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 28 November 2015

lyme regis, branscombe, dearest friends

Met up with friends in Lyme Regis yesterday and had an excellent lunch at the Volunteer - a wonderfully old-fashioned pub.

Stayed at another gem of a pub, the Masons Arms at Branscombe. Delicious, almost apricoty Summa That from the Branscombe Vale Brewery.

We'd arranged this meet up months ago and it came at the right time - giving a cheering and warm-hearted end to what has been a difficult unhappy week.

It was lovely to catch up with our dearest friends.

I know that part of the West Country hardly at all - we visited Lyme last in 1986 - and it was great to explore it a little.

Sunday 22 November 2015


Worked in Oxford yesterday at the Taylor.

When I was out getting in the bird feeders to fill them at 5.15 yesterday morning, it was beginning to snow but it soon passed. Hungry birds, though, this year. Not many berries on the trees - at least in west Oxfordshire.

I got off the bus at First Turn and did the Wolvercote, Godstow, Thames path, Binsey walk into town and had one of those amazingly powerful set-you-up-for-the-day Americanos that they serve at
Maison Blanc before going to work.

An extraordinary morning of gloom, bright sunshine and almost sepia Tim Buton horror landscapes.

Met someone in Maison Blanc who I have bumped into only once since days at the Red Lion, Steeple Aston around 1984. Lovely to see you again, James.

This has been a week - since Wednesday, at least. Since the policeman came to the door. I never saw this coming. He told me that my Mum had died. She had collapsed in the street and could not be revived. I imagine her getting up that morning and going about her day, then setting off for the shops. I am pleased that she didn't suffer and enjoyed good health till the last.

Our relationship hadn't been easy during the nineties and the early years of this century but over the last couple of years I think she was happier than she had been for many decades and we'd had some lovely chats about the old days and the happiest times we'd shared.

And however difficult the journey, you can't sever that special bond that you have with your mum. Well, I might have thought that it had been severed at some time in my life but now the end has come I know it hadn't been. I remember as a kid performing magic tricks in front of my parents - and the dogs (though I don't think they were concentrating quite as hard as they might). I had one of those packs of cards that you flick in a certain way and it is just normal, with all the suits and values, but flick it a different way and all the cards are the ace of spades. It's easy to look back at the difficulties but there were downs and ups, and I owe so much to Mum for the ups.

I think that although it didn't seem like it at the time, getting a lot of difficult subjects out into the open some time ago was a good thing. It left us with a lot of knowledge of one another and few illusions and in these last years there were times of ease and happiness that set the world to rights.

She was a woman one could never forget. She can not but live on in the memories of those that knew her.

I have tried to keep working as much as possible since she died to try and stop myself thinking about what has happened - though the feelings come at you in waves anyway.

When I got to Binsey and Bossoms boat yard this morning, the wind was making the cords tap against the masts of the dinghies. I recorded the sounds - somewhat blowy but here they are, for better or for worse.

Sunday 15 November 2015

philadelphus in flower!, conspiracism, arvon courses

Having written about the inexorable creep of winter yesterday, today I noticed that the philadelphus is in flower in our garden. Six months early...

Read a rather fascinating book review in the Sunday Times earlier about conspiracism. The book is called Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Bloomsbury Sigma) and is written by academic psychologist Rob Brotherton.

The concluding sentences of the review give a flavour of the whole:

'He does admit that conspiracism is more common among people less satisfied with life, or those who feel they have less control over it. And he does regret that “you can’t win when you’re fighting a conspiracy that doesn’t exist”.

'As for fighting conspiracism in ourselves, we can try to compensate for our brain’s reflexes with evidence and reason, but we are unlikely to win. If three people were on a desert island, Brotherton says, it wouldn’t be long before each was “wondering if the other two were up to something behind their back”.' Review by James McConnachie.

Just been thumbing through the Arvon creative writing courses book for 2016. I went on an Arvon course in 2002 at Totleigh Barton in Devon with David Flusfeder and Louisa Young as tutors and Patrick Gale as guest author. It was a magical, enriching experience. You can find out about the courses on the Arvon website too.
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Saturday 14 November 2015

winter, not-quite and on tip-toe, vibrancy, meeting the new students

How stealthily relentless the winter is. The rains haven't been especially heavy and winds have rarely been fierce, despite recent warnings - at least not in west Oxfordshire.

Yet leaves cannot but fall, many trees are all but bare, garden and allotment die back and the ground is not far off being saturated. A long not-quite winter that gets closer on tip-toe.

The absence of heat from a strong sun and the shortening days mean the land can't resist the progress of the season.

Week by week the difference just a few days make is astonishingly, and unnervingly clear as I cycle through the countryside.

Still, there is vibrancy and beauty amongst the drabness.

Meantime, it was great to meet the new students on Thursday night.
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Tuesday 10 November 2015

ash and sycamore, chats, felting repairs, celebration of the life of john bayley, 8th seminar series, bodleian's 12 millionth book, songs of data

It was great to see Frank again on Sunday when he delivered the first load of logs of the season. We have a good system - he unloads a barrowful as I trundle another up the long garden path to the old privy that serves as the woodshed. As we swap full and empty barrows we chat. Four or five deliveries a season, this the fifteenth season. A lot of logs, a lot of chat.

This time the logs were mostly ash and sycamore. The former logs being denser and longer-burning. Amazing the difference in texture and weight.

Some harvesting on the allotment - and some repairs to the felting on the shed roof, after the Saturday gales - but no digging. The rains of last week have saturated the Oxford clay and made it horribly sticky and unworkable. Fortunately, there are only one or two tiny pieces that still need attention and most is ready for the winter,

Yesterday I went to the celebration of the life of John Bayley at St Catherine's College. It was a very genial, warm and nicely humorous event with reminiscences from nine friends from different walks of John's life, including the chef Rick Stein who was a student at New College and was taught by John. Richard Eyre, who made the film of John and Iris, spoke in a pre-recorded video. John Fuller read his witty poem of glimpses of John's life, Haiku for John Bayley (actually a series of stanzas in free Haiku form). Katherine Duncan-Jones gave a lovely account of being interviewed by John for admission to Oxford. The event concluded with an extract taken from John in conversation with Anthony Clare on In the Psychiatrist's Chair.

It was wonderful to be there with people that knew and loved John. As I said in my post, written shortly after he died, 'Thank you, John. Thank you so very much.'

On Thursday, I begin my long fiction seminar series for the Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing. The eighth time I have done this. The time has passed so swiftly. Very much looking forward to meeting this year's students.

Exciting to discover the title of the Bodleian's 12 millionth book!

Signed up for, Songs of data: an introduction to sonification by Iain Emsley at the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Weston Library, Friday 20th November.