Christopher Fletcher

Even the owl in my garden is self-isolating

My tawny owl has been self-isolating. I say mine but in truth she chose the nest box in my neighbour’s garden rather than the one I almost killed myself to install, balancing it on my head as I scaled a rickety old ladder. A couple of months ago I spotted the owl, happily sitting in

Mann and motorbike

In Thomas Mann’s astonishing novel The Magic Mountain the indolent young Hans Castorp visits his brave, terminally ill soldier cousin at a sanatorium at Davos, high in the Swiss Alps. Intending to stay three weeks, he remains seven years. A dubious diagnosis of light tuberculosis is all the excuse he needs to dismiss ‘the flatlands’


I’ve flown only three kites in my life. My stepfather bought me the first. I remember seeing him from a window approaching our little mews house off Bond Street, clutching it furled in its packet as though his life depended upon it. The previous day he had overcharged an electric plane sent for my birthday


‘Don’t sit down too long my duck, you might be doing nothing,’ reads the inscription memorialising Barbara Joan Austin (4 July 1929–21 September 2004). I have no idea who Barbara was, but I often sit on her lonely bench in the middle of Otmoor. Otmoor is an ancient watery landscape just a few miles north-east of

Literary motorcycling

No seat belts. No airbags. Just air, and coming at you as fast as you like. Motorcycling shouldn’t be allowed, really, but thank God it is. Hanging on to an engine braced between two wheels as you travel through the countryside is worth any dose of mindfulness. The NHS should prescribe it. Even with the

Fancy dress parade

For his 75th birthday, Sir Roy Strong gave himself a personal trainer. For his 80th, he has commissioned a book of portraits of himself by the photographer John Swannell. The fruits of all that training — much of it undertaken on a racing tricycle around the lanes of Herefordshire — can be seen in the

Here, Mr Gove, is the thrill of raw, unvarnished history

Our unrelenting appetite for historical drama is fed by a ceaseless stream of novels and dramatisations – usually, these days, something to do with those naughty Tudors. Perhaps it is how my generation, dosed on pick n’ mix modules and special options (Industrial Revolution or Origins of WW1 anyone?), recovers lost ground. But it is

A Little Something: remembering Seamus Heaney

‘So.’ So begins Seamus Heaney’s translation of ‘Beowulf’. I know it didn’t come easy to him. The morning after he had been awarded the Whitbread Prize for the work I found myself having breakfast at the Savoy with him and his wife Marie. I’d asked some time before whether I could borrow some of the

Anon’s Baby Song; a lullaby for your baby tonight

Writing, as I have done, about the Bodleian’s holdings of Jane Austen or Byron is all very well, but our most prolific author is Anon. He (or she) leaves his (or her) elusive  traces everywhere – in ancient papyrus fragments, clerkly rolls of the middle ages, early-verse anthologies, copperplate accounts of long lost estates. Or,

Jane Austen’s pinny

This is the third entry in an occasional series by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. You can read the other instalments here. It’s almost two years since the Bodleian celebrated its hard-fought acquisition (nail biting auction) of Jane Austen’s manuscript draft of her abandoned novel, The Watsons. Thank you again

Taking revenge on wicked Lord Byron

This is the second article in an occasional series by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. You can read the first instalment here. By 1814, two years after he awoke to find himself famous, everyone wanted a piece of Byron. Some got jewellery, several got hair and a fair few got