Saturday, 30 October 2010

demo

As I came out of the Stanford Centre, opposite Magdalen, last week, a stream of good-natured protesters ambled past. They had fluorescent home-made placards with felt tip anti-government and save the arts slogans on them.

I'd not been aware of any protests before apart from the anti-vivisection ones on Parks Road.

Stupid not to think there wouldn't be protests really.

It still surprised me, though, and taking these two photos reminded me of demos years ago, when Mrs T came to power--and before. I remember taking photos of people on Solidarity gatherings in Nottingham city centre when I had aspirations to be a smudger.

There is a feeling of disquiet, which is both unsettling and energising.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

jo thoenes, kate saunders, oxford street, kc, stephen

On Thursday I appeared on BBC Oxford's Jo in the Afternoon programme, talking about Invisible and the big chunk of my life that I've lived in Oxford and Oxfordshire.

I was a bit nervous before I entered the studio but was immediately put at my ease by Jo Thoenes. It was fascinating seeing how she produced the programme as it went along while developing the interview and making me feel very much at home.

One of the things we talked about both before and during the interview was an incident years ago when I met the descendant of one of the characters in DH Lawrence's The White Peacock.

My girlfriend at that time was studying English at Nottingham University and I used to visit her a lot when I was studying agriculture at Cirencester. We used to go and explore the places DH Lawrence used in his novels, as described in a lovely little book called The Country of My Heart.

One afternoon we went to a churchyard beside a huge mansion which featured in his first novel. It was really exciting to see things like the flight of steps from church to terrace that were so vivid in the novel (glimpsed by moonlight in the book, if I remember rightly).

Anyway by then the house was a football academy and you couldn't visit, only look at it from the churchyard. When we were there we became aware of a man standing nearby. We got talking to him and he told us that his family used to own the big house. He looked as though he'd fallen on hard times because his clothes were frayed, although he was wearing gold cufflinks with his family crest on them. He invited us back to his 'new' house for tea.

Well, the new house was pretty big too and there were Stubbs paintings on the walls and beautiful furniture. We talked to him and his wife for an hour of so. It turned out that his grandfather had been the squire in The White Peacock. This character had been criticised by Lawrence and his descendant was keen to set the record straight, revealing lots of stories about 'nasty' Mr Lawrence in the process.

Lawrence, incidentally, had particularly objected to the fact that the squire had fenced off the rabbit warrens on the estate and stopped the miners from snaring a free meal.

From what I remember, the rabbits were killed by the gamekeeper and sent by train to London for their meat and fur. I think Lawrence thought this mean-spirited. The squire, like his real-life counterpart, was, of course, the mine-owner.

If you'd like to listen to the interview, it's available on the iPlayer till Wednesday and my piece starts 19 min, 10 sec into the programme: http://bbc.in/9A2nlZ.

I was thrilled that Invisible got a favourable review in the Times yesterday from Kate Saunders. The web version is behind the News International paywall: http://bit.ly/aTBvVt. But the best bit is: "This is Posy Simmonds territory; we're among fretful middle-class types who take themselves very seriously and make an enormous meal of every bit of slap-and-tickle. That these people are bearable company is entirely down to the author's lively wit and acute understanding of the emotional landscape."

Canada seems long ago now, although I have such happy memories of Toronto--including my last supper there at the Duke of York and of Oxford Street (which looked as if it were in... Oxford).

Yesterday, I went to Stephen Wall's memorial service at Keble college chapel. Stephen was the man who interviewed me when I was applying to the college to read English and was my tutor when I was an undergraduate there. I owe him so much. He gave me an opportunity that transformed my life.

The service was secular, as Stephen must have wanted. Family and colleagues talked about their memories of him and read from his fiction and his criticism. I had not realised that one of those who spoke, Val Cunningham, had been one of his first Keble students. Neither did I realise that the brilliant critic Ian Hamilton had also been taught by Stephen. What an influential man Stephen was.

It is appropriate, perhaps, that Posy Simmonds is mentioned in the Times review of Invisble. It was Stephen who introduced me to her work. I remember vividly him telling me about Tesoddit and chuckling.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

last of the summer veg

A surprisingly sharp frost this morning.

When I went to the allotment to pull up the bean, courgette and cucumber plants I wasn't expecting to harvest any summer veg. And yet, as the picture above shows, there were some runners and cues left.

That was a lovely surprise.

Carrots looking good although those are pretty much the THREE turnips! Not a good year for turnips, beetroots or swedes (despite lots of watering)--though the parsnips look OK.

Every year's a challenge...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

can't believe, village idiot, kensington market (what a trooper)

Toronto seems like a dream. I can't believe I was really there. Maybe if I'd had a day or two's rest after returning, the experience would seem less unreal but as it was I had just four hours sleep after getting home before the alarm went and a busy week started.

More marking, First Week of Oxford's full term and lots of extras, including more Initiate editing (which is, though, looking very good--launches on Thursday 18th November at Blackwell, Broad Street).

This time last Saturday, I was eating my last Toronto supper in the Duke of York pub, after attending the final day at LASA and spending a couple of hours exploring something of the city. I'd been told I should visit Kensington market because I would love the atmosphere.

On my way I stopped off at the Village Idiot pub (or L'idiot du village), which is opposite the Art Gallery of Toronto, at the start of a fascinating oldy-worldy quarter that includes China Town. Amongst the newish buildings are a lot of Victorian-looking terraces. Nearly all the buildings, old and new, are pretty battered. Wherever you see shops selling Artist's Material you know you're onto a winner.

It was good to have a pint of London Pride at the Idiot (served better than in some UK pubs), although I did resist the triple-distilled Belgian Delirium Tremens (8.5%). Bar staff wore T-shirts with the slogan, 'A good pub couldn't function without an idiot!'

Kensington market was like I imagine the King's Road to have been in the 60s. The tatty Isuzu Trooper cruising past, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds blaring out, said it all.

Happy memories!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

portrait room, humanities library, and gran baile?









































Getting up early to go to the 7 am Gale presentation in the portrait room of the Law Library of Upper Canada was a bit of a shock to the system (not to mention the brain), although the walk downtown in the dark was magical, especially going through Queen's Park (all squirrels sound asleep, the sensible things). The Law Library is a magnificent Georgian-style building opposite the Sheraton--all oak panelling, chandeliers and, well, portraits. Thanks to Gale-Cengage Learning for the breakfast and coffee.

I really like the juxtaposition of old buildings and new in Toronto, especially in the university quarter, which I was shown round yesterday by my former colleague Miguel, a very experienced Hispanic subject specialist based at the humanities library. (He had faith in my abilities when he was in Oxford, for which I am eternally grateful.) The library itself has all the features that British libraries are only now beginning to aspire to--the banks of computers for readers, the provision of both informal and formal study space, cafes that help to make libraries not just places where you read but popular social venues, and 24/7 opening.

Some great events at the Congress earlier--including a moving documentary about the migration of Cuban farmers to the cities. It was clear how much the farmers loved the land and way of life and how let down they felt by centralised agricultural marketing schemes.

Tonight there is the Gran Baile at the Sheraton from 10.30 until the small hours. I'd like to go but am not sure I'll still be awake then. We'll see.

If I do go, my route will take me past the Royal Ontario Museum, above, which somehow looks even more of a disaster-zone than it must do usually, what with the building works and bollards on the opposite side of the street.

Friday, 8 October 2010

toronto











































Arrived in Toronto the day before yesterday for the Latin American Studies Association congress, which is being held at the Sheraton and Hilton. Was really exciting to see the first signs of Canada--lots of tiny islands--just north of Goose Bay.

Staying at the Holiday Inn on Bloor myself, which is in the heart of the University quarter. Very buzzy and full of life, this area of town. Good pubs, cafes and restaurants, plus a mass of museums and theatres, it seems like.

I've settled on Overeasy for breakfast and Hemingway's for dinner--latter washed down with a pint or two of Tankhouse, a dark red hoppy bitter.

The half-hour walk to the congress takes me through Queen's Park with it's amazing squirrels--most of which have glossy black coats (some even have white paint stripes down their tails). What an amazing sight they are. I had no idea there were such squirrels.

Downtown Toronto is pretty impressive, especially at night. The towerblocks are like light sculptures.

A couple of coincidences. On the flight out I was sitting next to an Irish guy who now lives in Canada. It turned out that his brother is best mates with the guy who owns Hamilton's bar in Leenane--a favourite pub. It was good to chat about Galway and about Canada. Then, yesterday, as I was setting off for the conference, I caught sight of someone heading into a shop out of the corner of my eye. There was something about her. 'It can't be,' I thought. But it was--a friend from Osney days, over here to talk at another conference. She's staying at the same hotel and goes back on the same flight. Weirdly wonderful.

As well as attending the conference, I'm teaching online and marking.

It's good to have a lot to do, to be honest. No matter how exciting a new city is, there are always gaps that ordinarily you struggle to fill.