Friday, December 30, 2005

A day for everything, ivy, green tea

In today's Independent, a calendar of all the special days and weeks planned for the coming year includes:Green Transport Week; Spam Appreciation Week; Day of Older Persons; World UFO Day; Kissing Day; Smile Day; and Orgasm Day. Some of the more unusual ones make me think that it is a joke, but the more prosaic, some of which ring a bell, seem to confirm that it is real. But how and with whom do you register these events?

As I walk about Mount Sion in gusts of thin, cold rain, I wonder what there can be left in the shrunken world that is beautiful. Then I see ivy seed-heads on a wall, with raindrops on some of the seeds, like star bursts.

After the excess, the delicate experience of a mug of green tea.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Raven, cold turkey, chocolate fountain

In the Grove, a raven waddles across the grass, which is sparsely covered with snow.

I may be one of the few people who do not tire of turkey left over from Christmas. There is not much left by today, but for me, it makes the perfect sandwich, rendered unctuous by a strip of skin, still bearing the traces of chestnut stuffing and seasoned with a squeeze of lemon juice.

A chocolate fountain at a party. I had heard of these fantasy-like gadgets, but not witnessed one until yesterday. It is about three foot high and a constant flow of liquid chocolate emerges from the top, and falls in several tiers, each wider than the one above, until it reaches a "pond" from which the chocolate is sucked up to be pumped through the system again. You are offered the sort of wooden skewer you use for barbecued kebabs, and invited to spear, one at a time, any of a variety of goodies from fresh strawberries to little eclaires. You hold your piece of fruit or choux pastry under the flow until it is covered in chocolate and swallow the resulting bon-bon with appropriate oos and ahs of appreciation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Families, aerials, calm

One of my Christmas presents was Alan Bennett's Untold Stories. Although I have only just started it, I have to copy this into my notebook: "Every family has a secret and that secret is that it's not like other families."

I like the way that birds perch on aerials. It's as though the technology is of no importance; digital signals and the like mean nothing. Someone or something has introduced these tree-substitutes into a landscape of rooftops, but for them it is part of the way their world is made.

There is sort of hush in the streets, though there are sales shoppers everywhere: it's a sort of calm, between the storm of Christmas and the whirlwind of New Year's Eve, and the ensueing barreness of bleak January and February.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Landscape, rusting angel, bird-mugger

In the morning, when I return to bed with my morning cup of tea, the winter sun illuminates the bed sheet and the white duvet so that they resemble a barrren, snowy and mountainous landscape.

One of those flying angels, engaged in spreading a wholesome message with the help of a trumpet, hangs in the window of the garden shop in Chapel Place. It is some sort of antique made of metal and painted in white enamel, but now the paint is peeling. One rusty wing makes this angel especially poignant.

Walking up Grove Avenue towards the Grove I catch sight, for a moment only, of some bird of prey with a smaller bird noisily protesting in its claws. There is no time to identify either bird, but I don't recal ever seeing a raptor of any sort in Tunbridge Wells. Not a beautiful sight but a dramatic one.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas morning, tingo, turkey

In the street early: the houses in the early light are silent, the curtains still closed. I imagine that the only activity must be children exploring the contents of their Christmas stockings.

The Meaning of Tingo still exerts its pull. What does tingo itself mean? It is a Pascuense word from Easter Island meaning "to borrow things from a friend's house one by until there's nothing left."

Preparing Christmas dinner is always a pleasure. There are always two stuffings in the turkey. One is a conventional chestnut stuffing, made this year with the addition of finally chopped, fried streaky bacon and parsley. The second stuffing is based on pearl barley, to which are added: chopped, dried apricots, pepperdew peppers, morrocan pickled lemons, and chopped meat from the neck and giblets of the bird. Pine kernals are intended by I forget to add them.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Street lamps, lost and found, interrupting

The street lamps in the Grove are to be treasured. They are of the traditional lantern shape, and, though now, electrically powered, are almost certainly converted from former gas lamps. The give a whitish, yellowy light in contrast to the orange now so widely used to illuminate the highway. Because they have been there for a long time they sometimes lean to one side so that they can have a charming drunken appearance. Long may they shine.

Finding my notebook which I thought for a moment I had lost.

Another quote from The Meaning of Ting. The Indonosian Nyelongon means to interrupt without appology. A very useful word.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sprouts, pigeons, words

Sturdy sticks of brussell Sprouts from the farmers' market. This is the way to buy what my mother used to call "fairy cabbages"; they look spectacular and the sprouts are fresh, tight and shiny when you pick them from the stem.

When I grow sprouts they are usually devastated by pigeons. "How do you keep the pigeons off ?" I ask the sprout-farmer at the market. "It's a case of more sprouts than pigeons," he says.

A book called the Meaning of Tingo has been in my sights since I read extracts from it recently. It is about extraordinary words from around the world. If you are someone fascinated by language, you won't have to read far to find a hundred things to make you pull out your notebook. Who could resist: ho'oponopono, Hawaiin for solving a problem by talking it out, or chupotero, a spanish word for a person, who works little but has several salaries.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Goat cheese, catching up, monsters

The smell and then the taste of a piece of goat cheese just brought over from France and unwrapped in the kitchen to universal sounds of appreciation.

Catching up with old friends whom you haven't seen for several years and noting how they have changed and, more important, remained unchanged in their attitudes and demeanour

They are re-surfacing the numerous paths which criss-cross the little park known as the Grove.
A couple of mechanical shovels are at rest in what looks like a cage. One of them is partly covered with a very old tarmac the colour and texture of elephant hide. They look like monsters in a zoo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Castiglione, applause, unexpected cards

Even before the first poem in Safest by Michael Donaghy, which arrived in the post today, I read in the epigraph, which he takes from The Book of the Courtier by Castiglione:
"In dancing, a single step, a single movement of the body that is graceful and not forced, reveals at once the skill of the dancer. A singer who utters a single word ending in a group of four notes with a sweet cadence, and with such facility that he appears to do it quite by chance, shows with that touch alone that he can do much more than he is doing".
It pomises good things to come.

As I walk down the High Street, I hear what sounds like a desultory burst of applause. It is the clapping of wings as two pigeons make for and land on one of the ledges above.

An unexpected card, from someone you are pleased to hear from, recalls a past encounter and the interim between then and now, seems for a second to vanish; and then the present returns as you get a glimpse of the new life he is leading.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sunrise, track in the sky, beret basque

No longer a particualrly early riser, I do not see the sun rise for most of the year. But at this time of year, I have made us a cup of tea and returned to bed in time to see the sky turn bright yellow and gold behind the tulip tree in the garden opposite, and then to be dazzled as the sun climbs up behind it and traverses the window frame.

The air must be very still this bright afternoon, and clear: for above Sutherland Road, as we turn into it towards the entrance to the Grove, we see, in the blue sky, the twin trails of an aircraft, which is, itself, barely visible. The trails, clearly defined, endure long enough to suggest a white cart track accross the sky.

A black beret basque arrives through the post, hand made to specifications, which I gave a website more than two months ago. Inside, it has a black leather band stitched in red.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Champagne at noon, mini-pizzas, mini-mincepies

The first, heady, mouth-tingling, palate-teasing, sip of ice-cold Champagne at noon, as the party begins.

Parties where there are things to eat but where you don't have to tackle food with a knife and fork or even a plate are my kind of thing. It's difficult to socialize with anything more than a glass in one hand. Today mini-pizzas - the size of a canapes - fit the bill perfectly. They are made just with cheese and a slice of caramelized onion.

Continuing the theme, there are, mini-mincepies - two bites suffice , one if you're greedy.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Knowing when to stop, mad Santa, best in town

Knowing when to stop is one of the less recorded virtues. Artists know that there comes a time when another line may ruin a drawing; and writers, too, should know when to cut the power.So reading a review of the last book of poems by the late Michael Donaghy, I was impressed by these lines from one of his poems, which the reviewer quoted:
"Sometimes your writing's a soft tangle of subtleties
Undercutting each other, blurring the paths
And you arrive at a washed-out bridge or rock slide.
Don't try to end what's finished."

A little, wizened Father Christmas, powered by an electric motor, waves a wand up and down as though completely mad.

In Morrison's a staff member runs around wearing a jacket, which bears the legend, "Morrisons the Best Grocer in Town". Not for long! Morrison's is closing its only store in this town after Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Drinking mice, winter smell, what's finished

Among the "..and finally"stories with which the newscaster, Trevor McDonald, who is about to retire, ended ITV news over the years, there was one (quoted in today's Independent) about mice that drink sherry. It concerns the Sherry producer Gonzalez Byass, which was troubled by mice gnawing at the barrels in its vast cellar. Instead of buying a cat or laying traps, the company found that making the mice drunk prevented the damage. So they placed copitas of sherry on stands accessible by a mouse-sized ladder. The mice climb the ladder to get their reward. I can vouch for the truth of this story, because when, as a wine writer, I visited Gonzalez Byass in Jerez some years ago, I was shown one of the mini-ladders and a wine glass. The mice at the time must have been sleeping it off, for there was no sign of them.

There is a smell of wood-smoke in the cold, afternoon air, tainted, I think, with a suggestion of burning plastic. It seems oderiforously appropriate for the blend of traditional wellbeing and tinselly excess, which accompanies the festivities.

Clearing leaves from the garden with the help of a vacuum machine is rewarding. Perhaps the best bit is stuffing the leaves into dark green, garden refuse bags, which become big, springy cushions.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Baa translated, cheerfulness, birds or leaves

In a review of an intriguing new book called The Meaning of Ting by Adam Jacot de Boinot, I read that the noise sheep make, "baa", in English, becomes, where Slovene sheep are concerned, "bee bee", "be he he" when the sheep are Vietnamese, "mue mue", when Portuguese, and "mieh mieh" if they are bleating in Mandarin.

Before Christmas the streets are full of cheerful people. You sense a vigour and hopefulness missing during the rest of the year.

Passing the Common I see what look likes a flock of birds circling over some trees. When I get closer I see that they are leaves that should have fallen some time go, being whirled up into the sky by a gust of wind.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cards complete, juice, cracker joke

After designing and priniting this year's Christmas card, signing and sending off the cards is a satisfying chore.

From the juicer: apple, carrot and ginger juice. The apples must include bramleys to provide sufficient acidity to balance the sweetness of the eating apples and the carrots.

The jokes are the best part of crackers, the cornier the better. In the Observer this Sunday was a list of cracker jokes, all as corny as each other.
"Name three famous poles.
North, South and tad."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Fan heater, hide and seek, handbag

Grand-daughter, Giselle settles down to draw in my study. I ask if she is warm enough and switch on the fan heater. "Cool," she says.

Playing hide-and-seek in the Grove with Josh and Rowan; pretending not know where they are is almost as much fun for us, as for them, pretending to themselves that they have fooled their elders.

Relief all around when Pippa remembers, before travelling too far towards London, that she has left her handbag by our front door, and comes back to pick it up.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Roquefort, toast, Venus

Roquefort , made from ewes' milk and matured in the caves of the region, is the greatest of cheeses. A couple of slices with some chicory leaves, tossed in a sauce of honey, balsamic vinegar, mustard and olive oil, is extraordinarily good.

The smell of toast and the bubbling sound of eggs boiling.

Venus, the "evening star", hangs in the greenish, south westerly sky, brighter than the moon in the north east; it is, to day, the "afternoon star".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Daylight moon, cinematic encounter, fleeting smile

In the afternoon sunshine , the southern sky shows a surprisingly bright, gibbous moon hanging over the Grove.

My neigbour, George, whom I meet this afternoon, flashes his digital camera. "I have had this for nearly a year," he says, " and I've only just realized that you can take moving films with it. I'm off to shoot an epic."

A postcard in the card shop in the High Street shows a glum looking family facing the camera. The caption reads: "Start the day with a smile and get it over with."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tangerine peel, lamplight, confetti

Following Clare Grant's mention of tangerines among her beautiful things, I have been hanging on to the peel after eating mine. Sometimes it forms flower-like shapes; and, as it dries, it developes wonderful, many layered aromas.

At night, before closing the blinds, I enjoy, for a moment, the sight of the lamplight on the wet, leaf-strewn road and pavement.

A neighbour, who is brushing the small leaves of various shrubs from his lawn, remarks "organic confetti!"

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bleak House, book in post, solar system

I started reading Bleak House, before I knew it was going to be serialised on TV. So I have resisted following the serialisation. At first it was tough going and I am pleased to be reading rather than watching it. Among the things on tele you miss are passages like this: "We have often noticed .... how there was a steep hollow near, where we had once seen the keeper's dog dive down into the fern as if it were water."

An unexpected book arrives in the post. It is: Lost Worlds What Have We Lost, And Where Did It Go? by Michael Bywater. It's about all the things we have lost.

A Christmas present for grandson, Josh, is a kit to make a mobile, representing the solar system, which glows in the dark. Might keep it for myself.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rooftops, horses in field, new book

From the dentist's waiting room in the centre of Sevenoaks there is an enchanting view of old rooftops, with their gutters, varied slopes and angles, chimney pots and bird traffic.

The way horses arrange themselves in a field; they manage to achieve a perfect composition regardless of where you view them from.

The smell of a new, hardback book when it is opened for the first time.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Street artists, tapas, pickled onions

Two street artists, on stilts and dressed in white tatters, like bizarre wedding dresses, wend their way through the pantiles accompanied, for safety's sake by an employee of the Council in an orange jacket. A small ice rink as been installed and the street performers are there to add to the fun.

Two bottles of good Spanish wine provoke a spread of tapas including croquetas, little sausage- shaped cylinders of mashed potato filled, in this case, with spoonfulls of goat cheese, rolled in bread crumbs and fried until golden brown. In Spain, sometimes, we have had them made from a mixture of potatoes and salt cod - a sort of fishcake.

Baby Italian onions in balsamic vinegar are to ordinary pickled onions as birdsong to squacking hens.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bay tree, useless information, birds' nests

As I climb the hill towards our house I note our flourishing bay tree, which regularly has to be pruned to prevent it obscuring the first floor window in front it. I remember planting it shortly after moving into the house about 20 years ago. It was a miserable little thing in a pot too small for it; doubting if it would survive, I planted it in the rough, shady side of the front garden, and let it fend for itself. Fend it did, and has now achieved around 30 ft and a burgeoning spread, which discourages competitors.

Among items of information listed under the heading Britain the Vital Statistics in the Independent: average number of miles walked per person per year in Great Britain - 189.

In the Grove, with most of the trees, now stripped of their leaves, you can see where, last summer, birds had their nests. "Bare, ruined chapels where, late, the sweet birds sang".

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Christmas tree web, small black olives, dark red

A cylinder for wrapping christmas trees, at the flower stand by the station, uses white plastic netting. From a distance the end of it looks like a spider's web from David Atenbourough's current tv programme Life in the Undergrowth.

Small, black olives, which you have to work at because they still have their stones, but are worth the effort for their rich flavour. Our neighbour Milo brought some back from France for us.

So dark are the red chrysanthemums (I mentioned the same variety the other day), that on this dank evening they reflect barely any light from the street lamps and become almost colourless. In a vase, in the darker part of the hall, they retain a mysterious core of darkness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cranes, London sky, Samuel Palmer

From the train on the way up to London, I see two cranes side by side on a building site. So much construction work is going on that the whole scene might be described as a crane-scape. But there is a companionship between these two cranes which look like fishermen enjoying each other's company.

From the train leaving London, the sky, for a moment, contains every aspect of silver and pewter shades and highlights. Then spaces between the buildings reveal the source of light in the last pink streaks of the setting sun with a glowing coal at the centre.

Samuel Palmer's magical watercolour, Cornfield by Moonlight wuth Evening Star, stands out in my memory of the exhibition, Vision and Landscape, at the British Museum, which I visited yesterday. It was painted at Shorham in north west Kent, where the painter lived between 1826 -1830, and manages to capture the mysterious beauty of the countryside by moonlight. There are stooks of corn, a shepherd and his dog, and wooded hills in the background; and never for a moment has the painting anything of the chocolate box about it. It is infused with a golden glow, and the figure of the shepherd succinctily suggests the end of a long day's labour in the fields.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lampost, silver birches, sudoku

A lampost bobbing up and down and swaying behind a hedge like a drunk, is what I see. As I draw near to the corner I realize that it is a street lamp being lowered into position by two workmen.

Silver birches seen from the train, their trunks bright in the sunlight, conrast with the dun, winter fields and pearl grey sky.

In the train, the man sitting opposite is intent on a sudoku. His pen, hovering above the puzzle, traces in the air tentative lines of numbers. His eyes are fixed in concentration. I know how he must feel for I am, myself, addicted to this game.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Oysters, Shakespeare, milk float

Half a dozen oysters and a glass of dry white wine for lunch, with a view of the junction of Sevenoaks High Street and London Road as people hurry past the restaurant window.

I return to readingCymbeline. Even the most routine dialogue displays the Bard's genius. At random, I note: Posthumus to Iachimo- "This is but a custom in your tongue. You bear a graver purpose I hope." In other words: "You can't be serious!"

Waking in the early, early morning to hear the calm sound of an electric milk float accellerating up the hill.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Willow, more gulls, Alec Guiness

Recently, I have noticed the greeny grey tufts of willow catkins in the front garden of a house I pass. I read in my tree book that each catkin consists of a collection of tiny flowers. I shall look more closely tomorrow.

Whether it is because of cold weather on land or, as Clare suggests, bad weather at sea, the seagulls, they are acoming. First it was just a couple; the next day I saw several circling high above the Grove; today, I see a substantial flock wheeling north above Mount Sion.

The late Alec Guiness showed himself to be a natural noter of beautiful things in his common place book, largely devoted to quotations from his reading, but sometimes including his own observations. On occasions, his anitipathies surface. In one entry he writes: "I like the sound of many things, but not the barking of dogs, the road drill or the hovering, inquisitive helecopter".

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Chrysanthemums, hurrying clouds, sea urchins

Curly green chrysathemums reside at one end of the sitting room and white at the other.

This afternoon the sky brightens, and the north wind blows fleecy yellow clouds in a southerly direction - a crowd of clouds hurrying across the sky.

Sea urchins, which some people eat raw and others, as a sauce to accompany pasta are, I see, to be farmed in Scotland alongside salmon.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The cold, raven, machine noises

It hasn't been really cold for a long time, so I enjoy the biting wind on my face above my thick, woolen scarf and below my beret basque, and I especially like it when you exchange the cold for a warm house.

A raven, slow and black from beak to tail, after a lumbering flight, alights on a larch tree in the Grove. Immediately, a squirrel and a magpie, which have been minding their own business, leave the young tree to its new occupant.

Have you noticed how machines - pedestrian-crossings, trains riding over sleepers, for example - seem to have a language of their own? Fitting words to their rhythms can be amusing, but are they always saying the same things? Today, my printer repetitively intones:" rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb- rue", with emphasis on the final "rue", like the refrain of a nursery rhyme. I am sure that I have heard it say other things in the past, but cannot now recall what they were.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Seagulls, sunbeams, buds

This morning, I see two seagulls flying above Mount Sion. They follow the line of the road and then veer off in a north easterly direction. A sign of cold weather, they say, when gulls come inland. The seabirds look as though they know where they are going.

Watching the sky at this time of year, it isn't exactly sunbeams that catch the attention, but the way the pale light touches sparse clouds, creating perspective lines, which seem to converge on the sun.

I like the defiant way the tight, armoured buds of rhododendrons and camelias, appear in the autumn, and hold themselves through the winter in readiness for the spring.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Leaves sucker, pink air, rosehip

Technical progress in the Grove: instead of hand-held machines, which blow the leaves into piles so that they can be shovelled into trucks for removal, there is now a giant vacuum cleaner with a huge matalic hose, which sucks and chews up the leaves before spewing them into a container.

The sun sets over the High Street. At a critical moment the air itself seems to become pink.

A rosehip, with its dry sepal atop the orange and green, egg-shaped fruit, seems to glow like a lamp as the light fades.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Plane leaf, through a window, sauvignon blanc

I bring home the leaf of a plane tree which I will photograph. In the meantime it lies between the pages of my atlas because of its tendency to curl at the edges.

Passing an office window I see a girl laughing at a computer screen.

At lunch, a glass of sauvignon blanc, delicate and understated in the French (and it is from the south west of France) rather than in the fruity, boastful, new world style.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sun, leaves, trails

Between some houses the sun sets like the tip of a red lollypop.

In the Grove, everything is still in the late afternoon sun. The dead leaves lie still on the ground and hang motionless from the trees, as though they are waiting for the wind.

Two planes crossing the evening sky, too high to be visible, draw parallel lines with their vapour trails.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Beavers, potato crisps, sunset

Castor fiber, is the latin name for the European beaver, which I learn is being reintroduced to the British Isles. In April 2001, the Kent Wildlife Trust, according to Fauna Britanica, flew in a group of these dam-building , amphibious rodents , a gift of the Norwegian government. The aim is to carry out a five-year field trial, with the animals released into a fenced reserve of about 50 hectares. While welcoming the move, the same book says that, if beavers got out of control, they could cause immense damage. One animal can, apparently, fell a tree with a circumeference of 25 cm in about four hours. A single family may cut down 300 small trees in one winter. They cut down the trees to build dams in the streams where they live.

I have a weakness for potato crisps, which are becoming increasingly refined in quality. I like the the latest "Kettle" crisps, or as the packet calls them in the American fashion "chips". Today I find a packet, which boasts: "Just potatoes UNDRESSED" and qualifies this titillating claim with the addition "LIBERATED potatoes". These paragons have no added salt. The list of ingredients reads: "Select potatoes, sunflower oil".

I go out of the front door to view the sunset. I try to identify the spectrum of colours: yellow, rose, pale green, eggshell blue set against a darkening mass of dark red roofs and chimneys, and grey, green and brown trees on the Common.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Vapour trails, herbs for pigeon, saudade

The blue sky, this bright, crisp winter day, is padded with small, white clouds and criss-crossed with vapour trails - a busy sky.

I cut a bay leaf and a few sprigs of thyme. They will flavour the sauce that will accompany our supper of pigeon breasts, mashed potatoes and cabbage.

I am much attracted to the Portuguese word saudade, which, a translator called A F G Bell, describes as " a vague and constant desire for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent, dreaming wistfulness".

Friday, November 18, 2005

Frost, squirrels, red leaves

Frost, this morning, covered the hedges, stretches of grass seen from the window and the branches of trees, as though someone had been round with a praint brush.

When I was a nipper I remember having my attention drawn to a red squirrel in the wood at the bottom of our garden in Forest Row. It is a long time since red squirrels have been seen in the south of England, and now we learn that they are at risk in the Lake District and even Scotland, as the imported grey squirrel proves an increasingly succesful competitor. I am sorry about the reds, which are altogether cuter. But I can't help having a soft spot for the greys, when you see one, as I did this afternoon, turning a nut round in its paws and nibbling it, its little jaws pulsating with the effort of chewing.

The sun, from low down in the afternoon sky, catches the remaining leaves on top of a beach tree. They are a rich, dark, glowing red, the same colour as the chrysanthemums, which Heidi bought the other day from the stall by the station.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Last rowan berry, mussels, barker

All, or nearly all, the orange rowan berries have been stripped by birds. As I pass one of the rowans in Berkeley Road I see a blackbird with one berry in its beak: the last of the season?

A big bowl of steaming mussels at Sankey's. Instead of the white wine sauce with parsley, I choose a thai version, with a sauce using coconut milk, lemon grass and chili.

A little dog barking fruitlessly at a squirrel up a tree, and wandering off.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chill, writing on the pavement, ivy

A refreshing chill in the air. This bright afternoon, the cold is a tonic after the unnatural warmth of the last few weeks.

Passing a glazed office door after dark, I see the name of the building, Mount Pleasant House, which is embossed on the glass, projected, by the light inside, in reverse letters on the pavement.

In the orange light of a sodium street lamp, ivy extending its leaves and tendrils over a wall, looks as though it has been drawn by a victorian artist, the edges of the leaves in hard outline and the green of the leaves translated into sepia shades.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Gold, dogs and leaves, shadows

Gold: that is the colour of the sky at the west end of the Grove this afternoon. No not a hint of red; nor of pink; none of that translucent green, you sometimes see at sunset. Just variations of gold surrounding the dazzling gold of the sun.

Two dogs play in the leaves. They snuffle and scuffle and chase each other through the rustling leaves. They seem to get the same sort of pleasure from the leaves that children do. But there is, surely, the added dimension of smell. The leaves must smell wondeful to dogs - of rot and corruption, and the last of the sap drying out.

As the sun gets lower in the sky, though it is still daylight, shadows seem to envelope the figures of people in the park. They seem two-dimensional and merge with the trunks of trees and shrubs as though camoflaged.

Monday, November 14, 2005


This blog inadvertently limited comments to "members". This has now been corrected. Comments and observations are as always welcome from all comers. Cheers.

White cliffs of Dover, loading booze, flocks of birds

From the top floor restaurant in Calais called Aquar' Aile, there is a spectacular view of the English Channel and the white cliffs of Dover. Eating a meal and watching the sun shining on the sea, and ferries passing "on urgent voluntary errands" is a delight.

Outside Wine and Beer World, the drinks supermarket at Coquelle outside Calais, I watch with vicarious pleasure, a group of jolly Englishmen loading their van with cases and cases of booze and sticking their golf clubs on top.

While we wait to drive on to the train for the tunnel, flocks of migrating birds fly in clouds of different shapes and sizes across the setting sun.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Oloroso, green juice, lottery forms

Oloroso sherry is naturally dry, and not, as a lot of people think, a sweet wine. At its best it has a nutty, fruity flavour that is addictive, and just right when winter begins to approach.

The juice of green vegetables: green pepper, brocolli, cucumber, celery, lettuce. It tastes of the country green, and looks like a summer meadow.

In Sainsbury's, two small boys collect lottery forms and hand them to their mother, who distractedly stuffs them into her shopping bag.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Singing mice, brocolli, ugh

Mice, according to a report in the National Geographic, are one of four mammals, which serenade their mates with a song. The others are humans, bats and whales. Because mouse songs are delivered at ultrasonic frequencies, no one( apart from other mice) seems so far to have noticed them.

I stand in the vegetable garden and look at the purple sprouting brocolli, which should produce purple heads in the Spring. It is protected by netting from marauding pigeons, which abound and have in the past stripped every leaf and sprout before I can go to the rescue.

Igittigit is a german expression of disgust, which has become part of my vocabulary on account of Heidi's frequent use of it - when the weather is foul, for example, or in response to a sticky mess on the floor. One German dictionary has it in its more usual form igitte. Another doesn't mention the word. I suppose you would translate it as ugh. But the german word strikes me as more effective, and pleasantly mild sounding.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Old gentleman, getting there, modest cook

There is an old gentleman, whom I often pass in the street. He is well dressed in an old fashioned way, has a big white moustache and a sad, self-absorbed look. He is always on this own. I often want to greet him, but his reserved manner somehow prevents me from doing so. I passed him yesterday in the Grove and did so again to day at almost exactly the same spot and probably at the same time. I thought: if he so much as glances at me, I will say "good afternoon", but he ploughed on, and so, I regretfully admit, did I.

In a queue I see a familiar face, but one which looks tired and thinner than it used to be. I ask after his family and his health for want of anything else to ask after. "Getting there, he says, "getting there," but I have a feeling that he isn't really.

In a pretty book of recipes from Provence, the author writes with reference to the famous soup of the region, Soupe au Pistou: "In giving this recipe I tremble a little. Every housewife speaks of it with a fierce pride. Hers is the true version, the best." Such is the passion that cooking arouses, at least in France.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Weather forecast, pomegranites, strangeness

I like hearing the BBC weather forecast because it is nice to be reminded that there are going to be scattered showers in the west, even if there always are and always have been.

Pomegranites seeds clothed in transparent garnet coloured flesh are among the most beautiful things; they taste good and are good for you.

"There is no excellent beauty without some strangeness in the proportion", wrote Francis Bacon. It is quite often quoted and with good reason.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Compost, leaf sounds, beams in the sky

There is satisfaction in settling down a vegetable bed for the winter. I spread a good layer of compost over the barely weeded earth. I look at it, and think about what I'll sow there in the spring, and in what order.

I stop in the middle of the Grove and listen to the sound of the remaining leaves in the numerous trees. I ask myself whether the dry leaves of autumn have a completely different sound to the fresh leaves of early summer. I expect they do, but how can you compare them?

In the late afternoon sky is a strange phenomenon. You often see the sunbeams emerging from behind clouds, but to day it is rather the beam-shaped shadow of sunbeams, which I see. They are darker than the surrounding sky but quite straight and, through transparent (you can see clouds behind them), look heavy and solid like roof beams.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Blackbird, unseasonality, not so fast

I feel a presence as I walk past the hedge which borders our garden. It is a blackbird. I expect it to fly away. Bit it sits there and looks at me with its beady, orange eye.

The warm weather goes on and on. Today, I was still cutting sunflowers. And nasturtiums!

In the Grove two little boys run their scooters through a puddle. They leave a tracery of tyre tracks on the dry tarmac. A mother says: "Not so fast!"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Walking in the rain, umbrella, Chilean wine

My favourite film (sometimes) is Singing in the Rain, and my favourite scene is that in which Gene Kelly does that dance in the rain. Today I walk to Safeways in the rain and don't mind getting wet, thinking of the film and Gener Kelly's abandonment to utter happiness.

On the slope beside the station a man in a red anorak struggles with a golf umbrella, which has blown inside out. The umbrella looks like a giant flower or a very large and flashy satelite dish. The man seems to be performing a dance with the umbrella, which his wife, also wearing a red anorak, and his two children join, as a sort of corps de ballet.

There is a new wine shop called Five Reasons Wine in Vale Road opposite the station entrance. It is not for the impecunious, bargain hunter. A table is laid out with tasting glasses in front of the door. I buy a bottle of Chilean wine, which the label tells me comes from Panquebue in the Aconagua Valley. It is a place which not only is, but sounds, a long way from Tunbridge Wells.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Umami, second childhood, Penguin Books

For some time, I was trying to remember the word, which describes the fifth primary flavour.The other four are: saltiness, sweetness, bitterness and sourness. Then I came across a note I had made and mislaid, which reminded me that the word is umami. It is a Japanese word and was coined by a Japanese researcher called Kikunae Ikeda in 1907. He was trying to find what it was that made the Japanese stock made from seaweed and dried tuna so alluring. He identified two chemicals - glutamic acid and inosinic acid, which were largely responsible for the flavour. It is a taste common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat. In its artifical form it is known through the salt made as a seasoning - monosodium glutimate. This has earned itself a bad reputation as an ingredient of Chinese take away food and other fast foods, and is reputed to make you thirsty, to create artificial hunger pangs and have other bad effects. Be that as it may, glutamic acid, in its natural form, is a significant ingredient of breast milk.

While waiting for my lift home after the checkout at Sainsbury's this morning, I try to pass the time by searching for beautiful or interesting things. But the cross-looking shoppers offer very little in that direction. Then I notice that one trolley, proudly pushed by a parent, is equipped with a carrier suitable for a very small baby. In it, lies, amidst the cereals, bottles, detergents and tins, a regal looking child, pink and pristine. As I am approaching my own second childhood, I nearly give way to, but fortunately resist, the impulse to ask in which aisle babies can be found.

I have loved Penguin books all my life. I still do. Just recently, I have come upon those mini-penguins called Penguin 60s, containing extracts or short stories from well known authors, in an Oxfam bookshop. I snaffle them up, because, at 49p each they are far nicer and better value than cards to send to friends, and fit neatly into a standard envelope. I find a new hoard in the Chapel Place Oxfam.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Fly agaric, painted lady, fireworks

It seems to be a good year for fly agaric, the fungus beloved of fairy story illustrators, and often referred to as a toadstool. I see this conspicuous mushroom in the Grove and in the triangular shrubbery, nearby, known as the Village Green. It has a bright, scarlet cap on which there are white spots or "warts". It kills or stupifies flies when broken up and left in a saucer of milk. It is an halucigen and an intoxicant. A graphic description of its effects on the nervous system in Roger Phillips' Mushrooms and Fungi of Great Britain, does not encourage experimentation.

Near the group of fly agaric, I see a painted lady butterfly. Or did I? Its movements seem slow and ponderous. This, I attribute to the cool wind and the time of year rather than the mushroom.

Tomorrow is November 5. As it is a Saturday, we are spared the sporadic, unseasonal bursts of festive explosions on dates more convenient for working parents and school children, and fireworks day will be celebrated on the appropriate day.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Swish, doing without, wind

The swish of car tyres on a wet road is for some reason a comforting sound.

Among the many things, listed in direct mail catalogues, which it is pleasure to do without, is a clock guaranteed to be accurate to less than one millionth of a second.

Today the wind, which has been frisky all night, works itself into a fury tearing the last leaves from the trees in the Grove, and whips the branches about as though they, too, are about to be wrenched away.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Topinambour, juice, mire

I often wake up with a word in my head.This morning, for no good reason, it is topinambour, the french for jerusalem artichoke, and a pretty word too.

Juice extracted from: carrots, celery, tomato, red pepper and radish, lightly seasoned.

A wet day, with the leaves squashed into the paths and gutters, slippery like mud. It puts me in mind of Milton:
"...Now that the fields are dank, and by the fire
Help waste a sullen day, what may be won
From the hard season gaining? ..."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Cat, Larkins bitter, warm sun

The little marmalade cat, which takes over the vegetable garden, has always ignored me. Today he greets me instantly, purring and winding round my leg. Why the change of attitude? Perhaps it's because we haven't seen one another for some time.

A pint of Larkin's bitter and then another pint of Larkin's bitter.

In the coolish wind, the wamth of the sun, like a friendly hand on your shoulder.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Coincidence, raindrops, fungus

The sheep, which I saw from the train the other day, with the sun glinting on the edge of their fleece, brought to mind the paintings of Samuel Palmer. Today, I read in the paper a review of an exhibition at the British Museum entitled: Samuel Palmer: Vision and Landscape. Of the three reproductions accompanying the article, three have sheep in them - all with that mystical silver glow.

I go through the garden in the rain to cut a lettuce for lunch. The rain is soft and persistent but composed of the finest drops; a small moth flits past me unconcerned. There is a symphony of dripping sounds in my ears to accompany the autumn smell of damp and decay.

Among the shrubs in a bed in the Grove is a mass of what look like discarded sponges. They turn out to be fungi. At home, I identify the variety as Sparassis crispa. They appear to be growing out of the "forest bark" mulch which has been spread there keep weeds at bay.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Docks, slang, kindness

The rusty colour of the seed heads of docks in abandoned fields.

According to an article in the Independent on Sunday, the English language is changing at a terrifying pace, as new slang words are introduced. Here's an example: "Don't go bitchcakes! Chillax, yatty. I'm sittin' on chrome. Let's go and have a Britney. Wix!" This is translated as: "Desist from your aggressive behaviour. Relax, beloved girlfriend. I've got an impressive car with nice alloy wheels. We could go mad and get a beer. Wouldn't that be great!"

"Three things are important in life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind." Henry James.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Kindness, primrose, llamas

A mother with a small child, a push chair and a little boy with a big bicycle and a crash- helmet mount the stairs of the station bridge. The young man, who works at the flower stall at the foot of the stairs, sees the boy struggling and takes the bicycle from him and carries it up the stairs. You should expect to see, but cannot always depend on seeing " such little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love".

There's a primrose in the flower bed by the front door. A little worrying on the penultimate day of October, but who could look at a primrose and wish it were not there?

Two llamas, a long way from the Andes, occupy a field, which you can see from the train as it leaves Sevenoaks

Friday, October 28, 2005

Pigeons, old man's beard, Big Ben

Yesterday was the warmest October day on record. I watched pigeons sitting on the ducting under the road bridge which crosses the railway at the station. They were cooing and murmuring as though the sun had set off hidden mechanism in their throats. Clearly they were behaving as though it were spring. They seemed to be performing the regular mating rituals, in which the the birds appear to kiss, the male using his beak to push food into the female's beak.

The sun shone on old man's beard, wild clematis, which clambered over shrubs and low trees by the railway line. It looked like off-white snow.

The chimes of Big Ben are one of the most reassuring sounds. This weekend, I read that the clock will be stopped for 32 hours for servicing, The bell, after which the clock is named, first tolled in 1858. Virginia Woolf describedthe sound of the chimes as "leaden circles disolving in the air".

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Before getting up, beautiful soaps, sheep

The time between waking and getting out of bed, when you hear early morning noises outside the window and, half asleep, let your mind wander.

It is a pleasure to follow the observations of Clare Grant, who invented the idea of noting three beautiful things every day, and the feel-good librarian, who, like me could not resist taking up the idea. Going to their weblogs everyday is like following soap operas as you learn a little bit more about their lives, but with none of the melodrama.

The way the sun, low in the sky, touches sheep, which I see from the train to Hastings, with a makes them glow with a silvery light. It reminds me of the work of the mystical painter, Samuel Palmer, who lived in Shoreham, Kent, and was a friend of William Blake.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lillies, green bear, mars

Two bunches of white lillies, which Heidi brought home, are closed at the moment like the beaks of birds; we can watch them open, as though to sing.

There is a small, green teddy bear in a shop window in Grove Hill Road. It is made by the German company Steiff, and is one of a limited edition of 3000 for sale worldwide. It is a replica of a bear made in 1908, which, as teddy bears are named after Theodore Rooosevelt, US president from 1901 -1909, must have been one of the first of the breed.

Anyone wanting to visit the planet mars should take the opportunity this weekend as it will be no more than 41.3 million miles away from earth.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mustard, blue sky, oloroso

Every year, the broad leafed oriental mustard of which I planted some seeds eight or nine years ago, seeds itself and grows all over the vegetable garden. It has a sharp, spicey taste which goes well with the sweetness of all the-year-round lettuce.

Blue sky with soft white clouds after grey.

The sight, but not yet the taste of dry oloroso sherry, at the new wine merchant in Vale Road. Sometimes oloroso is sweetened. But in its natural state, it is dry and nutty on the palate. It is generally difficult to find.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Precision, flattened leaves, "horrible day"

I read, in one of Mallarme's most famous poems:
La sens trop precis rature
Ta vague litterature.

(I can't find accents, I'm afraid).

It translates approximately: "A meaning too precise destroys the mystery of what you write". This makes sense to me where poetry is concerned, but not prose. I will take pleasure in thinking about it.

The leaves "yellow and black and pale and hectic red" are not driven by the wild west wind today "as though from an enchanter fleeing", but are instead flattened on the wet pavement in patterns such as you might find in a textile factory.

A man passes me in the park with the words "horrible day". I say "yes", without thinking in the warm, wet and blustery wind. Then I think, "no, not all: there are far, far worse days."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Carrot and apple juice, a train in time, kedgeree

Following too much alcohol the night before and too much coffee the morning after, there is a special sort of thirst to be satisfied. A juice bar called Fushi provides the answer. It consists of a juice made from apples and carrots, nothing else, powerfully crushed and filtered and served with a straw in a tall glass.

Arriving at the station with a couple of minutes to spare for a train you think you are going to miss.

Kedgeree. This is made with: boiled, long grain rice; flaked, smoked haddock, which has been poached in milk or a mixture of milk and water; hard boiled eggs ( the white seperated from the yolk and chopped, so that the yolk can be crumbled over the dish to make an orange coloured garnish); and lots of finely chopped parsley. Butter is melted in the hot rice to give added flavour and a little of the liquor from the poached fish is added to prevent the dish from becoming too dry.

Rainbow, chocolate beans, pigeon-shower

From the train to London, we see a rainbow on our right. It seems to move along with us. At one point, it ends over the Canary Wharf tower and the grey jumble of the eastend of London behind. On the left of the train, the sky is a golden sea bordered by a purple land and archipeligo of cloud.

The Chocolate Society is a small shop in Elizabeth Street, near Victoria Station, which serves coffee and, as as the name suggests, specialises in chocolates of the most spectacular quality. On the counter, to remind you of where chocolate comes from, is a chocolate pod on permanent display. It is about the size and shape of a papaya fruit, but very different in colour and texture. In cross section, you see the chocolate beans, a little larger than coffee beans, which are peeled of their white casing and roasted until dark brown.

By the Kings Road, Chelsea, there is a relatively new development (shops and restaurants) where The Duke of York barracks used to be. In two places, there are small fountains spurting straight out of the paving stones. Two pigeons, their feathers awry, are enjoying a shower, in the warm Autumn sun.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Sunflowers, dormice, rain

Sunflowers have featured a lot this summer because they (the smaller, multi-bloomed varieties) have been so succesful and varied. As the weather has gradually become colder, the flowers have become smaller and slightly less persistent. But it was satisfying to day to cut several stems of what can only be described as mini-sunflowers, small but perfectly formed versions of those which I have been cutting for the last three months.

A special dormice officer is being appointed by Bath and North East Somerset Council at a salary of £10,000 a year. Duties, I read in The Week, will include identifying "dormouse heritage", holding "dormouse-related activities", and promoting "intellectual access" to dormice.

Lying in bed as it is getting light and listening to the steady, rain falling vertically outside the open window.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Floodlight, clematis, almost wild

Mount Sion this morning: the blinding sun, low in the sky, shining directly down the road as I walked up was reflected off the wet tarmac so that all you could see was light.

Clematis montana rubens, that pretty, pink-flowered plant, which usually climbs along fences and up walls and trees to greet the summer, is not usually in evidence towards the end of October. Today, the plant seemed to be growing particularly vigorously, its tendrils hard at work, on the railings by the station platform; and there were several flowers to greet the coming winter.

Squirrels round here are not quite wild animals, nor yet domestic, because they own to no human being. Although they scramble up trees if you get too close, they do not seem unduly scared of us. Only fairly recently have I connected the noise they make, something like the quacking of very old or sick ducks, with these animals. It seems an appropriate noise for something, half wild and half tame.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cobweb, leaf sounds, sun

The cobweb by the gate of the house opposite is festooned with rain drops.

The leaves of the oak at the corner of the Grove have been the first to turn brown and gold and to begin to fall. In the breeze this afternoon, it is noticable what a different noise, compared to spring and summer, the leaves on the tree make when they are dry - a crunchy, scuffling, similar, but not as pronounced as the noise they make as they blow along the ground.

At this time of year, with the afternoon sun low in the sky, shadows are longer, and trees, buildings, people are lit as though by a spot light, an effect heightened by piles of purple clouds opposite the sun.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Time, cat, leaf blower

The End of Time, which I am reading at the moment, pursues the theory, that time does not exist. The author, a physicist called Julian Barbour suggests that there is instead of time, an infinite series of "nows"- instances which exist for ever in an unchanging state. It's a lot to take in but pleasurably thought-provoking.

"The hardest thing to find is a black cat in a dark room; especially when there is no cat". Confucius.

There is a man in the Grove with a machine which blows leaves into piles. Small children jump and roll in the leaves, and throw them up in the air.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Last of the warmth, something new, open spaces

Every year, at this time, we say: this will be the last day when when it will be warm enough to sit outside at lunchtime; we say it day after day, as we have today and did yesterday, and the day before.

A leaf hanging by a long thread of cobweb from a hazel tree.

After the storm of 1978, they took a long time clearing the Common of fallen trees. The trees were not always there, as the Common used to be grazed by sheep well into the twentieth century, but by the time of the storm, because it was no longer grazed, it had become thickly wooded. Only the cricket field and some rough ground round the rocks, which form the high point of the Common, could be described as open ground. Now it is noticable how, in the process of restoring the area, some new open spaces have appeared.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Crab apples, madeleine cakes, theatrical leaves

There is a wild crab apple tree on the road to High Rocks, near Tunbridge Wells. A few years ago we picked the sour, unpreposseing fruit mostly off the ground, and made with it some sublime jelly.With the intention of repeating the process I go to find the tree, but there is no sign of apples on it or around it. A the back of my mind I recall another such tree on a nearby wooded slope. There, spread on the leafy woodland floor, are enough apples for my purpose. Crab apple are far too sour and astingent to eat raw, but combined with sugar and thanks to their natural pectin, make one of the best jellies. Traditionally they were used for cooking. In Loves Labours Lost Shakespeare' s song about winter goes...
" ...birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marion's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl."

In the French market in the Pantiles, there are madeleine cakes. The memory of these little sponge biscuits dipped in lime flower tisane, inspired Marcel Proust to begin A La Recherche du temps Perdu.

Leaves floating down from the trees, lit by Autumn sunshine and wafted only by the gentlest breeze, are like leaves dropped on to a stage set.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Dried cherries, willow herb, Cabbage Stalk Lane

Dried cherries retain the shape of the fruit and concentrate its flavour; they are much to be prefered to crystalised cherries, with their surplus sugar and garish appearance. We find the dried variety among a vast display of dried fruit and nuts at the French market in the Pantiles.

On the Common are stately spikes of rosebay willow herb, now adorned with wooly seeds, They like hang around like fashion models waiting their turn on the catwalk.

From the delightfully named Cabbage Stalk Lane, which leads from the Common to High Rocks Lane, I hear the almost forgotten sound of a steam train on the restored single track line from Tunbridge Wells to High Rocks.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fox again, quinces again, acorn again

Every day, for the last few days, when I push open the door to the vegetable garden, I look straight away towards the compost bins, and there, regularly, is the fox I mentioned a few days ago. His reaction is now almost the same every time. He jumps off the heap in a slightly guilty manner, but never seems unduly hurried. He trots towards the far corner of the garden, and before he reaches the fence, he stops, turns, and with one foot raised, stares at me. Today I try to speak in body language to him: instead of staring back, I look away and walk in the opposite direction to the one he is taking. He stays longer, but decides in the end to move on.

Yesterday's mush of cooked quinces has dripped through the jelly bag and left a delicate amber liquor ino the bowl beneath. Boiling this up with preserving sugar and decanting the hot jelly into jars is a pleasure; even greater is the pleasure of contemplating the set jelly in the jars neatly labeled, with the scent of quince still in the air.

During the summer, I picked up one of the previous autumn's acorn cups. Today I found one of this autmn's in its full splendour. The cup belongs to a variety, which spreads outwards and curls round so that it resembles a head of stylised hair. Placed on the white page of my notebook it casts a shaddow even more interesting than iteself.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Barbour, rainwater, quinces

My Barbour, which has now reached a respectable, battered state, is a comfort in the rain, and holds in its capacious inside pocket, articles which need to be kept dry.

The sound of rain water running and gurgling as it enters a drain.

The smell of quinces cooking down to a mush in prparation for jelly-making.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Numbers, rain, starlings

With the The Independent newspaper two days ago came "a map of the 21st century world". I have just had a chance to open it. Among other "facts" provided is the population of the world: 6,446,131,400 (July 2005 estimate). Chinese Mandarin is listed as the most widely spoken language (13.69%), with Spanish next (5.05%) and English third, accounting for 4.84% of the world's population.

I walk back from the supermarket in the rain by a the slightly longer but more attractive route through the Grove. The smell of the rain is good, laden with the oils and resins released by earth and leaf.

In the Grove are trees laden with starlings like twittering fruit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sunflowers, bureaucrats beware, musketeers

The sunflowers, which I mentioned during the summer, are still flowering at this late date. They are not the giant sunflowers, which rise majestically like sky-scrapers and bear one heavy flower each, but multi-stalked plants which go on flowering the more you cut them. The stems are as long as they used to be earlier in the season, but the flowers have become smaller and are all the more attractive for arranging. There are two varieties - one with yellow flowers and one with dark red flowers. They go well together.

An elderly lady with grey hair, a fresh complexion and a smiling face goes into the pub and emerges with a glass of cider. She sits in the sun reading a book, her walking stick beside her. I catch sight of the title of the book: Bureaucrats How to Annoy them.

My grandson, Rowan, wants soldiers for his birthday. In the shop in the High Street, I find musketeers. As I find it hard to put down The Three Musketeers, which I am reading at the moment. I indulge myself and him.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Roses, fox, pigeons

Perhaps because this Autumn has been unusually still there have been, though less prolific than in June, some near perfect roses: not a petal out of place, not a flaw in the colour.

Earlier this year I surprised a fox on the compost heap. He was back again to day. He thought he should leave, but stopped for a minute to look at me, before deciding that I was worth neither further investigation, nor headlong flight; and ambled off as though there were better places to spend his time.

Pigeons, particularly the variety that inhabit towns, are not popular creatures. But I thought today as I sat in the Pantiles how much I liked watching them, even though they can be faintly ridiculous. They strut past you like soldier but appear to waddle when approaching head on. When they walk, their heads move up and down and from side to side as they look for things to eat. Their best feature is the colour of ther necks: green, grey, turquoise, blue - the sort of tints you sometimes see when oil and water run together in a puddle in the street.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Whistle, tidying for Winter, basil

The sound of a steam train's whistle. The train runs on a single track from Tunbridge Wells to Groombridge on bank holidays and at weekends. You can hear its distant sound from our garden - like a little shriek of surprise from a nervous woman.

There is a satisfaction here, quite different from the preparations of spring gardening, in tidying and settling down flower beds and pots for the winter. The same goes for the vegetable garden across the road, where compost is to be spread over the beds, some of which have yet to be cleared.

The smell of freshly cut basil. I have been hanging on before harvesting my small, scattered crop, so that I can make pesto. With the nights getting colder, I could wait no longer.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Horse chestnut, apple varieties, beanpoles

This morning as I passed a horse chestnut tree a conker fell to the ground. It was not in its usual green case, and because so fresh, it shone like newly polished furniture. As well as the fine grain of the shell, I could see a reflection of myself in its sheen.

At the farmers market this morning there were no fewer than 25 different varieties of local apples on the same stall. They looked, smelt and tasted as apples should, unregimented, unpolished and ungraded. Here are some of the more unusual names: American Mother, Cornish Gillyflower, Margil, Pitmaston Pineapple.

The beanpoles, which I errected in May are now ready for dismantling. I unwind the vines, which have clung to the poles with such life-giving energy through the summer. A satisfactory way of doing this is to uproot each plant with its pole, and swing the heavy root round so that it unwinds the spirals of the vine, as it were by gravity. I tie the poles into a bundle, ready for next year.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Leaf skeleton 2, roasted figs, nasturtiums again

Yesterday I mentioned the leaf skeleton, which I found on the compost heap. First I photographed it; but a better solution was to scan it. Here is the result.

Giuseppi has been serving a simple dish of figs, with their four segments opened out like a flower and stuffed with dolcelatte cheese. Two good slices of Parma ham are wrapped round these parcels, which are roasted for about seven minutes. The figs are dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and served with a garnish of frizzy lettuce and cherry tomatoes.

It was back in June that the nasturtiums self-sown from last year's self-sown crop were beginning to flower. I had contained them in a narrow strip of the bed against the fence. But this year, as last year, they have taken over the whole bed, clambering over dhalias and roses riding over the path. The flowers grow on surprisingly long stems and are good for cutting. They range in colour from yellow, through orange to a dark crimson.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Leaf skeleton, vegetable soup, hedgeful of sparrows

While turning the compost I find an almost perfect leaf skeleton, a leaf sculpted of copper coloured lace. It is something to marvel at.

A hedgeful of sparrows on the way down the hill, ( a title for a book?) You can hear but can't see the sparrows.

An autumn soup. From the garden, ruby chard, tiny cherry tomatoes, the last of the courgettes, finger sized. From the fridge: some home-made chicken stock. The stock is brought to the boil and simmered. Added to the broth in this order are: The chard stems, finely sliced and the leaves shredded; the courgettes cut into thin disks; the tomatoes cut in half. In about five minutes the soup is ready. The chard has tinted the stock a delicate pink.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Scene in the Grove, beautiful things, robin and centipede

In the Grove, in a space of a few square meters and during a few seconds: two pigeons and two magpies, peck away among the blades of grass; a squirrel sits up to rotate and nibble a nut between its paws with the evening sun highlighting its white belly; a dragon fly (this is October!) flits past.

I read the weblog Simple Things, the work of feelgoodlibrarian. Like me, she has been inspired by Clare Grant's Three Beautiful Things web log. It is interesting to note how different people interpret Clare's idea, reflecting their different personalities and visions of the world. But what a great idea Clare's original idea is! A simple formula for looking at and noting the world in a positive and detailed way - more than an art form, almost a way of life.

Yesterday's robin returns. He sits on the edge of the compost bin or on a nearby branch and chirrups. His beak doesn't open but his throat ripples, while the sound continues. Then I notice that the chirrupping has stopped. He has landed inches away from my fork and is nibbling at a centepede, which in a moment he swallows. With this robin I have fallen completely in love.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Naked light bulb, robin, writing

In a first floor room opposite the side of our house, there are internal shutters that close three quarters of the way up the window in place of curtains. In the morning, I see a naked light bulb, which reminds me of the one in Guernrnica, though there are no other similarities with the picture. On two succesive mornings now a face has appeared above the shutters to look out on the world on which I too am looking.

On the compost a heap, a robin sits and watches me digging out compost. It chirps putting its head on one side to see better how many creatures I am exposing for it to eat. As soon a I move away it descendson its prey.

My favourite Moleskin notebooks now arrive each with a free post card. The card consists of nine stickers on which are quotations from well known writers, printed alternately black on white and white on black. One by Italo Calvino in particular appeals: "Writing always means hiding something in such a way that it then is discovered."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Swollen beans, Autumn or Fall?, Italian coffee

At this time of year I look forward to picking French beans, which have developed beans inside the pods. They are like the beans, haricots for example, which you buy dried and have to soak for a few hours before cooking, but because they are fresh, you can remove them from the withering pod and cook them right away. They only need sauteeing for a couple of minutes in olive oil with a sliver of garlic or chopped shallot, to be ready to eat, soft and full of flavour.

We were away for only eight days. When we left it was still summer. Now there is no question that Autumn has arrived. Autumn or Fall? I prefer the American term, which is briefer and more evocative. Dry brown leaves are already beginning to drift on to paths, unmistakable signs of Autumm, but the yellow leaves of silver birch, scattered on the grass, from a distance resemble small crocuses or the petals of other spring flowers.

Outside Caffe Nero on the corner of Calverley Precinct, three Italians are talking voluably. One wears a black Caffe Nero t-shirt. Are they there to add authenticity to this Italian style coffee house chain? I doubt it. But this is Tunbridge Wells.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Swash buckling, sweet chestnuts, universal cures

There's nothing like a swash buckling novel to settle you down after a holiday. And what novel is more of swash buckler than The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas? I've just started it and it is all that I had hoped for. But having used the word, what precisely and literally is a swash buckler? I have just looked it up and can tell you that it is someone who strikes a buckler, a small shield, with his sword in a boastful or agressive way, which is just what D'Artagnan is up to in the beginning of the Three Musketeers.

Horse chestnut trees are everywhere in the Grove and children are busy stamping on the spikey, green shells so that they can get at the nuts to play conkers with. But I prefer the appearance of the sweet chestnut, to say nothing of the fact that you can eat the nuts. There is a sweet chestnut tree in a house on the corner of the Grove. But the nuts, so far, are too small to roast.

There is something disarming about universal cures, even though you may be pretty certain that the claims made for them are exagerated. Cider vinegar is one such panacea which, in my youth, I was persuaded to drink, diluted in a glass of water and sweetened with honey. I see it is still around and note that, among other things, it: strengthens the immune system; helps control and normalise weight; aids digestion; helps relieve aches and pains, soreness and stiffness; eases the pain of dry and sore throats; combats fatigue; reduces irritability; and promotes longevity.
The book on cider vinegar, which someone gave me years ago, was written by a farmer who claimed that he fed it to his cows, whose milk-yield was consequently greatly increased.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Reminder, lettuce, the sound of rice krispies

Downloading and editing the photographs taken during the Fiesta de Santa Tecla in Sitges a week ago has been a special pleasure. This is probably the best of a number of lucky snaps and brings back the memory of the sight, and the sulphurous smell which hung over the town.

A welcoming row of All the Year Round lettuces ready for cutting.

Rice Krispies were around when I was a child; my own children listened to them in the cereal bowl; and so, I suspect, have theirs. Snap, Crackle, Pop is the sound the cereal is supposed to make, when milk is added. But I read to day in The Week that in other countries it makes quite different noises. In Germany it is: "Pif! Paf! Pouf! In France, Cric! Crac! Croc! And in Holland, Krisper! Knasper! Knusper! This piece of information comes from a book called The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinoid. It is published by Penguin.

Friday, September 30, 2005

English, unexpected grass, too bad

Hearing the rythms and intonations of English in the street after more than a week of Spanish and Catalan. There is a place for both but it is nice to come back to the familiar.

From the bridge that crosses the railway line at the station, I see grass growing in the gutter of the roof over platform 1. It is proper grass rather than a mixture of weeds. You don't often have the chance to look down on gutters.

I enjoy this tidy dismissal by Ambrose Bierce, the American writer and wit, in a book review in the San Francisco Chronicle. "The covers of this book," he wrote, "are too far apart."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Beach walkers, babel, home

A typical sight on the beach at Sitges as we bid it au revoir this morning. A couple in swimsuits walk briskly up and down beside the sea. The beach is about 300 m wide and this seems to be a more popular form of exercise than swimming.

Behind us on the terrace where we have breakfast is a group of five business people. In the space of half an hour the same groups speaks Italian, Spanish German and English.

Returning home to familiar things, and, in particular, my own keyboard with which normal English punctuation is achievable

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

George Orewell, swallows, computer

In Barcelona, we are sitting outside a bar, in the area between the Cathedral and the port, which used to be disreputable, but which is now more respectable though still poor. We are drinking beer and have ordered a sandwich. There is a tall tennament in front of us, with washing hanging on every balcony. Suddenly we notice that the square is called Plaza George Orewell, and even one of the sandwich variations bears the name of the English writer. We recall Homage to Catalonia in which Orewell described his experiences, while supporting the Republican cause in the Civil War.

While swimming before breakfast this morning, we are joined by scores of swallows, which swoop and flutter and skim over the water.

One of the many pleasures of this holiday has been the computer for guests of the hotel to use at the reception desk. Although its version of Microsoft seems to make it difficult to punctuate in some instances, it has been wonderful to be able to complete this log for the last week.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Santa Maria del Mar, Fiduea, long way home

Inside the wonderful fourteenth century church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona, which is also called the people's church, there is a sad notice in English, which reads Keep a close eye on your belongings. Beware of flower sellers.

Fiduea is a Catalan dish which consists of very fine noodles which are cooked in a black sauce of octapus ink,with octapus in small slices, and prawns. It is prepared in a wide, shallow pan called a paellera, also used for paella, from which it is ceremoniously served. It is a treat, which we always look forward to.

In a bar I overhear a woman on a mobile phone. She says I want to go to Australia via China.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Massage, monster, storm

This is a friendly, intimate beach, a family beach. It is above all relaxed. A number of women, regardless of age or shape, go topless. Two girls, so attired, or unattired, were lying slowly cooking by the sea, turning from time to time to assure an even tan. We went for a swim. When we returned, they were attended by two uniformed masseuses, in striped shirts and shorts. These girls had produced bottles of unguents and creams, brushes and sponges from their bags, and were applying them vigorously. They pinched and pummelled, squeezed and stroked, and bent arms and legs up and down, taking, as it were, a body each. It was like the end of a production line for dolls.

There are two showers on the beach, one at each end. They are constructed of stainless steel and pressing a button releases solar heated fresh water. Coming out of the sea I find that a scuba diver, dressed from head to toe in black, has taken possession of the one I was making for. He has a black mask from which protrudes an elaborate breathing apparatus like a huge proboscis.

A majestic thunderstorm last night. We are dining with friends. Rolls of thunder and lightening recall the phrase shock and awe. The rain seems to fall in a solid sheet. The lights go out. Our friends light candles and we talk through the din. Later we are driven back to the hotel via streets sloping towards the sea, whic have become rivers and waterfalls. The water races through the culverts under the sea wall and carves channels on the beach. The next morning, everywhere the sand is pock marked by the rain.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Basset hound, pub Voramar, people watching

People who live here walk their dogs every morning. One of the dogs is called Otto. He is an enormous basset hound . It takes five minutes for him to walk past you. He is low slung, a few inches above the ground, with a vast head, powerful shoulders, and an aristocratic indifference to anyone who stops to talk to him. He looks straight ahead as though there is something more worthwhile in the future; and there probably is.

The Pub Voramar is not a pub: it is a traditional bar. All the menus are in Catalan. We watch the proprietor every morning putting out the tables and chairs. Always with great pride, he hangs up the pub sign - a painting of the outside of the bar, which is framed in a crude contraption made of old boards, perhaps salvaged from an old fishing boat.

People watching is part of every holiday. We watch a group of three Swedish couples. They are dead serious. Not a smile, not a laugh; they spend more than half an hour reading menus. Eventually they sit down at a table outside the restaurant, where we are eating. They order food and drink. The women have wine, the men beer. But when the beer arrives, the glasses are too small. The beer glasses are replaced by half litre tankards. Still there has been not sign of animation. The men take a couple of sips. Suddenly the table lights up. The long faces break into smiles; they begin to talk. They are having a good time; they are on holiday. The whole process has taken the best part of an hour.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Drums, small waves, date palms

The Fiesta de Santa Tecla is defined by drums, in addition to fire crackers. During the festivities, you hear them all day and most of the evening, and everyone, young or old, seems to be carrying them. The rhythm is insistent, rather like African drums in old fashioned movies. I see one drum strapped to the side of a motor scooter like a saddle bag.

The sea is calm and the small waves creep up the beach like lacy claws.

From a date palm, tresses of dates hang like locks of dark golden hair streaked with green.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Singing newsagent, fireworks, morning swim

Returning to the same place every year has many charms. One is meeting old acquaintances. The lady at the newsagent is an example. She sings in between selling papers and magazines. I don't know if she has a sad or happy life, but she has given the impression over the years of being the happiest person in the world.

It is the Fiesta of Santa Tecla and there is an amazing fireworks display from the plaza in front of the church.It begins at 11 pm. We watch it from the balustrade at the far end of the little bay called Playa San Sebastien. There are huge bursts of stars in the shape of flowers, hearts, palm trees, vast towers of sparks which flower and hang a long time in the sky before fading. The sky lights up behind the church on the promentary at the heart of the town and silouttes its baroque architecture. In the morning the ground is littered with spent fireworks cases like half smoked cigars.

The first swim in the morning, before breakfast. We have the beach to ourselves. But we must share the sea, for the sun joins us, throwing a golden path from the east.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

One palm tree, two bikes, dialogue

The lasting image of this small seaside town is the promentary where stand the church, the municipal buildings and a few of the houses of which the town originally consisted. From the beaches on either side, you can always see, standing up above the rooftops, just one palm tree.

On the small balcony of one of those tall, narrow, town houses, which you see in Mediterranean towns, there are two bicycles placed so that the two front wheels stick out above the railings on either side like ears.

It's hard to tell the nationalty of neighbours sitting at cafe tables. I overheard the following dialogue:

"You American?"
"English. You American?"
"English. We're from Manchester".

Mild jubilation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pyranees, cranes, stork

Flying over the foothills of the Pyranees and seeing green valleys borderd by dark woodland or shrubland. At the edge of the valleys, white villages and winding through the woods paths leading to the next valley and so on to the wide horizon.

Cranes gathered round the edge of Barcelona airport where they are building a new runway.

The Spanish for crane is grua, which as in English also refers to a bird. Amazingly as we taxied towards the airport buildings I saw a white bird with a long neck over the runway. Was it a stork, or a swan, or perhaps a crane

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Conkers, holiday, watching animals

Prickly green shells breaking open, to reveal the first conkers, "fresh-fire coal chestnut falls".

Anticipating a forthcoming holiday.

Watching squirrels, or almost any other animal. One of the attractions seems to be that we see human postures in, for example, the way a squirrel sits up to eat, holding a nut in its paws and nibbling it. Or is it that we see, reflected in an animal's behaviour, the animal buried within us?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Seed catalogues, moved on, dandelions again

Next year's seed catalogues have arrived in the post. If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Walking through a town where I used to live and where I am glad I don't live anymore.

Dandelions always give pleasure. Today, I saw two dandelion clocks close together and a dandelion flower between them; and the shadow of one of the clocks on a white wall beyond: a picture to remember.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Football-playing dog, bics, a mistaken marriage

Sometimes we hear a sporardic rumbling noise from next door. It is Leo, the staffordhire bull terrier, who has invented a solo game of football, which he plays in the cellar he has to himself. He rolls his ball against the wall, stops it and knocks it back, again and again.

We tend to take ball point pens for granted. But they were invented only 75 or so years ago by a Hungarian called Biro. The rights to the name were acquired by the French company Bic. Last week, apparently, Bic sold its 100 billionth biro. The company says it is has sold the equivalent of 57 pens every second since its launch in 1950.

Rossini, appart from being a composer, was a noted gourmet. Escoffier named Tournedos Rossini after him - fillet steak surmounted by foie gras and a generous slice of truffle. I read, today, that the composer made the mistake of marrying his cook for fear that she would leave him. She didn't leave, but never cooked for him again.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Semicolons, Sammy Keen, pushchairs

I admit to a fondness for semicolons; they allow depth and delicacy in a sentence. My old friend David, who lives in Amsterdam, raised the topic the other day. I recommended Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss, which, like everyone else I know who has read it, he seemed to enjoy. Today, I found in the Financial Times magazine an entire article devoted to this item of of punctuation. It seems that Americans in general have a horror of it. One American writer, Donald Barthelme, goes so far as to say: "Let me be plain: the semi colon is ugly, ugly as a tick on a dog's belly, I pinch them out of my prose." As the article, by Trevor Butterworth, makes clear, we would have been robbed of some marvellous English writing by authors as different as Thomas Carlyle and Evelyn Waugh, to mention but two, if there were no semicolons. Butterworth quotes Fowler in support of semicolons: "A style that groups several complete sentences together by the use of semicolons, because they are closely connected by thought, is far more restful and easy for - the reader that is - than the style that leaves him to do the grouping for himself; and yet it is free of the formality of the period ..."

The inscription on a bench I sat on in Mount Pleasant reads: "In memory of Sammy Keen, a very special dog, affectionate and clever."

In the shoe shop, Russell and Bromley, there is a push chair park at the bottom of the stairs leading to the childrens's department. When I passed it, three identical push chairs were parked there.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Clever schoolgirl, Yorkshire terrier, shopping

Cleverness is not always appreciated in England, hence expressions like "smarty pants" and "too clever by half". But you have to hand it to the schoolgirl Tilly Smith, who spotted the sea behaving oddly, bubbling and beginning to recede, while on the beach at Phuket in Thailand; and, remembering a school lesson about tsunamis, persuaded her parents and other people near them, to leave. She got an award, a few days ago, from the Marine Society for saving a number of lives when the Asian Tsunami struck.

On a crowded pavement, a Yorkshire terrier runs ahead of its owners, then stops and runs back, then comes up behind them again, weaving in out of the other pedestrians.

At a table on the pavement outside Costa, I hear a young woman at a neighbouring table say: "I'm dreadful; I'll see something, and I'll buy it. Then I'll see something else..."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Quiche, magpies, bathroom taps

A quiche Lorraine is the archetypal quiche. Elizabeth David's recipe in French Provincial Cooking,, which I have always used, is as good as it gets. You need half a pint of double cream and six eggs (five yolks, one whole egg)for the filling. That, with thin slices of streaky bacon, is all that goes into the pastry case. The pastry, too, is basic short crust - - 2 oz butter, 4 oz flour and one egg. The quiche may sound rich, but it's as light as a summer breeze. We ate it with a green salad.

I saw three magpies on a roof top this afternoon. Curious, clumsy birds about which folklore abounds:

"One's for sorrow, two's mirth,
Three's a wedding, four's birth,
Five's a christening, six a dearth,
Seven's heaven, eight is hell,
And nine's the devil his ane sel".

In the bathroom shop in the London road is a shelf built like a wall. The narrow ledge on top displays all sorts of taps. They sit there looking like patients in a doctor's waiting room.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Acorn, dandelion clocks, figs

I picked up new acorn, brought it home and photographed it, mysterious and majestic in its simplicity. Most of the egg-shaped surface is a rich, fresh green, but towards the cup, creamy streaks appear, growing paler and becoming almost white under the cup. The cup, in which the nut sits, has spreading scales, which curl outwards like tonsured hair. I have made a postcard of it and called it "early autumn", early because it is too green to represent the season in its maturity.

A dandelion clock is a wonderful thing on its own, but a scattering of them in longish grass makes you think of chinese lanterns, for in certain lights they seem to glimmer; while in other lights, and from a distance, they look like white flowers rather than seed heads.

Figs! Big, fat figs: bluey purple skins, a thin white undergarment of pith and then the flesh, crimson with tiny yellow seeds. We peel them, cut them into segments and eat them with Parma ham, or better, with the more fully flavoured, Spanish, serrano ham.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rooftop spectators, New Orleans, flying car

When I woke this morning I had a picture in my head of the extra-mural cricket spectators at the Oval yesterday; they sat astride rooftops, and crowded together at open windows. They were drawn, I was going to say, by one of the most civilised and civilising of sports. But the sentiment was spoilt for me by the answer to a question in the quiz in the Independent newspaper today. Who said: "Cricket civilizes and creates good gentlemen. I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe; I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen.?" Robert Mugabe.

"We saw New Orleans in the night ahead of us with joy. Dean rubbed his hands over the wheel. 'Now we're going to get our kicks.!' At dusk we were coming into the humming streets of New Orleans. 'Oh, smell the people!' yelled Dean with his face out of the window, sniffing. 'Ah! God! Life!.'" From On the Road by Jack Kerouac, published in 1957.

The hedge, which separates our little garden from the road, is about 8ft high. There is not a lot of traffic and the last thing you expect to pass is a car-transporter. So for a moment, as we sipped our lunch-time drinks, we were under the impression that a car had taken off and was skimming along at hedgetop level.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Monkshood, sheep, Petersen

Today, unlike in past years, Monkshood, also known as Wolf's-bane, is in full flower in the garden. Its beautiful, dark blue blooms, which hang from a central stem, are hood-shaped and mysterious. They are slightly sinister in the manner of all hooded things. And with good reason: they are poisonous. The botanical name aconitum comes from the Greek for dart, because the juice of the plant was used to poison arrow heads. It strikes me as a suitable plant for the garden of a beautiful witch.

The decorous way sheep arrange themselves in a field.

Watching Kevin Petersen, with a mixture of painstaking defensive play and some seemingly effortless hooks and drives, score 158 at the Oval cricket ground, to help secure the return of the Ashes trophy to England.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Martins, framed, the middle of the highway

Over the High Street, house martins wheel against the evening sky. It is hard to see one of the features - the white rump - which distinguish these birds from swallows, but you can identify them by their tails, where the fork is less pronounced than with swallows. The swifts, with their longer wings, which, a few weeks ago, in the same place, were swooping and screaming, have departed for warmer lands. I love the noise, which swifts make and their daredevil, agile flight.

In the upper room of a house, a couple are painting the inside of the window frame which frames them.

I'm still reading Jack Kerouac's great outburst of care-free, extravagant joy On the Road, which did so much to define post-World War 2 America.
Here's a typical image, as they drive through the night: " The white line in the middle of the highway hugged our left front tire as if glued to our groove. Dean huddled his muscular, t-shirted neck in the winter night, and blasted the car along".You get the feeling, as you do with so many American novels, of the vastness of the country and the hard-to-control energy, which fills it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cyberman, morning glory, scoreboard

In Mount Pleasant, a cyberman from Dr Who in his silver space-suit intoduces himself to a very small child, whom he shakes by the hand. The child is not in the least bit scared despite the nasty looking gun, which the cyberman holds in his other hand. BBC South East is having an open day. The child seems too small to know about promotions, but cybermen are clearly not strangers to him.

There have for several years now been morning glories growing in pots in the front garden of a house in Mountfield Road. This year there is but one pot, but the glories are glorious indeed, almost the size of saucers; and that blue, which reminds you of Mediterranean skies!

The traditional scoreboard at the Oval cricket ground. The television camera now regularly focuses on it to tell us the score and a lot more about the progress of the game. It is easy and pleasing to read and allows you to grasp the whole picture in a second, a brilliant piece of design.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Parsley and nasturtiums, the age of Aquarius, grey haired speedster

Picking a huge bunch of flat-leafed parsley, then of nasturtiums and not being able to get the green and pleasantly bitter smell of the one and the warm, spicey smell of the other out of my head.

I read this in a book review. It's from the musical Hair:
"When the Moon is in the Seventh House,
And Jupiter aligns with Mars,
Then Peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars".
Now wouldn't that be nice.

There is a steep slope coming down from the railway bridge beside the station, and leading to the station yard, where you cross the road to Safeways. I see, on the sloping pavement, a grey haired woman, one hand on the steering wheel of an electric invalid buggy, hurtling down at full speed. She turns left, negotiates the pavement ramp without stopping, mounts the ramp on the other side of the yard, and turns left following the slope into Vale Road. Not once does she stop or slow down. In her free hand is a cigarette, which she puffs with an aplomb to match her driving skill.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Cricket poem, cricket watcher, seasonal quote

On the Radio Four Today Programme, Sir John Major, the former prime minister, reads his poem Cricket Prayer:
Oh, Lord, if I must die today
Please make it after close of play.
For this I know, if nothing more,
I will not go without the score.

An alert cameraman at the Oval, on the first day of the fourth Test against Australia, catches a young spectator perched on a chimney stack at the edge of the ground.

Seasonal quote from John Donne, Elegy lX,
No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in an autumn face.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Musical vegetables, photographer, web

Caught part of the Radio Four programme, You and Yours, on which was featured a group of environmentalists from Austria. They had carved musical intruments from vegetables, such as carrots and celeriac. In particular, one mentioned a dried pumpkin, which, he said, sounded like a didgeridoo.

A tourist photographs the chalybeate spring in the Pantiles. He walks away and examines so posessively the image on the screen of his digital camera that you wonder whether the spring is still there in its entirety.

In the garden, this afternoon, a spider has spun a web, which seems to be perfectly symetrical. The wind blowing, through it, makes it billow like a sail despite the spaces between the threads. Right in the middle, sits the spider and waits, as spiders do.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Motto, mood music, roast tomatoes

The motto of Tunbridge Wells, the town where I live, is "Do well, Doubt Not". I'm not sure what it means and a google search hasn't enlightened me, although there are plenty of references to Tunbridge Wells and to mottos. It used to worry me that I didn't know. Now I simply ask: does it matter? I doubt not that it doesn't.

Tomatoes slow roasted and marinated in spices and herbs.

Indeterminate music drifting out of The Grove Tavern on a warm, humid afternoon could be the sound track of one of those French movies where very little happens, very slowly.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Snail, squidgets, redesigned shop

For the last week a snail has taken up residence on the sweetpeas. It used to reside on the cross bar of the bamboo frame. Now it has migrated several centimeters to a vertical pole.

Two very small schoolgirls with enormous rucksacks almost as big as themselves overtake me in the Grove. "Why do you call them squidgets?" says one. "I don't know, " says the other, "my Dad always calls squirrels squidgets."

The nearest branch of the health food store Holland and Barrett closed down for a week and has now reopened. It has a completely new layout. Everything, even the products look different, though they are almost certainly the same.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fountain, goldfish, grand-daughter

Watching a powerful fountain sending up its single jet into the bright blue sky so that the droplets vanish into the light.

A goldfish in the big pond in the garden at Penshurst nibbles an apple that some one has thrown in.

Talking to grand-daughter Gigi who says she wants to be a photo-journalist and travel round the world.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Spitfire, beachcombing, rhyming slang

A roar overhead and very low over Tunbridge Wells, flies a spitfire - the fighter plane which helped to win the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Beachcombing is the best of pastimes. One trophy from yesterday is a slim piece of wood perhaps 4 inches long, smoothed by the sea, with its grain visible along its length and an indentation like a valley. One part is thicker than the other forming a curved hood like a bird's head or the cockpit of an aeroplane. The thinner projecting part could be a long, straight beak. The more I look at it, the more possibilites I see in it. It will prove a good companion.

In the Mind charity shop today I find an excellent dictionary of rhyming slang. If I had had it earlier this week I might not have been puzzled by the advertisment outside the Compasses for a Ruby evening. I might have learnt from it that ruby, short for Ruby Murry, means curry.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Bopeep, brambles, shingle

Outside West St Leonards station there is a signal box with a sign, which reads Bopeep Junction.

A recorded announcement on the train that the refreshment trolley is on the way strikes me as containing a particularly well rounded and mellifluous sentence: "Please ensure that the aisles are left clear of bags and luggage to allow the service to progress smoothly through the train."

I lie in the sun on the shingle beach, and the small, warm pebbles mould themselves comfortably round my body.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Booking tickets, couillonade, family trees

Booking tickets for a holiday on the internet.

A useful french word is couillonade, which can be translated as bullshit.

I wake up thinking about family trees. Why is it that they are usually in the shape of a triangle with one or two ancestors, back in time, at the apex, and their progeny seeming to poliferate beneath them? When you think about it, it should be the other way round, with just one person at the base, and a growing heap of people above broadening out into hundreds of thousands of ancestors. Do the sums: 2 grandparents, 4 great gandparents, 8 great, great grandparents, 16 great, great, great, grandparents, and so on. Given that it takes two to create a baby, you will find that, if you go back 20 generations, you will have 1,048,576 ancestors.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Morning mist, groups of people, new view of familiar place

Early morning mist after a warm night promises a hot day.

Seeing a familar place from a different view point. The Hotel du Vin has a tiny vineyard planted on the slope beneath the sheltered terrace. From the entrance to the vineyard, you have a view of Calverly Park below it, framed by leaves, where everything is small and particular.

In parks and public place, when the weather is warm, people arrange themselves on the grass in groups. As they, converse, inspired by a summer's day, they make fascinating compositions of arms, legs and heads, that, from a distance, seem interchangeable.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Swinging bee, dandelions, rabbit joins bear

This morning, an early bee was performing its flower-to-flower routine with the lavender. When it landed on a bloom at the end of a long, unobstructed stem, it made the stem swing up and down like one end of a seesaw.

I like everything about dandelions: the English name from the French, dents de lion, because of the shape of the leaves; the French name pissenlit because the leaves when eaten (and they are eaten as salad)are a diuretic; the bold, uncompromising flower; and the intricacy of the seedhead, the dandelion clock, with every, parachute-like seed anchored to the ovary, which, when the seeds have gone, resembles a pincushion

In an upper window of the house called "Windy Bottom" on the corner of the Grove and Sutherland Road, there has, for a long time, been a man-sized teddy bear peering down at passers-by. Now in the window below, his watch has been joined by a large rabbit with floppy ears.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Old maths, cold beer, Orlando Furioso

This question from an arithmetic book of 1536 is quoted in the Indpendent. "There is a catte at the fote of a tre the length of 300 fote/ this catte goeth upwarde eche day 17 fote, and descendeth eche nyght 12 fote. I demaunde in how longe tyme shall she be at ye toppe. The book is called An introduction for to lerne to rekyn with the pen, & with the counters .

I look up the opening paragraphs of Ariosto's 15th Century poem,Orlando Furioso. The prose tanslation in the Oxford University Press edition reads: "I sing of knights and ladies, of love and arms, of courtly chivalry, of courageous deeds ... I shall tell of Orlando ... setting down what has never been recounted in prose or rhyme ... of Orlando, driven mad by love - and he a man who had always been esteemed for his prudence.

A cold beer in warm sunshine.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Old friends, viola, the unexpected

Talking about old friends with an old friend,

On the front steps, in the angle between one step and the next, a dark blue viola appeared today. It must have been self-sown from a pot which was there last summer.

Heraclitus is supposed to have said: "If you do not expect the unexpected you will never find it."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Who was it? chickens, sedentariness

It worries me that the friendly man who greeted me when we were sitting outide The Compasses seemed to know me well, while I couldn't place him at all. Did he mistake me for somebody else? Or am I losing my memory for faces? His pleasant smile comes back to me, but no name and no recollection of a previous encounter.

A big, plump chicken at today's Farmers Market. It was fed on cereals and vegetable products and spent its life in the open air. It will be roasted for our Sunday lunch.

A few quiet days have made me reflect, with the great William Cobbet, that: "It is a great error to suppose that people are rendered stupid by always remaining in the same place".

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lavender, candytuft, scaffolding

Ever since I was a small child I have never been able to resist nicking a head of lavender as I pass, and squeezing it to extract the perfume. I have just done it again, and wonder how much lavender I have consumed in nearly seventy years.

There has been a chance candytuft plant growing in the corner of the wall and the doorstep outside the front door all this summer. I keep expecting it to wither, but the recent rain and today's sun have given it yet another lease of life.

It is always a pleasure to see scaffolding go. The vast structure, which has encumbered a neighbouring house for most of the summer, has almost gone. Tommorow should see the last of it; and after the clanking, relative silence should be restored.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cobwebs, Anna's tale, crystal ball

This morning, just outside the bedroom window, hang two long threads of cobweb swaying in the breeze. Each catches the sunlight at a different moment so that it seems to contain a filament of moving light. As the threads swing to and fro, the light catches them at different points and seems to be moving in time with them, though up and down, rather than horizontally.

My friend Anna tells me of a recent encounter in a Wagamama restaurant near where she lives. She was sitting at a communal table and observed a young, pretty and beautifully dressed Japanese girl near her. Anna was engrossed in her book, Orlando Furioso, and did not notice when her food was put in front of her. Her neighbour pointed out its arrival, and they began to talk. Anna was impressed by her courtesy and gentle manners. After a while Anna returned to her book. When she looked up the girl had left. When Anna asked for her bill, she was told that it had been paid.

I seem to be making a habit of watching single, suspended raindrops. This one hung at the end of a bunch of rowan berries. It was like an extra berry and almost the same size, only colourless and completely translucent. You could see the blue sky through it and distorted fragments of the tree. But, though I looked hard, (for it seemed a temporary crystal ball), there was no sign of the future.