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!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

sunrise, mostly books, grubbing, patching and scarifying















Good cycle early yesterday morning. Another dramatic sunrise.

Loved reading at the Kennington Literary Festival in the afternoon. Thanks to Sylvia Vetta for inviting me. Good to meet Mark Thornton from Mostly Books, Abingdon at long last, who was running the festival bookshop.

Today was a gardening day--taking advantage of the extraordinary hot weather.

Burning the big heap of couch and other weeds on the allotment, then taking down the runner bean wigwams and grubbing up the courgette plants, before digging over half that side of the plot.

Patching the felt roof of the shed this afternoon. Back at the house it was mowing the lawn then scarifying and spiking it. Great fun.

Now for a pint.

Friday, 14 October 2011

furniture, clowns, kennington, invisible, pinter, poem















Well, today was the day we visited the warehouse where the family furniture was stored (see post of 6th September 2011).

This was the strangest of days because I had not seen these things since January 1978. Another life away.

I have to say that the experience was made bearable because of the kindness of the three people who were there to help.

I cannot describe what it was like to see all those things--in containers stretching as far as the eye could see, almost--that I grew up with and that I had been told were in store for just six months.

However, as I wrote a month or so ago, I am now starting the rest of my life. In the short term, I am looking forward to the Kennington Literary Festival tomorrow and reading from Invisible.

I would now like to add a poem. This week, when I was thinking about what was going to happen today, I thought back to what I was doing around the time that the furniture went into storage in 1978. I remembered a poem I'd written in my last year at Stowe that got published in the school magazine. I tried finding the poem in the online database of the school magazine but the site was down for maintenance. Oddly, though, a copy of the magazine with the poem in was on the top of a teachest when we were looking through the containers today. It was only thing I was allowed to take away today and I've scanned it for this post. I remember, in 1977, being chuffed, not because of the poem itself, but because it was the first time that the word 'shit' had been published in the school magazine. The word appeared in a quote from Harold Pinter's diaries--how could the school authorities refuse? (Kids, eh?) I should also say the poem was a love poem. (I didn't get the girl.)

Here's the poem. (The photo above btw was taken on my bike ride this morning.)

Le Monde et La Fille

Undulating waves of emerald green
Flow beneath me, Tiber bound.
From an amber dolphin fountain-made
Glistening pearls ascend the purple sky.
As dusk envelopes beauty
A crouching temple I approach.
Up wide mosaic steps I glide
Through oak portals to the heart.
Central stands an incense pyre
Whose every golden tongue is echoed
By shadows dancing on white marble.
From the labours of Hercules
Sculpted parapet on high
My eye descends a rainbow of design.
In a corner a heap of books,
Knowledge and experience:

"Expende Hannibalem: quot libras in duce summo invenies?"

Dear Diary: in the city,
Filth and degeneration,
Grey paper-strewn streets,
Dried-up fountains of concrete
"rubbish shit scratch dung poison".

Le monde, Le monde,
My paragon unchanged by time
Je t'aime beaucoup.

Carpe diem.

[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.]

Sunday, 9 October 2011

building, kennington literary festival















As I walk between the Bodleian Latin American Centre Library and the Taylor Institution Library, I pass three University building sites--St Antony's, St Anne's and the one glimpsed in the photo (where the old Radcliffe Infirmary is being redeveloped--see post of 24th June--and work on the so-called Radcliffe Observatory Quarter is beginning--observatory is on the right). The city-centre end of the Woodstock Road is alive with lorries coming and going, cranes and piling rigs, not to mention mud and dust.

Alarm went off early this morning as there is a mountain of marking to do. Cycling woke me up, although the morning is distinctly grey. Warm, though. A surprise after yesterday, when we had our first log fire since, I think, May.

Looking forward to reading from Invisible at the Kennington Literary Festival next Saturday, which is previewed in this week's Oxford Times.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

harvest festival, that paris year












Busy at the library, what with the start of the Oxford term coming up--0th Week from Sunday.

Thank goodness for those days away in Somerset.

Headed for the allotment at 7.30 am before the temperature rose--and this is the first day of October!

Did an hour's digging and some picking. Everything is slowing now, despite the weather. I'll probably take down the runner bean wigwams tomorrow (you can just glimpse their tops in the second-from-bottom photo and the base of one is shown in the photo above that--some lush self-set Swiss chard is growing amongst the runners). Then, next week, I'll grub up the courgette and squash plants before digging the area over, and that will be more or less that for the winter, apart from the occasional harvest of the few remaining crops--chard, carrots and beetroot. Though in store are potatoes, onions and shallots.

It's been difficult to find enough time to do the allotment justice but great fun when I have got up there.

Meanwhile, a publisher friend in the States has a new Kindle ebook out: That Paris Year by Joanna Biggar: UK, US, DE.