Wednesday, October 31, 2007
There were goings-on in the Grove last night. Big spotlights, cables, vans galore and bags of artificial snow, labelled with the name of its provider, a company called Snow Business betokened some sort of film. They were in fact going to shoot a Christmas commercial for the supermarket chain, Morrison's. Ironic. Morrison's is not a popular name round here. It acquired the shop with the Safeway chain, which it bought in its entirety a couple of years ago. Because they were building a new store in a neighbouring town, they decided to close this branch down. Everyone in the area of the Grove had used it, as it was in comfortable walking distance, and came to regard it, much as villagers do their village store, as their own. The big building is now vacant and boarded up, and residents have to walk twice as far or use their cars to do their shopping.
Walking down a hill in Sevenoaks, I pass a mother and her two children coming up it. They are eating on the hoof, picking at trays of chips with little wooden forks. The very English smell of fried potatoes and vinegar hangs in the air behind them.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Gnats fly in and out of the low sunbeams, this afternoon. You only see them when the sun touches their wings.
A squirrel on the railings sees its reflection in the window of a car. It swings its tail frantically while the rest of its body remains dead still. Its little eyes are fixed on its moving tail.
Monday, October 29, 2007
I know now that the agapanthus didn't flower this summer in its big pot because I failed to feed it as I should have done. But today we notice that the long, pinate leaves have compensated for the absence of flowers by turning a brilliant yellow, an ornament in their own right, and a contrast to the blue umbels that should have been.
Through the rear, upstairs window of a house, I see, from the street below, a front window, and through the front window, this afternoon's bright western sky.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
"Knowing that I'm an amateur, would you lend me your golf clubs?"
"You weren't supposed to say that."
At the Farmers' Market there are more than 30 different varieties of apple on one stand, all grown locally.
Standing by the window watching rain drops falling, comforted by a mig of tea.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
As I step on to the zebra crossing on the Frant Road, I am greeted by a man, whom we have met on one or two occasions outside the bar in the Pantiles. "Are we going in the same direction?" he says. "last time I saw you, you were wearing a beret. Today you're wearing a different hat. It's quite a good idea to wear a different hat every day. They seem to be bringing hats back!" I am unable to contribute to the conversation because, at this point, our ways part.
Though we are still in October, a group of men with ladders are at work in the Pantiles assembling Christmas decorations. The white pillars of the arcade are already adorned with plastic pine foliage, which winds round them like snakes. The same foliage is on the bandstand with the addition of red and gold baubles, and a string of lights not yet switched on.
Friday, October 26, 2007
A woman holding a bunch of horse chestnut leaves walks down the High Street.
The Turkey oak remains the only tree in the Grove which has properly shed its leaves. The leaves beneath it are dry and crunchy and a number of children are piling them up, making leaf mountains. One particularly engergetic child runs with armfuls of leaves. " We need to make a world record," he says, to his companion " so that in 2008 we'll be in the world record book."
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Sitting on a bench on the station platform is a young man juggling three, soft, plastic balls. After a while, he stands up and practices with the three balls using one hand.
In the train a young couple sit side by side doing separate sudokus in separate newspapers, but they share a Bic pen, holding it upright ready for the other to take, when it is needed. They do not speak, but the sharing is so nicely managed that you feel that they are happy in one another's company.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I am standing opposite the entrance to the Victoria Arcade. Near me a hulky man, quite normal in appearance, starts shouting: "What are you doing in my country? Stamp it out. Stamp it out," he bellows. "Foreign legion. Stamp it out! " The object of his anger is an empty Stella Artois beer can lying on the pavement. Repeatedly, he stamps on the innocent Belgian artifact, until it is squashed flat on the brick pavement. Nobody takes any notice of him. He strides off radiating hatred.
A couple of minutes later, a woman street cleaner arrives pushing a mobile rubbish bin and wielding a pair of tongs. With the tongs, she lethargically picks up cartons and bits of paper and releases them into the bin. The can is a problem because it is so flat. She is far from athletic and has some difficulty bending down to lift it with her bare hand. Taking advantage of the pause in her progress, she takes out a cigarette and lights up; the foreign can is now out of sight and out of mind.
It is half terms. School children gather in the centre of the town, Dress code is jeans or miniskirts. Tee shirts are colourful and interesting. A thin boy wears one bearing the words: "I hate people". Two of his friends, a girl and a boy, one behind him and one in front, attempt an embrace with him, like a sandwich filling, in the middle. A people sandwich.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
From the terrace behind Sankey's bar, I look up to a rooftop where, from a washing-line, a pair of very faded jeans swings its legs in the breeze.
With practiced nonchalance, while smoking a cigarette, a grey haired old lady in an electric buggy, steers between pedestrians on the broad, brick pavement of Mount Pleasant.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The layers of leaves under the Turkey oak are thick and enticing. The leaves are dry and scrunchy. As I walk through them, I kick them up in the air. They rustle and crackle. I kicked my way through leaves like that when I was a child. And my children did too. I am glad that I have remembered how to do it.
In uncut grass, dandelion clocks are scattered like a white faced crowd waiting for something to happen.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Is there an expression of interest as intense as that of a pigeon on the pavement, searching for crumbs, its head tilting to left and right, and its little eyes popping with eagerness?
As I pass a couple I know, who are sitting on a bench in the Grove, we exchange greetings. "It's really interesting sitting here, watching the world go by," says the wife. I say, "yes, isn't it!" But the husband makes a face and rolls his eyes.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
From a path on the Common, I look down the steep slope towards the London Road. Profiled against the passing a traffic are five young people sitting in a row on a fallen tree. Their backs are to me. They wear hoods and rucksacks. Lower down the slope than I, they watch the cars pass in a continuous stream. From up here, the sound is translated from a "whoosh, whoosh", to a gentle but unrelenting throb.
Everybody is asking the same question: "Are you going to watch the match?" I have come to prefer rugby to what I used to think of as soccer, and is now generally called football. In fact I am looking forward to the game. I shall not, like one of my neighbours, record it, and watch it afterwards only if England wins. I shall, while the game is on, be thinking of my friend Dave, who bet on Egland to win from the start of the tournement at odds of 36 to 1.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Two little girls pulling identical , plastic Volkeswagen Beatles on pieces of string, race round the Grove, shrieking, while the cars bounce and topple behind them.
I had difficulty identifying a maple tree in the Grove when it was in flower. But the five lobed leaves, mottled with red spots are familiar signs of Autumn. Spring seems far behind.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Through the train window is an expanse of blue sky; across it, two white vapour trails make a perfect St Andrew's cross, the national flag of Scotland.
The stags are rutting in Knole Park. It is perfect weather for rutting. A group of stags and hinds perform on the gentle elevation, just above the Tudor house, as though they are putting on a show for the inhabitants. Hinds sit or stand about coyly, while the stags trot up and down. When other stags so much as look at their harems, they make rude and threatening, burping sounds, or challenge newcomers with lowered antlers. I talk to a man with an extravagant looking camera on a tripod. I ask if is a professional photogapher. "No, I'm builder," he says. "This is my obsession" This and bonsai. Do you know bonsai? Isn't this beautiful, " he says. "Isn't England the most beautiful country in the world? Pity to see it all go. Not just this, the whole country! " Then he adds, "Not in our time fortunately." An old man talking to an old man. I point out an ancient stag sitting away from the rest, uninterested in the competetion. "Retired, " I say, " like us!"
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Some years ago I made a note of the word mondegreen, a term for a misheard word. It is derived from an old ballad, which goes "They hae slain the Earl Murray/ And laid him on the green". The last line, misheard becomes "and Lady Mondegreen." The term comes up in a review in the Spectator , by Dot Wordworth, of a collection of mondegreens and malapropisms by Martin Toseland entitled The Ants are My Friends. The title is a mishearing of the Bob Dylan lyric "the answer my friend is (blowing in the wind)".
We pass in the street a serious looking purposeful dog of indeterminate breed. It looks straight ahead, until it reach the pedestrian crossing, and crosses on the green light. On the other side of the road it walks steadily on, stopping only to cock its leg against one of the maroon and gold, Royal Tunbridge Wells litter bins.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The door of the gents at Sevenoaks station has a pronounced squeak as it swings to. A sound half way between a protest and a jeer.
An invitatation has arrived to a reception to celebrate the 90th birthday of my English teacher, Stephen Lushington. He was greatly respected at school not just by me, but by everyone he taught. What lesson do I remember? I handed in a piece of homework, a description of trees. I thought it was a little masterpiece. It was in fact a string of platitudes and clichés. When returning our work to us, he saved mine until last, and was unsparing in his assessment of it. What I had thought was so wonderful, was I realized truly awful. I don't claim that I never used acliché again, but the fear that I might, has always been with me and still is.
Monday, October 15, 2007
A light breeze rises for a moment and seems to blow at ground level. Dry leaves, with the faintest rustle, move between the feet of lunchers outside bars and restaurants like an army of mice.
The unwanted CDs and DVDs , which I hung up in the vegetable garden in the summer to scare pigeons, has proved unexpectedly successful. The bright surfaces send spots of light running over the beds and up and down plants. Alone among the vegetables, you sense a presence other than your own, which catches you by surprise. What I hadn't noticed until today was the title of one of the CDs. It contains several episodes of the BBC spy series, Spooks.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
We talk to the fish and chip shop owner outside the Compasses before lunch. He is 65 and full of woes. But he seems to enjoy dramatising them over a pint in the Autumn sun. "Got to get back to my wife's cooking", he says. "She either over cooks everything or under cooks it," and, parting, adds: "I love her to bits."
In Sainsbury's, successive shopping aisles list: "Frozen ready meals, Frozen vegetables, Frozen Meat, Frozen deserts, Frozen fish". And they say, the poles are melting.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
A packet of what we thought were thin slices of very fine, serrano ham turns out to be slices of "duck ham". We bought it at the last minute before leaving Spain, no time to read the label. But it proves even more delicious, especially when eaten with fresh figs, than the ham made from the black legged pigs, bred in the upland, oak forests of Andalucia, which we thought we had bought.
I see a shower of leaves behind the trunk of the Turkey oak in the Grove. The cause is hidden by the thick trunk.. As I move on, I see a small boy tossing up arms full of leaves and letting them fall on his head.
Emerging from a woman's bag, is a crest of carrot leaves. Are carrots growing in her bag? Of course not. Don't be silly. But wouldn't it be wonderful if they were?
Friday, October 12, 2007
As I pass a group of taxi drivers talking outside the station, I hear a woman taxi driver say intriguingly: "I'm just about crap at noticing other cars."
Pushing through the gravel on the drive of the house opposite is a pointed, white fungus, like the tip of a closed parasol. It is a Shaggy Ink Cap, also known as Lawyer's Wig. You can eat it while it remains white, but I have never felt inclined to.
And, in reality, I see and hear the starlings back in the Grove, a tree full of them, the air full of their fluting calls. And in the middle of them in the same tree, the boss, Mr Crow, looking smug.
Gossamer in the hedgerows, intricate silver nets. From the branch of a tree, one fine thread extends in a gentle downward and then upward curve and ends floating in mid air. I examine it closely and guess that the parabola, which it describes, dips because of moisture - dew or frost - which has weighed it down in the centre.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Prodigious is not a word I use often. But the snail I meet this morning on the decaying leaf of a courgette plant is prodigious, vaster than empires.
I enjoy telling the time by the quality of the light allowing for the growing hours of darkness and the state of the weather.
comes under the blind in the morning, making allowance for the longer period of darkness and the weather anticiapted.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
In the High Street, in the rain, I pass a middle aged man and woman of similar size. They wear identical, blue jackets with pointed hoods pulled over their heads. Their faces are similar, rather porcine. They look a little out of breath. Are they brother and sister, or husband and wife, who have grown to resemble one another? As I look back to watch them walk away, I note that beneath the collars of their jackets are identical designer labels, too far away, unfortunatley to read.
A thick layer of sodden leaves make an intricate pattern of red, yellow and brown, under the turkey oak on the corner of the The Grove. Rain, which has soaked the dead leaves, has been responsible for the sudden fall rather than the wind, and the leaves have stayed put where they have fallen, which explains their density.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Next to a tarmac-covered area, marked out for basket ball, some schoolboys throw and bounce a ball, shout and push each other, kick the ball and leap up to catch it. Separated by some wire netting is the Royal Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club, where middle aged and elderly people play a sedate game of croquet on an immaculate lawn.
Why is the universe so strangely adapted to support life? The physicist Paul Davies asks, and to some extent answers, this fundemental question in his book The Goldilocks Enigma. He argues that aspects of the cosmos from the properties of the carbon atom to the speed of light, and even the laws of physics themselves, seem to conspire to make life possible. Though I understand much of them imperfectly, I enjoy reading statements like "quantum weirdness implies that a particle such as an electron possesses an intrinsic uncertainty", and "quantum uncertainty cannot be ameliorated by 'looking harder'. Though "uncertainty" there refers to the behaviour of particles, they appeal because they seem to mirror my own uncertainty about most things. There is a delicious mystery about learning what happened fractions of a second after the big bang, where we all began.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
From an open, sash window I hear voices talking within as I pass in the street. Or is it the radio?
Outside our front door, hangs a single inflorescence of unseasonal wisteria. A bee moves from floret to floret. I watch it run out of options and fly away. A moment later it returns. Or is it another bee? I watch again as it repeats its routine with the wisteria. Off it goes. I see it circle and return, this time definitely the same bee. Bees and wisteria are as scarce as one another today.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Fat rose hips with their sepals like trumpets. Rose fruit.
This morning I go into the garden to see what's in the air. There is a hint of spice, fruit, leaves, acorns, a trace of bonfire. Just a hint of all these things, their faint imprint in the air. I think of wine, gewürztraminer, to be precise.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Among the courgette plants, I keep finding a number of overgrown courgettes (become vegetable marrows) lurking like shadows among the still prolific leaves and cable-like stems. They are not much to our taste but fortunately there are a number of our neighbours who enjoy these great beasts, thick skinned and heavy with water.
Two or three dead leaves falling on to the stage to signify Autumn or time passing, is a theatrical cliche, which I recall from my theatre-going days. This morning, as the odd leaf drifts down, nature seems to be immitating art.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Rows of lettuces are in flower. Some have gone to seed. In a few cases, new leaves have sprouted from plants, not yet in flower, where lettuces were cut earlier. These offer themselves for salad. More salad in the rows of mixed, oriental mustards and rocket. The mustards have yellow flowers, the rocket, white. Flowers as well as leaves go into salads, and have the same spicy flavour.
Still thinking about notebooks, I read by chance in Ann Wroe's new biography Being Shelley, this account of the poet's notebook habits:
"Thought demanded fresh pages in new notebooks, used pages in old ones (turned upside down, thrown sideways, one poem burying another), or any spare piece of paper, or letter back, or bill, which he was sometimes reduced to begging from visitors and friends."
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
"Do not look back, my friend
No one knows how the world began.
Do not fear the future, nothing lasts for ever.
If you dwell on the past or the future
You will miss the moment."
Mr and Mrs Crow, whose activities I recorded last winter, have taken up residence in the Grove once more. There is no doubt at all that they own the little park. I watch them waddling about on the grass, checking that everything is in order, as they peck out bits and pieces for their lunch.
The pages of my new notebook, started a month ago, are, as a schoolteacher might say, a marked improvement on my last one, in terms of tidiness. He has tried hard. This is partly the result of a suggestion by Marja-Leena Rathje that I should reproduce a page or two of my earlier notebook here. I looked through it, but couldn't oblige at the time because it was all such a mess and quite incomprehensible even to me. At least, now I can read what I have written and decipher what I have drawn. Posterity may thank you Marja-Leena, as I do now.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
In a Tunbridge Wells shop window, all I can see is a woman sitting on the floor with her back to the street. She is a window-dresser sewing away at some striped material.
In a cupboard, which has needed clearing out for some time, I find a notebook full of juvenillia almost all of it, embarrassing. Just one poem catches my attention. After rendering a few nips and tucks, I find myself liking it, viewing it, as I do, in a completely detached way, as though I never had anything to do with it. I can't remember who the "you" was or even if it was any particular person:
The red flame contains a blue
And in the blue flame I see you,
And there you leap up bright and stark
To look into my enormous dark.
Monday, October 01, 2007
It surprises and interests me that the French word palais means both palace and palate. A palace for the senses, or at least one of them?
A memory of our recent holiday is the orange and blue bird of paradise flower in bloom at one end of the swimming pool. Its botanical name, strelitzia, strangely enough links this native of South Africa, to northern Germany. It is named in honour of Queen Charlotte Sophia (1744 - 1818), a daughter of the Duke of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, mother of 15 children and wife of King George III.