Wednesday, August 31, 2011

petals, free, connected

Posted by Picasa Not a poppy but a group of poppy petals.

In Sevenoaks High Street,  there is a long queue outside a branch of the fast food chain called Subway, which specialises in sandwiches filled with most of things which make you fat, and some lettuce to make you feel better about it.  I ask why the queue? The branch is re-opening today, I am told. It's free today.  Indeed, man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains, at least in the modern high street. The town seems to be full of over weight young people eating chubby sandwich wrapped in paper napkins.

I like having but barely use my Blackberry. It rings when an email arrives, and pings when there is a diary reminder. It makes me feel in touch with the world, without the world intruding on me too much. This morning I am sitting outside the doctor's surgery at 8.45 for a 9.00 appointment. It pings importantly. I switch it on. It tells me that I have an appointment with the doctor at 9.00. That's reassuring. I have an electronic friend to nudge my memory even when it doesn't need nudging. What else are friends for?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

pears, crow, shopping

Posted by Picasa Just pears, but a source of satisfaction to me. I planted the tree  and began to espalier it about 10 years ago and this year is the first time it has fruited. It is also the first time that I have made an attempt to prune it properly.

From the train, yet again I catch sight of a crow alone in the middle of a field. A solitary crow in a vast field of grass, as today, or a ploughed field.  Its position, dead centre is important. And its solitariness too. I used to imagine that a crow in the middle of a field thought that it was God in the process of creating something. Today  a more mundane reason occurs to me. The crow, often slow to take to take to the air, occupies the centre of the field to keep as far away as possible from predators lurking in the hedges. Altogether more likely.

Behind me I hear the regular banging a a muffled drum combined with footsteps. The owner of the footsteps overtakes me. She is hung with carrier bags like a Christmas tree. One of the bags swings as she walks, striking another bag in time with her steps.  She walks quickly. That's the way with shopping.

Monday, August 29, 2011

peeling, Frisbee, madness

Posted by Picasa Plaster peeling from a wall.

In a sports shop window, I see a Frisbee and begin to think about the pleasure of throwing them, watching them in the air, and catching them. On my way home in Calvereley Ground, I see three boys  throwing a Frisbee to one  another. It is one of those Frisbees with a hole cut out of the centre so  that it resembles a ring. If I had a Frisbee it would one of these. Though more difficult to control its direction  of flight, this type of Frisbee has a life of its own. Throw it low and  it soars up like a glider in a convection current. Throw to someone and he will reach up  to  catch it and  will invariably misjudge its flight as it rise over his head as though it has a mind of its own.

In the pub this morning there is a bitter called Midsummer Madness. Going for a second one, I catch myself, making the sort of abbreviation that is common nowadays. "I pint of madness," I say.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

feet, flying, screaming

Posted by PicasaFeet resting.

This morning outside our bedroom window the single bladed seeds of the lime tree fly past, almost horizontally. Evolution has engineered  them to do so. I have always loved things that fly and always wanted to be able to take off, without paraphernalia or energy-demanding equipment. Just to fly like a bird or a seed. The September issue of the  National Geographic magazine records attempt by humans to fly, so far unsuccessfully, under their own steam. Will it ever happen?

In The Grove this afternoon  children scream. But why scream? They can shout or yell. But screaming seems nowadays to be part of a ritual. Why, above all, to teenage girls scream at the least opportunity. Is it because consciously or subconsciously, they believe that it enhances their femininity? I've no objection. I would just like to know. In my belief it started with The Beatles at whose concerts girls made an art of screaming

Saturday, August 27, 2011

tiles, wagtail, difference

Posted by Picasa Evening sunlight on a roof of old Kentish clay tiles.

Pied wagtails are the commonest English wagtails. I love them for their joyful, swooping flight. In an art gallery in The Pantiles there are two made of gauze.The models are life size, and quite,  but not too realistic. There are two of them shown with a small mirror (they have been known to fly into windows attracted by their own reflection) in  a display cabinet. It is a coincidence that I have just read in Victor Hugo's novel The Man who Laughs, a description of an ourque, a small ship, a sort of barque, which comes from the Basque region of Spain.  "The ourque,"  he writes  is "among ships what the wagtail is among birds, one of the smallest and one of the boldest. The wagtail scarcely bends the reed on which it perches, yet flies across the ocean." Hugo's wagtail is likely to be the yellow rather than the pied wagtail because he later speaks of  ourques, even the poorest of them  as being gilded and painted to reflect the variety and colour of their country of origin.

My neighbours who take me shopping every week change their timetable today, to Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday morning. As I wait for them on the other side of  the tills it strikes me that it is noisier  today. Children shout  louder and run more wildly.  Their parents seem more frantic than usual as they drag the aisles.

Friday, August 26, 2011

hollow, barking, window

Posted by Picasa There was an old apple tree in the deserted garden next door to the vegetable garden. It died and blew over in some strong winds two years ago. They sawed it up and took most of it away. But this hollow trunk survives; a good place to hide or set up home.

In Chapel Place a small dog yaps at some boys. One of the boys bark in response with the deep resonant bark of a big dog. People among whom I include myself,  look in vain for  the animal, but the boy gives the game away. He barks too often.

People sit in the window of the new  branch of Cafe Nero in The High Street. They lounge on sofas and  in arm chairs reading or chatting as though they are at home. The cafe occupies premises with a traditional shop front, which local regulations insist must be preserved.  The occupants consequently look as though they are on display. I think to myself that they must, to some extent, at least be posing,  and offer themselves, if not sale, for the admiration of passers by.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

basement, jargon, drizzle

Posted by Picasa In a basement window two cats and some washing catch my eye.

My sister-in-law talks about the jargon spoken  nowadays on committees. Her latest catch is " the lowest hanging fruit on the tree", meaning the most of obvious section of the market to appeal to. New to me.

All day, drizzle. A good word. Jane Austen wrote of a "mizzling rain", meaning the same thing. There is a cake meanwhile called lemon drizzle cake, a sort of sponge over which lemon syrup is drizzled when it is still hot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

portrait, lavander, cub

Posted by PicasaPortrait of the artist in a wing mirror.

In the garden after the rain the sun comes out and warms the vegetation. What is that powerful smell?
Of course it is lavender, now in full flower, the scent of an old fashioned, old lady's boudoir.

Behind the greenhouse and between it and a high brick wall is that fox cub again. It seems to live in the wild and deserted neigbouring garden. It  is always alone. Does it fend for itself I wonder? It is very young. It looks at me and pauses as it did on the last occasion we met. Do I imagine a reproachful look on its face reflecting irritation at being disturbed? Or perhaps it is looking for a playmate and contemplates engaging me in vulpine discourse. I would like to think that the latter is the case.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

rose, lettuces, wormwood

Posted by PicasaSometimes a rose shows itself irresistible when we sit in the garden in the evening. So I can resist neither snapping it nor posting the photograph.

There are now two sorts of lettuces ready for cutting in the garden. One is the soft, more tasty variety, which except for a close knit heart, tends to be floppy. The other is all heart, almost like a cabbage, crisp but with little flavour.  It makes me think of my old friend Bob Payton, an American advertising executive resident in London, who launched a restaurant called the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory in Hanover Square, back in the seventies, when pizzas were a rare thing in London. He used to mock European lettuces for their lack of crunch, and did so once memorably on television. He was dedicated to the crisp but almost flavourless iceberg favoured in his native land. How wrong he was! Lettuce to my way of thinking should taste green and slightly bitter with just a hint of sweetness and be soft to the touch as well as possess a heart with just a hint of crunch. But I miss Bob nevertheless, whose imagination and wit showed itself in his considerable success with restaurants. The Chicago Rib Shack in London followed and mirrored the success of the Pizza Pie Factory. He was killed in a car crash in 1994, having by then turned an English stately home called Stapelford Park, into a country house hotel.

There is a bed in the vegetable garden devoted entirely to herbs, many of  them unusual. One of the successes this year, if success can be judged by sturdiness, is wormwood, a herb which I had heard of but never seen .   Its  Latin name Artemesia absinthia gives away its connection with absinthe the drink which was reputedly the undoing of many Parisian writers and artists in the 19th and 20th centuries. One of its ingredients, santonin, is said to hallucinatory and to have been the cause both of herb's attraction and its lethal effect. I can personally vouch for neither of these, but admit to liking the plant's silvery leaves and bell-like inflorescences.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

drink, kiss, melon

Posted by Picasa Outside the pub it is not only homo sapiens that enjoys a drink, though I suspect that this is only water.

On the pavement on the other side of our hedge we hear some footsteps stop. There is a pause. "I thought you were going to kiss me or something," says a female voice. A male voice mumbles an inadequate evasion as the footsteps move on.

Half way through unloading my trolley on to the conveyor at the checkout this morning I remember the water melon I am supposed to buy. I have about a minute before the cashier is ready for me. "Forgive me," I say to the woman behind me in the queue. "I won't be a minute". When I return I find that the remains of my shopping has been transferred to the conveyor. "Thank you," I say to my benefactor. "I have two hands," she says and smiles.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Posted by PicasaHats and heads in The Pantiles.

"Be not afeared the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds, methought, would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again."
 This one of my favourite speeches in The Tempest and perhaps in the whole of Shakespeare; even though, and perhaps because it strikes a sympathetic note on behalf of  the pathetic and essentially nasty half human, Caliban . It comes to mind this morning when I hear a strange and persistent sound coming from the scaffolding next door. It turns out to be some striped plastic sheeting wrapped round a couple of vertical tubes to warn people  against bumping into them. It flaps in the wind rattling at a high frequency. And for a second reason when Heidi tells me about a dream. "It was so interesting, "she says, "that I wanted to go back into it. But I couldn't."

We meet an old acquaintance. "I'm writing a book," he says. "It's about the man/woman thing, which is so out of balance nowadays". He illustrates the theme: " My Godfather used to say 'there's no such things as strong women, only weak men.'"

Friday, August 19, 2011

grass, monkeys, training

Posted by Picasa Grass on a dune near Calais could be a head of hair.

The firm of scaffolders who spent yesterday and the day before erecting scaffolding round the house of our next door neighbour is called Tube Monkeys. Their name on the large advertisement which ornaments the scaffolding is illustrated by a large, monkey with an evil grin. No specific objection to this, but when we object to the monkey's image just above our garden and staring wickedly through the window next to Heidi's desk, the merry scaffolders, with good grace, move their emblem to the far end of the structure. We breathe again.

For some years there has been a climbing rose (red) on one side of the bay window of our sitting room, and  a white one on the other side. Recently I have trained these so that they follow a path beneath the window where they meet. Today I haul down and bend the new still flexible shoots, and tie them into  their new position. Though there are still flowers on the old wood, the new shoots will not flower until next summer. Training plants like training animals is a satisfying process, an exercise of power I suppose, but in the most gentle manner.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

beach,pertinence, magpies,

Circle of young people talking on the beach.

Sometimes Montaigne, that most civilised of commentators makes me gasp with joy when he writes something which seems as true today as  when he wrote it 500 years ago. His essay on the education of children is full of such judgements. "The boy," he says, "will be trained to be sparing  and thrifty with his ability when he has acquired it; not to take exception to the stupid things and wild tales that will be told in his presence, for it is uncivil and annoying to hit at everything that is not to our taste...He will be taught not to enter into discussion or argument except when he sees a champion worth wrestling with, and even then will not use all the the tricks that can help, but only those that can help him most. Let him be fastidious in choosing and sorting his arguments, and fond of pertinence, and consequently of brevity." Oh how I love Montaigne!

In The Grove four young magpies hopping in the grass under the trees. They must be newly fledged. The are small and seem reluctant to fly. One's sorrow, two's mirth, three's a wedding, four's a birth..."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

bench, lettuces, free

Posted by PicasaBench by the sea.

Earlier this summer I found that pigeons had taken a liking to a particular variety of lettuce - the crisp sort with big, cabbage-like hearts sometimes described as "iceberg" - and cropped the tops of the seedling almost as soon as I had set them out. I resolved to take no notice of the attacks and simply left the headless lettuces to their own devices. Today I note that my tolerance has paid off. Almost all the cropped plants have developed into satisfyingly plump and crisp vegetables to be proud of. I can't say  the same for the  green peas .The  pigeons virtually levelled the sweet and succulent shoots with their eager beaks. I can't say I blame them. Among the pea-sticks which I optimistically arranged  round them, I today managed to harvest, half a dozen pods - a poor reward but valued perhaps for their scarcity.  I shall cook them with a few of the remaining broad beans and few lovage leaves,  as served by the smart restaurant  where we lunched on Heidi's birthday.

This afternoon I feel the breath of freedom. In Grosvenor Precinct, I am approached by a young man in red tee shirt with words printed in white letters proclaiming a cult of some sort. He carries an ominous clip-board.  "This is the best way you can spend the next two minutes of your time."  He says adding "Let's do it."  "Let's don't," I say. and walk on, with a growing sense of relief, that I have saved two valuable minutes of my time for my own purposes and under my own direction.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

gull, maturity, doughnut

Posted by Picasa Seagull on camera.

I wake up thinking about some of the mistakes I have made and of the many occasions when my judgement has been out of balance. Then I recognise that I am assuming, from my present viewpoint, that I have now reached a state of maturity and wisdom which allows me to proscribe my past transgressions with such confidence. There is an implication  that henceforth such errors will occur no more in my life. Alas, I don't think that I will ever grow up, or grow wise.  If in five years time I am still around, I wonder, if I look back, how I will view the present time and my daily blathering from the still moving vehicle in which, if I am lucky, I will still be travelling.

They are going to decorate the outside of the house next door. All day there is the clunk and bump of scaffolding being erected and the calls of  scaffolders one to another.  I try not to listen to this restless music, but I do hear one of the merry scaffolder reprimand another as he mishandles a pole with: "You doughnut!" which I find restrained and memorable. How many people in these troubled times use such gentle forms of abuse?

Monday, August 15, 2011

apples, fish and chips, sincerity

Posted by Picasa On the tree, which I planted and espaliered about 10 years ago apples cluster. They are James Grieves, an eating apple with a pleasing acidity, a variety unobtainable in supermarkets.

Outside The Compasses, Geoff reminisces about his childhood in Liverpool in the Sixties. There was a fish and chip shop on the way to my school. My Mother used to give me a stack of plates and towels to leave at the chippies. The chippie would keep the plates and the towels in the oven. On my way home I'd pick up the fish and chips kept hot by the towels and hot plates. We weren't the only people who did this. The chippie had about 200 sets of plates and towels and knew which every one belonged to."

On a shopping bag beside a woman on a bench in The Grove, I read "There is no love sincererer than the love of food." An interesting and cynical slogan I think to myself. It is untrue even of animals. The look in the eyes of a dog or cat when food appears  is  closer to lust  than  to love. And the saying that the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach, is one of those half truths which end up by irritating like the slogan on the bag. The slogan incidently is qualified by the bag's provenance, M&S, Marks and Spencer, a chain which has a vested intererest in the sentiment.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

dandelion, Lancaster, story

Posted by PicasaSeed time.

Overhead the roar old fashioned engines  I look up at the small space of sky in view, and there for  a brief moment is a World War 2  Lancaster bomber flying dramatically low. I only see it for a moment but it is immediately recognisable, its rear gun turret clearly visible. Last year, or was it the year before? I had the same experience. There was an air-show in progress then as there must be now. To see this plane so close is as exciting today, as it was when I was a nipper. How we marvelled at anything that flew! And though planes seemed fast then, it is pleasing, when you see one now that they were, unlike their modern equivalent, slow enough  for us to appreciate details of their design as they pass. 

In Sainsbury's a woman with a strident voice and one of those machines where you click the bar code and run up your own bill. She is accompanied by a man too young to be her husband and young enough to be her son. With them sitting in their shopping trolley is a little girl. She must be the man's daughter. "Do you want one of those?" demands the woman, concluding her question with a "huh"  to emphasise the question. The man looks bored and a politely bewildered. He is not used to shopping, and his Mother, assuming it is his Mother, is giving him a hand. She is a an organising woman who  would know her place at the top of any domestic hierarchy, or any other hierarchy for that matter. I keeping meeting them, or hearing that voice as I progress round the supermarket, "Do you want that? Huh?" Followed by "You're not going to drink it before next weekend!" Mothers speak like that to small boys. This boy must be 40. A new dimension has entered the story.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

going, challenge, finesse

Posted by PicasaGoing somewhere. "They changed the landing path, at Gatwick" Bill says outside The Compasses, as I point my camera upwards to see what's there.

"Here's a challenge for you", says a customer at a plant stall at Farmers' Market. "I want something with a lot of flowers to stick in the middle of the table and plant out in the garden afterwards. And our garden's very shady."

On the way to the market I meet an acquaintance. She is pushing a wheeled shopping basket. "Are you going to the Farmers' Market?" I ask and then regret the question in case she is. She is on her way to the Farmers' Market. I suspect that she does not relish the prospect of making small talk all the way up Mount Pleasant to The Town Hall. "You go on ahead," I say, "I don't walk very fast nowadays." "I'm a bit slow myself," she says. Is she being polite?  Perhaps not. "I'll take the short cut," she says when she realizes that I am aiming to walk up Mount Pleasant, and dives into Mount Pleasant Avenue. I might have done and said the same. Either way the story ends happily.

Friday, August 12, 2011

panorama, worried, stung

Posted by Picasa Bums on seats.

The worried look on the faces of dogs left on their own always arouses sympathy in me, possibly because it touches my own deep but  forgotten feelings. Two black and white spaniels are tethered to a lamp post outside a shop in The High Street. One has its head down,  its eyes fixed on the spot where its human disappeared. The other, I suspect the younger of the two, moves its head from side to side, not sure where the human is or when, or whether it will return. Waiting for Godot, I suppose.

Two women at lunch say they have been stung on the leg by a wasp this summer. I say that I too have been stung on my calf by a wasp this summer, and Heidi too. That makes four people all stung on their legs by wasps in the past three or four months. Word, I suggest, must be getting round.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

visitor, Bury, zero

Posted by Picasa On the wall beside our front doorstep.

There is a Chinese restaurant in Sevenoaks with a pleasant outside seating area. On a return visit today I question the owner about his Mancunian accent. I'm a Manchester boy," he says, "Or rather Bury. I was born in Bury." Why did you come south?" "I was 18," he says."I wanted to leave home. I told my parents I was going to London. My Mother gave me one of those green phone cards which the Post Office provided in those days. But otherwise my parents put no obstacles in my way. I got the train to Kings Cross. On the train I met a woman who said whatever you do, don't stay in London. So I took a train to Croydon. I started off down the road outside the station but it didn't seem promising, so I turned round and went the other way. Before long I found a Chinese take-away. I said I'm looking for a job. They said we're looking for someone. My experience was Chinese take-aways and fish and chips, my parents business. I stayed there three years. This is my restaurant," he says  looking round him. "I've been running it for 10 years. I'm 48." I tell him that I was amused to see someone deliver a plate of English pub sandwiches to the restaurant last time we were there. (I reported the incident here). "They were for me," he says, smiling. I need a change sometimes."

Reading up about zero I find this. It is the sort of thing I am looking for. It is attributed to a manuscript found in the 12th Century Salem Monastery  in German.:
 "Every number arises from One, and this in turn from the Zero. In this lies a great and sacred mystery."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

close, late, smile

Posted by PicasaLavatera close to the centre.

The bus back from Sevenoaks is late, very late. The manager in the enquires office says there has been a delay on the A 21 from Bromley. Delays are up to 3/4 hour. Along comes a blond woman with a  high pitched voice and a lively manner. "I've been waiting at the stop up the road", she says; "I was getting lonely." We explain the delay.  "I just want to go to the loo," she says. "Please get on the bus very slowly, so that it doesn't go without me. Say I'm very old."

Outside a dentists' practice in Sevenoaks I read: Atkinson Bignell Caring Dentists. Incorporating Sevenoaks Smile Studio.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

grass, heroine, security

Posted by Picasa Grass growing out of the base of a wall and a crack in the tarmac of a footpath.

Nancy Wake, the New Zealand born, Australian bred French resistance leader, died the other  day aged 99.  She herself told the story that when she was parachuted into France in 1944, her parachute caught in the branches of a tree.  Not surprisingly, because she was apparently very attractive as well as talented, her rescuer said that he wished that all trees bore such beautiful fruit, to which her pleasingly direct and unsentimental response was: "Don't give me that French shit."

A security camera on top of a pole on the  St Leonards sea front, rotates through 45 degree every few minutes. I am watching a seagull perched on the camera when the camera moves. To my surprise the bird merely the lifts its feet and lands elegantly as the camera takes up its new position. An established  and rather enviable relationship between bird and machine.

Monday, August 08, 2011

power, contrasts, grilling

Posted by PicasaLot's Road power station, where the electricity for the London underground used to be generated, photographed from the South side of The River Thames, beside St Mary's Church Battersea, where the poet William Blake was married.

In Sutherland Road which leads to The Grove, there are two houses almost facing each other, which have prolific lavender hedges in front of them. As I walk past the scent of the flowers is powerful,, quickly to be succeeded by the smell of curry from the Indian restaurant in Grove Hill Road.

This summer I have taken to making sausages with minced lamb and spices, a variation of kebabs, which are grilled on the barbecue. I have found that by pounding the meat with the spices (I use Moroccan spices, usually the blend known as harrisa) in a mortar, there is is no need to add an egg to hold the mixture together. The meat is then rolled into a sausage shape in cling-film and left in the fridge. Before grilling the film is removed and the meat placed on the grill. I believe that in the Balkans such "sausages" are known as "kebabcici" or something of the sort. The scent of the meat cooking is what must have pricked the nostrils of the old gods on Mount Olympus.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

cuckoo-pint, neighbours, bowler

Posted by Picasa Lords and ladies otherwise known as cuckoo-pint.

Overheard: " Our neighbours weren't very nice, but they just left. Fortunately!"

A boy walking on the pavement takes a few  rapid steps forward and swings his right arm over his head while extending his right  arm to give him balance. He resumes walking normally.  I know what action he is practising, though anyone who has not played cricket might be puzzled. He is bowling an imaginary ball, something which I myself used to do, 70 years ago.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

skeleton, studs, cub

Posted by Picasa Skeleton of a weed against a blue door.

We hear from a restaurateur of our acquaintance of his disagreement with his teen-age daughter. "She's gone back to her Mother," he says. "She was staying with me. She said that she wanted a nose-stud. I said that I wouldn't allow it. She said that she was an adult. I told her so was I. So she went back to her Mother. Her Mother allowed her to have one nostril pierced. She came back to me and said she wanted to have the other one done. I said no. I said that I could not acknowledge her as my daughter with two studs in her nose. She had it done anyway. That was it. She's back with her Mother now".

A fox cub stares back at me over the fence from the wilderness next door to the vegetable garden. He is only a few feet away. He is as interested in me as I am in him. He is in no hurry, turns and walks off, then stops and looks back at me. I reach in my pocket for my camera. Too late: off he trots, leaving behind a strain of regret, a perpetual ache for the wild.

Friday, August 05, 2011

mallow, wanting, car

Posted by Picasa Lavatera or mallow in the wild.

There is drama in The High Street. A little girl wants to go into  the branch of Cath Kidston, a shop which little girls like. Her mother says, no. She screams and screams, and pulls away from her mother, but will not abandon her altogether. The mother waits patiently. The little girl goes on screaming at the top of her voice. The mother says very quietly, "if you ask nicely," but her daughter too far down the road of her remorseless longing, continues to scream. I am pleased to note that the mother does not give way. Gradually the two of them proceed up The High Street. The child's screams continue above  the sound of traffic, fading at last as they reach the roundabout opposite the station.

Two young men in a pub where we stop on the way back from France  are teasing the barmaid about her car. She is young, pretty, plump and blond. "Don't worry," she says to me, "they're locals." And then by way of further explanation, "it's my first car. It's mine. I paid for it, the licence and everything." "You must be proud of it, " I say. "I am," she says; "I've had it for just four weeks. It's safely parked where I can see it. Don't worry," she repeats, "they're locals."