Saturday, 31 December 2011

new year, new year's eve, thanks


















Happy New Year!!! readers, friends and family who've already started 2012!!!

Enjoy tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations, everyone else!!!

Thanks for reading jtns in 2011!!!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

sunny, better, badbury, great barn, plough, downton, shilton





Unexpectedly sunny day. Cold much better.

After a late breakfast, we headed to Iron Age Badbury Hill beyond Faringdon, from where we walked to Coleshill (church shown above) and then to Great Coxwell, with its amazing old barn. (The Badbury Hill in my photo, by the way, doesn't look half as dramatic as it is in reality.)

The only new thing on the horizon was the wind farm below Coleshill--I'd glimpsed this from the road before now but not seen it clearly (it's way bigger than it looks in the pic).

On our way home we stopped off at the Plough at Kelmscott.

More Downton Abbey Series Two during lunch--hadn't realised that some filming had also been done at Shilton, a favourite nearby village (the charabanc drives through the ford, ostensibly at Kirkbymoorside, and stops by the pub where Mr Bates is working).

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

willow leaves, cold, chimney meadows, duxford, pints, downton


















Well, Christmas has come and gone--the day, that is. Fortunately the holiday continues and will do till next Monday. Back to work on the Tuesday but I'm not thinking about that.

Did the walk we last did in August today--Tadpole Bridge, Chimney Meadows, Shifford Lock, Duxford and Buckland Marsh. We also did the first half of this walk last year when the land was covered with snow. Such a contrast this winter--twelve degrees centigrade, a willow in leaf (second photo from top) and another in bud (third from top).

I had the proverbial 'stinking cold' and the walk was intended to help get the heart and lungs going in order to get rid of it. Not sure if it's worked but hopefully tomorrow the full effects will be felt.

Chimney Meadows are a rare group of ancient grassland fields which escaped modern agricultural methods and have a long and fascinating history--see both the BBOWT and Natural England websites (the Chimney Meadows--A Historical Perspective PDF on the former is especially fascinating). There are also a number of WWII pillboxes on the wetter parts of the meadows, which are more like marsh than grassland. A couple of stoutly built wooden bridges lead off the meadows over the Thames--the lower one for pedestrians, the upper one for farm vehicles (shown above).

Duxford is mostly made up of a handful of tall thatched-roofed cottages. Thatch used to be much more used round here than it is now. Our row of late-Victorian terraces replaced old tenements that had low walls (to about five feet) steep thatched roofs and earth floors.

Coming back through Buckland Marsh, we followed one of the deep ditches that used to be the chief means of draining the land in the Bampton area for farming during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A visitor during the latter century described the area as the Bampton polderlands. Most of the ditches have been filled in now, although some, together with a few of the sluice gates that controlled the flow of water, still remain.

After the walk we headed for a local pub, where we drank Bath cider (Jess) and Dartmoor ale (me) and opened the last of our Xmas cards.

Returned home for a late lunch and another instalment of Downton Abbey Series Two, which was partly filmed here in the spring (13th, 20th and 24th April).

Thursday, 22 December 2011

wood, twinges, xmas shopping
















I thought the 21st December was the shortest day but according to Radio 4 it's the 22nd this time (I hadn't realised the date changed from year to year). Yesterday certainly felt like it was the shortest--dark, murky, cold and miserable. It was nice to be home (now on holiday), although catching up on my final work-related chores was draining. I wanted to get them done but also just wanted to stop. The last straw was my tax return and the mad scrabbling for receipts and payslips this entails. By the end of the day I was sickening for a cold, felt exhausted and was suffering aches, pains and twinges from the bike accident at the weekend.

But today is a different story--the sun's out, spring is in the air (with a bit of imagination) and I'm about to go Christmas shopping. Cold hasn't come to much either.

One nice thing yesterday was the Christmas log delivery. I love trundling the barrows of logs up the path and building the stack in the woodshed (an old privy). Meanwhile the leaflessness of the garden throws emphasis onto the textures of brick and timber and rusted metal. Photos taken today, of course--the camera wouldn't have worked yesterday it was so dark.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

bampton square, moon x 2, ice, speedway
















Cold start this morning. The first time the frog pond has frozen over this year, I think.

Stopped by the village square, just after setting off on my bike ride, to take pictures of the Xmas tree. As I was doing so, the bus I usually catch during the week arrived. I was pleased not to be heading to Oxford today. (You might notice the two moons in the photo of the bus--I've always said Bampton was special. Actually, I don't think either of them is the moon--don't know what they are. Spooky.)

Cycling was OK on the main roads but I have to confess to taking a tumble at the junction of the Broadwell to Langford road and Calcroft lane (aka the gated road). The bike skittered on down the carriageway like machines do in speedway crashes, with me following behind. Amazingly, I was lucky and fell pretty well. There wasn't much damage, apart from a bit of bruising, the chain slipping off the bike and the headlamp not working (though this came back to life when I got home). I was surprised the headlamp survived because it exploded into two halves, the bulb unit and the batteries. I was fortunate that I was about half-way round the ride when the accident happened, so was able to regain my confidence. I started down the gated road very cautiously but it wasn't as bad as I expected and once it began to rain the ice melted. Funnily enough it was the pavements in the village that stayed icy--nearly came a cropper when I parked up the bike and headed to the newsagent.

It's been a hectic week at work on occasions and I'm looking forward to time off at Xmas and the New Year.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

hay, llanthony, black mountains, freddie



















Well, as I said we had a great time walking near Hay-on-Wye.

A good place to forget the sadder bits of the year and think of the future.

Generally the weather was terrific, especially yesterday when we headed for Llanthony and the walking we used to enjoy when we stayed at the Priory years ago. The pub is built into these fantastic ruins in the bottom of this valley in the middle of the Black Mountains. The only surprise was when we went to the pub for a half of cider after our walk--only to to discover that dogs were banned.

Meanwhile, some lovely times spent in Hay at Kilvert's, where Freddie and Tufty got on very well. Feel really relaxed after the break.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

kilverts, llanthony, scary guy, man in the high castle, in proportion
















Staying at Kilverts in Hay-on-Wye. Great to get away for a few days. Amazing walk above Llanthony Priory earlier--I'll post some pics over the next day or two.

Met the Scary Guy in the bar last night, Interesting conversation.

Love the new Hay Xmas decs and the fairy-land look they give the old buildings.

Restrained book buying--just one, apart from presents: A Berkley Medallion edition of The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (1974).

The term was SO busy and this is the first time I've had to catch up with myself for ages. Work over the last few months has taken my mind off the family business but this did start entering my head when we first arrived here. I'm pleased that I've managed to keep it all in proportion. I guess that although the last year or so has been horrific, it wasn't that unexpected and I got over the worst experiences about fifteen years ago. I'm OK.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

dawn tree, busy, busy, end of term
















Photographed this scene back in late July, when the tree was surrounded by ripening corn. Took another pic a month later after the field had been harvested and cultivated. Today it looked stark against the breaking dawn. This is actually a relatively high point in our flat landscape and the land in the background falls and you can see all the way to the escarpment beyond the Thames Valley.

Enjoyed cycling this morning--much warmer today and it was good to exercise the busy week out of my head...In preparation for a busy weekend continuing to mark assignments.

On Thursday, I did both my last tutorial of the term and the final seminar in my undergraduate diploma long fiction series. Loved doing these--I was working with great people--but I'm still pleased to be heading towards next Thursday, when I can take things a bit easier. Everyone at the University seems to have working harder than ever this autumn.

Friday, 2 December 2011

wispy bits of mist, americano to go, xmas lights, mad dash


Frosty start to the day. Seasonal. With atmospheric wispy bits of mist above the canal. Not as visible in the photo as they seemed to be in real life, sadly.

Meanwhile, St Giles' was blocked off by the time I was heading to collect my regular Americano to go from Green's. Preparations were underway for an Xmas fair coinciding with turning on the lights. Throughout the day the sound system got tested--lots of muffled noises of the 'one-two, one-two' kind reached my office, interspersed with sudden irruptions of music that shattered the peace before stopping dead.

It was only when I was saying to a colleague at 5 pm that I had to catch my bus that it occurred to me that my bus was not going to be travelling through St Giles'. A speedwalk up Woodstock Road left me collapsing but at least I'm now on my bus.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

autumn colour, work, msts, kate b, siamese dream





Into Oxford early this morning. Saturday duty--crops up every so often.

Drawn to the colours of graffiti in the now quite bare and bleak autumn cityscape. Curious, the effect of the plants growing over it and the leaves framing the top one. It must be a pain to clean off, though, and I would hate it if someone spray-painted my house or a beloved building.

Nearly the end of the Oxford term and as usual it is going to the wire. So much to do. Mostly satisfying work, however.

Was really nice to get lovely emails from the two people I supervised on the MSt last year. Hope we'll hear more of them in the future.

Great Kate Bush interview on Radio 4's Front Row during the week. Made me guilty that I exited her songs from my phone last Sunday... Also loved Zane Lowe's Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream 'Masterpiece' feature.

OK, a Green's regular Americano downed, and I'm off to work. (Looking forward to late lunch at Hollybush, Witney.)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

embers, infinitas gracias, music to go, lie-in





Before I went cycling, I swept the grate, as I always do early in the morning, and the remnants of log glowed orange and red, and smouldered, and gave off heat that warmed my fingers in the now cold room. As I put my cycling jacket on, an owl hooted outside in the garden. In the countryside there was a light mist and in the sky a slice of moon. Soon the sun rose and on the way back, along Calcroft Lane, there were lots of creamy flowers still out, most sheltering in the ditch by the road. Dandelion, those hogweedy things I mentioned last time, yarrow and meadowsweet are the ones shown above. Although it felt considerably cooler it was still warm--about six or seven degrees C. Strange year. In the garden a late Mexican canna lily has just gone over and the frogs are hopping about in the flower beds.

It's been a busy week. A highlight was a trip to the British Library for a meeting and a visit afterwards to a wonderful exhibition at the Wellcome Collection called Infinitas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings. (I love by the way the Wellcome Collection's subtitle: "A free destination of the incurably curious".) As the exhibition's website says,

"Mexican votives are small paintings, usually executed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, depicting the moment of personal humility when an individual asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster and sometimes death. 'Infinitas Gracias' will feature over 100 votive paintings drawn from five collections held by museums in and around Mexico City and two sanctuaries located in mining communities in the Bajío region to the north: the city of Guanajuato and the distant mountain town of Real de Catorce. Together with images, news reports, photographs, devotional artefacts, film and interviews, the exhibition will illustrate the depth of the votive tradition in Mexico."

The paintings ranged in sophistication from professional to childlike representations of people and livestock but all told little stories about the individuals, families and ways of life. It was also fascinating to see how things changed over the two hundred years covered by the exhibits--horses and carriages giving way to cars and buses and so on. There was also an extraordinary wall of modern ad hoc votives done on photocopying machines or scribbled on polystyrene plates, carrying on the tradition in new, incredibly personal and moving ways.

Meanwhile, I've decided to delete most of the music from my phone--after backing it up, of course. I've been assembling this collection for over five years and now I want a change. I'll keep the most recent stuff and one or two old favourites and start again. Good feeling.

Looking forward to a lie-in tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

sun, lichen, hogweed?, new role






Awoke to amazing sunny autumn day. Such a welcome day after this week's run of miserable gloom, during which the night hardly seemed to lift.

Loved the way the lichens on the willows along the Great Brook were lit up on the bare branches. Still some flowers out, though, like the hogweed above on which bees and flies gathered. (If indeed it is a hogweed.)

Tiring but fulfilling week--so much going on in all the different areas of my working life. Started new library role too, which was really exciting.

Today, however, is a day of fun and rest. Which is great!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

cycling, oak, family rumbles, sparklers, mad dog

















Cycled earlier this morning. First time for a couple of weeks due to marking, the Brazilian visit last weekend and one or two other commitments.

The countryside had changed--and it was also considerably darker than before.

After the false autumns of the late summer, autumn really does seem to be here, although the hot weather fools you into thinking that we can't possibly be into November yet.

Good autumn colour this morning, once the sun rose. Including the leaning oak off Calcroft Lane that I photographed earlier in the year (27th August and 27th March).

Working today till 3 pm but after that I'll be able to relax. I'm taking on some interesting new library duties in December and am due to meet the people I'll be working with next week, so want to be fresh for that.

Meanwhile the family stuff rumbles on--mercifully in the background now. What an utter waste of time that is--and has been for the last thirty-plus years.

Enough of that. Just checked the sparkler supply--plenty there for some fun. They were talking on the radio this morning about dogs cowering under the furniture on Bonfire Night. Our dog tries to jump up and grab fizzing sparklers out of your hand and has to be restrained. As you light the garden fireworks and leg it back to the house, he's straining at the lead to tear off and pounce. Mad boy.

Church btw is the one at neighbouring village of Broadwell.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

following keble, lucy's dragon, lock, treasures, biztro

















When I walked down the Oxford canal yesterday morning, I followed a College Cruisers narrowboat named Keble--strangely comforting and appropriate on a somewhat bleak misty day, I thought, given that I was an undergraduate at Keble. The things that keep me amused!

Following a narrowboat, you realise at what a gentle pace these boats travel. I'd catch up with Keble then stop to take a picture. The boat would glide off round the next bend but when I started walking, I'd soon catch it up again. Hopefully, the three photos above give a sense of the urban canalside environment in Oxford. Some stretches are rural enough for you to imagine you're in the countryside, especially in summer when the foliage is thick, while others are more like Docklands in London.

The big--and to my mind rather successful--development shown in the bottom pic stands on the site of the old Lucy's iron works, which I remember from not that long ago (honest). When we lived in Oxford I used to walk the opposite bank in summer and every once in a while the kilns would be lit, glowing in the twilight, fans roaring like dragons and heat belching across the water. It was a dramatic sight that felt like it belonged in another age.

On the College Cruisers' website by the way, Keble is described as, 'Our most compact boat. Cosy, comfortable and a must if you are looking for a few days away with the one you love!' Which sounds great, I have to say. Ironic, though, that the boat is the smallest, given the vastness of the college it's named after.

I have to admit that although I set scenes in The Lock on a narrowboat and have had supper with friends on their barge, I've never travelled on one. Perhaps a short break on Keble will be a good way to start. Serendipity.

Meanwhile, today I had to make an unexpected trip into Oxford to give a tour of the Bodleian to the Brazilian Minster of Justice and his party. It was a pleasure not just to talk about the library but to have the chance of spending time in the Divinity School, Convocation and Duke Humfrey's with the autumn sunlight streaming through the traceried windows. After the tour we visited the fabulous Bodleian Treasures exhibition. A must see. Great website too!

Meanwhile a new brasserie opens up in Bampton today called Biztro. There's an open/taster day there this afternoon and evening. Will check it out later.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

digging, luxury uptake, football, che guevara, apex







Up to the allotment early. Dug over the last bit--although there are a few yards in front of the compost bins that I turned in September, which could do with going over again because the hot weather has made the couch sprout. I'll see. It wouldn't be a disaster if I couldn't dig this corner again before the inevitable November rains (the allotment, being on Oxford clay, holds water and some parts, including the area with the couch, soon become quicksand). I say 'the inevitable November rains' but what happened to the inevitable October ones?

I also spread some of the ash from the rubbish heap fire over the ground I was digging. That part had some ash on it a couple of years ago. Hope I'm not overdoing things. I have a dim memory of Mr Wiseman, our plant husbandry lecturer at Cirencester, talking about 'luxury uptake of potash'. Not sure if this was good or bad and how it came about. Fingers crossed.

The area to the right of the ash heap, by the way, is left as couch nowadays because the eucalyptus that overshadows it (the tree's on our neighbour's plot) has rendered it pretty much useless for growing anything else. I think the trees leach goodness out or maybe change the pH of the soil. Anyway, they're quite selfish, eucalyptuses--though I do like the tree being there. The only tree on the whole allotment site. Sometimes in late spring or summer, when you've been working hard, it's nice to step under the tree's shade and cool down.

The first shed picture shows the patched roof pitch--it'll do, I reckon--whereas the second one shows the felt I put on the other pitch last autumn.

Earlier in the week, I went for a walk in the University Parks in Oxford after my lunchtime sandwich. Some students were playing football and as I passed, the ball came bouncing towards me. I tried to ignore it but none of the players were chasing after it. Clearly they were hoping that I might kick it back. I felt the coercion of their gazes and decided that I couldn't just walk on. But then memories of school football started filling my brain and I could hear the sickening thud of a mis-kick, and see the ball either leaping into the air and thudding to a standstill a yard away, or else bananaing into an impenetrable clump of bushes. What was I doing even trying this? And when I kicked this ball I was actually looking at the impenetrable clump of bushes off to the side in full anticipation of disaster. Doc Marten connected with plastic. The ball curved gracefully up and flew towards the students. Amazing! Cries of thanks followed and someone punched the air with what looked like a Che Guevara salute.

I wondered what they thought. Some middle aged office worker in his blue overcoat reliving the glittering football career of his boyhood? No, they'd seen the apex of my footballing career!