Saturday, 16 October 2021

Last journey through France?

The distance from Stow on the Wold in the Cotswolds of England to La Fresneda, our home village in Spain, is about 1,300 miles (200km) dependent on the route followed, much shorter if you take the boat from the UK directly to northern Spain of course.  Mostly over the past twenty odd years we have taken the longer route through France. I guess we have seen more of that country than most French people, but I cannot say I know it well and just now, after our latest trip, I think I’ve travelled it enough for one lifetime as a campervan driver.


Over that period we have been wowed by the wonderful chateaux of that country, fallen in love with the splendid Périgord area and its wonderful Dordogne River, been tempted by ridiculously cheap houses in estate agent windows, moved by the beauty of so many splendid gothic churches, thrilled by the superlative engineering effrontery of many bridges, entranced by the countryside so much like our own in the north and then gtadually preparing us for Spain as we approached the Pyrenees, had major breakdowns of the van(s) and survived, been regularly reminded of the wasted school years supposedly learning French, had raging rows about navigation and finally, reluctantly, started to use Google Maps, chanced upon wonderful towns, villages and picnic spots, towed trailers full of anything from a motorbike to a cement mixer, carried bicycles to allow access to cities and a slower view of the countryside, witnessed and in one case joined forces with the French in revolt, received gut wrenchingly bad news whilst in transit yet have been warmed by the kindness of strangers on many occasions, and finally
 we have so often despaired of finding anywhere to eat after seven in the evening.

That last point is interesting in that the problem has increased over the years as the French have shunned their wonderful restaurants with haughty waiters, check table-cloths and impenetrable but delicious menus accompanied by good carafes of local wine for the bland modernity of pizza places and kebab kitchens. And yet we finished on a high. As we approached Calais for the cross channel trip we looked for somewhere to stay overnight and locked onto Montreuil sur Mer which promised a wide selection of restaurants and was an easy ride to the ferry. Well, it wasn’t by the sea at all, but it did boast a campervan parking area and yes, loads of restaurants, and what‘s more they were open and even more there were people vying to get into them.

 We took the last but one table at La Vauban, a brasserie. It was great: service, food, ambience, all of it and very French. I loved the strange pictures of dogs portrayed as humans, the somewhat haughty maitre d, the servile serving girl and the efficient wine waitress. I even did a Trip Advisor Review! The reviews are not all good though, but the owner responds trenchantly to all criticism which made me laugh out loud reading his spirited comments.

I really enjoyed that last trip during which we found a new pass through the Pyrenees to southern France where we carefully avoided the big city of Bordeaux, then spending a night on the intriguing offshore Île de Ré and another in the old town of Jumieges which lies on an S bend of the River Seine and has a famous and impressive ruined abbey. This may not be my last visit of course, but after an estimated total in excess of 50,000 miles (80,000 km) I no longer relish these journeys.


Saturday, 18 September 2021

Spain, but not without mishaps

 

In fact we had a rather spectacular blow out on the M25 as we headed for Dover, even the tyre man was impressed when I took the wheel in to be reshod the next day. And then Lane’s my favourite micro pub in the port had closed which was sad: such a friendly place.


France was interesting regarding Covid. In the north they insisted on seeing our vaccination passports and checking that we were double vaxed. In the south they merely asked if we had been vaccinated and took our word for it. In Spain no questions asked though they did seem obsessively attached to their masks – even in the open air.

After a Covid imposed delay of two years we arrived at our Spanish village as night began to fall and struggled up the steep hill with our bits and pieces. The first great surprise was that the tiny grape tree that we  planted in a hole that I made in the road beside our garage had done really well, and the rose on the other side was, well, a little overwhelming.

That was the good news. The bad news was - I couldn’t get in. The door from the garage was completely seized, just could not turn the key in the lock. No worries, we have another door in the street behind our house two level up – but that too was stuck. This was getting worrying, though we could, of course, have retreated to the motor caravan. However I persisted with the second door and finally got that key to turn, yet still that door would not move – it was firmly jammed. Finally I had to use the policeman’s hard shoulder and bashed it open. What a relief when it finally gave way and we could enter our Spanish home.

Nonetheless, this left me with two problems doors to fix. The lower one I had to cut through with my stone cutter which made a hell of a mess of the door and its lock, so I had to spend many hours fitting a new locking arrangement and renovating the gaping holes left by the old one. I’ve also had to employ our friend Alberto, the blacksmith’s son, to grind down the metal frame of the other door so that we have access to our very old and neglected house. Then there’s the casseta and the huerto, the latter completely overgrown but yielding some delicious grapes and figs, a pleasure which was somewhat dulled when I noticed that some bastards had stolen my carefully installed tank which captures the rainwater which I then pump up to the casseta itself. It took me many hours and a quite a lot of Euros to install that thing and without it the lower part of the casseta is bound to flood and slowly subside into the ground.

All that said it’s nice to be back and to meet those who have survived Covid, seems that out village offered some sort of refuge from the crowded city of Barcelona during the pandemic. La Fresneda also has invested in a rash of parking places (mostly inaccessible to a motor caravan) plus a wealth of new, antique looking, LED street lamps. Luminous Electrical Displays to accompany the Loudspeaker Elucidation Distribution system which provides us all with important local news regarding deaths and markets. Bueno!

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Before we go (to Spain)


A quick blog before we set off for Spain to see if the house and the caseta are still there. Should be an interesting trip, haven’t been over for some two years. One thing which will have changed, my motorbike will not be in the garage. Someone from a neighbouring town offered to buy it during the lock downs and I let it go (Yamaha XT600 for those interested in such things) so it’s the push bike or the van whilst there this time.


Before setting out I managed to finish another video for my Oxford Channel. This one is a bit different as you will see from the description below taken from the video. Have a look, any comments always welcome.

The video tells a remarkable story of three generations of an Indian family of royal descent. Their family name is Ali Khan Pataudi and their tale could be entitled two cricketers and a Bollywood film star. That would be remarkable in itself, but it’s their connection to Oxford which brings them to the Rob’s Oxford channel and that too is remarkable. In fact each of them attended the same college, Balliol College, during their student days at Oxford University. The video shows the college both inside and out with particular emphasis on its frontage and dining hall. It is the second oldest of Oxford’s 39 colleges and provided an impressive, architectural and historical background for the three students.

In the days of the British Empire the family ruled a small princely state called Pataudi located near to New Delhi, they were rich and remain so, Saif Ali Khan bought back Pataudi Palace and lives there to this day. The head of state was called the Nawab and Saif still uses this title.

The most senior of the three students, Iftikhar, played cricket for the Oxford team whilst at Balliol and achieved a record innings score against Cambridge. His son Mansur (sometimes Mansoor), also called Tiger, became the captain of the Oxford team in his day despite a serious injury to his eye in a motorcar accident. Both men had cricket careers subsequently playing for both India and England.

Tiger married a famous Bollywood star, Sharmila Tagore, a descendant of Rabindranath Tagore the world famous philosopher and poet. Their daughter Soha came to Balliol to study Modern History and apparently is the only one of the three to graduate. After beginning a career as a finance adviser with CityGroup she followed her brother Saif into Bollywood stardom.

The video mentions some of the other famous people who have studied at Balliol including four prime ministers of the UK: Boris Johnston, Edward Heath, Harold MacMillan and H H Asquith. It also explains the role of a famous master of the college, Benjamin Jowett in regard to educating Indians at Oxford and educating British men for the Indian Civil Service, the latter including George Nathaniel Curzon who became a Viceroy of British India.


Friday, 30 July 2021

Two ways to meet Edward Jenner

Well, I did that walk to my roots. It took me four days following the Gloucestershire Way from my home at Stow on the Wold to Tewksbury and then down the Severn Way to my birthplace at Berkeley. The going was hard, the rucksack heavy and the sun burningly hot.  I wild-camped for the entire journey and spent the last night in a park (was a field in my day) overlooked by the house I lived in sixty odd years before.


Returning to Berkeley brought back many memories of my boyhood and I wrote pretty detailed notes of both the journey and my visit when I returned. Here’s an extract which concerns the most famous resident of my home town, a man often mentioned nowadays, the man who first practiced vaccination.

I walked towards a place that I have very fond memories of called The Brook: it is a fresh water river that leads into The Millstream and is below the famous Berkeley Castle. On the way I turned off the High Street to take a look at the church. As I walked through the narrow lane, as I had done on so many Sundays in the past, I came upon Edward Jenner's house. This was a bit confusing for me  because I was certain it had been somewhere else when I lived in Berkeley. This house was large, white and smart and very near to the church itself. Anyway I wandered in to the grounds to have a closer look but unfortunately saw signs saying tours were only by appointment. Then I saw a man wearing a face mask at the side of the house and went towards him. He greeted me and said can I help you? I told him a little of what I was doing and of my background and connection with Berkeley. I also told him that we in Stow-on-the-Wold had experienced a wonderful talk by the man who ran this museum which was Edward Jenner's house. He then removed his mask with a flourish and it was him! The very man who delivered that talk over Zoom. He was clearly pleased that it had been such a success and told me that he had really enjoyed the presentation at Stow-on-the-Wold himself.


After that he said, “Would you like to come in and see the garden?” Would I? Of course I would. He showed me the various growing areas all of which were planted with things grown from seed catalogues which were available at the time of Jenner. We talked of various things and he took me to the place where the vaccinations were carried out in Jenner's day: a funny little hut made of stone but faced with wood and with a thatched roof. Rather nice, though I wondered whether it really looked like that in the past. He then showed me where the grapes (special ones) were grown and also the old boiler that had heated that area. I told him that I used to go to Sunday school thereabouts but I couldn't remember the big house and he explained that the house had then been the vicarage in fact. And a smaller place alongside, near where I first met him, was used for Sunday schools and so on. I couldn't remember that either but the whole religious thing may have been dropped from my childhood memory. He also told me that the original Jenner House was somewhere else in Berkeley and Jenner had moved into this house later in life. Then the house became the vicarage (as it was in my day) until the Edward Jenner Trust bought it from the church some years ago and turned it into the Jenner Museum. The Trust is funded by grants and gifts and from the income provided by people visiting the museum. At the end of my tour of the gardens we parted. He said to me have a good day and I said to him you have made my day, and I really meant it.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Trialing a trailer and Cecil Rhodes’ Oxford

 

I’m planning a trip to my roots – walking of course and wild camping as usual. The trouble with the camping thing is the packhorse thing. I have to carry all the usual stuff needed for a trip plus the tent, sleeping bag and mat. Individually everything is light. Altogether they weigh a ton, well that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I can tell you that it’s quite a struggle to lift the complete bundle onto my back and bearing it is incredibly wearing.


So I made myself a trailer. Bought a defaced wheelie bin for twenty pounds and did some serious conversion work then took it for a prototype test. Here it is facing a narrow bridge. Hell of a job to get it over and stiles were equally difficult. That aside it worked OK but after 10 miles or so I developed a very serious pain in my hip and could hardly carry on, then the handles began to drop off. Had to stop at a pub for anaesthetic relief, but even so it was an awful journey. Hence it’s back to carrying everything on my back – like a snail.

Today I reached 10,000 views on my Rob's Oxford YouTube channel and added my 20th video. This one is titled Cecil Rhodes' Oxford and gives the background to his life and the controversial statue on his college: Oriel. Have a look



Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Guiding and video creation: the new normal?

 

The guiding scene is looking up. Though I had just one visitor on my most recent Tolkien and Lewis tour, my more general one this coming Saturday is fully booked. Still can’t enter colleges of course, but I believe the Oxford experience is still worthwhile. It is nice to be out and about in Oxford again and last week I spent three successive evenings in my once regular watering holes including: the Rose and Crown, the Gardener’s Arms and the Seacourt Bridge. All very different, all very special.

Meanwhile I am still making videos, an activity which, for the moment at least, has supplanted writing. I have a great working area for my movie making: it’s a square room built into the eaves of an extension of our place in the Cotswolds. Here I have my stand-up workplace for the laptop and my green screen and other accoutrements for video production. Three walls of this room are lined with books: they glower resentfully at me as I struggle with the video editor. Mostly they gather dust nowadays, the only ones I make much use of are my own (to check Oxford facts sometimes) and the Encyclopaedia Britannica volumes which make useful stands for the camera etc. Sad in a way, but think of the trees we are saving nowadays.

I have just finished two videos. They are part of a new series featuring the most beautiful colleges of Oxford. The first one is an introduction and the second is a spotlight video on Magdalen College, hopefully the first of many visual portrayals of these wonderful institutions. Here’s the thumbnails. Just onn the links above view.





 

Monday, 24 May 2021

Apartheid, Rhodes and Iconic Buildings

I am currently reading a book by Donald Woods with the provocative title Asking for Trouble which is catapulting  me back in time and reminding me of how much I seem to have forgotten. It’s about the vile regime that somehow got elected in South Africa in the 60’s and proceeded to crush the indigenous majority population – the blacks as they called them. In response I joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement, went on demos in London (my first exposure to mob violence), boycotted oranges and so on. I even marched into Barclays Bank to loudly declare that I insisted upon closing my account in protest at Barclays DCO involvement in South Africa, only to be told - equally loudly - that I was overdrawn and would have to pay up to close down!


Author: AstacopsisGouldi (CC-SA-4.0)

It may therefore seem odd that I rejoiced at the news that Oxford’s Oriel College had, despite massive pressure and much wavering, decided not to remove the statue of past student Cecil Rhodes from their High Street facing building – a building that Rhodes paid for (surely that should go too). Don’t get me wrong, Rhodes is not to be admired, he did many bad things mostly for material gain or influence and that should not and will not be forgotten – this is a matter of historical fact and the statue should remind us of that.

The building opened in 1911 and there was controversy even then – not against Rhodes but concerning the building itself. Apparently seven attractive houses were demolished to create it and some Oxford residents were not at all pleased with the result.

Rhodes is not alone up there. Below his statue there are seven others and it is likely that they too are not blameless – one was the British Emperor of India! But it is unlikely that any of them except Rhodes has had such an influence over the education of young people from the ex-colonies of Britain. It was through his will that much of his ill-gotten gain was put to good use in establishing the Rhodes Scholarships. I know, I know, a right cannot correct many wrongs, but nor can tearing down a statue change history.

If you are already a subscriber to my Rob’s Oxford Youtube channel then you will know that I’ve recently launched two more videos in the Top Iconic Buildings of Oxford University series. If not, here they are. Have a look by clicking on the thumbnails.





Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Potatoes, Snooker and the Radcliffe Camera

A few of my early potatoes have broken through the parched earth of my vegetable garden. The variety is Rocket for those interested in such things. And for those interested in snooker it is relevant just now because Ronnie O’Sullivan, also known as the Rocket, was knocked out the World Championship at an early stage this year. Ar, there be a lot goin’ on beneath the surface you know. Lovely to see these green sprouts coming up and we don’t have to be too sorry for Ronnie, it seems that he has amassed more than £2m in prize money by wielding his stick at The Crucible. OK, I know snooker’s a minority interest, but, oddly enough, it’s the only sport that interests me. Also, this final has a special Covid significance. It is the first event in front of a full audience after the current lockdown

The pubs are open again, at least some of them and al fresco only. I’ve had great difficulty making a booking here in Stow, but succeeded on one Saturday night to get a table at the Horse and Groom in the village of Oddington. We walked there of course and were a little bit late in arriving. Gosh, it was busy: the servers were running up and down the hilly garden laden with food and drinks. My first pint was ... nectar. Butty Bach from a favourite brewery (Wye Valley). In perfect condition and it was delicious. Food was OK, but a definite side-show for me. After my three pints we began a long moonlit stroll through the fields towards Broadwell, then Stow. I love walking at night on a belly full of beer. Everything: the sky, the trees, the remote Cotswold houses, looks so different – ghostly, colourless, stark.


The videos keep coming. My latest effort is a series on the top iconic buildings of Oxford University. I’ve just released the first one based on that prominent edifice – the Radcliffe Camera – it’s probably the most well known of the many University buildings and is, nowadays, part of the Bodleian Library. I’ve learned now to keep the videos short if possible, this one’s about five minutes and it has a musical backing. As ever it is top and tailed by the resounding strains of the piece that my good friend and great musician Pete Madams composed for my very first Rob’s Oxford video: Tolkien’s Oxford. Thank you Pete, you can hear more of his music with Edwin and the Keepers here. The background music is provided by the excellent Beatrix Forbes and taken from her album Oxford and Beyond. It’s called Full Moon over South Park and is a perfect musical fit for the Radcliffe Camera video: in duration and mood. Thank you Bea - you can hear more of her many and varied compositions here.

There will be more in this iconic series. Both the important Sheldonian Theatre and the scary Examination Schools are near completion.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Stop the world, I want to get off

Forgive me. I have banged on about the decline in spoken British English before – but here I go again. If you are tired of the subject then just play this video which explains that it is all due to lager. Of course it is. Meanwhile, here’s me speaking as if from the past.

"Just ‘ere I wanna say somethin’ about when I wuz a boy growin’ up in the Wes’ Coun’ry. Na’uraly I wan’id tuh soun’ like t’other kids. O’ course them were the days when a guy was summut tha’ you burned on bonfire night and curay’in was summut they did in museums. It’d always bin tha’ way. ‘Course we knew we spoke bad. Tha’ ol’ vicar now, ‘e was posh, full uv ‘aitches an’ a bit short on ar’s. Still we’m quite the fashion now in twenny-twenny-one. Anybody for electrocution lessons on ‘ow to speak proper like? I alwuz wannid tuh be a teacher."

If you do not know what I am talking about, then ‘listen up’. However, if like me you waste valuable time shouting corrections at the unreceptive TV or radio, then you probably already know what my beef is.

“It’s Brighton not Brigh’un. Was not wuz. Twenty not twenny. Us not uz. Been is the past participle of the verb to be, not bin. It’s Britain not Bri’un”

“They can’t hear you, you know,” says my long-suffering wife, long sufferingly.

“That’s not the point,” I explain pointlessly. “I’ve got to get this out of my system.”

I then start to explain, as I sadly watch her leave the room, that following my poor start in the world of diction I commenced a long career in communication – both tele and not. OK, so an apprenticeship in telephone engineering is hardly the route to becoming a BBC news presenter, but there was, and still is, a connection between my emerging need and desire to make myself understood and my career: still is.

By the by, I have no desire whatever to speak like the queen or the other, so called, aristocrats and I do take a great delight in regional accents and those who can mimic them. In truth I do not like the glottal stop characterised by the Cockneys, but I would defend to the death their particular right to drop ‘t’s partway through a word if they must. My surname by the way is Walters and it must never be pronounced Wau’ers.

Speech is all about communication and understanding and, I would also add, demands a fairly direct relation between what is written (despite the vagaries of the English language) and what is said – except for the Chinese. Language must evolve of course, just as we and the circumstances in which we live evolve. But my beef is about deterioration, not evolution. Slovenliness rather than clarity.

Why do people do it? Just to irritate people like me – no that is surely an egocentric thought. In fact I think that there are three reasons for it, maybe more, The first is clearly emulation, just as I as a boy wanted to speak like the other kids even though my father was a foreigner (he was Welsh!). Many of the fashionable substitutions are imports from the USA and are by that route irresistible for some – witness the way that ‘guy’ has replaced our many rich and varied alternatives. The other is the drive of inclusiveness: a desire to show sympathy or comradeship with the oppressed minorities perhaps. And the third possibility is song lyrics: a subtle and persuasive input to a mind opened by the song and singer.

Well, that’s got that off my chest. Better now? Not really. Wha’ abou’ me men’al ‘elth? Just keep on taking the medicine (real ale) and shouting at the TV Rob. I have to go out to feed the chickens now. I’ll have a word with them, the only word that they understand – corn.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Adam Smith and Howard Marks

The sun’s been out, I’ve planted 20 more trees and the green shoots of possible guiding opportunities in Oxford are appearing. I’ve also launched another Oxford pub video, and I’ve had my second Covid jab. How do I feel? Calm, a little nervous.



No reaction yet to the jab, but the prospect of guiding reminds me that I have not refreshed that immense store of Oxford facts and stories which allows me to conduct tours to my own satisfaction and hopefully to that of visitors. Why not revise it all you might ask? Well for a start it is too much and secondly the links between the various colleges, university buildings, people, events, and so on are crucial to a good tour. However, there is one bonus of the Covid interregnum, I have advanced my knowledge, and respect for, Adam Smith.

Most of my tours begin outside the college of Balliol, the second oldest of the thirty-nine. I usually relate the fascinating tale of its foundation and then talk about a selection of famous men who have studied there: one of those is the fourth, and our current, Prime Minister; another is Adam Smith who held a graduate scholarship there in the 1740s. Most visitors seem to recognise the title of Smith’s second book, The Wealth of Nations, which is often claimed to be the first to tackle the subject of economics. I am now much more aware of his first book which he thought it his best: this one addresses the tricky subject of moral philosophy. Both books are hard reads and I freely confess that I have not read them. But I have read about them and nowadays virtually attend seminars provided by the Adam Smith Institute which often refer to them.

Adam Smith is sometimes portrayed as the founder of capitalism and economic man (an amoral being driven entirely by selfish motives). In fact he propounds the benefits of free trade to all and a moral approach to self interest which recognises the benefits of social cooperation and the need to be ‘loved and loveable’.

However, if I tried to explain this on a tour I would lose half my audience on political grounds and the other half through boredom. Instead I must switch to Howard Marks, also of Balliol, and Oxford’s most famous drug dealer. Howard was loveable (to some) and he also believed in free trade: specifically in the supply of cannabis. Howard is one of the subjects of my own book entitled the Rogues of Oxford where entry depends on assessment as: charmer, womaniser, drinker, liar, entertainer, corruptor, adventurer and creator. I did not consider Adam Smith for that book, or the very first Adam.

 


Friday, 19 March 2021

Videos, Books and Pubs

 


It’s interesting to compare making videos with writing books. There are similarities of course, particularly in non-fiction where having decided on a subject you begin to assemble the bits and bobs from which your ‘masterpiece’ will be created. For a book that’s the facts and photos that you need to build your book upon and it is much the same for videos, with the addition of clips – bits of videos from elsewhere. The web is a great source for both, but also provides a dangerous temptation to use other people’s work. Actually I’m mostly happy for other creators to use my stuff as long as they ask and they attribute, and I also find that many independents are more than willing to reciprocate. Problem is that the web is cluttered up with agencies such as Getty Images who tempt you in with bogus ‘royalty free’ offers and do not even water mark their stuff to prevent accidental use, and then set their vultures on you. Sigh!

Of course the mechanics of producing a book or a film are quite different, though both involve quite a lot of keyboard bashing: via word processors for books, and video editors for films.  Funny really, but the latter reminds me of my programming days. It’s not exactly technical, but it is quite complex and can be frustrating. I use Shotcut which is free: it’s created by enthusiasts. It has more capabilities than I have yet mastered and can be quite frustrating. It crashes, just like computer programs did in my heyday. And, of course, there’s no one to complain to when things don’t work. Fortunately there exists an enthusiastic bunch of users who are often willing to help when you do get stuck. 

Word processors handle words, formats and such. A video editor handles that plus sound and video via filters, timelines, keyframes and so on. There is also a fundamental difference between them. A word processor deals with a serial flow of words, the video editor has to deal with videos, images, sounds and more in parallel, that takes a heck of lot more computer power. It’s comparable in complexity to building a road versus all of the buildings, bridges, street lighting and services that lie alongside it. But hey, it’s creative. Some people are really good at it. I just get by.

And that’s a prompt to introduce my latest output: two more pubs. The Turf is one of the most popular in Oxford, especially with visitors. It is a hidden wonder crouching beside the old city wall and is the repository of many intriguing stories. The Wheatsheaf, the pub that I nearly took on some years ago, is central Oxford’s key remaining live music venue and even has a pool table. It is under threat: an application has been made to convert it to student accommodation! A fight is going on to save it. As I write I am anxiously awaiting my ‘Save the Sheaf’ T-shirt and hope that my video might help a little in the battle.

  

 

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Zooming into pubs and more

Well it seems a while since I’ve blogged and a lot has happened on the covid front where there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel for the UK at least. I am amazed at the rate of roll out of vaccinations. By the way I find the word covid quite inappropriate for this scourge that has invaded our world, it has a warmth to it that conveys the wrong impression entirely whereas syphilis, pneumonia, pox (big or small), SARS and the black death are all names that seem redolent of their effect.

And now there are signs of spring in the garden. Margaret has all sorts of flowers popping up and my broad beans are peaking through. Meanwhile the chickens are looking more sprightly. I’ve got them working over my vegetable garden prior to seeding and they are doing a grand job. They’re laying plenty of eggs too. I’ve never known such productivity – hybrid vigour I suppose. Other creatures are also sensing the coming of spring. From my office window I can see the little lambs leaping about in the field next to ours: so white, so tiny, so lively. And this morning I witnessed a male wood pigeon trying to make out with a female.

Meanwhile I’m getting on with stuff. Did my first commercial Zoom talk the other day on a subject which is near to my heart: Pubs of Oxford. It went well I think, though I certainly miss the immediate feedback of a live audience. Whilst developing that talk I’ve also made two videos on the same topic. The first, which is an introduction, was great fun to make. I asked a number of people what their favourite pub was and they provided short video answers which I’ve linked together. It’s great fun, have a look.

I’ve also made one on what may soon become a lost pub. It’s the Lamb and Flag, now threatened with closure. On the lighter side that video relates one of my favourite pub jokes (more of those to come). See it here.

I’m also doing a Zoom talk based on my book: The Battle FOR Stow.  That book traced the march made by the Royalist forces in their attempt to reach Oxford and save King Charles I. The march ended in the Battle of Stow and marked the end of the first phase of that crucial 17th century civil war. My book was all about the march (which I repeated 363 years later) together with the battles that take place in Stow-on-the-Wold in the 21st Century. I’ve also just finished reading a fascinating book on the Glorious Revolution which followed the death of Charles I’s son, also Charles and the escape to France by Charles II's brother and successor James II. In a way that revolution was a follow through of the civil war and probably launched Britain on its path towards genuine democracy, empire and the industrial revolution.

 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Covid and the Oldest Colleges of Oxford

 

Had my first covid jab on the last day of January. My wife had hers the day before and it made her quite ill which was a bit worrying (for both of us), but it was certainly not going to deter me. The whole thing was amazingly well organised with off-duty fire officers managing the car park. Other volunteers checked us in and handed out hand steriliser. The enthusiastic doctor then talked me and another chap through the process and grilled us on various topics to ensure that we were fit recipients. He was great, given that he’d probably done it all a hundred times before that day.

I hardly noticed the jab, felt like a little thump that’s all, and the whole thing took little more than five minutes. I was then told to sit in the car for another five minutes “just in case”. So there I sat in the red mini dwarfed by the urban tractors on each side of me. Still we’re all equal before covid.

As the evening wore on I became aware of stuff that had been slipped into my blood stream. I felt light-headed, then the opposite, and just generally odd. Meanwhile Margaret had pretty well recovered.

Next morning I felt a little dull but generally OK. The central heating system failed to come on so I fixed that. I fed the chickens, (they are in semi lockdown for fear of bird flu) collected the eggs, did my usual circuit of exercising: weights, wobble board, punch bag, darts and skipping. All seemed well so I set to work on the video I’m near to finishing.

But I was not right, I had a mild headache, pains in different parts of my body, felt so cold that I had to wear a heavy coat, and had this general sense of not being myself. And of course the work did not go well. Video editing is not an easy task and I made many silly mistakes.

By the third day I was fine and these minor side effects were clearly
dwarfed by the magnitude of the pandemic and the prospect of immunity for all. I am unaccountably proud that the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine was so quickly designed, tested and manufactured in such vast quantities. And I am awed by the rate and scope of roll out in my country. I was nearly the ten millionth recipient I think.

Despite Covid, my work goes on. I have finished that video! It’s a quick streak through the ten oldest colleges of Oxford. It was fun to make but had its usual ups and down: problems with the editor, the presenter, the designer and the scriptwriter. Yeah, that’s me. Have a look, just click here, or on the thumbnail below.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Walking in the Cotswold Hills and videos of Margaret and Benazir

I do enjoy a good long walk, but just now they do not end as I would wish. In this month of January I’ve done two – both alone for obvious reason. There was snow on the ground as I set off for the first, heading in the direction of Wyck Rissington. The weather was great, cold but sunny, but I was tricked. Some four miles into the walk it began to snow, and it got worse. As planned I turned to the north across a ridge in the Cotswolds in order to make a long loop back to my home but the snow became so heavy I had to eat my packed lunch in some farmer’s open sided barn. I took a less ambitious route towards the pretty but soulless village of Icomb and on my way there tripped over a root and fell heavily into the mud – and laughed as I lay there!

The second walk, just two days ago, also started in brilliant sunshine. However it did not snow, but the sun was soon obscured by heavy cloud and the temperature dropped quickly. I did another loop this time passing close to the lovely Slaughter villages and then arrived at one of my most loved spots at the base of Stow hill: Hyde Mill. There I got into conversation with the owners (socially distanced of course) and what did we talk about? Why vaccinations of course.

So, why don’t these walk end as I would wish. Quite simple – the pubs are closed. I enjoy nothing better than stumbling foot weary into a good pub and quenching my thirst on a well-deserved pint of real ale. Roll on the jab.

Walking aside, I’ve been busy. Two new videos are now live on Rob’s Oxford channel which completes the series on Women World Leaders Educated at Oxford. The additions are Margaret Thatcher and Benazir Bhutto, both interesting ladies with fascinating lives and a shared alma mater.

Here are the thumbnails, as they are called on YouTube. Have a look via the channel and please subscribe. Every little helps.