Saturday, 22 July 2017

heavy rain, as things should be, early autumn colour, first courgettes, transcendence

Astonishingly heavy rain yesterday evening and today.

One of the heaviest bursts happened just as I was stepping off the bus. Had to place the umbrella so that it protected the photocopies for the summer school rather than me. I got soaked. As it should be, though.

No chance of allotmenting today, so I went on a cycle ride. After the drought, there is a lot of early autumn colour - not least, the leaves of the (stressed) horse chestnuts that line the road between Bampton and Clanfield.

The level in the frog pond has risen considerably. Hooray!

Had our first courgettes mid-week.

Now, a poem. Like others posted on jtns, it's a work in progress and may change.


The bowl turns, transparent:

A room in a simple cottage,
Stout floorboards, wooden furniture...

The bowl turns:

Light streaming through mullions...

The bowl turns, like magic:

Walls fading
Out and into
A sunny paradise beyond.


I step through the rooms:

Across the boards,
Along the chequerboard passage,
Past the bookcase I made
Nearly thirty years ago,
Bespoke, for a flat we rented
(That it fitted here seemed
Meant to be)...

Past our favourite print -
Tall winter trees, branches stretched
Like arms,
Like a cross,
A red horse-drawn cart below
And bowed men
In farmers' coats and tweed caps,
Unloading turnips;
Beyond, the ground falling away
Into our valley,
The sight we first saw,
As we drove to view our cottage;
Of course, not our valley
But one like it;
Our valley, nevertheless...

Out onto the flagstones
That we brought from a garden
In Oxford, in twos and threes,
Grinding the Golf's axle...

Past the bird feeders
And the seeds scattered beneath them
That mice nibble at dawn
And a hedgehog has recently
Started visiting at dusk -
The innocence of watching this strange animal
The anxiety when walking
Beside the road next morning...

Across the lawn and
Along the serpentine path...

Espallied apple trees,
Laden with fruit,
Arms stretched...

A broad-leaved, spear-shaped
Bush, that is golden,
Summer and winter...

A mock orange,
Whose myriad white flowers
Fill the garden with
Their scent in May...

Over the mound that Billy
Made with earth from the pond,
Then across the stepping stones,
The water's surface nipped
By tadpoles,
The lily pads covering the deep side,
Some arced above others,
Engaged in an imperceptibly
Fierce struggle to reach the light...

Ahead, the table and chairs,
Where we sit in the summer evenings...

We listen to the church bell,
Ringing the hour,
To the surprised cooing of pigeons,
The eek of bats,
The scream of swifts...

Swifts we look out for -
Like sailors seeking landfall -
Who make the summer right when they
Arrive, for reasons I cannot articulate
And whose departure we dread...

Another year passed, maybe...


In the museum, the bowl turns, transparent:

Walls fading
Gently -
Out and into,
A sunny paradise beyond?


The garden is here;
The garden is now;
The garden is all there is.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

flowering rush - in flower, englishness

Saw these flowering rushes - in flower - on my way to work last week. They are growing in the shallows of the grebe pool on the gently-flowing branch of the Thames that passes between Port Meadow and Fiddler's Island.

A rare sighting, these plants, in flower! I've only ever seen them twice before - one when J and I were walking along the Thames path near Grandpont in about 1988 and once when we were walking the Thames path from Tadpole Bridge to Shifford Lock. They flower and never seem to appear again in the same spot.

We have a flowering rush plant in our pond. It hasn't yet flowered and it's been there for three years. I should show it this photo - Look, this is what you should be doing!

A great review of what sounds like a great book in the Sunday Times today. The book is The Last Wolf: The hidden springs of Englishness by Robert Winder (Little, Brown, 9781408707807). The reviewer, Dominic Sandbrook. I especially liked Winder's definition of Englishness, as summarised by Sandbrook: 'Englishness is an "approach", a "knack" of "negotiating a path between extremes": land and sea, city and countryside, earnest and frivolous, new and old. To be English is to flirt with excess, but always to return to the "sensible middle ground".' (Made by the Rain, review by Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times Culture, 16 July 2017.)

Monday, 10 July 2017

compasses inn, moonlight, silent night, punting, upton smokery, barrington park, blackcurrants, garden

Had a wonderful time in Wiltshire at the Compasses Inn, Lower Chicksgrove, with lunchtime expeditions to the Beckford Arms and the timeless Howard's House Hotel. It was hot walking over to them, though!

Back in Oxford, there was punting and lunch at the Cherwell Boathouse.

In Wiltshire, it was lovely to wander along the lane after supper. It was still so light, even at 10 pm, and so silent.

Some delicious lunches in the garden at home too, with ingredients bought from the Upton Smokery (visited en route to walking on the Barrington Park Estate - excellent wild flower banks).

Extremely rested and refreshed now.

The allotment is looking better (despite the scorching drought), after a productive morning up there last week before we went away. Amongst other things, I harvested the blackcurrants. It was fun to have thought through a pruning strategy early in the year and to have seen this bear bigger and more juicy fruits. Some things - runners and courgettes particularly - are slow this year but we have terrific potatoes and spinach. And mangetout peas from the garden.

Loved the readings at the MSt showcase!

Friday, 30 June 2017

forked tree, enchanted forest, tranquil thames, mst gr, neglected allotment..., powysland by tim blanchard

This tree that I pass most days, I hadn't really noticed until this week. It's partly hidden from the path but then I would have thought that it would have been even more striking in the bare winter and early spring.

Head full of too many other things, obviously.

It's a tall, many-stemmed tree, perched on its forked trunk - and there's a savage face at the base of them.

Altogether, a sinuous, almost writhing, web-footed - so-many-things-contained-in-it - being.

A little further on, there was a melting toadstool.

Quite the enchanted forest, really!

Only when I got to the tranquillity of the Thames beyond the station did things calm down.

A busy week? Goes without saying. The MSt Guided Retreat this weekend, so there's been lots of reading to do - on the bus and in the evenings. Rewarding reading, though. I'm looking forward to seeing the students for the last time and to listening to the end-of-course showcase readings they all give on Monday night.

The allotment has been a touch neglected, though.

Meanwhile, I was sent a link earlier in the week to a page on the website of Unbound, the excellent crowd-funding publisher, for a book on the wonderful, extraordinary John Cowper Powys. It's title is, Powysland: The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of, And What We Can Learn From Him and it's by member of the Powys Society, Tim Blanchard. Worth checking out. Worth sponsoring, if you have the spare cash!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

time!, heat wave, cooler now, courgettes and pumpkins, blackcurrants

Another busy week. Where does the time go!

Not helped by the heat wave. It was lovely to be out in the sun but sleeping at night was difficult. Cooler now, though.

Planted most of the rest of the courgettes and pumpkins today. They have been growing in the cold frame at home up to now.

Blackcurrants almost ready to pick.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

hot, library, end of term and beginning of the long vac, gr, summer school, geese

Blisteringly hot today - at least in the afternoon. The morning walk - I was working at the library today - was bearable.

The Enquiry Room was itself fine this morning. We congratulated ourselves on how cool it was. But after lunch things warmed up and when I walked to the bus stop after work, the heat was unmerciful.

So pleased to be home.

The end of Trinity Eighth Week at Oxford. The end of term and the beginning of the Long Vac. Yet Oxford never sleeps, especially at the Department for Continuing Education, where things are just beginning to hot up. The master's Graduate Retreat. The Summer School at Exeter College. A pleasure both.

Many geese on the Thames by Bossom's Boatyard.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

the open gate

[edited version]

I pass an open gate,
An unaccustomed window in high fencing.
Two men, mug in hand,
Look up the bank at
Heaps of earth, a barrow,

One, the boss,
Downs his drink,
Nods and says,
No use standing around.

How often did I see men
Do similar in my childhood?
See my dad, or Doug
The builder.
Or Reuben or Norman
On the farm.

I see the same elsewhere in Oxford,
In Bampton. We've seen it
On holiday, even when we've not
Known the language.
A universal moment
On a summer morning.

Timeless, trivially-essentially

Monday, 12 June 2017

swans, brandy bottles

The swan family amongst the brandy bottle lilies this morning.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

busy, conted talk, runners and strawberries, the wonderful peony

Busy weeks - last and next.

Yesterday I gave a talk about copyright to tutors at the Department for Continuing Education. A fascinating but complex subject.

The last runner bean seeds sown this morning. The first strawberries picked yesterday when I returned from Oxford.

The peony is in flower! A wonderful occurrence each year. It survived the high winds and heavy rains. This one is in a vase beside our bed.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

round and about magazine's article on sb sweeney's facing the strange

There's a great article on SB Sweeney's Facing the Strange in the June edition of Round & About Magazine by Liz Nicholls.

Here's a flavour:

'SB Sweeney's novel is a rollicking joy ride from start to finish. It's hard to believe, in fact that this is a debut novel, so adept is he at conveying the brutal beauty of life's searing highs... crashing lows... and life in between... It is both heart-breaking and life-affirming.'

To find out more about the novel, visit the StreetBooks website.

writers in oxford young writers competition

Calling all young Oxfordshire Writers! You have till the end of August to enter the Writers in Oxford Young Writers Competition.

I'm delighted to be one of the judges.

You can find out full details on the competition page of the WiO website. Please pass these on.

For now, here's the intro to the comp:

'Writers in Oxford is using its 25th anniversary to attract and engage with a younger audience, in a writing competition for Young Oxfordshire Writers aged 18-30. £1000 will be given away in cash prizes, and 25 entrants will receive a two-year honorary membership of WiO.

'What are the judges looking for? “Writing which the judges find the most memorable in terms of its structure, resonance, and power of language. Quite simply, we want impact, whether you are stirring, lyrical, polemical; whether you lure us into a gripping tale or stop us in our tracks with the passionate cogency of your argument.”

'Philip Pullman, an early WiO member who worked as a lecturer 25 years ago, has agreed to be Honorary Chair of the judging panel.'

fallen oak, brandy bottles, signets, wio comp, facing the strange article

Very sad that one of the two evergreen oaks near the Grebe Pool (see post of  Saturday 27 May 2017) has fallen. These trees - also known as holm oaks or holly oaks - gave much hope in the depths of winter, being always in leaf.

On a happier note, the brandy bottle lilies are now in flower in the Grebe Pool stream and the swans have signets!

Two further posts coming up: one about the Writers in Oxford Young Oxfordshire Writers Competition, for which I'm one of the judges; the other about an excellent piece on Facing the Strange in the June Round & About Magazine.

Monday, 29 May 2017

morris, barley straw, raindrops, traditional log fire

'Whitsun' bank holiday in Bampton.

Saw some Morris dancing earlier before starting on gardening. Replaced one of the nets of barley straw in the pond - making sure all the tadpoles got put back - then headed for the allotment. Almost as soon as I started pedalling up the street, the first raindrops fell. Back home rather earlier than planned.

We had imagined we would be having lunch at the top of the garden, as yesterday, but we'll probably end up eating in front of a cheery log fire. Traditional, at least!

Saturday, 27 May 2017

swans, ducks, grebe pool, happy times, kellogg hub, bampton whitsun weekend, ancient cacao, roque dalton, sir francis chichester

These swans and ducks were near the confluence of streams at the southern end of Fiddler's Island beside Port Meadow. The streams widen at this point and when we lived on Osney Island, we used to cycle here on Saturday summer evenings and have a picnic on the bank. We called it the grebe pool and we would sit and watch the grebes, the other water birds and the reed warblers. Very happy times.

This morning, I got up early, so that I could get to the allotment before the promised downpour. All set, I stepped towards the back door and... the heavens opened. Ah well, there were other things I could be doing. Only about five minutes later did I remember that my shoes were outside!

At the beginning of the week, I visited the Hub at Kellogg College for the first time. I've watched this being built and was really looking forward to its completion. It was great - a lovely atmosphere and terrific views from the cafe across the lawns towards the dining hall. Housing a cafe and the common room, the building is what the college was missing. It is also the first in Oxford to use an environmentally friendly low energy design called Passivhaus.

By the bye, Prince Charles visited the college the other day. A tour of the Hub was included, naturally.

Yesterday was the start of the Bampton Whitsun weekend. There will be folk songs and music late into the night in the pubs and a full day of Morris dancing on Monday. This evening it's the renowned Shirt Race. Last night we had a pint in the garden of the Romany and watched one of the Morris sides practicing as the light fell.

A couple of excellent World Service programmes on Latin American themes recently: The Bittersweet Tale of Cocoa - the story of cacao in ancient Latin America - (check out this chocolate drink recipe and cheese dunking suggestion from food historian, Maricel Presilla); and Witness's The Killing of Poet Roque Dalton, which tells of the life and untimely death of El Salvadorian poet Roque Dalton, who was killed by fellow rebels in 1975 - five of his poems can be read on the BOMB Magazine site.

Also, have to mention this Sporting Witness programme about Sir Francis Chichester and his round-the-world solo voyage in 1967. (Doesn't seem to be available on the web yet, though.) Sir Francis sounds quite a character. So strange listening to programmes about far-off historical events and thinking, I remember that!

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

Edited version


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.


You leave 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,
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
When it came to
Those possessions
Of mine
That were in storage,
Which she had control of,
And I wanted to get it all down
In black and white.

A routine question
About the trusts
Has revealed they
Have been

You are not here
But abroad -
On holiday, I think.

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 things right, surely?

Your right-hand man and his young family
Happen to pass.
A long way from home.
I recognise him from one of your parties.
They are 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 out for a conference
And while there try to help
Mum and Dad,
Using your contacts.

You are run ragged
By my urgent, phoning parents and their
Increasingly unreasonable demands.

When you tell me what happened,
I wonder.
I recall Mum, in September,
Sitting me down and telling me that
Christopher, her arch enemy, 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.

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.

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.

When, in December, you tell me what has happened,
I realise what he meant.

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.

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 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 problems
To deal with.

But even so, I feel disappointed.


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 sign something,
They told you it was
Just a formality.

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.

We part on what seem good terms.
But you do not keep in touch.

I do not 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 gullible.
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.