jtns, an introduction, april 2015

Regular readers of justthoughtsnstuff.com will know what to expect from my posts. For new visitors, the following introduction explains the blog's background and what I write about.

I began writing justthoughtsnstuff.com, or jtns, in February 2010. I wanted to record the present - what I was doing each week - and to explore something of my past, part of which had been blighted by discoveries made fourteen years previously.

I imagined that the posts about the present would be fairly straightforward but what I didn't know was that a fresh series of unsettling events was about to begin. These were related to the earlier ones and were partially anticipated. Though their timing, extent and nature could never have been foreseen.

While I have posted on these events in jtns, I have tried to maintain a sense of proportion, so that the emphasis is on all the good things in my life.

Around the time I started writing jtns I also began taking photos of what I was seeing and have used some of these to illustrate posts.

I should say that the very beginnings of the blog were one or two journal entries written in 2009 for a page of my website entitled Scrapbook. The most important of these, as far as I was concerned, was a short narrative that tried to explain the effect of the things that I uncovered in the latter half of the 1990s and the healing I found in long walks around my then home on Osney Island in Oxford.

For a time, after uncovering these things, I thought I was close to a breakdown. The withholding of the information had not been just about money but about opportunities that were denied to me and important life-choices that I had made in good faith and on the basis that I was being given a true picture of my situation. To me these issues were about my core identity. They affected the person I had become; the person I was.

They affected choices about further education, when I got married, whether or not to have children. Fundamental things.

What happened in 2010 resulted in pretty much all the furniture and possessions I had grown up with being taken from a warehouse (where they had been stored for thirty-five years) and sold. As I wrote on 6th September 2011, 'A family’s whole culture obliterated'. Something of these bizarre events and of what I went through can be understood from a number of posts in this blog.

Writing jtns has helped me cope with what happened, just as writing my first novel helped me cope with what happened in the 1990s.

A love of the countryside and of nature has also helped.

Above all else, though, I have had the wonderful support of Jess, my wife and partner of thirty years, who has inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm for life, even though she has herself had ups and downs to cope with.

So, this blog is a work of real-time autobiography, or life-writing. It is about my life as a writer, librarian and tutor of creative writing at Oxford University. It is about cycles and walks through the west Oxfordshire countryside. It is about the village where we live, including, of course, the filming of the village scenes for Downton Abbey, which started in 2010 and is now soon to end.

It is about dealing with family-scale tragedy and waste of life and of trying to come through these experiences positively.

There are snapshots of my wider family and earlier episodes from my life (arriving at Heatherdown School on the same day as Prince Andrew, for example, or being stage manager at Stowe and the lasting effect this had on me).

The wider family means that I am part of the Sutherland succession. Indeed, I am the last in the line to the dukedom and various other titles (the collateral genealogy here is helpfully explained on this Google groups site). Well, a miss is as good as a mile, and I certainly don't feel like an aristocrat or live like one. But I am fascinated by my family and its history and its quirkier aspects - see post on the Kennedys.

There have inevitably been sad losses along the way of writing this blog - the deaths of my father and of my mentor, John Bayley, for instance - but I have tried to make of these dark times opportunities to celebrate lives lived.

jtns is about my life and how I've survived it thus far. Much of it is very day-to-day - about Oxford life and the west Oxfordshire countryside and its beautiful landscapes. It is about love and life and loss. Above all I hope it celebrates life - and that readers will find some interest and enjoyment in this mosaic of my life.



[april 2016

In the mid-1990s, when I was thirty-six, I learnt that I had inherited the capital of some valuable family investments when I was twenty-one. These were originally made by my great-grandfather in order to secure our family's future. A few years before, however, I had been prevailed upon to sign over a significant part of them to my parents on the basis that I had no existing rights to the capital, only future ones that I would inherit after my father's death. In 2010, two weeks before the event, I was told that my parents were about to be made bankrupt with debts totalling just under a million pounds. I was one of the creditors, although I did not claim against my parents. Nearly all the possessions I had grown up with were auctioned. I wrote about my distress following the bankruptcy in this blog, notably in September and October 2011. The loan at the heart of the bankruptcy was taken out in 1983. My parents' principal asset, a painting of the Godolphin Arabian by John Wootton, was sold for a fraction of its supposed value. It is hard to know exactly why my parents got into trouble but for over three decades they were increasingly bedevilled by conspiracy theories and their behaviour became more and more odd. The people I had loved were largely lost to me, although I am pleased that some of the wounds were healed in their last years, after the truth had come out. I have written about these tragic events in a memoir entitled, Trust: a family story, but have no immediate plans to publish it. I am very grateful for the emotional support I have received from family and friends during the difficult period that began in the early 1980s.]