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.