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.