Sunday, 6 April 2014

fritillaries, john wain, where the rivers meet, waterman's arms, hay fever, a conscious englishman, cambridge quarterly

The fritillaries are out in our garden!

As an undergraduate, it was such a delight to walk round Magdalen meadows and see fritillaries flowering in abundance - both pink and white ones.

They are rare now, in the wild, only appearing in one or two water-meadows along the Oxfordshire Thames. Once, though, if the novelist and one-time Oxford University Professor of Poetry, John Wain, is to be believed, they were much more widespread. In his wonderful Oxford novel, Where the Rivers Meet, children pick bunches of them in the meadows near Iffley and sell them to the florists in the Covered Market.

The flowers were killed off by herbicides, I suppose, during the 'War Ag'.

You can find more information about John Wain's novel and how it relates to my first novel, The Lock, in the jtns post for Sunday, 14th August 2011.

As mentioned in that post, the real-life pub on Osney Island - the Waterman's Arms, as was, now the Punter - that features in both Where the Rivers Meet and The Lock was John Wain's favourite and he used to walk down to it from Wolvercote, where he lived. But in about 1991 the pub was done up. The novelist got as far as the porch, took one look at the refurbished bar and never set foot in it again. Before the alterations, the pub had a narrow bar with a lino floor and little round tables and stools, and a bar-billiards and piano room‎ off to the side. It was a great, old-fashioned pub in those days. Always packed, on a Sunday especially.

John Wain's obituary photo in The Times was taken in the old Waterman's.

I believe that, sadly, John Wain's novels are out of print now - though still available on the web and in second-hand bookshops. In addition to Where the Rivers Meet, I would recommend The Contenders and A Winter in the Hills (which, it appears is back in print in a Kindle edition this year).

Earlier this week, I thought my cough and cold had come back - with a vengeance. But now think it was a combination of hay fever (the oilseed rape is out) and the Saharan dust cloud. A bit better today.

The corrected reprint of A Conscious Englishman, meanwhile, is almost finished. Its cover includes a lovely quote from Robert Macfarlane on the front and Linda Newbery's generous praise on the back.

On the subject of A Conscious Englishman, I was delighted to see reference to it - alongside references to Robert Macfarlane and Matthew Hollis - in an article entitled Edward Thomas and His Contested Country, which appeared in the Cambridge Quarterly last year [(2014) 43 1: 85-92]:

'Others, however, channel Thomas's literary spirit differently. Most recently, Margaret Keeping's novel A Conscious Englishman (2013), imagines Thomas's path towards becoming a poet, his melancholic angst, and his decision to go to war, through conversations with those closest to him and his own thoughts and feelings. In 2011 Matthew Hollis won the Costa Book Award for Best Biography for Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas. In it he describes Thomas's emotional dislocation and the redeeming quality of his friendship with Robert Frost. Then there is Robert Macfarlane, Cambridge academic and celebrated nature writer, whose own work has been inspired by Edward Thomas, particularly The Old Ways (2012). Thomas's dually restless and rooted engagement with landscape resonates with Macfarlane, who appreciates how Thomas was 'interestingly alert to how we are scattered, as well as affirmed, by the places through which we move'.'

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