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.

Saturday 30 May 2015

rose, allotment, ridging spuds, portfolio meeting, first cuckoo, trap grounds

The rose by the terrace is out - seen above at about 6.30 this morning before I went to the allotment to ridge the spuds.

After the allotment, I cycled back the long way round, to Lew then Mount Owen and home.

A trip to Oxford midday for a undergraduate portfolio meeting.

Beautiful summer sunshine today - can't believe it's going to be raining tomorrow. Will it really rain?

Walking into Oxford along the canal on Wednesday, I heard my first cuckoo of the year and, indeed, my first cuckoo in Oxford, I think. I was by the Trap Grounds. Here is a recording.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

dave de roure on digital scholarship, weston library, 1 pm, thu 28th may

Another poster - a positive one this time.

Looking forward to this open event tomorrow at the Weston Library's Centre for Digital Scholarship.

Dave De Roure, Director of the Oxford e-Research Centre will be speaking at 1 pm, Thursday 28th May on Digital Scholarship: Intersection, Scale, and Social Machines.

Read more at the Bodleian Digital Library blog.

wolvercote hayricks arson poster

Saw this on the canal towpath below Wolvercote earlier. I'd passed the poster before but hadn't read it.

It seems that the wonderful hayricks I posted about on 28th June last year were burnt down in the autumn - I assumed the hay had been taken inside - and eventually, the cattle they had been intended to feed had to be slaughtered. Sad. The poster says it all.

Saturday 23 May 2015

john sutherland, new edward thomas bio, daniel swift, iridescent slick, beautiful pollution, poem viewer, oerc, between walls by william carlos williams

I was intrigued to read John Sutherland's review of Jean Moorcroft Wilson's new biography of Edward Thomas, Edward Thomas: From Adlestrop to Arras, in the Times this morning. (If you don't have access to the Times article - it's behind the paywall, of course - try this one from Daniel Swift in the Spectator.) The Thomas in the book, at least in Sutherland's words, comes across as an unikeable man, if a gifted poet. I think some of this is there in Margaret's novel too, particularly apparent in the counterpoint of Helen's and Edward's perspectives, though it is tempered by sympathy for him as a flawed human being. I have to say that by the sounds of it, I prefer the version of Edward in the novel because it captures the complexities of relationships and lives as they are lived - complexities that are potentially quite different to those of relationships and lives as observed with hindsight. The Sutherland reading seems pretty one-dimensional and uncompromising. Nevertheless, details such as the manner of Thomas' death, are fascinating - Sutherland writes:

'His widow Helen perpetuated the myth that he had been killed by the “percussive force” of a nearby shell. That beautiful face and body was buried unmutilated. Wilson has examined the evidence and concludes it was a direct hit which blew him to smithereens.'

When walking into Oxford along the canal earlier in the week I came across a beautiful iridescent slick of fuel floating on the surface of the water - see above pic. Such striking metallic colours, and so polluting!

With all the excitement about the Edward Thomas plaque last week, I didn't have time to write about a presentation on Poem Viewer at the University's IT Services HQ the week before last. This was given by Alfie Abdul-Rahman and Martin Wynne from the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC). The web-based software turns the text of a poem into an interactive visual image that highlights the features of the poem's language and how they inter-relate to one another.

Visualization - the synaesthetic rendering of language as images - is a truly exciting area of study that enables scholars and students to gain insights into the multi-layered dynamics and structures of language in an especially vivid and immediate way.

Here is an example of the visualization of the opening of William Carlos Williams' poem, Between Walls:

You can experiment with this visualization here - try switching the images for the variable features on and off using the check boxes down the left-hand side of the screen. Also try changing the Layout drop-down to 'Structured' and the resulting Macro-glyph drop-down to one of the animations.

If you want to find out more about the wonderful Poem Viewer project, see this OeRC page, including the paper written by Alfie, Martin and their colleagues (Rule-based Visual Mappings - with a Case Study on Poetry Visualization), and the excellent MP4 video.

Saturday 16 May 2015

113 cowley road, edward thomas, helen thomas, richard emeny, edward thomas fellowship, margaret keeping, richard morley, in parenthesis, the word, dh lawrence, george orwell

Very much enjoyed the plaque unveiling at 113 Cowley Road, which took place in glorious hot sun.

The plaque has been carved by stonemason Richard Morley, who as it happens himself lived in the house some years ago. It was one Oxfordshire Artweek that Margaret Keeping visited the house and saw Richard's work. Synchronicity.

After viewing the plaque, which faces onto the Cowley Road, we walked along the side of the house to the large garden, which is dominated by two yew trees, which, everyone speculated, might well have been growing there when Thomas lived at the property in 1897/98.

In his talk, chairman of the Edward Thomas Fellowship, Richard Emeny, thanked the housing association that currently owns 113 for its whole-hearted support of the project. He went on to reveal that Edward Thomas had not been especially happy at the property because while living there he hadn't yet been a collegiate member of the University, having to take various exams in order to supplement gaps in his education before he could live in college. Edward described his time at 113 as being 'in parenthesis', although he enjoyed the local pubs.

Margaret read a letter that Edward wrote at 113 to his future wife, Helen. Margaret told us that as well as the pubs, Thomas loved the proximity of the countryside and walked out to landmarks such as Boar's Hill. I should say that despite expanding hugely since Edward's day, the cruciform shape of the city means that the countryside is still very close to the urban environment, filling in the large areas in between the ribbon development along the arms of the cross.

Today's event concluded with a reading of Edward Thomas's poem The Word - see below.

Among the guests this afternoon, were Edward's great niece and great-great niece.

Although the event was invitation-only, the plaque is there for all to see. A wonderful testimony to Edward Thomas and to Margaret's determination to have it made.

While waiting for the event to start, it was a pleasure to meet Professor Stephen Gill, emeritus fellow of Edward's old college, Lincoln. We had a lovely talk about DH Lawrence, The White Peacock and George Orwell's essay Down the Mine, which I haven't read. (Stephen also recommended Lawrence's second novel, The Trespasser, which again I haven't read.)

Now, The Word:


There are so many things I have forgot,
That once were much to me, or that were not,
All lost, as is a childless woman's child
And its child's children, in the undefiled
Abyss of what will never be again.
I have forgot, too, names of the mighty men
That fought and lost or won in the old wars,
Of kings and fiends and gods, and most of the stars.
Some things I have forgot that I forget.
But lesser things there are, remembered yet,
Than all the others. One name that I have not---
Though 'tis an empty thingless name---forgot
Never can die because Spring after Spring
Some thrushes learn to say it as they sing.
There is always one at midday saying it clear
And tart---the name, only the name I hear.
While perhaps I am thinking of the elder scent
That is like food, or while I am content
With the wild rose scent that is like memory,
This name suddenly is cried out to me
From somewhere in the bushes by a bird
Over and over again, a pure thrush word.

“The Word,” by Thomas, Edward (1878-1917). Copyright Edward Thomas, 1979, reproduced under licence from Faber and Faber Ltd. via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed May 16, 2015, http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/2962.

giving way, cows, 113 cowley road, edward thomas, oxford times, margaret keeping, stonemason richard morley

Sometimes you just have to give way.

Looking forward to the unveiling of the plaque on 113 Cowley Road, the house to which Edward Thomas moved when he started as a non-collegiate undergraduate at Oxford University in 1897 - see 19th April post and this Oxford Times article in which Margaret Keeping and stonemason Richard Morley talk about the event.

Sunday 10 May 2015

nettles, tall nettles by edward thomas, 113 cowley road, plaque, unveiling

Nettles are looking particularly striking just now.

Puts me in mind of Edward Thomas's poem, Tall Nettles. I remember thinking, when I read it for the first time, how wonderful it was to find a poet who could write so beautifully about such an unregarded plant. I felt that Thomas was my kind of poet.


Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.

“Tall Nettles,” by Thomas, Edward (1878-1917). Copyright Edward Thomas, 1979, reproduced under licence from Faber and Faber Ltd. via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed May 10, 2015, http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/2951.

Looking forward to the unveiling of the plaque on 113 Cowley Road, the house Edward Thomas moved to as a non-collegiate student at Oxford University in 1897. The unveiling will take place at 2 pm next Saturday, 16th May. See: http://streetbooks.co.uk/edwardthomaseventsspringandsummer2015.html.

Saturday 9 May 2015

aclaiir, simón bolívar, instituto cervantes, the waiting room, arturo barea, george orwell, kazan

Written on the bus home:

Travelled to London earlier for an ACLAIIR committee meeting at the Instituto Cervantes.‎

On my way from the Marble Arch bus stop I passed the statue of Simón Bolívar on the south-east corner of Belgrave Square. I have no idea why the statue is there, although this is what is inscribed round its base:‎

‎Simón Bolívar: liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Panama; founder of Bolivia. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, 24 July 1783, he died in Santa Marta, Colombia, 17 December 1830...

‎Erected in 1974 on behalf of the countries of Latin America liberated and founded by Simón Bolívar...

'I am convinced that England alone is capable of protecting the world's precious rights as she is great, glorious and wise' Simón Bolívar‎

What could have been more appropriate ‎before ACLAIIR? (Advisory Council on Latin American and Iberian Information Resources.)

After the meeting we were given a guided tour of the Instituto's latest exhibition, The Waiting Room: Spanish exile in the United Kingdom, by its curator, Christian Ravina. See: http://londres.cervantes.es/en/culture_spanish/activities_cultural_spanish.shtm.

The exhibition explores the lives of some of the writers who fled Spain after the fall of Barcelona in 1939, including Arturo Barea and Manuel Chaves Nogales. Barea (b. Spain 1897; d. England 1957) arrived in Plymouth and later lived in a cottage on Lord Faringdon's estate in Oxfordshire. (In 2013 a plaque was put up outside Barea's favourite pub in the nearby town of Farindon, The Volunteer, as described in this Oxford Times article by my friend Chris Gray.)

The exhibition includes an early English edition of Barea's autobiographical work, The Forging of a Rebel, and a page from the typescript.

Lord Faringdon and other influential people, including the Duchess of Atholl‎, persuaded the British government to help Spanish evacuees. Faringdon not only provided a cottage for Barea but opened his stately home to Spanish children.

‎As the exhibition mentions, one of the asylum-seekers who came to Britain at this time was Luis Portillo, father of the Conservative minister. (Luis was sponsored by a Labour MP.)

As well as autobiography and journalism, Barea wrote some 900 scripts about British life for the BBC, which wer‎e broadcast to Latin America. Barea and other exiles worked for the Spanish Broadcast Service. The exhibition includes a quotation from George Orwell: 'If the Fascist powers have done no other good, they have at least enriched the English-speaking world by exiling all their best writers.'

The Waiting Room looks at both the lives of the writers and the psychology of exile, drawing on Professor Paul Ilie's book The Semantics of Exile, in which it is defined as 'a territorial break from the homeland which may be either voluntary or forced and is accompanied by a set of feelings and beliefs that isolate the separated group from the majority.'

After the Instituto, we had a wonderful meal at Kazan on Wilton Road to mark the retirement of the committee's former chair. See: http://kazan-restaurant.com.

Monday 4 May 2015

jack-in-the-pulpit, blissfully peaceful

Gorgeous bank holiday west Oxfordshire weather.

I took the photo above in Calcroft Lane earlier, continuing yesterday's green theme. I always think of this plant as lords-and-ladies and occasionally as cuckoo pint. But the Wild Flowers website adds Jack-in-the-pulpit and naked boys... The plant is also poisonous - the red berries that appear later in the year causing various skin irritation problems, according to the Poison Garden.

When I'd taken the photo I suddenly realised how still the lane was. It and the surrounding farmland were blissfully peaceful. A distant corner of rural west Oxfordshire.

Sunday 3 May 2015

rain, jack-by-the-hedge, the invisible college

Lots of rain in the night and early this morning. Welcome news for the garden and allotment. (Sowed carrots, beetroot, parsnip and French Breakfast radish yesterday.)

I love the freshness of jack-by-the-hedge plants at this time of year - photo above shows the leaves, a flower head and a friend. The plant is edible, apparently - see the excellent naturessecretlarder.

Heard an ad on Radio 4 for a new creative writing programme, The Invisible College, presented by Dr Cathy FitzGerald. The first episode is tomorrow 4 pm. Sounds interesting.

Saturday 2 May 2015

oilseed rape, chilly, local honey, cowslips, unconscious memory network, mice, jelly bean, neo-freudians, interdisciplinarity

Photo above shows oilseed rape crop by cowlease corner near Bampton. Seen when I was out cycling - on a really grey and humongously chilly morning...

One positive to note is that so far this spring hay-fever season I've not been sneezing. Can it really be down to local honey? Great if it was! One of my colleagues gave me a jar last summer, saying that a spoonful a day was supposed to ward the sneezes. J's bought me more jars since. If it is the honey - thanks so much!

Meantime, on the bus and out cycling, I've noticed cowslips growing in place I've never seen before. And there are way more cowslips than ever. What's the story? Have the seeds been biding their time? Hope so! It's also been a bumper year for dandelions - not so cool on the allotment and lawn but a vibrant sight on the verges and in the meadows.

Went to the Unconscious Memory Network seminar, Neuroscience and Psychoanalysis, on Monday, as mentioned last weekend. Very exciting and stimulating event. The two speakers talked for about forty-five minutes each then there was wine and questions for another hour.

The seminar was chaired by my friend Professor Laura Marcus (such enjoyable chats on our bus from time to time!) and featured Professor Richard Brown from Dalhousie University and Professor Mark Solms from the University of Cape Town.

Professor Brown talked about his research involving animal models of Alzheimer's disease. Particularly intriguing was the point that Alzheimer's patients don't lose their memories per se but one or more types of memory. This relates to findings that have been discussed in other forums about how motor functions can remain - the ability to play musical instruments and card games, for example - when other, cognitive, abilities have waned.

While it is important to stress that the animal experiments here are behavioural rather than surgical, I did have some sympathy with the last questioner, who wondered - in a rather circuitous way - about the effect of the challenges that the mice are set on their consciousnesses. When the stakes are furthering understanding of Alzheimer's such research seems invaluable - though I did find a sentimental and doubtless anthropomorphising 'poor things' identification with the mice and their cognitive struggles! But then the thinking behind these TORCH networks is precisely to bring together people from all the different disciplines - practical scientists AND mice-empathising creative writers.

As a creative writer, I very much enjoyed Professor Solms' talk about how consciousness comes not from the outside but from a primitive jelly-bean-like entity deep within the brain. Though there were some in the audience - including the friend I was sitting next to (like Professor Solms, a Freudian) - who found his brand of linking neuroscience and psychoanalysis a touch freestyle and subjective.

Professor Solms suggested that the higher levels of consciousness were activated by the jelly bean below, which was the source of feeling. What, he asked, does consciousness add [to the information streaming into the brain from outside]? Feeling, he said. What you have is feeling. The fundamental add-on that comes from this jelly bean area. He went on to say how personal and definingly you this aspect of perception was.

During Professor Solms' talk I found myself thinking of my own motivating feelings. It occurred to me that in some contexts I can be motivated by a particular prevailing feeling for a number of years, which then gives way to another. Between the two periods governed by one then the other, there can be a time when the old feeling dominates but I am aware of the new one's existence. And when the new is dominant, the old one still features from time to time.

I also wondered about the process whereby the higher cognitive functions can sometimes override a feeling, choosing not to act on it. In Professor Solms' model, is that choosing initiated by another kind of feeling emanating from the 'jelly bean'?

From a creative writing point of view, it occurred to me that feelings can be imposed by others. Even, that one can be made to doubt the authenticity or validity of one's feelings by a dominant and influential person. I imagined that a person might lose touch with their own feelings as a result and would struggle to find their way back to them.

I suppose that what appealed to me about Professor Solms' talk was its imaginative power. It provided a metaphorical system that had ‎exciting possibilities for character creation.

Before I could ask about the influence of others on feelings, someone else got their first. The professor agreed that ways of feeling could be learnt or imposed - from parents, in particular - and that the things he had been explaining were just the basic outlines of the model of human consciousness he is exploring - in neo-Freudian terms.

A memorable and thought-provoking seminar indeed!