Saturday, 28 June 2014

wolvercote, towpath, scything, haystacks, marking, guided retreat



















As mentioned the other week, I've taken to walking to the city centre from Wolvercote when I have enough time.

It's great crossing the green in front of the Plough and joining the towpath. The first fifteen minutes are like being in the countryside. Then there are the narrowboats and, intriguingly, an oil painting with a slash in it hanging on a brick service point - see tweet of 23rd June.

The other week, I came across a man scything the grass on Wolvercote Green and the next day there were low domed haystacks. These disappeared when the hay was dry (where did he take it, what's he using it for?) but this week there were more in a little meadow further along the towpath - see photos above.

First there were some low stacks then these went, although the frames and a poll used to support them remained. Yesterday, there were three more stacks.

They're terrific!

In the meantime, there was a feature on Radio 4 about the popularity of scything. I can't find that programme but here's an article on the subject in the Telegraph from last year. There's even the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland.

This weekend and next week there's portfolio marking and preparing for the MSt Guided Retreat.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

tree peony, aclaiir agm and seminar, cambridge university library, open access monograph publishing, invisible on ora, allotment

















The tree peony is in flower again - always a highpoint of the year. Not so many flowers this time, though, after the saturated winter, which the plant didn't seem to like. The stems are frailer too.

Went to the ACLAIIR AGM and seminar at Cambridge University Library on Tuesday (see also one or two recent updates and pictures on Twitter). I don't know Cambridge well at all and had never visited the library before, so there was a certain sense of adventure. This was accentuated by the epic bus journey, which took four hours...each way! Lots of work to do while travelling but even so I did feel I had been to a far-flung place when I got home. The Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire countryside in the gradually fading evening lights was beautiful, though. The landscapes are so soft at this time of year with their puffs of trees and copses and the pliant fur of the grasses and crops.

The theme of the seminar - and of another set of presentations in Oxford the following day - was Open Access (OA) monograph publishing. This relatively new development in scholarly communications and publishing is a hot topic in academic circles and you can find out more by reading this overview written by Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, and by visiting the Oxford OA website.

Other sites that might be of interest are those of OAPEN-UK, which gives details of a research project into scholarly monograph publishing and Open Book Publishers, a sophisticated recent independent OA publisher. There were speakers at the ACLAIIR event representing both these initiatives.

Open Book's slogan 'Knowledge is for sharing' sums up what OA is all about. The company's About page adds more detail about both it and the thinking that's motivating such ventures:

'Open Book Publishers was founded in 2008 by a small group of academics at the University of Cambridge. Since then, we have grown into an international network of scholars who believe that it is time for academic publishing to become fairer, faster and more accessible...'

The Cambridge event was rounded off by a trip by ACLAIIR members, seminar delegates and guest speakers to All Bar One for a glass or two of wine.

At the Oxford event I particularly enjoyed the talk given by Professor Geoffrey Crossick, who is writing a report for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on OA monograph publishing. I was especially interested in some of his passing comments about such things as the way new publishing practices might affect written forms. An example of this in creative writing might be a move away from novels to novellas as more people read fiction online.

Interesting questions are raised by OA, such as how anyone is going to make money in an OA publishing environment and whether making books simultaneously available as Open Access online and in print has any impact on print sales.

I first became intrigued by the possibilities of OA a couple of years back and took the decision to make an uncut version of my second novel Invisible available via ORA, the Oxford University Research Archive (novels, musical scores etc count as part of the University's research output). I felt that by making an alternative Open Access version of the novel available, I was extending the readership of the work without unduly compromising print and 'conventional' ebook sales. The ORA version of the novel is easily accessed via the Oxford University digital library catalogue, SOLO.

Away to the allotment in a minute. Beautiful, beautiful weather - sunny but with such clear air.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

stowe, memories, reclaiming, sarte, nausea



















Returned to my old school, Stowe, yesterday for the first time in sixteen years to take part in a careers event.

I enjoyed going back and meeting other old Stoics and the sixth formers.

I was amazed by how the place had changed. All the temples and garden buildings are so well looked after - thanks to the National Trust. The school itself is extremely smart compared to when I was there in the 1970s. I wonder if my dad noticed similar changes when I started - he had been at the school in the last years of the Second World War when there couldn't have been much money for the buildings' and grounds' upkeep.

What remained strikingly the same yesterday was the beauty of the school's location in the gentle Buckinghamshire countryside. When I was a schoolboy one of my greatest pleasures was walking along the nearby lanes and through the fields. Not that my mind was quiet at such times. Mostly it was fizzing with ideas and attempts to puzzle through my experiences and the things I was learning. Not least TS Eliot's The Waste Land. Though the effects of David Bowie's music and how it made me feel and the thoughts it provoked were also pretty major.

Yesterday, it was interesting to be asked what Stowe gave me that has helped me in later life. As I explained, Stowe was something of a refuge from upsets at home. As a result of those upsets and how they preoccupied me, I wasn't able to concentrate much on my academic studies, although I could do practical things. My chief interest was working behind the stage at the Roxburgh Hall, the school's theatre. I rose to become the school stage manger and my biggest achievement was designing and building the set for the Congreve Club production of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. By cunning use of a picture rail that extended outwards, three-quarter-height flats could be slotted over the main ones during the interval, so that a large drawing-room, with a dining area at the back, was transformed into a newspaper office.

And being stage manager transformed my life. It gave responsibility and helped me to achieve things. I had about 20 people working with me and I had a budget to manage. I could also work through the night in the theatre without anyone being bothered about it. I presume the teachers turned a blind eye. Good for them because the work I did and how I managed my time made me feel that I was in charge of my life, that I was living like an adult rather than a schoolboy, and gave me the chance to succeed at the one thing through which I could express myself. Did my studies suffer? No more than they would've done otherwise, I don't think. And during the two terms after the play was performed, I began to learn about academic subjects in ways which were new and exciting precisely because I was feeling confident for the first time in my life after the success of the set and getting the only colour tie I received during my school career (looped over and over so there was just this enormous knot and a tiny stub of tie tucked into my tank top!).

I loved my time at Stowe. Though often the unhappy episodes from childhood overshadowed my return visits as an adult somehow. Yesterday those memories had no power. I suppose because all the background sadnesses have eventually played themselves out with the events of four years ago - how the mess that lay behind the upsets (which I didn't know about) took so long to come to a head! Yesterday, I felt relaxed and happy and reclaimed my schoolboy life as my own, unencumbered by the problems of others.

Meeting the students and hearing about their interests and plans for the future was a pleasure. Are sixth formers really that much more mature and switched on than we were? They did seem so.

At work in Oxford, with the end of the financial year approaching, things are busy. There are lots of meetings about the evolving library landscape and future projects too.

I've also been reading Satre's Nausea for the first time, using the excellent PlayEpub app on my BlackBerry.

To begin with, the book grates - the author doesn't exactly encourage you to like his central character, who comes across as a distinctly weird and at times creepy person. What's the infantile desire to pick up soiled bits of paper and put them to his mouth all about? Why does the fact that one day he can't let himself pick up a piece of paper upset him so? Perhaps it's an acknowledgement of his growing up. And indeed he does become a more likeable and fascinating companion as the book develops. I loved the section about a typical 1930s provincial Sunday with everyone promenading in their finest clothes and impressing each other, which describes the day in great detail from morning till the lyrically beautiful setting of the sun.

The meditations on the narrator's relationship with the world (is it changed or is he?), the way we perceive the past (we want to relive it in the fresh, unknowing way it was the first time, yet the curse of hindsight ensures we can never do so), the fallibility of so-called experience (often just a means for the misuse of power) - all these subjects are intriguingly explored. The narration proves utterly compelling also.

I look forward to reading more this coming week. Reading the novel also reminds me of the sources of introspection and concern with ideas in my own work - for better or for worse. Of childhood, teenage and early-twenties fascinations with Balzac, Maupassant, Flaubert, Zola, Camus - and yes, Satre and Robbe-Grillet.

Balzac in particular pre-dated Stowe. But without Stowe and my unacademic career there paradoxically my academic life would never have developed, I can't help thinking. It gave me confidence to be myself in a time of need.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

walking from wolvercote, stone, bridge, teaching


















Have taken to getting off the bus at the top of the Woodstock Road, if I have time in hand, walking to Wolvercote and joining the Oxford canal by the green opposite the Plough.

For the first ten minutes of the walk to the city, it's as if you are in the countryside, with meadows and small copses and reed beds off to the right. There are also quite a number of narrowboats moored up. These have seen better days compared to the ones nearer the town but they are often brightly painted.

I came across the stone, above, just past Wolvercote - at first I thought it was a milestone or something that was used for tying up barges but now suspect it must have had some sort of plate screwed to it. I had imagined that the holes went right through the stone but they are only a centimetre or so deep, so perhaps they were screw fixings.

Love the raised bridge further along the canal below St Edward's school.

Did Prince2 project management methodology training yesterday - described as 'documented common sense' by the trainer. A lot to take in but potentially very useful for work.

Teaching in Oxford this morning and doing a Skype tutorial from home later.