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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Nightshade, beauty, pepperdew

Berries, not just blackberries, are ripening early. This morning I note in a hedge the bright red berries of woody nightshade.

I look for a beautiful thing in the Grove on a wet, grey day and think of Francis Bacon's observation: "There is no beauty which hath not some strangeness in proportion."

Pepperdew peppers in bottle. They are small and red, and sweet and spicy at the same time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Spinnach, doves, kids

Picking spinnach in the sunshine with yesterday's rain still on theleaves.

Every morning two doves appear outside the bedroom window, one invariably perches on the streetlamp,like an ornament.

A parked car, packed with children. All are singing and clapping their hands in time. You can hear them on the other side of the road and all the way up the High Street. One little boy has his finger in his ear.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Rain, rain, rain

The smell of warm rain.

Hearing the rain falling on the leaves of the big oak in the corner of the Grove.

The way raindrops collect on the the tips of leaves, seem to grow away from being spherical as they accumulate water, and then, as they fall from the leaf, return to become spheres again.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Squirrels, Whiskas, Stefan Zweig

We count squirrels in the Grove. There were eight in sight at one time.

Waiting for friends at the end of the Sainsbury'check out, I look for double meanings in the advertisments suspended above the aisles. One reads "Whiskas can rabbit supermeat". Idly I wonder what else it can rabbit. Or is someone going to tell me that to rabbit is invariaby an intransitive verb?

In today's paper, I read an article about Stefan Zweig, a once world famous novelist, born in Austria in 1881, and Pushkin Press, a British independent publishing house, which aims to bring European Literature in translation to a wider readership. This afternoon, on a stall in the market in the Pantiles, I see numerous titles from Pushkin Press for sale at five for £10. The cover prices range between £10 and £12. They are beautifully printed on Legend Laid Paper, with elegant cover illustrations taken from appropriate paintings. I select what I think are five titles, including two by Zweig, but I have in fact picked up six. The stallholder says "I like people who like books," and throws in the sixth, all for £10.00

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Film critic, bedtime robin, laughing farmer

You cannot see passers-by on the other side of the hedge which borders our garden, but you can hear intriguing snatches of conversation. Overheard today was a woman's voice: "No plot, no nakedness, it was a shit film."

I read in in a review of the new book, Birds Britannica, of a robin that managed to build a nest in an unmade bed, while its owner had breakfast.

The following wonderful picture comes from Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which I have just gone back to: "I heard a great laugh, the greatest laugh in the world, and here came this rawhide old-timer Nebraska farmer with a bunch of other boys into the diner; you could hear his raspy cries clear across the plains, across the whole gray world of them that day. Everybody else laughed with him. He didn't have a care in the world and had the hugest regard for everybody. I said to myself, Wham, listen to that man laugh. That's the West, here I am in the West.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sweetpeas, tomatoes, rural holiday

A few days ago I noted the pleasure of picking sweetpeas after it had rained. Today, when I picked them while it was still raining, I was surprised by their resilience and by the strength of their perfume.

In the greenhouse, the cherry tomatoes continue to ripen, but it is the big, thin-skinned, Costletto Fiorentino unevenenly shaped and of varying proportions that give the greater pleasure for their appearance and flavour.

In Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, I come across the French word villiegeture (there is an acute accent over the first e). It means a stay in the country. Reference to different dictionaries shows that it is derived from the Italian Villeggiatura, residence in a country villa. The Oxford Dictionary recognised the Italian form as an English word and quotes Shelley "Lord Byron is in villeggiatura near Leghorn.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pudding, dragonfly, lime branches

Bread and butter pudding, creamy, crisp on top with an apricot glaze and dusted with icing sugar.

A few weeks ago I reported a dragon fly in Mount Sion, now I see one in the High Street. There are no streams and few ponds that I know of any where near either place.

In the almost compete stillness this evening, as the sky clouds over, the air is loaded with rain. The branches of the lime tree, weighted down with winged seeds, barely move and seem to nod as if in agreement with something dubious.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Acorn cups again, warden, bees

I recently mentioned the acorn cups from last year under the big oak in the Corner of the Grove. Today, I see that the squirrels have been attacking this year's young acorns and have begun to scatter the green cups beneath the tree.

A traffic warden has strayed into the Grove, where there is no road and no cars, and wanders across the grass swigging fruit juice from a plastic bottle.

Bees moving from bloom to bloom in the lavender like people at market stalls.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Bean flowers, bathing blackbird, baby in tow

Scarlet bean flowers among runner beans.

A baby blackbird, while I am watching it, hops into a large dish, which doubles as a bird bath. It sits there for a while up to its breast in water, taking a drink from time to time, then plunges its head into the water with a splash. It hops out, consumes a worm, hops back into its bath, and repeats the head dunking process.

A man peddles hard on his bike up Mount Sion. Behind the bike and attached to it by two metal arms, is a baby-buggy. In the buggy sits a baby, looking grand and pleased with itself like someone of royal descent.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Dad, parrots, icecream

A dad with shaved head, tatoos and an earing, talking pleasantly to two smartly dressed children holding his hand on each side as they walk in the street.

Three lifelike parrots made of plastic and what look like real parrot feathers in the three windows of Thurwells, the jewellery workshop in the High Street.

Eating an icecream on a bench in the Pantiles.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Small rain drops, distant music, lime tree

Sitting in the sun and feeling tiny prickles of rain on my bare arms.

Sounds of entertainment drifting up Mount Sion from the Pantiles as if the town is having a party.

Watching the lime tree opposite from a central point below it. When there is a gust of wind, it looks as though someone is shaking the tree from within the canopy. As the gust subsides the individual branches sway gently as though waving goodbye.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Seasonal fruit, Jacob Epstein, Le Corbusier

Freshly picked, local plums and Discovery apples at the Farmers' Market.

Bumping in to our biographer neighbour who tells a story about the sculptor, Jacob Epstein's first visit to Venice. The great artist removed his hat and put it beside him when he sat down. To his surprise and lasting amusement he found it gradually filling up with coins, donated by passers by.

I read in a book about Le Corbusier a quotation from the architect: "To look and then to observe and finally perhaps to discover ... It is then that inspiration may come."

Friday, August 12, 2005

Mountain ash, dark clouds, sculptors

The berries of the rowan, also known as mountain ash, are at their brightest. I recall a poem by a forgotten novelist of the 1920s called Mary Webb whose books were set in Shropshire." Come with me to the mountain tree,/ Cinnabar red with fruit is she". She would have been thinking of the tree growing in the wild rather than the tamed garden varieties round here.

Black and purple clouds layering up while the sun shines.

Talking to a neighbour who knew the sculptors Jacob Epstein and Elizabeth Frink and wrote biographies of them.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Runner beans, ladybird, sudokus

After commenting on Clare Grant's beautiful thing ( - runner beans eaten raw, I put my words into practice. This morning's crop of beans was not very large, but the beans were tender, snapped in half crisply and tasted of pure vegey green. The dip I made eventually for our guests this evening was a mixture of creme fraiche (sorry no accents) and cream cheese (about half and half) seasoned with ground, tropical pepper corns. The beans were cut into equal sized fingers. The beans and the sauce disappeared with gratifying speed. After making the sauce, I read Clare's response to my comment - something creamy and slightly sweet. Clare, I think I may have matched your requirements.

The almost pathetic satisfaction of completing the three sudokus in today's Independent - Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

There are two french words for ladybird. Coccinelle doesn't matter. But bete de Bon Dieu (sorry no accent) is lovely.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Verbascum, auburn, squab

For a long time I have been trying to put a name to the stately plant with broad, hairy leaves and tall spikes of small, closely ranked yellow flowers with purple stamens, which has sprung up next to the runner beans.It is verbascum, or mullein. It has lots of old, country names, among them: Aaron's rod, our lady's candle and donkey's ears.

From my favourite lookout post in the Pantiles I see a mother and her small daughter opposite the spring. Both have auburn hair. The mother poses the little girl in front of the incription about the spring's discovery. The little girl has a fluffy, toy dog in her arms which she holds up for the picture. It has a broad streak of auburn in its coat, a perfect match for mother and daughter.

Squab is not a word you use very often. But I have to use it today. The sad, baby pigeon which I met going through the neighbour's garden, was minute, fluffy and bewildered by the world - a squab. When it saw me, it stopped crashing around and remained perfectly still, believing perhaps that if it didn't move I wouldn't see it - a habit of the nest, when danger threatens perhaps?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Tabouleh, blogtalk, watering

Tabouleh. It is a sort of salad made from burgal (dried, cracked wheat), finely chopped parsley ( lots of it) and mint, lemon juice and olive oil. Good for vegetarian visitors on a hot day.

Ken, who is visiting today from London, remarks that many things here and in Tunbridge Wells are familiar from his regular reading of this blog.

Watering herbs after a hot, dry day.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Granny story, cherry tomatoes, chard

A friend and neighbour stops to talk and, inspired by the summer day, tells a story about her and her grandmother. The old lady used to have a snooze in a deckchair in the garden. The little girl, as our friend then was, used to sneak up behind her with a blade of grass and tickle her grandmother's nose, making the grandmother brush away an imaginary fly while her eyes remained closed. Our friend always expected to be discovered but, she says, her grandmother never woke up suficiently to catch her at her tricks.

Cutting chard - it is the variety with stems ranging in colour from ruby, through orange to bright yellow, which are beautifully set off by the big, dark green leaves - and presenting a bunch to Giuseppi in the Pantiles. He puts it in a jug on the counter, and promises to cook it with polenta.

Picking cherry tomatoes, which hang in delicate sprays in the greenhouse, and cutting back the leaves to let more ripen.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sunflowers, acorn cups, tidying the garden

A vase of freshly cut sunflowers. There are conventional yellow ones and a new dark red variety. The leaves, the petals and the sharply pointed sepals all curl intriguingly, like flames caught in a photograph. I have read that the seeds and petals of sunflowers follow a spiral pattern of growth, which precisely coincides with the mathematical sequence known as the Fibonacci series. In this series each number is the sum of the previous two. It reads 1,1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and so on.

Little brown rings cover the ground under the oak at the corner of The Grove. They are the cups which supported last year's acorns. The acorns sit in these closely scaled containers, green when new, like eggs in an egg cup.

Cutting back shrubs and plants, which intrude on new growths, and clearing weeds, keeps chaos at bay. The result is controlled chaos - perhaps the definition of a living garden.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Emmanuel the Magnificent, butterflies, pigeon

There is an African charity party in the Pantiles. It is organised by Stephanie Benson, the Ghanian princess, who runs the Cafe Chocolat. Emmanuel the Magnificent is a magnificent acrobat and juggler. He performs with a group of African drummers, on the stage opposite The Corn Exchange. He spins basins on a wand while going through miraculous gyrations. He juggles with straw hats, catching them on his head. He brings small children on to the stage and teaches them to throw and catch the hats. He makes the audience clap in time as he strides faster and faster round the stage. The drums increase in tempo. This is Tunbridge Wells on a Saturday afternoon.

Butterflies are scarce nowadays. Yet this afternoon our garden seems full of them. They are Large Whites, a common variety once. But how delicately etched are the browny-black tips of their wings! My book says that it is the females which have two spots on their wings. It must be ladies' day.

The squeak of a pigeon's wings before it crashes into the branches of the lime tree opposite.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Wind, Clematis, leaf

In the Grove, after the rain this morning, the afternoon wind blows warm scents from the trees in the restored sunshine. The leaves rustle reassuringly.

A macropetala clematis with its blue, bell shaped flowers, clambers up a wall in the front garden of a house, which I pass most days.

A dead leaf from a shrub which I couldn't identify is pressed into the pavement. Too early for autumn, it glows with a rich, golden yellow, shot with sunset reds. You don't have to look far for things worth recording here.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fungus, sun, bamboo

Early this morning four thin, tall and delicate fungi were sprouting from the compost round the stem of a beech sapling in the Grove. Someone, as I have mentioned before, has topped this tree which is fighting back, having sent out defiant shoots from its fractured stem. The fungi were not in themselves important, but with the dew still on the flat membranes of their caps, and the early sun highlighting them, they seemed important and beautiful.

Sitting in the sun outside a cafe having a cup of tea and a cheese and pickle sandwich. The early sun was warm and inspiring. As I was finishing, the owner came to the door and remarked on the quality of the morning. I agreed and had a second tea and sandwich to celebrate it.

Bamboo growing in huge pots outside The Compasses.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reconnected, Afghan girl, poached egg

Being reconnected to the Internet after modem problems.

A reproduction in The Independent of the renowned National Geographic magazine cover from 1985 showing an Afghan girl refugee staring out at you with grey blue eyes which seem to take over the page and everyone who looks at it. The portrait was shot by the photo journalist Steve McCurry. Seventeen years later he rediscoved her. She had not seen the photograph until it was shown to her in January 2002. Her name is Sharbat Gula and she is described as a "shy, devout mother of three children." In the April 2002 issue of the magazine she again became the subject for the cover. This time, completely shrouded in a burka, she is shown holding the original photograph.

A poached duck egg with finally chopped pancetta.