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

1970

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
Atmosphere,
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.

1996

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
Hostile.
Seething
Sometimes.
Unable
To
Contain
Herself.
ERUPTING!

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
Plundered.

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
Me.

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
For-interference-in-their-business.
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,
Though.
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
About
The trusts.

That September, after Mum has
Sabotaged a planned reunion lunch
At the school both Dad and I
Attended,
My father - again on the phone -
Says,
'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

1997

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.

1998

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.

2014

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
Depression.

I told the trustee in
Bankruptcy
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
Died.
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,
Should
You
Ever...
Want...
To
Get
In
Touch

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
Gambit.

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.

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

(Edited version)

Our world changed in that hour -
Things could never be the same.
All the trust that Dad had worked so hard
To build,
Gone.
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
Thirty-six.
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
Questions:
Why do you want more money, was one?
The rage should have alerted me,
The gale of whipping words and scorched-earth
Humiliation,
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,
Surely?
'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
Thirty-six,
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.

Trust died that hour.
All the work of decades lost in an instant.

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 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
Perspective.
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 lawyer'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
Ourselves.
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
Death:
'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