Sunday, September 30, 2007

snail, sunflowers, coins

On the white top of a pillar supporting the front gate of a house, I spot a tiny snail, about two centimeters from head to tail when fully extended beneath its little shell. It makes its way across the square expanse of plaster. Out of my pocket comes my camera. I put it into macro focus and take two photographs. "Hullo, Joe" says a voice, addressing me, I realize; " what are you doing? It is a friend. I tell her what I am doing. Together we marvel at this little creature. We are joined by an elderly gentleman, who seems to be anxious to enter the house. It is his house and, we amiably agree, his snail. I promise to send him a print.

In the still soggy vegetable garden, the bronze sun flowers have collapsed, and lean on one another like drunks. Some have fallen over, and the stems have twisted upwards so that the flowers can, somehow, face the sun as they are supposed to do.

There is an automatic machine in the supermarket, which counts and sorts coins. It is called Constar and is, I imagine, designed to help people, who hoard coins in piggy banks and the like. "Bring your jar, pour in your coins, get cash," a notice urges. My attention is drawn to it by a noise like a metallic waterfall. A man is standing in front of it. He is feeding it with money from the gaping pockets of his coat. It crashes and clatters with the contentment of an animal enjoying a good meal.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

rituals, egrets, soft edges

Among the early morning rituals on the beach - the walkers at the water's edge, the exercisers, which I watch from our balcony - is a man who drags a folding sunbed close to the sea, in the same spot every morning, and builds a little wall of wet sand round it.

As we take off from Barcelona Airport, between the runways, I see ponds and reeds. Poking among the weeds are the white forms of egrets.

Walking through the Grove, I notice how objects, trees, people, benches, flowers, have mellow shades, and soft and unassertive outlines in contrast with the bright colours, sharp edges and brilliant textures of the Mediterranean. The autumn air this afternoon is like a very fine gauze.

Friday, September 28, 2007

pirates, smiling, islands

In a Spanish history book I read of los piratas inglesas, in particular Drake and Hawkins - heroic mariners, in the English history books they gave us when I was at school. Specifically, the author refers to "... Drake, not only a pirate, but a destabilising factor in strategic areas of the Spanish economy." There, our books and theirs agree.The fate of the armada in 1588 was, not surprisingly, a "tragedy", rather than an English victory, as we were told. I expect that English school history books are, nowadays, less chauvinistic than they used to be.

I watch someone smiling a secret smile into the screen of a mobile phone. A smile not to be shared.

From the plane, the reflections of clouds look like an archipeligo, while between the shadow-islands, a real boat navigates, its wake behind it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

knitting, quiet, shovel

From a cafe table, I watch in the open window of a cool, dark room, a woman knitting shadows.

The fiesta of Santa Teckla (the patron saint of Sitges) is over for a year. The streets are quiet, the fireworks extinguished, the processions finished, the tin drums put away in cuboards and cellars. The huge figures of the King and Queen and their companions are returned to their places in the town hall. It was fun while it lasted. The quiet is fun too.

After the rain of two days ago the water which poured down the streets in torrents flowed under the road and the pavement of the promenade through a culvert on to the beach where it cut a deeper channel. So deep that a small lake was formed. Today a mechanical shovel arrives and restores the status quo. When it has finished, it advances to the edge of the sea, dips its scoop into the water, as though taking a drink, lifts some water and empties it. After repeating the process, the scoop is judged clean and the machine leaves the beach.

Monday, September 24, 2007

connected, cat, yoga

One of the many pleasures of this small hotel overlooking the sea is the lap top computer which sits on the reception desk for the use of guests. Yesterday, it was not working. Today it is, and I have the added pleasure of seeing that Lucy Kempton has added five more sets of photographs to our Compasses blog. I have not looked at them yet, and may postpone that pleasure until I get home, where I am more confident with the technology.

There are six old fashioned, wooden sunbeds with faded, striped mattresses beside the swimming pool. The swimming pool is small and shaded by palm trees and other discrete greenery. At this time of the year, the sun does not reach the pool, so we have it to ourselves, except, that is, for a thin, grey cat, which is stretched on one of the sun beds, as though it were pretending to be a sun-bathing human. It stares at us angry at our intrusion. Heidi addresses it gently but it gets up crossly and slinks away into the shrubbery.

From the balcony, early this morning, I watch a woman perform a yoga routine on a mat laid out on the clean sand. She moves slowly and every move is balanced and considered. She concludes the exercises by getting herself, by various stages, into a head-stand position, where she remains for at least minute, perfectly upright, straight, balanced.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

new word, Eros, dry

In Allen Bennett´s new short novel called The Uncommon Reader, the Queen, who in her later life suddenly developes an enthusiasm for reading, says to her page, whom she calls her amenuensis: "...I´ve discovered what I am. I am an opsimath." And what is an opsimath? One who learns only late in life. I think that, like the Queen, as depicted here, I am an opsimath. Any one who likes books and who, as I do, likes to laugh out loud from sheer pleasure, should read this book.

There is an hydraulically operated bollard, which sinks into the road to allow permitted vehicles to enter a resticted area at one end of the little bay.Vehicles are equipped with electronic devices which operate the bollard. As soon as a vehicle has passed, the bollard rises again. Some children have caught on to this. They take it in turns to jump on to the smooth top of the bollard as a car moves off, and get a free lift.into the air. One, cleverly stands on one foot, leans forward, spreads his arms and pretends to be Eros.

There is a sudden, intense downpour, and as often happens here, all the streets, which lead down to the sea through the town , become torrents and waterfalls. We see a man, who has removed his shoes, protecting himself with two umbrellas, one with a tartan pattern and one black.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Finishing, swallows, tail

Coming to the end of a book which I didn´t like, about omens and destiny and the "soul of the world. I did like its large print.

High above the swimming pool, swallows appear as small as the insects upon which they feed.

Inside a a fish and shellfish delivery van, some white plastic boxes. Out of one emerges just the tail of a big fish.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

maps,cleaning up, helmet

Patches of foam in the smooth water after a wave look like islands on a map.

From the balcony, in the early morning, I see on the beach three women performing oriental exercises. Their hands clenched together, their arms extended, they stretch forward, describe a circle reaching forward and bowing to the sea. The only other people on the beach are two uniformed employees of the Ajuntement de Sitges. They are wearing blue t shirts and blue baseball caps. One has an orange rake and the other a green one. They are methodically sweeping the tide mark of jetsam.

At the table next to us, outside the tapas bar, sits a couple facing each other. On the table is an almost spherical, shiny black safety helmet. In its convex mirror I see: myself, Heidi, the umbrella above our table, the umbrella above the couple´s table, a patch of sky with sun coming through light cloud, the hands of the man moving as he talks to his companion, and the woman, still and contemplative.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

clouds, no walking, sun

From the plane, I see little clouds scattered over the sea like balls of cotton wool or sheep. They extend as far as I can see. Beneath them their shadows lie on the mirror of the sea.

On the centre of the plane´s wing, are written the words: "Do not walk outside this area."

A grey morning greets us. From the balcony, we watch, as we have done in previous years, the sun drive the clouds away with its wamth. The sea becomes silver, the sky streaked with blue.

Monday, September 17, 2007

seeds, words in words, holiday

Brown bunches of seeds on the lime tree, opposite our house, hang among the leaves which for the most part remain green.

I have a habit, probably a bad one, of spotting words buried in other words, and possibly even attaching significance to them. Something tells me that it is a sign of limited intelligence or schizophrenia or worse. This morning I wake up thinking of Verlaine. Would a French person, I wonder, consciously note, that the poet's name is made up of two other words - ver meaning worm, and laine, meaning wool ? Do we think for more than a moment about the composition of the name Wordsworth?

The pleasure of anticipating a holiday.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

surprise, time, cheese

I wake up this morning thinking about the many silly things I have said and done, and begin to enumerate them. What surprises me is that I am sensible enough to admit them to myself, if to no one else.

Now that I am becoming familiar with facts such as the age of the universe (14.7 billion years), the Earth (4.56 billion years), homo sapiens (200,000years), me (74 years), I am beginning to think that numbers are of little consequence.

With an odd moment to spare, I grab a piece of cheese and go into the Autumnal garden for a nibble while looking at the abutilon and the hibiscus, both of which are white. In particular, the pink Japanese anemones give pleasure because they were the only flowers growing in the garden, when I came to live here more than 20 years ago.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

alarm clock, autumn, 20 years on

On the stonework under one of the green,copper domes of the opera house in Tunbridge Wells (a strange Edwardian building never used for the performance of opera, once a bingo hall now a pub) is an unusual graphito - a drawing of an alarm clock.

"Les sanglots long
Des violons
De l'automn
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Walking through the Grove today, I realise that it is 20 years since the great storm, which brought down 80 per cent of the old trees. Today the new trees, planted soon after the storm have begun to restore to the little park, some of its original character and charm, more the charm of a copse than a conventional park.

Friday, September 14, 2007

mad, maturing, three generations

In today's paper I come across the expression "madder than a box of frogs".

A poem, which I believed I had finished a week ago, has been maturing, in the dark. In other word I hid it away and refrained from re-reading it. I had not counted the number of drafts I produced-swirling vortices of words and images in pursuit of ideas - but they amounted to a stack of paper inches thick. Today, it seems that enough time has passed to put the finished poem to the test. When I read it this morning, it is as though it is not my work at all. It has settled down like a well balanced wine. There is nothing I need to change and no additions are wanted. That doesn't mean that it is any good. Will I ever know that? But I feel a sense of relief that the agonising is over.

In the Grove, three generation play football. A little boy in a blue track suit; his father in chinos and a brown tee shirt; his grandfather in a straw hat, open neck shirt and shorts. The grandfather makes a big deal of running after the ball and dribbling. He emphasises his age by trying to be younger than he is.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Newfoundland, robin, blogs

Seal, the newfoundland puppy, is in the Grove to day with her owner. She starts up and sniffs the air as a helecopter passes over. "She's loves helecopters and squirrels, " he says.

At first we were puzzled by the identity of the bird that has been visiting our little garden for the last few days. It fluttered around the table on the terrace and seldom seemed far from the ground. Today for the first time you could tell that it was a robin, but but a very young one. On previous visits, it had seemed too fluffy for a robin, its red breast, no more than a shade of pink. On top of its head a thatch of little feathers looked like some sort of crest. Now the red breast is better defined; the hatch is disappearing, and the little bird's perky attitude when it stands still on its long legs and cocks its head leave no room for doubt.

I read that there are estimated to be 71 million blogs on the net.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

crab spider, clock, "diamonds"

Climbing one of the purple Blauhilde french beans, which I am just about to pick from the vine, is a white spider. It hoists itself up, much in the same way as you see natives of the South Sea Islands climbing a coconut tree, except that it has eight legs rather than two legs and two arms. When it reaches the top of the bean, it walks along the stem, upside down and parallel with the ground. It strikes me that it is like a very small crab, and, sure enough, when I consult my book of garden wildlife, I quickly identify it as a common crab spider, not to be confused, I hope, with the common spider crab.

The clock above the railway station in Tunbridge Wells was out of order for about two years. Each of its four faces told a different time. Twice every twenty four hours( of course) each face had the right time, but this was of little help, unless you wanted to know the time at precisely the right time, and happened to be looking at the appropriate face. After a while people ceased to trust the clock and eventually no one looked at it. Who takes notice of a compulsive liar? In the last month, surrounded by scaffolding, the four faces were removed and the clock put back in working order. The scaffolding has now been dismantled and, in the last couple of days, the clock has been working as it should. Nobody I know has remarked on this. Has any one noticed that all four faces of the clock now tell the right time all the time? If by chance a passer by raises his eyes will he believe the time he sees there?

In the vegetable garden, I notice the tortoiseshell cat lying in the shade under the romanesco leaves ( a sort of brocolli, with pointed green heads rather like small green caulifowers). The cat is relaxed and watches, with a passing interest, the sun reflected off the CDs, which I have hung there to keep the pigeons away, as little blobs of light run across the earth and up the plants. Round the cat's neck is a collar with the letters FU picked out in damond studs, at least I would like to think they are diamond studs, for it is, I have always thought, a very superior cat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

wings, voices, scrolling

Among things that posess wings are: birds, butterflies, beatles, dragon flies, country houses, seeds, angels.

Today, I keep hearing recorded voices talking to me. In the post office, the same beautifully articulated, woman's voice announces to the queue that a cashier is free. "Cashier No 4", she says with emphasis on the 4. In the train, another woman's voice tells passengers the name of the next station, as it comes up. "The next station is .. " slight pause while the tape is adjusted "..Tunbridge Wells." When I telephone my on-line bank with a problem, a recorded voice, this time a man's, edited to sound as if it is a live human being, listening to and responding to my answers, asks the usual security questions. When the robot is satisfed, it puts me through to a real person.

On the train I watch a man with nothing else to do cradle his mobile phone in his hand. He runs through lists of contacts on the screen and eventually selects one to call in order to say where he is.

Monday, September 10, 2007

vintage, hedgehog, dream

In the window of a shop, which sells expensive gardening equipment is a garden hose reel. It carries the label "vintage hose reel", and is highly priced. You can tell it is "vintage" by the rust.

There is one of those brushes fixed on bracket beside the front door to remove mud from your boots in the porch of a house that I pass. This one is in the shape of hedgehog. It's so realistic that you have look twice to check that it is not a real hedgehog.

Sometimes, as I did this morning, I wake from a dream and want to get back into it in order to find out what happens. It's not as extreme a feeling as Caliban's, who laments when he awakes after dreaming of "riches ready to drop upon him...I cry'd to dream again." In my case, it's just curiosity and a mild disappointment, which lasts longer than my memory of what the dream was about.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

remote control, quinces, proportions

In the Grove, a small boy takes a remote control car for a walk. Now and then it runs on to the grass and turns over. By racing the wheels, he manages to right the car, and they proceed, the car running ahead, like a puppy.

We visit the house of a friend who sends us away with a basketful of quinces.

Watching people strolling under trees, I consider the porportionate size of trees and people. Small trees, are about six times taller, larger, older trees around 20 times taller than a man. For a moment I think of the giant redwoods, the sequoia, which I saw in California. They are, I know, around 60 times taller than a man.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

new shop, posh spuds, big leaves

They are refurbishing a shop in Chapel Place, a short respectable pedestrian precinct leading to the Church of King Charles the Martyr. There is a famous book shop, a shop which specialises in country clothes and a one which sells hand made gardening tools. So it was surprising to see a cardboard sign on the half decorated shop bearing the words "sex shop". Today, I overhear and old lady asking the workmen about the sign, which seemed to have disappeared. "People kept asking us what sort of shop it was going to be," he said, "so we stuck up the notice to keep them quiet. It worked very well. "

In the farmers' market, a farmer selling just potatoes explains the different varieties he has on display. "These", he says, " are the Crystal Champagne of potatoes.

In someone's peaceful garden I am shown a big spreading catalpa tree, with its huge leaves and long black seed pods. The branches are propped up by numerous stakes. It is very old.

Friday, September 07, 2007

head, weaving , nasturtiums

A window is raised in the house at the side of the vegetable garden. It is at some distance and I have not recently seen or heard anyone in this house. A window is raised and a woman's head appears. "Hullo", it says. "Thank you for the view of your garden. Has all the rain this summer helped the vegetables? " I am picking runner beans, and I reply: "It has certainly helped the beans." "They're lovely," she says. "Jack and the Beanstalk beans".

Pictures of Paverotti, who died yesterday, on the tv all evening. He is shown performing on various stages, where he stand upright, while singing, yet is so relaxed that he might be talking to a neighbour about the weather; and all the time he is producing this immense, effortless, melliflous sound. You don't have to like opera to be impressed and moved.

At this time of year the nasturtiums, which seed themselves every year swarm over the vegetable beds, yellow and orange and lemon and scarlet. I have learnt how to select the freshest and brightest blooms, and so have the bees, which join me in this pursuit. I am after the flowers to arrange in a vase; the bees are after nectar.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

nettles, conciseness, bee

Stinging nettle flowers. Undistinguished yellowy green panicles among the hairy leaves which carry the stings. You would not expect them in a flower shop window. But they are flowers neverthless.

Heidi remarks on the conciseness of the English language compared with her native German.

A bee enters an Indian balsam flower. I watch its busy body at work in the tranparent tube formed by the flower's petals.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

symbols, fishcakes, clocks

From the street outside our house I see Heidi's paint brushes in the window of the studio on the top floor. They stand in a vase like flowers, symbols of her profession.

Today I have been cooking fishcakes. I have learnt, over the years, to make them of uniform size and firm enough to hold together, yet moist enough not to be dull and stodgy. They are seasoned with finely chopped spring onion, fresh fines herbes from the garden, a hint of chilli, plenty of salt and pepper, and made unctuous with a little crème fraîche in the mix. We get out fine breadcrumbs from Germany, which cling to the cakes and become a delicate golden brown when fried. Writing about them makes me hungry.

I have long admired the Scottish poet Don Paterson, in particular for his collection called Landing Lights. I have been meaning to read his more recent, book of aphorisms The Book Of Shadows. It arrived from Amazon yesterday, a small paper back, and I am enjoying dipping into it. I can't imagine reading it fromm cover to cover. One example almost at random: "All our instruments are accurate except the clock. The clock holds up two stick in the air and draws a conclusion".

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

meaning, bollards, unexpected flowers

Today I find myself using a word, and then just to make sure, looking up its meaning in the dictionary.

Someone had painted one of the bollards, which deter people from parking on the pavements in this road, a bright and cheerful pink. Today, the Council sent someone to repaint it black. An alternative would have been to leave it pink and paint the others in a variety of different colours. It would have been an interesting and imaginative experiment, but it wasn't to be.

There a pleasure to be found in the flowers of vegetables that are associated with roots or leaves. Earlier this year parsnips and carrots were flowering in a neglected bed, and just now rocket is showing its white flowers and lettuce is in bud.

Monday, September 03, 2007

shipping forecast, conkers, lace

Though not a sailor, I love the BBC shipping forecast. The area names and the shorthand language are pleasing and somehow reassuring. Fair Isle, Viking, Cromarty, Forth,Tyne, Dogger, German Bite and so on. When I listen, now that I have a map, I follow the coastline in my mind, down the North Sea, through the English Channel up the Irish Sea and up the coast of Ireland until the Scottish Islands, Faroes and Iceland. Then there is the language: "Northwesterly 5 to 7. decreasing 5 or 6 later. Rough or very rough. Showers. moderate or good". Spoken in the measured tones of the announcer, it is far removed from the wind, rain and spray, but nevertheless is a gentle reminder of a wider world.

The green, spiked husks of conkers hang in bunches of two and three. They begin to take on a dunn colour.

Through the lower section of a sash window, the bottom part of a lace curtain waggles and waves.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

old notebook, overcast, legs

I have just seen, and printed out to enjoy at lesisure Lucy Kempton's latest set of photographs illustrating the Compasses poems (31 - 35). You will find the link on the right.

The interest which Marja-leena and others have shown in my notebook is flattering. I must have made it sound too interesting, even attractive. There is another, less acceptable side to it. It is, I am afraid, rather like a gross, untidy room. A good reflection of my mind. Unmatched socks lie under the bed; books, magazines and newspapers cover the floor in unsorted piles; forgotten cups nurse stains and the remains of tea and coffee; electronic cables leading nowhere strangle the sparse, collapsing furniture. Is that a half eaten sandwich? Is that a mouse nibbling at it? Better not draw the curtains. It would reveal too much, or too little, and nothing much to be proud of. But thank you Marja-lena for your suggestion, and, as ever, for you visit.

Overcast is the word to describe our weather recently. Under the sunless grey sky there is an aimless quality that you find in energetic children kicking their heels with nothing to occupy them. The trees wave their branches listlessly with a hint of petulence. The smothered sound of rock music emerges from a group of young people, waiting for something to happen.

Through a window, which I pass in the street, I see just a pair sandalled feet, and legs dressed in a pair of dark brown shorts.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

last doctor, soldiers, notebook,

In the Pantiles we bump into an old mate, ( last encounter 10 years ago). We get to fill in in the gaps. He says that he had to sign on with a doctor, not for medical, but for administrative reasons. He could answer none of the questions which confronted him. He had had no reason to see a doctor in the last 40 years or more. He was fit. No, he didn't know his national insurance number. And yes, he did smoke 4o cigarettes a day, and he saw no reason to stop.

Thin slices of buttered toast called soldiers, which you dipped into your boiled egg were called soldiers, when I was a child. I dare say they still are. I wouldn't have known how to translate them into French, until this morning when I came across the word mouillette, which I guess is the correct transaltion, without the military metaphore.

I have come to the end of my notebook, which forms the often indecipherable source of this blog. Looking back through its pages I see a number of examples of received opinions inspired by Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas. My favourite and, my own rather than Gustave's, is:
Old person: Anyone ten years older than you. Never speak to one unless you have to. Also: Foreign language: Spoken by foreigners when they don't want you to know what they are saying.
There are numerous drawings of, birds, dogs and the heads of people in pubs and restaurants. And folded into the pages are a number of winged seeds, bits of plants and yellow post-it notes, which I cannot read. Tomorrow, I new book begins.