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.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

fog, kelmscott

Thick fog never lifted. Cold and damp too.

Walked near Kelmscott.

Tuesday 27 December 2016

newbridge to shifford lock, maybush, war and peace, downton substitute

Walked the Thames from Newbridge to Shifford Lock. A beautiful stroll through mostly broad, broad water meadows and a shortish stretch of riverside copse. Although we've done Shifford Lock from Tadpole Bridge before, this was the first time doing this walk. It was wonderful.

A fine pint at the Maybush afterwards.

Back at home, we had a late lunch, watching the BBC's War and Peace. DVD boxed set, as we don't have a TV and therefore missed this at the start of the year. Usually, of course, we would be watching the Downton boxed set - but this is an excellent substitute!

boxing day walk, empathy, marriage foundation article in the times, conted, rosa stromeyer

A lovely Boxing Day walk along the Thames from Tadpole Bridge to Old Man's Bridge (shown above). Gorgeous sunshine.

Loved yesterday - including, before our lunch, a Radio 4 programme about empathy, which preceded the Queen's speech. Jane Davis, founder of the Reader (an organisation that works 'to connect people with great literature through shared reading'), said, 'How do you manage your feelings in relation to someone you both love and hate?...Books are brilliant for that kind of complexity.' Which made me think - then and today - of how I felt as a child. I remembered this programme when reading an article in today's Times about the 1.04 million children that find themselves in unhappy homes at Christmas. This shockingly high figure was revealed by a survey commissioned by the Marriage Foundation and the article very much struck a chord. I hope I can still feel compassion for both my parents when I remember the terrible rows that blighted my childhood and how unhappy they both were - while also being very aware of the awful damage caused by these rows, then and for decades to come.

Meantime, I much enjoyed recommending open educational resources (OERs) in Creative Writing for the Christmas webpage published by Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education. It's great to read those suggested by tutors in other subjects too.

I also loved the ContEd blog post about Rosa Stromeyer, who taught at an earlier incarnation of Rewley House in the late nineteenth century. A story that made me immensely proud to work in Oxford's continuing education department.

Sunday 25 December 2016

happy christmas!

Happy Christmas from jtns! Hope you've had a terrific day!

Friday 23 December 2016

violet in flower, a boy is born: palestrina's missa hodie christus natus est; taverner's the lamb; warlock's benedicamus domino

J alerted me to this violet in flower in the village. Lovely to see.

Really enjoyed Bampton Classical Opera's A Boy is Born: Christmas music from the Renaissance & 20th century at St Mary's on the shortest day (also, as the programme says, St Beornwald's Day!). A series of delightful short pieces structured round Palestrina's Missa Hodie Christus natus est, including Taverner's The Lamb and Warlock's vivid and adventurous Benedicamus Domino.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

christmas holidays, bare park, sunrise on the shortest day, parties, thrush singing between dean court and cumnor hill

My last day at work in 2016 was yesterday and the view from Raleigh Park was of bare trees and Oxford city centre almost obscured by mist.

This morning, on the shortest day, the sunrise over Bampton was bright pink and turquoise - the photo above gives a flavour but hardly does justice to the beauty of the sky as seen.

Last night there was a party at the library to celebrate the completion of the Relocation - a thank-you to all involved for all the hard work - and to continue the tradition of TABS parties in the new setting. It was wonderful. The last of a number of outstanding December parties in fact. The first MSt tutors Christmas get-together was last week and was brilliant!

For several days, not long after I have got off the bus and started my walk, I've come across a thrush singing in conifers above the little passageway between Dean Court and Cumnor Hill. Sometimes competing against traffic, sometimes against an aeroplane, the bird's song has been so clear and bright and cheering. I've posted a recording from Monday on SoundCloud:


Sunday 18 December 2016

willow walk, intricate fungus, quiet oxford, decorating our christmas tree, bill evans tracked down, hidden histories, cumberland vampire

I worked in Oxford at the library yesterday.

Caught the usual 6.30 bus and did the Cumnor Hill/Raleigh Park walk, which, as I noted the other week, has become my usual route into town since the end of the 18 service back in July. Gosh, time flies!

Saw this intricate, labyrinthine fungus on a tree beside the Willow Walk near North Hinksey. No idea what it is - perhaps identifying it will be something I shall do over the Christmas holiday, unless anyone reading this can identify it straight off.

Oxford is very quiet now that the colleges are winding down for the holidays and there are relatively few readers in the libraries,

When I came home we decorated our Christmas tree. A magical time.

On the bus into work midweek, I loved listening to the podcast of the the Bill Evans Composer of the Week series. You may remember that I was puzzled that it wasn't available on the iPlayer Radio. What I hadn't realised was that the programme was a repeat and so the download comes in the 2013 listings. Evans' story is as fascinating and as tragic as his music is sublime. An extraordinary man.

Over breakfast, I read Andrew Holgate's Sunday Times review of Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape by Mary-Ann Ochota, which is, as Holgate says, a 'spotter’s guide to Britain’s historical landscape — what to see and how to decipher it'. Covering hillforts, tumuli and 'a satisfying variety of different subjects, from pathways, bridges and old houses, to hedges, churches, graveyards and field patterns left behind by medieval ploughmen.' Holgate is particularly intrigued by 'corpse roads' (also known as 'coffin roads') which lead from remote areas to churchyards. There is a remnant of one of these in Bampton. The lane ran between the village and nearby Aston, which for a long time didn't have its own church. Reading the review made me want to reach for my copy of  The Making of the English Landscape by WG Hoskins but also to buy what sounds a very readable contemporary exploration of our amazing countryside.

Very much enjoying Katharine Briggs' British Folk-Tales and Legends. For example, the shortened version of Croglin Grange, an unusual British vampire tale set in the wilds of Cumberland. See also, the Wikipedia article on Croglin Grange and its page on vampires.com.

Sunday 11 December 2016

cotswold rambles, clanfield kingfishers, mystery meals, cantos cautivos

Took some days off this week. Lovely long rambles in the Cotswolds near Burford and around the Great and Little Barringtons.

Today we walked to Clanfield and had a pint at the Tavern. On the way back, wandering along a track with deep ditches full of water either side, we saw a kingfisher‎ streaking down a length of ditch in two different places. I can't be sure but I don't think they were the same bird.  Every now and then each one would land on a branch and pause before zooming off again. On one occasion one of the kingfishers dived into the water as if to catch something. J has seen this happen along the track before and we both wonder what the birds find to eat in the ditches. They were dry until the recent rains and aren't, so far as we know, fed by streams.

As the photo of the wood off the track shows this was a colourful walk. Later, when the sun was setting the moon was out early - cool mint blue - and the western horizon was marbled pink and turquoise.

Bookmarked a site devoted to songs written by political prisoners in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, called Cantos Cautivos. It has recordings of the songs - some made clandestinely in the detention centres - the words to the songs and the prisoners' stories. Fascinating, courageous and poignant.‎ The text of the site is available in both Spanish and English and is well worth exploring.

Saturday 3 December 2016

walking sane, osney, 'houseboats', time passing, trust feedback, facing the strange by sb sweeney, end of term, news from nowhere

Walking to work from the outskirts of Botley each day keeps me sane.

I love the climb up Cumnor Hill to Raleigh Park, the descent to the ring road and the underpass and the gentler incline to Osney and the Thames. After Osney, there are three routes to choose from, depending on how much time I've got. My favourite is following the river to Bossoms boatyard, crossing Port Meadow then entering the city centre by way of the canal and Jericho. (Always tricky, seeing the 'houseboats' by Jericho. Lives I can't imagine - lives with their own order and ways of life.)

I remember walking the Thames from Osney to Port Meadow before I moved into the flat on the Island, imagining Sunday strolls to the Perch at Binsey and returning to Sunday lunches at h‎ome. We loved Osney and the Thames paths.

How much time has passed since then, though! Hard to imagine.

Very grateful to two friends for some uplifting and constructive feedback about Trust this week.

Also, extremely pleased when I bumped into a colleague the other evening and she heaped fantastic praise on SB Sweeney's Facing the Strange. It is a remarkable novel indeed! If your youth was mis-spent on fantasies of making it big in the music biz, ‎FtS might just be the perfect Christmas gift for you. It captures brilliantly an early 1990s world that is so different from our own now, for better or for worse.

The best ever Latin American Centre Christmas party towards the end of the week in the St Hugh's Fellows breakfast room, and a pint with Taylor colleagues after work to mark the end of Michaelmas Term last night. The festivities have started!

And another thing, which I'm sure you'll find hard to believe. At lunchtime, I realised that I needed a book in order to accomplish certain tasks. My first thought was, of course, Amazon. But then it occurred to me that the Witney bookshop, Waterstones, might have the title. It was a long shot and I doubted they would but I nevertheless picked up the landline handset on my desk, which I hardly ever use, and dialled their number - local, without the area code - and, after a bit of searching, yes, they had the book! They put it on reserve and, as we were heading into Witney for a late lunch, I collected it at 3.30 pm - having received a Society of Authors member discount (hurrah!) - from a real-life bookshop that was... humming! Gosh, how wonderful to see! I felt like William Morris in News From Nowhere, falling asleep and waking in this strange, medieval-seeming land!

Sunday 27 November 2016

walks and cycle rides, end of term, how to write like tolstoy, composer of the week, bill evans, sounds and sweet airs, british folk-tales, nell whittaker

Some lovely walks and cycle rides, despite it being so overcast much of the time.

Last Saturday morning was frosty, so I decided to go for a walk. The time I came off the bike a few years back, when it was icy, flashed into my mind, as it always does when I'm faced with such decisions. The photos above were taken during the walk - though please note that the spire of Bampton church is still in reality as straight as it appear in Downton Abbey. Not sure why it has such a lean on it in these pics.

It's almost the end of Oxford full term, which is, as always, hard to believe at this time of year. We were at the beginning of August and suddenly it's nearly Christmas.

About to order How to Write Like Tolstoy: A journey into the minds of our greatest writers by Richard Cohen. According to Claire Lowdon's review in the Sunday Times, it makes widespread mention of EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel, James Wood's How Fiction Works and David Lodge's The Art of Fiction - books I recommend to my students - so perhaps this will be another creative writing must. Claire Lowdon describes the book as 'a glorious patchwork of quotation and anecdote'. Continuing, 'It is a true commonplace book, the homage of a passionate reader to the writers who have provided his "main pastime" and "shaped [his] moral world".' I'm sure many book lovers will agree with the ideas of reading being their main pastime and of books shaping their moral world. The work also sounds like a great source of writing facts - Tolstoy's wife Sophia copying out seven drafts of War and Peace by hand, for example.

Love, as always, Radio 3's Composer of the Week programme - especially, this year, the series on Meredith Monk and Vaughan Williams (VW being an all-time favourite composer and also someone who lived at Leith Hill, which was at one time owned by one of my ancestors). Though what was a particular revelation and delight was the week before last's series on Bill Evans. Sublime music. Gorgeous jazz! I'd never hear of him before but what a fascinating life story alongside his works - tragic but utterly human. And this juxtaposition of life story and music is Composer of the Week's great duet! Yet where is the Bill Evans podcast, Radio 3!

Talking of music, I thoroughly enjoyed attending Anna Beer's talk at the Kellogg College Creative Writing Centre event on Thursday - not to mention the Kellogg Thanksgiving guest night dinner afterwards. I will be getting a copy of her latest book, Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music.

Yesterday, I bought a copy of British Folk-Tales and Legends: A sampler by Katharine Briggs. An idea for a project there. Also bought Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, which I've never read, and which will be part of my Christmas reading.

So excited to learn yesterday that J's goddaughter, Nell Whittaker, has won the Telegraph's 2016 Cassandra Jardine Memorial Prize!

Saturday 12 November 2016

walks to work, fungi, trust: a family story

A week of long walks to work, as usual, and of excellent bracket fungi beside the Thames footpath near Port Meadow and Bossoms boatyard.

Very appreciative of feedback on Trust: A family story.

Saturday 5 November 2016

chilly, wild angelica, facing the strange, pre-publication discount, download flier and press release

Bitterly cold wind today. Chilly cycle ride.

But then there have been few frosts and so there are still plenty of wild flowers out - as well as garden ones.

Loved this wild angelica plant, which I saw beside the Great Brook near Chimney.

Thrilled that the first copies of Facing the Strange by SB Sweeney have been sold from the StreetBooks website at the pre-publication discount price of £8.99 (UK purchasers).

Download the flier and the Press Release.

It's a brilliant novel, which I'll be writing about more soon!

Saturday 29 October 2016

with great pleasure, raleigh park, sophia blackwell, kellogg college centre for creative writing, soa/wio annual party, balliol

One of the great pleasures of my new-ish walk to work, since the axing of the Number 18 bus service, is Raleigh Park and the wonderful view of the city as you enter from the Lime Road footpath. (See posts of 20th and 23rd July 2016.)

The park is a twenty-seven acre local wildlife site that is described on the Friends of Raleigh Park website, as follows:

"Raleigh Park is located in the village of North Hinksey near Oxford and contains lightly managed fields with three ponds linked by a stream, very unusual alkaline bog areas, trees, grasses, marestail, stately marsh thistle and wild flowers. Ridges from medieval strip farming are visible parallel to Westminster Way. Buzzards, red kytes(sic), roe deer, muntjac deer and foxes are frequent visitors while badgers, moles, song birds, rabbits and other rodents are resident."

Isn't it brilliant that there are places like Raleigh Park!

On Thursday, I attended the first of the two Michaelmas talks at the Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing. The speaker was the performance poet, poet and novelist, Sophia Blackwell, and her title was, Showing the Brushstrokes: Unorthodox Routes to a Literary Career. The title was inspired by an article written by Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner, Hiding the Brushstrokes, which Sophia recommended her audience read.

Sophia's career doesn't seem quite as unorthodox as her chosen title suggests - an Oxford English Lit and Lang graduate, performance poet and high-end publisher. Nevertheless, her talk was very inspiring - celebrating stories ("one of the most powerful forms of communication") and the virtue of hard work (99% of what's needed to succeed as a writer). Sophia's choice of quotes was as vivid as her delivery - her supremely confident performance was, she said, down to her musician father.

For example, this quote from Michael Cunningham's The Hours (spoken by Cunningham's Virginia Woolf):

"One always has a better book in one's mind than one can manage to get onto paper."

She also quoted from Porter Anderson, editor of the US magazine, Publishing Perspectives, on the shortcomings of the publishing industry:

"Imagine the auto industry dependant on freelance designers for its new models, and you get an idea of how precarious [publishing] is."

Not that Sophia entirely agreed with this analysis, believing that many people in publishing management are passionate about writing and end up earning very little (not just the authors who get very little return, then!).

For Sophia, working in publishing with big-name novelists gave her encouraging insights: "knowing they were human and flawed was a big revelation... very liberating."

And ultimately, Sophia's message was about demystifying creativity, emphasising hard graft and advocating the importance of writing every day. She ended the talk by referring her audience to Jo Bell's "52" project: "Write a poem a week. Start now. Keep going."

After the talk, I headed south to Balliol College for the annual Society of Authors and Writers in Oxford party. It was terrific to catch up with old friends!

What an evening!

Sunday 23 October 2016

autumn colours, last of the runner beans, sophia blackwell at kellogg college centre for creative writing, facing the strange pre-publication discount

The autumn colours are coming into their own, although the relatively warm October means that many plants are still in flower.

The grass is certainly growing well on the allotment.

Today we had the last of the runner beans with Sunday lunch but there are plenty of courgettes left. Only a tiny handful of cherry tomatoes to go, though. Almost at the end of the summer veg.

On the plot there are leeks, spinach, turnips, beetroot and carrots.

Looking forward to attending a talk by Sophia Blackwell at the Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing on Thursday. After which I'll be heading to the Society of Authors and Writers in Oxford party.

Meantime, Facing the Strange, SB Sweeney's superb debut novel, is now available from the StreetBooks website at a pre-publication discount - officially published on Thursday 9th February 2017.

'One great long drunken rambling guitar solo of a novel.' Tim Pears.

Saturday 15 October 2016

mist, oxford abuzz, finals marking, mellow fruitfulness, log fires

A beautiful walk to work on a misty October morning earlier in the week.

Oxford is suddenly abuzz with the new term and we are back in the frenzy of a fresh academic year. A wonderful energising experience!

Finals marking coming to an end this weekend. It has been fascinating and rewarding.

Took down the runner bean wigwams this morning and grubbed up the courgette plants. Sad to be doing this in one sense but I enjoyed digging this last patch then strimming the paths. The plot is getting tidy and ready for winter. And there are still beetroots, carrots, turnips, spinach and leeks to harvest - not to mention all the spuds in the old piggery at home. Also, the courgettes that were picked up to today will last us for a couple of weeks.

Haven't turned on the central heating yet, but we're into the second week of log fires. Log delivery tomorrow. AUTUMN!

Saturday 8 October 2016

leaves, memories, digging, finals marking, inductions week, relocation

Drifts of dry colourful leaves in the Bampton streets triggering memories of long ago, especially kicking though horse chestnut leaves at Stowe in autumn 1976. Vibrant, fresh far-off days!

Digging on the allotment early. Still some runner beans and courgettes to be harvested. The grass has not stopped growing!

Marking finals papers this weekend.

Pleased the library inductions week went well. Also, some lovely, and much appreciated, feedback about the Relocation.

Saturday 1 October 2016

happy memories, antique brass sunlight, tabs relocated, new roles, uncorrected proof edition of trust: a family story, slow process, getting feedback, getting messages across, tricky weather...

Very happy memories of walking in Somerset near Batcombe.

It was great to be away for a few days and the weather was wonderful. Antique brass sunlight during the last afternoon walk. Autumn's reaching us at last, albeit fitfully.

TABS is finally relocated, two days before the deadline. Such a relief, having lived with the project for eighteen months. An amazing team effort.

Enjoyed beginning of term drinks at Kellogg on Wednesday. Lovely to meet new colleagues.

Starting restructured posts at the libraries, as from today.

Some months after the Uncorrected Proof edition of Trust: A family story was typeset, copies have been printed. I'm looking forward to getting feedback from family, writing colleagues and close friends. It is so necessary to take the process of completing the book slowly. I want to be fair, while also getting messages that might help others in similar situations across.

Grounded as far as the allotment is concerned. I was just about to set off when down came the rain - a full two hours ahead of the forecast time. The weather seems to have caught the met professionals out quite a bit recently...

Saturday 17 September 2016

beautiful bindweed..., estima, how novels work, writers [on writing], trying to relax!

Another photo of a garden convolvulus flower, aka bindweed. Every time the flowers appear - apparently on the same stem - they are different. Sometimes brash, sometimes, like today, delicate.

Dug Estima spuds this morning - not a good harvest. Way less than the Desiree. Wonder what the Kestrel will be like. Probably lifting them tomorrow.

Two books on fiction arrived from Amazon yesterday - How Novels Work by John Mullan and Writers [on Writing]: Collected essays from The New York Times. The first has been out for a long while and though I have dipped into it in libraries, I've never read the whole thing. The other book I came across in the New York Public Library shop in May.

Trying to catch up after the TABS Relocation project stage two. Trying to relax a bit before the beginning of Oxford's term, which is approaching rapidly!

Saturday 10 September 2016

pearly linseed, lie in, tabs relocation, amazing effort, archers trial

Cycling not allotmenting this morning because of the rain.

Passed a field of brown pearly linseed.

A lie in earlier - up at 6. A whole extra hour. A lot of book and furniture moving was done this week, as the TABS relocation neared a further significant deadline. The end of stage two.

The Taylor will be reopening after its extended closed period on Monday at 9 am, as planned.

Everyone has put in such an amazing amount of effort!

A day of catching up with things - and of some relaxation.

Have to say that I am gripped by the Helen Archer trial and the prospect of the hour-long celebrity verdict episode. It's very charged emotional drama. At times extremely powerful.

Saturday 3 September 2016

runners, spuds, pear, autumnal, an experience, facing the strange by sb sweeney, my woman by angel olsen

Enjoyed working on the allotment early this morning. Picking an unlikely amount of runner beans - the luck of the season and nothing to do with me! - harvesting the Desiree spuds (no sign of blight) and planting a pear tree.

Glad to get everything done. This afternoon it's been rain, rain. And today the light has been so autumnal! Such a change.

Another busy TABS Relocation week. The end is in sight. Quite an experience, this.

Pleased to have decided on the publication timetable and pricing for Facing the Strange. Truly, a novel of substance!

Meantime, loving Angel Olsen's latest, My Woman!

Sunday 28 August 2016

wittenham clumps, sherborne, great barrington, upton smokery, millets, the maybush, time off, blight...

Brilliant walk around Wittenham Clumps earlier in the week. And terrific walks near Sherborne and Great Barrington before that.

It will amaze Hannah R that it has taken this long for me to do the Wittenham walks! They were amazing!

Delicious after-walk lunches bought from the Upton Smokery and Millets Farm shop. Also a great pint sitting out on the terrace overlooking the Thames at the Maybush, Newbridge.

So good to have some time off from the Relocation, which was carried on during the week by Management Team colleagues J, J and S!

Tomatoes have succumbed to blight but the fruits have been picked and put into a drawer to ripen. Potato haulms have been cut back to avoid blight.

Saturday 20 August 2016

rain, move, facing the strange by sb sweeney, olympians, shark alley by stephen carver

Got a bit soaked this morning when I set off on my cycle ride - although the rain soon stopped.

Lots of lovely rain yesterday too!

Just as well because the allotment was utterly parched when I was up there on Thursday evening. I've been trying to water whenever I can but it's not the same as rain.

A pity that today's rain never came to much in the end.

Allotmenting apart, it's been a busy week as the Slavonic library move enters its last phase.

In the evenings I've been doing some work on the forthcoming publication of SB Sweeney's terrific novel Facing the Strange ('One great long drunken rambling guitar solo of a novel!' Tim Pears) - see the updated StreetBooks website: www.streetbooks.co.uk.

Just amazed by Team GB's performance in the Olympics!

Reflected glory...: amazing Kellogg College alum Olympians: Paul Bennett winning a gold in the men's eight rowing and Tom Mitchell captaining the rugby sevens to a silver. Also, I remember coming across that Nick Skelton when I was working on the farm up in Shropshire back in 1978... He was a bit focused and a bit serious-minded and not all that keen on coming down the disco with us lot in Shrewsbury. Well, the dedication certainly paid off! :-) Amazing gold!

Meantime, check out this fascinating and exciting novel Shark Alley by Stephen Carver, which is published - with wonderful illustrations - both in print and as an online serial: http://jackvincentpapers.com. See also this article from the Eastern Daily Press.

Saturday 13 August 2016

spin-painting delights, summer school farewell dinner, peter kemp, catching up

Convolvulus, the weed, is, as I have said before, pernicious. On the allotment, the roots go on for ever and the tendrils strangle the vegetables. It seems impossible to eradicate.

But now we grow garden varieties of convolvulus, which are constant spin-painting delights.

Last night the summer school ended with the reception on the lawn of the Exeter College Fellows' Garden and the formal dinner in hall. Peter Kemp, chief fiction reviewer for the Sunday Times, was the guest speaker - and an excellent witty speech he gave too.

What fun the summer school was - from my point of view (hope my students enjoyed the seminars as much as I did) - and how quickly the days sped by!

Today is a time of taking stock and catching up.