Sunday, 31 July 2016

cycling early, boiled blackcurrants, pernicious bindweed?, exeter summer school, indie presses 2016/17





Cycling early this morning, after sipping a cup of tea at the top of the garden and eating spoonfuls of boiled blackcurrants with nectarine. Delicious.

Came across this amazing bank of pernicious bindweed on the far side of Mount Owen. Pernicious? In a garden or on the allotment. But in a hedge maybe benign and rather beautiful.

Meanwhile, enjoying the Creative Writing summer school at Exeter College and am preparing my talk for Tuesday on digital innovations and the creative writer - including digital printing and the growth of small presses. In this context, check out the Mslexia publication Indie Presses 2016/17!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

high views, jealous buck brothers, puncture, blackcurrants, exeter summer school


Well, I have enjoyed the walks after travelling in on the new bus in the morning. High views - from a shoulder of Cumnor Hill, if I'm not mistaken.

A perspective on North Hinksey and the city beyond to make the Buck Brothers jealous!

Up early this morning to mend a puncture on the bike before pedalling to the allotment via Mount Owen. An hour or so picking blackcurrants - much of the rest of the crop, with a few more to be picked tomorrow - which are proving to be delicious!

Preparations for the Summer School at Exeter College, which starts with formal dinner in hall tomorrow. Looking forward to meeting the students. A heat-wave lunch at the top of the garden meanwhile, this afternoon.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

last bus, cuts, a bit of luck, 'the man on the 18 and 100 buses', thatching barley


Sad to say that tonight's journey home on the 18 bus was the last. The service - along with many other local ones across Oxfordshire - has been cut by the council to save money.

We are lucky because there is still a service to Witney with a connection to Oxford but many villages now have no bus at all. Catching the Witney bus will mean a even earlier start and a longer journey.

The acknowledgement at the back of my second novel, Invisible, is now an anachronism: to 'the man on the 18 and 100 buses'. Most of the novel was written on a PDA on these two buses and 'the man' was an (unconscious) inspiration for the voice of one of the narrators.

Took the photo of a crop of thatching barley this morning when dog walking. The straw of this, presumably old-fashioned, variety, is, not surprisingly, very long.


almost autumnal, spiders' webs, heatwave, allotment


An almost autumnal feel to the early morning at the start of the week, with thick mist and spiders' webs covering the plants.

Before the heatwave started, which has been alternately draining and gorgeous.

Allotment thriving, all of a sudden.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

wiltshire, late-ripening landscape, fonthill lake, occasional orchid, kellogg common room






A lovely visit to Wiltshire.

Moody walks through the late-ripening farming landscape and some delicious meals at local hotels and pubs.

Great to see the Fonthill lake at normal levels after the dredging project - see post of 14th July 2015.

The occasional glimpse of an orchid.

Pleased to be away from Oxford for a while, although thrilled to be a member of the Kellogg Common Room.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

relocation, kellogg privilege, mst readings


Pleased that the TABS Relocation came in a day before the deadline.
Also very pleased to have been elected to a Common Room membership at Kellogg College. An amazing privilege!

At the start of the week, I loved attending the readings event of the MSt in Creative Writing, at which finalists read extracts from their work. A beautiful evening!

Loved having a day off yesterday and walking the Bampton countryside.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

the airfield, a piece dedicated to the memory of dr david kelly


On the day the Chilcot Report is published I wanted to post a piece I wrote many years ago and which I read at events at Blackwell's and Borders in Oxford.

A few days after the Borders event a friend asked me for a copy. He told me later that he'd read the piece listening to Thom Yorke's song Harrowdown Hill, which I hadn't heard. It's a great song.

--

The Airfield

A piece dedicated to the memory of Dr David Kelly, government scientist, who took his life on Harrowdown Hill on 17th July 2003.

I was planning walks in the countryside around our new home well before we moved, poring over OS maps while solicitors conveyanced. The only unknown was the airfield. The geometry of its runways looked as menacing as a Klingon battlecruiser amongst the green space.

I consoled myself with the thought that it’s hard to find anywhere that isn’t affected by planes. And yet, while it is true that the noise is infrequent and not that bad, the life of the airfield permeates your consciousness. Look closely at the Millennium window in a nearby church and there’s a little VC10 flying over a bountiful landscape. Even when I was walking in another part of the valley earlier this year I was reminded of its presence.

The walk was in any case always going to be difficult emotionally. I tried to focus on my goal of visiting the lock on the Thames where otters had bred but I couldn’t repress my curiosity about what it would be like seeing the wood before this where Dr David Kelly committed suicide. How would I feel? Did I have a nobler motive than curiosity? I remembered his voice on the radio and my wife saying, ‘He’s utterly broken. You can hear it.’ We felt sympathy for his family and were shocked by the proximity of what had happened.

The walk begins inauspiciously with a narrow footbridge over the dual carriageway that we often drive along to work.  Did we pass beneath the bridge that day? If we did, it gave no sign that anything was amiss. It’s only in our heads that such connections are important.

It is early morning, an hour after sunrise, on an overcast January day and the landscape on the other side of the bridge is monochrome apart from the red berries of a guelder rose. I follow the lane to a village and it is only when I’ve passed through that the sound of the dual carriageway fades and is replaced by birdsong. After the primary school the footpath slopes towards the valley, bounded on one side by the remnants of an orchard and a line of Douglas firs, and it is as I round the last of these that I see Harrowdown Hill for the first time. I stop and look but am soon aware of the sound of a plane rumbling above the cloud.

As I listen, I remember the day that the bodies of the first soldiers killed in the Iraq war were flown home. That morning I heard the announcer on the Today Programme say that the aircraft would land at noon. I was working on my allotment when I heard its engines. I couldn’t see it because of the cloud but knew the route it would take and imagined it flying over our old house and allotment, the church where we were married, the wood where we hid an earring in the bole of a tree for luck.

I knew where the plane would appear. It was a black shape. I took off my cap, the one my father used to wear. I don’t see him much now but I wear it because he used to wear it.

As the sound of the plane disappears, I continue down the slope towards a section of road. The fields here are small, mostly old-looking unimproved pasture. To the left is a stone farmhouse with brick chimneys. The tarmac gives way to a long track which, it occurs to me, must be almost tunnel-like in summer, providing welcome shade. The verges are lush and green this mild winter and the secretness of the place is good for wildlife. There is a great tit making its familiar ‘teacher-teacher’ call, causing the ash keys to tremble as it hops through the branches. I catch sight of a treecreeper then realise there is a great spotted woodpecker at the top of a dead tree. I raise my binoculars and watch. I see the pointed beak, the flash of scarlet beneath its tail. He pecks the bark, gives the branch a faint drum, then looks round, almost self-consciously, and ruffles his chest feathers.

After he goes with his strange dipping flight, I continue along the path which climbs the eastern shoulder of the hill. I pause at the gateway to the wood where Dr Kelly died. The trees nearest me are predominantly thorn bushes although there are taller ashes higher up. There are some brambles but overall it is surprisingly open. It is a beautiful place and must be all year.

The low wooded hill reminds me of one we can see from our village which always makes me think of the locus amoenus or ‘pleasant place’ of Classical and Renaissance literature. Poets used these groves in two contrasting ways. Either to give their heroes a rest in a place that was quite literally pleasant or to lull them into a false sense of security before exposing them to the dark underside of human experience. Knights in these stories were safe as long as they stayed on the plain surrounding the locus amoenus where they could see opponents and the chivalric code made sense. But once inside the wood, edges became blurred, emotions difficult to judge.

I walk on a little further, over the brow of the hill and can suddenly see the silver line of the Thames. I stop for a few minutes and lean against a fence and stare at a field with plum-coloured earth.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

working in oxford, busy week, mst, hollybush







Working in Oxford today and it was lovely to walk into town from Wolvercote and Godstow via Port Meadow in the early morning sunshine. Here's hoping for some drier days!

A hugely busy week, what with the TABS Relocation and the Master of Studies in Creative Writing Guided Retreat to prepare for.

A splendid late lunch at the Hollybush, Witney.