Sylvie Nickels, writer
Life as it is ..... and was
Life in Oxfordshire brought new experiences of living in smaller communities. George continued to be away a lot, sometimes on lecture tours, sometimes on expeditions, not least to the mountains including the Himalaya in Nepal. It probably suited us both that we each had separate lives to a degree in addition to the great times we shared together. I continued to practice yoga and also became interested in its and other Eastern philosophies. For the most part I had a good relationship with my stepsons, though the family interaction was very different from the one on which I had been brought up, probably in no small part due to George's absences in their childhood years.
In the early 1990s, we moved house - only five miles, but the house was bigger and removed us from the noisy presence of a military air base across the valley leased to the US air force. Four weeks after our move, Sinette and Len spent their last four nights in the UK with us prior to emigrating to Australia. It was the first - though certainly not the last - of those strange feelings that I was the last one left standing.
It was in Deddington that I became involved with a writers' group and also the local monthly magazine, the Deddington News. And it was as the latter's editor that I achieved the non-commercial contribution to the world of which I remain most proud. It was the creation of a wood for the Woodland Trust which was to become the first of their Woods on your Doorstep project for the Millennium.
In order to qualify for funds for this, we needed to raise (£9000 in a very few weeks, not aided by lack of interest from the parish council but with the help of the Deddington News team we contacted very house in the parish asking for donations, and once we were approaching the required amount, the Parish council underwrote the rest. We called it Daeda's Wood after the name of the early founder of the village. The territory we purchased was a field of barley and we needed to wait until that year's crop had been harvested before planting the wood.
At some point I became very familiar with one of the local retirement homes and its residents - indeed, used to have lunch there regularly when George was away. Through them and other members of the community I came to realise what interesting lives some people had led, as well as the fascinating relationships that existed between the generations. From this was born the idea of writing an anthology of short stories, Village 21, based not so much on individual stories but on the ideas they had triggered.
The day of the planting dawned wet and cold, rain turning to snow as Deddington's residents came down with their children, their dogs and spades to 'dig for Daeda' - the name of the Anglo Saxon leader who had founded Deddington and whose name we chose for the wood. The occasion was only matched by the Millennium picnic we held in 2000 when the wood resonated to the enjoyment of families sharing their pleasure of a picnic in the woods, a treasure hunt and a tug-of-war.
left: November, 1996: Rain turned to snow and everyone turned up with children, dogs and spades to dig for Daeda
right: in 2000 we celebrated the Millennium in Daeda's Wood with a picnic, treasure hunt and tug of war: a great family day and not a scrap of litter in sight at the end of it.
left: in 2006, ten years after the planting, we published this book giving the history and environmental details of the wood. Tue top picture shows the barley field that it succeeded and the bottom picture the wood in its tenth year.
It was a great pleasure to see how quickly the wood became part of the Deddington scene, in due course appearing on the Ordnance Survey maps as a new patch of green so that I felt that in a very small way I had contributed to world map cartogaphy. It was soon a popular destination for walkers and dog walkers, and became even more so when George and I were delegated to create a marked circular walk in and around the village. This required collaboration with local farmers and ended up by forming a large figure-eight with the market place as its central point so that there were two six-mile circuits that could be extended into one of 12 miles. We created a group known as the Friends of Daeda's Wood to monitor the wood and, in due course, after being properly instructed, some of us learned some basic maintenance such as removing certain branches as the trees grew in order that they would keep a good shape. Lord Sainsbury, whose interests had contributed to the wood's existence. came to visit us, and an Oxford forestry organisation requested that a group of foreign forestry student should visit us to see how operated, and of course we were delighted to welcome them. And then, in 2000 itself, Daeda's Wood's name echoed round the halls of Westminster. The occasion was to celebrate the Woodland Trust's achievement of 200 new woods fot the Millennium, Daeda's Wood being the first. The event was hosted by the MP for that other little wood, Sherwood Forest.
Another Deddington innovation in the late 1990s was the creation of Deddington OnLine, a website cover the history, geography, social life and business and most other aspects of the parish. Since then Deddington Radio has appeared on the scene, with events in the parish being broadcast in real time, so that relatives and friends spread across the world can share in such events as weddings, christenings and funerals. No one can say that Deddington hasn't moved with the times!
So, as we approached the end of the 20th century amazing things were happening in the world, not all of them welcome. On the technological front, you could be in touch with anyone on earth - or even in outer space - by means of some gadget. This meant great advances in the speed and potential for disseminating knowledge, though developments were at such a speed they rather often outstripped the skills of those using the technology. Initially these were very large gadgets, but gradually they become smaller until you could fit one in your pocket. In the process of these developments, something called Print on Demand came into being. By means of one of the gadgets, variously called personal computers. laptops, tablets, smart phones, you could create a book as a long word document, send this to a website which would return it to you for checking as a pdf, and finally turn it into an eBook, a paperback or hardback. Wherever you looked people of most ages were glued to a screen and modern communications were reduced to pressing buttons.
Sometimes self-publishing was referred to less flatteringly as Vanity Publishing, but in the former case you did everything yourself, from writing the book and editing and proof reading it to often providing the cover and promotion. George had a very successful talk on our canoe journey down the Mississippi, and it had been my intention to publish a book, but traditional publishers - despite encouraging remarks about the story and the writing - did not make an offer. I began to wonder about self-publishing? Research eventually led me to a small publishing firm in Wiltshire who offered print-on-demand, meaning that you did not need to order many thousands in advance. I settled for 1500 copies, which proved quite enough as we were moving at that time - and, thankfully, sold them all in due course.