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Against the Picturesque Or the Purpose of This Blog

Friends and family will know that I’m a born Anglophile. I looked forward to life in England with almost unmixed glee, and – as is natural – it is looks different from the other side; now that Seattle is a place beyond my reach, is looks perfect, like home.

In a city as dense with history and myth as Oxford, it is inevitable that one is lured into the city’s hazy atmosphere: the Keatsian seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Arnold’s dreaming spires, Waugh’s halcyon days, the tweed and pipe legends of Lewis and Tolkien, the detections of Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Morse, the gown-flappings and dinner halls of Harry Potter. It is in part because it is true; it is a magical enclave. But it’s also self-perpetuation, and I am guilty. Reading back over my blog posts, it’s a construction; no less true perhaps, and forgivable, but still a construction.

I am very susceptible to the picturesque. I am a fan of sheep grazing, buttons, widows with veils, rooms with views, literary people, red telephone booths etc. I might as well own up to my tendencies. It’s only fair that I inform you of my predispositions. These will probably continue. But I’m also looking for something that’s accurate. I don’t want to be another woolly (female) enthusiast.

Just down the street, opposite the Martyr’s memorial which stands out like a tiered stone Gothic cake, is a bus stop out of Oxford. Down-and-outers and their ratty dogs wait outside the grocery store, pedestrians collide with each other as they walk past with no apology or acknowledgment, schoolboys with sharp voices and cigarettes loiter. Why don’t I linger in front of Sainsbury’s and the bus stop like I dawdle in front of the Sheldonian Theatre? The two scenes form a diptych. And yet this “other” side of life is as much as the first a question of framing.

Part of my excitement at moving to a new place was the chance to exercise observation. I’m a born eavesdropper (but that’s another story). I’m fascinated by the members of the Mass Observation who after VE day in 1945 went around London recording the public’s responses. This attention involves a degree of separation and removal; regrettable – inevitable. So I’m going to do my best to attend to this. I’ll continue to write about the walled gardens, and burial places. But you deserve to know – and I should remember - about the drunken Frenchmen on the streets at night, the broken windows and break ups I can’t sleep through, the black hole of Primark, ups and downs of Harris Manchester, the Jamaican restaurants and mosques of Cowley Road and the real History Boys of Christ Church.

Comments

Ian Wolcott said…
Yes, please, with the squalor and dirt - though I'm glad to read the sheep and dahlias too.

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It is raining steadily upon the tall dark trees. D…
There’s a sudden late surge of warmth in the rough winds today and it’s the perfect day to read one of John Clare’s best sonnets:

November

Sybil of months & worshipper of winds
I love thee rude & boisterous as thou art
& scraps of joy my wandering ever finds
Mid thy uproarious madness – when the start
Of sudden tempests stir the forrest leaves
Into hoarse fury till the shower set free
Still the hugh swells & ebb the mighty heaves
That swing the forrest like a troubled sea
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Half vacant thoughts & self imagined rhymes
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Neath ivied oak & mutter to the winds
Wishing their melody belonged to me
That I might breath a living song to thee
I’ve a short story in the latest edition of The Stinging Fly, which is a brilliant Irish literary journal. If you’d like a copy (or if you like Claire-Louise Bennett or Kevin Barry or Danielle McLaughlin or Colin Barrett, who’ve all been published by SF) you can get it here Or, you know, go to Dublin.