Tuesday, April 28, 2020

mystery sign

Surprised by this 'SEIZE the moment' sign, tied to the windows of the village library (aka Downton Cottage Hospital), as I returned from an early, and soaking, cycle ride this morning.

A message that is both apposite and tantalising.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

more oak and ash, complicated, hoping for a summer splash!

It seems the oak and ash question is more complicated than I thought...

Oaks further up the lane from the ash I photographed last week looked as if they were greening but this was because they were in flower not in leaf.

Across the fields, in a plantation to the west of the village, oak and ash are at more or less the same stage - leaves only beginning to come out.

But in a lane to the north, at the bottom of a dip, the oak and ash that face each other across the carriageway are at completely different stages - the oak well out and the ash only just appearing (more fully in leaf near the top of the tree). See above photos.

In the hope of a summer splash, I'm going with these two!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

ash trees in leaf, summer soak?

The ash trees in this part of west Oxfordshire are coming into leaf and their flowers are dying back.

The ashes seem really early this year, although I've not had a chance to check the oaks. (Ash are ubiquitous in and around the village but oaks are found only some way off - so far as I know.)

Last year, ashes were late, way after the oaks, and proved the old rhyme right - summer splash (though there is apparently no scientific basis for this!). Are we in for a summer soak?

Friday, April 17, 2020

bluebells, katherine mansfield, the garden party and other stories, a creative writing given, a triumphant transgressor

The bluebells are in flower in the hedgerows. So delicate.

Holiday reading is Katherine Mansfield's short story collection, The Garden Party and other Stories (1922).

It's a creative writing given that in fiction you keep to one point of view per chapter or section. By the avoidance of switching perspectives part way through a scene you sustain its fictional integrity. A careless shift from one character's viewpoint to another bounces the reader out of the narrative's reality and makes it appear contrived.

Yet whenever there's a given, or a rule, there are those writers who do the opposite and make it work. In the case of this one, Katherine Mansfield is a triumphant transgressor, shifting between her characters' minds with sublime ease - and speed (sometimes bewildering enough to force you to stop and re-read and make sense). Interruptions to the flow of reading should exasperate or confound, but with Mansfield her intensely imagined worlds support you, re-imerse you and carry you forward.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

leave, gardening, poirot

Ages ago I booked leave for the week after Easter, which I'm taking. The plan was to spend the time at home gardening. A week at home isn't the novelty it would have been, although I realise that to have a garden is very lucky in these days of lockdown.

Late lunches, watching Poirot on iTunes. Never having had a TV, we have been gradually catching up on Poirot over the years (the decades!). The care that goes into recreating 1920s and 30s Britain is amazing! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

venturing tadpoles, nursery area, the odd plop and squiggly kicking legs

Tadpoles doing well in the pond. This photo was taken when they were just venturing out of the nursery area in the south-west corner. Now they are everywhere.

Nursery - a sort of do-it-yourself one. The adult frogs who were splashing so joyously during the spawning were by then no where to be seen, apart from the odd plop and squiggly kicking legs, well away from their newly-hatched offspring.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

happy easter!, bulrushes, typology, working from the spare bedroom, how can anything be the same, all the very best!

Happy Easter!

Not sure what bulrushes have to do with anything. Though thinking about it, one might view them as a reference to Moses, who in turn can be seen as a type of Christ:

Not that I had theology in mind when I photographed them.

In some respects, working from the spare bedroom is strange - no more bus journeys to the office (haven't spent so much time at home since I was a freelancer, nearly twenty years ago), no chats with colleagues, no face to face meetings. Though the Teams app is highly effective. My nosey side is fascinated by the glimpses of colleagues rooms and gardens!

In terms of creative writing, though, things are business as usual, mostly. Because the courses are part time and distance learning. Sad that the Exeter College creative writing summer school won't be happening this year, nevertheless.

And against the backdrop of the pandemic and the news and the grim statistics, how can anything be the same.

Looking forward to the 'end' of this - the return to some sense of 'normality' at least - and wishing everyone all the very best!

Friday, April 10, 2020

cowslip (and spider)

No spring is complete without cowslips. (There's a spider in this picture too.)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

hockney, spring, light is free, green alkanet, hardy, redemptive

Loved David Hockney's 'Do remember they can't cancel the spring' iPad pictures published earlier this week.

Just lines on a screen? A few blobs of colour? No, the hand of the artist, conjuring memories of the countryside and of the best exhibitions of recent years.

I like that sentiment about you can't cancel spring. I remember the darkest days of my life and me thinking, Light is free. Light and colours, the changing intensities and patterns of brightness and shadows. They're always there. Always gifts to us from the world we live in, no matter how bleak other parts of our lives are.

Am grateful to be in the countryside with fields to walk our dog in (green alkanet seen on one such walk, above).

Read a wonderful review of three Thomas Hardy novels*, recently issued in critical editions by Cambridge University Press, in this week's Times Literary Supplement by Elizabeth Lowry, whose novel about him, The Chosen will be published in 2022. The review brings the novels to life in many dimensions: plot, chatacter, publication history, literary criticism and, excitingly, the practicalities of writing.

I think many writers will understand a passage like this:

'It’s clear that Thomas Hardy succeeded as a writer because he worked. He worked every bit as hard at fiction as the other men in his family had worked at masonry, or his mother at her cooking. There is a telling anecdote about Hardy being asked to Magdalene College in Cambridge on being made an honorary Fellow there in 1913: when he was invited to admire the college’s fine new building, he not only ran his hands over the stone work, but smelt it - he never lost his appreciation of good materials and good craftsmanship, in any medium.'

Hockney and Hardy and their deep connection with the countryside are so inspiring and, dare I say it, redemptive, at times like these.


* Desperate Remedies (1871), Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), The Woodlanders (1886).