paradoxical nature of confessional writing, which is on the one hand a free expression of the heart but on the other usually couched in formal ways, whether legal, religious or literary. In considering the aim of confession, she turned to Coetzee's essay, Confession and Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau, Dostoevsky (1985), in which he refers to the cycle of, 'transgression, confession, penitence and absolution...'

On absolution, Coetzee wrote: 'Absolution means the end of the episode, the closing of the chapter, liberation from the oppression of memory. Absolution in this sense is therefore the indispensable goal of all confession, sacramental or secular...' '...the closing of the chapter, the end of the downward spiral of self-accusations whose depths can never be plumbed...'

Dr Kelly turned to Coetzee's fictional-autobiographical trilogy, Scenes from Provincial Life, in order to examine ways that the author used confessional writing, or 'heart speech', through his literary counterpart (I hesitate to use the word alter-ego), John. In the books, writing becomes a kind of forgetting and sealing of experiences away.

The trilogy interestingly also leads to a conclusion that denies the catharsis of absolution. John confesses to his father that he broke a record that he had brought back from Italy at the end of the Second World War. Yet the father appears to ignore him and he is denied the hoped-for ending; denied forgiveness.

Near the beginning of the talk I was particularly struck by Coetzee's belief that 'all writing is autobiography', which I can clearly see the wisdom of - obviously in this blog, but also in my reviewing and my fiction.

During questions, the director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, Hermione Lee, wondered if autobiography was only about sin, shame, confession, forgiveness. In reply, Dr Kelly picked up on the therapeutic force and the legal force of confession as being other aspects of the subject. Confession might lead to therapy; legal confession might actually mitigate blame.

Another questioner was intrigued by the duality of ostensibly selfless confessional writing being also very much about the writer and an act of self-interest and exhibitionism. The questioner alluded to a confessional piece of writing being written in an author's style and being a text that advertises the writer.

Again things that resonate. Especially when I think of Trust: A family story, the life-writing work I am currently engaged in. The narratives contained within it are mine and I am aware that truth might be constrained by point of view, not to mention style, within them. These are difficult areas - in confessional writing and in something like Trust, which seeks to explain events in as truthful a way as possible. I would like to discuss these issues at the Centre when the work is in its developed form.

Meantime, on Monday I have a meeting about a possible Digital Humanities research project focusing on shape in fiction, which I am looking forward to and am excited about.

For now, though, a Saturday afternoon pint!

Saturday 29 November 2014

oxford reading room, working at the taylor, writing in a library - one day, one day - facing the strange, the servant contd

Written this morning:

‎In Oxford - the only reader in the reading room. Complete stillness and quiet, apart from the tapping of Blackberry keys.


I'll be crossing town and working at the Taylor shortly.

Earlier, a beautiful, relaxing walk from the ring road along Woodstock Road, down to the canal and across to the Parks.

Now wishing I had the time to spend days in this library writing, as I used to do as a student and as a reviewer and fledgling novelist. One day, day...

Finished Facing the Strange by S B Sweeney and loved it. Also, have been re-watching The Servant - have got beyond the first half and we're now well into the second. What a film! Especially enjoyed the London scenes - the London I  visited as a child.

Saturday 22 November 2014

oxford clay, losey's servant, patrick gale, sb sweeney - facing the strange, facts of life

While it's not been too wet this week, there have been some heavy showers and the water does sit on the Oxford clay.

The Joseph Losey 'season' continued with the first half of The Servant. I was surprised by how well this film had lasted. It's a powerful, beautifully scripted and directed story. It had faired better, I thought, than the later Losey-Bogarde film Accident, which I watched a few weeks back.

Meanwhile, reading two good books: Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale and Facing the Strange by SB Sweeney.

The Gale was recommended by a friend. I immediately felt at home in the Cornish artist-colony setting. I've enjoyed Patrick Gale's work and very much enjoyed meeting him when he was the guest writer at an Arvon course I did several years ago at Totleigh Barton in Devon. I remember there was supposed to be a book signing but he had to leave before it happened. However, he took the trouble to arrange for signed stickers to be sent to everyone who had bought a copy of his novel during the course.

The first review I ever wrote for a newspaper was of his excellent novel The Facts of Life - see below.

I've nearly finished Facing the Strange and am much enjoying it. For more on SB Sweeney and his well-crafted and individual work, see http://www.sbsweeney.com.


Patrick Gale's new novel is an enjoyable read in spite its sombre themes. He makes us care about issues through good, well-rounded characters and a compelling storyline, though there are times when the narrative does get overburdened with his dizzying ideas.

His primary interest is in how post-war attitudes to sexuality have evolved, transforming individuals and families. He writes about sex, both gay and straight, with wit, tempered by maturity and intelligence.

At the heart of the novel is the Aids crisis. By setting the disease in a broader context Gale attempts, boldly, to rationalise our understanding of it.

He explores his themes through the experiences of three generations of the Pepper family. The comparative innocence of Sally and Edward contrasts with the carefree anarchy of their daughter Miriam with her coterie of lovers, and the complex, dangerous world of their grandchildren, Alison and Jamie.

The family home, The Roundel, a twelve-sided folly, plays an important part in uniting and redeeming the different generations. It is a powerful symbol of maternal love, linked poignantly to the healing power of time.

Although Gale dwells more on the present, his imaginative realisation of 1940s provincial life, quaking from the social aftershocks of war, is remarkably vivid. Throughout, his insight into both male and female experience is almost Tiresian.

Despite the plethora of ideas, what shines through in this novel is a refreshing optimism. Gale believes in the ability of ordinary people to face tough challenges heroically, and in their natural inclination towards fair-mindedness, if only given the chance.

Sunday 16 November 2014

misty walk, reflection, familial love

Walked above Oswestry in the mist yesterday morning.

We were staying with family for my mother-in-law's memorial service.

A walk of reflection. A day of sadness and remembrance and of strengthened familial love and friendships.

Saturday 8 November 2014

cold, bonfire, diploma, stylometry, jan rybicki, stylistics, economist, future of the book, burger-n-picpoul, hollybush

Suddenly, there's cold weather to contend with. And heavens above, it's not really cold for November but just seems that way after a spoilingly hot summer extending well into autumn.

The central heating's now on to supplement the log fire.

The above pic isn't in fact our grate but the remnants of the Wolvercote Green fireworks night bonfire, taken as I headed to the canal on the morning of 6th November.

Alas, one of my last walks this way for some months, I imagine, unless we get an unusually dry spell. The beautiful first quarter of the walk, that feels like you are in the country rather than town, is suitably muddy and while I don't mind this I am only too aware of mud falling off my shoes onto the carpets in meetings and in senior colleagues' offices. So, it's pavement till Summertown and joining the canal there, from now on.

This week, amongst other things, I've been preparing for my long fiction module of the Oxford diploma. It's been fun to revisit the course materials, not least in the light of things I've been doing on other courses and for the Continuing Education Open Day event last Tuesday (which was great fun to do - great group of people taking part). Now looking forward to the first seminar early next week.

Very much enjoyed Jan Rybicki's talk on Stylometry and visualisation on Thursday evening (see last week's post for the outline). Rybicki's approach involves determining the frequency of words in digital texts and then applying a statistical process to the results in order to put them into meaningful forms such as graphs or diagrams and other visualisations.

One surprise to me was that Rybicki works with only a pretty small number of the most frequently used words in any given text - from 100 to 400. Also, these words tend to be common-or-garden ones such as 'the' and 'and'. Well, no great surprise there, given the parameters of the data collection - articles and conjunctions are bound to feature in the top most frequently used words list. What is really surprising, is that it is an author's use of the more mundane words that provides stylometrists with the information needed to attribute authorship and define an author's particular style relative to those of other writers. The words used in the analyses aren't the more esoteric ones that one might have expected to define individual style. And nor are they the ones that necessarily reveal the content of the work (as opposed to its tell-tale style).

Without going into too much detail (which would be beyond me, in any case), Rybicki has been using a statistical process known as Burrow's Delta (after it's creator, John Burrows) to analyse stylistic variations between ever increasing numbers of authors and works. The method appears to be an extremely accurate way of attributing works to a particular author. It also enables Rybicki to differentiate not just different authors but differences between the works of a given author. The works of Le Carré (who Rybicki translates into Polish), for example, cluster into different periods of authorship within the overall Le Carré-style grouping.

By applying the method to thousands of English texts, Rybicki is able to create beautifully striking visualisations that would make Rothko envious and that reveal relationships between authors across many centuries or other ways of grouping the word counts. While many of the groupings are as one would expect them to be, it is the small unexpected differences that are especially revealing. Tolkien's style for example setting him amongst writers of earlier centuries and Virginia Woolf cropping up in different areas of a diagram because of the different styles in which she apparently wrote. (Cases of statistical methods giving empirical backing to things that critics may have picked up intuitively - or at least less scientifically.)

Rybicki also noticed how women writers in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century seemed to have developed male styles in order to get their work published, whereas in later periods women writers' styles became more differentiated from male writers of similar eras. Until we get to the present, where styles of both male and female authors become much more intermixed and more difficult to define as masculine or feminine.

I was intrigued by a story that Rybicki told against himself. When he looked at translations into Polish from English that he had done (Le Carré, Ishiguro and other authors) in comparison with the translation work done by Polish colleagues, he noticed that his translations seemed to cluster together, stylistically, no matter what author he was translating. Whereas, with other translators, the style varies according to the writer they are translating. He felt that this showed that other translators were better than him.

For more information about Jan, visit the Computational Stylistics Group website - which includes an excellent HOWTO PDF that explains how to apply his 'stylo' word-counting and statistical analysis method.

It takes me back to Stylistics classes at Oxford with Professor Suzanne Romaine. Stylistics and its successor Stylometry, have, I think, a very practical relevance to the creative writer, despite their initially rather abstract appearance.

Meanwhile there is a great, great essay in this week's Economist about the future of the book (both physical and e), which includes fascinating insights into new publishing models, as well as observations about the effect of digital reading on literary style and the changing expectations of authors, as far as the reasons why they write are concerned.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, just back from an excellent burger-veg-n-Picpoul lunch at the Hollybush, Witney.

Saturday 1 November 2014

warm, misty, day of the dead, open, visualizing, accident, old friends

Astonishingly warm morning - week indeed! Quite like it but also a part of me yearns for more seasonal weather.

Saving on heating bills. System not switched on since the spring, although we have had a few log fires to dry the air.

Enjoyed a misty canal-side walk in Oxford the other morning - top pic. Very atmospheric and calming.

Meanwhile at the Latin American Centre a Day of the Dead Altar has been constructed in memory of Gabriel García Márquez - see the paper skulls above and this interesting NPR article for the historical provenance of Day of the Dead Altars and an explanation of their elements and symbolism.

I've been preparing for my Continuing Education Open Day event next Tuesday (Fiction reader - fiction writer). The is fully booked, though there may be some returns nearer the day.

Have signed up for this intriguing event in Oxford next week: Visualizing Literature: Trees, Maps and Networks by Dr Jan Rybicki, Assistant Professor at the Institute of English Studies, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. As the blurb says:

'Stylometry, the study of countable elements of (literary) language, has reached a critical moment in its development. It has transcended its earlier application in authorial attribution; it now aims at testing and challenging or confirming the existing models of literary history by going through more data than a traditional literary scholar ever could: big collections of texts that are analyzed with a whole new arsenal of quantitative statistical methods that rely on various distance measures to establish new, or confirm the old, patterns of similarity and difference between the oeuvres of individual writers, groups, genres, themes, traditions... But in doing so, stylometry now faces a new challenge of how to visualize such a big amount of literary and linguistic data.'

Another fascinating Digital Humanities event. While I am excited by the possibilities that the Digital Humanities offer us for analysing fiction, I remember visiting a friend who was doing a Linguistics DPhil in 1989, when I was attending Linguistics masters seminars with a view to taking my interest in Stylistics further. My friend was analysing the recurrence of a particular word in Shakespeare's plays and showed me reams of spreadsheets (reams of paper in those days) and I thought, Where are the plays! Digital Humanities offer possibilities but it is vital to keep contact with the wonderful works of literature themselves.

Downloaded Joseph Losey's film Accident, screenplay by Harold Pinter and starring Dirk Bogarde, on iTunes the other weekend. I'd not seen the film since 1984. It was dated, has a strangely simplistic take on the academic and aristocratic 'establishments' but is still utterly compelling. Great to see views of Oxford from the sixties and how these have changed - or haven't.

Just had a lovely lunch with old friends who we haven't seen for several years. Five Alls, Filkins. A wonderful, warm occasion!

Saturday 25 October 2014

eclectic photos, building-chomping, conted open day, casta paintings

A somewhat eclectic set of photos this time.

There's the building-chomping machine seen in Oxford the week before last, the view from one of the fields to the south of the village taken last weekend and a phone box seen today when cycling.

Which only goes to show how long it is since I last posted.

The start of term and the master's finals marking took their toll... Astonishingly busy weeks.

Now thinking about my Continuing Education Open Day event on the 4th November, which appears to be sold out, and the start of the undergraduate diploma module that I teach.

Very much enjoyed the joint party given by the Society of Authors and Writers in Oxford recently at Balliol College - lovely to see old friends!

Also enjoyed the Casta paintings seminar at the Latin American Centre, given by Professor Earle of Warwick University.

Saturday 11 October 2014

misty, jade, finals marking, a conscious englishman, shirley baker, trust: a family story

There was a light mist when I went cycling, though it soon cleared and the rain started.

Loved the green of the fodder roots in the misty light - you can get an impression of this from the photo but in reality it was much more bright jade than it looks.

Inductions' week at the library, so lots happening. Exhausting but thankfully I've been sleeping well and have felt fresh today and can get on with finals marking.

Really enjoyed discussing A Conscious Englishman with Margaret Keeping at the Woodstock Bookshop. Lovely to see former students and academic friends in the audience. Many thanks to Rachel for inviting us!

First log delivery of the season this morning.

Fascinating obituary of the urban photographer Shirley Baker in the Times and Guardian this week. Check out her brilliant photos at the Mary Evans Picture Library.

Finally, friends have asked about the title of the life-writing book: Trust: A family story.

Saturday 4 October 2014

digging, winter veg, mst res, 0th week, margaret keeping, woodstock bookshop, conted open day, stowe, log fire

Dug over the last patches of ground on the allotment this morning before the rain started.

The allotment is really a summer garden but there are a few things for winter. Beetroots have done well and there are carrots, parsnips and turnips, Swiss chard, black Spanish round radishes and some miner's lettuce and other winter salads. There are one or two brassica's that were trying to grow in amongst the courgettes and underneath the runner bean wigwams that might come to something. I also left a couple of cucumber plants to see if the one small fruit on each might grow on a bit. I have to say that cucumbers didn't do that well this year.

Loved the MSt residence last weekend and early this week. So nice to meet the new students I'm supervising.

With Oxford 0th Week starting Monday, there have been lots of preparations being made for undergrad and grad inductions. There's always so much to do at this time of year, no matter how much you try to save yourself time by thinking ahead in the summer.

On Monday evening, I'll be in conversation with Margaret Keeping at the Woodstock Bookshop. Looking forward to this. (Btw, I'll be doing an event at the Department for Continuing Education Open Day on 4th November at Rewley House. More on this nearer the time.)

Today was Old Stoic Day at my old school and I'd like to have gone back. When I was there for the careers fair I didn't have time to walk round the grounds and I thought it would be fun to do this in the early autumn. Sadly, though, working on the library e-skills training session took precedence.

First log fire of the autumn.

Saturday 27 September 2014

big bales, lots happening, mst, margaret keeping, woodstock bookshop, a conscious englishman, squashes, digging, drought, toms

Back at work last Thursday. Lots happening as the beginning of the Oxford academic kicks off.

This weekend the Master of Studies (MSt) in Creative Writing residence begins and I shall meet the students I'll be supervising during 2014/15 for the first time - although we have been corresponding by email and talking on Skype for a couple of months. An exciting few days.

The first meeting is at 8 am tomorrow, after which I'll be having coffee with Margaret Keeping and preparing for the event at the Woodstock Bookshop (Monday 6th October, 7 pm), at which I shall interview her about her acclaimed novel A Conscious Englishman.

Later today, I'll be harvesting the squashes on the allotment and storing them in the shed. Then I'll grub up both these plants and those of the courgettes and dig over their ground.

The land is dry. We've hardly had a drop of rain for over a fortnight and there's no sign of any next week.

At the house we have a tomato glut. Glorious. When I got back from cycling earlier, it was wonderful to eat some before breakfast. Their flavour is so sharp, intense and refreshing.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

batcombe, three horseshoes, dodgy mobile signal, fearsome rabbits

‎Stayed at the Three Horseshoes, Batcombe - lovely food and atmosphere.

Great way to celebrate my birthday. Amazing walks. Amazing sunshine.

Quite difficult to get a mobile signal, though - bottom photo.

Didn't see any fearsome rabbits.

Friday 19 September 2014

finished, unexpected places, surprising conclusions, energy and thought, set-aside, exhilaration and exhaustion, ripening tomatoes

Finished the life-writing narrative. In the end it was 25,000 words - written on my Blackberry on the bus to and from work and over a couple of hours last Saturday. The writing of it took me to places I hadn't expected to go and led to some insights and conclusions that surprised me. It was a good way of getting things straight. It has also been very therapeutic. An outpouring of energy and thought.

I shall now take the advice I give to students and set it aside - while I get on with teaching and marking - before coming back to it in a few months' time. Then the work of editing and rewriting will begin. Then I shall start shaping it and the two earlier narratives, together with blog posts, photos and documents, into a coherent and, I hope, satisfying work of life-writing. The whole will be around 70,000 words.

Meanwhile, it has been an exhilarating but exhausting week all round.

The tomatoes continue to ripen.

Saturday 13 September 2014

blight, green tomatoes, drawer, spuds, shallots and onions, life-writing

We stopped growing tomatoes some years ago because blight is bad in this area. But a neighbour gave us some plants in the early summer.

Sure enough they succumbed to blight a week or so ago but J spotted this early and picked all the tomatoes. We then cleared a drawer and put the fruit inside - see photo above.

We used to do this years ago, when we lived on Osney and had an allotment greenhouse. The plants would usually get blight but later on in the season and by then the fruits were big. The blight seems to be passed to the fruits by the plant and not from fruit to fruit, so that if you're quick, only a small proportion turn bad, the rest ripening gradually. Some people put an apple in with the fruit to accelerate ripening. The only thing to watch out for is infected fruits turning.

Harvested the spuds on the allotment on Tuesday and have been digging the area in the evenings since then. I grew four varieties - Dersiree, Estima, Kestrel and Pink Fir Apple. I generally plant a lot of rows because I don't tend to have time to water the plants and so yields are low. This year and last, though, the crop has been heavy - this year's especially so. The spuds are now bagged in hessian sacks, which I hang from the rafters in the old piggery, so that they are out of reach of the mice.

I'll go up to the allotment later to do a bit more digging and bag up the shallots and onions, which have been drying in the shed for several weeks since I lifted them.

I've continued to write the life-writing narrative I mentioned last week. It's now over 15,000 words and there is still quite a lot more to say. I'd not realised how much there was to say. Writing this out is my way of coming to terms with the past. Perhaps that should read, a staging post on the way to coming to terms with the past. It's very healing, whatever stage I'm at, however.