Sunday, January 31, 2010

roses, staring, pace

Posted by PicasaRose hips in winter..
A small child, at that stage of development often called in the Media but nowhere else, "toddler", stops and stares at me. His mother like the owner of a dog allowing it to sniff at a lamppost, waits tolerantly a little ahead of him. The child's gaze is fixed and knowing. It is the sort of stare that grown-ups are forbidden. "It's rude to stare". But toddlers can get away with murder. A terrible, cold intelligence resides behind the eyes of this one.
There is an old boy, a widower, round here, whom I stop to talk to sometimes about this and that. He used to live on his own but for the last few years he has been joined by an old girl who wears brightly coloured, knitted hats. They both use walking sticks, a need which in due course, I will probably share. I remember his telling me that he lived on his own, but there was someone who had offered to join him. It was an offer which at the time he declined. In due course, it now seems he came to accept it. I see them out and about with their sticks, sometimes together, sometimes on their own. But when they are together, they do not, as you might expect, walk side by side, rather, she about five meters in front, he lagging behind. It is not, I calculate, that they are other than good friends, rather that they pace themselves differently, respond to a different beat.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

outlets, laughing, opposite

Posted by PicasaVents and exits 2.
It's probably true to say that as you get older, you tend to find less to laugh about. It is certainly rare for me to erupt into laughter in response to what I am reading, as I do last night. I am reaching the moment when my eyes are becoming heavy and I know that I will soon close the book and go to sleep. The book is The Promise of Dawn by Romain Gary. It is his autobiography and consists largely of a portrait of his Russian mother, who brought him up on her own and saw him through school and university, with extraordinary and one might say eccentric devotion. Throughout his childhood and subsequently his adult life, he is driven by the romantic visions which she entertained about his future life and which she vividly proclaimed to him.
The year is 1938. He and his mother are living in Nice, still Russian citizens, but both in love with France, its history and its culture. He has just returned from college and looks forward to spending the heatwave month of August at home by the sea. But his mother has other ideas for him. "You are going to kill Hitler," she tells him. She had convinced herself that, having ensured that he is both a good fencer and good shot, he will have no difficulty in pulling off the assassination. If they catch him, she tells herself, France, England and America will prevail upon Germany to release him. Obediently and reluctantly, he borrows a coat from a friend which is too large for him and therefore capable of concealing a firearm. His mother has already acquired the rail tickets to Berlin. As he is preparing to leave, he reads in the paper that the Fuehrer is spending the month of August in Berchtesgarden, and remarks to himself that it will be far more comfortable for him to shoot the dictator in the cool mountain air. He is about to say farewell to his mother when she breaks down and, regardless of it being her own idea, begs him not go. "But I have the tickets," he says. "Don't worry about that," she replies, "I can get a refund".
I have to tell Heidi why I am laughing. And I have to go on reading. And I don't get to sleep for at least another hour.
In Waterstone's bookshop this morning, a man called Stephen Welch, whom I have never met, hands me a bookmark. It is an advertisement for a book called Stardust - Our Cosmic Origins. "I am doing a book-signing", he says, indicating a table where dozens of copies of the paperback are optimistically displayed. I am sympathetic and interested but can't muster much enthusiasm. And I feel awkward about opening the book with him looking on. But curiosity wins and I look inside. Encouraged, he says : " A lot of science books go deep into a single aspect of a subject. I do just the opposite. I draw all the facts together and come to a conclusion. It is more philosophy really".
I don't know what to say, but notice a sentence, in which he writes that Shelley is his favorite poet. "Shelley would have liked it," I say. "Shelley is my favorite poet, " he says. "I know, " I say. I have just read what you wrote. I leave, wondering if I have been as diplomatic as I intended to be.

Friday, January 29, 2010

exit, sell-by, sophistry

Posted by PicasaThis chimney, above the fish and chip shop, conducts frying smell high into the air away from neighbours. Still on foggy days the smells hang over the village sharpening the appetites of aficionados.
In the Oxfam bookshop, talk is of use-by dates on food in supermarkets. "I don't take any notice", says one lady. "It's just common sense. You can smell food when it's bad. I had some sausages the other day, five days past their date. I just sniffed them and cooked them thoroughly".
In Hall's bookshop a few doors away in Chapel Place, talk is of sophistry. What exactly does the word mean? Dictionaries are hauled down from shelves; quotations are searched for; original and later meanings are discussed. Then there's "sophisticated". Is it derogatory to call someone or something sophisticated? Would a certain sort of person like to be called sophisticated and dislike being called unsophisticated? And another sort of person, vice versa?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

novelty, see-through, freedom

Posted by PicasaReflections.
Peering out from the roofs of a row of houses are dormer windows. Through the windows, because the sun is shining in, you can see sloping attic roofs and beyond, other windows giving on to views of the sky, chimneys and rooftops. It is an unexpected sighting of another part of the world or perhaps of a different world.
Like many other people I watch with fascination as Steve Jobs reveals Apple's latest piece of technology - The Ipad. It is, I suppose, a computer the size of a book with limitless access to actual books and newspapers, all screen and touch. But what I most like about it is that I don't want it. I don't need it. And that is a relief to me because I can be as acquisitive as the next man. And in theory it would be wonderful to possess anything so nifty. Not wanting an Ipad or an Iphone, for that matter, is a sort of freedom. When I am not at home or at my desk, I like to look about me and see what is going on. At home there is a laptop and that is enough to keep me in touch with.the virtual world. Meanwhile, I like to talk and listen to the people I meet in the real world. Multi-tasking may be useful if you engaged in a war or a love affair, but, free of the demands of either, I am fortunate in having time to do just one thing at a time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

waiting, waiting, waiting

Posted by PicasaIn the window, waiting for the plot to unfold.
In Italo Calvino's novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, there is a scene in a station cafe. All the trains have gone. And so have other travellers. The protagonist finds himself alone. As I read, I remember many years ago, how I found myself in a similar position in Marco polo Airport in Venice. I had flown there with a ticket provided by the organisers of an engineering exhibition in Padua (Marco Polo is the nearest airport). I was supposed to speak at a conference on storage equipment. A car was to meet me and take me to Padua. When the car was long overdue, and the airport deserted except for an old man sweeping up fag ends, I looked in my file to check that I had my flight details right. I hadn't. I had travelled a day late. Today, someone might have noticed that my ticket was out of date, but not Alitalia on that occasion. When I arrived at Padua by taxi, I bumped into Professor Russo Fratasi, the chairman of the conference, in the hotel lobby. I stammered my apologies, for I should have addressed the conference that afternoon. But this was Italy. "What happened?" said the professor, slapping me on the shoulder, "did you get lost?" In the circumstances I gratefully concurred. It would would not have crossed my mind, if he had not suggested it. "Don't worry," he said, " we can fit you in tomorrow. Have you had something to eat?"
In The Grove, I watch a crow flap up to a TV aerial and settle down. Just behind it, pale in the afternoon sky, is a gibbous moon. The crow sits, waiting for me to photograph it and the moon, but I have no camera. In my mind, the crow and the moon are still waiting .

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

cold, hanging on, ginger

Posted by PicasaBlackbird on a cold day.
Here is a tidy explanation of why birds don't fall out of trees when they go to sleep. It is in Why Don't Penguins' Feet freeze? the second of collection of questions and answers from the New Scientist's Last word column. It is supplied by reader, Anne Bryce:
"Birds have a nifty tendon arrangement in their legs. The flexor tendon from the muscle in the thigh reaches down over the knee, continues down the leg, round the ankle and then under the toes. The arrangement means that, at rest, the bird's body weight causes the bird to bend its knee and pull the tendon tight, so closing the claws. Apparently the mechanism is so effective that dead birds have been found grasping their perches long after they have died."
When I was young, ginger was available in powdered form, crystallised or as an ingredient of ginger beer or ginger wine, gingerbread or ginger biscuits. It is only relatively recently that the root has become widely available from greengrocers and supermarket. For the last few years, I have been peeling and chopping the root so as to scatter the pieces over our morning fruit. As I buy a chunky piece of root today, I realize that we are growing increasingly fond of the spice and and eating more of it daily. The tang which it leaves on your palate, as wine tasters say, has a long finish. Incidentally, if you keep a piece of root, it will begin to sprout. Planted in compost and kept warm, it will become a ginger plant.

Monday, January 25, 2010

capped, blue, busy

Posted by PicasaMemory of snow.
Today is supposed to be Blue Monday, the unhappiest day of the year. Who says? I don't know. The Daily Telegraph newspaper thought it was last Monday. Others including a charity called People United dedicated to laying the foundations for a "responsible, caring and happy society"say it is today. People United in fact claims to be the originator of the Blue Monday annual initiative to cheer us all up on the last Monday of January. So it is this morning that I find myself at the Tunbridge Wells public library to see what Clare Grant is up to. Clare Grant is the originator of the Three Beautiful Things blog which has been the inspiration among many other blogs of Best of Now. Clare is sitting in an armchair in the library handing out blue strips of paper on which we are asked to write cheerful messages aimed at users of the library. The messages are passed to the librarians who insert them in the books people withdraw. The messages can presumably be used as bookmarks so they will probably have a reasonably long life. Clare has been asked to help because it a beautiful idea, and what better supervisor of the project than this recorder of the pleasurable incidents of daily life! I was, I am pleased to admit, quite cheerful when I woke up this morning, and, as I bid Clare good bye and battle my through the cloud of misery that one might suppose hangs over the town, I feel more cheerful still, and can even sense the cloud dispersing as I proceed on my way.
"Have you had a busy day so far?" asks the girl in the Building Society this morning? What can you say? I am always busy. Relatively. It is one of those friendly things which I suspect people who serve the public are supposed to ask. "Yes, " I say. Perhaps she doesn't believe me. " Well, its Monday," she says. "Got to get things tidied up".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

benches, piano, hello

Posted by PicasaBenches in The Grove.
In the window of Britten's music shop, a young man with, hair standing up and tousled, is playing the piano. A rucksack and jacket are on the floor beside him. His girlfriend is leaning on the piano and listening. His hands move up and down the keyboard. But, try as I might, through the plate glass and above the noise of traffic, I cannot hear a note. I am reminded of an account I read somewhere of a prisoner in a concentration camp, who made a wooden keyboard and would play soundless music to keep his spirits up and entertain his fellow inmates.
Passing a familiar face in Sainsbury's this morning, I say "hello!" "Hello", says the face, and then "hello" again as someone else passing at the same time, says "hello" to her. All three stop and swing our trolleys in bewilderment I imagine for a moment that I am on the stage of a musical comedy. "Hello, hello, hello," the members of the chorus sing, and waltz their trolleys up and down the aisle, "hello, hello, hello!"

Saturday, January 23, 2010

tree, toys, camellia

Posted by Picasa Composition. Winter on The Common 2.
There is a toyshop in The High Street to which I am always drawn. It sells garments as well as toys and focuses on children under 5, and as my grandchildren are now on their way to adulthood, if not already there, there are few excuses for me to go in. Today, however, Heidi wants a present for a new born cousin, and while she is making up her mind between a rabbit and a little floral dress, I am left free to play with musical tops, drum kits, marble-runs and soft toys which tinkle when you shake them. Heaven! When I tire of the toys I look up to admire the colourful engine drawing a train of trucks from, which dolls and bears wave down at me, and which circulates on the long, narrow track suspended from the ceiling above my head.
Some years ago I commented, at about this time of year, on the camellia in flower in a front garden Grove Avenue. It is always surprising to see a shrub in flower in January, especially one as pink and perfect as this one, and after such a prolonged cold spell too. It reminds me that last time I mentioned it, I miss-spelled camellia. Progress, I suppose, of a kind.

Friday, January 22, 2010

timber, interest, elements

Posted by Picasa January composition.
Even when it rains, I look forward to the most routine of expeditions. Today for example the paper boy failed to deliver the paper. I saw him cycle forgetfully by. Why do I miss the paper? Not because I need to read the news. I already know what's going on, courtesy of the BBC Radio 4 or the BBC website. And I can guess at most of the opinions of which in the paper is full. I need the paper because I have got used to one of three sudoku which it contains. My day is not complete until I have tackled it. So, and this is the point, ungrumblingly, I set out across The Grove in the rain to pick up the paper from the newsagent. And I enjoy every moment of the walk. Familiar though it is, there is always something to look out for, which is one of the benefits of writing a blog like this one. As I walk through the drizzle I notice the birds are unusually active. A cat is perhaps on the prowl. The crows are calling. One sits on a TV aerial. Another chases a pigeon in a far from good natured way. On the way back I look up at a starling on a branch and I notice the hints of purple and green on its feathers - a sign of summer on its way.
When I was at school, with very few exceptions, the teachers seemed to make subjects like chemistry as boring a possible. Or perhaps the fault was mine. Either way how much I missed! I have since caught up in a general fashion with physics and chemistry to which I find totally fascinating. Today I watch on BBC Iplayer Prof Jim Al Kahili describing how the elements were discovered. He takes us through their history, with all the false starts. From the earth, fire, air and water beliefs of the ancient Greeks, to the discoveries of Henry Cavendish, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier and Humphrey Davey. Next week, the Periodic Table. I can't wait.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

willowherb, sounds, repaired

Posted by PicasaWillow herb. The Common in winter.
I stop for a moment in the middle of The Common. From Mount Ephraim, behind me and Mount Pleasant and the London Road in front of me, from Mount Pleasant and from the High Street in the middle distance comes the sound of traffic merged into a sullen hiss, unhurried and unbroken. Above the hiss, now and then, a human voice breaks in, sometimes piercing, sometimes soft, sometimes laughing. Now an aeroplane moans above the clouds on its way into Gatwick.
Here we are again. The photo from Picassa seems to be uploading successfully. And, what is more the text of my blog can be saved. When something goes wrong and then goes right again, it feels like a gift.

memory, netsuke, words

My first beautiful thing for today is a broom standing against the hedge with snow on its moustache. There should have been a photograph of it here, but a mysterious window persistently appears, when I try to transfer the photograph from Picassa to the blog; and what is worse, when I try unsuccessfully to save my text. It says: "We are sorry but we were unable to complete your request." My carefully crafted words meanwhile have vanished with the picture. There is a code in the window, which means nothing to me. It is bx-l1gck6. I try clicking "help", but all I find is a forum where one or two other people have experienced the same problem, and no solutions are offered. Is my broom subversive? Am I being censored? Franz Kafka might have understood or at least have been sympathetic, were he alive today.
I step into the fishmongers, I talk to Nick. I have known him now for many years. He used to work at Mears, the fishmonger at the bottom of Mount Sion. When Mears closed, he transferred to Jones the fishmonger in Camden Road which was, at the time, the last independent fishmonger in Tunbridge Wells. When Jones' lease expired and was not renewed, Nick moved to the fish counter at Sainsbury's and he remained there until a few months ago. His release from supermarket servitude came when the fish restaurant, Sankey's extended its business into fish mongering. As soon as Sankey's opened, he moved there with characteristic enthusiasm. Nick is a good filleter of fish, but he has another claim to fame. He is a collector of netsuke. These are small Japanese toggles consisting of beautifully carved animals, birds and human figures. They are sculpted of materials such as wood, stone, porcelain and ivory. They were used to secure the little sacks used by Japanese men as part of their traditional dress, in place of pockets. Antique and contemporary netsuke are now recognised as works of art for their own sake. There are collectors all over the world . Nick tells me that he has seen one at a dealers which he has fallen in love with, and has asked the dealer to put aside for him. As we stand beside the ice and seaweed strewn slab laden with goggling fish, he tells me that he has spent two sleepless nights thinking about it. It is, he says, a mermaid carved in wood. It seems to me to be a most appropriate netsuke for him to add to his collection, and I hope that he will find the means to acquire it.
In the Oxfam bookshop, there are often elderly ladies in charge who, judging by their conversation, do not know one another well. As I browse I hear one say to the other. "Words are my great fascination." I listen for a response but there is none. The ensuing silence seems desperate for words.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

entrance, running, Lancaster

Posted by Picasa Railings. One of the entrances to The Grove.
On a walk round the periphery of The Common, I hear thumping footsteps behind me, and aggressive panting. It is a man running up the sloping path where I am walking. I step out of the way as I would for tractor. He is running rather than jogging. Is he the same man whom I saw timing himself as he ran round The Grove a few weeks ago? It could be. When he reaches the top of the slope he consults his watch as he pauses for breath and leans forward to support himself against a signpost. There can't be many men around here who run full out and time themselves at intervals. About 20 minutes later in another part of The Common, there he is again, consulting his watch. He runs towards me this time, still panting, but as we are on the level, the noise, as he thuds past, is gentler and less threatening.
As I pass the window of the specialist Aviation Bookshop in Vale Road, I am reminded of Barrett Bonden's Works Well blog, where he referred the other day to The Lancaster World War 2 bomber. There in the window is a book with a cut away drawing of a Lancaster on the cover. It is called Avro Lancaster 1941 Onwards. Owners Workshop Manual. My fascination with aeroplanes faded long ago, so I did not enter the shop, nor have I have ever been inside. But I confess to a feeling of regret particularly when I saw, in another window, several Airfix kits - including a Heinkel HZ 177 and a P 38F Lightening, in their original boxes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

fruit, success, normal

Posted by Picasa It's warmer now, but for a while, icicles were suspended from shrubs like transparent fruit.
In a review of Paul Johnson's biography of Winston Churchill, I read, that when asked for his recipe for success, Churchill replied: "Economy of effort. Never stand up when you can sit down; never sit down when you can lie down".
People I meet this afternoon say that they are glad that things are back to normal after Christmas and the snow. In Hall's bookshop Peter says that it's good to have a block of usual weather such as we have had, because it makes the winter go quicker.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

protest, logistics, support

Posted by PicasaPigeon in action the Pantiles.
On Radio 4 this morning, in the slot which used to belong to Alistair Cooke's Letter from America, Lisa Jardine, talks about logistics in the context of the salt shortage, which left so many UK roads untreated during the recent freeze and the apparent surplus of Swine Flu vaccine in the absence, so far, of the predicted swine flu pandemic. Logistics, she defines "as moving the right thing to the right place at the right time". Her talk explains how the term evolved from a narrow military meaning, where it was limited to the supply of resources for armies, to one which encompassed the movement of all goods and materials. It evokes a twinge of nostalgia for the fifteen years of my career during which I was engaged in editing magazines on this subject or something very close to it. For it was during those years that the term expanded. My first encounter with the topic was when I worked for Mechanical Handling, a journal devoted to the forklift trucks, cranes, conveyors and earth moving equipment, which manoeuvre goods and materials into and out of transport and storage and round and about the production line in factories. Next came Materials Handling where the focus of interest was extended to take in the systemic control of goods throughout manufacture, storage and distribution. It was a far reaching topic and took me to many different countries and numerous industries from motor car manufacture to brewing, from mining to retail distribution, in pursuit of new developments and new thinking. It was while I was involved with Materials Handling that I first heard the term "logistics" applied to what we had been calling "materials handling" or "materials management".
An additional dimension to this rich experience was that during my time with the two magazines I first met the man known to fellow bloggers as Barrett Bonden, who himself came to edit magazines in what may now be known as the field of logistics.
While on the telephone to the Sony Vaio centre over a problem with my lap top, I notice the gentle Irish voice of the expert at the other end of the line. He is exceptionally helpful, quick and courteous. While waiting for my computer to reboot, he enquires about the weather at my end. It strikes me as unusual and rather gratifying to find someone at a technical support centre who can engage in small talk. I tell him about the freeze. "And where you live?" I ask, curious to know where that is. "Cork," he says. " We have been surprised by heavy snow". We talk for a little about Kinsale, a town of which I have pleasant memories, before the computer boots up, and we retire to our respective roles.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

rocks, gull, crossing

Posted by PicasaWellington Rocks, the highest point of The Common are one of a number of sandstone outcrops in and around Tunbridge Wells. People usually arrange themselves over and around the rocks, with which they seem to have an affinity.
Above the cross roads opposite the Town Hall, a seagull circles as though looking for an opportunity to land. It circles several times but cannot assure itself of a gap in the traffic. The lights change and for a moment the space in the centre of the road is quiet. The gull swoops and collects a long, thin sandwich crust, which only the hungriest of mammals would have spotted. It barely lands, picking up the crust in flight as it might capture a fish leaping out of the sea.
Two opposing streams of traffic make it difficult to cross Grosvenor Road opposite the convenience store. A tall, elderly man with stick, doesn't hesitate for long. He passes elegantly through the line of cars, acknowledging, with a calmly raised arm, each line of vehicles as it lets him pass.

Friday, January 15, 2010

memory, solver, melting

Posted by PicasaSnow in The Grove a few days ago, is today just a memory. So rare has been snow in recent years, that it has the quality of a childhood memory. As I survey the sodden grass in the grey light this afternoon, it is one of those memories, which seem to be magical and hard to believe
In the shop which sells electronic accessories, I hear a woman say to a man. "Look a crossword solver! You should give it to your mother." Says the man: "God, she'd never use it." And I think to myself, I don't blame her. I speculate on the possibility of a jigsaw puzzle completer. An assistant in the shop meanwhile sees me writing in my notebook. He thinks that I am checking out his stock. "Are you alright, sir?" He says.
At the edge of The Common, the remains of three big snowmen watch the traffic pass. They are no more than three mounds of snow but there is a sense of brotherhood about them as though they are offering each other mutual support in difficult times.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

frozen, free, mist

Posted by PicasaMystery in the ice. A frozen drop of melting snow clings to a branch.
At last The High Street is clear of frozen slush. There is a sense of lightness and freedom in being able to walk without fear of slipping.
In The Grove, the trees rise out of the mist. Everything seems to be dripping and crackling. In the mist-shrouded tree tops you can hear but not see the starlings chattering and whistling.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

form, clean, snow-bear

Posted by PicasaThe little group of trees and shrubs in the centre of Berkeley Road is known locally as The Village Green. That is because it is in fact registered as a village green despite the fact that there is no grass on it as there is on most village greens. It is also a lot smaller than most village greens. For a long time it was carefully tended with the help of the Council by Col Tony Wade, who lived beside it and who died 18 months ago. Nowadays the Council looks after it once or twice a year. The Scots pine in the foreground will never amount to much because it is so precariously rooted, but it remains an ornament. With the snow forming uniform shapes on its branches, it looks like a formal tree in a Japanese picture. In the Spring there are daffodils among the bushes. And sometimes, if the Council gardeners spare them a mass of lesser celandine.
Walking in the snow has cleaned the soles of my boots and extracted every little bit of mud or grit that usually insinuates itself into the patterned grooves in the rubber.
Teddy bears are usually brown or black. This is because they are called after President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, whose bear hunting expeditions and one in particular in 1902 which involved an American black bear, were widely publicised. There is therefore something anomalous about a teddy bear made of snow. Unusual though. The snow teddy, in a corner of the The Grove this afternoon, is the size of a grown man. A man , surrounded by children, is, in fact, putting the finishing touches to the bear's nose, and at the same time looking the bear straight in the eye.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

persistance, munching, oxtail

Posted by Picasa Hanging on.
Underfoot, as a slow thaw begins, the snow makes munching, rather than the crunching noises of a few days ago, as you walk on it in The Grove, where it still lies thick.
The smell of oxtail braising, a slow, slow cook with herbs and vegetables. We shall eat it tomorrow with the braising vegetables removed and a fresh brunoise added,with the original stock from which the fat has been skimmed. When preparing the vegetables I realize that we are out of celery, but the new farm shop in The High Street has come celeriac. I am about to inspect the stew and will now add some of the celeriac, which I have just brought home, finely chopped .

Monday, January 11, 2010

melt, line, stupidity

Posted by PicasaFissures appear in the thick layer of snow that lies on top of the hedge which next summer I will have to cut.
Darts is not a game that I know well. I don't even know how the scoring works. On the few occasions when I have played it, someone who knew had to point out the place on the board where I was supposed to aim. But watching the World Darts Championship on TV, I am impressed by the way the participants narrow their eyes, and as they take aim, lean into their throw. The UK is, I learn in a newspaper article, preeminent in the sport. Could sport be the right word? If it is, the participants do not strike me, judging by a certain heaviness about the jowls and midriff, as being fit in the sense that other sportsmen tend to be. I also learn a new word from the article. The word is "oche " and it refers to the line, groove or ridge behind which a darts player must stand when he throws. It occurs to me that I must be permanently on the wrong side of the oche.
Everyone in public life should read Montaigne on The Art of Conversation. Every blogger or would-be blogger, too. "Stupidity," he says, "is a bad quality, but to be unable toItalic bear it, to be vexed and fretted by it, as is the case with me, is another kind of disease that is hardly less troublesome, and of this I am now going to accuse myself". And I accuse myself with him!. The Best of Now, in pursuit of beautiful, interesting and amusing things, is designed to exclude, for the most part, incidents of stupidity and its impact on our daily lives. But sometimes it is hard. Thank you , Montaigne, for your understanding. What a marvelous blog you would have written. But then, in a sense, you did.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

light, steam, bof

Posted by Picasa Snow lying on branches is pleasing to look at. It seems to have something in common with the process of drawing, a sort of reverse shading to enhance outlines. The winter sun, low in the sky, improves the effect with with a hint of gold.
" In the morning the steam from the central heating boiler vent in the house opposite forms a fleeting cloud of mist. To day, the shadow of the trunk of the tulip tree, behind which the sun is rising, bisects the cloud with a perpendicular shadow".
This note is in fact three days old when last we saw the sun in the morning. I mention this in case a meteorologist or historian should happen upon it and wrongly conclude that the morning of Sunday 10 January was other than overcast.
I like derisory and dismissive one-syllable words that are descriptive, almost onomatopoeic, yet never crude or offensive. My favourite is "pish" which my friend, Anna often uses, and to good effect. Today, I come across what I think is the French equivalent, bof. There is an important difference however. Pish, says the Oxford Dictionary is first recorded in 1521, while bof, according to Robert, goes back to 1973. I do not think that I have heard anyone say bof, having only encountered it in a novel by Romain Gary. Is it too much to hope that one day someone will be prompted to say it in my presence in an appropriate context, of course?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

competition, gothic, drawing

Posted by PicasaCompeting lights.
A car with icicles suspended from various parts of its chassis, is inescapably a Gothic car.
At last. Back on November 11 Lucy Kempton asked me, at the end of her last poem in compasses, where our exchange of questions and answers continues at a modest but deliberate pace: "What on earth shall I draw today?" It has has taken some thought, some drafting and redrafting but there is now an answer from me. Meanwhile, I have printed and reread the whole sequence and find myself marvelling at the strange and unexpected set of poems, which is evolving each spurred on by the other. And now surprise and pleasure: Lucy has emailed me to say that she too had reread all the poems, and, like me, is pleased with our progress. Sometimes one wonders when setting out on something new and different whether it makes sense; and when, on reflection and after some time, it seems to be working, well ... cheers Lucy!

Friday, January 08, 2010

watching, onions, pi

Posted by PicasaWe'll soon get used to the snow, take if for granted, but for the time being, it brings us all
closer together.
The other day I heard a TV chef proclaim on TV that there is no way to avoid the tears produced when chopping onions. My beautiful, and useful thing, to note for that day was going to be the solution, which I have known for a long time, and which was probably imparted to me by another TV chef. Since employing it, nor a tear has passed my eye while chopping onions. What brings this to mind is hearing the news this morning that the English spin bowler Graham Onions for the second time saved England from defeat in the test series against South Africa by staying in, though not a batsman, until stumps were drawn. Oh yes and the solution to the crying problem? Nothing to do with cricket. And, not as some have suggested holding the onion under cold water while chopping - not an easy procedure even if it worked. All you have to do is cut off and discard the root end of the onion, the whiskery bit. Try it. No more tears I promise.
In today's paper, I read that a French computer programmer called Fabrice Bernard has calculated the value of pi to 2,700 billion decimal places. According to the report in The Independent, it took 131 days to complete the calculation and the resulting number took up more than 1,000 gigabytes of memory on the hard drive of Bernard's desk top computer. Downloading it would, apparently take 10 days, and if you wanted to recite the number, you would have to set aside 49,000 years for the job. Why bother with such calculations? You might for example want one day to square a circle using the formula πr squared. If you did, the fact that the fraction which gives you the value of π seems incapable of resolution should be enough to deter you from wasting your time.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

entrance, silence, bricks

Posted by PicasaThe snow tends to melt or not to settle on man-hole covers. It must be warm down there.
The snow brings silence or something close to it, especially in the morning, when the birds are silent and there is no traffic or little of it. The cars that do pass seem to be muffled by the snow beneath their tires, and they drive slowly with extreme caution. When I venture out this morning I realize that the silence is illusory. You do not hear the usual weekday sounds; instead there is snow falling off branches, the distant scraping of a shovel, the shout of a child, and in the background, a murmur of quiet voices, the voices of people saying how cold it is, how pretty the snow is.
People talk to one another more than usual. An elderly man greets me this afternoon on the way to The Grove. He has a theory that some of the original pan-tiles from The Pantiles parade have been recycled and are somewhere beneath the paving in The Grove. He is a local historian, and facts and theories pour out of him. The original Tunbridge Wells clay bricks now fetch £1.oo each, he says; they are bricks that were used to line the London sewers. "I'm off to see if I can skate on Dunorlan Lake, he says. I am impressed because he looks older than I, and skating on Dunorlan Lake is decidedly beyond my scope or ambition.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

hydrangea, footsteps, no problem

Posted by PicasaIced hydrangea.
My boots make a satisfying noise on the crisp snow, half crunch, half squeak. It is good to be about.
The streets are almost deserted. It is only a little snow and the slush has not frozen yet. What has happened to people? "How are your supplies?" I ask the fishmonger across a well stocked slab. "No problem," he says. " If they want to get moving they can. Those who don't get on with the job are just being lazy, just taking advantage. That's the trouble with the whole country - schools, railways, shops the lot". He is a young man but he sounds to me like the comedy character in the old BBC programme called Take it from Here. In his weekly spot the character, played by Jimmy Edwards, would dictate a letter to the press signed "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". The catchphrase has since been inseparably associated with this town. Perhaps the sentiment is catching. A strangely pleasing thought.