Saturday, 30 July 2011

autumn comes early? lords and ladies et al, the future, ambit















The talk in the garden at the Horse Shoe last night was the early arrival of autumn.

This week, the quality of sunlight changed. The strength is still there but the light is a mellower egg-yolk yellow. The days are noticeably shorter too. At 5 am on Friday the view of the garden from the kitchen was that of night-time.

Autumn reds are appearing--poppies, harvested with the corn, are giving way to lords and ladies and apples that people swear are weeks early. The first blackberries are ripe and intensely sharp.

Sometimes this week, the sky has been lead-lidded and the muffled world has been comforting. Whether dour or autumn-sunny, it has been a good week for healing. For catching one's breath, contemplating the past and then looking to the future.

Meanwhile, I was excited to learn that a former student, Paul Sweeten, has a short story entitled Prodigy in the latest issue of Ambit magazine (on sale, first floor, Blackwell, if you're in Oxford).

A morning of marking and final summer school preparations ahead.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

richard webster















I went to a memorial service for my friend Richard Webster this afternoon at St Barnabas church in the Jericho quarter of Oxford (above).

I will always be indebted to Richard for his advice about typesetting and publishing when I set up StreetBooks last year.

Richard was a long-standing member of Writers in Oxford (WiO) and my memory of how he welcomed me when I first joined some ten years ago seems similar to those of colleagues. He was such a staunch believer in the society and was fascinated by people, giving them so much of his time.

In his professional life as a writer he was also a champion of a number of people who were either falsely accused of crimes or imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. A man at his memorial said that he had told Richard that he valued going to prison because if he had not done so he would never have met a man like him. I've tried to paraphrase what the man said and perhaps in doing so I have made it trite. If so, I can only apologise. What he said was profoundly moving. Among others who spoke were a recently retired MP who had chaired a parliamentary committee to which Richard had given decisive evidence and a QC who had successfully defended Richard over a New Statesman article he had written.

One of the remarkable things about the memorial was how little of what Richard did many members of WiO knew. He was a wonderfully warm friend and colleague but not one to boast by any means.

As a former chair of WiO, I have to confess that I was aware of Richard's directness. His passionate belief in the society meant that he could on occasion ask difficult and penetrating questions. Yet he was never a person to put you down. He wanted to raise issues, yes, but was never happier than when you made your point back. What he wanted was honest, robust debate. People said today that he never made you feel diminished by his incisive comments. Rather you were left with the feeling of being enriched by the discussion he provoked. That was certainly my experience.

For the last couple of years, as readers of this blog will know, I've been getting off the 18 bus at St Edward's School, if I'm in good time on my way to work, and cutting down to the canal before walking to Jericho and on into town. At the back of Hayfield Road I have on occasion come across Richard standing at the end of his garden on the opposite bank or having breakfast and he has smiled his unforgettable smile--so surprised to see me there, the first time this happened--and we have chatted for a while. Every time I walk this way, even in winter, I have wondered whether he will be there. Whenever he has been it has been such fun to see him. Now I know he will never be there again.

Finally, I remember Richard quoting at a WiO committee meeting (as was fitting for the author of an excellent book on Freud): 'Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar.'

Richard Mortimer Webster, http://richardwebster.net.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

soaked, bye bye wiltshire, work








Got soaked cycling this morning. Heaviest rain I can remember for a long while. We were lucky to get all that sunshine in Wiltshire.

A weekend of work ahead.

Meanwhile, here are the last of the Wiltshire photos.

The two church exteriors are St Margaret of Antioch, Chilmark (top) and St Edward, King of the West Saxons, Teffont Magna.

The latter is a lovely little church. It has fragments of a Saxon cross set into the south wall and it is believed that there has been a place of worship in the village since Saxon times. The present building dates from the 13th century and consists of an all-in-one nave and chancel. The interior is distinguished by Victorian box pews, which according to the guidebook indicate that the church 'could be very cold and the sermons long'. The church's name sounds ancient but interestingly dates back to only 1965. Before that the church had no dedication.

Now, to work.

Friday, 15 July 2011

wiltshire contd










































Loved our walks through the green lanes, along the chalk tracks and through the beautiful villages near Lower Chicksgrove.

Yesterday we had lunch at Howard's House, a very charmingly discrete hotel in Teffont Evias. Discrete because although there is a sign for it on the street this almsot looks as if it belonged to a place that has long-since closed down before becoming a private house. And it feels exactly as if you have the run of someone's private house. An understatedly grand private house, with a beautiful terrace set around a pond--just the place for two ramblers in wellies plus lively fluffy dog.

At the Compasses, one of the times I like best is wandering up the hill to the fields beyond the village after supper. Yesterday this was made special by the full moon. The walk helped me forget the sadness of last week for a time.

wiltshire





Great to be staying at the Compasses, Lower Chicksgrove, Wiltshire (just north of the River Nadder, above). It's only a short trip away from Oxfordshire but Wilts is such a different county--different stone, different landscape.

Woke this morning at 5 as usual but fell into a deep sleep sometime around 6.30. So nice to catch up on sleep and to get the last few months in some kind of perspective.

Delicious white CĂ´tes du Roussillon with lunch--have only had red before.

(Also above, Teffont Evias--church and manor.)

[Posting these from Oxfordshire--internet connection in Lower Chicksgrove couldn't handle pics.]

Sunday, 10 July 2011

weeding, minsters, golden courgette

















I had an enjoyable couple of hours weeding on the allotment.

Focused on the runner beans, which I'd let get horrifically overgrown due to pressures of work keeping me away from the plot.

It's amazing how late the runners are--as indeed are all the veg on the allotment. Compared to Jess' crops in the garden at the cottage, they look so behind. The plot is all Oxford clay, whereas the garden is over gravel and is much, much earlier ground.

It was interesting to see a geological map at a meeting in the village hall a few years ago, that showed where the monasteries in this part of the Thames Valley had been founded during the late Anglo-Saxon period. Bampton church is one of the remaining minster churches. You can still see the Anglo-Saxon stonework in the base of the tower above the crossing. The geological map showed that the monasteries and their settlements were built on small free-draining gravel outcrops in the midst of the Oxford clay.

Harvested first round golden courgette.

wild flowers

I enjoyed cycling this morning.

The rain is holding off, so I should get some weeding done on the allotment.

The wild flowers, above, were beautiful to see and therapeutic.

Not 100% sure what the yellow flowers are. Lady's bedstraw?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

a week of sadness















It has been a week of sadness.

Three friends died this week.

The catastrophic events that have overtaken my family during the last year came to a head this week.

Although I have great sympathy for those who are in trouble, I have had serious concerns about what they were doing for many years. I once wrote an essay explaining what I thought was going wrong and how it might be put right. I have described that essay as an act of love. The essay was largely ignored.

As I said to somebody recently, the way that essay was received made me feel like the boy in the story of the emperor's new clothes.

[23.01.12 and 03.02.12: In the light of recent sad events I have decided to rewrite parts of the above post. I have kept a copy of the original post.]

Saturday, 2 July 2011

meadowsweet, willowherb, snail, partidge

















First cycle for a couple of weeks. Missed out last weekend because I was working at the Taylor on Saturday and teaching on Sunday.

Calcroft Lane, aka the gated road, is alive with wild flowers again. Just after where the gates used to be, I came across frothy meadowsweet, water mint and almost-in-flower hemp agrimony, amongst other plants, growing in a shallow stream. A few minutes later, a stand of rosebay willowherb.

I wasn't alone this morning on the bike. The snail is quite well-travelled now.

Before seeing all the plants, a partridge flew up from the verge. I was so excited. In Oxford we never saw partridges and only came across them when we were away walking. I love the delicate flight and this morning noticed how vibrant the orange markings on the bird's fanned tail were.

Then I realised that what I was really thinking about, and could actually taste, was roast partridge. At the Trout at Tadpole, say, by the log-burner, accompanied by a glass of their delicious Fleurie.

I was appalled by my carnivorous nature.

When do they start shooting partridge?