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 25 July 2015

cotton thistles, big bales, refreshing bike ride, deluge, summer school, facing the strange by sb sweeney, the 'thing'...

The cotton thistles at Cowleaze Corner are thriving again this year - see post of Saturday 23rd June 2012. This time the plant is in flower and is, if anything, even taller.

The other photo shows some big bales beside Calcroft Lane. Is there a strange beauty to them? Might they one day be looked back on with nostalgia? Who knows but see the - well, I'm not sure quite what it is (poem-ish thing?) - below...

This morning's bike ride was lovely and refreshing. The air almost chilly after yesterday's rain. I'm about to go to the allotment to pick more blackcurrants and am hoping that the deluge has brought it back to life. It was so parched! The spuds are going to be a meagre crop this year.

Tomorrow the creative writing summer school starts at Exeter College. Looking forward to the tutors' meeting and the formal reception and dinner and to meeting the students for the first time.

Earlier today I put an announcement on the StreetBooks homepage saying that we will be publishing Facing the Strange by SB Sweeney in 2016. Very exciting.

And, now, that 'thing':

The Bale

We found the picture on one of those memory sticks that
People used to use back in the day.
You know, like a little plastic shuttle.
We found it in a junk shop.
You clicked them into those funny box computers -
With lift-up screens. We've got some of them. Love old things.

We couldn't believe it when we extracted the data.
Such a beautiful photo.
And what was a real coincidence was that we've got a bale.
Yes, a real plastic-wrapped bale!
We found it in a shed in Herefordshire and
Had it sky-ported back to Surrey.
It hangs at the top of our atrium - ten floors up above the barn-conversion.
From the platform you can look at it close up.
We had it nucleared, of course - you never know what
Bugs it had. We use Nu-Clean, family run since 2096.

I picked up five gorgeous old hologram pendants
And had the photo frozen in each.
The bale is like our symbol. We love it,
Even though the plastic's worn - we'll have it restored.
I can't believe looking at the photo, then at it.
It puts me in touch with another age, with history.
I love its simplicity, the gorgeousness of its design.
It's SO rural!

Sunday 19 July 2015

wonderful family wedding, meadows, pretty field bindweed, remains of a grass snake

Had family staying for a wonderful family wedding at Magdalen College and the Bodleian Divinity School.

This morning, after a grilled breakfast on the lawn, had a lovely walk across the fields to the meadows near Rushey lock, where the curlew nest and the snipe sometimes overwinter.

Field bindweed is such a pretty flower yet such a tenacious weed! Found remains of what looks like a grass snake near Weald.

Saturday 18 July 2015

allotment, cool and fresh, weeding, courgettes, spuds, eucalyptus, common enchanter's nightshade, witchipedia

Cycled to the allotment early, when the air was still wonderfully cool and fresh.

Did some hoeing, weeding and watering. We should be getting our first courgettes very soon. I'm not sure of the variety of the flower in the photo. I kept a record of the varieties of all the plants apart from the first five. It's likely to be an Italian variety, though.

The spuds are suffering in the dry weather and some are dying back because of the effects of a eucalyptus tree planted on the other side of the shed...

When we were away in Wiltshire we came across some wild flowers we hadn't identified before. One had this wonderful name: Common Enchanter's Nightshade. While the Woodlands.co.uk page that I've linked to has some excellent photos and good info, I was intrigued to find an entry on the plant on Witchipedia - 'the online encyclopedia of witchcraft, paganism and the occult'!

Tuesday 14 July 2015

compasses inn, lower chicksgrove; fonthill lake, dredging, harper lee in oxford

Another very relaxing break at the Compasses Inn, Lower Chicksgrove.

Though, was surprised to see the water level in Fonthill Lake so low - compare the photo above with the one posted on Thursday 8th July 2010. Until we read about the dredging and maintenance project which will be undertaken later in the summer.

An interesting email was sent out by the Department for Continuing Education's librarian earlier, linking to an article in which, on the day that Go Set A Watchman is published, you can read about Harper Lee's Oxford Summer School, 1948:

"In 1948, Harper Lee was enrolled in law school in Alabama. Her older sister Alice was a lawyer; her father was a lawyer. But Lee wasn't enjoying her studies. Her father came up with a plan to focus Lee's mind..."

Sunday 5 July 2015

keble, kellogg, mst guided retreat

‎Loved returning to Keble for the summer dinner - not to mention going to Kellogg for the MSt celebrations beforehand.

MSt Guided Retreat today.

Saturday 4 July 2015

heavy rain, mst, kellogg, keble 30th, poem, marina warner's what is a story on radio 4, simon armitage, mammoth whisky event

Heavy rain last night, which the garden and allotment needed desperately. Everything is growing so slowly and is struggling.

There was thunder and dramatic lightening too, according to J, but I missed it.

Took the photo above along Calcroft Lane - it shows the curve of the road up to the bridge over the old railway track.

Lots of library work and assignment marking this past week. Also prepared for the Master of Studies (MSt) in Creative Writing Guided Retreat, which starts tomorrow.

This afternoon, there's a party to celebrate Kellogg College's 25th anniversary, together with both the MSt's and the Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing's tenth. Then, somewhat frighteningly, it's our year group's summer dinner at Keble - thirty years since we matriculated.

As it's something of an MSt weekend, here are links to the MSt blog and the YouTube video.

Also, talking of the MSt, one of my students has a character who scribbles poems on handy pieces of paper, so he is reminded of an image or a feeling. Inspired by this, perhaps, I tapped these lines into my smartphone the other day, while walking into work along the Oxford canal:

I turn and look back along the towpath.
The band of shade beneath the mays
Seems narrow now.
Yet when I walked through it,
It lasted for ages and the
Cool was so welcome.


When I got back from cycling this morning, there was an advert for what sounds a really exciting series of short programmes about story telling presented by Marina Warner, called What is a Story? The programmes - ten of them - go out on Radio 4 at 1.45 pm daily from Monday 6th July.

Finally, I was pleased that Simon Armitage was elected Oxford Professor of Poetry - though the online voting system wasn't nearly as fun as going along to the Divinity School, as you used to do. For what it's worth, here is a review of his first novel, Little Green Man, which I wrote back in August 2011 for the Financial Times:

Boys Just Want to Have Fun, Financial Times, 11th August 2001

LITTLE GREEN MAN by Simon Armitage Viking £12.99, 246 pages

Simon Armitage's poems combine the sort of technical know-how that dazzles fellow poets and a down-to-earth way with language which endears him to a wide readership. While he is drawn to stories about universal experience which he can transform with a sideways look and his wry sense of humour, he is also insightful about the back streets of psychological life - a result, perhaps, of his former career as a probation officer.

Such qualities stand him in good stead in his debut novel. His narrator is Barney, a 35-year-old odd-job man who lives on the edge of a "small, northern town, with the moors up above" in Armitage's native West Yorkshire. At first it seems as if Barney is going to be one of those licensed chauvinists who are a staple of contemporary male fiction. There is the fascination with the paraphernalia of childhood. There is football, of course. Even occasional lists of 1970s TV shows and long-lost toys.

But then the story changes direction. Barney phones up four school friends, nicknamed Stubbs, Tony Football, Pompus and Winkie, and suggests a reunion. He is ostensibly making up a team for five-a-side football but after the first match he tells them that he has retrieved the little green man - a jade statue which had totemic significance for them 20 years before - from an old trunk. He also produces an expert valuation of £750,000. The five are soon involved in an adult version of their boyhood do-or-dare game, with the statue as the prize. Barney believes his intellect is superior and that the others relate to him like ping-pong balls in a molecular model, "quivering and tense around one centre of gravity".

To begin with the dares are trivial (stealing £10-worth of sweets and phonecards; having a tattoo done). Armitage skilfully draws us into the situation with knowing winks and by keeping it within the bounds of credibility until he is sure we are inside his trap and he can spring the gate. As Barney struggles to keep control of the game, the men regress to their boyhood cruelties and prejudices, fuelled by greed: an animal is sacrificed; sexual secrets are dragged out into the open and used to humiliate; ultimately there is the threat of a murder.

Such a relentless, forensic analysis of the emotions underlying male behaviour would, on its own, be difficult to stomach, but Armitage deepens the narrative by exploring Barney's other relationships. Barney tells us about his near-psychopathic older brother, Troy, whose influence is one of the reasons he feels compelled to manipulate people, as a way of bolstering his self-esteem. We begin to see through the confident image Barney has tried to project when, between dares, he visits his ex-wife Kim and their autistic son Travis. Barney eventually takes faltering steps towards an understanding of himself, but the poignant irony of the episodes when he is with Travis - who fears the world, yet can appear blithely fearless of breaking its conventions - is the metaphorical parallel between their predicaments.

It is only at the close of the book that Armitage's judgment goes a little askew. That tentatively progressing Barney should suddenly leap forward for the sake of a redemptive ending seems uncharacteristically clumsy. Yet overall this novel more than lives up to the promise of the poet's gifts and its triumph is that he makes an unappealing character intriguing, humane and accessible.

Frank Egerton.

[As an aside, I think I'm right in saying that after typing this article's last full stop I took a taxi to Philip Pullman's house for a wonderful Writers in Oxford whisky tasting event and talk led by the late Michael Jackson, the fascinating beer and whisky writer. A mammoth evening, whenever it was!]