Sunday, 29 April 2012

fb friend, wind and rain, cherry blossom, magnolia, weather















Earlier on Facebook a friend talked about how the overnight rain had pelted off all the blossom on a beloved cherry tree in her garden.

It was with this in mind that I took the above photo of the ground beneath the lovely magnolia by the bus stop in Alvescot when I was out on my bike ride. At the start of the month I photographed the tree's beautiful flowers that had survived a hard frost the night before. They did well to stay fresh throughout nearly the whole month. But last night's wind and rain caused havoc throughout west Oxfordshire, it seems. All part of nature's pattern, I dare say but the devastation felt unduly vicious and depressing somehow, this morning. It had taken all the will I could muster to get out there on the bike. As I pedalled into the wind, which appeared to come at me no matter the direction I was headed, I was confronted by leaves and blossom and twigs strewn across the lanes. In places there were branches down and along the gated road two trees had been felled.

Such a strange year--though they always are in the UK. Nothing is ever as you expect, as far as the weather is concerned!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

mud, holiday payback, oclw, sf, st

















Hum. The allotment remains no further forward than at the end of the week after Easter.

Whenever I've had a free moment it's been raining or the ground hasn't had time to dry out.

The scenes in the countryside have gone from drought to huge puddles and acres of mud. Presumably forecasters are right, though, when they say that the rain isn't soaking into the ground but running off the fields into the ditches and streams.

Today was, I thought, supposed to be pretty fine--no sign of this yet.

I've enjoyed this week. The one before was a rush, catching up after the holiday--the wages of taking a holiday are the dozens and dozens of emails in one's inbox when one gets back.

Sadly, no time to go to the first Trinity event at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing (OCLW)--though I hope very much to go to some in May and June.

Online course started this week and other teaching commitments are kicking off.

Looking forward to going to San Francisco for LASA at the end of next month.

(Earlier in the week we watched Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd on DVD--love Tim Burton's work but this one was a bit too gruesome for me...)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

bridges, graffiti, port meadow, puny, tarkovsky











Had a great walk on Saturday, which I've not had time to write about since.

I had to work in Oxford on Saturday, starting at 10 but because there is no 8 am bus from Bampton, I had to get the 7, so had plenty of time in hand when I got to the top of the Woodstock Road before 8.

Loved walking down the canal then along Aristotle Lane and over the railway onto Port Meadow.

Funny doing this walk because it follows the melancholy path that the Oxford don Gerald takes when things are unravelling for him in my first novel The Lock. His walk in turn echoes one that his wife Elizabeth took when she was puzzling over his strange behaviour--he was having an affair with one of his graduate students. Graffiti features on the steel bridges over the railway line in the novel and the real ones are still covered with spray paint even now, over a decade on. Yet the images are new and refreshed.

Port Meadow remains its wonderful huge romantic, tragic, uplifting, louring self. On this occasion, quite wonderfully spacious and lit up.

As I walked I contemplated the 20k word piece I've written recently about what I went through between 1988 and the present within the family. I wrote this during the week I had off after Easter and had completed the revisions the night before my walk. My head was still buzzing that morning--trying to comprehend the enormity of the suffering that had passed during those many years and which was suddenly being made more-or-less portable through the writing of it. Suddenly made puny through the writing of it. The cruelty of others suddenly rendered in its proper proportion for the first time in over two decades.

It was a beautiful and strange walk that Saturday morning.

Finished off with the Tarkovsky-like underworld beneath the last bridge before the station that I crossed through on my way back to the city.

Monday, 23 April 2012

aldermaston, stories, lustre, nano-tech, quince

Had lunch with Alan and Charlotte at near Aldermaston yesterday.

Fantastic drive between Wantage and the A34, cross-country, particularly on the way back when the view from Farnborough was even more dramatic than usual, April showers swinging over the Thames Valley like chain curtains.

Farnborough is the highest point on the Berkshire Downs and the view is said to be the one Hardy had in mind when, in Jude the Obscure, Jude sees Christminster, shimmering in the valley, for the first time.

Alan was at school with Dad. He founded the wonderful Aldermaston Pottery, a fictional version of which features in Invisible.

The pace of our time at Alan and Charlotte's home was gentle and relaxing and the conversation stimulating and fun. Lots of wonderful stories about people and trips to different parts of the world with exhibitions of lustre pottery.

Loved hearing about the three Umbrian lustre towns and Alan and Charlotte's trip to one of them for a recent lecture. (The importance of the ancient lustre technique to current nano-technology research was a revelation.)

At one point talk turned to the subject of theatre critics. Alan told us about a friend, one of whose plays had been savaged. The friend had lamented, 'Don't they understand how hard it is to write even a bad play.'

Before leaving with a dozen bantam eggs, we went into Alan and Charlotte's garden and looked at the old apple trees and the quince that was coming into blossom and is shown above.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

walk, drought, hollow tree, end of the holiday, writing





















A lovely day which began with a walk into the Thames Valley then back round to Weald, Ham Court, the Plantation and the fields to the north of the village, which are bounded by the Shill and Highmoor brooks.

I'd not done much of this walk for several months and it was great to revisit places including the water meadows near the Thames in between the Sharney and Burroway brooks where the curlew come to nest. (The fourth and fifth photos from top show the Sharney Brook, which is low now, though not as low as the ditch shown immediately above them. This ditch is usually full until the middle of summer and often never dries out. The drought is certainly happening round here.)

Meanwhile, was fascinated by the hollow willow in the line of the old hedge along the green lane from the Burroway Brook to Weald. I wonder what happened to it--struck by lightening possibly?

The oilseed rape is full out around the village.

I can't believe the holiday is almost over but feel very refreshed by it. I've also enjoyed writing about the past couple of decades during the week. I've learned a lot from that and will continue exploring these experiences in writing over the next week. Also looking forward to working on another short filmscript and reading a novel draft about a First World War poet for StreetBooks.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

gee's, standlake lakes, woodpecker, kingfisher, weather!

















Great lunch with colleagues at Gee's restaurant in Oxford. Sunlight streamed into the conservatory; the food was delicious; talking and sharing the meal together was great fun.

On the way home I met Jess and Tufty at Standlake and walked to Old Shifford via the Windrush path (which is decorated with mosaics--above).

I'd not walked around the lakes here since windsurfing days in the mid-1980s. I'd forgotten how exotic the lakes can look sometimes.

The promised rain held off, apart from one or two brief showers. A day when I could have been on the allotment, therefore. Wonder what tomorrow will be like!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

sticky clay, sort out, flowering hedge, sunset boulevard















Attempts to fork through the potato strip on the allotment were thwarted by overnight rain. The clay soil was sticky when I went up there at 11 and more rain during the next hour put paid to gardening altogether.

Beautiful light though when the sun broke through, although the day never warmed up.

Went through carrier bags of papers which have been sitting under the bed for ages and found that most were hopelessly out of date and just gathering dust. Still quite a few bags left, even so, not to mention the ones under the spare bed.

Meanwhile, when I gave up gardening and took off on the bike, I found the recently laid hedge was flowering and in leaf--above. A strange sight, really, when you look at the bases of the stems and see that they're all nearly cut through.

Finished watching Sunset Boulevard--fantastic theatre and suspension of disbelief.

Monday, 9 April 2012

duxford, violets, shifford lock, tadpole bridge, perspective(?)































A great walk to Duxford and Shifford Lock and back to Tadpole Bridge this morning.

The water-level in the arm of the Thames that passes near Duxford was higher than expected at the ford just to the north of the village, although it was low compared with the winter.

Violets were out in between the ford and the lock.

On the way back we passed through Chimney Meadows--see post of 27th December 2011 for more detailed information about this nature reserve. The land here--and generally on the walk--seemed quite parched and 'late', despite the intermittent light rain, and (as is the case from time to time throughout the year) somewhat melancholy. An atmosphere that was added to by the haunting cry of curlews, which have recently returned to breed.

Glad to have the rest of the week off. The period of getting family matters into perspective continues. Nature helps.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

allotment, easter, blackthorn; and then something really unexpected happens

















Easter. Holiday. So pleased to have the week off.

Weather forecast isn't good, though.

Meanwhile, today was the first time I've managed to get up to the allotment this year, apart from taking peelings to the compost heap. I managed to fork through a couple of yards of the first strip. The soil is shaking out beautifully but I was aware that I'm unlikely to be up there again until next weekend because of the rain. Still , as Des said, the land needs rain.

Looking forward to relaxing and doing not much at all, therefore. Already feeling tons better than on Thursday.

Have redesigned frankegerton.com. Comments welcome.

Happy Easter!!

Friday, 6 April 2012

holiday, oilseed rape, drought, kelmscott, willow bark




























Can't quite believe it's Easter yet. Not least because it's holiday-time. The whole of next week off.

I'm not quite so shattered as I was at the start of the Xmas holiday but then the work schedule in Michaelmas Term was mad. I'm pleased I rationalised things a little for Hilary.

Dad's death was, of course, something that I could never have prepared for. It's not just the fact that he is dead that has been so shocking but the way his death acts on my mind and how all the awfulness of the past however many years is now suddenly put into relief--or should that be perspective. I'm not sure. In any event, I've started to write about life from 1988 onwards, which is so far, an unsettling, though therapeutic activity. It is something, come what come may, that I feel is necessary.

The holiday got off to a lovely start with a drinks party here last night. A low key but warm and enlivening evening.

This morning was unexpectedly sunny. I mowed the lawn before I set off on my cycle ride--how late I was in doing this, this year. Most people mowed their lawn for the first time two or three weeks ago.

Cycling was great--sometimes cycling involves being relaxed in quite a disciplined, forced way because it's time snatched from a busy schedule. But today felt luxurious. In the countryside around the village, a lot of winter oilseed rape is coming into flower. A striking but still, I feel, a synthetic-looking crop, somehow. Maybe my view of it is because I can remember it first appearing in the landscape. When I was a boy, a yellow field meant a mustard crop and was very rarely seen.

The middle photo above, shows that rather strange moaty pond down by the Thames near Tadpole bridge. Regular readers of this blog might recall other photos of this feature last year--see 12th January 2011, 10th April 2011, and 15th May 2011. If you click on the above photo, I think it's clear that the water level is low now and reflects the severity of the drought that has led to the hosepipe ban. The land generally round here looks like it's not doing well--struggling, I would say.

After a late breakfast we headed for Kelmscott for a walk and a pint of Hooky at the Plough. The bark of a huge willow near William Morris's manor is shown above.

When we got home, we watched the last few minutes of Four Weddings and Funeral on DVD (ace film) and the start of Sunset Boulevard. I remember we were allowed to watch the start of the latter film when I was at Heatherdown in about 1970. We were all sitting in the old library in our dressing gowns on a spring evening but had to go to the dormitories after about three-quarters of an hour. I've wanted to know what happened ever since but have never got round to finding out. I still don't know but hopefully over the next few days I will.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

party, assignments, clanfield tavern, brunch, patio, drought

















Went to a party in Oxford last night. It was Jim's sixty-fifth and Jill's retirement. Lovely to see old friends from Osney Island.

The rest of the weekend has been spent marking assignments. Now off for a pint at the Clanfield Tavern.

Another amazing day. Unexpected, though, given what the online BBC weather forecast said earlier in the week. Sunday brunch on the patio again.

Meanwhile, there's still a lot happening in the west Oxfordshire countryside. The magnolia flower is showing traces of burn resulting from last night's frost. The background to the horse-chestnut bud pic is a reminder that it is only the end of March/beginning of April, after all.

For those who subscribe to the Sunday Times, there was a disturbing article today on the possible effects of the drought on wildlife, entitled Drought threatens birds and bees. The article begins:

"BRITAIN’S drought is threatening to topple millions of trees, destroy populations of wetland birds and wipe out the insects that form the base of the food chain, say government conservation advisers...

"Even though it is only the beginning of April...key breeding areas for wetland wading birds such as redshank, curlew and lapwing have dried out. These are often dependent on winter flooding to replenish their moisture levels but this year the floods have failed in many areas..."