Monday, 18 September 2017

lichen, downpour, fire in the grate, poldark























A muted-colour day.

Topped by an outrageous - and completely unforecast (if the internet weather was to be believed) - downpour!

A fire in the grate. It's not exactly cold but the dark, dank night demands it.

Poldark, Series 2, Episode 6 on DVD.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

old stoic day, the years went - where?, lions, first fires of autumn, hangover square and netta the fish





Returned to Stowe for our year group's Old Stoic day yesterday... Forty years since we left. Help!

The years went - where?

Lovely, lovely to see close friends from school days - close friends too little seen.

Other friends not seen at all since that time. Gosh.

And such a different school. The grounds managed by the National Trust; the stately home restored to former glories, when the Dukes of Buckingham lived there. An extraordinary place to be at school - then as now.

The lion on the South Front shown in the photo - one of a pair - was recently reinstated (having been sold off in 1921, before the school was founded) after it was discovered in a park in Blackpool. On extended loan now. See this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/fogGLSoyMdQ

Really enjoyed talking to the school librarian too.

At home, we lit our first log fire of the autumn last Sunday and have lit one each day since. It's been freezing out!

Finished Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. Beautifully written and constructed, from a page-turning point of view - it has amazing momentum - but I found the short section told from Netta's perspective, in which her personality and attention span is compared to those of a fish, seemed both reductive and contrived. How much more powerful the book would have been if her interior life had remained a mystery. I even wondered if that section was added later. A fascinating novel of its time, nevertheless.

Friday, 8 September 2017

missed that one... missed another..., still feeling the effects



How was I to know that the bus timetables changed on 3rd September?

Mostly, there were hardly any changes at all. Just the 2.57 pm from Bampton Square, which now goes seven minutes earlier. It took quite a while to realise we had missed that one - well, we just assumed there was a hold up somewhere. As you do... Until...

I was also unlucky with the 6.40 pm from Carterton. Now zooming off at 6.32...

So, an earlier bus from Oxford after work means I have longer to wait for my Carterton connection and more time for exploring.

Pleased to say that the effects of the holiday are still felt.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

one of those days























A great walk this morning.

But a somewhat disappointing day, as far as the weather was concerned...

Lots of other good things, though!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

vapourous early morning walk, raphael, ipa, cherwell lunch







Up early for a walk over at Clanfield. The morning vapourous along the lane and in the fields; misty towards Folly Hill and the Iron Age fort.

A heavy dew and spider webs everywhere: some, near-symmetrical wheels; others seemingly randomly-woven stacks of dense strands.

Later, a bus trip to Oxford to see the Raphael drawings exhibition at the Ashmolean. So intriguing - as well as beautiful and inspiring. I know so little about the Italian Renaissance, really. Just the obvious things. Let alone about the techniques used. I thought the text on the boards accompanying the drawings was excellent, opening up the thinking behind the way things were done and why in accessible language. I loved the case that illustrated the tools and resources the artist used. Black ink from oak gourds, not least.

A half of American-style IPA at the Rose and Crown, North Parade, afterwards, and a delicious lunch on the banks of the Cherwell.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

light rain, owls























A little light rain during our walk this morning.

Last night, falling to sleep to the sound of owls.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

apples, reading, family papers


Some wonderful holiday days in west Oxfordshire: beautiful long walks, catching up on the allotment and in the garden, eating the produce (the delight of Cox and James Grieve apples), sitting out under the stars and marvelling - at our ignorance of the constellations as much as the stunning, infinity of it all!

Listening to owls in our garden.

Reading. A luxury. All Souls by Javier Marías - fascinating to see an Oxford I can just about remember through very narratorial, very cerebral, but also very intriguing, Spanish eyes. Now, Hangover Square by the immediate carry-you-along involving brilliant Patrick Hamilton.

Also, more practical things.

When Mum died I inherited the family papers. Not looked at since. Now, today, the process -  nearly two years later, and the right time to face this - begins: of the librarian's indexing, digitising and boxing; of occasionally dipping into; but mostly preparing to go through...

The broader aspects of how a multi-million pound fortune was turned into a million pound debt have already been explained by the bankruptcy process. But the nuances - the subtle revelations of what Mum and Dad (and others) did. That begins now.

I'm ready for that. Much water has flowed beneath the bridge.

Friday, 25 August 2017

out and about




Out and about in the beautiful west Oxfordshire and Cotswolds countryside.

Oh, and on the allotment too.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

cross-country to clanfield























A lovely walk cross-country to Clanfield yesterday.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

dog rose, the lock, liber dh wg, writers in oxford young oxfordshire writers comp
























The dog rose by the entrance to the Walton Well Road car park was in flower this week.

I remember it from years ago. If you're coming from Port Meadow, you go through the gate and there it is. It used to be intertwined with stems of Duke of Argyll's Teaplant but that seems to have gone now.

I'm surprised that the dog rose is still alive. There have been many changes to the car park over the last twenty-five to thirty years.

The dog rose featured in my first novel, The Lock (Smaller Sky, 2003) - see extract below. In Chapter 6, Elizabeth is walking towards Port Meadow to visit her daughter who is living with her boyfriend in a truck on the far side of the car park - the novel is set in the early 1990s during the Grunge and Travelling years.

Meantime, I recently joined a new Digital Humanities working group, which has been set up by LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche - Association of European Research Libraries). If you're interested in DH you can find out more by visiting the group's page and the LIBER blog post about the launch workshop (which sadly I wasn't able to attend).

A reminder that the Writers in Oxford 25th Anniversary Young Oxfordshire Writers Competition closes very soon - entries must be sent before 1st September.

Two other writing competitions to consider are The Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2017/18 and the Sixth Annual Mogford Food and Drink Short Story Prize (opens 26 October).

--

Extract from The Lock by Frank Egerton (Smaller Sky, 2003), Chapter 6, pp. 80-81 (now available as a Kindle ebook from StreetBooks)


Even near the bottom of the hill, the cover from the, in spring, scraggy-seeming ash trees, and the new growth of rosebay willowherb and dog rose bushes was impenetrable.  In amongst the last of these, Elizabeth noticed, with some surprise, growing the long, silvery-green tarragon-like branches and delicate star-shaped purple flowers of the Duke of Argyll’s teaplant.  She remembered seeing this before in an area of rough ground by the railway station, which was on the way along a short cut to the Island from the canal which she and Gerald had sometimes used when they were returning on summer nights from having a drink in Jericho after he had collected her from the University Press, where she then worked, shortly before they were married.  Since then, and though she had walked this way often over the years, she had not seen the shrub anywhere else.

Elizabeth also remembered how she and Gerald had spent time observing the structure of the teaplant when they first noticed it, and had then gone to his house and sat side by side on the green velvet sofa’s somewhat drab predecessor in the sitting-room, Gerald leafing through the pages of the Oxford Flower Book for the Pocket, both he and Elizabeth staring intently as if in competition with each other, until, with the alacrity of snap players, they cried simultaneously ‘There!’ and identified it.
She stopped walking for a moment and then approached the dense seethe of dog rose and teaplant, which were also, she now saw, bound up with a plethora of the flimsy but inexorable, twining stems of convolvulus, coming into leaf, but not yet in flower.  The dog rose flowers themselves were unusually large and big-petalled.  They were mostly pinky purple with thickly-stamened yellow centres, like pincushions, though there were some white ones, which she presumed must be on a separate bush, but it was impossible to tell.  She could have tried to part some of the stems and find out, but, quite apart from their large thorns, they were guarded by nettles.

Were, she wondered, lost for a moment in reverie, these bushes, with their extraordinary flowers, even dog roses?

Sunday, 13 August 2017

morning glory!, osney birthday party, hb allen centre







It's that morning glory time of year. Every one of them different. Each startlingly beautiful.

Worked in Oxford yesterday before going to a birthday party on Osney Island. Loved seeing friends.

On the way to work I took a photo of the old building on the former Acland site that is being incorporated into Keble College's HB Allen Centre. Extraordinary to see it sitting on stilts like this. Keble has put up so many new buildings since I was an undergraduate there in the 1980s.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

surprise!, ganoderma lucidum, frog pond replenished, hopefully brief floods

























Imagine my surprise when I came across this curious bracket fungus while walking from North Hinksey to Osney on my way to work earlier in the week.

Possibly an orange example of Ganoderma Lucidum - Ganoderma being a genus of mushroom found throughout the world, which is used in traditional Asian medicine.

A curiosity certainly - and not necessarily something that new visitors to this blog will want to see...

Sadly, the wonderful summer weather seems to have disappeared, although there have been some rather lovely periods of sunshine and refreshing breezes. The frog pond is fully replenished with water. As I tap away, there is an extraordinarily vicious and drenching hailstorm outside, cars whooshing through the - hopefully brief - floods!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

sunday lunch harvest, keeping in touch, maris peer, tell-tale steam, punting, summer school



A Sunday lunch harvest from the allotment. I couldn't claim to be self-sufficient in a million years but I love keeping in touch with the land through this small square of earth. Digging, cultivating, planting, growing and harvesting. Each year different things do better than others. Not many courgettes this time, although there are plenty of plants. The ruby chard is great in 2017 but hardly came to anything last season. Maris Peer potatoes, by the way.

This morning there was a toot-toot and tell-tale steam in the dip of the road below the allotment field and some minutes later the steam engine trundled by like an earth quake. A magnificent contraption!

A friend visited yesterday for punting, a late morning picnic and lunch. It was a wonderful day.

Very much enjoyed working with the summer school students this week.

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.

Transcendence

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
Gently
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
Together;
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,
Spades.

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
Human.

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.