25 September 2007

The Southwest

Here in Oxford I feel like I’m at a writer’s retreat. Our flat is in a building called Cherwell Lodge and it’s right in front of a beautiful meadow. We have a lovely back garden with a bench beside a stream and then on the other side of the stream is Sunnyside Meadow with the River Cherwell winding across it. We start the day with a walk in the meadow, filling our lungs with fresh air and enjoying the softness of the green grass and the sunlight coming through the trees. Then Daryl takes off for the office and I get to work on my manuscript. I find I can concentrate really well. Between the quiet setting and being away from work and home concerns, it’s easy to immerse myself in my project. After a couple of hours of work I go for a cycle ride, stopping at a shop or two for odds and ends. It’s great fun riding a bicycle in Oxford because the city is flat, and there are lots of cycle lanes through quieter parts of the city. Everybody in this city cycles, from toddlers to senior citizens. After my ride I shower, have lunch, then get back to work. When Daryl arrives in the evening we may go out to a pub or for a meal, or have a simple homemade meal, or socialize with the few friends we have here. We go to Sainsbury on a big shopping expedition once a week with the idea of whipping up easy meals for the week. This adds to the feeling of being at a‘writer’s retreat’.

We spent the weekend with my adorably counter culture sister-in-law, Saffs, in the southwest (Somerset) in a village called Yatten, just outside of Bristol. Saffs is now an empty nester (at 44!). Her daughter Zoé will be studying ( not “reading”, you Oxbridge snobs!) statistics and psychology. Tom, her son, is a passionate musician. Plays the sax, composes electronic new wave stuff, burns his own CD’s, etc. Saffs took us for a walk on the coast in Clevedon, a pretty little seaside town. From the coastal path we had great views of Wales and the Severn Bridge. Back at her home we had a delicious meal of roasted vegetables and rice followed by an apple crumble made by Daryl with apples from the garden. Nothing tastier than apple crumble straight from the oven and served with thick double cream. Now here’s a reason unto itself to love England. Where else in the world can you just trot to a random grocery store and pick up pure thick cream from grass fed cows? No whipping required – it’s already thick enough to nicely coat a crumble/pie/tart and oh, so yummy.
We had a friendly game of Scrabble with the help of ginger wine and I won – no surprise there, really.

The next morning we drove through rural Somerset countryside, passing numerous farms and a couple of lakes. We stopped at Bath for a few hours. Bath is famous for its architecture – well preserved stone buildings adorned with carvings and impressive columns. The Circus is probably the most famous of Bath’s buildings. The Circus consists of houses forming a complete circle, divided into three sections. Georgeous indeed. The Royal Crescent, Roman Baths and Pump Room, and the Abbey are also quite stunning, giving the town a uniqueness and making it a very worthwhile stopover. We had lunch at a terrific completely vegetarian restaurant called Demuths. While the food was exemplary the price was outrageous and the portions quite skimpy. Daryl had an Elderflower Sparkling Soda to drink. We are finding that elderberry and elderflower appear on drinks menus everywhere in England. Quite the flavor of the day.

The days are now cooler. We've turned on the heating. The trees are beginning to lose their greenness. Next week classes resume for the new academic year in Oxford. Summer is truly over.

21 September 2007


Hi Family and Friends,

I am providing you with a link to my online albums just in case you were bored stiff and really needed something brainless to fill time. Or you may actually for some weird reason want to see some pictures of my travels. This is where you'll find them. I haven't uploaded much yet - but this will soon be corrected.


17 September 2007

Oxford and Around

Hiya People in the real world, what's it like out there? Well, tbh, as we settle into a routine in Oxford, it does at times feel like I'm back in the real world. I got a sobering note from an editor from GP Putnam. She'd requested my middle grade historical fiction back in April which of course, thrilled me to shreds. Then last week in her letter to me, which was not an actual rejection, she said "You have a great premise. I wanted to love the book ....." Ouch! I had to down several pints at The Turf (famous Oxford Pub) to recover!!! Anyhoo ... she went on to say what she didn't like and said she'd be happy to take another look if I wanted to revise. Yippee doo dah. And so I now have to be disciplined and revise, revise, revise - change from 3rd person POV to first, work on voice, blah, blah, blah.
And Daryl is hard at work on various research papers - going to the office everyday.
We got ourselves bicycles this weekend. Driving is strongly discouraged in central Oxford and forbidden in the city center. We have to take buses or ride bikes to get around. It's fun actually.
I find it hard to capture Oxford as a visitor since we'd spent three months here on a previous Sabbatical. Walking around the center I see all the familiar and beautiful landmarks - The Carfax Tower, The Sheldonian, the Bridge of Sighs, the Covered Market, the colleges, etc. I love walking through the college grounds. It's amazing to find such lush expanses of green, wooded grounds in the heart of a bustling city. I love the gothic architecture and the old pubs with low beamed ceilings and uneven floors and the cobbled lanes and the scholarly atmosphere.
We spent the weekend driving and walking through the Cotswolds. Sleepy villages lie in rolling green countryside and just a few miles away are bustling villages, like Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold. Old stone buildings with slate roofs are characteristic of the area. Everything about the area is oh so quaintly English, from the pub lunches to the cream teas to the shops and what they carry. The weather on Saturday especially was fabulous - warm and sunny. We hiked around villages, into the countryside, across farmfields, meadows, woods, and along clear gurgling streams. Oh so beautiful.
Fall is tapping lightly at the door and I have a feeling we are seeing the end of summer.

12 September 2007

Adieu Toulouse, Hello Oxford

It’s Sept 12. We must be in Oxford! Yes, another home for the next 6 -7 weeks. We’ve unpacked, made a note of the address and telephone number, and shopped for survival groceries until we get our bearings. It’s great to be back in Oxford. This time we’re in the posh area – Summertown. (Last time we were in South Oxford.)

Our Toulouse stay was as wonderful as we expected. Perfect weather, the café scene, strolling the pedestrianized streets of the old town with its numerous lively squares, old buildings of architectural styles from different periods, and gorgeous fountains and sculpture scattered around the city. The locals smile and greet you warmly and farmer’s markets are everywhere. So we ate well – yes, cépes, chanterelles, French green beens, tomatoes, basil – and drank a lot of the regional wine. I feel fat after rich, creamy, cheesy restaurant meals. I’m ready for simple leafy salads for the next 6 months to recover!

Toulouse buzzed with rugby fever – France is hosting the World Rugby Cup. A park beside the River Garonne was transformed into a Rugby Theme Park. An enormous outdoor screen was set up with a big seating area for the public. Cafes, food areas, and a kiddies play area were also set up. And around the city there was rugby excitement, so much so that you couldn’t help but know what teams were playing and who won, etc.

So, here we are – back in England, back in the city of spires. Sitting in my home office I look out onto a gorgeous green field with the River Cherwell – a little tributary of the Thames – running across. I see several trees of different types and sizes, and pretty birds – some quite large and black. It’s all very picturesque and uplifting. The city center is a little over a mile away. Time for me now to be more disciplined about my writing. I’m working on two projects. One is a middle grade novel set in Durban, and the other is a sort of personal narrative. I hope to make significant progress on these before we depart for the next destination.

06 September 2007


Hey Folks,
A rushed message here from an Internet cafe. Believe it or not we are sans WiFi for ten days; Using a Franch keyboard is a bit tricky - please excuse typos. Toulouse is of course, wonderful. The weather is warm and sunny - but cooler in an autumn way. I'm loving the cafes and the many open squares and fountains. Indulging in the local wine and unbelievable ripe, creamy cheeses. Not to mention the cépes and other market produce. I tramp around the many markets scattered about the city just about daily!
Tomorrow I face another birthday. My, the days sure fly after 40!
Next week we'll begin our Oxford stay.