Wednesday, 24 May 2017

woolly willow seeds

The female catkins on the willows beside the Thames were decidedly woolly this morning.

And this afternoon, at Visualisation training, the woolly seeds were blowing through the open windows.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

glorious walks, antidotes

Glorious walks to work along the Thames and its streams.

Antidotes to busy days.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

busy week, working-saturday, sambucus nigra

A busy and exhausting week.

Also, lots of rain. Though this has meant that the pond has filled up again. It had dropped considerably in the spring.

Working-Saturday - the weekend begins at 4 pm!

Love the budding Sambucas Nigra, or Common Elder.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

trip to yorkshire, lovely evening with family, mum and dad's grave, university of bradford welcome, carillon magic, poem

Midweek, I drove to Yorkshire to assess a Latin American collection at the University of Bradford library.

I stayed the night with relatives - what a lovely evening - and visited my parents' grave at Little Ouseburn. It was the first time I had returned to the grave since my mother's funeral eighteen months ago. Since then the stone cross had been reinstated. The carved emblem that Mum had wanted looked far more striking than in the photos the stonemason had sent me - good though those were.

I really enjoyed visiting the library at Bradford and was made so welcome by the special collections librarians.

When I got home, I was thrilled to find that a new carillon had been installed in our church. I had no idea this was happening. When we first moved to the village, we loved the old carillon - it was so magical to hear the tunes being played throughout the day. But the mechanism was old and it broke and it was too expensive to replace it. But now, as a result of a bequest, there is music again - a different tune for each day of the week, played at 9 am and 5 pm. Today's is Home Sweet Home. I'll try and get a recording soon.

Little Ouseburn Churchyard, 10th May 2017

Past the bench, the Meysey-Thompson plot
Is defined by a tall dense line of cypresses.
A green room for my ancestors,
Partitioned from the rest of the village.
A place perhaps where they wait to go on.
Dad certainly never quite got to that point.
A life forever about to happen.
I look for my parents' grave and walk
Straight past it.
I turn and there is the carving for Mum,
In the centre of this side of the cross.
It is finer than the photos suggested -
The ones the stonemason sent before
He replaced the monument six months
After her funeral.
After the earth had settled.
Instinctively, I check the level by eye.
For now it looks perfect - Dad would be pleased -
And come to think of it, so would Mum.
It is unlike the other crosses:
Leaning tipsily,
Suggestive of the fun times they would
Have had at the hall - designed by Lord Burlington,
Pulled down by the reclamation firm,
Nicknamed the Forty Thieves.
A business thriving on the stately homes
That could not go on,
Broken by war.
Great-grandfather's heart broken
When Claude, his only son, was
Killed in action.
I think Dad thought that was when it all
Went wrong. An imaginative man,
My father.
Nettles are sprouting lustily on the
Grave side of the cross, near the head.
Without thinking, I find a cypress branch -
Fallen, dried but still strong.
Not yet brittle.
I beat the nettles away.
Some break cleanly,
Others are stubborn.
I hack and at last they flap into the air.
I wanted to tidy the grave,
To make it look loved.
I went out of my way to spare
A red dead nettle,
The only posey.
Though when I look harder,
There are speedwell flowers
Peeping through the grasses in the dip
Of the grave.
Even a stem of ground ivy.
Mum and Dad face the old
Mausoleum, not used since the Victorians.
The sun lights the different shades of
Buttermilk stone. The Doric columns,
The triglyphs, the dome of lead.
It was Dad who taught me about
The classical architectural orders;
Learned at Stowe, where I would follow.
I look at the haloed crosses,
Some rough cut like granite.
Mum and Dad's, smooth pale stone to look at,
Fine sandpaper to touch.
His side, a skull and crossbones -
Or Glory, 17/21 Lancers - 1930-2012.
Hers a wren above a crown and anchor -
WRNS - 1925-2015.
In the sycamore beside the building,
Not a wren but a fruity-voiced blackbird.
The tree and the holly beside it are in
Abundant flower.
To the west, clouds thicken.
There is the faint sound of traffic in the village.
I lay my hand on the cross.
'You stupid lot. You stupid lot.
I hope you're at peace.'
As I pass the bench, I notice a pair of glasses
Laid on it.
For a moment I think they must be
My Dad's.
They are owlish. They suggest his face.
But they cannot be his.
I walk on.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

paul's scarlet, castle mill stream, brrrr!, log fire

Walked along Castle Mill Stream at the southern end of Port Meadow this morning on my way to work.

The Paul's Scarlet mays are out. This one is always especially vivid.

An exceptionally cold May day, though. Never warmed up - till, that is, I got home and lit a log fire.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

punting, time flown, duke of yorks up

Went punting yesterday for the first time in twenty-or-so years. It was fantastic! Even though there was a chilly breeze. Found a sheltered spot beside the water meadows just up river from Wolfson College. Delicious lunch at the Cherwell Boathouse afterwards.

Yesterday was, bye the bye, the anniversary of the day we moved to Bampton. The time has flown. Such a wonderful place to live.

On the allotment this morning, the first spuds were up - the row of Duke of Yorks.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

dexters in raleigh park, complete with crow

The cattle have been turned out in Raleigh Park.

Not quite sure what breed they are but I think they're black Dexters.

There were a number of them lolling about as I walked down the hill. There was a crow pecking at one of the bullock's backs and as I approached he started flitting to another, then another, before flying off. Had to blow this photo up hugely to give an impression of the bird.

Meanwhile the construction of the new Westgate Centre continues in the city centre in the far distance.

Monday, 1 May 2017

may day, campion, may blossom, no revellers, no cuckoo, but excellent curlews

Into work first thing - though I had enough time in hand for a walk along the Thames to Port Meadow from Osney.

No sign of the 27,000 revellers, who turned out for May Morning in the High Street to hear the choristers on Magdalen Tower.

Got home about 1.30 pm and went for a lovely stroll with J and T. We took the route that brings you out at the southern end of Marsh Lane, where J heard the first cuckoo on 20th April. I lived in hope but there was no sign... Excellent trills from the curlews, though.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

raleigh park, reading, rd laing, aaron esterson

Spring in Raleigh Park, which I walk through each morning - unless I have an early meeting.

It's been nine months since the 18 bus was axed and I've been doing this walk - see post of Saturday 29th October 2016 and the earlier ones it links to, of 20th and 23rd July 2016. As I come through the gate from the road and see this view, my heart gladdens.

The other morning, I was listening to the World Service, just after getting up at 4.30, and it was a programme about the revolutionary psychiatrist RD Laing - part of the brilliant Witness series (also available as podcasts). I'd never read Laing that I could remember but when they were talking about his book Sanity, Madness and the Family things sounded so familiar I thought I must have read this one. Only later did it dawn on me that the book I'd read was The Leaves of Spring by Aaaron Esterson, the earlier book's co-author. The Leaves of Spring is a much more detailed account of one of the family case studies featured in Sanity, Madness and the Family - that of Sarah Danzig, a schizophrenic patient in her early twenties.

I downloaded an ebook of Sanity, Madness and the Family to my phone and have been reading it on the bus to and from work. It's not been an easy experience, although it has helped me to make deeper sense of quite a lot of things that happened in the early nineties. When I was trying to break free of the distressing situation at home and to understand it, I came across Esterson's book on the shelves outside the second-hand bookshop that used to be in the old Cantay warehouse on Park End street. I remember devouring it. It promised to make so much sense to me then - and yet when I tried to apply what I had learnt to my own experiences I met with masses of barriers. I could see all the gaslighting, the bullying, the switches between cruelty and over-compensating love. But this only got me so far because there were no secrets in the family, as far as I could tell, to help explain its behaviours.

What happened in 1996 and since revealed all the things that were being concealed and now, from my current perspective, reading about Sarah and the other people featured in the case studies helps to explain a lot. I am struck now, for instance, by Sarah's mother shouting at her for thinking too much and for constantly reading the Bible. ('No matter how her mother shouted at her she would not stop "thinking"...') I remember being shouted at for reading 'bloody books'* - not the Bible but certainly ones that were fulfilling the same function for me as the Bible did for Sarah. As Laing and Esterson say of her reading of the Bible: 'The fact that she read the Bible in an effort to throw light on her present experience was completely incomprehensible to this family.'

I'm still reading in order to understand. I am fascinated, comforted and horrified by this week's reading. But above all I am thankful that such books were written and that reading is such a valuable forum for learning, debate and personal growth.

* I think I'm right in saying that John Cowper Powys also referred at some point to parents getting angry when a child loved reading. I think it must partly be about the child doing something that the parent simply can't relate to. Partly to do with the child doing something on their own that doesn't include the parent. And in some cases, partly to do with the fact that reading circumvents all the attempts to stop the child coming into contact with different ideas (and people) outside the family - ones that are contrary to the orthodoxy of the family; a means of escape and of perspective.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

first week, spin, sea salt, chill north-east wind

Oxford First Week - the spin of term has started!

Meanwhile, sea salt awaited balsamic vinegar and asparagus last night.

Not that early summer food is all that appropriate - an astonishingly chill wind is blowing from the north-east, all of a sudden. Heating's on, log fire's burning in the grate.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

late lunch, hollybush witney, ash leaves against sunlight

Excellent late lunch at the Hollybush in Witney after working in Oxford yesterday.

Took this photo of young ash leaves against sunlight in Standlake from the bus on the way home.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

oxford, footpath revisited, gail's bakery, americano, clematis and graffiti

Working in Oxford today.

Walked a footpath - from the Fishes in North Hinksey to Osney trading estate - that I hadn't been down for what, seventeen years.

You don't actually reach the trading estate but veer off before the sub-station along the stream that flows under the bridge that I wrote a poem about the other week.

The walk is leafy and secret and I loved the shadows of the nettles on the bridge just below the pub.

Later, nearing Gail's Bakery in Little Clarendon Street and an Americano, the clematis and other climbing plants were out along the stretch of the Oxford canal opposite where the old Lucy's iron works once stood. There are flats on that site now. I don't know who did the planting but the effect of flowers and graffiti is striking. Though I imagine the aim is that the plants will eventually cover the images.

A mad week at work, catching up after the Easter break. Roll on 4 pm!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

jack-by-the-hedge, unexpected droplets of rain

Sculpted Jack-by-the-hedge, near Osney, on my walk to work this morning. A few completely unexpected droplets of rain had freshened everything up for a minute or two before disappearing.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

points of view


You reverse your tiny
Pale blue car
Into what seems a
Tinier space

In a trice.

My gaze forced by
The speed and grace
Of the movement
Away from the black and white globe
Bobbing - in oil? -
Sealed in its own
Fixed firmly to the windscreen
With the tip of an arrow.

The compartment heaves and settles
As your huge shoulders swivel back round.
A gentle smile as you switch off the ignition
With panache.


Your wife leaves a message on
Our answerphone,
Which I pick up
From a payphone in Galloway.

My mother also phones,
Telling me you have gone
'Most peculiar',
That I should have nothing more
To do with you.
I refuse her request because
In the summer
The truth
Had begun
To come out.

I will hold firm,
Over the coming years,
To you,
Refusing to be turned against you.
At expense to myself.

The globe turns

That Summer

The lawyer's office.
I am there because of a will.
Not that I have much.

I had wanted to make my wishes
Clear about who my things should
Go to
If I should die -
My wife.

Since we got married,
Mum has been increasingly

I no longer trusted her
To do the right thing,
And wanted to get it down
In black and white.

A routine question
About the trusts
Has revealed they
Have been

You are not here
But in Greece -
On holiday, I think.
You, the other trustee.

The lawyer inadvertently presses a button,
Is he recording something?
Perhaps not...

At lunchtime, I am sitting on the edge
Of that strange dais that used to be outside the
New Bodleian.
I am eating a sandwich,
Having walked in the Parks,
My mind boiling,
Barely able to understand
What I have learnt.
I can't have got it right, surely?

That nice lawyer
I have known for years,
Mum and Dad...

Your right-hand man and his young family
Happen to pass.
A long way from home.
I recognise him from one of your parties.
He is visiting a museum,
Or some such.
When I tell him I am homeless,
He is bafflingly sympathetic.
I explain that it is library closed-week.
He laughs but seems even more
Baffled than

That Autumn

You fly to Australia
For a conference.
Behind my back,
You attempt to market a family
Using your contacts and approaching,
Amongst others,
A wealthy family of
Chicken farmers.
You couldn't make it up.

You are run ragged
By my urgent, phoning, parents -
Your wife thought that what you were doing was
Unethical, anyway,
She later tells me.
You all

When you tell me what happened,
I wonder.
I recall Mum, in September,
Sitting me down and telling me that
Christopher has tried to 'put someone in'
And that if 'the person' isn't careful,
They'll take out an injunction
She is talking to a child,
Her thickening voice,
Churchillian, grave.
I want to laugh.
I can't believe it, I say.
I honestly can't.
Her behaviour is more intense
Lately - but not untypical.
There's no use trying to make
Sense of it.
She will explain, when she's ready,
When there have been more rows with friends,
More never-speak-agains.
She never does explain,
It is years before I fully understand.
Maybe I still don't
But I think it has to do
With why everything in Australia was done
Behind my back.

The globe turns

Some weeks after the lawyer's office,
I tell my father that I want to speak about
The trusts.
'The tru-husts!' His voice rises octaves.
'Why do you keep going on about the trusts?'
I cannot remember when we last spoke
The trusts.

Behind my back.

That September, after Mum has
Sabotaged a planned reunion lunch
At the school both Dad and I
My father - again on the phone -
'I'm so sorry, Francis, so sorry.'
He sounds exhausted,
So weary.
He reassures me that everything will be put right;
It won't be long.

Behind my back.

When the Australian
Plan hits the fan -
And everyone's spitting feathers
(Couldn't make it up),
I realise what he meant.

Behind my back.

The globe turns


Only it doesn't.
This word-globe,
That was really a compass.
Sometimes it's stuck in its see-through ball
Like the liquid's treacle.
Other times, the compass
Spins like topsy.


By now I haven't seen my parents
For over a year.
I feel stronger.
I've composed an essay
In an attempt to write out my
Understanding of what's
Been going on.
I discovered that the auction
Prices for the artist of the painting
That is supposed to save our family's fortune
Has been flat-lining at about
A sixteenth of the value that Mum boasts about -
And taunts people with -
Since 1984.
Why didn't anyone else check that?

Once, it did rise meteorically
But then the two old billionaires who
Duelled over this kind of thing,
Driving the market, died
Or grew senile,
And the party was over.
Though not, sadly,
For my mum.

I go to a new lawyer,
Who, after I explain,
Swivels his index fingers
So they point at each other
And he makes a Mr Bean face.
Everyone blames the other
In this kind of situation.

You don't blame anyone, though,
Just don't really want to get involved.
You say Mum sees you as 'the enemy',
In psychological terms,
And you'd best not do anything.
Leave it all to the other trustee.

I had this idea that you would be like
A wise uncle and sort everything out.

I hoped you would want to
Help Mum.
You have the specialist knowledge.
You were always close to her.

I think of what has happened
Not legalistically,
Not threateningly,
But in terms of humanity;
A family story.

I understand that you have your own disappointments,
Your own family chaos
To contend with.

But even so, I feel betrayed.


Years later, after a modest resolution
And the revelation about a million-pound
Debt (thankfully not
My liability),
You tell me over lunch that when
Mum and Dad asked you to be a
They told you it was
Just a formality.

How much would those
Be worth now?
The same as the

A million quid,
Just a formality.
Easy come,
Easy go.

What a mess,
Says your wife.

I have asked you
To lunch
To try to put
The past
Behind us.

You were the inspiration
For my academic career.
Also, a victim
Of the same force of nature
As me.
Despite it all,
I feel I owe you.
You know quite clearly why
I have invited you.

Once I have paid the bill,
I ask you to find out an answer
To a simple question
That has been puzzling me,
And you agree.
We part on what seem good terms.

I never hear from you again.
Until I phone to tell you
Mum is dead.
I have not heard from you since.

I don't judge you
Harshly, now.
I know from what you said that
You regretted what happened.
I imagine you do not know
What to say.
It's being made to
Look so ridiculous.
I've come across it when talking
To others who dealt with
Mum and Dad.
A shame at being so stupid.
For some, it meant

I told the trustee in
That Mum and Dad had a gift
For making people
Act against
Their better judgement.

A folie à deux, you called it.

Mum was better after Dad
More sociable.
I don't think she believed
Her conspiracy theories any longer.
In a way,
She seemed to be having
A whale of a time!
In the Tesco car park
She told me she'd get it
All back.
We'd have an estate
And my wife's mum could
Live in a cottage there.
Mum would have the big house,
Of course.

The globe turns

Families, eh!

Blood is thicker
Than water.

There is still love in my heart,

Monday, 17 April 2017

la theme, dibber, earlier, logic of the season, wider range

An appropriately Latin American theme emerging on the day the spuds were planted and the potato dibber had its annual outing.

Much earlier than last year - hope this is wise. Although I am going with the logic of the season. A wider range this year: Maris Peer, Duke of York, Nicola, Desiree, Blue Danube and Shetland Black.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

bright ground ivy, a few spots of rain, the oak before the ash

The ground ivy is so bright and fresh! Visible too, although the grasses and other plants are already overtaking it.

Rain was forecast but there have only been a few spots.

And if the late ash and the leafy oak on either side of the old bridge over the Sharney cut, above, are anything to go by, we won't be seeing much rain this summer.

Friday, 14 April 2017

on the allotment

Bang! goes MOAB and the whole world
Ducks and covers.
Lots to talk about, Biblical to boot.
The 'Mother Of All Bombs'
In today's parlance.

I wonder if we were a way station:
Those planes circling overhead.
I imagine people on the
Other sides of the world's faces.
Other tillers of difficult soils.

Men and women driving in the fork,
Watching the earth crumble.
Seeing civilisations fall apart
In day-to-day work.
In the shadow of Donald's
'Duck and cover' Good Friday

Thursday, 13 April 2017

early walk, cracked earth, cowslips, old friend, poetry for peace, taylor #book #shelfie spring chick!

Really enjoyed walking T this morning early. Wonderful to be immersed in the green of the valley. Not that it will necessary stay green, if the dried out field shown above is anything to go by. No rain for quite a while and none on the horizon, according the the BBC ten-day forecast.

Loved seeing lots of cowslips! One of this time of year's great pleasures. Memories of meadows being thick with them when I was a boy and then there being hardly any trace of them for decades. There aren't masses now but so many more than in those bleak sprayed-up days.

Yesterday, we met Klaus and his family at the Plough at Kelmscott. He is a professor of English Studies at a German university and we were at Keble together some thirty years ago. So pleased he got in touch about his visit to Oxfordshire.

Saw on Facebook a post by my friend Jenny Lewis about a poetry project she joint-led last year, called Poetry for Peace. As it says on the Young Poets Network site: 'Generously supported by Arts Council England, Oxford University Museums and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the project involved poets Adnan al-Sayegh and Jenny Lewis working with over sixty 11-17 year olds from four Oxford schools on themes of heritage and peace.' And now one of the winning poems has been made into a film poem by the Poetry Society: The Cracked Jug by Shakira Morar.

Just been tipped off by Twitter that colleagues at the Library have just made a #book #shelfie spring chick!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

glorious kelmscott walk

Glorious walk near Kelmscott this morning!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

100th anniversary of the death of edward thomas, poet

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Edward Thomas, poet.

Above is his poem Tall Nettles, one of my favourites. I love its simplicity and the fact that Thomas picked out this abandoned part of the farmyard to write about. He reclaims the lost and makes one see beauty in this unexpected, otherwise overlooked place.

The poem is taken from my copy of his Collected Poems (Faber Library edition, fourth impression, 1945). I was thrilled to find this book in Blackwell's rare books department many years ago. Thrilled too by the price: £3.50!

An Edward Thomas site worth checking out is his collection in the Bodleian Libraries' First World War Poetry Digital Archive, which includes digital images of his War Diary.

This afternoon, I shall listen to Nick Dear's play The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, which was originally broadcast yesterday afternoon.

I shall also dip into Margaret Keeping's wonderful novel A Conscious Englishman and re-read favourite bits. Here is the Prologue.


February 1917

At dawn the thaw began. Snow slid from the holly hedge, at first in a sprinkling shower, then in heavy tumbling lumps. Clear ice blades that lined the ash twigs fell suddenly, chiming as they struck each other in the silence, then melting into the greying snow.

An hour later a thrush sensed the change and began to sing, but as there was no answering challenge he stopped and the silence returned for a time.

Half-frozen grasses and dead campion umbels showed a drab grey against the lighter snow. A man passed through them, below them, as he walked the trenches, and the scrape and rustle against his tin helmet taught him to keep his head down.

He was walking to the British line looking for possible observation points. Stark poles jutted out of the dingy snow, barbed wire strung between. Through his field glasses he watched intently, anticipating a sight of the enemy. He saw no one, only posts, wire, dead trees and ruined houses. Yet from the enemy lines, every few minutes, shells came, screaming through the air and over his head. As they passed, he felt a sickening sensation in his ears – not so much sound as pressure. The shelling is the enemy, for both our sides, he thought.

Every evening he wrote in his notebook: about trees, splintered, snapped and dead, about filling sand bags to shore up the trenches. About how he’d enjoyed the digging, as he always did in the garden at Steep, the scent of chalky earth as his spade cut through dead leaves and bracken reminding him of home.

He dared not think too much about home. He held on to the natural world, its continuation, its immunity to what was happening. Larks still soared and sang, though it became more and more difficult to hear them over the noise of shelling. They carry on their business in the midst of it all, as I do, he thought.

From his observation post he watched the Engineers swarming over No Man's Land, making a board road between the shell-holes to bring out the wounded, shell-holes full of blood-stained water and beer bottles among the barbed wire. But larks, partridges, hedge sparrows and magpies were busy with their young around his post.

How to describe the effect of the continuous shelling on air? The word 'flap' was the nearest he could get: The air was flapping all night as with great sails in strong gusty wind, he wrote. But appallingly the air also somehow sagged – a sag and flap of air. Was that it? He scribbled two lines that were in his mind:

Where any turn may lead to Heaven,
Or any corner may hide hell.

Every evening he wrote letters too.

'I should like to be a poet, just as I should like to live,' Edward wrote to Robert Frost. 'But I know as much about my chances in either case.'

Saturday, 8 April 2017

cilip talk, welcome time off, allotmenting, grand national, happy memories, poem: all changed

Very much enjoyed attending the CILIP South East and Thames Valley AGMs at the Jam Factory on Thursday and giving my talk, Micropublishing, teaching, digital research: different worlds, or all in a day's work for the (future) librarian? Especially enjoyed the wonderful discussion we had at the end. Thanks, Nora, for inviting me!

I have some time off now until just after Easter. So pleased to have got to this point! It's been such a busy winter.

Hoping to do lots of work on the allotment - and the weather is looking promising. Yay!

The photo btw is of allotment sheds by the Thames on the field where we had our original allotments when we lived in Oxford. Such happy memories of Twenty Pound Meadow.

Looking forward to the Grand National later - and the annual bet. What with this and the Boat Race last weekend... How much sporting excitement can I stand! The National's not been the same since those brilliant far off days in Belfast with D and M. Brisbane's just that little too far.

And now, another poem, also available as a reading on then estimable SoundCloud. The poem revisits painful memories first talked about on jtns in 2011. Because of the nature of these events, they've taken a long time to come to terms with, though I think that being able to work with them creatively is a good sign.

All Changed

Our world changed in that hour -
Things could never be the same.
All the trust that Dad had worked so hard
To build,
The lawyer's words a revelation
Of misguided deeds
That seemed unbelievable,
Yet somehow, sub my consciousness -
Still in a fog of love that stubbornly
Clung to the scorched branches
Of our family tree -
Rang clear as a bell.

I'd had my suspicions about the trusts -
These investments potted up into three
By my great grandfather after his only
Son died;
Pots that were meant
To protect, manage, ensure a good future.
But nearly all the understanding I had
Was designed to point to one end:
Income and loans of money from the pots
Were my dad's preserve until his death
When I would inherit. I had been told
This since I was a boy of what,
Eleven or twelve (I remember the dining room,
The seriousness of their tones, my mum's
And my dad's, how grown up I felt to be
Entrusted with such a truth).
My brain was washed, brushed and patted
And the first I knew different was when I was
When asked, some years before, to sign
Over half the potted cash to Mum and Dad,
I had done so, with all the seriousness and pride
Of a boy. I knew no different.
There were things that did seem odd but that was
Just Mum and Dad: they always did things
In a different way but things always turned out
Right; didn't they?
When asked to sign again, over the phone,
A couple of years later,
I did venture Mum some simple, obvious
Why do you want more money, was one?
The rage should have alerted me,
The gale of whipping words and scorched-earth
But all I could do was say sorry for
Speaking out of turn and reassure her
Poor bruised ego - so hurt by my
Boy's outspokenness.
I had recognised that rage, though,
Seen it meted out to my dad when
I was a boy, seen her break him,
And I decided to steer clear,
Yet not to question the stark message,
We can do what we want with these pots.
My mumbling lips had tried to say
That surely they had something to
Do with me -
I would have to sign, I must have some say,
'I don't give a bugger about your rights.'
Not even this gave me the confidence
To question - though I was wary, after that
Phonecall. Putting protective distance between
Me and them, whether speaking to them
On the phone or at their house - a house I
Stopped visiting as often as I did.
That vicious conversation, a way station
From boyhood innocence, unnaturally
Stretched out, to knowledge. And what a lot
There was to know. Two decades of
Revelations, each more shocking
Than the last.

I signed.
I took the blame for misunderstanding
How things stood.

When in that office, aged
The lawyer told me that I'd
Inherited the pots when I was
Twenty-one, I could not believe him
Fully. And in a way I still can't.
A boy's desperate clinging
To the myths of childhood.

The honey monster lawyer,
Such a genial, well-met man, not smiling
So much that day.
Defensive, 'Who should have told you?
Your father or me?'
Both of you of course.

The monster suit, that comic disguise,
Lay on the floor between us.
The boy an adult, suddenly.
For him,
Everything at risk.

All gone. Gone in an instant.

Trust died that hour.
All the work of decades lost in an instant.
I would never look at these men and that woman
The same way again.

When, a decade or so later,
Mum and Dad's other frauds
Came to light,
The lifetimes of cheating and lying -
To themselves and to each other as much as others;
To others as much as to me -
The one million owed, the bankruptcy...
When all these came out,
Reputations in tatters...
When all this...

Everything began to make sense.

A shadow world, the windows thrown open,
Sunlight streaming in, blinding everyone.

And I was glad of the shock that nearly
Broke my mind immediatley after
I left the lawyer's honeyed office.
The thoughts of choices made in good faith
Throughout my life till then.
Choices about the big things -
Career, marriage, children.
No one likes to be made a fool of.

But I survived, grew strong, so the final
Truths, the final smashings
Of trust, were seen from a different
An independent adult, looking at
The wreckage, the chaos, the misguided.

Did I hate?
No, I felt only pity - the
Sort you would feel when a child's
Den was blown apart
By the winds.
Mum and Dad's fantasies, protections against
A world they couldn't understand.
They were children after all this time,
Who needed to be protected against themselves.

There was love too - amazingly that survived -
And we tried to help as best we could, J and I.
There were some happy conversations
Before the release of death.
Something, at least.

Our world changed in that hour -
In the honey monster's office.
That human beings should treat trust
So lightly.
That there are some things after which
Life can never be the same.

Monday, 3 April 2017

a poem

Raindrops falling on a stream

I remember standing on this bridge before
And watching the raindrops pattern
The surface of the stream.
But it was nearly twenty years ago
That the water in that stream flowed on
To the Thames.
This is a different stream,
Though things remain:
Its shape is, as far as I can tell,
The same; the look of it from this bridge;
Could there be plants that were there then?;
On the margins, under water;
Or their descendants;
Perhaps a big fish lurks beneath me
That was newly-hatched.
There is still something of that
Old stream, though everything is changed.
And am I the same? I would say so,
Despite the clashing of the plates
That underlay my life.
My wife's illness, my parents' fraud
Exposed, their bankruptcy and deaths;
Despite the astonishing difference of days,
Never a morning the same, except in its beauty;
Despite the travel - Toronto, San Francisco,
Brisbane, Canberra, New York;
Not to mention the grey hair,
The subtly disconcerting creep of growing older.
I like to think that there is something,
An essential me that survives all these.
A big Frank fish that was once newly-hatched.
But maybe there isn't that much.
When I re-read bits of my first novel -
Toiled over in the writing for five years,
In between walks that often took me
Across this bridge -
I can only marvel at the person
Who wrote it, that stranger,
That person long gone.
Time carries us ever further from
Yet towards ourselves too.
Perhaps the Irish woman was right
When she told me, 'Go with the flow.'
Like the stream. In tune with the
Sinuous weave and rush and eddies
Of life. Inexorable.
The stream reminds me
Of John Hurt's words that he hoped
He would have the courage to say at
'Vroom, let's go and become different molecules.'
Will I have the courage?
Following the wisdom of an actor
I admired and the stream?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

sunday 9th april, 100th anniversary of edward thomas's death; a conscious englishman by margaret keeping

Sunday 9th April will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Edward Thomas, who was killed in action at the Battle of Arras in 1917.

A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping, which was first published by StreetBooks in 2013, is a wonderful novel about the last four years of Thomas's life. It tells the story from both his point of view and that of Helen, his wife.

It is available from Amazon (link is for UK site - though the book is available from their sites worldwide) in paperback and as a Kindle ebook. The paperback is also available from other online bookshops.

Here are three of many quotations about the book:

'[Margaret Keeping's] inhabitation of Edward, Robert, Helen and their world is tender and subtle...A lovely novel.'  Robert Macfarlane

'[Margaret Keeping's] writing is very assured and she has the necessary eye for place, detail, weather and seasons to write about Edward Thomas...I hope the book will reach the wide audience it deserves and feel sure that many others will enjoy it as much as I have.'  Linda Newbery, author of Set in Stone

'A Conscious Englishman...turns its subject into a twentieth-century equivalent of the old-fashioned notion of Keats: a poet misvalued by his times and cruelly cut down...'  Peter McDonald, The Times Literary Supplement

And here are links to some jtns posts about the novel:

113 cowley road, edward thomas, helen thomas, richard emeny, edward thomas fellowship, margaret keeping, richard morley, in parenthesis, the word, dh lawrence, george orwell - Saturday, 16 May 2015

nettles, tall nettles by edward thomas, 113 cowley road, plaque, unveiling - Sunday, 10 May 2015

willow wands, purity, regrowth, yellow flag, in pursuit of spring, edward thomas, a conscious englishman by margaret keeping, guardian books - Friday, 29 March 2013

a conscious englishman by margaret keeping published today - Thursday, 7 February 2013

moon, crows and snowdrops, ribs, a conscious englishman, edward thomas, publishing my edward thomas - Sunday, 3 February 2013

Friday, 31 March 2017

no overcoat, sunny transformation, lady's smock, sedge, white archangel, mogford prize for food and drink writing, nicky winder, cilip talk

Enjoyed a lovely walk to work this morning. The first day without an overcoat for ages.

It was amazing yesterday seeing the oilseed rape coming into flower in the Thames Valley, when I was travelling home on the bus. The warmth of the sun had transformed the landscape in hours. And today, by the Thames near Port Meadow, there were lady's smock, sedge and white archangel - all suddenly in flower. Their leaves that most astonishingly fresh green that you only see at the very start of spring.

Went to the Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing party on Thursday. Wonderful fun! Congratulations to the winner, Nicky Winder, for her story, Bait. You can download it from the prize website.

Looking forward to giving a talk at the CILIP South Member Network AGM and CILIP Thames Valley AGM at the Jam Factory, Oxford next Thursday afternoon. It's entitled, Micropublishing, teaching, digital research: different worlds, or all in a day's work for the (future) librarian?

Saturday, 25 March 2017

new bridge, huzzah for the council - this time!, busy tenth week, conted awards at the sheldonian, mst res, terrific review of sb sweeney's facing the strange

A striking new bridge has been built over one of the streams feeding into the Great Book south of Aston, linking the Chimney road and the Ham Lane footpath. Huzzah for the council - this time!

On this sunny spring morning it was a pleasure to be out cycling.

Oxford tenth week but still no sign of things slowing down.

Loved attending the Department of Continuing Education awards ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre on Wednesday. This weekend it's the MSt Residence.

A terrific review of SB Sweeney's Facing the Strange in the Oxford Times this week! It's written by Mary Lucille Hindmarch and I especially liked this paragraph: 'Facing the Strange is a kaleidoscope of intertwined lives told with verve, humour and - despite its darker themes - lightness of touch.'

Saturday, 18 March 2017

facing the strange launch, sb sweeney, roger ashton-griffiths, david rowland's rendering of the west's awake, great barrington walks, the fox

Really enjoyed seeing everyone at the launch of Facing the Strange by SB Sweeney at Blackwell's on Thursday evening. The author's video reading was terrific! This was followed by a reading of the opening scene in the novel by Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Mace Tyrell in Game of Thrones) - brilliant - and a great rendering of the Irish ballad, The West's Awake, (which features in the book) by David Rowland.

A fantastic way to celebrate the novel!

As I said in my opening remarks:

"Facing the Strange. In some ways it’s uncompromising, tough. It deals with difficult subjects – alcoholism, drugs, family breakdown, murder. But there's also humour and insight into people. Above all it's about people – and no matter how these men and women in the book are – whether they are at their best or at their worst, they are written about with compassion and humanity. What underpins the novel are real human values – chief of which is love.

"It's a story of places – Preston, London, Ireland, North Yorkshire, Somerset. It's a novel of polyphony – of a wide range of beautifully rendered voices."

A day off yesterday. A lovely walk on the Great Barrington estate and a pint at the Fox.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

launch of facing the strange by sb sweeney, lost illusions of countryside, castaways 3 launch, sylvia vetta, euton daley

Very much looking forward to celebrating the publication of Facing the Strange by SB Sweeney at Blackwell's on Thursday!

Meantime, the controversial Castle Mill Flats weren't quite as stark and Soviet-era as this when seen in colour as I was walking to work yesterday.

I was intrigued by the structure in the recently-tidied tree and when playing about with the image, black and white seemed the best way of emphasising it.

I couldn't but be struck by how bare this stretch of the Thames tow-path, between Osney Bridge and Port Meadow, seems, now that some clearing has been done. I remember walking this way a few weeks before I first moved to our flat on Osney in 1987. The tow-path here was so well screened from the city that you could easily imagine you were deep in countryside. There's still something of that effect now but the areas of waste ground alongside the railway lines that were allowed to grow aesthetically wild for years have increasingly been built on.

I also remember how on night-time walks for a pint in Jericho, once you had cut under the railway tracks between the Thames and the Oxford Canal at the end of Abbey Road, you could have been strolling to a village local. The Harcourt Arms, under John's management, with it's Fullers beers and log fires.

Things change but there is still much to enjoy along these paths.

Had a wonderful evening on Thursday at the launch of Oxford Castaways 3, the final collection of Sylvia Vetta's interviews with remarkable local people that originally appeared in Oxfordshire Limited Edition magazine. The launch - which included a charity auction - raised money for Sobell House hospice, as do proceeds from sales of the book. A particular highlight of the event was a performance poem from Euton Daley, accompanied by a wonderful vocalist - see photo on Twitter. After the launch many of us went on to Brown's for a fantastically convivial supper.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

busy 7th week, excellent piece on facing the strange by sb sweeney, maura dooley at kellogg college, broadwell crocuses

Busy 7th Week of Oxford full term...

Saw this piece about Facing the Strange on the Continuing Education website - it gives an excellent sense of the book and some very good background info about its author, SB Sweeney.

Really enjoyed poet Maura Dooley's talk at the Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing on Thursday and attending the guest night dinner afterwards.

The crocuses in the pic above are in front of St Peter and St Paul's Broadwell.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

snowdrops and aconites, not to mention marsh marigolds, first plotting, mixed feelings about a felled eucalyptus, bs johnson at the finborough, hockney and the nashes

Lovely to see the snowdrops and aconites appearing in the garden and on the verges when I'm walking to work in Oxford and cycling at the weekend. Not to mention the marsh marigolds in the ditches along Calcroft Lane, near Clanfield!

First working half-hour or so on the allotment this year earlier. Pruning blackcurrants. The cut wood smelling of the juice of the fruit. Also harvested some leeks and, after a late breakfast, went to the shed to fetch Desiree spuds from their sack that hangs from the rafters.

Had mixed feelings about the felling of the eucalyptus that overshadowed our plot. It has provided welcome shade from the sun over the years and, now, the allotment field feels awfully bare without it. Yet its roots or its leaves - people tell you different things - was killing the ground.

Just had a heads up from a friend that her productions of three plays by the astonishing, magnificent BS Johnson are on at the Finborough Theatre in March. A terrific prospect!

Wonderful memories of seeing the Hockney exhibition at the Tate a fortnight ago. Went straight from that into the Nash retrospective. The former uplifted, the latter perplexed and fascinated but never quite did it for me. I in any case prefer the work of Nash's brother John. I have a suspicion that this makes me a lightweight - but so be it!