Sunday, May 1, 2022

frost..., planting the last of the spuds, the tenant of wildfell hall, who's this?, country memories, the land, james ravilious


Should have kept my mouth shut. The very next morning after I last posted, there was a frost...

Isn't that so gardening? You brag about flowers or your crops and wallop, there's a swarm of aphids or a burst blight... Or a late April frost.

Hopefully it won't have done too much damage to the apple and pear blossom but...!

The frost did look amazing, though, on the lawn and leaves, in the dawn sunlight. And the rest of yesterday was gorgeous.

Planted the last of the spuds in the afternoon - just Maris Peer, Desiree, Nadine and Nicola this year. And, just as I was stowing the potato dibber, I realised that I'd not taken a photo of it - last year's will have to do. Not that it was that easy to use this time, with the ground rock hard and as dry as anything. The sides crumbled into the hole and help was needed from a trowel.

This morning, I finished The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It's taken, what, about a year? With a gap in the middle, when I read other things. Loved it. Felt sad to be leaving that world after all that time. Wish I had the leisure, nevertheless, to read these big Victorian blockbusters in only a few days. It's not simply that you keep wondering, Who is this person?, when you read them over months - well, I do nowadays. Thank goodness for Kindle search and online 'cheat' notes for school kids. It's that read in a short space, you get that amazing sense of immersion and energy. Mind you, it's great to have any time to read.

Just before going to sleep, I've been reading poetry. Over past week's it's been Vita Sackville-West's The Land. Wonderful! It is a bit weird when she goes off on one, about things that obviously mean a lot to her but which seem a bit impenetrable now. But brilliant when she evokes the countryside and tasks like ploughing and threshing.

I'm old enough to remember the countryside when it was something not too dissimilar to the one she describes - the old ways persisted into the 60s, even into the early 80s, when I was a junior land agent, spending time in south Shropshire and deepest Herefordshire. Sackville-West's poetry brings back those memories. As do the photographs of James Ravilious.

Friday, April 29, 2022

catching up, post-pandemic effect?, chaos, apple blossom, uk latin american collections webinar, iris murdoch review piece, noble yeats...


Gosh, it's taken quite a while to catch up with everything after our holiday.

Doing so has been tiring at times and I wonder whether there's something more to it. The weather, maybe, or perhaps a kind of post-pandemic effect, as one gets to grips with the new-old. There are  several events and services that we used to do at the libraries but which couldn't happen during Covid. Dusting these off and thinking one's way back into past processes, where the information is, whether it's still current where we are now - all of these tasks take time but, more than that, need a series of mental recalibrations.

So, Covid still has the capacity to make the world seem very strange (understatement, given the global chaos...).

Meantime, the apple trees in our garden - and the pear, laden with flowers - blossomed, including the Lord Lambourne in the photo. Am hoping the absence of frosts means a great harvest!

Joined colleagues from four major libraries (British Library, Cambridge, Oxford and Senate House) to take part in a webinar on UK Latin American collections last week. It was organised by LANE, which is the Latin America North East Libraries Consortium of SALALM, the US Latin Americanist librarians organisation. It was a wonderfully enjoyable event to prepare for and to deliver. Loved working with colleagues from both sides of the Atlantic. And, the recording is available on YouTube.

I also enjoyed, at the very beginning of our holiday, doing a life-writing piece for the Iris Murdoch Review. It brought back many happy memories of when we spent some time with John Bayley and Iris Murdoch in the early 90s, and of John's kindness from several years before then. He was my mentor and I owe him so much. I hope the article passes the editorial team's scrutiny and comes out in the autumn. Whatever happens, though, it was a privilege to work on it.

Oh, and while I was writing the piece, I took a little time out to put a bet on Noble Yeats in the Grand National. Was bowled over when it won! Though I can take no credit as a tipster. I just went for the horse with a poet's name...

Saturday, April 16, 2022

berberis?, week off, day trip to oxford, rose and crown, pissarro exhibition, minette, happy easter!, poem: an ordinary sky


I hope I'm right in identifying this plant, seen in the University Parks, as a Berberis. There are quite a few of them and they certainly are striking.

Have had a week off - that should be, Am taking a week off. I'm in danger of wishing - or at least writing - the week away.

And it's been wonderful to have a break from work. Doing a bit in the garden and on the allotment. Also had a day out in Oxford midweek. A pint in a pub we've been going to since I was an undergraduate, which is still pretty much the same as it always was. Excellent Adnams and atmosphere. The Rose and Crown, North Parade, as it happens. Then lunch at the Cherwell Boathouse (another favourite - which has changed a bit, and for the better, and which we've been going to for as long as the Rose). Creatures of habit, clearly.

But before these, we spent a couple of hours at the Pissarro exhibition at the Ashmolean. Really amazing! Fantastic works by him, of course, but also by his contemporaries - C├ęzanne, van Gogh, Sisley, and so many more. I was especially struck the paintings Pissarro did of his wife and family. The picture of his nine year old daughter, Minette, painted a few months before she died, her hair cut short to try and ease her fever, was so moving to see.

A poem follows.

Happy Easter!


An Ordinary Sky

Making a gap in the curtains,
seeking the thrill of the sky, I am
disappointed, 'Just an ordinary night.'

No stars, no moon peeping
round the corner of our neighbour's.
Not even the hint of shapes
of clouds. 

An ordinary sky. How often
have I assumed without realising,
'Just an ordinary...'?

The incomprehensibility of stars, 
hidden behind what is seen.
Moon orbiting earth,
the unquantifiable riches of our world.

How often have people consigned
me to ordinariness? How often
have I written myself off in those,
or worse, terms?

Let me value ordinary miracles - 
I might not wake, when the dawn comes.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

debris, over the rainbow, limbs, cold snap

Lots of debris on the Marston side of the University Parks rainbow bridge. Extraordinary textures and movement in the strange, sad heaps of limbs.

A cold snap since the balmy times of just a week ago...

Sunday, March 27, 2022

blackthorn blossom, stand out wild flowers, #blossomwatch


Such a wonderful time of year!

Saw this blackthorn blossom when cycling earlier.

What a contrast to yesterday, though, when we had an afternoon drink in the suntrap at the top of the garden, but somehow the grey sky and muted light make wildflowers stand out more.

The National Trust is celebrating the run-up to Blossom Watch Day on the 23rd April and is asking everyone to post photos on Twitter using the #BlossomWatch hashtag.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

seed potatoes, it's the ethylene, mst res, last post, bcp 0, beautiful spring day, window open, rewley road swing bridge on the up, view near harrow, emerging


Seed potatoes, ordered online (Maris Peer), and bought locally (Desiree, Nadine and Nicola), moved to attic, where they have been put into their old wooden trays. Am hoping the sprouts won't get too long. The attic is dark but warmer than ideal. Advice online indicates that putting an apple in with the spuds works - it's the ethylene, apparently.

MSt in Creative Writing residence this weekend and early next week, Supervision meeting on Monday, which I am looking forward to.

Had an alert earlier that on this day in 2020, I uploaded this post: last central oxford photo, rewley road swing bridge, handy metaphor, weird lockdown. I'd taken a photo of the swing bridge on my way to work - the last time I went to work before the lockdown and wfh. Now, two years on, the University is moving to Stage 0 of its Business Continuity Framework, and that will be the end of Covid restrictions. Of course, I have mixed feelings about this, what with the soaring infection rates, but I also can't help but yearn to put the virus behind us. Looking to the future, in the face of grim news everywhere, it seems like, on a beautiful spring day with the window open.

Certainly, the swing bridge is coming out of the pandemic better than it went in. A restoration project carried out by the Oxford Preservation Trust is nearing completion. Hooray!

And the photo? Apropos of nothing in particular. The emerging watercolour is a View Near Harrow.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

sunset, white violets, such riches

Photographed this sunset when cycling the other evening. Taken from the opposite verge to the white violets I saw last year - they're back again this time. Such riches.