Sunday, July 31, 2005

Cous cous. grandchildren, heron

Making a cous cous. The ingredients for the sauce, grow in complexity as the taste adjusts to what you want. They include: ground, mixed tropical peppercorns; preserved lemons; pickled sweet peppers; dried apricots; finely chopped ruby chard; sliced, baby courgettes; corriander. It is to be eaten with roast chicken.

Teenage grandchildren coming to lunch on their way to France. Taller than last time, talkative, hungry, they seem to be intriguing connections with all possible tenses.

I read in a review of a new book, Red Weather by Ruth Padel, a quotation from which, among other things, makes me want to read it: "...a heron lands with a flapping sound like someone hanging out the washing."

Friday, July 29, 2005

Chinese box, Rastafarian, Ashdown Forest

An old and beautiful, Chinese laquered box - it's red and without ornamentation- to contain
the various electronic clutter, which remotely controls the tv etc.

"She's decided she's going to become a Rastafarian. She's researched everything thoroughly. She thinks it's a good thing. ..She's 29... I can't wait to see her dreadlocks". Overheard in the Pantiles.

From the junction of Little Mount Sion and Warwick Park you can see, between a gap in the houses, a distant view of Ashdown Forest - bluey-grey heathland, a contrast with the sunlit town and green common around us.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Chalybeate, cream cakes, dragonfly

An Italian woman with five or six 10 year old boys at the spring in the Pantiles. She translates the account of the spring's discovery by Lord North in 1606 into Italian. They are not listening.
Then she photgraphs one with the inscription beside him.

An elderly lady wearing a sun visor on the bench outside the church in the High Street. She is eating cream cakes out of a paper bag with such evident enjoyment that it makes you hungry to watch her.

A drangonfly darting to and fro in Mount Sion.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Romeo and Julieta,Tulip tree, J-P Sartre

Slowly smoking one of the Romeo and Julieta No 2 cigars, which Heidi brought back for me from Gibralter last month.

Waking, as I always do, to the sight of the tulip tree in the middle distance in the centre of the bedroom window. It is an old tree and has attained a considerable height. In the centre of the tree, there is a space among the leaves where you can see how the trunk has forked into three branches. This skewed fork pattern has engraved itself on my mind in summer, and in winter, when the leaves are gone; it has become a symbol of morning time.

When I was young lots of people were talking about Jean-Paul Sartre, though not as many, I suspect, had read him. Now that he is out of fashion, I am reading Nausea, his first novel, very slowly because in French. It confronts the existence, which we all take for granted, as though every moment was the first moment and the last moment. Could be exhausting if you took it too seriously, but more fun than I expected.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Imaginary sun, crocodile, new book

Watching people pass outside the Pizza Express at the bottom of the High Street. An acquaintance on his way past asks: "Are you pretending the sun's out?" The sun was out, but above the cloud cover.

A crocodile of Japanese school children (perhaps 30 of them) is perfectly formed. Students walk at an even pace, two by two. There is a teacher in front and one behind. When the teacher in front stops at the curb, the whole lines stops, every pair at the same time.

A new book from The Folio Society - The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. How beautiful it looks, feels and smells! I used to think such luxuries uneccessary, and was content with paper backs. But such a volume, with its Art Nouveau cover and illustrations, adds to the pleasure of reading.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sweetpeas, Squirrel, Lemon

After a wet night, cutting sweetpeas on which there are still raindrops.

In the Grove a spaniel races after a squirrel. The squirrel runs up the nearest tree. The spaniel pretends it was never interested in the squirrel and hares off in another direction.

Two lemon flavours in our little garden - lemon grass and lemon balm. In the kitchen, meanwhile, a lemon is a lemon is a lemon.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Warm wind, wet earth, blogging

This is the sort of wind that is celebrated in the 14th Century poem supposed to have been written by a homesick English soldier in France:
" Western wind when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!"

Checking the soil to see if the rain has gone deep enough to reach the roots of plants.

Talking to Andre at the video shop about the virtues of blogging.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Pigeons, Hollandaise, Rabbit's fart

Very early in the morning the view from the bathroom window of back gardens and our neighbour's patio is peaceful and there is a scent of flowers and other growing things. Suddenly a clatter of wings. A pigeon. Then another. Finally three pigeons perch together on the fence. They nod and tilt their heads, the way birds do working their beady eyes, as they search for food or look out for enemies.

Making Hollandaise sauce - a lithe amalgm of egg yolks and butter scented with lemon.

The CassellsFrench dictionary, which I keep upstairs, is old fashioned and in many other ways less than satisfactory, but it often provides pleasure. I don't know if the expression is, or ever was in common use, but I love "ce ne vaut pas un pet lapin" - it's not worth a rabbit's fart -which it gives as an example in its definition of "pet".

Friday, July 22, 2005

Woods, Crossing the Road, Notebooks

Walking down Little Mount Sion and seeing the steep, wooded slopes of the Common rising above the rooftops of the High Street.

Two tough old ladies crossing the High Street, where it bends sharply towards the London Road. Each has an identical, aluminium walking stick in one hand and each raises her free hand to acknowledge the traffic, which stops for them.

The arrival by post of two Moleskine pocket notebooks, the sort which has no constraining rules so that you can draw as well as write in them.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Old and Young, Bumble Bee, Straight and Curled

In Calverley Park, where there used to be tennis courts, there is a croquet club adjoining a court where basket ball is played. There were players on both engaged in their respective sports. On the croquet lawn, there was no one under the age of sixty ; on the basket ball court, no one over the age of twenty.

Among this year's nasturtiums, a new variety called Moonlight. In the evening light a bumble bee in search of pollen, ignored all the other flowers and chose Moonlight. It buried itself headfirst in each corolla until only the end of its abdomen, quivering a little with its exertions, was visible. It then moved on to the next until it had tackled all the Moonlight flowers.

In the past I have tried to grow sweetpeas according to the book, ie prune surplus shoots and tendrils and tie each stalk to a stake. You are supposed to get single blooms at the end of long stems. Fine for garden shows, but the uniformity is tedious, like fruit of the same size in supermarkets. This year, the sweet peas curl and twist and, arranged in a vase, are far more interesting.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Laziness, First Tomato, Three Beautiful Things

I read in La Nausee : "It is through idleness , I suppose, that day after day the world continues to look like itself".

The tomato plants have recovered after looking decidedly poorly following two days of neglect over the hot weekend. And today came the first ripe fruit.

Seeing The Best of Now mentioned by Clare Grant in her Three Beautiful Things - its source and inspiration. She says that as we live in the same town we may pass each other without realising it. Not to be deliberately mysterious I have managed to upload this photo(the smallest I could manage), to make chance identification easier should we pass in the street.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Spa Water, Serrano Ham, Baby Spinnach

Watching a frail old lady tourist manfully sampling Tunbridge Wells' brownish spa water.

Buying serrano ham - the Spanish, cured, raw ham; and comparing it, as one always does, with the usually inferior Parma ham.

Picking baby spinnach leaves and planning a salad with pancetta and poached eggs.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Balloon, Swifts, Haddock

Sitting outside Zizzi's in the evening, I see a yellow, hot-air balloon drift slowly above the High Street and dissappear over the rooftops in the direction of The Common.

Later, a bunch of swifts chasing and screaming almost as high as the balloon, come into view for a few seconds, directly overhead in the strip of sky between the buildings.

I read in the New Scientist about a new variety of jelly fish which was discovered by a man called called Stephen Haddock, who is a researcher at the Monterey Aquarium Research Institute.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Strawberry, Sound of a Hose, Old Wine

One wild strawberry has fruited outside our basement window. Plants have been there for at least 20 years, and have received no special attention, yet still survive.

Walking down the hill, I heard the sound of water coming out of a hose pipe. A woman in her garden was watering the blue hydranga, which remains blue while its near neighbour stays pink

Sharing a a bottle of 1989 Clerc Millon, which has been waiting to be drunk for 15 years, and was worth waiting for.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lime Flower Tea, Lime Basil, Creme Caramel

As I had recommended lime flower tea, I thought I should buy some myself and drink it, which I did with pleasure. It was the memory of madeleine cakes dunked in a tisane made from lime flowers that got Marcel Proust started in A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.

Lime Basil is now in leaf. I had never grown it before. It tastes as it sounds - an aromatic mix of sweet basil and lime - the citrus this time.

Preparing creme caramel to be eaten with peaches poached in white wine.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Italian Market, Unexplained Matter, Dove

Sitting outside Guiuseppi's and greeting people we know as they pass on their way round the Italian market in the Pantiles.

Talking about mysterious happenings and linking them to the 96 per cent of matter in the Universe which physicists have not yet accounted for.

Watching a dove on a chimney pot catching the late rays of the evening sun.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Derivations, Privet, Lion

Looking up words. I come across the French phrase a la derive (sorry no accents), meaning adrift. I find it is derived or has come adrift, as you would expect, from the French deriver, which means more or less what it does in English.

Seeing a privet tree adorned with the white flowers which sometimes sneak up in my privet hedge when the sheers have missed them.

A fierce, papier mache lion, black and orange, and about four foot long, in the window of a house, which I pass on my way home.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pottering, Courgette Flowers, Basil

Pottering first things in the morning - a drop of water for a plant that looks in need, an item returned to its place, a neglected clock wound up, a yeast dough starter fed with flour and a little warm water.

Courgette flowers: you can lightly fry them until they go limp, plunge them into batter and deep fry them for a minute or two until the batter is golden brown, or shred them raw and strew them over a salad.

Cutting sweet basil when it has reached several inches in height, and enjoying the smell before anything else.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Pied Wagtail, Onions, Outdoor Cooking

A pied wagtail's swooping flight in Calverley Park. If I could fly that's how I'd fly.

Baby onions caramelised and preserved in balsamic vinegar.

Cooking a meal in the garden as it begins to get dark.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Star, Agapanthus, Nasturtiums

As it gets dark and we talk and drink, watching a star appear over the roof of the house opposite and then sink behind the roof.

The buds of Agapathus like pale, green envelopes promising surprises.

The wilderness of nasturtiums which appears against the fence every year, self-seeded from the previous year. The colours range from crimson through orange to pale yellow. Some blooms are yellow streaked with orange.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Stories, Cherries,Shopping List

"A man is always a teller of stories; he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others; he sees every thing that happens to him through them; and he seeks to live his life as he tells it to himself." I read that this morning in Nausee by J-P Sartre. It strikes me, an addict of stories and soaps of all kinds, as being pretty close to the truth.

Cherries - their taste, the way, as they hang in the tree or lie in the bowl, their skins shine above their plumpness; their smell, their taste, and the satisfaction of shooting their stones one by one into flower beds where they, may one day, grow into cherry trees.

Remembering what was on the shopping list which I had forgotten to take to the supermarket with me.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Rattle Snakes, Broad Beans, Purple Clouds

In the Farmers Market there is a stall selling Echinacea purpurea, advertised as an antidote for rattle snake bites.

Shelling newly picked broad beans, like emerald kidneys in a bed of white velvet.

Towering purple clouds gathering in a blue sky

Friday, July 08, 2005

Early Morning, Bowler in Blitz, Spam

Early morning sounds which come at the same time - truck passing (4.30 am) the milkman opposite (about 5 o'clock), plane on way in to Gatwick, (6 0'clock), click of switched off alarm clock (6.45).

Remembering, in the light of yesterday's events, a story which my late wife told me about her grandfather during the blitz in London. His wife in the hall of their house during an air raid asked him why he was holding his bowler hat. "It makes me feel safer", he said.

Finding a means of getting rid of spam within Outlook Express . You click Messages, then Block Message. Goodbye spam and future messages from the senders, I hope. Thank you, Michael.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Warm Air, Rocket, Sudocu

Inspecting herbs in the warm, morning air, steamy after the rain.

Eating rocket flowers in a salad.

Completing a sudocu.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Whirling Ribbons, Elephant Child, Reconnecting

A girl in the Grove whirling long ribbons on the end of batons which form spirals round her.

While I am trimming the last section of the hedge, a passing old lady says: I hope it doesn't rain on that electric machine. Within in seconds the trimmer packs up. I check the plugs and find the positive wire has come loose in one. Satisfaction when the trimmer springs to life again before the rain.

Catch a part of the tv programme about an elephant orphanage. It shows a baby elephant, orphan being tucked up for the night by a keeper. He covers the baby with a blanket to make up for it not having the warmth of its mother and siblings. He sleeps in the same stable so that he can feed it with bowls of milk every four hours. I think: We like watching animals because we are ourselves closer to animals than to angels.

Lost Links

Apolgies to missing links. While trying to add a link I have lost what links I had. Though I have followed the instructions I think. The links will not return nor the new ones I wanted to add.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Yak Skiing, Melons, Watering

Reading in the Independent newspaper about the latest "extreme sport" - yak skiing.It is practiced, the paper says, in the Indian village of Manali. You drive your yak, which is attached to a rope up hill and wrap the rope round a tree, to make a sort of pulley arrangement Your skier, meanwhile, waits at the bottom of the hill holding on to or attached to the rope. He is given a bucket of nuts of a variety to which yaks are adicted. When the skier wants to start he rattles the bucket. The hungry yak then charges down hill hoping for lunch and pulls the skier, at break neck speed, up hill.

The smell of melons, reminding you of the smell of other melons.

Watering tomatoes in a warm green house.

Venus, Fried Green Tomatoes, Hedge-trimming

Venus Williams jumping up and down for joy and laughing with delight when she won the championshop.

Seeing Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe again, all the better for a 14 year interval.

Not so much trimming the hedge as having trimmed it.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Wall Lettuce, Gibbon, Creeping Jenny

There has been a lot of wall lettuce in evidence this year. Mycelis Muralis has pretty, yellow flowers, reddish stems and irregular lobes. It grows in rocky places and, notably, here on neglected door steps. You are supposed to be able to eat the leaves in salads. The seed heads are like tiny, dandelion clocks but with far fewer white-winged seeds. I see some that have gone to seed by the station in Sevenoaks. They are like spherical snow flakes.

Why, someone said this morning, should anyone want to read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empires? One reason is its entertainment value. For example, describing Gordianus, Gibbon writes: "His manners were less pure, but his character was equally amiable with that of his father. Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested to the variety of his inclinations; and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that both the one and the other were designed for use rather than observation". The footnote reads: "By each of his concubines, the younger Gordian left three or four children. His literary productions, though less numerous, were by no means contemptable".

It has been difficult to find things to grow in the dry and shady side of our garden, but this year it has become quite crowded with plant life. Creeping Jenny,lysmachia nummularia, is now providing brilliant ground cover. True to its name it reaches through obstacles to investigate the path to the front door.

Tertulia, Dentist, Hilde and the Fox

There is no better word than the Spanish "tertulia" to describe the group of young people who gather regularly after school to chat under a tree in The Grove. Not quite a literary circle you imagine, they have, nevertheless, pushed two benches together facing one another to make conversation easier. Keeping up with the times, one wears a hood.

Coming out of the dentist, repairs completed.

Hilde telling us about the dog fox who has made a home in her garden. I don't have a cat any more, but I have a fox, she says. He has tunnelled into a disused shed where he has made his home. She says: when he is hungry, he barks and I make him a sandwich.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Green Insects, Green farmland, Green Flowers

In the window of Silks fashion shop in the High Street, someone has made flying, green insects from Badoit bottles and suspended them to attract cutomers. The bottles are split open and cut into curved panels for the wings. Entire bottles form the thorax and abdomen. Six transparent, green drinking straws make the legs.

Anna, who is cruising in the Baltic, writes, in a post card, of the Kiel Canel: It was heavenly to see the sun set over misty, very green farmland, while groups of swans, sometimes over 30 of them, paddled past along the bank.

Are the flowers of the lime-tree green? Or cream coloured? Lime green perhaps, in contrast with the more conventional green of the leaves. I examine the flowers, which hang modestly in pendulous umbels below the long, pale bracts on which the seeds will eventually glide in the Autumn wind.