Sunday, May 31, 2009
I do not like flies. The only reason for including this one, is that it is on the outside of the frosted glass window, where it has settled, and I am on the inside.
Through the open bedroom window, I hear very early in the morning the honking of geese flying overhead, and later, just outside, the harsh call of a crow. Both these sounds of the wild restore a sense of perspective in the slow, comfortable time of waking up.
Two quotations made by Clive James in his regular Sunday morning talk on BBC Radio 4 strike me, this morning, as worth recording. Both define democracy which seems to need defending in the present political climate. The first is from Karl Popper: "It's democracy if the government can be changed at the people's whim." The second from Albert Camus: "Democracy is the form of society devised and maintained by people who know that they don't know everything."
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Tunbridge Wells West railway station was opened in 1866 and closed to passengers in 1985. For the last few years the station building served as a restaurant. During the process of its restoration under new ownership, the hands of the clock have disappeared. The tower helped earn the station the title of the St Pancras of the Weald in its early days. Since the closure there is no direct access by rail to Brighton and Eastbourne on the Sussex coast, though it is still possible to travel to the coast by rail on the main line from Charing Cross to Hastings. Film buffs who recall the sinister hand-less clock in Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece Wild Strawberries, may wonder whether the hands of the station clock will soon be restored.
A young man delivers free magazines door to door in Berkeley Road. The magazines are tidily stacked in a push chair. In the push chair, as though a chance incumbent, is a sleeping baby.
A squirrel, which has strayed our of the Grove, hesitates at the foot of a telegraph pole in a residential street. It looks up, decides against the venture, and scurries off to find something closer to a tree to run up. Disappointed, meanwhile, I put my camera away. You can forget a squirrel half way up a tree but one half way up a telegraph pole ...A nice thought!
Friday, May 29, 2009
Today's geranium. This is the true geranium, not to be confused with the widely cultivated pelargonium displayed in pots and window boxes.
It is called cranesbill in the wild because the shape of the seed head resembles the beak of a crane.
There are numerous wild varieties, all members of the geranium family, which includes the delicate Herb Robert, found in woody places at this time of year. This is one of many garden varieties of geranium. It is useful in partially shaded places, where it flowers prolifically as it does in our little patch of garden.
When I was writing regularly about wine, I did my best to encourage people to drink more rosé, and not to think of it as a pussy-footing wine, uncertain of its identity, half way between red and white. Today, in the sun, on the terrace behind the Black Pig, we thought to ourselves, a glass of the pink stuff in front of us, how right I had been. Light enough for lunchtime, pigmented enough to provide some substance to accompany a salad.
Jean Rhys' best know book, The Wide Sargasso Sea, is a sort of prequel to Jane Eyre. It is the story of how Rochester's mad wife in the attic comes to be in the fix, with which Charlotte Bronte confronts her heroine and the reader. In a review of a new biography of Jean Rhys, I read this quotation from her letters. She writes of how, when reading she looks for something that "...knocks on the heart, which means That is the truth, that it is final. That comes from an au delà." I know what she means.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Bees and cystus.
In the compost heap, I find a composted tennis ball, its woolly wrapping reduced to a rag, its central rubber sphere intact - smooth, black rubber. Another tennis ball emerges, this time in reasonably good condition. With some of the compost brushed off it's good enough for serving.
What are weeds, someone said, but plants growing where you don't want them. Today, I find a lettuce in a row of beetroot, and one of those oriental mustard, among the broad beans. The mustard, a broad leaved plant, with a purple tinge to its leaves, has an appetizing, spicy taste. Both the lettuce and mustard are wanted and will remain with their new neighbours until required for the table.
Meanwhile the section of the Grove, where the grass, now naturally seeded with wild flowers has been allowed to grow, is beginning to look free and shaggy as intended. Among the tall grass, sport buttercups. The most ordinary of flowers, they are often thought of as weeds when they appear on lawns and in vegetable beds, but here, they are allowed to show off and reach up from the end of their stalks to be looked at. The French call them boutons d'or, gold buttons.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Today's blackbird. Judging by its small size and demeanour, it is recently fledged.
In the Grove, I often pass, as I do today, an elderly woman wearing a crash helmet and walking her dog. It is the sort of helmet that cyclists wear, and I ask myself whether she cycles to the Grove with her little dog in a basket on the handlebars. More probably, as I have never seen her or her dog on a bike, she wears the helmet as a fashion item. Or maybe it makes her feel safe from the perils and dangers of modern life.
Racing up the High Street, its siren wailing and its tyres hissing on the wet road comes a police car, flashing its warning light. Other traffic gives way clumsily. Behind it comes a police van, like the car, white with blue and yellow insignia, and blasting its siren. It brings a thread of excitement to a dull afternoon. People look at one another, their eyes lively with anticipation. For a moment, it's like the movies.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Dove on dish.
The humid air begins to condense and a few big drops of rain splash on to the path in front of the house.
As I switch on the radio I hear the comforting voice of Alan Bennett reading from the House at Pooh Corner. No one could read it better. Unfortunately I am only in time to hear the ending... "With a nod of his head to his friend he went on with his walk through the forest."
Monday, May 25, 2009
As I watch the BBC TV documentary about the origins of Homo Sapiens, one point in particular strikes me as reassuring. The presenter, Dr Alice Roberts, is focusing on the arrival, around 40,000 years ago, of the first Homo Sapiens in a Europe already occupied by Neanderthals. "The Neanderthals, were intelligent, technologically up to scratch, like Homo Sapiens (ie made stone tools). What is more they were aclimatised to the cooler northern climate. Yet the Neanderthals became extinct, while Homo Sapiens, which had emerged more recently from the warmer African climate, survived". Why was this? "The capacity to create works of art such as carvings, cave paintings and figurines, developed", she says, "in human not in Neanderthal culture. And this gave us the edge, defined us, set us apart and helped us define territory and identity."
Art sometimes get a bad press nowadays. It is seen as a spare time activity, an indulgence and, when professional, sometimes eccentric and hard to understand. So it is good to think that in the early development of the human race, art played so important a part in our survival. During the Ice Age, which nearly killed off early Europeans, the artists who occupied the caves of southern France and the Iberian Peninsula, produced such astonishing paintings, were fulfilling an important social function. Something, which artists today, no one should doubt it, still fulfill in an age, no less scary than the Ice Age.
In the High Street, despite thumping amplifiers in Chapel Place, celebrating the bank holiday with deafening rock music, I hear the wild, shrieking of swifts, overhead.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Still life at the Farmers' Market.
A long, black, sausage-shaped balloon, about 30 ft long, bobs and writhes in the wind. It must be filled with some kind of gas. A man hangs on to one end, which children sport around it.
Another relic from King Charles' School: "Page 347 of the King Charles' School Log Book (school records) for the period between 18 75 and 1897 shows the following:
Birched C Hambley for truant playing. This step was taken by the desire of his mother but I have little hope of any good resulting as the mother at home connives at his absence and unless the parents use their power for the benefit of the boy a good birching is not likely to make the school attractive to him. We find that boys who attend regularly like school, but as soon as they are allowed, as in this case, to ride about in a butchers' cart two or three days a week school become more distasteful than birching.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
The grey wolf in the wall.
Opposite the church of King Charles the Martyr is the former King Charles' School building. It is a large room which was, for a while, a Chinese Restaurant. The Chinese owner, an Elvis impersonator, gave regular performances for customers. Last year he sold the premises, which have now been nicely restored as a conference room. It is often open during the day at weekends as a coffee shop. Round the walls are memorabilia of the school, which ceased to be an educational establishment in the 80s. A number of former pupils are still living in the town. Here, as a taste of the standards of a different age, are the contents of a framed inscription on the wall of the conference room:
Pupils at King Charles' School were required to observe the following rules:
Profane no divine ordinance
Touch no state matters
Urge no health
Pick no quarrels
Maintain no opinions
Encourage no vice
Repeat no agrievances
Reveal no secrets
Make no comparisons
Keep no bad company
Make no long meals
Spare not. Spoil not. Waste no. Want not.
I have been asking myself, how far back these rules go, and which if any of them would, or should be applicable today.
On a bench in the High Street two young men sit on a bench. One has a guitar, the other a large saw. While the guitarist strums, his companion extracts from the saw a haunting, wailing sound, which, thanks to the absence of an amplifier, doesn't carry far.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Self-portrait with shattered window.
Although I have mentioned the other neighbourhood pub, the best pub in Tunbridge Wells is also round the corner from where we live. This is not just my opinion, but it is the view of more practiced connoisseurs than I. It is called the Grove Tavern, and, apart from the quality of its beer and the welcome which its mustachioed manager bestows on regulars and newcomers alike, its landlord Steve Baxter is a computer expert, and a white knight. This morning my machine refused to connect me to the Internet. In desperation I rang Steve on his mobile, and by 11. 30 he was on our doorstep. By mid-day the problem was solved. When I thanked him and tried to discuss remuneration, he declined saying "mention us on your blog." I had no idea that he knew that I had a blog. (Google has much to answer for). Thanks again Steve.
Such a to do this morning! A magpie attempts kidnap and murder in a nearby starlings nest. It is immediately set upon by a wave of at least a dozen shouting, angry birds. Judging by the din, the defence, on this ocassion, has taught the marauder a lesson. It is not a fuss about nothing. Last year Heidi saw a magpie devouring a nestling on top of our bay tree.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
For the Crow, who commented on yesterday's dandelion clock, here is the bald head of the flower after most of the seeds have flown.
Although I am always on the look out for things of interest and beauty, I sometimes miss curiosities, just in front of my eyes. "Did you the pair of knickers on that car door handle? " asks Heidi. In fact I haven't seen them. "I thought you always notice everything! " says Heidi. Is that a tone of irony in her voice? I tell myself that in noticing some things you don't notice others.
entrance to Grosvenor Precinct, I hear, the sound of a saxophone playing something slushy, brought to me by the wind. I think to myself that it sounds better where I am, than closer to the performer, who I can just see in the distance, and who is, almost certainly, helped by a superfluous amplifier. Sounds like that, when overhead, have melancholy associations, like the the zither in the streets of post-war Vienna in The Third Man. They are lost when you get too close.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Today's dandelion clock. It must be a sign of no longer being a child that I don't want to blow the seed off the stalk while counting the hours.
In the street I pass an old lady wearing an elegant white jacket and white trousers. She is one of those woman who retain their good looks even when frail and unsteady on their feet. She is supported on one side by a walking stick, and on the other, by the arm of a younger woman, who because of a similarity in their features, I suppose to be her daughter. "You can hear the birds, " says the younger woman, "It's lovely isn't it." "Yes", says the old lady, "I hear them in the morning when I wake up".
I walk towards the corner of Frant Road, where between the traffic lights and the zebra crossing, railings have been erected to stop impetuous pedestrians from running into danger. As I approach, one of those strange fantasies that assail me from time, makes me want to run towards the railings, vault them and cross the road dodging the traffic and even vaulting over the bonnets of cars. It looks so easy in the movies.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Rhododendron bud with visitor.
Three years and few days ago I came across Clare Grant's blog Three Beautiful Things, which inspired my own, blog now nearing its third anniversary, and a number of other blogs all over the world, which have adopted the same formula.
Yesterday, Clare presided at a party in a pub in Tunbridge Wells to celebrate four years of Three Beautiful Things. Part of the pleasure of being at the party was to spot some of the characters, who feature in her daily notes, and to learn that a book, drawing on them, is to appear in the Autumn. As I have said here before, I still remember my surprise, when, having begun to visit Three Beautiful Things, and having encountered it entirely by chance, I realized that Clare lived, not as I had first supposed in San Francisco or New York or Sydney, but in Tunbridge Wells, where she turned out to be a virtually a neighbour.
How social behaviour has changed strikes me this morning when I finish reading an Inspector Maigret detective story by Georges Simenon. The novel interests me in particular because part of it is set in the Savoy Hotel in London, where my journalistic work often used to take me. It is clear that the author, in describing the French policeman's pursuit of wrong-doers, knew the Savoy well, its location, its atmosphere, its decor and its internal plan. Simenon wrote the book in 1952, which does not seem a long time ago to me, though it may to others. What especially interests me is the attitude to smoking, in the bedrooms, the bars and the dining rooms - including the Savoy Grill. It is in the Grill that the Maitre d' whispers in Maigret's ear to ask him not to smoke his pipe, but profers him a cigar instead, where all round people appear to enjoying post-prandial cigarettes. It is true. I remember people smoking all the time and everywhere in those days. Non-smokers were the exception. It's hard to believe nowadays, when the smell of public places has changed, for the better probably, for want of tobacco, but changed nevetheless.
Monday, May 18, 2009
The way we live now. It occurs to me today to put a wastepaper basket under the front door letter box to catch the flyers that come through with every post. Most of them at the moment are political and those that aren't are for fast food or restaurants. Today rather than put them straight into the paper recycling bin I collect them so as to see how they reflect the way we live now. From the Green Party comes a smiling photograph of Caroline Lucas, our member of the European Parliament, and leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. This is one leaflet, which I won't throw away because, although I can't share many of party's views, it seems to me to be better written. The UK Independence Party has a photograph of Winston Churchill, to which is linked the slogan: "Say no to European Union". The British National Party has a photograph of a spitfire and says "British Jobs for British Workers. The Liberal Democrats leaflet says "Britain and our neighbours - Stronger Together Poorer apart". The Royal Express offers:" Kebab - Chicken - Burgers". The National Health Service leaflet concers swine flu. It has a photograph of a man sneezing into his hand with the slogan "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it", recalling the Second World War advertisement "Coughs and sneezes spread diseases. Trap the germs in your handkerchief". So far nothing from the Conservatives or Labour.
Alone in the house in the basement kitchen this wet afternoon, I note that a light comes on in the adjoining dining room. Who could that be? It is the sun coming unexpectedly through the window.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Ivy leaved toad flax grows out of walls around here. It is a small trailing plant of unimposing but attractive appearance. I like this description of it from the often austere British Wild Flowers by John Hutchinson:
"This pretty little plant flowers from the late spring until the autumn. Growing on old dry walls and rocks it is remarkably resistant to drought. The flowers are adapted to the visits of bees who are able to press down the lower lip and gain access to the nectar which is secreted around the fleshy base of the ovary and stored in the spur at the bottom of the corolla. After fertilization takes place the flower stalks curve towards the dark crevices in the wall where the seeds are deposited when the fruit ripens and bursts.
There are at least two people in Tunbridge Wells who walk about the street singing or talking to no one in particular. One is called Naughty Boy because of the tuneless song he chants consisting of a repetition of the words "I'm a naughty boy". The other is more of a talker. He walks about briskly addressing any one he passes, who attracts his interest. Excellent shoes," he says pointing the the Kath Kidston shoes of a little girl who is hold the hand of her father, "Excellent shoes", and walks quickly on. The little girl smiles proudly. Her father looks sheepish.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Names of previous owners on the inside of second hand books often add
a dimension to the pleasure of possessing the book experienced by the present owner. I am taking a break from Proust at the moment to read one of the Simenon paperbacks which I find from time to time in the Oxfam bookshop in Chapel Place. This one is inscribed Denis Keefe. France '74. There is a lot to be inferred from these words, and they somehow add to the melancholy pleasure of reading the pages of taut, unpretentious narrative, printed on paper, once white and now faded to a fog-like pale ochre.
A new word in the leader of this week's The Week magazine is nocebo. This is the opposite to placebo. It is used to describe the effect of health warnings. Just as placebos can make people better by boosting their natural self-healing abilities, nocebos raise negative expectations in the mind that can become self-fulfilling. I am someone, who cannnot see a health warning without believing that I have the symptoms described. I can spot a nocebo from a mile away and will run another mile when I meet one.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Today's starling. When you look at it closely, it turns out to be a prettier bird than you expect.
The atomic ingredients of life consist of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. So I read and imperfectly understand, but it is pleasing to find such a great subject wrapped up in so a simple statement.
In the street, I meet a woman who helps out in Hall's bookshop. She greets me and introduces her son, at a guess about 9 years old. To my surprise he proffers his hand to shake. I am as surprised as I am pleased by this traditional courtesy in one so young.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I looked for the blackbird in the blackbird's eye. The blackbird looked in mine, and saw itself.
I tell the man in the the Grove with the Jack Russell how much I enjoy watching the dog race after the ball which he throws for it. He hurls the ball as far as he can and even before it has left his hand, the dog is after it, anticipating its trajectory. It usually catches it on the bounce. When it returns it puts the ball down and dribbles it like a footballer avoiding a tackle, before stepping back to await the next throw. "It's good for my arm," says the dog's owner.
Today the rain is like a fine spray. It is warm, good growing weather.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
When you step from the shade, where you feel the east wind that has been blowing for the last few days, into the sun, you remember that Summer is upon us, despite the wind.
This morning, I say to myself, as I water the seedlings in the garden where the wind has dried the soil as much as the sun, "if I water them now, it will rain before long". And that proves to be so because, as I write this, drops are falling outside the window.
Monday, May 11, 2009
This drifted past our house the other day not far above the roof tops. An unexpected intruder in the evening sky. A symbol of escape, perhaps.
This season's lettuces, sown a few weeks ago, are coming along nicely. But there was one surprise when we were preparing the vegetable beds - a lettuce from last year that had seeded itself. Today I cut it, an unexpected gift, with a plump, crisp heart.
Two herbs which we can't do without are parsley and basil. Because parsley is slow to germinate and basil on the tender side, I sow both in the greenhouse. Although the seeds are featureless, I fancy I smell the basil and taste the flat leafed-parsley, which we nowadays prefer to the curly kind.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
As long as I have had a vegetable garden I have always grown Welsh onions. They form bunches at the root, and you simply harvest the shoots from the base. A shoot, apart from providing something like a large spring onion, will grow into a new bunch of onions, if set in the earth. They constantly renew themselves at the root. If you left them , they would form globular, blue flowers. To encourage them to form thicker bunches, I remove the buds, as I did here after taking the photograph.
I hear the panting breath of a saw and smell the dust fresh from its teeth.
First there are their distinctive shrill cries. Then I see them above the rooftops: the summer's first swifts.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
There is a pleasure in finding something which you have lost, particularly when you happen upon it by chance. I put my hand into an oblong box of tissues, and there is the Parker roller ball pen, with its cool aluminium barrel, which I lost the other day and had momentarily forgotten about. I feel it on top of the tissues and recognise it before I bring it to light.
For the second time, I meet a friend from cyber space, whom I have not met before in person. I have long read Marja-Leena's blog and enjoyed, on the screen, her prints and photographs, which are so concerned with textures of rock and stone, cave paintings and inscriptions carved by nature. To meet her and her husband, Fred, during their visit to England, seems to make distance disappear, or at least lose importance - a wonder when you think of the distance between Vancouver and Tunbridge Wells.