Sunday, August 31, 2008
The warm rain today is laden with scents. It reminds me of something Richard Maybey wrote about the "oils and resins" released by plants in such weather.
Regular customers are greeted at the deli counter in Sainsbury's by a Spanish woman who, as she serves you, with her genuine warmth, makes it seem more like a corner store. "Have a lovely Sunday," she invariably says. And to another regular customer who has apparently not been well. "You are much better?" ...."Good. I will pray for you."
Saturday, August 30, 2008
A number of other churches were dedidicated to the new saint. The original chapel built in 1676 was enlarged to become the present church between 1688 -96.
Sunshine and the intense colours that come with it after days and days of grey skies seems almost miraculous.
There is something magical and deeply satisfying about the way yeast, mixed with flour and water to form a sponge as a preliminary to bread making, bubbles as it ferments like liquid lava inside a volcano.
Friday, August 29, 2008
The "use by date" on a pot of yogurt this morning has the effect of bringing forward our holiday, or appearing to do so. "Use by 19. 09. 08", it says. By then, all being well, we'll be on holiday.
As I pass the church of King Charles the Martyr, from behind a window fortified against marauders with a criss-cross wire frame, I hear the deep vibrations of organ music easing into the afternoon.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
This morning a statement from a credit card company informs me that I have an outstanding balance of £0.01, and that a minimum payment of £0.01 is due. This is all the more worrying because a note at the top of the account says: "If you want to make only the minimum payment each month it will take longer and cost you more to clear your balance".
A fritata made with Swiss chard. The moist cake-like omelet has a beautiful texture, the chopped red and white stalks standing out like a mosaic from the dark green leaves.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
From a top window of one of the tall Edwardian houses in Berkeley Road, the sound of someone practicing on the drums. On the grass on the opposite side of the road under the rowan trees, a small boy jumps up and down following the beat.
Today being the hundredth anniversary of his birth, I read in the paper about Sir Don Bradman, the great Australian batsman One of his sisters is said to have remarked: " I can't understand why they make so much fuss about Don. All he was good at was cricket."
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
The sound of a keyboard chattering to itself in an office of which the door is half open is a reassuring
sign of a presence within.
I look up from the garden to see the grey sky busy with swallows. They are flying quite high and one would imagine getting ready to forsake this cold summer for something warmer.
Monday, August 25, 2008
This morning I think to myself that conversation is something to be treasured. There isn't enough of it and there ought to be more of it. To define conversation is difficult without becoming sententious. But something which the Victorian poet William Johnson Cory said when speaking of education strikes me as relevant also to conversation. He referred to "the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts", to "the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms" and "the habit of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and for mental soberness."
While cutting courgettes (zuchini) I find myself deceived on two scores. First when I think I see one in the shade of the big leaves and find that I am in fact looking at a stem of one of the leaves; and second when I miss a courgette altogether because it looks so much like a stem.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
In the Pantiles there is some sort of festival. A woman sings backed by a guitar and helped by a bank of amplifiers. The further away you are, the better it sounds. Up here on Mount Sion, a few, broken, muted notes drifting on the wind have a pleasing melancholy quality well suited to a Sunday afternoon.
Not Autumn yet surely but, in the gusts of wind this morning, dead or half dead leaves fly busily past the window. Fewer are loose than in Autumn; their moisture content is higher than that of Autumn leaves; they are heavier, yellow rather than brown, and they zoom through the air with more apparent purpose.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The name of this flower, growing in a garden on the corner of Mount Sion and Little Mount Sion escaped me, though the last syllable sat in my mind, not much use unless you are looking at a rhyming plant encyclopedia (does one exist?). Then today leafing through a good, fat book, I got it: Rudbeckia or cone flower. Why Rudbeckia? It is named after Olof Rudbeck (1660 -1740) who was, it seems, the predecessor of the great Linnaeus at Upsala University. This variety looks as though it is R. nitida 'Herbstonne'. The more famous variety is R.birta (black-eyed susan). Thank you The Readers Digest Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and Flowers.
Another linguistic puzzle for those unfamiliar with the changing ways of the English language. On a stand at the farmers' market today devoted entirely to different varieties of potato, I note the label 'bakers'.
Numbers fascinate me largely because I find them difficult to understand. Today I read that Americans consume 14 billion hamburgers every year year. The number fourteen billion sticks in my mind for another reason. It is 0.3 billion years short of the age of the universe, which is believed to be (according to the last estimate I read) 13.7 billion years old. This strikes me as a useful way of remembering how many hamburgers Americans eat in a year.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Faced with yet another, grey, wet day, I take a loaf of bread, baked last night, out of the bin and make myself a tartine, to cheer myself up. At least that's what I think for a moment it might be. But after a while, I begin to have my doubts. Yes, it is a slice of bread and butter, which is a crude definition of tartine; but what bread, what butter? and in what terroir is it consumed? Suppose, I say to myself, a French person, who had never lived in England, were to announce that he had made himself some toast and marmalade, I am not sure that I would take him entirely seriously! Anymore than if he had boasted of making himself a cup of tea, or some toasted cheese, or Welsh rabbit (or rarebit)! I have never lived in France for more than a few days at a time, so I must defer to people who have (Lucy who does and Barrett Bonden, who did for example) for a true cultural definintion of a tartine.
The way people say good bye on the phone is always instructive. A man in shorts passes me in the Grove. He is talking into a mobile and almost sings his goodbye: "Good by ay ah!" he says, seeming to add under his breath, as he pops his phone into his pocket: "Got that out of the way, thank God!"
Thursday, August 21, 2008
As I chat on the telephone to my friend Anna at first about diary-writing, then about letter-writing, the conversation turns to the Rev Sydney Smith(1777-1845), whose exuberant wit, shines through his correspondence, as delightful to day as contemporaries found it. He was something of a gourmet and is still remembered in gastronomic circles for his recipe for salad dressing:
To make this condiment your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard boiled eggs
Two boiled potatoes, passed through a kitchen seive,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give.
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And half-suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault
To add a double quanitiy of salt;
Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town;
And lastly o'er the flavoured compound toss
A magic soupcon of of anchovy sauce.
Oh, green and glorious! Oh herbaceous treat!
Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
'Fate cannot harm, I have dined to day.'
Sometimes, one supposes, people hurry across the Grove, on their way to work or school. But this afternoon everyone ambles. Even dogs. Only the squirrels seem in hurry to run up into the safety of overhanging branches, not certain of the intentions of dogs or people.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
A small boy has a guitar case strapped on his back, like a satchel. It is almost the same size as him.
On the steps of the classical building, which is now a camping shop, is an erected tent called an Easy Camp Pop Up. Its flat base is inadequately anchored to the floor and as the wind enters it, it rocks and swings violently up and down as though someone is angry with it.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
People sometimes say "in inverted commas" when they want don't want to identify themselves with a word, which they use reluctantly and for which they can find no alternative. Nowadays, you sometimes see, especially on television, a gesture to convey the same separation of meaning, which consists of two fingers of each hand held up beside the speaker's head. Others make the distinction by tone of voice alone. This is something that Proust understands in the context of the forms of snobbery, which he desrcibes so accurately:
'"Oh, but Cambremer is quite a good name - old too," protested the General.
"I see no objection to it being old," the Princess answered dryly," but whatever else it is it's not euphonious," she went on, isolating the word euphonious as though between inverted commas, a little affectation to which the Guermantes set were addicted'.
The Dragon Eye Oolong tea, which we have had in the house for the last few weeks, ran out this morning. The stall, which supplies it in the Pantiles market, was not there last Saturday, and we were unable to replenish stocks. As Heidi and I, despite a shyness for some of the more exotic teas, both now admit to an addiction for its ginger, peach and apricot flavours, I thought I would ring the supplier to see if they would send some by post. No need for postage! This afternoon a carton of the tea arrives delivered by hand.
Monday, August 18, 2008
In a neighbouring garden, an old apple tree is shrouded in clematis montana rubens. The clematis is no longer in flower, (in May the pink flowers among the apple blossom give new life to the tree), but now its rampant leaves and stems, form a conical umbrella over the tree, remarkably symetrical in shape. Today, on top of the umbrella, a magpie busies itself.
In the Grove, this afternoon, I stop and listen to the wind in the trees. I ask myself, as I have done before, whether the sounds which the wind makes vary from tree to tree? A beech, I decide, has a fussy, slightly frantic sound, a silver birch rustles like lace, while a neigbouring oak is slower and more settled in its noisy whisper. But it is hard to tell how the gusts of wind dispose themselves in the air over the eminence on which the Grove is planted.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Soup is one of the many ways of making use of the courgettes (zucchini) which, despite the lack of sunshine, are in plentiful supply in the vegetable garden just now. And this is the tool, acquired relatively recently, which has halved for us the work of producing a thick soup based on a purée. No more do you have to transfer the vegetables, softened in stock in a saucepan, into a special receptacle where a liquidiser blade reduces them to a soup base. You simply plunge the hand held liquidiser (Braun 600 watt Turbo is its name) directly into the saucepan and in less than a minute the work is done. Add cream and adjust seasoning and in the case of the courgettes, you have a delightful, pale green "crème" , all in the original saucepan. There are apparently other hand held liquidisers and I can't say how much we appreciate the utility of ours, and regret not having bought one earlier.
The scarlet fruit of the mountain ash or rowan is now in full colour. An ornamental tree in the south of England, in mountainous or hilly, northern regions it grows wild. Whenever I see the tame local trees which grown round the corner from us, I think of the poem by Mary Webb which concludes:
Come away to the mountain tree!
Cinnabar-red with fruit is she.
We'll watch the stars, like silver bees,
Fly to their hive beyond the seas.
What a pleasure it is to see musicians (often when performing chamber music or jazz) communicating with one another with their eyes and with gentle smiles of approval or encouragement, as they play together. Sometimes, as on tv last night during a televised promenade concert, you can see the conductor relate as much by his expression as by gesture to the brass or woodwind, when he is ready for it to come in.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
I am reminded of a recent discussion here about diaries and manuscripts destroyed, when I read in this morning's Financial Times a review of a biography of Madame de Maintenon entitled the Secret Wife of Louis XIV. Apparently she burnt her 60,000 letters including those from the King, because , she wrote: "We should leave as little of ourselves behind as we can."
Pockets are important to me. I like to have my hands free for taking photographs or notes. Hence my fondness for fishing jackets. One, which I possess has a broad pocket horizontally arranged above the lower part of the back. Today, it makes a suitable respectacle for a newpaper, and I proceed home across the Grove, ready for the unexpected.
Friday, August 15, 2008
As I approach the Grove, I hear the solemn and deliberate sound of brushing, as two gardeners sweep the paths of the bracts of still green leaves, which have been blown to the ground by recent high winds.
A squirrel with a nut in its mouth has the self-satisfied expression of a man clenching a cigar between his lips.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Outside a cutlers' shop, which is closing down an elderly lady, with a walking stick emits a deep, ambiguous sigh as she contemplates a display of cut price salad bowls.
In the Grove are four crows waddling, all in the same direction, over the grass which is wet from recent rain and yielding up its succulent inhabitants. The crows look smaller than the pair that occupied the Grove last winter and I suspect that they must be its progeny. Or is it mum and dad and two juniors?
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
A stocky woman walks in front of me at an immense pace, one arm supporting a large shoulder bag, the other swinging in front of her and to the side, as though she is performing an unusual military manoeuvre. Her gait, in no other way military, is further dramatised by its wandering aim, as she tacks continuously across the pavement from left to right. Walking behind her, I find it hard to steer straight myself.
Today, I pass in the Grove a red faced, grey-suited man with a white moustache. He has a pipe, which protrudes at an angle from one side of his mouth. He walks briskly, and the pipe, which never moves, seems to be a vent for some hidden source of motive power.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
This morning before the wind gets up, I wake to the sound of rain falling steadily outside the window, like a large crowd of people talking quietly among themselves.
In the Grove I meet Olive, who is always busy. She looks after people's animals and plants when they are away. She has a special fondness for cats. She used to make detailed life size cut-outs of them from plywood, painted in life-like colours. There was at least one looking our of every window in her house. As we part, she says "lunch calls", certain evidence of an ordered life.
Monday, August 11, 2008
My mistrust of the weather forecast is confirmed today, August 11, at 12 noon, when I read the forecast on the BBC homepage, which promises that we can expect sunny intervals on Sunday, ie yesterday.
More thoughts on diaries prompted by comments gratefully received. Four hundred years ago, on August 11 1688, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary, in anticipation, one might suppose, of Barrett Bonden's blog Works Well"...and thence at the office all afternoon till night, being mightily pleased with a little trial I have made of the use of a Tube-spectacall of paper, tried with my right eye." Pepys wrote his diary in an easily decipherable code (using, in some accounts of his bawdy encounters with chamber maids and the like, a mixture of French and Spanish words, which seemed to him more appropriate to describe his goings on), and left the manuscript in the care of Magdalene College, Cambridge, almost certainly with posterity in mind. Diaries written by politicians during their term of office, and usually regarded by their authors as a form of pension, are clearly written for others to read. But there remains an idea, quite contrary to the theory and practice of blogging, that diaries should, for a time at least, be secret, a constraint which, is reinforced, for a time, by the laws of libel. It seems to me, meanwhile, that one aspect both of blogs and diaries is the therapeutic benefit and the creative satisfaction which it brings to those who produce them.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Brevity is not a word which you normally apply to Proust, yet in the last few days, as I proceed with my slow and enjoyable reading of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, I have found myself referring back to Proust's introduction of one of the most memorable of his characters, Madame Vedurin, whose little "nucleus" of regular guests, she clucks over and favouritises, and inculcates with her bourgeois, social and aesthetic prejudices. You find it hard to love her or her histrionics, which it is easy to laugh at, yet you wonder at the fineness with which Proust depicts her. What exactly is her background? Proust gives it in a sentence, or to be fair in part of a sentence, and, as it happens, entirely in brackets "... for all that madame Verdurin herself was a thoroughly virtuous woman who came of a respectable middle class family, excessively rich and wholly undistinguished, with which she had gradually and of her own accord severed all connections..."
A friend of mine, who has not and is unlikely ever to have a computer, kept a diary for almost a year, before, unaccountably giving it up. When recently she re-read it, she was quite pleased with it, (usually people, myself included, have the opposite reaction, and push their reread diaries away in embarrassment), and, taking me by surprise, asked me if I would like to read it. I have sent it back to her with the urgent request that she take up diary-writing again. What are its qualities? Clarity, directness, honesty, wit. And its weaknesses? Complaint, obsessiveness, self-absorption. Note that the weaknesses are what you would expect of an honest diary writer. It seems to me that diary-writing may be a chore, but it has the merit of providing a focus for one's thoughts and even actions, even if one leads what appears to be a sheltered life. I ask myself if this blog and the other blogs which I read, are not, after all, diaries of a sort? And whether the chief encouragement to continue with them is not the feeling that their readers, usually sympathetic, are responding, most of the time to your musings and observations. That, I suppose, may set blogs apart from more traditional diary forms, but the thought does put blogging and diary-writing in a new perspective.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Recourse to an old fashioned hot water bottle when you have pulled a muscle in your back proves a very present help in time of trouble.
In the High Street a new shop called the Children's Salon is on the point of opening. Suspended just below the ceiling and circling the shop is a narrow shelf wide enough for a track. And on the track, is a good sized toy train. Children and grand children are now probably to big to provide an excuse for me to enter. But when it opens I think I will anyway. Toy trains were unavailable in the war years ,when I was of an age to enjoy them
Friday, August 08, 2008
I watch a man with a power hose clean a yard. What ever he is getting rid of seems to have spread on to his shoes and the bottom of his trousers, because he directs the hose on to these, performing a little dance in the process.
In the vegetable garden, after the rain and in the continuing humidity, everything is growing and bursting out of its bounds. There is a sense of fecundity and excess.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Last night, as the air grew sponge-like in its humidity, there was a majestic thunder storm.Lightening was almost continuous and the thunder irrupted overhead with ear-splitting claps. You might have used the phrase "shock and awe" if hadn't belonged in a less natural context.
A thin strip of green roofing felt is all that remains for the roofers who have been working on the house round the corner for the last four weeks, to cover with tiles.