Oundle Festival of Literature line up announced

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The ninth Oundle Festival of Literature gets underway on 12 March.

Its diverse lineup of events and writers includes Whittlesey actor Warwick Davis, popular historian Michael Wood, historical novelist Simon Scarrow, sports writer and Daily Telegraph columnist Sue Mott and food writer Rose Prince.

It looks like there really is something for everyone. Looking forward to it.

Channel 4 Time Team in Castor update

Time Team
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Remember last summer? Those bright, warm, humid June days that are – in the gloom of winter – either a distant memory or a longed for season to come.

And remember when the boys and girls from Time Team were delving in trenches and scurrying around the school field, churchyard and Old Rectory gardens in search of the Roman Praetorium – or quaffing Rob’s well-kept ale in the Royal Oak late into the summer evenings?

Well, keep an eye on the TV schedules for a reminder because – according to a report on the archeaology.co.uk website – the show is due to air its 18th series from February and Castor is the star of one of the episodes.

The Ballad of John Clare

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Just finished reading The Ballad of John Clare by Hugh Lupton. It’s a gentle fictional stroll through a year in the life of the young rural romantic poet.

Published by Dedalus Books (based in Sawtry) the book is not a classic as a novel, it is more of a lengthy spoken narrative of the kind of which Lupton is famous. The book is let down in places by typographical errors and continuity.

Nevertheless, it is fascinating to read the detailed descriptions of place names most people in the village will be familiar with including Ailsworth Heath, Langdyke Bush, Lolham Bridge, Milton Estate, Swaddy Well quarry and the surrounding villages of Helpston, Castor, Maxey, Glinton, Northborough and Peakirk.

Lupton isn’t strong on literary form and structure, but his engaging narrative style and his skill as a story-teller make up for that. What he is very strong on however, are his descriptions of local customs that have long since been consigned to history or forgotten altogether.

May Day and Harvest Home celebrations were closely linked and Lupton describes these links nad how they fit in with the day-to-day life of the parish. Everyone’s lives were inextricably linked with the calendar and the seasons and these customs are a celebration of those links, which have been lost today for many of us.

Other customs are described such as the riotous behaviour of the village youth on Plough Monday and the performance of traditional plays by local ‘guisers’ who used festive performances at Christmas to supplement their meagre wages.

Rogation Sundays a year apart frame the structure of the novel. Villagers beat the Parish Bounds and give alms to the poor. The first occurs before the enclosures of the Parish fields nad commons have taken place, the second after. Changes are charted throughout the book as the winners and losers in the process are identified.

It’s a great period story and a historical document of local interest. His depiction of rural life in Georgian England just as the Enclosure Act is taking effect resonates even now as the countryside is again going through a period of fundamental change that will alter it irrevocably.  In fact the foreword is a quote from Ted Hughes:

But while the mice in the field are listening to the Universe, and moving in the body of nature, where every living cell is sacred to every other, and all are interdependent, the Developer is peering at the field through a visor, and behind him stands the whole army of madmen’s ideas, and shareholders, impatient to cash in on the world.

 The Ballad of John Clare is available at Waterstone’s in Peterborough or via Amazon.

Also read last year another novel about Clare called The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds. This is also a debut novel and a far superior work to Lupton’s.  In it Clare is incarcerated in a private asylum in Epping Forest in Essex, where he encounters Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose brother Septimus is an inmate. He eventually escapes and, delusional, walks back up the Great North Road to his home in Northborough.

Other literary figures with a local connection:

L P Hartley, author of The Go Between lived in Peterborough.

William Le Queux – the father of spy fiction, adventurer, radio pioneer and onetime resident of The Cedars, Castor.

Edward Storey – Fenland writer from Whittlesey who wrote A Right to Song – A life of John Clare.

Mark Haddon – Used Peterborough as setting for his novel A Spot of Bother. It drew criticism locally at the time of publication because Haddon admitted that he had only visited the city briefly.

Marina Lewycka – Used Peterborough as the setting for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

Selznick and Scorcese: The Invention of Hugo Cabret in 3D shoots in Castor

Nene Valley Railway - Castor
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Driving home last night a bright light suspended in the sky caught my attention. From the top of Love’s Hill it looked like a UFO hovering over Normangate field. Further investigation revealed that it was a large flood light illuminating a section of the Nene Valley Railway at the bottom of Station Road.  The railway and the trees and brush either side of the track were thrown into stark relief against the moonlit night.

Villagers out and about over the past few days have  spotted a film crew in the area. It turns out that they were setting up to film parts of Martin Scorcese’s new 3D adaptation of Brian Selznick‘s Hugo Cabret. That’s what the flood lights were for.

Rumours that Jude Law is in area have been rife.  Sorry to disappoint. According to a spokesman at Nene Valley Railway, the crew was only filming technical shots of moving locomotives and rolling stock for the movie. None of the film’s stars were involved in the shoot, he said. Two wagons from the railway have also been taken down to Shepperton Studios where they have been used in filming on set.

The movie should be something to look forward to. The screenplay is by John Logan – who wrote screenplays for films including Gladiator (2000), Sweeny Todd (2007), The Last Samurai (2003), Any Given Sunday (1999) and The Aviator (2004) and is producing the screenplay for Bond 23. It is adapted from the children’s story The Invention of Hugo Cabret by author and illustrator Brian Selznick. Directed by Martin Scorcese the film has a stellar English cast including Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone, Richard Griffiths and Sacha Baron-Cohen. It is due for release in December and with a production team and cast like that on board it can only be a hit. Surely.

Anyway, it’s just another moment of stardom on the silver screen for Castor. See the post Pierce Brosnan Drank in my Local from 26 June 2010.

Ashes to ashes

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Well, England has retained The Ashes. A 3-1 series win. The first time any team was taken a series with two innings wins. The first England team in almost a generation to win an Ashes series in Australia etc etc.

Wisden editors and statisticians will have a field day. So let’s hear it for; Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Chris Tremlett and the rest of the England squad.