Saturday, February 28, 2009

remnants, spinner, infantry

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What is left of a poster which has been stripped off a wall looks better than the original.

In the Farmer's Market, a woman, beside her wool stall, spins unwashed wool, rich in lanolin. She works the pedals of the wheel with her feet and draws out the spun wool with her hands, which are clothed in mittens against the morning cold. You see a lot of spinning wheels in antique shops and the like round here, but rarely see them in use.

The street cleaning vehicle growls along the road, its brushes whirring in the gutters. It is  like a tank. In front of it, advances the infantry, a uniformed woman wielding a large broom.

Friday, February 27, 2009

evening, old words, triumphs

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Evening over Mount Sion.

Martha's almost lost words, I can now confirm, are still to be found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which hangs on to every new word that is established by written usage and never relinquishes an old one. I'm moved to write: Our nidifice echoes with my crocitations following the aretalogy of Martha's research. Translated: our nest echoes with my caws following wondrous tale of Martha's research. Incidentally the verb nidify, meaning to make a nest, is still to be found in modern dictionaries.

It strikes me this morning that the pleasure of reading a foreign language comes from the satisfaction of repeatedly overcoming an initial failure to understand a phrase or a sentence with a sudden dawning of comprehension Trumpets sound for a moment, much as they do when the numbers begin to fall in to place as you get to near to solving a sudoku.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

leaf, unchanging, flowering

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A leaf out of Barrett Bonden's book is this classic Le Creuset cast iron casserole, exhibited here for its resilient  technology and functional beauty.  Two leaves in fact. When I use it yesterday in the preparation of some end of season partridges, I think  to myself: I've always had this casserole, or so it seems. And then I remember that it is a wedding present from friends, who must pass here as Mr and Mrs Barrett Bonden, no less.  It is a long time ago, and my memory may be playing up,  but I'm 99 per cent  sure that this is the case. If I am wrong, doubtless BB will put me right.

In the window of a charity shop is  a book of photographs of World War II.  Faces of Londoners in a London Street are the same faces that you might see today, only their clothes and hair styles are different. Spotting similarities  with the present day down the ages is often a moving experience, making you think of the persistence of the human race and the odd strains of consistency which it manages to show.

It must be  a year since I was last commenting on daffodil buds  and their imminent flowering. Today,  in some sheltered gardens, there are already daffodils in flower.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

crocitation, relief, headlong

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Martha, who visits this site and who goes by the name, Crow, on hers, hasI think invented a word, which deserves to end up in the Oxford English Dictionary. See her comment on my 22 February post. Her word is "crocitation". She says that she has"adopted" it which half implies that it already exists. But having looked it up in two dictionaries, I now suspect that it must be of her own making. She says that she is going to use it as much as possible, and as, a fellow crow watcher, I can promise my support,. According to a TV programme I saw recently a word can be included in the OED, once evidence of its printed usage is established. I don't know if blogs count as printed usage, but it should not take long for it to spread from the screen to the page.
On the question of my crows engaging in Springtime bonding, I confess that I have not witnessed such behaviour. Though the wood pigeons in these parts seem to do little else in the Spring. When the leaves appeared on the trees last summer the crows were much less in evidence, and later in the year were joined by two or three other crows. I assumed these to be offspring, the result of bonding no doubt, but bonding carried out, as befits old fashioned English crows, in private.
Meanwhile though I like the idea of crocitation, I am not sure of its precise meaning. Could we have one please, Martha.

I reach for my wallet and find that it is not, where I think it should be, in my pocket. On coming home, when to my relief I discover that it is on my desk, I count this as a beautiful thing, and can proceed with writing this blog, without first contacting insurance companies, banks and the like.

Even more remarkable than the speed with which squirrels run up the trunks of trees, is the speed and assurance of their headlong descent.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

comfortable, RSB, morality

Posted by Picasa There is usually a wood pigeon or two in the lime tree on the corner opposite our house. It is a comfortable place to sit if you are a wood pigeon, with an interesting enough view.

Sometimes a resource turns up, which you didn't know existed but which you realize must now be hard to live without. Witness the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website. It would have saved me a blush or two if I had thought of checking it earlier. Click "blue tit" or "great tit" for example, and not only will you have a picture, notes on its habitat and behaviour, but a sample of its song.

At the traffic lights, the road is clear in both directions, but the light is red. Everyone crosses except a small boy and his mother, who is setting a good example. Sometimes, I think to myself, this is the way that morals work..

Monday, February 23, 2009

great tit, parody, hollandaise

Posted by Picasa Great tit just in focus.

What is best about parodies is the respect that have for what is parodied. They aren't always easy to write, but sometimes they come together tidily with the idea that prompts them. I don't know whether the one I found myself writing the other is any good, but it came into my head and had to work itself out. I suppose that Gerard Manley Hopkins' Glory be to God for Dappled Things is much parodied, but made me look at the poem again to see how much of it I had remembered. I wonder whether Dave Bonta's meme-like essay, in which, reflecting some irritation with the mode, he lists 25 gloriously surreal, random things about himself, could be described as a parody. It certainly mocks gently certainly made me and, apparently, a lot of other people laugh out loud. You'll find it, a few posts back, on

A large disgruntled looking brill from the fish stall at the Pantiles farmers' market demands a Hollandaise, and gets one. Hollandaise is one of those things, like bread and mayonnaise, which it resembles, that are notable because they translate original ingredients into something quite beautiful and completely different.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

lunch, territory, speed

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In the Pantiles.

Although I would not describe myself as a birdwatcher - a description which suggests more knowledge and commitment than I have - I do listen to birds and attempt to identify them by their song and appearance. In the Grove, recently I have learnt to recognise certain territories where different species regularly appear. In one tall silver birch there is invariably a great tit, which I was able to identify the other day high up in the branches through the lens of the camera when I zoomed on to it, though I could not have seen the detail (a yellow breast with a bar down the middle) with the naked eye, for it is a very small bird. In the opposite corner of the Grove, a song thrush is invariably in the branches of one of two oaks, singing now, as it is supposed to, in mid-February, a the top of its voice. A few trees away, the ring doves reside. Of one I posted a snapshot, yesterday. I find that the closer you look into the branches of the trees here, and the harder you listen the more there is to see and hear. But clearly for me, it will be necessary to put a name to the many I do not yet recognise.

Although I enjoy taking photographs, I do not and never will claim to be a photographer. Digital cameras make life very easy and their ability to simplify complex procedures for the amateur are remarkable. Even then it has taken me a long time to fathom what the Olympia which I acquired last summer can do with a little prompting. Objects in motion have, until now been a problem, because I have not know how to coordinate speed and aperture appropriately. Now I have discovered that by turning a dial and clicking, the camera will make the calculations and operate the machinery more or less correctly, I can photograph running dogs, flying birds and the like, and I have been experimenting ever since. Nothing very much to be proud of, as I can scarcely lay claim to the art of capture, but there is a pleasure in the achievement.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

ring dove, season, contrast

Posted by Picasa Caught in the light of the afternoon sun the feathers of this ring dove look white rather than the usual  grey .

As Spring makes  its promises this afternoon I feel the warmth of the sun and note that shadows are becoming shorter.

In the Pantiles among the crowds at the Farmers' Market, a small elderly man in a broad-brimmed leather hat, holds hands with a tall, elderly woman.

Friday, February 20, 2009

new bear, probably, carton

Posted by PicasaAnother bear has turned up here. The last one, burgundy in colour, using the French pronunciation, was called Hubert. This one answers to Camembert.

An advertisement on London buses has attracted attention by proclaiming "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy yourself". This worries me, not for the reason that it may worry believers; it worries me because it begs so many questions. "You might equally say: "There is probably no God. So start worrying." Who ever heard of the word "probably" in an advertisement, anyway? Early this morning, as all this comes to mind, I amuse myself devising subversive advertisements.

In the High Street I pass a woman holding in her hands a square carton. It looks new and is yellow and has something printed on it in a handsome type face, which I cannot read. I suppose what is odd is that something like that would normally be in a bag, one of those smart stiff bags with a thick string, and a logo on the side. Curiosity is my favorite vice and one which I seldom apologise for. As we proceed in opposite directions I know that the contents of the box will always be a mystery. Perhaps that makes it more intriguing. What did the woman look like? What was she wearing? I haven't a clue.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

parrot, notebook, catkins

Posted by Picasa Inside a parrot tulip, the sun is stirring.

A new note book today. Eight identical black pocket books are stacked beside the printer. I am not sure that I am proud of their content. To begin with I omitted dates altogether, so that they do not help me, as a diary might, piece together the passing days. Now at least I know that the last book begins on June 6, 2008. I see on the first page that I was reminding myself that the Spanish word for swift is venceja, which means that I must have been watching those agile birds slicing the air above the old town of Sitges, and listening to their sharp, wild cries.
When the series started, the books were almost entirely devoted to drawings, now relatively few are scattered through the pages. The words are hard to read and are marred by hasty composition. Still the books are a precious record for me of thoughts and observations, which have often filtered through to this blog.

From the train I see hazel catkins. Who was it who compared these parallel spikes of minute flower clusters to "green rain"? I think to myself that it might be Mary Webb, the now forgotten Shropshire, poet and novelist. I have a slender volume of her poems, but cannot find the line.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

drey, meeting, job

Posted by Picasa A drey, or squirrel's nest. At least that is what I suppose it to be. For I have never seen a squirrel enter or leave it.

I have an appointment with a friend and collaborator of several years standing. We have never met or even spoken before. Emails and blogs have sufficed as a basis for exchange of thought and sentiment. During four hours of talk, the person I am talking to stalks the person I partly knew; facts bow and dance. Threads are taken up and left fluttering in the wind; byways are entered and abandoned. "We'll be in touch." We, both of us disappear in opposite directions, into London's hustling present and nagging past. It is a beautiful thing to see you Lucy, surrounded and informed by different and unexpected dimensions.

From the train, I catch sight, in an office block window, of a woman alone at a table in a meeting room. I think to myself that she is waiting to be interviewed for a job. Through the window, behind which she sits, across the train line, over the graffiti, and through the train window, I sense with mixed feelings of dread and nostalgia, the world of business and competition.

Monday, February 16, 2009

shadow, cauliflower, celebration

Posted by PicasaOn the trunk is a shadow of a branch.

"I want a cauliflower, " says a woman to her husband at the supermarket, "I just feel like one."

Above the High Street, caught in the wire, which straddles the road, where the Christmas lights are hung in season, is a bouquet of balloons, yellow, mauve and white, which have broken loose. The wind blows the bunch along the wire until it reaches the centre. There it bobs and writhes, a celebration with nothing to celebrate but itself.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

frozen, independence,small talk

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February rose.

A small girl on a small fairy bike, with a pair of auxiliary wheels at the rear, wears a pink crash helmet. "You're helping me!" she protests as her father, tries to help her negotiate a corner.

A Sainsbury's this morning, the young man at the checkout practices customer relations as some might practice a tennis serve. "Have you had a good day, so far? " he asks. It is 10.30 in the morning. "So far, " I admit. Whereupon, as he applies my purchases to the bar code reader, he demands: "Are you looking forward to anything special later today?" I remember that I have been similarly questioned by the same young man on a previous occasion, and I find myself again too surprised to come up with a suitable answer A backhand, passing shot low over the net straight to the base line, is what is called for.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

layers, pocket history, cheese

Posted by Picasa Peeling paint on a window frame outside the Compasses.

A set of booklets which summarise the history if the world in 14 booklets is at the moment being published by the Independent newspaper on a daily basis. It begins with the big bang 13.7 billion years ago and concludes as the world population exceeds 6 billion. The booklets, taken from a larger work called What on Earth Happened? provide much better reading than the daily contents of the newspaper itself, which I try to skim as quickly as possible in order to gather a few useful facts, while filtering the speculation and opinion. The collapse of capital on a global scale and the foul way that homo sapiens conducts itself as it swarms over the earth and now into space, is made no more more bearable when you note that it was only 130,000 years ago that this dislocated creature with an over developed brain first appeared.
Turning back to the history, you begin to feel better as the perspective deepens. Four and a half billion years ago the solar system was formed. Six hundred million years ago sea creatures evolved; 150 million years ago mammals appeared. Oh yes and some may find this a calming thought - five years ago, scientists began to predict the sixth mass extinction of the earth's creatures.

At the Farmer's Market, I accept from a stall a small, a sample cube of local cheese. It is a hard cheese made in the style of cheddar. As I walk down Mount Pleasant, the tingling after-taste makes me think that I should have bought a wedge for our lunch. But, if I had, I say to myself, it would never taste as good, as, while it still lingers on the palate, it does now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

ice, genius, silhouettes

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Leaves beneath water, ice and reflected sky.

This morning the slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, greets my ears when I switch on Radio 4. Genius, I think to myself, is evident when a composer or a writer  produces something that leaves you amazed, and unable to comprehend the boundaries of its perfection.  It seems to encompass the mysteries and vastness of the universe. Mozart's clarinet concerto is my favourite piece of music. 

At this time of year, the morning  sky, behind the tulip tree, is illuminated by the rising sun, filtered by mist, so that it resembles a bright sheet of white porcelain. The black branches of the old tree are silhouetted against the sky and, like the squirrels and birds that inhabit them, are magnified in their simplicity like the scenery of a  puppet theatre. When , tea in hand,  I watch them through the bedroom  window,  it seems that pigeons, squirrels and an occasional crow, are putting on a show just for me.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

blackbird, story, smile

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I find that if you stand still for a few minutes, birds and animals are more likely, as this blackbird does, to pose for your camera.

Tristan drops in to see us, bringing as ever anecdotes. One is about a Spanish friend who collects people by appointment at an airport in Spain local to where he lives. His friend stands with other drivers by the barrier with a board bearing the name of his client. Soon he is the only person left waiting, and no more passengers appear through customs. He waits, nevertheless, because he has no reason to believe that the person he is meeting is not on the flight in question. He waits and waits. Eventually his phone rings. His client is calling from a police station. Apparently he has been kidnapped and robbed by a thief, who has hit it on the idea of copying his name from the board of the bona fide driver on to another board and then placing himself closer to where the passengers exit ... and, as they might well say in Spain, "Roberto es su tio!"

A pleasant young woman pushing a pram , smiles shyly as we pass in the Grove. I don't think I know her, but that makes her smile all the more valuable.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

portraits, outsider, remnants

Posted by Picasa Her and him.

In the middle of the Grove I stand looking up into the bare branches of tree looking for the birds, which I hear singing. There is a thrush singing at the top of its voice. People walk past, heads down. I feel an oddity, an outsider.

The snow has now melted completely. Only a pile of leaves in the middle of a path recalls its presence a few days ago. The leaves had been caught up in a giant snowball, which during its construction, had gathered leaves and snow at the same time, and had, for a time, looked like an outsize Christmas pudding.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

amity, dance, jumbo

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In the Grove.

A woman, walking on her own past a dress shop, stops suddenly when something that appeals to her catches her eye; and, almost as though to save her balance, does a little, involuntary dance in front of the window.

Jumbo is strange word. Its origin, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is unknown, but it can be traced back to the name of an elephant in the London zoo sold in 1882. Since then it applies to almost anything big from jets to outsize hens eggs. Today, at the health food shop in the High Street, the porridge oats which we usually have for breakfast are sold out. So I buy "jumbo oats" instead. What's the difference? I ask. They are the same; just bigger, I'm told.

Monday, February 09, 2009

fox, staying-in, watching

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Two or three years ago a fox used to come to sleep on the compost heap, where it enjoyed the heat created by the fermenting vegetation. Usually its visit was announced by a depression on the surface of the compost, but once I surprised it asleep there. Today I come across a drawing of it in wax crayon which I made at the time. I suspect that the fox is no more of this world but I am pleased to be able to commemorate it on this wet afternoon.

A day for doing odd jobs, like throwing away out of date magazines and brochures, and re-recording the message on the answering machine, which seems too close to gobbledygook for comfort - my own or the few callers, who now make use of it.

It has rained from break of day without stopping, a steady, determined downpour. This afternoon, I stand by the window and watch the drops slide down the pane, as the light fades, and the puddle on the path to the front door spreads and creates a small hazard for visitors.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

sarcocca, oil, ballet

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Snow on Sarcocca buxacaea, the odoriferous shrub which I mentioned the other day. It smells of horses, and you smell it before you see it. The little white flowers are, apart from their scent, not very impressive. Because the shrub originates in the Himalayas it is hardy in our winter and flowers about now. The flowers appear at the same time as the plant's single, black berries.

The price of crude oil is often in the news. Not so much cooking oil - corn oil and the like. For people who take shopping seriously, in hard times such as these, however, the price of corn oil can still matter. "The branded oil is cheaper than the own-brand," says a woman to me out of the blue in the supermarket. " Strange !""Strange indeed," say I, because I love the word "strange". Strange interests me. In the present parlance, I do strange. "It's only 4p difference, but it's the principle," she says, and places a litre of Mazola corn oil in her trolley.

As I wait on the far side of the check-outs for the friends, who give me a lift to Sainsbury's on Sundays, I reflect, on the extraordinary dance being performed. Customers unload their purchases on to conveyors at top speed, pressed on by the queues behind them; the cashiers check the goods and back go the goods to the customer to be bagged and returned to the trolleys. And off the trolleys trundle, some loaded with children as well as shopping bags, off to the car park.The dance is continuous and repetitive. The performance is helped by the random orchestration of cash machines, which acknowledge, with rapid, mindless bleeps, the speed and efficiency of money and goods changing hands. It is all chillingly hypnotic: a ballet for the 21 st century

Saturday, February 07, 2009

looking down, solutions, carnivores

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Oil and melting snow on tarmac.

In the doctor's waiting room, an elderly man with a limp and a need to talk tells me that he doesn't have far to walk to visit the surgery. My mind wanders but when he gets on to talk politics, I pay attention. "Wouldn't it be nice," he says without provocation, "if there weren't any wars! " I can only agree. "If you could get them into the boxing ring....if you get the two presidents into the ring, and let them fight it out, it would be better for all of us." He doesn't get round to saying which presidents, because our conversation is interrupted by the doctor. He has a speech impediment, which make him difficult to follow, but the more I think about it, it's such ideas that, in the end, change the world.

There is a canine light in the eyes of people queuing at the butchers this morning. The other way round, I think to myself, dogs never look more human than when they smell meat.

Friday, February 06, 2009

tracks, pink, swiss

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When I look at the photograph of these tyre tracks, I see a pineapple.

In Mount Pleasant, a woman with a carrying voice says to her companion: " Pink! People don't get married in pink. They get married in white."

On my desk is a Swiss army knife, which I have had for a number of years. Thinking about it just now, I recall how it was nearly instrumental in killing me or alternatively how it saved my life. I was in the process of repairing the electric shears with which I used to prune our hedge. When unscrewing the plug from the cable extension, I forgot to switch off the current. The wires of the cable needed to be stripped of their plastic sheaths, in order to secure them to the plug terminals. Using the smaller of the two conventional blades among the many gadgets on the knife, I proceeded to chip away at the plastic, when I was surprised by a flash, a bang and a burnt smell. I looked down at the knife and saw that a notch about 2mm deep, spreading into a cavity five mm wide had appeared in the blade. The fuse had of course blown. The first thing that I asked myself was why I had not been electrocuted. I do so again now.There appears to be no insulation on the knife, which is, I believe, made entirely of steel. I have never sought to enquire further, but from time to time wonder whether there is something in the design of the knife which saves idiots like me from electrocution? Or whether I was just lucky?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

art, dictionary, melting

Posted by Picasa Installations - exploded sheds, unmade beds, bags of garbage and the like - presented as works of art, are now so common as to be almost out of fashion and tedious. The reason for their existence rests on the idea of presenting them as art, rather than what they are when they are not art. Hence the term conceptual art. In this instance the burnt-out rubbish bin against a wall opposite the Victoria Place shopping arcade, seems ambiguous. Is it an installation or a burnt out rubbish bin? As I examine it, a woman who seems to share my interest, says with a laugh: "Is it art"?

I confess to a weakness for dictionaries. There are too many of them on my shelves. So when I spot the handsome Oxford University Press binding - gold letters on dark blue board - of the Oxford Concise French Dictionary, I deliberately ignore it, despite the fact that it is only £3. But days later, it is still there, and I succumb. And I'm glad that I have. First it provides the etymology of the 40,000 French words, which it lists - something, which Collins Robert doesn't do. Second, a delightful introduction composed with a passion, rare in such works, makes amusing reading. For example: What is wanted is an equiv-valent, not an equi-distant English rendering. Now the value of an English translation lies in the similarity of its impact on the English mind with the impact of the original on the French mind. What is only intellectual, logical, not affective, has no momentum. It misses both colour and warmth. This is what makes so many translations, although scrupulously faithful to the sense of the text, so unbearably nauseous to the reader's senses.Thirdly, it has a special symbol for false friends- those words, (deception, for example, which means disappointment and not deception in English), which have been mistranslated over the year even by established dictionaries. This dictionary is a new and true friend.

In the Grove, there is just a little snow left in hollows, and in scattered, uneven heaps, where melting snowmen lived out their brief lives.