Welcome to justthoughtsnstuff

Most of this blog's 600 plus posts are about day to day things - highlights from the previous week, books read, places visited - together with photos of what I've seen. There are some, though, that deal with a difficult subject - obsessional emotional and economic abuse that went on for several decades and that came to a head in autumn 2010. Writing jtns became in part a way of coping with the consequences of what happened and exploring them openly. This aspect of the blog is discussed in JTNS, An Introduction and Life-Writing Talk, with Reference to Trust: A family story. Now that the pain of the past years is easing (after many false dawns, when I thought it had finally passed), the frequency of the posts is lessening and in 2020, when jtns will be ten years old, they will stop. I hope that you enjoy the photos and reading the happier posts (the majority) and take a little from them. Frank, October 2018

Sunday, 29 September 2019

moonbeams, week's holiday, step by small step, best things, friendships, apples



More moonbeams. Full, this time.

More moonshine? That would be cruel.

A week's holiday (amongst other things) since this photo was taken. Wonderful. Relaxing.

Not so, the political events, though no one can predict what will happen next, I don't think, and maybe it is best to take things step by small step, trying to hold on to values and friendships and the best things in one's life in the midst of the storm.

A time for putting much of the allotment to bed for the winter, of lifting the remaining potatoes, of enjoying picking and eating apples.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

fab moon, david cameron's memoirs, heatherdown, i remember, i remember, stowe, sorry mess



Although the full moon isn't until tonight, the almost full moon last night was pretty fab!

I was intrigued to read in the Times that David Cameron had been to the same prep school that I attended, Heatherdown. His account of the bath line ups, complete with the headmaster wreathed in pipe smoke, resonated, although I thought his recollections did sound a little worse than I remembered. Surprising, given that he was there a few years after me - one would have hoped that things had improved by then. Though from what he says, I must have overlapped with his elder brother for a term.

I've not written much about Heatherdown in this blog - just one post, if I remember rightly, called... i remember, i remember, which focuses on arriving at the school on the same day as Prince Andrew. In the light of later events in his life, such far off and innocent days.

I take the point that Cameron makes about going away to boarding school aged seven (eight in my case) seeming 'brutal' and 'bizarre'. But prep school, just like Stowe, was at times for me a refuge from what was happening at home. I remember walking round and round the boundaries of the sports fields trying to make sense of all the things that had been said during the rows between my parents. Things I've only really been able to understand fully by reading the family papers after their deaths.

Will I read more of Cameron's memoirs? I dare say I will - they are living history, after all. Though I can only share his regrets about the sorry mess we are in now.

Friday, 13 September 2019

tomatoes!, mellow, moon watching



J's cherry tomatoes! They and the beefsteak variety have done amazingly well this year. Often they succumb to blight quite early - the blight here being much worse than it was in Oxford, for some reason - and we ripen them in a drawer with an apple. But this time, it's great to be able to pick them and enjoy them fresh as we pass by.

Some lovely mellow September days this week.

The other evening we sat at the top of the garden in the twilight and watched the moon.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

working in oxford, walks, cox's orange pippin, sparrow hawk



Worked in Oxford yesterday. Had a lovely walk beforehand, along the Oxford canal, across Port Meadow and beside the Thames. It's over eighteen years since we moved from Osney. The time has flashed by but it's great to still have the opportunity of doing the walks I loved from those fourteen years spent on the Island.

Ate our first Cox apple yesterday. Gorgeously rich sweetness. It went well with the Abondance goat's and cow's cheese we brought back from our holiday in the Alps.

Coming downstairs this morning, I was surprised to see the sunflower hearts bird feeder on the lawn. I couldn't think what had brought it down - a cat or a squirrel, perhaps. Then I found four great tit tail feathers on the patio below where it had been hanging. Later J said there had been a hawk about yesterday and she had chased it away from the bird table. The culprit, I reckon. Sparrow hawk.

Friday, 30 August 2019

la chapelle-d'abondance, montreux, the late breakfasters by robert aickman


Superb short holiday, staying with friends in La Chapelle-d'Abondance in the Haute-Savoie! Preceded by a fabulously delicious and convivial lunch in Montreux, with gorgeous views of Lake Geneva.

Holiday reading was The Late Breakfasters by Robert Aickman (a Faber Finds reprint from the author of MR James-quality ghost stories who also happened to be one of the co-founders of the Inland Waterways Association - and who had many other talents and claims to fame). The author was suggested by an MSt student - a recommendation for which I am extremely grateful.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

first james grieve, scrummy veg



...Meanwhile, we harvested our first James Grieve the other day. More since.

And the allotment is coming into its own. Scrummy veg!

summer dredging, erosion?, summer school - wonderful!, oxford never sleeps!





After I saw the old laptop that had been dredged from the Oxford canal back in June, the dredging continued for several weeks and then moved on to the Thames nearby. A few of the items recovered shown above. One wonders how long it would have taken for the waters to erode the bikes.

When I last posted, I was about to start teaching my summer school course. Lots of work but what a fabulous experience. Plenty of wonderful writing from the students and such inspiring discussions!

Much happening at the libraries also. Oxford never sleeps these days!

Saturday, 27 July 2019

dh@oxss, time!, creative writing summer school, pond, festooned



Really enjoyed co-presenting at the Digital Humanities @ Oxford Summer School on Thursday (Humanities Data strand).

It was a pleasure to talk people through the images, xml encoding and digital preservation sections of Emma's wonderful Digital Editions course. (I was also pleased, it has to be said, that our slot was the 9-10.30am one - before, that is, the day reached its highest temperatures!)

The summer school was held at Keble and I loved going back - I say going back but I spend much of my working life only about five minutes away. Even so, those five minutes do seperate me from the reality of the college.

On Wednesday, I went over to check out the room where our presentation was to be held. On leaving I turned down a narrow flagstoned path in between the Victorian buildings and the sight of the sun on the stone slipped me back across the years momentarily. Then I thought of how much time had elapsed since I was an undergraduate. So much has happened, yet the time seemed no time at all...

Now, preparing for the Creative Writing Summer School at Exeter College. Talking of time... Another summer school! So looking forward to seeing colleagues and meeting the students at the reception and dinner tomorrow!

(The picture of the pond was taken a couple of months ago - everything is rather more festooned now, and the lily pads are covering much of the water.)

Saturday, 20 July 2019

wiltshire deep space, relaxed, punting






Had a wonderful week off, including a few nights away in Wiltshire. Deep space: thatched, flagstoned floor pub; tiny hamlet with, mostly, just the sound of the landscape to listen to; long walks through fields and along wooded hillside paths with not a soul about; delicious food and drink.

I've not relaxed so much in a week in a long while.

Saturday, took to the river - Cherwell - in the Kellogg punt. Not the agile undergrad I might once have been but OK...


Saturday, 22 June 2019

peonies!, allotment ups and downs, work then lunch



The peonies are thriving, despite the battering downpours of the past fortnight.

Up to the allotment when the air was still cool earlier. Lots of hoeing, feeding, watering and grass cutting.

The broad beans are looking great, as are the spuds (in flower). Some of the runners have been chomped, though, by something - bird, slug, rabbit? And there won't be as many blackcurrants as in recent years - I left the pruning too late. Still, decent sized currants. And the new gooseberry is doing well (a present from a neighbour and only planted in the spring).

Some work - prep for the MSt Guided Retreat - then a late lunch at the top of the garden.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

... the flowering rush!



... The flowering rush is out!

mosaic pond, rain-swept square, further surprise ...



Travelling home this evening, in between arriving at Carterton on the S2 and leaving for Bampton on the 19, I suddenly noticed a mosaic pond in one of the otherwise rain-swept, deserted squares. Its wriggles made it alive with fish, currents, ripples and overlapping lily pads.

At home, there was a further pond surprise ...

Friday, 14 June 2019

toshiba t2450ct, the mind might boggle, soaked and frozen

Not as picturesque as some of the scenes on the banks of the Oxford canal but nonetheless fascinating.

A Toshiba T2450CT - from the early 1990s, I think. It appeared a few weeks ago, when dredging started. It sat on the bank for some days. Then one morning it was gone. I'd hoped it would stay there for ever, getting slowly enveloped and concealed by the vegetation.

I suppose it was just too tempting to someone - unless they returned it to the water.

Seeing it made wonder me how it got there, naturally. Was it dropped accidentally by someone on a narrowboat? Was it stolen? Or related to a more sinister crime? The mind might boggle.

--

Gosh, it's been wet these last few days! I got so tired of getting soaked. And being frozen. Still, the pond is all the better for being topped up with fresh rainwater. The flowering rush is nearly in bloom. And in the border the peony is in flower.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

garden excitement, incl. flowering rush, willow cotton wool, 'lucid and focused' - not, end of the academic year



An exciting time in the garden. Peonies just coming into flower and the flowering rush in our pond about to bloom - a rare event that we've been awaiting for five years!

Lots more happening, in the garden, on the allotment and elsewhere - see willow cotton wool above. (Willow? I think so, unless anyone knows different. This photo was taken beside the Thames near Tumbling Bay.)

Have been doing some final edits this week - hardly any, really, which is a joy. At one point I was re-reading a blog post that appears in Trust, in which I said that the third section of the book needed hardly any rewriting. That was back in 2015. It was, I said, 'lucid and focused'. And yet when I returned to the typescript many months later I realised how wrong I was. Although what was said was all there it was in a form that made sense only to me. It's taken a huge amount of work to get right.

Hard to believe that we're approaching the end of the academic year at Oxford. What a marathon it's been. Rewarding, though. And, of course, as far as Continuing Education goes, that never stops!

Saturday, 18 May 2019

colin grant, kellogg, great brook lane, bart van es

Really enjoyed Colin Grant's talk at the Kellogg College Creative Writing Seminar on Wednesday. A convivial - and delicious -guest night dinner afterwards.

Have been cycling along the Great Brook lane quite a bit recently after an extended period of doing different routes. The lane is long, straight and relatively even, with meadows either side at the western end (the one that floods) and arable fields towards Chimney, the ground having risen a foot or so by then.

The meadows are bright green and the verges are already abundant tangles of leaf and flower.

Looking forward to a joint Writers in Oxford and Kellogg College event on Monday - Bart van Es will be talking about his Cota-winning book, The Cut Out Girl.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

abraham-isaac-jacob, trust: a family story, rewriting and editing completed, library, book launch

Came across this striking plant south of Wolvercote beside the Oxford canal yesterday. I can't remember seeing it before and identification took a while. At first I thought it might be Russian Comfrey but a different book led me to the glorious name Abraham-Isaac-Jacob, a member of the Borage family. But why that name, though? It appears to have been given to a number of plants over the years, including Pulmonaria or Lungwort (also known as Wounded Soldiers).

--

Have now finished the Trust: A family story rewrites and edits. Working steadily in the early mornings, the evenings and at weekends, the pace of the process increased.

When I first returned to the text two months ago, I'd expected I would simply read through last autumn's version and sign it off. I was downcast when I realised that there was still work to do. For a day or so I wondered if I would ever finish.

Having re-read the first section of the book over the past couple of days, I feel confident that there will be few further changes - initiated by me, at least.

What remains is going through the annotated Word document and confirming the edits - all marked in red (green, second pass) as additions or crossings out. I considered tracked changes but decided against them because I want to keep very close to the work and the text as I proceed.

There will be a final read through - which is bound to turn up minor corrections - but the work that is left won't take long.

--

At the library in Oxford today - to be preceded by a walk along the canal (past Abraham-Isaac-Jacob). Also looking forward to a friend's book launch in the village.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

old walk, abandoned corral, arson attack, digital humanities day

I've enjoyed walking my old route to work across Wolvercote Green and along the Oxford canal to Jericho.

When we lost our direct bus, I started doing the walk over the shoulder of Cumnor Hill but recently - when recovering from a broken toe - I discovered I can get a slightly later connecting bus and reach the Woodstock Road roundabout in time to do the canal one. I doubt this will always be the case because the post-Easter lull in traffic on the A40 will end but it's lovely to rediscover it.

The abandoned corral at Wolvercote is a beautiful piece if work (above). It was built by a man who was doing a sustainability project that involved rearing two beef cattle on the green and the little paddocks in between railway line and canal, using traditional methods, including scything the grass and drying it in loose stacks to make hay.

It was a gorgeous project to catch glimpses of.

Then in autumn 2014 it ended with an arson attack on the barn in which the hay was stored. Sickening. I wrote about this in a post four years ago.

Cycled this morning in high winds. Hard going on the way out but a breeze coming back. Amazing how still it is when the wind is directly behind you. Not a whisper.

Looking forward to the Gale Digital Humanities Day at the British Library next week.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

dandelions, cycle ride

They may be the scourge of lawnkeepers - and allotmenteers, it has to be said - but along the verges dandelions are gorgeous at this time of year!

Hugely enjoyable cycle ride towards the Thames and beside the Great Brook. The air cooled by the north-easterly breeze and the sunlight bright and life-full.

Monday, 15 April 2019

jane eyre, lexicon of terror, 1950s films, trust: a family story, joint committee

Finished Jane Eyre the other day. Hard to read the novel in the way I once did in the light of Wide Sargasso Sea but for all its anachronistic faults (which are uncomfortable to read) - not to mention its narrator's occasional smugness - it is a magnificent story. And Jane is a complex, comprehensively written character - her humanity exists in her flaws as much as her strengths.

Its narrative texture is rich and varied. The scenes that evoke the British countryside are vibrant and beautifully written. As, now, a professional creative writer, I was particularly fascinated by the St John Rivers sections. I'd not been able to articulate the observations years ago that I might make today, though the chapters did seem distinct. There is one scene especially - at Jane's cottage beside the school, when St John calls on her and the characters speak without inhibition (and speech tags). Just back and forth. Just people chatting - in styles so different to the more formal language at Thornfield. The setting done with perfect simplicity and economy. So modern. So kitchen sink, in a way. (A stone sink, of course.)

Now I have moved on to the utterly compelling - and shocking - A Lexicon of Terror by Marguerite Feitlowitz, which examines the Dirty War in Argentina in the mid seventies and early eighties.

--

Without a DVD to watch a month or so ago, we came across this site - The 100 Best Movies of the 1950s - and have been immersed in 1950s films ever since: The Barefoot Contessa, Sabrina, Journey to Italy and Born Yesterday thus far. A supposedly lost, grey decade comes to life. Bogart philosophical, wise and compassionate in ways not previously suspected. George Sanders, the awkward, cold British male, who seems as uncomfortably apposite now as in the 'post war' era.

--

Had some time to work on Trust: A family story during the past fortnight. The process of rewriting and editing this work must seem so drawn out to the onlooker - which indeed it is. I have so little spare writing time in between library work and teaching. But I have made time this year - and will make more over the coming months. I am pleased with the major structural changes and rewriting I did last year. While there is further strengthening to be done, this is proving quite straightforward to do and - hey - the end really is in sight.

--

Very pleased that the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill is meeting and taking the bill forward, despite the all consuming demands of Brexit.

--

Meantime, some exotic tulips have popped up in the garden.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

stroll, amble, spring, retreat

























A stroll to the Bell at Langford along Calcroft Lane (aka the gated road) early in the week. Well, not quite - bus to Clanfield then the walk. Then a longer walk back - even longer than planned, what with the wrong turn (farmer kind to set us on the right path, despite us disturbing breeding snipe - I didn't know they did breed round here, just overwintered).

An amble round the Barrington Estate the next day.

Spring is definitely springing.

MSt in Creative Writing guided retreat this weekend.

Monday, 18 March 2019

violets, my oxford: a memoir by catherine haines























Saw this gorgeous bank of violets on the outskirts of the village the other weekend, as we came back from a Sunday walk.

Really thrilled that a life-writing work by a former student has just been published. My Oxford: A memoir by Catherine Haines was the winner the the New Welsh Writing Awards (Aberystwyth University Prize for a Memoir) in 2017 and is now out in paperback and Kindle, under the New Welsh Review's Rarebytes imprint.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

2nd anniversary of the streetbooks launch party for facing the strange by sb sweeney



















Two years ago today, StreetBooks held the launch party at Blackwell's Oxford for Facing the Strange by SB Sweeney. It was a brilliant evening, with a reading from the novel by Roger Ashton-Griffiths, a video reading by the author (excellent psychedelic backgrounds) and music from David Rowland. Read the jtns post about the event.

This is what I said about the novel two years ago: At one level Facing the Strange is uncompromising, tough. It deals with difficult subjects, including the self-deception of addiction and family breakdown. But then there is the Becketian comedy in the face of adversity and the insight into people. Above all it's about people. No matter how these men and women in the book are - whether at their best or at their worst - they are written about with compassion and humanity. It's a story of vividly realised places - Preston, London, Ireland, North Yorkshire, Somerset. It's a novel of polyphony - of a wide range of beautifully rendered voices. Facing the Strange is a book that asks challenging questions about where we have come from and where we are now.

Hugely proud to have played a part in bringing this novel to readers. If you haven't read it, try the Kindle ebook on Amazon - UK, US.

For more information about the novel and its author, visit the SB Sweeney and StreetBooks websites. You can also follow SB Sweeney on Twitter.

And here's some more praise for the novel:

'SB Sweeney writes with a clarity and wit that brings to life the less glossy side of the eighties: a world of squats, bedroom bands and cheap drugs, where a CV most likely meant a pint of cider and Vimto. The intriguing and intertwining tales make an addictive read.'  Deb Googe: My Bloody Valentine and The Thurston Moore Group

'One great long drunken rambling guitar solo of a novel!'  Tim Pears

'It's La bohème meets Trainspotting, with the structure of a dream; a hole in the wall of the ordinary, an extraordinary landscape beyond.'  Roger Ashton-Griffiths: Actor and Writer

'Facing the Strange is a kaleidoscope of intertwined lives told with verve, humour and - despite its darker themes - lightness of touch.'  Mary Lucille Hindmarch, The Oxford Times

'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.'  Liz Nicholls, Round & About Magazine

Saturday, 23 February 2019

jtns' ninth birthday, moonlight, sunlight, tutes, frogs, new glasses























On Wednesday 20th February it was jtns' ninth birthday. The photo above is perhaps a rather dark image for the first post of the blog's tenth year - especially on a day that is alive with spring sunlight - but the sight of the trees and moon from our bedroom window last night was breathtaking.

An earlyish start this morning before heading into Oxford for assignment tutorials. Great to be spending time discussing the students' hard work.

Back in the village, the daffodils ringing the bases of the limes in our street have stalled these past few weeks since I first mentioned them. Perhaps today will bring them into flower.

Saw a frog in our pond this morning by torchlight as I went to the woodshed to collect logs. The frogs have been fast asleep, so far as I can tell, till now.

This morning, while eating toast and J's scrummy marmalade, I was idly scanning an article about donations to the new 'political party' and came to a reference to a recent survey of voting intentions carried out by, as I read it, Opium Research. A wacky name for a pollster, I thought, before realising it was 'Opinion'. New glasses needed...

Saturday, 9 February 2019

snowfalls, amazing walk, lots going on, daffodils, powering towards spring

























Big snowfalls just over a week ago but not as bad as last year's and the buses kept going.

Gloomy to begin with, when the snow fell, but last Sunday we had an amazing walk across the white fields before the thaw.

Busy time of term. Lots going on at the libraries and as far as teaching is concerned.

The daffodils round the bases of the limes in our street are about a quarter of their way up and will soon be out if the weather is favourable.

Snow may fall and, last night and today, gales may blow but the year is powering towards spring.

Friday, 25 January 2019

snow, where did the super blood wolf moon get to?, burn's night, consultation response and draft bill























Huge snowflakes fell on Tuesday afternoon but didn't settle as much as expected. Even so there was a satisfyingly snowy dusting in Raleigh Park the following morning.

Full term in full swing.

Super blood wolf moon spotting in west Oxfordshire was a non-starter, although as I walked up the garden path the following morning to get the logs for later, the sky was clear-bright, with superb views of the non-super blood wolf moon...

Burn's Night supper tomorrow (a day late, of course). The haggis is in the fridge and the bottle of Cairn O'Mohr oak leaf wine is in.

Was pleased that the Government's domestic abuse consultation response and draft bill was published last Monday. I'd feared that it would be thrown disastrously off course by Brexit. I found it a very moving document to read. I hope its measures soon begin to help victims. I also hope that it will help people on the outside to identify the signs of abuse.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

a few days off, old man's bridge, great tew, memory lane, bell at langford, phantom thread, mobile mini rant...























A few days off.

Two six-mile walks - one from the village, taking in Rushey Lock and Old Man's Bridge (shown in photo), the other through the countryside to the east of Great Tew (following a route recommended by the Times a few weeks ago).

The latter a trip down memory lane, ending as it did with a visit to the Falkland Arms. A pub we used to go to when we first met in the mid-1980s and which I had known for several years before that. Forty years ago, almost, since I first visited it... Gosh!

And it's not changed that much thankfully, although it's definitely an upmarket country pub nowadays, whereas all those years ago it was simply a local where you could have a pint and a bag of peanuts - albeit in an historic building. One that was just being itself. Now it's somewhat self-aware. A gastro pub, no doubt. A place where you might mingle with celebs, what with Soho Farmhouse up the road and every once-tumbled-down farmhouse now done up to the nines!

But it was lovely that there was enough of the old place left to take you back.

A trip to the Bell at Langford for lunch today - delicious food.

Meantime, watching Phantom Thread on DVD (with the option of steaming on mobile). Talking of which, the OS map we used at Great Tew could be downloaded to mobile - instead of me struggling with the folds as the light faded (my choice yesterday). There was none of this mobile business forty years ago, I can tell you, and we were all the better off... Apart from blogs, obviously!