Sunday, 19 November 2017

stupendous sunny days, tumbling bay, twenty pound meadow, monkey puzzle, wio 25th anniversary party and competition winners























There have some stupendous sunny days - in between the rainy ones - this last week.

The photo above was taken from the Thames towpath looking upriver towards the entrance to Tumbling Bay where there used to be an attended open-air swimming pool, now long gone. On the left bank are the Twenty Pound Meadow allotments, where we had a plot when we lived on Osney Island.

I remember one day at the Monkey Puzzle cider house in Worcestershire chatting to the landlady's father, who it turned out had grown up in west Oxford and used to swim at the Tumbling Bay pool. He said that as schoolboys they had crossed the railway tracks just to the north of Oxford station to get to the old chain ferry that used to cross the part of the river shown in the photo. He recalled how the drivers of the shunting engines used to open their throttles with the brakes on so that the wheels revved round menacingly, but without the engines moving forward, to give the kids a scare.

Really enjoyed the Society of Authors and Writers in Oxford party at Balliol. Lovely to see old friends and to find out the winners of the Writers in Oxford twenty-fifth anniversary Young Oxfordshire Writers competition. Will link to the competition page when the winners are posted there. I was part of the judging panel and was fascinated to learn the identities of the winners - there were no names on the stories when we read them, just numbers.

The above photo is the latest jtns photo to be posted on Instagram. See: https://instagram.com/justthoughtsnstuff.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

soaked, logs, ug diploma, ten years, wio, twenty-five years, young oxfordshire writers competition





Got soaked cycling this morning.

But at least it was going to brighten up later, I consoled myself... True, the rain stopped mid-morning but it's been dark and damp all day...

A log delivery at lunchtime. Nice to have a full store of wood.

Preparing for my Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing seminars. Can't believe it was ten years ago that I taught on the course for the first time.

Looking forward to the Writers in Oxford/Society of Authors party next week. It's the twenty-fifth anniversary of WiO. Can't wait to find out who has won the Young Oxfordshire Writers competition.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

mist, trust, central heating, awp writer to agent series

























Several misty walks to work this week.

The landscape is certainly autumnal now - though it has become especially so in the last couple of days.

Harvested three beetroots today. We'll have cheesy beetroot sauce with hock of ham tomorrow and J is going to experiment with freezing beetroot for our Christmas soup. We suspect that the other beetroots might not last well.

Finished rereading Trust: A family story this week. The suggestions made by colleagues and friends make sense now and I can see what needs to be cut and reworked. What was heartening was that after a nine-month gap, I felt that the story was mostly very strong. I'm looking forward to the editing and rewriting process.

Put the central heating on this evening. Partly because it was cold; bit more so because of the damp, even though we have had log fires since the middle of September. (Log delivery next week.)

Recommended an Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 'Writer to Agent' webinar* to students today. It's from a US agencies perspective but contains much that is universally valuable about genre, character and voice, as well as about the editorial role that agents take on nowadays.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkPXZqqJNsA

Sunday, 29 October 2017

lord poulett, nightmare journey, autumn sunlight, errol morris, conspiracy theories, documents...
























On Friday, we stayed the night at the Lord Poulett pub in Hinton-St-George in Somerset. We were meeting old friends who we hadn't seen for two years. It was wonderful to catch up with them. Though the journey there was a nightmare, taking four and a half hours - involving traffic on the M5 grinding to a standstill after an accident, a protracted detour through Bristol - where did the signs for the A38 go? - and a cross country route with queues in almost all the villages (though the Mendips at sunset were beautiful!).

--

The autumn sunlight spilling into the spare bedroom office this afternoon is rich and gorgeous.

--

I was intrigued by a feature on the Broadcasting House programme* on Radio 4 this morning about the release of documents relating to the assassination of JFK. Paddy O'Connell asked Errol Morris**, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, whether he knew why people cling to conspiracy theories. Morris replied:

'They cling to conspiracy theories because conspiracy theories simplify the world. If the world was just utterly chaotic without rhyme or reason that in itself would be a very, very frightening thought. Conspiracies give us solace. They tell us that there were those malefactors rubbing their hands Iago-like in the wings, plotting, conniving, figuring out a way to create the malefaction in the world.'

This resonated because I've been reading some of my parents' papers recently. Over a thirty-eight year period, my Mum and, eventually, my Dad were cursed by conspiracy theories that were supposed to account for why a painting that they owned was really worth some thirty-six times the artist's market value. The conspirators were said to include the great and the good in the worlds of the art market, the racing establishment and the government.

In order to buy time so that they could prove the conspiracies, my parents spent all their money, plundered trust funds to get more cash and ran up debts of nearly a million pounds before being declared bankrupt, their assets, including the painting, realising a fraction of what was owed.

Mum was secretive about what she and Dad were up to, although it became obvious that something was very seriously wrong. Only for a short while in the early 1990s did she confide in me. This stopped because I was very doubtful about the accuracy of what she was saying. She wanted affirmation not questions.

I was struck by how reductive her theories were. All the people in them behaved in the same simplistic way, with exactly the same limited range of motives. There was no allowance for individuality. Everyone - business associate, friend or family member - was portrayed in comic-book terms. Mum could imagine the malefactors rubbing their hands in the wings. I think that believing that she could see through their plots gave her a sense of control over things she had no control over and brought her considerable solace.

Looking at my parents' documents, I am struck by their mundane clarity. In black and white one reads why sums way in excess of the painting's market value couldn't be realised. Experts, friends, family told them this again and again.

For a long time, once I suspected that my parents were in trouble, I gave them the benefit of the doubt about certain things: did they perhaps not understand what the market was doing? Did they not know how the trusts worked? But obviously they did know about these things. They simply chose to ignore them. Anyone reading the documents would realise within minutes that they were deluding themselves and needed help. But my parents knew a different story. One that they created in order to prove that the facts were wrong. The conspiracy theories were magic bullets that shot down any suggestion that they had lost everything.

--

The greatest puzzle is how my Dad got sucked into the theories that Mum dreamt up. He always seemed so straightforward and sensible. Yesterday, I looked at his summary accounts for the period 1970 till just before his death in 2012. Loose leaf pages in a blue plastic ring binder. The entries are precise, measured. In 2007 he wrote the figure for that year's interest payments, £77,935.75. He would have known that he had borrowed money in order to pay this. That he was being pursued by his creditors. That he would soon be declared bankrupt. Yet he must also have had an unshakable conviction that he was, as he told me, a multi-millionaire. That he would trump his creditors and his doubters in the end.

 * http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09bxjzy

** https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Errol_Morris

Sunday, 22 October 2017

working in oxford, brian, shed roof ok
























Worked in Oxford yesterday.

A bit of a rush to start with because the bus leaves five minutes earlier on a Saturday, for some reason.

A refreshing walk in, although Storm Brian had started and it was certainly breezy. On the Thames the water was beginning to get choppy. Not that Brian ever got too bad in central and west Oxfordshire, so far as I could tell.

Even so, there were gusts - at their strongest when we were waiting for the bus home from Witney, after meeting for a delicious late - very late - lunch at the Hollybush.

This morning, I was pleased that the shed roof on the allotment was still sound - including the south pitch, which I refelted last Sunday. Harvested some smallish courgettes, a yellow round cucumber and chard.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

warm, putting the allotment to bed, beetroots, christmas soup?, nicely-paced weekend























Extraordinarily warm day for mid-October. Shirt sleeves on the allotment and certainly no log fire at home.

Took down the runner and French bean wigwams, grubbed up some of the courgette and cucumber plants and dug over their ground and where the spuds had been.

There may be few more courgettes to come but mostly that's the end of the summer veg. Just some beetroots - hopefully they will last till Christmas Day and out traditional soup - and various chards (Swiss, rainbow and self-set).

A nicely-paced weekend compared with the last one - which was spent reading finals papers.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

the dawn allotment























The air is thick with vapour and the lingering night.

I park my bike against the wire fence,
avoiding the pointed knots that have caught the saddle before now.

The shed roof looks safe from this side but
the covering on the far pitch has flapped over in one place
and worn bare in others.
At least it's not any worse, despite the winds.
I have a roll encrusted with sea-green grit in the sturdier shed at home
and will felt in a week or so's time
when the grubbing up and the digging are done.

I fit the battery to the strimmer and for a quarter of an hour
scythe to right and left along the paths.
An electric Poldark in scuffed jacket
and misted safety goggles.

Thank goodness for the lingering night.

--

The leaves of the cues and the Italian courgettes are brown-mottled,
though there are small fruits still -
lemon and wax-green, acid with ridges, smooth striped.
The beans are desiccated wigwams with no runners and just a few French.

Fine rain drifts across and I almost decide not to dig.
But there is a pause and I fetch the spade and
cut along the edges of where the potatoes were, in preparation.
More drifts. Another pause.
I start.
I turn over a couple of yards,
Uncovering missed spuds, slicing some.
Until St Mary's tolls eight.

I set the petering-out autumn harvest on the grass.

Click. I take a photograph and wonder what I'll write.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

the byeways of carterton























Bus home, early again.

So, another saunter down the byeways of Carterton.

Quite a chilly evening.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

spud harvest, desiree wins, early autumn, oxford rush of energy























Harvested our spuds this morning.

Once again, Desiree was the most successful variety. It must suit the claggy Oxford clay.

Difficult to find a moment when the earth was dry enough. Autumn seems to have come early this year.

Oxford term about to start and the MSt residence is this weekend. As always, the University is suddenly alive with a rush of energy after the long stretch of summer.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

early autumn views, elmet by fiona mozley, sequentiality is key!, p.s., thanks, ml!









Excellent walk on the Barrington Park Estate. Lovely early autumn views.

Very much enjoying Elmet by Man Booker shortlisted Fiona Mozley. She tells a great tale. From a creative writing point of view, one of the brilliant - and deceptively simple - things she does is, as it were, just to put one foot in front of the other, taking us to the other side without ever looking down. Sequentiality in fiction is key!

P.S. A friend - and Oxford Creative Writing graduate - picked me up on 'sequentiality', saying that some tutors and writers would disagree about its importance because it leads to predictability. Which is fair enough and I obviously didn't explain myself well. I meant sequentiality at scene and paragraph levels not that of plot. The kind of sequentiality that constantly takes the reader onwards, creating a strong, page-turning momentum. In Elmet this is done in a way that seems incredibly simple and yet the power of the 'everyday' observations drives you forward inexorably. Thanks, ML!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

walking, somerset, fb wishes





Loved walking in Somerset.

Thanks to Facebook friends for birthday wishes!

Monday, 18 September 2017

lichen, downpour, fire in the grate, poldark























A muted-colour day.

Topped by an outrageous - and completely unforecast (if the internet weather was to be believed) - downpour!

A fire in the grate. It's not exactly cold but the dark, dank night demands it.

Poldark, Series 2, Episode 6 on DVD.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

old stoic day, the years went - where?, lions, first fires of autumn, hangover square and netta the fish





Returned to Stowe for our year group's Old Stoic day yesterday... Forty years since we left. Help!

The years went - where?

Lovely, lovely to see close friends from school days - close friends too little seen.

Other friends not seen at all since that time. Gosh.

And such a different school. The grounds managed by the National Trust; the stately home restored to former glories, when the Dukes of Buckingham lived there. An extraordinary place to be at school - then as now.

The lion on the South Front shown in the photo - one of a pair - was recently reinstated (having been sold off in 1921, before the school was founded) after it was discovered in a park in Blackpool. On extended loan now. See this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/fogGLSoyMdQ

Really enjoyed talking to the school librarian too.

At home, we lit our first log fire of the autumn last Sunday and have lit one each day since. It's been freezing out!

Finished Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. Beautifully written and constructed, from a page-turning point of view - it has amazing momentum - but I found the short section told from Netta's perspective, in which her personality and attention span is compared to those of a fish, seemed both reductive and contrived. How much more powerful the book would have been if her interior life had remained a mystery. I even wondered if that section was added later. A fascinating novel of its time, nevertheless.

Friday, 8 September 2017

missed that one... missed another..., still feeling the effects



How was I to know that the bus timetables changed on 3rd September?

Mostly, there were hardly any changes at all. Just the 2.57 pm from Bampton Square, which now goes seven minutes earlier. It took quite a while to realise we had missed that one - well, we just assumed there was a hold up somewhere. As you do... Until...

I was also unlucky with the 6.40 pm from Carterton. Now zooming off at 6.32...

So, an earlier bus from Oxford after work means I have longer to wait for my Carterton connection and more time for exploring.

Pleased to say that the effects of the holiday are still felt.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

one of those days























A great walk this morning.

But a somewhat disappointing day, as far as the weather was concerned...

Lots of other good things, though!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

vapourous early morning walk, raphael, ipa, cherwell lunch







Up early for a walk over at Clanfield. The morning vapourous along the lane and in the fields; misty towards Folly Hill and the Iron Age fort.

A heavy dew and spider webs everywhere: some, near-symmetrical wheels; others seemingly randomly-woven stacks of dense strands.

Later, a bus trip to Oxford to see the Raphael drawings exhibition at the Ashmolean. So intriguing - as well as beautiful and inspiring. I know so little about the Italian Renaissance, really. Just the obvious things. Let alone about the techniques used. I thought the text on the boards accompanying the drawings was excellent, opening up the thinking behind the way things were done and why in accessible language. I loved the case that illustrated the tools and resources the artist used. Black ink from oak gourds, not least.

A half of American-style IPA at the Rose and Crown, North Parade, afterwards, and a delicious lunch on the banks of the Cherwell.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

light rain, owls























A little light rain during our walk this morning.

Last night, falling to sleep to the sound of owls.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

apples, reading, family papers


Some wonderful holiday days in west Oxfordshire: beautiful long walks, catching up on the allotment and in the garden, eating the produce (the delight of Cox and James Grieve apples), sitting out under the stars and marvelling - at our ignorance of the constellations as much as the stunning, infinity of it all!

Listening to owls in our garden.

Reading. A luxury. All Souls by Javier Marías - fascinating to see an Oxford I can just about remember through very narratorial, very cerebral, but also very intriguing, Spanish eyes. Now, Hangover Square by the immediate carry-you-along involving brilliant Patrick Hamilton.

Also, more practical things.

When Mum died I inherited the family papers. Not looked at since. Now, today, the process -  nearly two years later, and the right time to face this - begins: of the librarian's indexing, digitising and boxing; of occasionally dipping into; but mostly preparing to go through...

The broader aspects of how a multi-million pound fortune was turned into a million pound debt have already been explained by the bankruptcy process. But the nuances - the subtle revelations of what Mum and Dad (and others) did. That begins now.

I'm ready for that. Much water has flowed beneath the bridge.

Friday, 25 August 2017

out and about




Out and about in the beautiful west Oxfordshire and Cotswolds countryside.

Oh, and on the allotment too.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

cross-country to clanfield























A lovely walk cross-country to Clanfield yesterday.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

dog rose, the lock, liber dh wg, writers in oxford young oxfordshire writers comp
























The dog rose by the entrance to the Walton Well Road car park was in flower this week.

I remember it from years ago. If you're coming from Port Meadow, you go through the gate and there it is. It used to be intertwined with stems of Duke of Argyll's Teaplant but that seems to have gone now.

I'm surprised that the dog rose is still alive. There have been many changes to the car park over the last twenty-five to thirty years.

The dog rose featured in my first novel, The Lock (Smaller Sky, 2003) - see extract below. In Chapter 6, Elizabeth is walking towards Port Meadow to visit her daughter who is living with her boyfriend in a truck on the far side of the car park - the novel is set in the early 1990s during the Grunge and Travelling years.

Meantime, I recently joined a new Digital Humanities working group, which has been set up by LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche - Association of European Research Libraries). If you're interested in DH you can find out more by visiting the group's page and the LIBER blog post about the launch workshop (which sadly I wasn't able to attend).

A reminder that the Writers in Oxford 25th Anniversary Young Oxfordshire Writers Competition closes very soon - entries must be sent before 1st September.

Two other writing competitions to consider are The Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2017/18 and the Sixth Annual Mogford Food and Drink Short Story Prize (opens 26 October).

--

Extract from The Lock by Frank Egerton (Smaller Sky, 2003), Chapter 6, pp. 80-81 (now available as a Kindle ebook from StreetBooks)


Even near the bottom of the hill, the cover from the, in spring, scraggy-seeming ash trees, and the new growth of rosebay willowherb and dog rose bushes was impenetrable.  In amongst the last of these, Elizabeth noticed, with some surprise, growing the long, silvery-green tarragon-like branches and delicate star-shaped purple flowers of the Duke of Argyll’s teaplant.  She remembered seeing this before in an area of rough ground by the railway station, which was on the way along a short cut to the Island from the canal which she and Gerald had sometimes used when they were returning on summer nights from having a drink in Jericho after he had collected her from the University Press, where she then worked, shortly before they were married.  Since then, and though she had walked this way often over the years, she had not seen the shrub anywhere else.

Elizabeth also remembered how she and Gerald had spent time observing the structure of the teaplant when they first noticed it, and had then gone to his house and sat side by side on the green velvet sofa’s somewhat drab predecessor in the sitting-room, Gerald leafing through the pages of the Oxford Flower Book for the Pocket, both he and Elizabeth staring intently as if in competition with each other, until, with the alacrity of snap players, they cried simultaneously ‘There!’ and identified it.
She stopped walking for a moment and then approached the dense seethe of dog rose and teaplant, which were also, she now saw, bound up with a plethora of the flimsy but inexorable, twining stems of convolvulus, coming into leaf, but not yet in flower.  The dog rose flowers themselves were unusually large and big-petalled.  They were mostly pinky purple with thickly-stamened yellow centres, like pincushions, though there were some white ones, which she presumed must be on a separate bush, but it was impossible to tell.  She could have tried to part some of the stems and find out, but, quite apart from their large thorns, they were guarded by nettles.

Were, she wondered, lost for a moment in reverie, these bushes, with their extraordinary flowers, even dog roses?

Sunday, 13 August 2017

morning glory!, osney birthday party, hb allen centre







It's that morning glory time of year. Every one of them different. Each startlingly beautiful.

Worked in Oxford yesterday before going to a birthday party on Osney Island. Loved seeing friends.

On the way to work I took a photo of the old building on the former Acland site that is being incorporated into Keble College's HB Allen Centre. Extraordinary to see it sitting on stilts like this. Keble has put up so many new buildings since I was an undergraduate there in the 1980s.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

surprise!, ganoderma lucidum, frog pond replenished, hopefully brief floods

























Imagine my surprise when I came across this curious bracket fungus while walking from North Hinksey to Osney on my way to work earlier in the week.

Possibly an orange example of Ganoderma Lucidum - Ganoderma being a genus of mushroom found throughout the world, which is used in traditional Asian medicine.

A curiosity certainly - and not necessarily something that new visitors to this blog will want to see...

Sadly, the wonderful summer weather seems to have disappeared, although there have been some rather lovely periods of sunshine and refreshing breezes. The frog pond is fully replenished with water. As I tap away, there is an extraordinarily vicious and drenching hailstorm outside, cars whooshing through the - hopefully brief - floods!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

sunday lunch harvest, keeping in touch, maris peer, tell-tale steam, punting, summer school



A Sunday lunch harvest from the allotment. I couldn't claim to be self-sufficient in a million years but I love keeping in touch with the land through this small square of earth. Digging, cultivating, planting, growing and harvesting. Each year different things do better than others. Not many courgettes this time, although there are plenty of plants. The ruby chard is great in 2017 but hardly came to anything last season. Maris Peer potatoes, by the way.

This morning there was a toot-toot and tell-tale steam in the dip of the road below the allotment field and some minutes later the steam engine trundled by like an earth quake. A magnificent contraption!

A friend visited yesterday for punting, a late morning picnic and lunch. It was a wonderful day.

Very much enjoyed working with the summer school students this week.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

heavy rain, as things should be, early autumn colour, first courgettes, transcendence























Astonishingly heavy rain yesterday evening and today.

One of the heaviest bursts happened just as I was stepping off the bus. Had to place the umbrella so that it protected the photocopies for the summer school rather than me. I got soaked. As it should be, though.

No chance of allotmenting today, so I went on a cycle ride. After the drought, there is a lot of early autumn colour - not least, the leaves of the (stressed) horse chestnuts that line the road between Bampton and Clanfield.

The level in the frog pond has risen considerably. Hooray!

Had our first courgettes mid-week.

Now, a poem. Like others posted on jtns, it's a work in progress and may change.

Transcendence

The bowl turns, transparent:

A room in a simple cottage,
Stout floorboards, wooden furniture...

The bowl turns:

Light streaming through mullions...

The bowl turns, like magic:

Walls fading
Gently
Out and into
A sunny paradise beyond.

--

I step through the rooms:

Across the boards,
Along the chequerboard passage,
Past the bookcase I made
Nearly thirty years ago,
Bespoke, for a flat we rented
(That it fitted here seemed
Meant to be)...

Past our favourite print -
Tall winter trees, branches stretched
Like arms,
Like a cross,
A red horse-drawn cart below
And bowed men
In farmers' coats and tweed caps,
Unloading turnips;
Beyond, the ground falling away
Into our valley,
The sight we first saw,
As we drove to view our cottage;
Of course, not our valley
But one like it;
Our valley, nevertheless...

Out onto the flagstones
That we brought from a garden
In Oxford, in twos and threes,
Grinding the Golf's axle...

Past the bird feeders
And the seeds scattered beneath them
That mice nibble at dawn
And a hedgehog has recently
Started visiting at dusk -
The innocence of watching this strange animal
Together;
The anxiety when walking
Beside the road next morning...

Across the lawn and
Along the serpentine path...

Espallied apple trees,
Laden with fruit,
Arms stretched...

A broad-leaved, spear-shaped
Bush, that is golden,
Summer and winter...

A mock orange,
Whose myriad white flowers
Fill the garden with
Their scent in May...

Over the mound that Billy
Made with earth from the pond,
Then across the stepping stones,
The water's surface nipped
By tadpoles,
The lily pads covering the deep side,
Some arced above others,
Engaged in an imperceptibly
Fierce struggle to reach the light...

Ahead, the table and chairs,
Where we sit in the summer evenings...

We listen to the church bell,
Ringing the hour,
To the surprised cooing of pigeons,
The eek of bats,
The scream of swifts...

Swifts we look out for -
Like sailors seeking landfall -
Who make the summer right when they
Arrive, for reasons I cannot articulate
And whose departure we dread...

Another year passed, maybe...

--

In the museum, the bowl turns, transparent:

Walls fading
Gently -
Out and into,
A sunny paradise beyond?

--

The garden is here;
The garden is now;
The garden is all there is.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

flowering rush - in flower, englishness























Saw these flowering rushes - in flower - on my way to work last week. They are growing in the shallows of the grebe pool on the gently-flowing branch of the Thames that passes between Port Meadow and Fiddler's Island.

A rare sighting, these plants, in flower! I've only ever seen them twice before - one when J and I were walking along the Thames path near Grandpont in about 1988 and once when we were walking the Thames path from Tadpole Bridge to Shifford Lock. They flower and never seem to appear again in the same spot.

We have a flowering rush plant in our pond. It hasn't yet flowered and it's been there for three years. I should show it this photo - Look, this is what you should be doing!

A great review of what sounds like a great book in the Sunday Times today. The book is The Last Wolf: The hidden springs of Englishness by Robert Winder (Little, Brown, 9781408707807). The reviewer, Dominic Sandbrook. I especially liked Winder's definition of Englishness, as summarised by Sandbrook: 'Englishness is an "approach", a "knack" of "negotiating a path between extremes": land and sea, city and countryside, earnest and frivolous, new and old. To be English is to flirt with excess, but always to return to the "sensible middle ground".' (Made by the Rain, review by Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times Culture, 16 July 2017.)

Monday, 10 July 2017

compasses inn, moonlight, silent night, punting, upton smokery, barrington park, blackcurrants, garden





Had a wonderful time in Wiltshire at the Compasses Inn, Lower Chicksgrove, with lunchtime expeditions to the Beckford Arms and the timeless Howard's House Hotel. It was hot walking over to them, though!

Back in Oxford, there was punting and lunch at the Cherwell Boathouse.

In Wiltshire, it was lovely to wander along the lane after supper. It was still so light, even at 10 pm, and so silent.

Some delicious lunches in the garden at home too, with ingredients bought from the Upton Smokery (visited en route to walking on the Barrington Park Estate - excellent wild flower banks).




Extremely rested and refreshed now.

The allotment is looking better (despite the scorching drought), after a productive morning up there last week before we went away. Amongst other things, I harvested the blackcurrants. It was fun to have thought through a pruning strategy early in the year and to have seen this bear bigger and more juicy fruits. Some things - runners and courgettes particularly - are slow this year but we have terrific potatoes and spinach. And mangetout peas from the garden.

Loved the readings at the MSt showcase!