A treasure of Irish literary fiction set in DONEGAL
Talking Location With author Thomas Reed – OXFORD
18th October 2023
#TalkingLocationWith… Thomas Reed, author of Pocketful of Poseys, set in OXFORD (and around the world)
Pocketful of Poseys is a dark family comedy that follows Grace Posey Tingley, her twin brother Brian, and their families as they fulfill their mother’s dying wishes—sprinkling her ashes, mixed with their father’s, at six locations around the globe.
Oxford and its famed university were, for me, no-brainer settings for the last overseas spreading of ashes. Grace and Brian’s father, Frank, had been a literature professor at Dartmouth who’d spent a year in the City of Spires researching the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Grace was following in his footsteps when an unplanned pregnancy threw a spanner in the works, and she set her ambitions aside in deference to her husband Jack’s legal career. Brian has recently married a divorced Seattle woman, but, seeing as he’s fresh out of a long relationship with a Jamaican man, his skeptical step-daughter Sage (who’s extremely protective of her serially cheated-on mother) eyes him doubtfully as he traipses about the former haunts of Oscar Wilde, including a visit to the arguably homoerotic statue of a naked Shelley at University College.
Aside from its thematic aptness as a setting for a story about an academic family doing its best to honor its forbears amidst the challenges of complicated lives, Oxford is also one of my favorite spots in the world. I spent a year there as a Fulbright Fellow doing my own dissertation research and a subsequent year turning the thesis into my first academic book. I lived that first year on the top floor of a 17th-century thatched farmhouse, a two-mile walk across cow pastures from town. The only thing that kept me alive that winter in my unheated loft was a thick down duvet I was almost tempted to name, I felt such affection for it.
If you go to Oxford with more funds than I had at the time, I can recommend staying where the Posey kids stay—at the centrally-located Old Parsonage Hotel. It’s just steps from the late Eagle and Child pub, where J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis met weekly to discuss their marvelous extracurricular imaginings. The hotel has been there since 1660, and there’s no better place to feel like you’re living the Oxford high life like a well-heeled character in a novel by Evelyn Waugh or Dorothy Sayers.
While we’re naming names, the Poseys find Brother’s Café in the covered market to be a great place to grab a speedy breakfast or lunch in an eatery that hasn’t changed since Inspector Morse’s day—and probably not since Robert Graves’. Even if you’re more interested in Oxford swag, some hand-knit woolens, or a good pair of Wellies, don’t miss the market for a remarkable feast of sights, sounds, and tempting aromas.
For traditional pub fare, try either The Bear in Alfred Street (tiny, but with one of the world’s largest displays of cut-up bits of school and regimental neckties —hundreds of them—or The Turf in Bath Place (tucked away in the middle of a downtown block and reputed to be the hardest pub in England to find. Just ask locals for directions. They’re probably going there themselves.) Brian and Grace and all inevitably went to both, but their revels are sadly on the cutting room floor.
On the way down the High Street to Magdalen Bridge, where you can heed the Water Rat’s advice and “simply mess about in boats” by punting up the Cherwell like the Poseys, duck into University College to see the Shelley Memorial. It’s hard to imagine any other university celebrating a favorite son with a nude and recumbent statue. Imagine John Harvard, for example, taking the sun in the raw in Harvard Yard.
Finally, climb the tower of the University Church of St. Mary’s on “The High.” Mounting the shoulder-width circular stone staircase to the viewing balconies, clinging to the hanging rope that is the only handrail, you’ll be put in touch with some of the hard realities of the Middle Ages in an undeniable and unforgettable way. At the top, you’ll have four separate 180-degree views of the spires and domes of one of the world’s epicenters of thought and culture.
Oh, and as you head back to The Old Parsonage for a cream tea, stop by Blackwell’s labyrinthine bookshop and ask for Pocketful of Poseys. If they don’t stock it, tell them they should.
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