The trees beside my cottage
Surrender to the wind
Their mildewed twiglets fly and fall
Deep yellow, furry, pinned
On landing to the yew hedge
There were flies in their droves on the windows
Their buzzing lay thick in the air
A shambles of daisies and hemlock
Crept over the lawns, but my pair
Of young lovers had put in their offer
There are tables and chairs and some breakfast
An easel, his brushes and oils
A newspaper, thumbed and abandoned
A bottle of Scotch. All the spoils
Of life in its ordinary moments
Our babies have arrived again.
We count them: one, two, three
Four, five, six, seven! What a chore
They’ll soon be big as me.
The green green grass of Blenheim’s lawn?
Behind their door the College basks beneath the sun of spring:
Inside the whitewashed Chapel sit its audience. The ring
Of Clara Schumann’s brilliance fills listening minds and hearts
For we are Somerville reborn and so today we start
The stables smell of leather, fresh sawdust softens ground
The animals stand patiently and ever-quiet. Sound
Will make them stamp and startle, so walk with silent grace
Their eyes will follow every move, and visitors will face
There is something about Blenheim’s Orangery
Not only its light and its size
The way it seems endless and boundless
And how it looks up to those skies
That lift and extend to the heavens
I am haunted by those Easter risings
The black and the blue and the thorns
The blood and the battles, the bombings
The crown that He wore. He was warned
But the message He carried was crucial
I may be Chaucer’s Cottage but I do not show my age
I’m firm and roundly planted to face the modern stage
Of ifs and buts and don’t knows, of can’t do this or that
I’m cared for with fresh shutters and what is more my Hat
Another week has flown on wings of steel
Ukraine fights starving without drink or meal
Flurries of snow bluster but take no roots
Gunfire echoes while those soldiers’ boots
Stampede the icy blasts of Europe’s heart
Leaving us aching to take gentle part
I love the hours of twilight as the skies begin to fade
The swirl of cloud, the streaks of sun
The patterns and the shade
The timing of the sunset, the deepening of the gloom
The sleepiness that stills my heart
The propping of my broom.
My Wren has laid her eggs again
High in my old stone wall
In spite of Eunice and her rage
That battle did not stall
My tiny bird from following
I remember the people I left behind forty-six years ago
Companions in publishing, lovers of art, Londoners high and low
Baking in sweat, unable to breathe, sleepless beneath the moon –
I climbed in my car, waving farewell. “I’m off! I’ll see you soon!”
Tonight my world is quiet – I could drop proverbial pin
Into the marvellous silence and hear it clearly. Spin
A midnight cobweb’s miracle: my spider’s hard at work
Delivering her patterns quirk by quirk
Ride out the storm! Chill winds may blow
Bringing their lethal hint of snow
Spring blossoms flutter in the shower
Threatening to break their tiny flower
Dark clouds will clash until they hear
Those rains begin. Thus every year
The threads of Churchill’s long and extraordinary life are revealed in this exhibition at Blenheim Palace in marvellously rich, authentic detail. Here are the clothes he wore as a child, his uniforms, his siren suit, his weapons of war, together with bound volumes of his own work.
I’m flexing my muscles and raking the earth
Preparing my garden in spite of the dearth
Of smiles and bright eyes, of those who can laugh
At the coldness of strangers. I run a hot bath
To soak in a Radox of comfort. I ache
After sweeping the hearth rug. I stretch when I wake
When I wrote and published Larkswood my young hero – a gardener called Thomas Saunders – had no voice of his own. He is seen through the eyes of Louisa Hamilton who grows to love him during her stay in the house. When the threat of war begins to loom, Louisa knows that Thomas, who has always longed
See the last leaves of autumn drift
Down to their carpet of gold, then lift
Carried by breezes cool and dry.
Canada geese above me fly
Honking hoarse voices into sky
Dappled and dangerous, cry by cry.
I’ve never really belonged to Clubs and Pubs. I get frightfully bored sitting on committees and, once I’d left Oxford University Press, I decided life was too short to try to become Vice-President of Global Everything.
My Robin came this afternoon –
He flew in with a smile –
So bright and light and wholesome
He soars that extra mile
To tell me I should hop along
Matthew Crabb was born in Dorset and currently lives and works on the edge of Exmoor. He intended to have a career in graphic design until he started working in a power-tool hire shop, which is where he became interested in chainsaws.
Somerville College Oxford has an impressive number of firsts to its name. It educated the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, the first – and only – British woman to win a Nobel Prize in Science, Dorothy Hodgkin, and the first woman to lead the world’s largest
To produce an image that looks this good is the result of many pairs of extraordinary eyes using their individual expertise. I shall be 82 in October. This photograph is not of a beautiful woman, but of an author who works meticulously around the clock at everything she does, says and writes.
Just in time, Grandma comes to stay.
“Goodbye, Jamie, darling,” says Mum.
“It’s time for me to have our baby.”
She climbs into the car.
“I’ll be home soon. Grandma will take you to the park.
Thirty years ago, in July 1991, I drove through the Oxfordshire village of Wytham on my way to my own cottage nearby. It was a particularly hot afternoon. All my car windows were open. And through one of them I suddenly spotted the most beautiful scarecrow, standing proud in her field
On the longest day of the year I have
The most far-reaching eye
To scan, to mark, to fascinate
Each bird that soars. I spy
The brutal email came thundering down the line at me from New York. My American publisher again. This time About Websites. “If you haven’t got one,” it shouted, “you don’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell. We won’t do it for you, so get a move on. And don’t spin us any made-up yarns about yourself.
The swinging of the pendulum exactly marks the time:
Precise, intense, immaculate, he checks the hour’s chime.
A second out? Two minutes on? Then something must be done
To sharpen up the reckoning until the battle’s won.
“I’m giving birth to triplets,” I told one of my dearest friends in November 2020. “At the age of eighty-one it’s not something I’d really recommend … Working twenty-four seven through that heatwave nearly finished me off. My ankles still look like tree trunks.”
The finest view in England trembles before our eyes:
The lakes in Blenheim turn to marsh, blotting starry skies
Their edges creeping nearer to centres dry as dust –
After the knitted shades of larch
The open fields tell of parch
Although they spread their arms to hide…
In 1953 we were both fourteen, sitting in the wonderful old library in North London Collegiate School, all oak panelling and wooden shelves, supposed to be writing essays.
Although I am writing this feature on New Year’s Day 2021, I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. In 1976, forty-five years ago, I’d just left Oxford University Press in Walton Street, where I was working as an Editor, on my way to collect Sam from Magdalen College School.
One of the problems of being a full-time novelist – which I have been for the past twenty years and more – is this: when I’m deeply immersed in my storyline, my characters and their problems, I can’t read fiction by anybody else. Of course, I have to read for research: history books…
It is a truth universally acknowledged by the writing community that an author struggling with problems in the middle of a novel can do one of the following things:
Take a walk for at least five hours and sleep for forty-eight…