Friday, 31 December 2010

happy new year!

Well, according to our local MP, David Cameron, the road ahead is a tad uncertain. At least the bike's ready, even if I'm not!

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

bull

Our new friends' house was darker than expected and there was no sound of guests enjoying themselves. But then the door was thick.

We rang the bell, which mercifully didn't work. A tiptoe round the side and a peep in the kitchen confirmed that no party was being held tonight.

Back home, after wandering through the village all dressed up, we looked at the invitation. Yep, tomorrow night. I blame all these bank holidays. No idea what day of the week it is.

Meanwhile, in response to a request, here is the bull.

Hoping for my first bike ride in ages tomorrow.

kelmscott

An enjoyable late walk to the west of Kelmscott--starting and ending at the Plough; passing the manor; turning onto the Thames path; heading to Eaton weir (no sign of the old flash weir that used to be there up to the 1930s, nor of the inn that was destroyed by fire--'in tragic circumstances' according to the National Trail Guide--just some rather picturesque moorings and a warehouse); then to Buscot lock; up to the Lechlade road and back to Kelmscott for a pint of Marston spiced ale.

The light was fading, even at 3 pm, and there was a mist from the melting snow--this was yesterday. The snow, though, was still very much there, in contrast to today, when, in Bampton at least, all but the deeper traces have gone.

The roads to Kelmscott hadn't been salted and were treacherous despite winter tyres. These tyres are especially good when it's icy but the slush seems to clog them and they slip a bit. There was one abandoned car with its bonnet smashed in and at the pub people talked about other accidents over Christmas.

William Morris' manor was all shut up. I tried to take a photo over the wall but all I got were shrubs with one or two glimpses of the building behind. In the paddock before you got to the manor there was giant bull--red Devon, perhaps. It seemed placid enough.

It was when the Downton Abbey filming started that I last posted a photo of the Plough. That was over six months ago and it was spring. In a way it seems a lifetime away because it was then that I was phoned about family problems that I'd no inkling of before then. Over the summer and into autumn the news got worse and worse--unbelievably so. There was a flare-up over Christmas, as is always said to be the way at this time of year. Some people are their own worst enemies--and I suppose one will never change them, no matter how much one hopes they might change. So sad to think of someone so wilfully isolated and destructive.

Now off to drinks at a house we've always wanted to see inside. How nosy!

Monday, 27 December 2010

shifford walk

Surprisingly chipper today after long, long Christmas day.

Went to Morris Clown at lunchtime yesterday, which was, as usual, great.

Today, the temperature didn't get above freezing, although we had a wonderful walk from Tadpole Bridge to the weir to the south of Shifford Lock.

Just after the bridge (above), half-way along, we met a friend and watched a barn owl working Chimney Meadows nature reserve.

A feature of the nature reserve--and other stretches of the Thames hereabouts (frozen over in parts, incidentally)--are the World War II pillboxes. These seem so out of place now--brutal concrete polygons with mean gun-slits--but there must have been a strategic reason for them years ago.

After the walk we had a pint at the Trout at Tadpole, a pub which was immortalised by the brilliant travel writer and illustrator, Robert Gibbings. I think he would still recognise the place, though some walls have been knocked out and the intimacy he describes has gone.

Later, at home, we watched more of Downton Abbey--so gripping! It's amazing but my blog got masses of hits during the broadcast of the series, because of one or two of my photos, but I've not seen the programme because we don't have a TV. Terrific to catch up. The village streets seem really spacious--no cars parked in them.

Friday, 24 December 2010

end of the cold war, humanism, friends, happy christmas

We went on a lovely walk this afternoon in the snow.

There are a lot of green lanes near the village and it's easy to imagine you're catching glimpses of how the landscape looked in previous centuries.

There is also what remains of RAF Bampton Castle--shown in two of the above pics. Now the buildings have been turned into business units and only a couple of the installation's steel towers are left. But when we moved here ten years ago, the place was still a cold war listening station. There were armed sentries, giant pylons and porcupine fields bristling with rows of little masts. Then it was decommissioned, over night it seemed like, and diggers worked late into the evening, eerily clandestine, dismantling everything.

On the way home this afternoon, we called in at the Morris Clown and saw friends, which was lovely. Excellent Christmas Bonus on handpump too.

At home, listening to the radio, I heard a news item about the Pope's broadcast on the Today programme earlier, which I missed. David Starkey was on talking about the Rationalist Association.

I have to say that I have a lot of time for the RA and its magazine The New Humanist. I first came across it--and its fellow Humanist publication, The Freethinker--amongst the piles of magazines in the graduate common room at the Bodleian in the early nineties. Someone, I don't know who, used to put them out for people. Reading them was a life-changing event. Magazines that contained articles written from a point of view that I'd felt but not been able to express myself.

At the same time as I discovered these mags, my parents moved to a cottage not far away from my old junior school in Gloucestershire. I walked sometimes beyond the Roman Camp to the church above the school. Years before I'd played Joseph in the nativity play to Sally M's Mary. Sally's dad was Egyptian and she was dark and very pretty. She was kind too and I was in love with her, of course. I remember the evening light in the church one time in the nineties and how magical it seemed. It put me in touch with the poetry of religion and how I'd felt about it as a child.

For a time, in the nineties, there was a Humanist programme at Westminster College, Oxford, and I considered applying to do a masters in the subject. I explained that I saw myself as a Christian Humanist and the people running the programme seemed to be interested in what I wanted to research.

Despite thinking of myself as a Humanist, the Christian part mentioned above remains important to me, because, I suppose that was the tradition I was brought up with. During the difficult family times during the nineteen-nineties I prayed. And recently, when old sadnesses have resurfaced, I sometimes stop at St Barnabas on my walk into work and pray--often using a Catholic prayer book, which I bought years ago at Worth Abbey when I was visiting a friend who was part of the lay community.

Are, I wonder, my religious-humanist views confused, post-modern, dilettante or just muddled-normal?

Well, tonight, rather than midnight mass, it's off to the Horse Shoe for the bawdy christo-pagan mummers play. The Bampton mummers have been performing the same play--with topical additions--since the mid-nineteenth century. It's great!

Later, by the fire at home, I'll think of friends and wish them a very happy Christmas.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

holiday

Yesterday I finished pretty much all the work I had to do before the Christmas and New Year holiday. It took less time than I expected and it was great to start the break early.

This morning I had a lie-in till 6.30 before walking round the village once it got light (see pics above). It was so strange not having to think about work. Also, I haven't done the walk I did for so long--maybe a year? Awesome.

One of the things I want to do this holiday is read--read for fun. A book I picked out was The White Peacock by DH Lawrence, which I read in about 1980, then sometime in the 90s. It feels about the right time to look at it again. It was really strange but I did notice a lot of new bits when I tried the first chapter. It was as if I'd never read it before in my life. Uh-oh. Ageing process not going quite according to plan...

Meanwhile, headed for Oxford earlier to do Christmas shopping. Roads so much better. Oxford relatively quiet, I would say.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

snow walk

Lovely walk in the snow earlier.

The sun broke through and for a time you could feel its warmth.

Now it's night and even though the log fire is as hot as it gets there is still a chill in the room.

The cold makes me feel really sleepy!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

views from the bus

Well, my morning at the library was pretty short. When the snow grew really heavy, I was allowed to go home because I had furthest to go--thanks a million guys.

At the bus queue all the talk was of the service being suspended but then an S1 loomed into the top of George Street and a back seat on the top deck is where I've been for the last two-and-a-half hours.

Nice atmosphere on the bus, though. Everyone patient, friendly. That slightly nervous sense of AN adventure too.

The crawl to Botley was SO slow, then we were flying (everything's relative) on the back road to Eynsham (where these pics were taken). Now stuck on A40...

Still, a midwinter chance to chat on Facebook--haven't done that for years, feels like.

Yikes! The snow here is DEEP!

Writing to the accompaniment of Thom Yorke's Harrowdown Hill btw.

views from the bus stop

Two great parties yesterday.

Now on the bus to Witney which is tootling through some distinctly snowy--getting snowier--west Oxfordshire countryside. I'll change at Witney for Oxford. With luck I'll get there in time for a quick coffee at Green's before opening up the Taylor for 10.

Took these pics while waiting at the bus stop at the top of our road in Bampton.

Friday, 17 December 2010

ice flowing, party season, nearly xmas

Spent the weekend in Hay on Wye. It was good to get away for a few days--during term it's Oxford, Oxford. Great city but it's nice to rediscover favourite not-Oxford places.

Saw swans grazing a field of roots on the first day's walking. It was strange how some suddenly started striding into flight and then another group. The line creaked round in a broad circle before a few curved back to the field, landing in almost the same place they'd started from. The others headed off along the river then banked inland, white kites running against the slate sky.

Also saw a broad ribbon of ice flowing down the Wye off the Warren. The slabs were tight-packed up to the weir then a loose and orderly file, save for when one or two got snagged on branches or an islet. In the middle of them one time was a football, looking out of place but cheerful somehow.

The Sunday was beautiful sunshine and clear reviving air.

In Oxford it's party time this week. It's great to catch up with old friends and spend time with colleagues. Wednesday night was the Taylor dinner at the University Club--a warm, lovely evening. Today it's the St Antony's drinks and lunch, followed by the librarian in charge's party at the Taylor. Then... Well then I'm at work tomorrow... Will have to pace myself.

This morning the Nokia shuffle has turned up rather more Star Sailor than is comfortable. I remember one moody winter lying in front of the fire nights and near-drowning in Star Sailor's complimenting melancholy. Well, that was then. Now the music's a bit of pain to be quite honest. And mannered--once you can see how music's done; when it's all just sound and form and no emotion, it's had it. Ah, what's this, Distant Dreamer? Phew!

So, nearly Xmas. So looking forward to the break!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

snow, ice, things

The last ten days of freezing conditions have been such a shock. Somehow you don't expect weather like this until after Christmas. The day the big freeze started, I was all set to spend Friday afternoon digging the allotment. I couldn't believe it when I got off the bus back from Oxford and found the ground in Bampton was frozen solid.

One very sad thing has been losing several frogs. We've been melting holes in the ice with a coffee maker before it gets light to let in air and then keeping these ice-free throughout the day. All seemed well till the incredibly severe frost on Thursday night. On Friday morning two frogs were dead and more have died since. I don't understand why. Is it the cold or is it some illness brought on by the cold? Melting holes in the ice like this has worked in past years. You might lose one or two frogs but never this many.

Meanwhile, on a selfish note, I'm hoping that there will be a thaw round Christmas time so we can lift the carrots, swede and parsnips.

Teaching is winding up now and I'm looking forward to a nice break before the mad fortnight of launching the online courses and marking diploma assignments from 10th January...2011. Can't believe it's nearly 2011. For some reason 2011 seems so much further into the 'new' century than 2010.

I was interviewed by the Oxford Times about Invisible and StreetBooks the other day. I don't know whether I said anything interesting--or embarrassing. I just remember feeling numb with cold. Not sure when the piece is coming out.

This morning on the radio there was the usual 'on this day' feature at 5.40 and one of the events was the shooting of John Lennon. I remember driving to Chestall to see Belinda and Radio 1 being wall-to-wall John Lennon songs. It was very cold that year too. It doesn't seem long ago at all. Yikes!

This morning they played this clip from his last interview in which he said how safe he felt walking the New York streets. Maybe they play this clip every year but I don't remember hearing it before.

On Monday it was the Latin American Centre Christmas party. It was great to get together with everyone. Lovely atmosphere, as always. Quite a few parties coming up, which I'm really looking forward to.