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A night to remember from July 2014!

Bopping by the Isis on a warm summer’s night.

Great evening at Oxford’s Isis Farmhouse music festival of Americana – well, that’s what the organisers called it. The Isis is a fine pub on the river Thames, lying on the towpath leading to Iffley Lock. The only way for punters to get to it is by walking along the towpath. I arrived late because  I couldn’t face drinking from 7pm till 11 pm. ( Can’t do that any more without falling over.) BTW,  the Thames is called the Isis where it flows through Oxford.There’s also the Cherwell and between the two rivers is Mesopotamia. No kidding.

Headlining last night were West Oxford’s very own Knights of Mentis who just get better and better.Their drummer was a TCD (Trinity College, Dublin) man – who told me two others in the band had been at Trinity too. Who’d have guessed it? I told him I was the spelling Csar of Twitter and I suspect he half believed me. I half believe it myself.

The whole band is great but I fly the flag especially for the keyboards player who does blues to die for. And within the year I vow to have had him and his partner perform blues in a pub near you. ( Don’t worry, Knights, only borrowing him. )

They are a great band to bop to and the exercise I got was far better than my bootcamp session earlier in the week.

Fell into conversation with another dancer who said he’d wanted to get up and dance but held back. Then he saw me dancing and decided to give it a go. I think the sub-conversation there was: if that woman can get up and make a show of herself then so can I. So he did…

All over at 11pm ( UK pub licensing hours) followed by a perfect  walk back along the towpath to Donnington Bridge and our taxi home.


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Levellers Day, Burford. 2019

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May 17, 1649 in Burford, a small market town 20 miles from Oxford, a group of soldiers were gathered in the churchyard. They were soldiers in Cromwell’s New Model Army just back from Ireland where they had been waging war against the Royalists and Dissenters there, some of whom were Irish.

Among the people in Burford were Levellers, a group of soldiers who aspired to freedom of speech, civil liberties and  religious freedom. Among their grievances was the fact that they had mot been paid for their time in Ireland.

Fearful this unrest might spread, Cromwell ordered the Levellers, now imprisoned in Burford Church, should be decimated.  Traditionally, this meant one in ten persons would be executed though at Burford it was one in a hundred. Which is why  Corbet James Thompson, Corporal Perkins and Private John Church were executed then and there.



It is to mark the death of these three men that Levellers Day is held each year. The address will be given this year by the President of the Bakers’ Union. Associated with Levellers Day has been Parliamentarian Tony Benn and his classmate playwrite Ian Rodger  whose plays have included The Peasants’ Revolt and Cromwell at Drogheda.

Others who continue to contribute to Levellers Day are members of the Peace Movement, of the Lab movement, local trades councils and the Workers Educational Association ( WEA).

Music on the day will be provided by the Oxford-based Sea Green Singers when everyone is encouraged to join in –  words and music provided, This part of the day will end with a rousing chorus of the  Internationale.



Events in Burford start Saturday circa 11:30. Trade Union banners very welcome.

“May God Defend the Right!”

To learn more about Cromwell and the birth of democracy in England, check out the Putney Debates.  To learn more about the Levellers, read Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down.


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Some tips about applying for an Arts Council grant in England.

Last night’s marvellously useful session at Oxford’s Old Fire Station ( #OFS) was with Will Young, producer of Snowflake, the play Mike Bartlett has written specially for the OFS.  Young is an experienced producer who is also under contract to the Arts Council so his contribution was of value to those wanting to learn more about promoting a play as well as learning how the funding arm of the Arts Council works. Interestingly, the budget for Snowflake ran to £50.000 with the Arts Council grant amounting to £15.000, a tidy sum which will allow the play to run for two weeks, unusually long for a theatre as small as the Old Fire Station.

Below are a few paraphrased pieces of advice given by Young on how to apply for an Arts Council grant.

Read carefully what the Arts Council is looking for. It can take three days to fill in the application form so factor this in when applying. Submitting early will allow you adjust your application and resubmit if it is rejected.

The Arts Council gets something like 100,000 applications a year so brevity is the name of the game.

Make it easy reading by using  bullet points and sub-headings. Think of your application as a project so say clearly who will it reach, who will it benefit etc. Be specific. Focus on the project rather than on your own glittering theatrical career.

Finally, the best advice of the session:  ask a friend to read through your application. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes. If it does, then shave off the offending minute or two.

You can get preliminary advice from  the Arts Council on 0161 934  4317


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A slow Saturday afternoon in the pub

It was a slow Saturday afternoon, no cricket, no football, no rugby. I sat up at the bar, in the corner, reading the paper.

I heard her before I saw her – the tapping of heels on the wood floor. She parked up on a bar stool , crossed her legs and within minutes was surrounded by five or six men who hadn’t been there before. The banter came and she dealt with it, giving as good as she got.

“There you are,” said Joe, putting the plate in front of her. “ The house special,  toasted cheese sandwich. And I washed my hands before I made it an all.”

She demolished the sandwich and asked for another. The men drifted away. I waited till she was on her own before making a move, with a  smile and a nod to start off.”

You’re great with the sandwiches,” I said.

I wondered what she did. A cabaret singer maybe or a torch singer in one of those new faux French places in town.

“ I work in the bar down the street. This is my tea break.”

She set to work on the next sandwich then looked up.

“ You’re  judging me,” she said.

“I’m not. I’m filled with admiration. Two cheese sandwiches in as many minutes.”

” I was starving. I’m on a diet. No this shite no that shite.”

“And I’m jealous.”

“What of?”

“You’re only in here two minutes and you’re surrounded by men.”

She shook her head and bit into the last corner of the sandwich:  “You’re still judging me.”

“ I’m not.”

“ You are.” And then she delivered her coup de grace: “ You’re judging me with your eyes.”

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I’m a heroine only in my dreams

So I was walking along the road this morning straight into the rain, trying to get a bit of speed up  and thus mislead the walking app on my phone into thinking I always walk at that speed, when in the distance, some two traffic lights away a blue light showed up coming towards me. Police or ambulance? Ambulance. I looked back up the road to see if there was any sign of an accident but the road was empty. Nothing.

Then, as the ambulance drew level, I tripped and fell. Down. The ambulance stopped and the driver leaned out the window but before he could say anything, I waved him on.” Don’t stop for me,” I called out, “I’ll be ok.”

He nodded and carried on.  Painfully, I got to my feet and started to hobble along, slowly at first but as the road was empty and no one to witness my plight, I picked up pace.

Reader, none of this happened. There was no ambulance. I didn’t fall. I just imagined the whole thing in order to lessen the boredom of the morning walk. Sometimes I witness a car crash and am  the first on the phone to call 999 and give the person directions so precise that I am complimented for my powers of observation.

Tomorrow, it’ll be something else but I’ll be ready. Heroines always are.


Filed under Alan Bennett, balsam, poplars, Regents Park, traditions, Books, boredom, daydreaming, Radio, Uncategorized, walking

Katherine Whitehorn, journalist

When I moved to London from  Dublin, Katherine Whitehorn represented what  I saw as the glitzy, literary London scene. She  was witty, audacious and down to earth  in a clever sort of way. There were other women journalists  who were  also great to read but she was top dog and unopposed queen of bedsitter land.

I remember a story she told about herself when leaving a rather staid women’s magazine. Her f inal contribution to the  handicraft section of the paper – which she just managed to get past  the internal censor – was a suggestion to the readers: ” Why not knit yourself a little Dutch Cap this winter.”

It was terrible to learn that she had advanced Alzheimers. The loss is ours.


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Tomorrow is the pre-christian celebration of fertility. Big in Ireland as it is a Celtic tradition and quite big in Oxford where it is called May Morning. Lots of comely maidens and supposedly randy males gathering their nuts in May.

Best place to be at 6am is on Magdalen Bridge to hear the college choristers sing an ode to May dating back to the time of Henry Vlll. Great time for subversion and creating mayhem. Do it.

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