Saturday, September 30, 2006

Noddy, beans, fit

Outside East Grinstead, there is a cemetary called Mount Noddy.

The beans, which have served us so well this summer, have now swollen in the pods. But they are still useful. Removed from the pods and sauteed with a little chopped shallot and garlic, they become a dish in themselves, like the dried haricot beans, which you have to soak before cooking. But these require no soaking.

"Fit for purpose," seems to be catching on as a fashionable expression. I've heard it several times on Radio 4. If any one uses it to me, it will give me great pleasure to hit it on the head.


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Playa de Santa Sebastian, Sitges

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Waves, no, lonely cloud

For eight nights our bedroom two floors above the sea and half way along the narrow road, which borders the beach, echoed to the sound of waves breaking. After a while we could tell from the noise what state the sea would be in, inthe morning and whether it would be suitable for proper swimming or simply vigorous jumping over the breakers. A continuous roar meant rough water and powerful breakers. A pause between the sound of a wave breaking and the next, meant a calm sea. When we got home last night it was hard to get to sleep for the complete silence.

Two pieces of widely visible grafitti in the country outside Sitges stay in my mind. The first simply said in Catalan: "No a tot", which means: "No to everything". The second in the same ironic mode, in Spanish: "Todo lo que me gusta esta prohibido" which means "Everything which I like is forbidden".

It was a pleasure to photograph a solitary cloud in the evening sky, and to see the cloud on the screen when we got home.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

police, range of clouds, running dog

Two or three times a day, a pair of police officers patrols the peaceful stretch of promenade opposite the hotel. One is a man and one a woman The woman has a blonde pigtail falling half way down her blue-shirted back.

This morning the sky is clear, pale blue and bright. Above the horizon, backed by the light of the rising sun, is a long line of jagged, purple clouds aping a mountain range.

From the balcony I watch a dog running down the hill to the left, and over the zebra crossing opposite the hotel. Behind the dog runs a woman, puffing. It seems that they are on a usual errand. But who is taking whom for a walk?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

a face, swallows, children`s voices

"His face was simultaneously boney and doughy, a face fed on junk food." From Roger`s Version, a wickedly funny and profoundly perceptive novel by John Updike, which I have just finished reading.

Swallows, (golondrinas is the lovely Spanish word) fly inland from the beach. The late afternoon sun tints their white breast feathers a shade of gold as they wheel above our balcony.

The voices of the children´s choir in the church of the Monstserrat monastery are full of grace. And not even the crowds of tourists (of which I am ashamed to be one) pushing and shoving, and holding their cameras and video cameras above their heads to steal some of the beauty and tranquility of the scene, cannot spoil it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

summer lightening, snow white, swimming pool

Last night there was sheet or summer lightening over the sea and beyond the horizon. In the dark there was no visible horizon until the distant lightening showed it up contrasting the dark sea with the illuminated sky beyond the rim of the globe. When the lightening was nearer, it lit up the sky for a second showing the sort of dramatic cloudscape you see in the romantic paintings of Casper David Friedrich.

On the other side of a black railing outside an open ground-floor window sits a snow white cat.

The swimming pool is a peaceful place. We are nearly always the only users. Above it towers a date palm, its ripening dates falling in orange tresses beneath its broad, feathery fronds. There is also bougainevilla and brilliant red hibiscus flowers.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

French party, catching raindrops, wedding photos

A party of eight French people - four men and four women - arrive to eat in the restaurant where we are having dinner. One of the women stares at what we are eating as though to guage the quality of the food and then apologies when she sees that we have noticed. They go indoor to eat - we are outside - and settle at a long table. Later I pass their table and notice them eating and talking enthusiastically with a sort of intensity characteristic of the French. They are at a long table, the four men and one end, the four women at the other.

During a heavy shower outide a bar where an overhead canvas cover protects customers from the rain, a little girl, leaning her head backwards, catches drops of water in her mouth as they fall through a rent in the cover.

A bride and groom appear on the beach after their wedding, she in her white flounced wedding dress and black hair in a chignon, he in a tie and dark suit. They pose for a photographer, she swirling her dress, he spinning her round as though in a dance movement. Then, for the video camera, she jumps on his back, he bends forward and they both spread their arms as though flying.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

swimming in the rain, sea colour, la netedat

In the swimming pool, drops of rain water splash like fish rising.

This morning the sea is pearl grey; then as the sky brightens, a greenish glow appears and the waves unroll.

Plaques on the outside walls of houses announce in Catalan: " No embruteu les parets, la netedat es un gran senjal de civiltzacio." We have seen no grafitti in Sitges.

Friday, September 22, 2006

present, drums, walking

Opening a birthday present which exceeds expectation: the Everyman edition of Montaigne´s complete works. I read right away that Michel de Montaigne´s father was called Pierre Eyquem de Montaigne. He was mayor of Bordeaux. Is there a connection between his family and Bordeaux´s famous sweet white wine, Chateau dÝquem.

Tomorrow is the Fiesta de Santa Tecla, the local patron saint. Small children with drums practice for the procession. Everywhere the sound of beating drums. Tonight, fireworks.

On the beach a woman in a black singlet and striped shorts marches up and down along the edge of the water. She has thin brown legs from much walking. She walks swinging her arms loosely for hours on end. To complete the picture, four women line up on the beach facing the sea and perform slow oriental exercises more or less in time with one another. You get the impression that the beach has been taken over by some sort of insitution.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

no change, cooking, warmth

Nothing seems to have changed here in Sitges. Even the computer on the reception desk has been awkward as last year, but has yielded to my ministrations.

People on the beach spread fat on their bodies and gently cook in the sun until the crackling has achieved the desired crispness.

Palm trees in the breeze fanning their shadows with their giant spreading fronds.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

helmet, scooters, fish

A person (or monster) in a helmet and bikers' gear crosses the road fully accoutred. Until the helmet is removed, as it approaches the opposite pavement, you don't realise that it is a young woman.

At the bottom of the High Street there is an extra wide strip of pavement. Because there is a drop of about four feet to the roadway, it is bordered by a railing. Behind the railing is a sort of corral for scooters. They line up there, facing the railing, sadly waiting for their owners.

"Looking for fish? Don't climb a tree". Chinese proverb.

Monday, September 18, 2006

variable resource, six men and a hole, framed

In an obituary of the arts administator, Sir John Drummond, I read that John Birt, when he was director general of the BBC, replied as follows to a question put by Drummond about the BBC's orchestras: "They are a variable resource centre whose viability depends on the business plan of the controller of Radio 3". Apparently Birt said later that he had been joking, but Drummond, says the obituarist, was not convinced.

In Mount Pleasant six men are trying, with difficulty, to move a cash dispensing machine into the new premises of the Royal Bank of Scotland. A hole in the wall awaits the success of their manoeuvres.

Framed by two windows of a stationary bus are the head and shoulders of two old men, one in each fame, the one behind the other. One has plump, rather florid features, the other a thin and lined face. They present portraits in profile. Each stares straight ahead, never looking out of the window; and each, in his different way, has the bleak, empty stare of someone going nowhere.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stillness, trotting pony, idiots

Some days recently have been completely still. Leaves, even at the top of the lime tree, do not stir. And sounds, close too and far away, are amplified by the heavy air.

Two or three times recently a pony and trap has trotted past our house - the sound of hooves on tarmac is rare nowadays, particularly in a town like ours, and beats the noise of an internal combustion engine any day.

I like and approve of the German saying: "Even the gods cannot fight against stupidity". The German Dummheit is a nice word for stupidity.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

talking, babies, Magners

Talking to an old friend on the telephone about this and that is a beautiful thing.

Fascinating, isn't it, the way babies look at you, especially when secure in the arms of a parent. It is an open, penetrating stare, unequivocal, uninhibited, that seems to imply a knowledge of what they see, which exceeds your own knowledge of yourself or any body else's.

A beverage, which seems to be sweeping the country at the moment is a cider, made in Ireland, called Magners after its brewers. It comes in a heavy, solid bottle, about half a litre (on other words a pint) in capacity. It is served in a pint glass on a stack of ice, which allows topping up aften the first pouring because of the volume of ice. It is dry, "crisp" they say, and has just 4.5% alchohol content. It is gold in colour with a hint of pink. It is just the drink for me at the moment.

Friday, September 15, 2006

pub sounds, pink limo, bombarded with beans

The sounds which emerge through the open door of The Grove Tavern on a summer afternoon, a harmonious, contented rumble of voices, with the click of a billiard cue at regular intervals.

Double parked at the bottom of Mount Sion, not exactly a beautiful thing, but a spectacular one: a long, shining stretch limo, its immaculate bright pink paintwork contrasting with the mysterious smoked glass windows.

This joyful piece of prose on the menu of a new Persian restaurant:
Baghali Polo with Mahiche (Persian treasure)
Basmati rice bombarded with bare naked baby broad beans
captured in a unique taste of dill, butter and saffron, served
with a succulent portion of lamb shank..."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Woman on phone, Fibonacci, starlings

I pass a picture window close to the road, where a woman is sitting with a telephone and a cup of tea. Absorbed with the phone, she massages one bare foot with the other.

I have always been intrigued by the sequence of numbers discovered by the thirteenth century mathemetician Leonardo Fibonacci. In the Fibonacci sequence of whole numbers each number is equal to the sum of the preceeding two. Hence Fibonacci numbers are: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and on and on for ever. I have known for some time that the number of flower petals or seeds in flowers from the daisy to the sun flower, are nearly always Fibonacci numbers. Today, I read that, particularly as the numbers get larger, the ratio of each number to the preceding one "converges" on the number 1.618... which is the "divine proportion" or "golden mean"recognised by Pythagoras as a symbol of health and used by Euclid to construct a regular pentagon and other more complex figures. The ratio was apparently known to the ancient Eygyptians who used it in the pyramid at Gizeh where the ratio of the altitude of a face to half the side of the base is almost exactly 1.618. Renaissance artists among others applied the ratio in architecture and the composition of paintings, a fact that did not escape the author of the De Vinci Code.

On the cross bars of a telegraph pole sit rows of starlings like musical notes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Shoe box, discovery, intelligence

In the packaging cupboard, I find a smart shoe box in whichI can pack the collection of stationery I have bought for grand-daughter Giselle's birthday. The boxes of pencils and notes and the journal with a magnetic clasp fit perfectly; the box might have been made for the purpose.

For some time I have been meaning to read Effi Briest by the 19th Century German novelist TheodorFontane. Today, there it is in the Oxfam book shop in Chapel Place - a black-spined Penguin Classic edition in good condition, perfect for holiday reading.

Am I intelligent? No. But I am intelligent enough to know that I am not.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hot air, spider, truth

I watch a red, hot air balloon float across the sky above the Compasses. Against the light you can see the flame inside and just hear the subdued roar that it makes.

Three times in the last few days I have blundered into and completely wrecked an almost invisible spider's web stretched at head height between the two side of the hedge above the steps that lead down to our back door. The last time was this morning. This evening, through the study window, because of the position of the sun behind the web, I can see that it has been remade in just a few hours.

When people preface a statement with the words "to tell the truth", I wonder what they normally tell.

Monday, September 11, 2006

soprano, reading, quick response

In the hot, lazy afternoon the rise and fall of a soprano voice practising scales drifts into the garden where I am reading.

In the Grove a woman is sitting in the shade under a tree peacefuly reading. The book is on the ground to her left: her right arm supports her upright position; her head is bent over the book; one knee is drawn up as a balance. She doesn't move. Her concentration is complete.

I order a book from Amazon. The next day it arrives.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Corn on the cob, rabbit food, defiance

The sweet, succulent seeds of fresh corn on the cob, grilled and dripping with butter.

In Sainsbury's I read, on a 4kg bag on the pet food shelves, the legend: " Wagg Bunny Brunch tasty food for rabbits".

In the Compasses a woman I know describes her daily journey to work down Whitehall. " I always salute the Centotaph," she says, "and put two fingers up as I pass Downing Street." A policeman once stopped her after this daily demonstration. But she is a formidable lady, and escaped incarceration.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

abutilon, acorn, verde

The white bell-shaped flowers of the abutlion glow in the twilight with the yellow stamens and carpels shining a pale yellow like the interior of chinese lanterns.

The green of a new acorn fading into the white body of the nut.

Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
Y el caballo en la montana.

Friday, September 08, 2006

pistachio, thread of light, haiku - summer storm

The green that clings to the kernal of a roast pistachio nut.

Disconnected threads of light follow one another along an otherwise invisible line of spider silk moving in the breeze and reflecting the sun.

So hot, no leaf moves,
Clouds hide the sun, the bee rests.
The wave crashes down.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

sounds of tea, wild sounds, sound decisions

The sound of tea being poured and the tinkling of a teaspoon.

From the elm tree come wild and rapidly repeated clucking sounds. It has to be the magpies which have been hanging about recently. But why all the fuss? You can't see because of the leaves. But could they be disputing territory with the wood pigeons which are usually there?

"Today's sound decisions, but for an occasional bit of luck, are usually history's mistakes". Chairman Plutarch

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Thin skinned tomatoes, golden trumpets, meat and two veg

Although my tomatoes this year have been a great disappoinment, a few of the big, bulgy Brandywine's (that' the name of the variety) have produced spectacular fruit. Their outstanding quality comes, apart from their size and shape, from the thin skin and small seeds which, when seen in cross section, are as delicate as stars on a clear night. And they taste as good as they look. Some compensation for a sparse crop.

The golden trumpets of courgettes flowers are a joy to see among the spreading leaves.

Tonight's evening meal: Slices of cold brisket of beef with potato croquettes, sauteed courgettes and french beans dressed in olive oil.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bird posters, apple time, autumn

A series of beautiful bird posters are arriving every morning with the Independent newspaper. Yesterday we had garden birds, today sea and coast birds. The illustrations are of a substantial size and make recognition easier than most. The captions are succinct but full of useful detail. By the end of the week there will be the equivalent of a whole bird book.

The apple trees which I planted five or six years ago and espaliered against a fence in the vegetable garden for the first time produced enough apples to be useful. The variety is James Grieve, not seen much nowadays, and certainly not in supermarkets. A bowl of the green apples, which are often tinged with sunrise reds and pinks, is a rewarding sight. And so is the spurt of juice when you bite into one straight from the tree.

Autumn is in the air. "I do not regret the passing of my youth," wrote Flaubert. "I love only the autumn of my life as I love the autumn of the year. Spring is idiotic and summer upsets me. Let's not think about winter..."

Monday, September 04, 2006

swifts, watermelon, Flaubert's Parrot

Swifts usually leave for a warmer climate by the middle of August. Yesterday evening we watched and listened to a party of these acrobatic, screeching birds wheeling above the High Street. Behind them, over the Common, hovered a red kite - a flying toy and not the bird of prey.

Watermelons are at their most spectacular, after a slice has been removed, and the skin, with its pale green background and dark green strips, is contrasted with the abundant crimson flesh.

Some years ago I read Julian Barnes's novel Flaubert's Parrot for the first time quickly and with only moderate enjoyment. But it left its mark, and, prompted by it, I subsequently read or reread five of Flaubert's most important works and a selection of his letters. I read them with increasing pleasure and enlightenment, and now I'm rereading Flaubert's Parrot with increaing pleasure and enlightenment. It is relatively short but amounts to a critique of the great French novelist's work and life, while its own sparse plot unfolds. Thankyou Julian Barnes.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

vacuum cleaning, slow cooking, lighting up

Sucking up an overlooked pile of dust or cobwebs in an awkward corner with the tube of the vacuum cleaner, the sweeper-head removed.

Slowly pot-roasting a brisket of beef with sliced onions and spices which, after two and half hours, create a rich natural gravy.

"You don't go to hell to light a cigarette". Greek proverb.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

African music, tea for the Kaiser, ginger's progress

Standing outiside the front door, I hear, drifting up the hill through the warm rain, from a festival in the Pantiles, the sound of African drums and sporadic applause.

In A N Wilson's entertaining account of Great Britain in the last century, entitled After the Victorians, I read about Kaiser Wilhem II in exhile in Holland after the first World War. Although there was a question of extraditing him to face charges in Britain, the government was too busy at home to pursue the idea, and besides he was a cousin of King George V." The old gentleman was doing no harm to anyone, " writes Wilson. "His first act upon arrival in Holland had been for a good strong cup of English tea and his favourite reading was P G Wodehouse".

My ginger plant, the result of potting a small piece of fresh ginger root, has grown a second leaf.

Friday, September 01, 2006

wishful thinking, racing children, driving on the pavement

A 28-stone man on the Channel 4 news complains that he was made to leave a passenger plane, because he didn't fit any of the seats. He had been humiliated. "I was made to feel very small," he said.

Thee children carreer down a path in the Grove on those little scooters with tiny wheels. They hurtle into Grove Avenue and down towards the High Street managing to stop before they reach the main road. Just. What excitement!

Ascending Grove Hill Road I see a car coming towards me in the centre of the pavement. It is a remote controlled model car. Its owner, a few steps behind it, with the remote in his hand, is taking it for walk.