Sunday, June 1, 2014

Edward Thomas, Helen and Port Meadow, Oxford

If you live in Oxford you will be aware of the utter 'planning' catastrophe that has befallen Port Meadow, the ancient common adjoining the Thames through Oxford. If you don't, you will be very surprised to learn that it is the University of Oxford which has perpetrated the disaster and the City Council which allowed it against the advice of their Heritage Officer. Ironically, an extract from the City Council's website extolling Oxford's beauty, writes that Port Meadow with views of the '"Dreaming Spires", is Oxford's oldest monument that has changed little since prehistoric times! Not any more.

The matter remains unresolved though the protestors have been given the right to ask for a review.
Here is an extract from 'A Conscious Englishman', a flash-back where Helen recalls meeting Edward in Oxford when they knew she was pregnant. It is close to Helen's account in 'Under Storm's Wing'.


'I thought of that blissful spring day fifteen years earlier, when I rejoiced to find that I was to have a child.

Edward was so doubtful and afraid; I’d had to comfort him. He could not believe that I was simply happy and unconcerned about the future. A baby coming, our baby, who would be born in 1900 – a new life for a new century. I thought of the day, the moment, when he must have been conceived and felt nothing but a surge of physical excitement and deep joy.

Edward had wanted to see me, but it was the summer term of his second year and he had to work, so I must come to Oxford. As the train drew in I knew he wouldn’t wait for me to come through the barrier. He would buy a platform ticket and be ready to hold me. Yes, there he was, his lovely face, his fair hair longer than before, that slight troubled stoop to his shoulders. I was sorry that he looked so anxious and unhappy, so I ran to him and my look and my kiss calmed him. That’s how it often was between us.

 We wanted to be alone to talk, so he didn’t take me into the city or to Lincoln College – instead we turned along a canal towpath. We watched narrowboats squeezing through the Isis lock, their rough horses waiting for them on the towpath, and followed them as far as the river and a great meadow.

‘Helen, you are certain about this?’ he asked me.

‘Of course I am – somehow I almost knew what had happened even that day, but now there’s no doubt about it.’

‘And I know you write that you’re happy. But really, isn’t there the least trouble in your mind, or some reproach to me?’

‘No Edwy, not at all. I’m so happy I could burst with happiness. We love each other and out of this love a child is coming. How can I not be happy?’

We rambled on by the river to where the ruins of an old abbey made a perfect place to eat the picnic he’d brought for us. Cowslips grew in the meadow and I picked some and buried my face in their freshness. Then we lay in each other’s arms and he told me that he’d never loved me as much as he did at that moment. All our anxieties were gone and we talked happily about our baby. We knew we must be more together, though we could not really see how it was to be managed, or quite how we would live. I cared nothing for such things then. I had everything I wanted.

At the end of the afternoon we ambled slowly back and this time, across the Thames and a further strip of meadow, I could see the spires and domes of Edward’s Oxford.

My way lay back through the streets to the station and London, waiting eagerly for what was to come.'

It is set in Port Meadow, and like her it was only when I turned for home that I saw the full horror of the blocks of flats - I'd heard there was a problem but had had no idea how awful it was. I was with two of my grand-daughters and photographed them with that back-drop - pain overwhelming pleasure !

Any donations to CPRE (Council for the Protection of Rural England)
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From Thomas's 'OXFORD', OUP, edited by Lucy Newlyn
The Oxford Country 

 I turn and look east.
Almost at once, all these things are happily composed
into one pleasant sense, and are but a frame to a tower
and three spires of Oxford, like clouds but the sky is
suddenly cloudless.

I suppose that ivy has the same graceful ways on all
old masonry, yet I have caught myself remembering, as
if it were unique, that perfect ancient ivy that makes an
arcade of green along the wall of Godstow nunnery.