Sunday, 15 July 2018

harvests, high water, spider's web, tim pears' the wanderers, charlotte brontë's jane eyre, downton abbey the movie























Harvested blackcurrants on the allotment earlier. Also French and runner beans and several different kinds of Italian courgette. Lots of watering having to be done too. The plot is amazingly parched. Although the rivers and streams of west Oxfordshire are remarkably full of water, given the last time it rained was ages ago. Perhaps all that snow during the winter stocked up the aquifers.

Yesterday, when arriving at the allotment early, I saw this spider's web on the gate, drenched in dew.

Finished reading Tim Pears' The Wanderers this week. What a wonderful book! Gentle and relatively slow of pace but totally involving. Such vivid evocations of rural life and a remote country estate just before the outbreak of the First World War. Can't wait for the third part of the trilogy to be published.

Have now started re-reading Jane Eyre. What a writer, Charlotte Brontë is!

Meantime, Downton Abbey the movie has been given the go ahead - wonder if they will be filming it in Bampton. Hope so.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

common?, hh, ci, ba, strolling through the showers, harvests























Saw this 'Common' Brimstone butterfly in the garden of Howard's House hotel.

Excellent stay in Wiltshire at the Compasses Inn, Lower Chicksgrove, with excursions to HH and the Beckford Arms.

Somewhat stunned by the hot weather, although there was welcome rain on our Wednesday walk. We took an umbrella but in the event just enjoyed strolling through the light showers.

No rain at home. Lots of garden and allotment watering. But first French beans and Italian courgettes have been picked.

Friday, 29 June 2018

potato dibber catch-up, maris peer, bike in the mud, the sentence by stephanie scott, mary anne sate, imbecile by alice jolly


























I realised that I never posted pictures of the potato dibber this year. Well here it is - and here are the Maris Peer spuds I planted, almost ready to be lifted.

And on a mud and bike theme, here is a bike in the mud on the bank of one of the streams near Osney that flows into the Thames. Photographed on my walk to work earlier in the week.

This weekend, it's the MSt in Creative Writing Guided Retreat - the last time the tutors meet their students before finals. On Monday there will be the annual end-of-course student readings at Kellogg College, which I'm really looking forward to.

Talking of the MSt, a student I supervised several years ago got in touch to say she had sold her first novel, The Sentence. That neutral-sounding 'sold' doesn't say the half of it - see the MSt blog! So  pleased for you, Steph!

And again, talking of the MSt, I was thrilled to receive my copy of my fellow tutor Alice Jolly's brand new novel, Mary Anne Sate, Imbecile. A summer reading treat!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

in flower, heady scents, end of the academic year, education continuing, vibrant expectation






So much is in flower in J's garden now, as we approach the longest day.

Heady scents too.

Can't quite believe that Oxford has reached the end of the academic year. University spaces are suddenly significantly quieter.

Though many courses - particularly Department for Continuing Education ones, which include Creative Writing at masters and undergraduate levels - never stop. Some even only begin to pick up outside full term.

A time of mild exhaustion and vibrant expectation.

Friday, 8 June 2018

angelica, digital editions, guide to northern archæology, great-great-great granddad, invisible









Alternating between walks across the shoulder of Cumnor Hill and along the Oxford canal.

This photo of a stem of grass and a wild angelica plant was taken beside the canal just below Wolvercote.

A highlight of the past two terms has been the Taylor Digital Editions course, which I did in Hilary before presenting two of the sessions in Trinity.

The course has been written by my colleague Emma and is tremendously rewarding and hugely enjoyable. It introduces both students and librarians to techniques used in the creation of digital editions. Course participants choose interesting texts from the Taylor collections and week by week learn skills including creating digital images of selected pages, encoding text according to Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) principles and depositing their digital edition in the University's data archive.

From the librarian's point of view, the course gives valuable insights into the world of our Digital Humanities researchers.

The book that I chose was one that my great-great-great grandfather edited, entitled Guide to Northern Archæology, which includes a translation of an academic paper written by the Danish antiquarian Christian Jürgensen Thomsen (1788-1865), which sets out his system of dating archaeological artifacts by reference to co-occurrence and archaeological context, including ancient literature. The inscription on the Taylor copy says it was presented by my ancestor on the 19th February 1852. Little did he know that one of his descendants would be working there many years later!

It was great fun to work on a few pages of a book that my ancestor had edited and presented to the library.

The images of the pages were uploaded to the Bodleian Special Collections Flickr group and the edition itself appears on the course webpage. The image and xml files were deposited in ORA-Data.

The last of these tasks means that the record for my ancestor's book sits alongside the uncut, unedited version of my second novel Invisible, which was uploaded into the research archive not long after it was published. Because it was written when I was teaching creative writing at Oxford, the work represented a research output. The version is a curiosity - there were reasons that some 10,000 words were cut!

Saturday, 2 June 2018

water lilies, bees, rewriting and editing trust: a family story, consultation, hard to do























The water lilies in our pond are flowering. The peonies are about to. There are many more bees. Things are looking up! Only a sole honey bee, though.

Have started at long last to rewrite and edit Trust: A family story. Am learning a lot about the text as I do so. Have achieved quite a lot in a relatively short space of time. Am loving the activity of rewriting and editing, if not some of the memories stirred.

Contributed to the Domestic Abuse Bill consultation in respect of coercive and controlling behaviour and economic abuse. Very hard to do. Stirred a lot of memories.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

oxford canal mural project, sunny days-chilly evenings, where are the bees?























One of the highlights of my Oxford canal walk is the Oxford Canal Mural Project. Perhaps the most striking work is Richard Wilson's kingfisher under the bridge near the Trap Grounds. Though all the murals are a joy to see.

Loving the sunny weather. Great to sit at the top of the garden at sunset - despite the chilly evenings.

What isn't so great is the almost total absence of bees this summer. With shrubs like the weigela in bloom and aquilegia flowering, I would have expected the garden to be buzzing but there's hardly anything.

As the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust says, 'Heavy use of toxic sprays on flowers, intensive agriculture and a reduction in the number of insect pollinated crops has brought about a huge drop in bee populations. Urbanisation and loss of habitat have hit bees hard. Indeed some wild bee species are close to extinction. Never more so than now, bees need your support.' But, can this sudden absence be explained by sprays or was the hard winter to blame? Will numbers increase? If so when? The garden soundscape without bees is so unnerving.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

amazing bank holiday weekend, late lunches, rediscovering oxford canal walk, library tour























What an amazing bank holiday weekend! So hot and sunny!

Wasn't able to get to the allotment till Monday afternoon because I had office work to do but we had some lovely late lunches at the top of the garden by the frog pond.

Went to the allotment today to catch up. No sign of the spuds yet, although the shallots and onions are doing well. Last year's chard has come back. Should be picking some tomorrow.

Have been rediscovering the old Wolvercote Green-Oxford Canal-Jericho walk I used to do before the 18 bus route was axed. Having enough time to do this walk before work is dependent on traffic on the A40, which is why I've not done it for ages. There used to be long queues but I'd heard rumours that things were better, so, knowing that the mud on the towpath would have dried out by now, I decided to catch the S2 from Witney rather than the S1 and see what happened, Wednesday and Friday. Plenty of time! (I think also that in part I may have avoided doing the walk because it seemed so sad that the 18 had been cut...) The photo shows graffiti and lichen on a wall beside the Oxford canal near Jericho.

--

Very much enjoyed showing Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, 2011-2016, round the Bodleian Library prior to her lecture at St Antony's on Monday.

Friday, 4 May 2018

let's hear it for the nettles!, mark cocker's our place, busy start, planting























When walking through the churchyard of St Thomas the Martyr in west Oxford last Saturday - I was on way to work (one of my library Saturdays) - I saw bluebells growing amongst nettles.

I was reminded of a sobering Sunday Times book review by Christopher Hart of a few weeks ago. The book was Our Place: Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? by Mark Cocker (Cape, £18.99, pp.349). A self-evidently hard-hitting work that, amongst other things, challenges the British love of nature. Here's a quote:

'Cocker makes no apologies for the bleakness of his book. Truth matters. He also queries the sacred idea that the British "love the countryside". Do we mean, we love driving through it? Visiting pretty villages and nice pubs for lunch? He suggests that we are really a nation of gardeners: fatally tidy-minded, the wild joy of nature's riotous abundance lost to us, instead spraying weed killer on stinging nettles even though it's the weed killer that’s carcinogenic, not the nettles - which are crucial larval plants for peacock, red admiral, painted lady, comma and small tortoiseshell butterflies.'

Enough to make one unplug the strimmer's battery charger for good? Possibly.

Certainly a case of, Let's hear it for the nettles!

--

A busy start to the term. Without good spring weather to keep up energy levels. Still, the forecast is promising for the bank holiday weekend and I should be getting more spuds planted. The Maris Peer rows went in last weekend and onions and shallots the week before.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

spring flower walk, fritillaries, cowslips and a snail on a thorn, pippa's song by robert browning, sackler sundays

























Too wet to garden last weekend, so starting on the allotment was delayed yet more.

Went on a spring flower walk beside the Thames instead. Wonderful!

Love snake's head fritillaries!

Was intrigued by the snail on the blackthorn, though - and there were many more of them.

Brought to mind Robert Browning's poem, Pippa's Song:

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!

Why do snails like to climb thorns!

--

At the Sackler Library, we recently introduced Sunday opening - all the year round. This has been an exciting development - one which has been really popular with readers. I wrote a piece about it for the library blog before Easter. While it has my byline, however, this was very much a collaborative post involving a number of colleagues, who added design and editorial content. Then there's the Sunday team, who make everything work!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

white violets, liber digital conference in the hague, noughth week, sir roger bannister




























On the last but one day of our holiday, I went cycling and saw the big patch of white violets along Calcroft Lane, near Broadwell.

They bring such joy and freshness to the landscape, especially this gloomy spring. (Though all that may be about to change, if the weather forecasters are to be believed.)

On Sunday, I flew to Rotterdam from London City Airport for a conference at the KB National Library in The Hague. A truly rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable event, which, on the first day, focused on the Cultural Heritage Re-Use Charter, which is currently being drafted by LIBER, the Association of European Research Libraries. The second day was the members meeting of the LIBER Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage Working Group, which included excellent presentations and break-out sessions. The latter were a great opportunity to meet colleagues and to learn new ideas and gain knowledge of innovative programmes and resources.

Although the conference was based in the commercial - high-rise - part of the city, there was a chance to do an hour or so of sight-seeing in the old quarter around the Binnenhof and the Mauritshuis (sadly closed by then) before everyone met at the Eetcafé de Paraplu for supper.

Overall, an exhausting but unmissable two days. Quite difficult to separate out the fizzing thoughts and write up my report now!

Not much time to collect my thoughts, because Oxford Noughth Week and the return of the undergraduates are almost upon us.

--

I recently contributed to a Department for Continuing Education article on the late Sir Roger Bannister. I taught Roger long fiction when he was studying for the Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing some years ago. It was a great privilege to do so and I was very sad to learn of his death. As the article suggests he was a truly inspirational devotee of life-long learning.

Friday, 6 April 2018

flooded landscape, first chiffchaff, first swallow


























The plan was to work on the allotment this week but our holiday didn't turn out like that.

Good walks - splashes - through the flooded landscape, though!

We saw our first chiffchaff yesterday. J saw first swallow today.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

time flies, waterlogged allotment, barrington park estate,fifteen clumps, the horseman by tim pears
























Time has flown.

Much of it spent trying to catch up with everything so that I could take a few days off around Easter.

The aim of this holiday was to prepare the allotment for sowing and planting... Not a chance. It was waterlogged after the recent snows and now the rain doesn't stop.

Talking of the recent snows, we went for a lovely walk on the Barrington Park Estate after the last lot. Rather beautiful views. Some deep - three to four foot - drifts on the old drove road, though.

There was ice on our pond that weekend and I don't yet know whether the clumps of frog spawn that had been laid by then survived. Time will tell. Though there is now no shortage of frog spawn - there are fifteen clumps. More than I have ever seen in our pond before. There was a lot of splashing!

Reading a brilliant book at the moment - one of the two by Tim Pears that I mentioned the other day: The Horseman.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

first frog spawn, forecasted freezing temperatures























First frog spawn of the spring in our pond. Worried, though, by the forecasted freezing temperatures.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

inexorable























When the snow cleared - almost as soon as it cleared - the spring came. On Sunday I looked at one of the big pots on our terrace and saw daffodils amongst the snow, their heads bent but starting to flower, the yellow petals unscathed, the leaves bright green. Ready to go. It was as if the spring would not be stopped.

At dawn the chorus has started and on the water meadows beside the Thames at Old Man's bridge the curlews have returned to nest.

Elsewhere - as in the photo above, taken near Raleigh Park in Oxford - the old is giving way to the new.

I've started reading Tim Pears' The Horseman. Though not before finishing Elmet, the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted first novel, by Fiona Mozley. I read about half around New Year and wondered whether I would go back to it. I'm glad I did. I can see why it was shortlisted - it's a thorough piece of work and its world and characters stay in the mind. Not that all the characters are that developed. Some are stock.

Elmet is set in South Yorkshire, in former mining villages and deep in the countryside. A time before mobile phones, I think I'm right in saying - don't remember one cropping up. A primitive-seeming time, where things have regressed to a kind of medieval lordship and serfdom society. The evil Mr Price, manor-owner, and his other land-owning cronies, grinding down their tenants and workers, who mostly live in privatised council houses that Price et al snapped up for song.

The story is told by Daniel, whose family - sister Cathy and their Daddy - have claimed squatters rights on Mr Price's land. Daddy has built a stout, primitive but snug family home in the middle of a dense copse that was once part of a farm owned by Daniel and Cathy's mum, who sold up after she spent all her money and then left the area. Life is rich in its simplicity and individualism. Life follows the patterns and rhythms of nature.

That the idyll can't last is a given. You know that something has gone horribly wrong from short sections set in the present that are interspersed with the main narrative. The latter tells of how the family came to the plot of land and how relations with Mr Price deteriorate.

Daddy, nearly seven-foot tall, used to work for Price as a bare-knuckle fighter and rent collector. The emotional complexities of his and Price's previously deeply entwined lives are what resurface and drive the tragic events that conclude the book.

The novel occupies a curious fictional and generic space. Neither quite real nor made up. There are echoes of contemporary Britain. The style is both naturalistic - sometimes beautifully, lyrically so - and that of a folk tale. There are long passages of narrative and not that much dialogue. While there is conceptual plot-arc suspense there is often not too much powering the story at scene-level other than the charm and vigor of the prose. One could imagine readers giving up, as I almost did. When characters do speak, they often do so in long blocky monologues, filling in events that have happened off-stage. I wasn't sure whether this was early-career writing or an intentional part of the folk tale style.

Yet, the novel is something of a triumph. You can tell that Mozley knows what she is about, even if she stretches scenes and sections - and patience -  almost to the limit, at times. You know she has a novelist's stamina and is thoroughgoing. I think this is, despite its faults, a very striking and special book. Mozley is definitely one to watch.

--

Though not a Theresa May fan, I was impressed by her article on the new Domestic Violence Bill in the Guardian, entitled, 'Our new domestic violence bill will outlaw economic and physical abuse'.
For me, one paragraph stood out:

'Not all abusive behaviour is physical. Controlling, manipulative and verbally abusive behaviour ruins lives and means thousands end up isolated, living in fear. So for the first time, the bill will provide a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes economic abuse, alongside other non-physical abuse.'

If the new bill confronts the misery caused by non-physical and economic abuse, it will be very welcome.

I've written about my own experiences in this blog and elsewhere. I am mindful, though, that I was in a privileged position: a very good education; a significant degree of financial independence. Yet still the reach of the abusive behaviour was long and devastating, even when I had moved away. What horrifies me is what life must be like for those who are trapped and cannot escape.

--

On Saturday I read a letter that I inherited that confirmed, painfully, something that I had suspected for many years.

As at other times I wondered why I feel driven to get at the truth, even though doing so causes the extension of suffering.

On Sunday, when listening to the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan on Radio 3's Private Passions, I heard an answer that made sense to me. He was talking about a logging scandal in Tasmania that he had protested about. It involved politics and big business and was causing the destruction of areas of rain forest. In the context of the slow process of people trying to find out what was really happening, Flanagan said (00:45:27):

'The truth is slow but it's inexorable and...people have a profound hunger for the truth that's as real as their hunger for food and water and sex - it's a fundamental need in us.'

--

Did a spot of DIY data recovery the other day after the hard drive of my laptop crashed. Used Recuva software and Bipra USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE Adapter Kit with Power Adapter for 2.5/3.5/5.25 inch SATA or IDE Drive. Both excellent!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

snow!


























The village was cut off on Friday. No 19 buses; roads blocked by stalled cars or inundated by drifts. Some 4x4s got through, probably.

Today snow ploughs have been out and traffic is passing along the streets again. It was quiet and still yesterday.

Apart from in the pubs. When I took our dog for a walk at about five-thirty, I could hear the voices and see how full the rooms were through the steamed up windows.

When later we went for a pint the snow made the night air excited and you could hear it in everyone's voices. I could feel echoes of feelings from snowfalls over the decades.

This morning the shelves in the Co-Op were bare, where there should have been fresh veg, fruit, meats, pizzas, cheeses and milk.

Last night there were ice-needles beneath the stone window ledges but this afternoon the snow is dripping and slipping onto the white and grime on the pavements.

In the garden drifts remain. Plants and ornaments are hidden up to a certain height. Fieldfares have come to feed, seeing off blackbirds and thrushes. I hope the frogs are all right beneath the thick ice.

Yesterday I worked at home. Accessing systems by virtual private network and apps. I might have been in my Oxford office, were it not for the dog snoozing by my feet.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

east wind, defining sunshine, the horseman and the wanderers by tim pears - spring reading!























Bitterly cold east wind. Yet there is also amazingly rich and defining sunshine.

Snowdrops are beginning to go over in the garden. Crocuses are in their prime.

Read a review in the TLS the other day of Tim Pears' latest novel The Wanderers, the second part of a trilogy that began with The Horseman. I have to confess that in the midst of last year's busy-ness, I missed the publication of the latter novel and am now really pleased to have been alerted to both. (Links above take you to Guardian reviews of the books.)

Set in the West Country during the early part of the twentieth century, the novels sound intensely alluring, with their promised evocations of the countryside and rural ways of life. Oxford vacations are never that much less busy than term times but there is perhaps a fraction or two of time to spare in the evenings and at weekends. I have found my spring reading!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

frosty mornings, spring sunlit days, poem
























Frosty mornings and spring sunlit days. Very uplifting and optimistic.

The daffodils ringing the bases of the lime trees along our street are all ready to flower.

I wrote the poem below this week. It is, of course, personal but I hope that something of it connects with readers. It stands alone but is also intended to be the start of a longer work.

The incident described happened a long time ago but it - and others around that time - cast a long shadow.

That phrase 'You'll get nothing' was so unexpected, so baffling. Even now, when I understand the strange thought processes behind it much more, it seems utterly bizarre - and terrifying. And prophetic - though in a way that wasn't intended.

--

You'll get nothing

October 1992

Mum opens her eyes and fixes me,
brow dark, lips disdainful.
'You'll get nothing, Francis.'

At lunchtime, there was no sign that
she might make such a statement.
When afterwards she fell asleep
watching the racing she seemed OK.

As so often, her words ambush -
but quite what the purpose is,
or whether I am really the intended victim
are impossible to say.

The benefit of hindsight -
time brushing the soil from the truth
at its inscrutable pace -
will give insights.

It is as if there is another me in the room.
Someone to whom the words,
'You'll get nothing, Francis,'
seem appropriate.

I know these wrong notes,
have known them all my life.
And they do ambush you, every time.
Strike you dumb.
Not sure if you've heard right.
Self-anaesthetised, protected,
you get through the moment.

Mum observes her imbecile son,
shakes her head.
'Never mind, never mind.
Are you going to make the tea, Francis?'

Sunday, 11 February 2018

rich spring sunlight, hedge, waterlogged ditch, celendine, hail
























Rich spring sunlight this morning, giving life to everything it lit, whether the brickwork of the old piggery or the first primrose beside the pond.

Out cycling, I stopped to photograph the hedge bounding a field near Lew that I've revisited in this blog a number of times since January 2012.

A short section was laid each year and now the whole roadside boundary is done.

But today the light wasn't right and I decided not to take a picture. Then I looked across the lane and saw the waterlogged ditch and field beyond. Beside where I had set down my bike a celendine was almost out. Both in their way images of early spring.

By the time I was home the hail was starting.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

balmy january, freezing february, melodious birdsong, cruellest month?, educated by tara westover, eight goldfinches!























Brrr! Pretty chilly these past few days.

Sometimes the views are gorgeous and the light can be full of spring and hope but the cold really gets to you.

All the worse because the balmy days of late January made me think that we'd got through winter and, hey presto, it was all birdsong and budding trees.

I always forget freezing February.

Though I have to admit that the lengthening days do make you feel like the world is waking up in spite of everything. There is, in fact, a lot of melodious birdsong accompanying amorous skirmishes, with flappings of wings, plumage boldly defined and luminescent.

TS Eliot thought April the cruellest month but I can't help feeling that the first days of February can have their sadistic moments.

Read a terrific review of a new memoir on Sunday. Educated by Tara Westover (Hutchinson, £14.99) is written by a woman who recently graduated with a PhD in intellectual history from the University of Cambridge, despite having had no formal education up to the age of seventeen. Brought up in a survivalist family in a 'jagged little patch of Idaho', she, as Helen Davies writes in the Sunday Times:

'...showed the most remarkable resilience in the face of extreme poverty, rigid religious beliefs, violence and family betrayals. It is a beautifully written account of how she grasps the sheer enormity of the world - and struggles to find her own place within it. The result is a memoir that is fit to stand alongside classics by the likes of Jeanette Winterson and Lorna Sage, Andrea Ashworth and Patricia Lockwood.'

Wow!

Of course, the Sunday Times piece is behind the paywall... So, here's an open review from Kirkus.

Returning to birds, a better tally than last year during the Big Garden Birdwatch, including eight goldfinches! Eight! Not that I think of the BGB as a competitive sport or anything...

Monday, 29 January 2018

roadside snowdrops, burns night supper, the debatable land: the lost world between scotland and england by graham robb







Came across this patch of snowdrops when cycling on Saturday. They were on the verge between Clanfield and Black Bourton.

As last week, there are days that feel as if spring has arrived and others when winter whistles in with a vengeance.

On Saturday night we had our Burns Night supper. Delicious Cullen Skink and haggis, get-up-and-dance Orcadian fiddle music, tingling Cairn o'Mohr spring oakleaf wine and a dram of Highland Park. Not to mention a poem or two.

On a related theme, I was fascinated to read Melanie Reid's review of The Debatable Land: The Lost World between Scotland and England by Graham Robb (Picador, 334pp, £20) in the Times on Saturday. An exploration of the violent history of the borderlands of Scotland and England - or, as the Times intro put it 'the brutal past of the bloody no man’s land where two countries meet'.

More accustomed to writing about French literary history, Robb seems nevertheless to have produced a vivid account of the area to which he and his wife (my former boss) moved some years ago. Having heard a little of these lawless times from a friend who is a descendant of one of the fearsome border reiver families, the Armstrongs, this is a book that I look forward to reading.

Melanie Reid concludes by saying of Robb:

'His skill as a writer is to understand, without being fey, the fourth dimension: peeling back the modern landscape to find buried stories and forgotten paths, metaphors for life. He has the ability to bring alive quirk and coincidence - although sometimes too much - in the resonance of place and time. If nothing else, I hope his book encourages people off the M6 and into the lost interior of the Debatable Land.'

For those with access beyond the paywall: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/review-the-debatable-land-the-lost-world-between-scotland-and-england-by-graham-robb-k6htvtzhc.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

narrow boat wedged, spring-winter, russell square, log fire, narrative magazine writers' resources - including oxford mst








Came across this narrow boat wedged under the footbridge over the Thames just south of Bossoms Boat Yard. Am hoping no one was injured. Suspect that it broke free of its moorings during the floods.

I first saw it over a week ago and yesterday, when I did the same walk, there were river rescue vehicles on the bank, so I imagine it will have been extricated by now.

Alternating spring-like and gloomy-winter days recently.

In the middle of the week, I was in London for a committee meeting and ate my sandwiches in Russell Square beneath the plane trees. The air was scything but the light was delicate and reassuring of good days to come.

Today is all fine misty rain, milky skies and muted colours. A day for marking work beside the log fire.

For creative writers, a new section has just been launched on the Narrative Magazine website called Writers' Resources. It lists Writing Programs (good that the Oxford MSt is there in the international listings), Conferences, Books on Writing, Best Advice and Editing Programs. Definitely worth a browse.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

refreshing and energising holiday, bampton history, bampton poet, john philips 1676-1709


























Went back to work this week, after a wonderfully refreshing and energising holiday.

Enjoyed lots of walks, even though the winds were strong and sharp at times. On Buckland Marsh, the Thames flooded the water meadows. But those at Burroway, where the curlew nest in spring, were mostly dry and when we walked them looked almost spring-like.

On Marsh Lane, some of the trees were both blue-green with lichen and swathed in claret-coloured ivy leaves.

This Christmas, I returned to the Victoria County History entries for Bampton and its neighbouring villages, which I first read in 2001. In those days, I read from a massive volume borrowed from an Oxford library. This time, I read on my phone - times have changed! - thanks to the estimable British History Online project.

Something I'd missed early in the new century was the mention of a poet, John Philips, who was born in Bampton in 1676. I was intrigued and read round him, discovering that he wrote in the Miltonic style and was praised by James Thomson (author of The Seasons - 1730) for his 'rhyme-unfetter'd' - or blank - verse. Philips' most respected poem is Cyder, which celebrates the growing of orchards, the making of cider and the rural way of life, amongst other things, and which is modelled on Virgil's Georgics. In its turn it was the model for later georgics, including Thomson's.

Philips was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and died in Hereford, where his mother's family came from, of tuberculosis in 1709, aged just thirty-three.

The New York Public Library copy of the 1708 Jacob Tonson edition of Cyder has been digitised and is available on Internet Archive.

The poem is a delight to read. It's actually much more wide-ranging than its title suggests, combining passages about orchard growing and cider making with moral philosophy, sweeping summaries of British history, politics, paeans to various aristocrats - 'Thee al∫o, Glorious Branch of Cecil's Line,/This County claims...' - (presumably existing or hoped-for patrons), and rural lore. While there are Miltonic and neo-Classical flourishes - 'Hyperborean Bla∫ts', 'Tartarean Dregs', 'Th' Olympian Hill' - the writing is generally accessible and has considerable charm and humanity.

The best bits are the passages relating to Cider and the countryside. I loved the names of the cider apples: 'Woodcock...Pippin...Moyle...Rough Eliot...∫weet Permain'.

There is plenty of advice - about, for example, grafting apple trees and, here, knowing the signs that tell of the weather to come:

The Woodcocks early Vi∫it, and Abode
Of long Continuance in our tempertate Clime,
Foretell a liberal Harve∫t: He of Times
Intelligent, th'har∫h Hyperborean Ice
Shuns for our equal Winters; when our Suns
Cleave the chill'd Soil, he backward wings his Way
To Scandinavian frozen Summers, meet
For his num'd Blood. But nothing profits more
Than frequent Snows: O, may'∫t Thou often ∫ee
Thy Furrows whiten'd by the woolly Rain,
Nutricious! Secret Nitre lurks within
The porous Wet, quick'ning the languid Glebe. (p. 60)

'Woolly Rain' is wonderful!

Finally, in these two extracts, Philips first extols the virtues of moderate drinking - keeping things 'within The Golden Mean' - then warns of the dangers of over-indulgence:

...the well fraught Bowl
Circles ince∫∫ant, whil∫t the humble Cell
With quavering Laugh, and rural Je∫ts re∫ounds.
Ea∫e, and Content, and undi∫∫embled Love
Shine in each Face; the Thoughts of Labour pa∫t
Encrea∫e their Joy. (p. 72)

But:

...if thou wilt prolong
Dire Compotation, forthwith Rea∫on quits
Her Empire to Confu∫ion, and Mi∫rule,
And vain Debates; then twenty Tongues at once
Con∫pire in ∫en∫ele∫s Jargon, naught is heard
But Din, and various Clamour, and mad Rant... (p. 76)

It's lovely to know that there was a seventeenth century Bampton poet. Meanwhile, I haven't finished reading the County History - the rest is a treat for the coming weeks!