I hear the poet Frieda Hughes - daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath - interviewed on the radio. She says that she used not to read her parents' poetry because she wanted first to develop her own style and literary identity. One day on the London Underground she saw facing her seat, one of the short poems in the series Poems on the Underground - poems designed to help passengers pass the time, in place of the usual advertisements. The poem was entitled Full Moon and Little Frieda. It was by her father, Ted Hughes, and she had never read it before. She tells the interviewer that she wanted to nudge the person in the seat next to her and say: "See that poem. It's about me."
In the rain, past a dripping shrubbery, I make my way to the kitchen garden for the first time for several days. In the street, the pavements and tarmac are greasy and unattractive, but here the earth exudes moisture and the leeks, some of which I have come to lift for tonight's meal, though a little flattened by the recent snow, give me a generous, aromatic welcome.
The map of The Grove, like The Grove itself, was covered with snow during the recent wintry conditions. It is always good to know where you are.
As I pass a row of cottages, which give directly on to the pavement, a front door opens, a hand holding a rug reaches out and shakes the rug. A little cloud of dust rises. The rug quivers and is gone. The door closes, and leaves behind a sense of mystery, a fairy story unwritten.
For a long time the word verification letter, which I was encountering were disappointing, clumsy without any hidden sense or curious harmony that I could discern. Then, suddenly, in the last hour or so WV is back to form. Like some sort of oracle it comes up in quick succession with "weast", "mecism" and "knonst".
Every year the same Christmas photographs appear. The people are the same. But a whole year has passed. As I become older I notice more than I used to, the changes in the few photographs of me which get through - a certain shrinking of the features, a wariness about the glance. Perhaps this is due to the stress of getting into place, while the delayed release switch on the camera is in operation, and the machine is bleeping like pedestrian traffic lights urging you to cross the road quickly to make way for road traffic. But I know that in fact the years are chipping away at the face I have got used to. The consolation, and one that I am truly glad of, is that I am still here to look it in the eye.
In his film Encounters at the Edge of the World, Werner Herzog photographs and interviews people who live and work in the Antarctic, and shows astonishingly beautiful scenes beneath as well as above the ice. He tells us at the beginning of the film that this is not another another film about penguins, but later there is a brief and forlorn penguin episode which I can't get out of my head. He films a group of penguins following an annual migration route to the sea. Off they go in single file like pilgrims, except for one penguin who turns round and makes its solitary way inland towards a frozen, mountainous waste on the horizon. Some internal mechanism has gone wrong and we see the lone bird battling on through the wilderness, impelled by a perverse and faulty, inner vision, on its way, Herzog says, to certain death. The image, I think to myself, says something about courage, a blind and misguided courage (not beyond comparison with human courage) which I find noble and sad, but which I do not wholly understand.
Even the last grubby mounds of unmelted snow have now disappeared. This composition in The Grove made just a week ago is just a memory.
Two gadgets that have come into the house this Christmas are a citrus presser and pourer and a folding chopping board. Both are are remarkably ingenious and helpful. The pourer consists of a perforated cylinder with sharp edges that pierces a lemon or lime and when twisted extracts the juice which can be poured from the top, the fruit effectively becoming a little jug. The lid consists of a removable, green, plastic seal, which you take off to pour the juice generated inside the fruit, and replace to preserve the content for further squeezing. The chopping board is made from thin, very tough plastic. It folds to make a shovel-like, angled receptacle to assist in the spill-free transfer of chopped material into a pan or other container. When in use as a board it opens out perfectly flat ready for chopping.
Cooking this year has been a great pleasure. On Christmas day, there were six to cook for; on other days four. I cannot explain why there is little I like doing more than cooking. Though the results are rather less permanent, I think I prefer cooking to writing poetry or even, dare I day it, to the daily production of this blog.
Once upon a time there was a snow squirrel who lived in The Grove ....
In a Christmas cracker is a small compass with a cord which can be hung on a key ring.
I always like to have a compass on my key ring because it helps to remind me where I am. My old keyring -compass fell off and broke. Until now, despite looking everwhere, I couldn't find a replacement. Hurrah for Christmas crackers!
My new laptop, which replaces the PC (now in the studio upstairs), has one drawback: the integral speakers are only adequate if you are not listening to music. The speakers which Santa Claus brought me yesterday raise the Vaio to hi-fi standard. Hurray for auxiliary speakers.
In the Nepalese restaurant called Mooli a dish called Seku wa Barbat consists of tender pieces of boneless lamb "with" the menu says, "a kiss of spice".
While listening to the traditional carol service from Kings College Cambridge on BBC Radio 4, I roll out pastry for mince pies, make circles of the pastry with the rim of a wine glass, spoon mincemeat into the tarts and cover the filling with more disks of pastry, which I glaze with an egg and milk glaze, pierce with a cross to let the steam escape. The music and the readings from the gospels help concentration and inspire a sense of the appropriate, if not the eternal. Christmas cards are displayed in a suitable places all over the house, and, by the front door in the hall, hangs a bunch of pagan mistletoe . A turkey awaits the usual services in the cold cupboard which, when this house was young, used to be a coal hole. I am momentarily troubled by the feeling that I am engaged in a sentimental charade, and that maybe the feelings of goodwill and kindness that surge in my foggy brain are ersatz emotions picked up from habit and brainwashing.
Then, to quote my friend Anna, who on such occasions would probably say "Pish!" to such negative thouhgts, I say "Pish". And a happy Christmas to all who step by and visit this site, and who are kind enough to say hello from time to time, and whom I have come to regard as good and dear friends. A few years ago, I would never have thought that such links could be made with people of like mind and interests living in the USA, Australia, India, France, the West of England, the North of Engand , Tunbridge Wells even, and who knows where else. This is a good time, despite all the attendant horrors, to be alive. To all of you I raise a virtual glass and wish that it were a real one poured for you: A happy New Year!
Nearly all the snow has melted. What is left are awkward mounds of ice on footpaths, which in the sleet falling at the moment, seem to be designed to throw the unwary on to the ground in undignified heaps, limbs spread in all directions. The snow was lovely while it was bright and crisp and even, and now - well, since we are looking for beautiful things - it is a challenge.
From the shelf I take down The Arctic Fox a slim book of poems by Marianne Moore. It is published by Faber and Faber in a bold, yellow jacket with blue rules, a colour and style fashionable in the Sixties. The first poem in the book is a short one entitled O to Be a Dragon. It goes:
"If I, like Solomon,...
could have my wish -
my wish ... O to be a dragon,
a symbol of the power of Heaven -of silkworm
size or immense; at times invisible.
Much of the page is blank leaving plenty of space for the Corporation of London Libraries to plant its circular stamp in the middle of the white space. For at one time, it seems, it is to that organisation that the book belonged. Pasted on the page facing the inside back cover, meanwhile, is an unused form testifying to a manifest lack of interest in Marianne Moore among the libraries' patrons. Judging by the handwriting, in which the price is penciled on the inside front cover, I must have bought it from Hall's bookshop, but there is no indication of how it progressed from London to Tunbridge Wells. A note to the poem at the back of the book suggests that marauding librarians and indifferent clients are, in the end, of little account . "Solomon's wish," it says: "An understanding heart." Kings 3: 9." I'll second that.
A 30C homeopathic preparation is, according to Ben Goldacre author of the fad-bashing best seller Bad Science, a dilution in the order of one in 1,000,000,000, 000, 000, 000, 000,000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000. (I think I've copied that right). Not everyone believes, like Goldacre, that homeopathy is based on unsound principles, though you can see why some, myself included, are sceptical. A couple of days ago, I begin to feel the symptoms of a cold, which, in my experience, are invariably followed by a deep and hacking cough. To combat these, Heidi provides me with three minuscule pills, which I must allow to melt under my tongue at intervals of two and a half hours. They have been supplied for just such an occasion by some homeopathic friends in Germany. The dilution ratio is reassuring, because I note that they are derived from Aconite, which I know to be, in more than miniscule portions, a sure and deadly poison. While still doubtful about how so small a dose of anything can affect the human body and its ailments, I have to report three days later, that the cold has gone, and no cough has materialised. But who knows? I remember years ago a male Harley Street specialist saying, with conversation-stopping finality, at a dinner party in response to a claim from me about a cold prevention procedure fashionable at the time: " I took it too and I didn't get pregnant."
Elderly people, who generally lead sheltered lives, can sometimes enjoy the risky options of urban living. I admit to enjoying the titillation provided on the understanding that I survive. Today the choice is between breaking a leg on the ice-layered pavements of Mount Sion or walking on the road and being killed by a 4 WD spitting chewed up snow and grit.
A surprise parcel awaits us. I have been given a number to ring by Kim, who is my son,Toby's other half, in order to track its progress. All I am told is that it is something that requires attention when it arrives. I need to know when to expect it so that someone can be in when it is delivered. The number I ring turns out to be in Cornwall. How I love the West Country accent and the phrases that go with it! " Right, my love", says a warm female voice. "OK, my love! I say I have been given the number to track a parcel. "This number is in Cornwall, my love," she says. "I am in Kent, " I say."It will take a minute my love, I'll give you the number of the local depot. When the parcel turns up it consists of an insulated box with sausage-shaped bags of ice inside. Kept cold by the ice, is a big packet if white crab meat (bliss, Heidi's favourite) and a generous bag of scallops, (bliss, my favourite). Serendipity and spot on. Scallop and potato salad, tonight,then. I'll use the Ratte potatoes which I bought in the market this morning. Tomorrow crab salad or some other delectable concoction of crab, and then a long promised seafood risotto, when Heidi's other daughter Jenny, arrives from Paris, to join her sister Caroline, who is already here. Thank you Toby and Kim.
The great Dr Samuel Johnson is best known for his conversation as reported by his biographer James Boswell, and for his Dictionary of the English Language, the first of any importance. His pronouncements are appreciated for their wit, learning, and directness. He saw the point when other people did not, and invariably came straight to it. He never pussyfooted. People would ask his opinion knowing that his response would be entertaining if not wise. This Christmas there have been reviews in the press, most of them complimentary, of a new biography by David Nokes. One, today, includes a quotation, new to me and I dare say new to others, which throws fresh light on his inclinations, and adds a new dimension to his humanity. According to his friend, the actor, David Garrick, when asked what he believed were the greatest pleasures in life, he replied, "Fucking and drinking."
In Calverley Ground, I pass an old woman with a stick walking slowly on the compacted snow. Ahead walks a black Labrador, a green tennis ball in its mouth. After a few yards it puts the ball down and waits for its mistress. She catches up. The dog picks up the ball and walks on. A few yards further on, the process is repeated. Eventually, at a convenient spot, the old lady picks up the ball and with some effort, achieves an underarm throw. The dog bounds after the ball and brings it back, its pent up energy released, just for a moment. But that is all. It is cold and slippery under foot and the mistress has done her duty. The dog collects the ball and they proceed slowly on their way.
Snow-capped finial of railing across the road from our house.
Some languages have expressions rich and poetic, which belong to themselves entirely, and which you feel must tell us something significant about the perceptions and attitudes of the people who speak them. What other language I wonder more picturesquely (and might one say Gallic-ly) describes the twilight hour, than the French entre chien et loup, the half light when it is difficult to tell the difference between a dog and a wolf, and, by extension, between other creatures and objects flitting in and out of the darkness! It is as though a poem has formed in the language like a bubble or whirlpool in a stream.
In today's paper, the caption beneath a photograph of geese bred for the table - "necks on the line" - says it all. Taken at breast level and cropped to show a frieze of plump, feathered bosoms surmounted by long necks, orange beaks and searching eyes, the photograph prompts the thought: yes, geese have long necks.
Dave King comments here two days ago on train conversations. He says that he would be more disposed to talk to someone who opened a conversation as he sat down. But he wasn't sure why.
I'm not sure either, but I think it has something to do with spontaneity. It seems more natural and uncalculating than a pondered approach after exchanged glances and clearings of the the throat. Having witnessed my Mother-in-Law at work, I still found her example hard to follow. Only once did I manage it well; and then only after an evening' s drinking, on my way home from London.
I recall walking past the old Blackfriar's Station and noting that, among European destinations embossed above the portal was St Petersberg (at that time still known as Leningrad). I turned right up Fleet Street and made my way down the Strand to Charing Cross, still full of good cheer. On entering the compartment of the train I was struck by a sense of despondency among what were to be my fellow passengers (in those days passengers sat facing one another, a potentially more convivial arrangement than the present aircraft style seating where you look at the back of neck of the person in front of you). The faces were tired and drawn, and most sheltered behind newspapers. As I sat down, I said to the person opposite: "Do you know if this train goes to St Peterberg?" The newspapers rustled, were raised and lowered and raised again. But I was saved: someone smiled. Then someone laughed. The conversation that ensued was lively and varied, touching politics, travel, history and everything was wrong with the world. and one or two things that were right with it. The 50 minute journey home seemed to last five. Or that's how I remember it.
Another day for soup. Finely chopped carrots, celery, green beans, an onion and a clove of garlic softened with two rashers of bacon also chopped. When the vegetables are transparent, chicken stock is added ,and with the stock a chopped skinned tomato; and with the tomato some small pasta shells and a tin of borlotti bean. The rest is a matter of seasoning and tasting until the desired flavour and consistency is achieved. Oh yes, and you should, at this point ,add some slices of sausage from the new Polish shop round the corner. If there isn't a Polish shop round the corner, something from the supermarket will do.
"He's got peas on his knees," said my sister-in-law when I ring to speak to my brother. Confronted by my incomprehension, she says that he is lying down nursing his knees with bags of frozen garden peas. "An old football injury," she explains, "is troubling him. The peas are helping." I hope so.
In The Grove this morning, a woman stands guard over a wigwam shaped igloo. "My sons made it this morning," she says. "They made a big snow ball and hollowed out the middle. They were up at 5 o'clock this morning." This morning I wake early too and, mesmerised by the big, beautiful silence and the white light leaking through the shutters, want to be up and about taking photographs, sampling the depth of the snow. Making an igloo doesn't occur to me, but I can understand their enthusiasm. "It's perfect snow for skiing," says Caroline, who is staying with us. "She lives in Munich and skis regularly, cross country as well as on the slopes. She knows her snow. The snow, so rare for us nowadays, is overwhelming. It has brought everything to a halt. Peace and silence reigns.
Sunday 15 February 2009 marks the first page of my current notebook, of which no more than one clear page remains. There is a stack of seven such notebooks on my desk at the moment. Looking at them I realize that, largely thanks to the Three Beautiful Things formula, the contents of the notebooks and my approach to note-making has changed considerably. To begin with, the notes consisted largely of drawings of whatever happened to catch my attention - a head or a tree, a flower or bird, a dog or a cat. But posting three observations every day is hard when holes begin to pepper your memory, and drawings will not suffice. So nowadays synoptic accounts of conversations, bird and plant behaviour, the oddities of urban living, the pleasures of gardening and reading, have taken over. I notice however that there are still drawings - a reindeer head, a pig snout, a parrot, a cat which have popped among the words, just as words once used to pop up among the drawings. I treasure this book and the others though I doubt if the scrawled indecipherable phrases and abbreviations would mean anything to anyone other than their errant author. They are a poor thing but they are my own.
The strange but rich language of the BBC forecasters grows ever more fascinating. I hear to day that "more meaningful snow is driving in over high ground..."
Jeff Wild who lives in Switzerland commented on my chance meeting and three minute conversation with the Shakespeare scholar and editor John Russell Brown the other day.He knew who I was talking about. How lucky I was he says to have met him like that. Lucky too to live in an age when people can so easily communicate from different corners of the Earth on matters of common interest. The global village, once forecast as a miraculous means of intercourse for the human race as a whole is coming to pass. The encounter meanwhile has reminded me of the rule formulated by the mother of my first wife, which I have not forgotten: if you want a conversation on a train, strike it up as you sit down. If I had managed to do that on this occasion, our conversation would have lasted the best part of an hour instead of three minutes. Unless of course, as it is quite possible, Mr Russell Brown grew tired of my naive observations and returned to the manuscript he was correcting.
It starts to snow as it is getting dark. In Calverley Place the shop windows are lit. The snow settles. Shoppers say the same thing: It's quite like a Christmas card. Cold though and wet when the thin flakes melt on your neck.
Leeks stand, waiting to be lifted through the winter - a thrifty and delightful vegetable. Only when the ground freezes solid, rare nowadays, do they become inaccessible. I like to stew the stems slowly in a mixture of olive oil and lemon. You can eat them this way hot or cold.
I believe the method is called A la greque.
Josh's If only I could ... poem , which I quoted the other day, attracted the attention of Alison Wormald. She comments on my post to Josh's pleasure and to mine. She says that she would like to read the whole poem. So, as it is not very long, I have posted it in full in the comment window of the original December 11 post. Among the many things I like about the poem is its rugby image - poetry is rarely, perhaps too rarely, associated with rugby. So good on you Josh, and goodbye to any foolish idea that sport and poetry do not go together.
Perhaps the first day of frost this winter. You can tell without looking because you can hear the rime being scraped from car windows. Then all day, the rime lies in hollows and shady places in The Grove and on lawns. Birds are more in evidence than usual . The cold seems to slow their movements and they appear less shy than normal. I count no fewer than seven black birds in a rowan tree, attacking the berries
Through a basement window I catch sight of a child's playroom. On a table is a toy fort or castle. I had one as a child and always considered it inadequate and not worth defending with what few soldiers I had. Since then I have always thought "fort" a silly word although I know that forts did exist in the real world. Still the sight of the play room with the fort and other toys scattered on the floor opened a portfolio of bitter sweet memories. Why bitter sweet? I can't remember, but my childhood, though far from unhappy, is streaked with strata of disappointments.
In one of the innumerable newspaper articles anticipating the approaching festival is a photograph of a goose. Its neck is stretched up almost vertically towards heaven and its head proudly announces its preeminence among birds - little does it know that its fat will soon used to roast potatoes. As is my custom, when I see a photo of something that appeals to me, I make 20 second drawing of it in my notebook. The drawing doesn't look much like the goose in the photograph, but it has a pleasing goosiness all of its own, plus an expression suggesting apprehension and doubt entirely missing from the photograph.
A fit looking grey haired man runs round the perimeter path of The Grove. He strides at a steady pace. He is running faster than the average jogger, easily and with great power. At the end of the circuit, he looks at his watch and starts again. Round and round he goes and consults his watch every time he completes the circle. He is setting himself a target, competing with himself.
Rain drops line up under the top bar of the black iron gate at the entrance to The Grove... like beads on an abacus.
After the rain, from the wings and and tail feathers of pigeons, as they flap to and fro under the railway bridge that spans the platform at Tunbridge Wells station, clouds and rainbows of spray explode.
A notice advertises "Purveyors of Quality Fresh Produce". I like the dignity of purveyors; nothing so mean as sellers or merchants.
Grandson Josh sends me a poem called "If Only I could..." which he did recently for homework. It is about astronomy. "If only I could put a rocket in my pocket... " he begins and later
"...Help Orion chase the Great Bear,
Dodging our way
Through the defending stars..."
The last line is especially poignant because, a sturdy lad, he excels, apart from poetry, at rugby.
Standing in Calverley Precinct as the shop lights come on and it begins to get dark, I look up to see a flock of birds wheeling overhead. At first I think that they are starlings. Then I notice their long tails and distinctive swooping flight against the evening sky. And I remember a conversation on New Year's Eve two years ago when a neighbour told me that she used to see pied-wagtails roosting in the trees in Calverley Place. I have, from childhood, loved the way they swoop as they fly, as though from a consicious joy. But I had never thought until then of pied wagtails as sociable birds which gather in flocks. Now I can see them for myself.
Snapped from Hungerford Bridge, the flower stall at the bottom of Villiers Street by the entrance to Embankment tube station.
Opposite me on the train an elderly man is correcting a type script. On the seat beside him is a travel bag. When we stop at a station someone wants to take the seat and he stands up with difficulty in order to lift his bag on to the rack. I offer to help but he persists in doing it himself. "My bones are getting old," he says implying that nothing else is. As the train draws into Charing Cross, I put my book on the table in front of me and open my shoulder bag ready to put it away. "Why are you reading Pericles on the train" he asks. "I explain that I am reading my way through all the Shakespeare plays in the Arden edition. "It is just by chance, " I say, adding how much I am enjoying it. Shakespeare only wrote about 50 per cent of Pericles," he says and adds that his wife is also rereading all the plays in the Arden edition. I tell him that when I was a child my father believed that the plays were written by Francis Bacon. We quickly agree that this is unlikely. "When would Bacon have found the time?" he says. And I say that Bacon has none of the playwright's range of spirit and imagination, least of all the Bard's common touch. Could Bacon have created Falstaff? "Have you got round to the Arden Merchant of Venice yet?" he asks. I say that I have. "Then you will have read my notes," he says "because I edited it." He says that the play does not seem to be very relevant to the present age." Why?" I ask. The morality and ethnic basis of the plot is no longer valid, " he suggests. "I wonder, " I say: "if you look further afield than England, perhaps it still is." The train comes to a slow, jerky halt at the platform. "That's true," he says, which is encouraging. But the train has stopped and we must go our separate ways. The entire conversation must have lasted three minutes. I have the feeling that it could have gone on for three hours.
As we part in the train's crowded corridor, I raise my hat because, though hat-less himself, he belongs to the generation which would understand the custom. It is easy discover subsequently that he is called John Russell Brown and that he has written and edited a number of books on Elizabethan drama . What I never get round to admitting is that, though I have been reading Pericles on trips to London for more than a year, I have not yet finished it. I have, in fact read more than half the Shakespeare cannon in the Arden edition, and come to a halt here only because, in pursuit of posts for this blog, I very rarely read on the train nowadays. Instead I look out of the window in pursuit of beautiful or interesting things, watch and listen to fellow passengers, and sometimes even talk to them..
Am I alone in only just realizing that the decade which is just drawing to an end has come to be known as the Noughties? Alone or not, I find it and the inescapable pun which it embodies sadly appropriate.
This strange image appears on the wall of one of the towers supporting Charing Cross railway bridge. It seems to have several levels of significance. At one it is an angel; at a another a human crow. I like the way it seems to be escaping from the frame provided by the architects of the bridge, and pondering the spikes erected by those who want to protect the bridge from marauders.
In Oxford Street, the brakes of the bus on which we are travelling scream and groan as though driven mad by pedestrians and shop windows. They remind me of the agonised wailing of the hydraulic bin lifting device on the Council rubbish removal vehicle which was at work outside our house as we left home this morning. The Christmas lights,which come on in the early afternoon in Oxford Street and Regent Street, do little, this afternoon, to relieve the apparent pain suffered by the machines which labour without thought or reward.
It is difficult, but satisfying to walk cross the road at traffic lights slowly and with dignity to the sound of the impatient bleeping which is supposed to hurry pedestrians on. I feel sorry for people, older and even less agile than I, who hobble across the road as though whipped by the insidious bleeps, their sticks trembling and tapping in front them. In response to the bleeps I walk twice as slowly as I normally would, and smile at the drivers crouched like jockeys over their steering wheels.
Ready to hoist a cradle for window cleaners these ropes possess a quality of usefulness postponed.
An artist whom I know draws on the back of used envelopes. The envelopes, she says, by virtue of their redundant state, make less extreme demands on her than proper drawing paper. I say that I know what she means. She dates her drawings and puts them in batches in larger envelopes for storage. I suggest that she might arrange the drawings in a big book side by side on the page, where the drawings and the envelopes would display their distinctive qualities to best effect. She says, that's a good idea.
In the book on Elizabeth Bishop which I bought serendipitously from Amazon, I begin to read an essay on Bishop by Miriam Bellehigue, Mâitre de conference á la universitée de Paris, Sorbonne.
It is called Four Poems: humilité, intermittance et plaisir. This is the price, I say to myself, that I have to pay for careless ordering. But one of the four poems subjected to analysis is the sestina which led me back to reading Bishop a few months ago. And I relish, though do not entirely agree with it, the judgement quoted by Bellehigue, in a letter from Bishop to Marianne Moore, that the sestina is "just a sort of stunt". Bishop of course takes the form more seriously than that as the poem testifies. But oh my goodness, I have put my toe in the waters of academe and I think that I will quite soon remove it.
The wrong book arrives from Amazon. I ordered The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop. What arrives is a work of serious, you might say, cold academic criticism. It is a compilation of articles on the poet and value judgments are largely absent. Most of the articles are in French. It is part of a series called Lectures d'une oeuvre. The layout of the cover reveals the reason for the mistake, as the title, introduced by the phrase Lectures d'une oeuvre is called The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, just like The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop. As anyone reading this post will have gathered, I am rather keen on Elizabeth Bishop, so I think I will read these serendipitous lectures.
In Barrica, a tapas bar in London, there are some grilled, small green peppers called pimientos de Padron. I last ate them in a tapas bar in Madrid. The are slightly spicy in flavour but rarely hot like a chilli pepper. Only sometimes you are luck (or unlucky) enough to get a hot one. So the pleasure of eating them is enhanced (or marred)by an element of Russian roulette. On this occasion none of the peppers is hot. Had there been one, there are a number of sherries on the wine list to come to the rescue, rather in the way that dock leaves are said to grow near stinging nettles. A chilled, salty manzanilla would have done the trick. As it happens I have one standing by just in case.