The long garage behind the beech hedge
|The rose garden and a shaggy mock-orange veil my|
work hut from the garden house
I've just finished checking the proofs of Writing the Thames, which is set fair to becoming my best book ever. I know the world and his wife will come up with things I have left out, but I have certainly got a lot in. Here's my favourite picture, George Dunlop Leslie lounging against his punt pole with a group of artist and writer friends near Henley [copyright reserved, so please don't pinch it]:
The third of my anthologies for the British Library comes out in February 2016; rather good to have two books being published the year I reach three score years and ten. I'm enjoyed senior status at the minute - not too many of the frailties to come, and a new confidence in the way I live my life.
So to a whistle stop summary of the year as preserved in photos -
The first few months were devoted to racing for book deadlines and recover from a kidney stone; in May I took Ben and Meg to Osterley Park, where they dangled for the willows while Tilly was giving birth to Wilfred Timothy Eiliv, named for his Irish grandfather and Norwegian great-grandfather.
On a later visit to Oxford, Ben and Meg had a ride in a 1920s Trojan car owned by David Hambledon, who has a large fleet of Trojan vehicles, ranging from bubble cars and motor bikes to delivery vans, lorries and even a tractor. We met because David has an obsession not only with Trojans, but with establishing which Trojan it was that Arthur Ransome drove. Only two very murky and ancient photographs of AR's car remain, and even mega-enlarged, the number is not clear.
John Eade, author of the excellent Thames lore website thames.me.uk, brought his own camping punt to Oxford for a week so that we could explore the city's waterways. We took turns to punt from Bablockhythe through Eynsham, King's, and locks and past Port Meadow [noting the hideous warts of the new student blocks that now ruin the famous vista of the city from the north. We left the the main river downstream of Osney lock, and ducked and wove along the very narrow stream that behind the industrial estate, after a mile or so taking the left fork. This led us, bent treble at times, to The Fishes at North Hinksey, but as the river was low we couldn't continue past it and under the Botley Road beside The George [now Richer Sounds]. Nor could we follow another fork that must once have taken boats all the way to South Hinksey. But we did manage to turn left along the Bullstrake stream, go under the Botley road and down the left hand side of the new Waitrose, and fork left behind it to reach the Binsey Lane Bridge, where a low weir and a fallen willow blocked the river. On the way back, we turned right, and had a long and lovely punt northwards through utterly peaceful waters, thick with water lilies over which brilliant blue and green dragon-flies hovered.
We passed Binsey Church on our right, and if it hadn't been for a fallen willow, we could have punted under the A34 and reached Wytham, though the stream was rather fast after we reached the left fork that would take a canoe back to the Botley Road, The George and The Fishes. We'd seen the start of this stream tumbling down a two foot weir on our way from Eynsham Lock to King's Lock. It is I believe the relic of a medieval cut that gave water-borne pilgrims a direct route to the famous Holy Well at Binsey Church, whether they were approaching from the north or the south. WE returned via Osney to Port Meadow, and John moored for the night beside The Perch.
Next day we explored the Oxford Canal, lunching well at the Anchor in Aristotle Lane, but came back to find a sneak their had stolen John's camping stove. We went on as far as the Duke's Cut [scene of a murder in Colin Dexter's The Wench is Dead], then rejoined the Thames above King's lock, and returned via Godstow to Port Meadow. I liked this splendid quote from Herman Melville's The Temeraire, wittily inscribed on one of a series of exceptionally battered live-aboard hulks.
John explored the Cherwell on the third day of one of the sunniest weeks of the summer; Leo and I met him for lunch at the Victoria Arms to hear about his adventures without us. Many years ago, when I kept Dulcibella at St Catherine's College, my then husband Tom and I reached Islip in her.
In June, the makers of the new film of Swallows and Amazons invited myself and the other executors of the Arthur Ransome Literary Estate to watch filming at Coniston and on Derwentwater. Captain Flint's houseboat seemed a little small, especially with a huge film crew aboard, but her rakish and artistically fatigued appearance were just right for Captain Flint's floating writing retreat. The dinghies were perfect, and we were pleased to see that no life-jackets were worn on camera - although they were snappily pulled on over the heads of the feisty young cast as soon as they were off camera. The film should reach the big screen next summer. It'll be interesting to see how it compares with the charming, but now dated, 1970s film made by Richard Pilbrow.
|The author, son-in-law Joe, Sam, Olivia and Lenny|
|Readying the Zephyr|
But once is enough. Venice is far too hot in July, and there was no wind for sailing. though I tried my hand at stand up rowing. Still, much useful progress on the Thames book in my delightful air-conditioned little room in their apartment, with. as evening approached, heavenly cooking scents coming from the kitchen and the tinkle of ice entering a Campari soda!
It's been a good year for the garden. Luke and I maneuvred the long neglected stone sink that came with us from Chalfont Road in front of the Columbian Printing Press's old inking table, which I brought back from Brecon, where the press was once stored, and made this attractive display under the quince tree that is now thriving in front of the house. A bumper crop this year. Sunflowers were my other triumph [ it will be evident that I am a very amateur gardener indeed].
In August, I noticed that a rhino had been born at the Cotswold Wild Life Park - a surprise, apparently, and amazingly the second this year. Olivia and I went to see him frolicking about in a hilariously thuddy sort of way. He is the third baby to join the crash, which is apparently the rather appropriate collective noun for a herd of rhinos. Also adorable were a litter of otter kittens racing around their stream, bullying each other and snuggling together turn and turn about.
Another success was a visit to the Millett's Farm Falconry Centre, which boasts over 80 birds of prey, including eagles and owls, which are so tame that they are let loose to fly in daily demonstrations. You can also be photographed with one on your wrist.
|Fox achieved remarkable lift-off|
|Staffa-style rock formations on the coast path east of Carsaig|