Thursday, August 31, 2006

Montaigne, cobnut, dandelion clocks

I love Montaigne. He is not exacting in any sense. He is relaxed. He says: "When I meet with difficulties in my reading, I do not bite my nails over them: after making one or two attempts I give them up." Why waste time and energy on what is obscure? And he is modest: "Mistakes often escape our eyes but it is the sign of poor judgement if we are unable to see them when shown to us by another."

Under the cobut trees the path is strewn with broken cobnut shells. The squirrels have as usual been at work. Seldom do they miss a single nut. The trees are almost if not completely stripped bare. But as as the husks crunch under my feet, I spot one nut that has survived. I crack it open and eat its milky kernal and it seems like a feast. Meanwhile on a bough that has pushed through the roof vent of the greenhouse, hang two more nuts which the squirrels have been prevented from reaching. I'm saving them for another feast.

Two perfect dandelion clocks rise from between paving stones in a front garden. They are stately yet possess a sense of fun.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ginger plant, buddleia, cooks and hands

The piece of ginger I planted in a pot now has a substantial leaf.

On a buddleia, also known as the butterfly tree, flutters one solitary cabbage white.

Too many cooks spoil the broth. And many hands may light work.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Upside down squirrel, painted face, good timing

A squirrel clings upside down to the trunk of an oak tree yet manages to hold a nut in its forepaws and nibble intently.

I see a little girl in a push chair with her face disfigured by what appears to be a horrible disease. I notice her sister walking beside her mother with the same affliction, until, with relief, I realize that both children are ornamented with face paint.

It showers heavily and I can rejoice that I ccmpleted my gardening chores before it started.

Monday, August 28, 2006

clouds, shadows, Dombey & Son

Watching majestic nimbus clouds piling up in the blue.

Shadows of leaves playing on the trunks of trees.

Reading the last of the 1000 or so wearisome pages of Dombey & Son. If this were the only novel which Dickens wrote he would surely not be thought of as a great novelist. It is tedious and sentimental, with a story, which is rendered no more believable by the weird behaviour of the central characters. Not for a moment do you understand why they act as they do. It is not worth suspending disbelief for.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

dragon fly, open mind, hibiscus

A dragonfly is trapped between the paines of a raised sash window. It looks huge and sounds almost like a helecopter as it beats its wings in the confined space. It has a long, green body,which suggests that it might be a female Emperor dragonfly according to my book of garden wild life. How to free it? Luckily it works itself free, exiting the way it came in, through the gap between the two window frames.

"Open mind. You can drive a tank through it and not bump into anything on the way".
From Plutarch's Dictionary of Common and Uncommon Sense.

The white hibiscus is, at last, in flower. It is a hymn to whiteness.I take a close-up photograph of a single bloom. I look closely to see what the camera sees, and perhaps more - a bunched-up cluster of translucent white petals with delicate undulations like creases in a piece of fine cotton, three or four white stamens, and the only colour, a scattering of yellow pollen beneath the stamens. I must down load the photo to see if the camera agrees.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

captive bike, wild nasturtiums, old person

Bicycles are often seen chained to railings or lamposts but one chained to a tree in the Grove strikes me as surreal.

" Old person. Anyone 10 years older than you. Do not speak to one unless you have to."
From Plutarch's Dictionary of Common and Uncommon Sense.

The grass of the curved strip which we call a lawn and which follows the curve of the road and the hedge bordering our house is green again after the rain. An unusual feature is the nasturtiums, which are popping up on it at intervals. Walking its length I counted five plants with two tiny but distinctive leaves. I'll have to find a way of mowing round them.

Friday, August 25, 2006

two crows again, fruit eater, blower

The two crows are in the Grove again. This time they are walking and not hopping. One opens its beak and caws restlessly from time to time. The other continues foraging. Then the restless bird caws again and confronts the tranquil one with its open beak. The other responds by squaring up with its beak open and the beaks clash. Is this affection or agression? I suspect it is affection. Crows are said to pair for life and these two are behaving like a couple.

A girl on a bench leans sideways over the arm rest to eat what looks like a piece of fruit and avoid the juice dripping on to her clothes. It must be a mango I think, though it is too far to see for certain. Only mangos are messy enough to require such a posture.

A man in goggles and ear-muffs blows leaves before him with a leaf-blower. There is a power pack on his back like a rucksack. Autumn is still far off, but there are enough dead leaves around to run before him, "as though from an enchanter fleeing."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sun after rain, two crows, film stars

After the rain the sun comes out and warms the grass, which steams.

In the Grove two crows walk and hop. They walk, one foot at a time pecking at the grass as they go. When they want to make more progress without going to the trouble of flying, they hop, both feet coming off the ground at the same time.

When I tell a friend about the shop window in which there are at present pictures of 20th century film stars, he fetches an album of cigarette cards "issued by John Player and Sons" entitled "Film Stars third series". There they are, over glamorous paintings, in which even the men appear to be wearing make up - Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Gracie Fields, Erol Flynn, Vivien Leigh, Ray Milland, Laurence Olivier, James Stewart, and many others. Each card has been pasted in the place assigned to it, where there is a brief biography beneath the frame. Each picture is autographed by the star. It would be surprising if any were still alive.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

flying time, confit, reunion

Looking at the time after a sociable lunch and finding that it is 5.30pm.

Confit of duck, crisped up after being removed from the fat in which it has been cooked and preserved, served with potatoes fried in the fat, and petits pois. A taste of the south west of France.

Meeting and eventually recognising someone whom you have previously only seen in fancy dress.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

beatles, on the outside, weather

Apparently neo-nazis are threatening with extinction a species of slime mould beetle called Anophthalmus hitleri, because they are so keen to capture specimens of it, and retain them as pets. The beetle, which in 1933 , was named after Hitler by the man who discovered it, an amateur German entomologist, called Oscar Schneibel, is found only in 15 caves in central Slovenia. The habit, says the Independent where I read the story, of naming beetles after politicians seems still to be alive. Last year, three newly discovered slime mould beetles were named a. bushi, a. cheneyi and a. rumsfeldi.

Overheard from the pavement on the other side of our hedge:
Woman's voice: My father does that; my brothers do that; they never let me walk on the outside.
Man voice (fading): I would do that ... but..

Chalked on a blackboard outside the sailing club in Whitstable:
Thursday: rainy/ cloudy/ sunny.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Talking boat, seagull woman, branches

On the Thames, a boat full of tourists passes. On board, a guide with a megaphone has a loud, strident voice. He is describing the buildings on either side of the river. You can hear every word as the boat passes.

A woman friend, who loves eating fish, left a deep impression of this particular passion some months ago. In a restaurant, she began to pick at the head of a whole fish, which she had been eating and seemed to have finished with, prodding it with her fork, as gulls do with their beaks, and extracting the flesh until only eyes and bones remained. I wonder whether I will see a repetition of this intriguing behaviour when she is staying with us last week. I dissect a large turbot, which I have just cooked and start to serve the fillets, when true to character, she commandeers the discarded backbone, and, with her fork, tears at the shreds of fish, which still adhere to it, squeaking with excitement.

From the bedroom window I note the lower branches of the large lime tree outside the window moving slowly in the wind with the sort of rhythm people adopt when fanning themselves. Further away the more exposed upper branches of the tulip tree in the middle distance are waving in a more vigorous wind. This time the rhythm is rather that of someone waving to attract attention.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

arctic beer, rubbish eater, fowls flapping

Drinking exotic beer. This one is Lapin Kult. It is described on the label as the premium beer of Finland. "Greetings from the North", says the label. "Made from the wild, sparkling waters of Lapland."

Moored on the Thames a raft like structure which acts as a filter in the tide and carries the legend "I eat rubbish". A noticed fixed to it claims that it collects 40 tons of rubbish every year, the equivalent of 800,000 plastic bottles. I feel virtuous just looking at it.

"The sound of her laugh: fowls flapping into the air being chased by a rooster."
As observed by Murray Bail, see, Now's the Time, August 14.

melancholy neon, silk road food, exercise by the Thames

A neon installation on a white wall in the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square in London consists of these words in neon letters:
And if I don't meet you no more in this world
Then I'll meet you in the next one
And don't be late, don't be late

We eat mezze and shish kebab outside a restaurant in Old Street. The restaurant is called Shish which is turkish for the skewer on which meat and vegetables are grilled. The menu is drawn from the countries through which the 2000 year old silk route between Europe and China once passed, and whose local cuisines have influenced one another over the years. I savour the food and, not least the names of the place associated with the silk route: Trebizond, Tabriz, Nashapur, Samarkand, Kashgar, Xi'an. Never far away are James Elroy Flecker's words: "
We travel not for trafficking alone:
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

From the pedestrian bridge over the Thames, (St Pauls Cathedral on one bank, the Tate Modern on the other), I watch, on one of the beaches which occur when the tide is low, a solitary young man in a green T shirt doing some exercises; he leans forward and slowly rotates his torso, while breathing in the muddy air of the river.

Friday, August 18, 2006


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Whitstable fish market - Where's Tristan?

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lost and found, open mind, sun

Grandson Josh goes missing on a family outing to Groombridge Place. After about 40 minutes, a hue and cry is set in motion. Eventually we find him sitting on a fence near the car park. Without talking to any one he has found his way, a long way, back from the Enchanted Forest. It seems that he deliberately set off on his own and didn't consider himself lost. Finding him was a beautiful thing, though losing him wasn't.

Open mind: the horse has bolted.

Looking for a third beautiful thing, I walk outside on grass, soggy for a change, with recent rain, and feel the warm sun on the back of my neck.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

herbs, horse, showers

I cut herbs - chervil, tarragon, chives - to accompany a scallop and potato dish for supper, and particularly enjoy the aromas released into the evening air.

From a car window I see, for a fleeting moment, a horse in a particular position that I associate with Chinese drawings. Its body is facing foreward but its head is turned to the side and its neck stretched out to capture an especially juicy (one supposes) tuft of grass.

On the motorway we see showers ahead and it seem that we are going into the rain rather than the rain coming to us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

musket, fox without a tail, no ball games

I listen and watch entranced as someone dressed as an 18th century soldier explains the working of his muzzle loading musket to a group of small boys sitting in front of him. He is a natural story-teller, with perfect timing and a great deal of knowledge about what it was like to be an English soldier in America in the reign of George III. He is part of the entertainment in the magic forest at Groombridge Place, - a good outing for children of all ages. Now, I know precisely the origins of "half-cocked" and "ramrod".

There has been one fox or another in the vegetable garden since I have been working there; the current one is a misery. It has no tail, and when I arrive, he scuttles away, where his predecessors invariably ambled off with a mixture of dignity and disgust at being disturbed.

Most prohibitory notices have a streak of unconscious absurdity about them often falling uncomfortably between the specific and the universal. One near the pay kiosk at Groombridge Place suffers from something else as well: "No ball games inside the attraction", it insists.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

rosehips, hunters, film stars

Rosehips hanging in bunches, too early for Autumn surely, but surely the hips of some early flowering almost wild rose! Each fruit has attached to it the whiskery remnants of sepals - all that is left of the flower.

"Hunter gatherers don't make good gardeners, nor gardeners, good hunter gatherers". JP

In the windows of Hoopers department store are photographs of all the film stars of the 20th century you can think of. People who don't normally look into shop windows stand in the street trying to name them all.

Monday, August 14, 2006

notes like these, beans, hydrangers

Murray Bail is the author of a novel called Eucalyptus, which I read a couple of years ago. It is set in his native Australa. It's about a man who promised his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who could name all the varieties of eucalyptus on his estate. There are about 90 in all. It is an an odd and beautiful fairy tale, well written and intriguing. I am pleasantly surprised to find, this afternoon in Hall's bookshop, the published notebooks of Murray Bail, and even more pleasantly surprised that they consist of notes similar to those which appear in this log. One example, taken at random will suffice: "In a bus or tube I am torn between the necessity to read and knowing that I would become "more observant" if I looked round.

Picking beans in gentle, misty rain, I smell growing plants, damp leaves and the hanging pods and I don't mind if the water trickles down my sleeve.

The hydrangers, which a few weeks ago were bright blue clouds of flowers, have faded to a range of pale colours, pink and fawn and predominantly that pale green colour, called-eau-de nil. The colours reminds me of the silk scarves and handkerchiefs which old ladies used to have about their persons.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Plutarch's hedge

Posted by Picasa Tristan's imagination has run wild. (See the Emotional Blackmailer's Handbook. )Larry would not have been flattered. Nor Juli for that matter.

sprouting ginger, green grass, chocolate chip icecream

A piece of ginger in the kitchen has spouted an upright green tail. It looks an animal, a scotty perhaps but the the beige colour is wrong. I shall pot it and grow a ginger plant.

After the steady, penetrating rain this morning the grass has at last remembered that it is supposed to be green.

In the sun which followed the rain we sit in the Pantiles with chocolate chip icecream cornets.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

new baby, magpies, chocolate cosmos

The couple who own the Italian delicatessen at the bottom of the High Street announced, a few weeks ago, that they were going back to Italy for a few weeks so that their new baby could be born in their home town. The shop has been closed for about a month now and has not yet re-opened, but by way of an announcement of a happy event, a big blue bow has appeared inside the glass door.

In the Grove, the showers have driven people away, but two magpies strut on the grass. People don't like magpies because they behave so badly to other birds, stealing their eggs and attacking their young, but you have to hand it to them, they have a presence. I am not quite sure what a dude is, but if the word applied to birds, I would say that magpies were dudes.

We have just acquired one of those cosmos plants that seem to be fashionable at the moment. It has pretty, chocolate coloured flowers which, a pleasant surprise, actually smell of chocolate.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lucubration, be running, thinking

I came across the word lucubration this morning, and not for the first time, forgot that it meant nocturnal study or meditation. I like both the word and, though I rarely lucubrate, what it describes. Dylan Thomas may or may not have known the word, but he knew all about lucubration (lubrication too, by all accounts), when he wrote:

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

This African proverb is quoted in The Week this week from a programme on Radio 4:
Every morning in Africa, a gazell wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle...when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.

"Thinking can be dangerous". From the Thoughts of Chairman Plutarch

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rich people, teachers, indigo

"Rich people prefer the company of other rich people so that they can talk about wealth to somone else who understands it." J P

I see a straggling crowd of school children ascending Mount Sion. Accompanying them, two in front and two behind, like hard working sheep dogs, are four school teachers wearing orange jackets, upon which are printed the word "staff".

I see in the paper an article on indigo - in its pure form, my favourite colour, and one of my favourite words. The colour comes, in its natural form, from a number of plants including indigo (indiogfera), a member of the pea family.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

cuckoo pint,runner beans, Le Dounier Rouseau cat

One of the first plants I knew as a child was the cuckoo pint. I loved the bright red berries which clustered round the stem almost hiding it, and the alternative name, lords and ladies. And when they said that the berries were poisonous, it made the plant even more exciting. This afternoon the spikes of red berries leap up from the dry ground bringing a memory with them.

Picking this year's first runners, I snap one in two and crunch it between my teeth; it spurts out green juice.

Among the courgettes plants, which after the recent rain, have grown into a proper jungle, I see the orange cat, sheltering from the sun and looking like one of Le Dounier Rouseau's tigers.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

blond squirrel, no parachute, surprise baby

I see, scampering along a wall above the station what I believe to be a squirrel, albeit a rather odd, squirrel. After a few seconds I realize that it is the head of a girl with a pony tail walking up a ramp on the other side of the wall. As she ascends the ramp more of her emerges dashing my hopes of having spotted a new species.

"When your parachute fails to open you might as well pretend to be able to fly." JP

Overhead at bus stop. One elderly lady to another: "She brought her baby. I thought it was going to look Chinese. But it didn't."

Monday, August 07, 2006

buddleia, bean tendril, cooking

By the side of a path I see a buddleia of a purple so intense that I have to stop to look again. It is a royal purple, rich and commanding, the sort of purple that goes with fine linen, worn by the rich man, at whose gate sat Lazarus.

While picking beans I feel something whip at my neck it is the purple tendril of the climbing bean, Blauhilde. If I stand here long enough it will wind itself round me and carry me down to the dark cellars beneath the earth where beans get their power.

"Cooking : Subject of tv game shows. Should not be attempted at home". JP

Sunday, August 06, 2006

skip tank, heat returns, irony

A loaded skip has been wrapped in a tarpauline. For a moment I see it as a camoflaged tank.

The heat returns. People in the Grove this afternoon walk slowly as though stunned by it but seem to enjoy the enforced calm.

"It is in the nature of irony to be misunderstood for what it is by those at whom it is directed." From The Sayings of Chairman Petrarch.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

telescope, summer afternoon, family portrait

"I'm building the biggest telescope in the world to see if there is anyone out there to whom I can say 'yes, I agree with you' ". From The Life and Times of Joe Petrarch.

We sit under a sun shade at a round table with lunch and a glass of wine and affable people to talk to. " Summer afternoon-summer afternoon... " wrote Henry James. " The two most beautiful words in the English language."

I meet, for the first time , the mother, brother and sister of a friend and note, with interest, family likenesses and indvidual differences.

Friday, August 04, 2006

stage, feather, sush

When, each morning, I raise the blinds of our bedroom windows, the world outside seems like a stage. There are usually pigeons on the roof or one of the chimneys of the house opposite; or blackbirds, or magpies. The sky is seldom empty, but it is today - no birds, no planes, no clouds. Today there is nothing to see that moves. It is like one of those plays, where the curtain goes up on a stage without actors, and the emptiness creates its own dramatic tension.

Walking past the lawn to the vegetable garden I see a single feather floating. Or is it flying? A breeze catches and it rises like a glider or a bird on a thermal. Then it falls ever so slowly to the ground.

In the trees in Berkeley Road the dry leaves of summer say "sush, sush."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

No samba, sunflowers, follow my leader

A notice in the TOC H hall announces "No Samba until Thursday 17 August". I make a note of this omission in case it comes in useful.

A group of golden brown sunflowers with yellow streaks, stands above a pumpkin plant of which the first pumpkin is forming. This in the garden alongside the TOC H hall.

A man in a suit with a map in one hand and a loud hailer in the other walks across the Grove. Behind him is a string of elderly people, wearing anoraks, rain coats and sweaters. In the middle of the park, he stops and his followers gather round him.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Trolleys, gymnastics, foreign languages

Supermarket trolleys end up all over the town. Someone from Morrisons rounds them up like sheep and leads the flock across the High Street.

In a shop window, a large man performs gymnastic movements of knees and arms in order to stick a "sale" notice". on the glass.

"Foreign languages. Spoken by foreigners when they don't want us to understand what they are saying". From Definitions byJoe Petrarch.