Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sowing tomatoes, blackbird, shining branches

Sowing two types of tomato in the greenhouse: one variety, a large one, of the sort which supermarkets call beefsteak, is yclept Brandywine; the other, which produces tresses of small tomato, is Loveheart(Cutie).

A blackbird attempts to pre-empt the Spring. Its thin, uncertain song, as it sits in a holly tree, is not convincing.

The sunlight glints on the damp, black branches of the trees in the Grove.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bulbs, money gone, tar

Electric lights bulbs attached to plastic daffodils and suspended from long wires, and some smaller bulbs with daffodils attached to them and set in compost in plastic trays, form a pretty, visual pun in a fashion shop window display in the High Street.

The 1p and 2p pieces which, yesterday were scattered like petals on the pavement in Mount Sion, have vanished.

The clean, slightly intoxicating yet business-like smell of tar hangs over the Grove where the tarmacing proceeds.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Pennies from heaven, pub change, emotional blackmailer

Unusual litter on the corner of Mount Sion and Berkeley Road this morning consists of a substantial scattering of 1p and 2p pieces - about 50p altogether Heidi reckons. We encounter it at the beginning of our walk. It is still there on our return, apparently untouched.

Our local has a new landlord. The last one who lasted about a year kept the place clean and tidy. There were even flowers on the tables. All the regulars left. Now it's back to normal, scruffy and uncared for, and the regulars are back.

I am sorry not to have discovered Tristan Forward's weblog emotionalblackmailers.blogspot.com earlier. It has witty photographs and captions.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weather talk, overhead organ, comedy act

There is something comforting about the ritual of talking about the weather.
"Cold wind!."
"Yes, Isn't it. Roll on the summer. Then we'll say: it's too hot."
"And too dry!"

The sound of someone playing the organ percolates from King Charles the Martyr. It is almost better when you catch it that way, mingled with traffic sounds, than sitting solemnly in a pew inside.

I like the suggestion from Charles Moore in this week's Spectator of a new comedy act in the style of Morcombe and Wise or Smith and Jones, called Chip and Pin.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tarmac in the snow, plastic orchids, tidying up

In the Grove, yesterday, they began to lay the tarmac on the repaired footpaths amid frequent flurries of snow. In the poor light of the afternoon, the steam from the tar surrounded the workmen in their orange jackets; with their machinery in constant motion, it evoked a scene from Victorian industry, which would certainly have attracted the attention of J. W. Turner.

At first I thought it was some kind of fungus, but on closer inspection, the clump of greyish yellow matter, turned out to be a dust-covered, plastic orchid which someone had discarded.

The satisfaction of putting loose papers into plastic filing boxes and labelling the boxes.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fine snow, looking up at snow, pearl barley

This morning: streaming, fine snow, only just snow, only just not rain.

This afternoon: proper, large, white snow flakes, which fall slowly and quietly and are inclined to float; and when you stand still and look up at them, appear to be grey in their ragged crowds.

Pearl barley prepared like a risotto with a rabbit broth and served with the legs and saddle of the rabbit, garnished with baby leeks and prunes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Glory, Marcel Pagnol, thyme

I wake up with two words in my head - "glory" and the French equivalent gloire. I consider the two side by side. Glory seems to be something, which, in England, we are rather suspicious of. It's not the thing we admit to seeking, although when the glory is applied patriotically as in Hope and G, well that's another thing. The French, I suspect, have no hang-ups about gloire. I wonder if one reason why, is that a noble river mianders through the word, with ancient towns on its bank and many fine castles, famous wines from Pouilly Fume and Sancerre to Chinon and Bourgeil to Muscadet to be drunk with the seafood of the estuary. Meanwhile, lose the "l" from the English word, and you almost have "gore", which is dispiriting.

Sometimes, books which you are looking for turn up just when you want them in a charity shop. I have been reading Marcel Pagnol's overwhelmingly beautiful and funny autobiographical works contained in Souvenirs d'enfance, and had ordered DVDs of the films which had been made of the books. Today the DVDs arrive in the post, and in the Mind shop in the High Street, I find the two volumes of the work in English.

The smell of thyme in the wet garden , when I cut it to flavour the rabbit for tonight's supper.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Catkins in the rain, children, good story

Hazel catkins hang like slanting rain and, in the rain, look even more like rain.

In the train, a group of four- and five-year-old children, on an outing, sound like a flock of birds; no separate words are distinguishable.

"What people are ashamed of, " said Scott Fitzgerald, " usually makes a good story."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Icy wind, new word, two cats

An icy wind bites the ears: a good day for one of the long, wide, woollen scarfs that Heidi knitted for me.

I rather like the French word prechi-precha (there is a circumflex accent over each "e", but I haven't found out how to do it here) meaning "boring repetition".

In Chapel Place, a black cat with white forepaws winds its way round one of those stylised Chinese, stone lions, outside the shop selling asian furniture.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pocket soup, pigeon sounds, open mind

My eyesight, says the optician, is alright. But sometime I misread signs with curious results. In the supermarket I see a sign which seems to announce "pocket soups", a surreal idea, which appeals to my intellect and even to my gastronomic preference, more than packet soups.

In the early morning the sounds of pigeons cooing greets me. They live in the line of leylandii which grow at the side of the vegetable garden, unloved and unwanted by me. It is a gentle soothing sound, but reminds me that I must attend to the netting and fleece, which I have spread over the purple sprouting broccoli, because there is nothing that pigeons like more than this vegetable, as soon as the heads appear in the Spring.

"I believe," says the novelist Nina Bawden in a feature called Credo in today's Independent on Sunday, "in keeping an open mind, in standing up for the weak, in being polite and kind to people, but not being too kind to people who don't deserve it, in considering that other people are as important as you are."

Friday, February 17, 2006

Jaguar, blackbirds, children

A woman manouvres a sleek Jaguar down Little Mount Sion. The registration begins with SHY.

For the first time this year, two blackbirds sing their full-throated song (as distinct from the repeated warning cry, which we have heard through the winter).

In Morrisons there is a woman with four children, who seem to be between the ages of two and six. When all are altogether, you are aware that if you lined them up the angle of incline, from the smallest to the largest, would be about 35 degrees.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thunder, green haze, shadow

Just awake and shortly to get out of bed, I hear a great clap of thunder. That's all. There is no storm before or after, just a shower of rain.

Do I imagine it or is there a green haze over the trees on the common seen from the slopes of Mount Sion? It could be the earliest buds on the trees, or the reflection of the sun shining on the verdigris, which covers the branches.

My shadow moves ahead of me as I walk up the High Street. Where is it taking me?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Baby leeks, hosepipe, confusion

In the vegetable garden are some baby leeks, planted later than they should have been, and growing in a row like spring onions, rather than having been transplanted in the normal way. I lift a bunch of them and braise them in olive oil and lemon juice, seasoned with paprika: leeks a la greque.

A neighbour has buried strips of green hosepipe in his front garden leaving lengths of it exposed. The intention is to deter cats, from crapping there, on the assumption that they mistake the hosepipe for a snake. He says it works.

"Confusion was immediately restored" is an expression which was, according to John Murray's commonplace book, in common use during the second world war.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hunting horn, dust, giving up

I have become addicted to Marcel's Pagnol's Childhood Memories, both the films and the books.
In the first book in the series, My Father's Glory, he is describing his fathers passion for bric a brac, and his mother's reaction to some of his more eccentric purchases. When his mother describes, as a waste of money, his outlay of three francs on a old hunting horn, his father replies: "Think for a moment: I can saw off the bell, and I have an ear-trumpet, a loud hailer, a funnel; the rest of the horn, if unscrewed, becomes the spiraling tube of an alembic. I can reshape it as a pea-shooter, or a water pipe, and one of copper, please note. If I saw it into thin slices, you have twenty dozen curtain rings; and if I pierce it with a hundred holes, you have a shower-head; and if I modify it with the help of an enema-douche, you have a popgun". That is exactly how I feel about bric a brac; and, incidently, some items of packaging, which always strike me as having numerous alternative uses.

I offer the vacuum cleaner a pile of dust, which some stacked canvasses have been hiding. It eats it up like a greedy dog gobbles a plate of liver.

A neighbour tells me he gave up smoking two weeks ago. "It's like losing a lover," he says. "I've nothing to live for." Then he adds; "I've still got my gum," chewing it manfully.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Bleak House, two cats, shoots

It's been a long, difficult read, but an enjoyable one in the end. I am on the last few pages of Bleak House. The plot is complicated and the cast of characters enormous; what is impressive is the way the connections between all the characters are made, logically and in good time. If I had watched the adaptation on tv, good as I understand it was, I would never have finished the book.

In the vegetable garden I note that there are now two cats who visit - the tortoiseshell kitten from last year, now a teenager, has been joined by (I presume) a relative who shares the colouring though is more orange than tortoisehell. Robins and blackbirds are not yet in evidence, but I hope that the bells worn by both cats will prevent any thuggery the cats have in mind. Tortoiseshell poses opposite me one paw slightly raised as though to tell me to mind my own business.

In the pots at home, tulips and daffodils, and in the vegetable garden, garlic and welsh onions are sending forth green shoots.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Camden Road, celeriac, heart in the sky

Camden Road is quite different from the rest of Tunbridge Wells. There are no smart cafes, no branches of restaurant or fashion chains, no boutiques. Instead there are little shops selling items of junk which don't pretend to be antiques; charity shops; specialist shops selling electronic bits and pieces; take-aways, emitting spicey odours; tattoo parlours; a homeopathy and meditation centre; and a mosque. Walking down Camden Road is a bit like being on holiday.

A pleasure anticipated is an enormous celeriac root waiting to be turned into juice or a puree or to be cut into cubes and roasted or mashed.

Above the busy shopping street, one of those bright red, gas-filled balloons in the shape of heart, has escaped and blows around against the grey sky.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Composition, silver shard, peacock's feet

I like the way birds and animals seem to arrange themselves as though composing a picture for the viewer. This morning, as I raise the blind, two pigeons on the roof opposite compete for one chimney pot, then agree to one each, as the weaker settles on the adjacent pot on the stack. Later, on the station platform, the shadow of the bridge that crosses the railway and the platform shows up black against the brightly lit tarmac beyond. On the edge of the shadow a pigeon, silhouetted, pauses in mid-strut.

As he train leaves Tunbridge on its way to London there is a gravel pit, become a small lake or a large pond. It is bordered by water meadow and frequented by Canada geese, ducks and other wild fowl. Here, even practised commuters raise their eyes from their reading matter, to view the scene. As the train distances itself from it, this bright morning, the expanse of water, from being a mirror, is seen only as a silver shard in the landscape.

Alan Bennett again. "Speaking of a peacock, " he writes in Untold Stories ..."its flesh is not supposed to decay, a symbol of immortality and resurrection. Less well known is the fact that it was supposed to scream at the sight of its own feet, not recognising them as its own - a predicament which one sympathises with more and more as one gets older."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sausages and lentils, wagtail, soap

Giuseppi, from whom we buy some chunky Italian sausages, presents us with the hock end of a parma ham. To go with the sausages, we braise Puy lentils, flavoured with finely chopped and sauted shallots , a clove of garlic and a touch of chopped chilli, in some left over chicken stock. We add the hock to the lentils, grill the sausages, and unite the two parts of this simple dish on a serving plate, the lentils made unctious with a little of the fat from the sausages.

I love the swooping flight of the wagtail. If I were a bird that is how I would fly.

In a restaurants gents, I note one of those plastic bottles with a spout and a handle to pump liquid soap onto your hand. The label describes the soap as "white cranberry and coconut".

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Gilding, window cleaning, sarnie

After last night's rain, the morning sun gilds the branches of trees, evergreen leaves and even the black paintwork of railings.

The cafe owner prompted by the sun, which shows up the dirt, spreads soap and water over the window making a lace-like pattern. Watched from the inside his shadow, wielding the squeegie, dances for a moment before clearing the soap with broad sweeps, and becomes the man again.

In the cafe I hear: " A bacon sandwich on brown bread with brown sauce". Not my cup of tea, quite. But the words have a ring about them, which are for ever England.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Woodpecker, camelia, loaves

There are no woodpeckers in this corner of Tunbridge Wells, but an old friend emails me to say that one has arrived in his Hampstead garden,
"and at around 9 o'clock begins rata rata rata, a dull but pleasant sound that tells us there is still hope and to get on with the the day. But every time we hear him (why do we always say him?) I think of you and know that you would mention him..."
Well, Tom, now I have. My bird book tells me, incidently, that yours is almost certainly a great spotted, rather than (the rarer) lesser spotted woodpecker. It says that in recent years great spotted woodpeckers have spread to central London parks and in some districts even visit garden bird tables. It could also be a green wood pecker.

The two buds of the Camelia that began to open when it was still January, their green sheaths become a gentle pink, have now, like a drama unfolding, become flowers, braving the February wind.

The sight and smell, and subsequently the taste of two golden, freshly baked loaves, standing on a rack to cool off.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Nothing to pay, seen sideways, make it simple

Receiving a bill, or rather a statement, which tells you there is nothing to pay on your account.

Alan Bennett, writing about some of his favourite paintings, quotes E. M. Forster: "Only what is seen sideways sinks deep".

For a long time I knew of a restaurant called A La Bonne Franquette. It was only the other day that I realized that the phrase meant "simple and without fuss", which is how food should be prepared. That was the belief of Escoffier, who famously advised, faites simple!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Trolley, No Entry, scallop pie

In Sainsbury, a full-sized trolley, stacked high with purchases moves towards me, apparently self-propelled. Then I see, pushing it, a very small boy, his arms stretched up to reach the handle. From in front, he is completely hidden by the contents of the trolley: inconspicuous consumption.

A No Entry sign used by the workmen in the Grove, has, after Saturday night's usual revelry, ended up, high among the branches of a tree - some sort of surrealist message warning high flyers.

Tonight, a pie made from scallops in a light sauce, surmounted by mashed potatoes. The scallops are sliced and placed, as yet uncooked in the dish, and covered with a Bechamel sauce. This is covered with mashed potatoes, glazed and put in the oven. By the time the potatoes begin to colour, the dish is ready, as the scallops require very little cooking.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A piece of cake, primula, googol

A slice of cherry cake and a nice cup of tea.

A primula in the front garden has bloomed; there are two meagre blossoms but they offer a pleasing contrast to the uniformly grey sky and cold, damp air.

With all this fuss about Google, I refresh my memory about the origin of the name. It is a mis- spelling of "googol" which describes the number 10 to the power of 100 ie 1 followed by 100 zeros.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sitting still, connections, switches

In this cold weather, I have notice that pigeons sit perfectly still, like decoy pigeons, in the bare branches of trees. I am not sure whether it is because they are conserving energy, asleep, or too cold to do anything else.

In the last six months I have gained particular pleasure from three books - The Three Musketeers, The Woman who Walked in the Sea by Frederick Dard, and Bleak House. I have just begun a fourth called The Five Hundred Millions of the Begum by Jules Verne. There was no reason for the choice, other than a combination of chance and inclination. Yet there is an unexpected connection between the first two and the second two. The central character of the Woman who Walked in the Sea is known as Milady, a deliberate reference to a character in The Three Musketeers, also known as Mildady. In the Jules Verne story there is a reference, in a threatened legal confrontation, to Jarndyce v Jarndyce, the interminable case in chancery which is central to the plot of Bleak House.

There is a special pleasure in switches, some more than others. There is a small table lamp recently come into our house which has a simple, metal lever switch, comfortable to touch and with an immensely satisfying click.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Old men, spectacles, email from Africa

" Above all, old men are dangerous, who have only the memory of things past left them, and have lost the remembrance of their repitions." I read this in John Florio's contemporary translation of Montaigne's essay on liers, and take it to heart.

In the opticians waiting for a check up, I see five recesses, in each more than 100 spectacle frames - nearly six hundred in all; but they can't see me.

I was gladto have been included in Glare Grant's first email from Africa, where she speaks of the lions, and other wild animals she has seen in her first couple of days in Tanganyka. She it was, who started the idea of noting three items every day, which have given pleasure, and which I and others have taken up. I'll be following her adventures with pleasure and interest.