Friday, March 31, 2006

Leap-sheep, charm, lap dog

We say "leap-frog, the French say leap-sheep, saute-mouton.

"Charm", said Jean Cocteau, "is the ability to solicit the answer "yes" before the question has been posed."

A woman in the Grove with a Hungarian setter puppy, sits on a bench. The dog jumps up and she cradles it like a child. "You're getting too big for my lap," she says. It rolls its eyes.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Alsatians and washing machines, seagull, grass-seed

A man comes to see to our washing machine. He has two alsatians in his landrover. "Say, 'hullo", he says. I say 'hullo', though the invitation is directed to the dog in the front passenger seat, rather than to me. Dissapointingly, it snarls, rears up at the half-open window and begins to bark its head off.

A lone seagull flies from right to left accross the strip of sky visible above the High Street as I walk down South Grove. It is travelling more or less in the direction of the sea, about 30 miles away. Could it mean that summer is really on the way?

In the Grove, they have sown grass seed on the exposed areas of brown earth left after the path resurfacing. Pigeons, strutting and pecking like chickens, are making a meal of it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Centipede, birds return, daffodil scents

I like putting a name to things so the garden wildlife book I found the other day came in useful when, while digging, I bumped into a creature which I have been familiar with all my life - a centipede. But which one? My book defines it as Geophilus carpophagus. It is reddish brown and has 45 - 55 pairs of legs. I get more pleasure from looking it up than watching it wriggling back into the soil.

This morning I was missing the backbirds and robins which kept me company in the vegetable garden last year. Had the marmalade cat scared them off? No sooner had I had thought the thought, than a robin and a male and female blackbird arrived on the fence together. Were they the same birds as last year? The robin certainly wasn't, being younger and sleeker, though it still put its head on one side when it looked at me. That, I guess, is in the nature of the bird. The blackbirds might have been the same, but there are so many of them around, and I can't tell one from the other.

A beautiful thing is the scent of the freshly picked daffodils arranged in a vase in the hall.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Roller skates, pollen, primulas

I read in the evening paper that the London police have abandoned the roller skates with which they were issued to pursue micreants in the London parks, because the baddies have hit on the ingenious idea of running away on the grass, where roller-skating cops cannot follow.

Clouds of yellow pollen blow into the air from the Leylandii bordering the drive of the house opposite.

Pale yellow, almost white primulas planted in a basement window box this morning match those which have been growing in the flower bed above them for several years.

Monday, March 27, 2006

chopsticks, wind, Dombey & Son

According to some statistics published in today's paper, the Chinese get through 45 billion disposable chopsticks every year, which account for 25 million fully grown trees.

A gallumphing wind in the Grove has scattered small branches and twigs all over the place. In the tree tops, it roars like the sound traffic on a motorway.

My accademic neighbour, whom I meet in the street this afternoon, advises me to read Dombey and Son, when I tell him how much, after a trouble start, I enjoyed reading Bleak House.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Train whistle, pigeon v squirrel, cold streetcar

Occasionally, when the wind is in the right direction, you can hear a train whistle, when it enters the tunnel, which goes underneath Mount Sion from the station. Today in the rain, the sound comes across as a mournful cry rather than a whistle.

A pigeon and a squirrel occupy for a moment or two the same stretch of fence. The squirrel pursues the pigeon, which, after a tame waddle, takes off.

In Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper's book Paris after the Liberation, I read about a production in Paris of Tennessee William's play A Street Car Named Desire, called, in French Un Tramway nomme desire, in November 1949. To convey a sweltering, hot summer night, the play opens to the sound of crickets, but the crickets, not helped by the absence of heating in the fuel shortage of that winter, had a hard job to convince the freezing audience.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Spring rain, geese, two Joes in the park

Today smells of warm rain and spring, and the birds celebrate the change of temperature noisily from early in the morning. The majority of daffodils are about to flower at last. And everyone is getting ready for April pilgrimages.

Twice today I hear geese honking and twice I see a pair flying overhead in the purposeful way that geese have. There can be no doubt: they know where they are going.

Entering the Grove, I hear Giles' cheerful voice behind me: "Hullo, Joe!". I turn and so does a girl who is walking just behind me. "Hullo", I shout. "Hullo", she turns and shouts. Two Joes, or more probably a Joe and a Jo, respond simultaneously to the greeting intended originally for only one of them.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Shadow, Richard Cumberland, sowing

This morning, in bright sunshine, I see, on the road, the shadow of a bird in flight. I look up, but the bird has flown on.

A new plaque has appeared on the house at the end of our terrace. It tells us that the playwright and Home Secretary, Richard Cumberland lived in a house on the site between 1786 and 1793. The late Roger Farthing, whose book on Mount Sion was published three years ago, tells the following story involving him.
Lord North, another resident of Mount Sion, who settled there after losing America and doubling the national debt, began to go blind, and as the Maidstone Journal of 1787 reported, was " led by the affectionate hand of a dutiful daughter". Richard Cumberland one day walked across the Grove to visit him, and he took Cumberland's arm and asked to be conducted to the spring. "I have a general recollectiion of the way," said Lord North, "and if you will make me understand the posts upon the footpaths and the steps about the Chapel, I shall remember them in future." "I could not lead blind Gloucester to the cliff," added Cumberland. "I executed my affecting trust and brought him back to his family..." Two hundred and twenty years later, though Cumberland's house is no longer standing, the steps down to the Chapel, the Chapel itself and the Spring are still there.

A hint of warmth for the first time for a several months encourages me today to sow some broad beans and lettuce.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Go-Between, amarillys, bird-map

A dvd of The Go-Between, Joseph Losey's film (with screen play by Harold Pinter) of the novel by L. P Hartley, which came free with the Sunday Telegraph, is well worth the cost of the newspaper. It seems better than I remember it when I first saw it; and the story too, is something - a 12-year old boy's involvment in the carryings-on of grown ups, which he cannot understand a the time - which I can appreciate now more than when I first read the book. It is as though, like the narrator, who is recalling the episode in his childhood, I too have grown up.

A bunch of tall, dark-red amaryllis on thick stems which have, so far, supported the heavy flowers, without breaking under the strain as they sometimes do, is a rich and wondeful sight.

With this morning's Independent is a poster-sized map showing the long distances, which migrant birds fly to reach the British Isles every year. It reminds us that swallows will soon be arriving here. Some of them will have flown all the way from the southern tip of South Africa.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Erik Satie, busy pigeons, daffodils

The gentle sound of the pianist, Aldo Ciccolini playing Satie, especially Trois Gymnopedies and Six Gnossiennes - music for a lazy afternoon, melancholic, meditative.

A busy day for pigeons; they are flying around all over the place. I watch them not entirely with equanimity, as I know they have learnt how eat my purple sprouting brocolli through the netting which I use to keep them off.

The few daffodils, which have flowered in the vegetable garden, where they are grown for cutting, express their thanks for being taken indoors, by releasing a powerful scent.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Python, any time, fashions

A man extracts some flexible, metal ducting from a van in Mount Sion, with great difficulty. It is almost a foot in diameter and curled into several coils, making it almost impossible to manoeuvre. It looks like a giant, silver python.

Sticking out from among the leaves of a camelia is the top of a "no parking sign"; all you see of the dusty, weathered sign are the words "any time".

"It does not become a man of years to follow the fashion, either in his thinking or his dress". Goethe.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mother-of-pearl, winding paths, headless bollard

The sky, this morning, viewed from bed, a cup of tea in my hand, is mother-of-pearl as the sun tries to infiltrate the grey cloud blanket.

From the Pantiles and other view points below the Common, you see paths winding upwards through the woods; each of them seems to make a mysterious promise to would-be explorers.

Someone has removed the translucent, plastic column of the "keep left" bollard on the traffic island opposite the entrance fo Sainsbury. What remains is the base - a pair of long-life electric bulbs surrounded by a circular reflector under a glass, screwed-down cover. It remains switched on and looks like an electric flower.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Scooter-balloon, wildlife, "livre dangereux"

Yesterday, I saw the wind swell a bin liner, and blow it upwards like a living, swaying mushroom, while it was still anchored to its litter bin. Today, a plastic tarpaulin stretched over and secured to a parked scooter, fills up with wind. It looks as though someone is writhing about on the scooter, pretending to ride it at great speed and leaning from side to side as he or she negotiates imaginary bends in an imaginary road.

In a gift shop shop, which is closing down, I find a book called Garden Wildlife published by the Wildlife Trust which has pictures of the slugs and snails, worms and centepedes, insects and spiders as well as the birds, reptiles and mammals, which visit our gardens. It will be useful to be able to give a name to a great grey slug, green shield bug or a two-tailed bristletail when next I meet one.

In Hall's bookshop I pick up a copy of that nasty French, eighteenth century novel called Les Liasons Dangereuses. The previous owner has pencilled on the fly leaf a quotation from Alfred de Musset, which clearly marks his disapproval: "Livre qui est plus dangereux que les liasons dont il parle."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Traffic lights, Wuthering Heights, black bag

From the inside of Barclays Bank, which is at a higher level than the street, I see, framed in the window, three metal cylinders one above the other like primitive rocket launchers. They are traffic lights sideways on and at eye level.

In Oxfam book shop there is a copy of Wuthering Heights. It is in French and has become Les Hauts de Hurle-Vent.

A new, black liner has been clipped into one of Tunbridge Wells's smart black litter bins. The wind has somehow got into the bag and it stands up vertically like a balloon trying to escape; it seems to swing from side to side with excitement or frustration.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Jumbo, desolate pigeon, backs of houses

The word, jumbo, no longer applies strictly to elephants - it was apparently the name of a particular, very large zoo elephant sold in 1882, and from that has come to mean anything large. But for me, it has always had an almost exclusive elephant meaning. The word sounds like an elephant. Jumbo jets, I can just accept: if an elephant became an airliner, that is what it would look like. But I still find it odd and amusing to see food producers and manufacturers use the term for such products as eggs and sausages. Today, I see in the supermarket a package of chicken legs described as "jumbo legs".

The 1930s cinema in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, together with a tawdry row of shops is to be pulled down next month. There is to be no new cinema on the site, which, particularly seen from the side, is one of complete, urban desolation. A passage behind the shop is scattered with layers of plastic rubbish, bottles, slates, broken bricks, soggy newspaper and carboard boxes and all the other horrible detritus that discarded buildings seem to attract. The only vegetation consists of the skeletons of dead, buddleias , which have tried and failed to get a life. The only living thing that I can see as I walk past is a sad pigeon sitting in a window embrasure: no pheonix, though maybe a hopeless substitute.

The backs of terrace houses, which you usually see from the front, tell a contrasting story. They are encumbered by a jumble of lean-tos and conservatories, and other excrescences which do not connect with the polite and conventional front-doors, ambitious steps, porches and curtained, bay-windows, on the other side. Looking across from the lower part of Little Mount Sion to the back of Warwick Park, as I walk up the hill from the High Street, it occurs to me that the backs of houses are like the inside of people's minds, not meant to be, and possibly better not, looked at.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lemon tree, pigeons, bubbles

A lemon tree with fruit, which you don't expect to see here, even a very small one like this, is sitting in window box in Little Mount Sion.

Several pigeons are strutting and pecking on the grass in the Grove like chickens.

A child with one of those little wire hoops and a jar of special bubble liquid holds out the hoop and allows the wind to blow bubbles, which rise and float in the sun up into the branches of an oak tree before vanishing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pi, colour of days,crow

Today, I hear on Radio 4 that it is World pi day. Why? Apparently it's because today's date, in the American style, 3/14, is the closest in the calendar to the number represented by the Greek letter pi. The ratio of the diameter to the circumference of a circle is an irrational (can't be expressed by a fraction) and transcendental (can't be the solution to any algebraic equation with fractional coefficients) number. The decimals after the point go on for ever. Where's the pleasure. It ... "dost tease us out of thought as doth eternity."

Do you see days as having colours? I can't explain it, but here's how my days look in the spectrum:
Tuesday Green
Wednesday Blue
Thursday Pink - the shade of weathered roof tiles or very old claret
Friday Purple
Saturday Pearl gray
Sunday Black
Monday Yellow
Variations? Alternatives? I can't have plugged into a universal vision.

On the drooping, leading shoot of a Lawson cyprus in the Grove sits a carrion crow, the ruler of all it surveys. It says: "Cor, Cor." Let there be no dissension.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Office, vase, mouth

There is a pub in Goods Station Road called The Office.

In Carluccio's cafe, a deep, oblong vase on one of the tables contains courgettes stacked to the rim.

A girl at a cafe table is talking about rugby and describing with animation what happened in a game she was watching. Her mouth momentarily takes on the shape of a rugby ball.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Wood-smoke, tidying-up, lost and found

The smell of wood-smoke in the cold air.

An untidy person desperate to be tidy, I believe I have become tidy, if only because otherwise I would forget where I have put things. The satisfaction of packing things away in a chest, and then making a list of what is in the chest, is the triumph of the tidy side of me over the untidy side.

I find a book, which I have been looking for since yesterday. It is where it should have been on the shelf, and I was looking in all the places where it ought not to have been.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Peacock, unexpected sun, thumbs up

A red peacock with a long, trailing, pea-green tail, painted on a black, 19th century Chinese chest.

An unexpected and reluctant sunbeam pierces a thin drizzle and, shining through a passage, throws a square of light on to the wall of house in Bell View on the way into the Grove.

A solitary glove has been perched on one of the spikes of a fence. It sits on one of the spikes, giving an optimistic "thumbs up", to cheer a bleak day.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Ringed mum, plane catkins, joke

Sitting at a window table in Wagamama in Mount Pleasant, I see a woman behind a pushchair, a baby inside, a grown up child beside her. Almost every projecting part of her face - upper lip, lower lip, eyebrow, ear, nose, has several rings through it. Her children are unringed.

On a bench in Mount Pleasant, I look up to see the spherical clusters of last year's seeds on a plane tree hanging among bare branches.

A joke about jokes just about passes muster. An Englishman, a Scotsman, a Welshman and an Irishman go into a pub. The barman looks them up and down, and says: "Is this some kind of joke?"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lay figures, dawn chorus, Grove symphony

Because I am usually asleep at that time, I do not usually hear the dawn chorus, but I caught it this morning with pleasure; it seemed as though it was still dark, but there must have been light in the eastern sky.

I have always been fascinated by lay figures in shop windows, particularly when they are off duty. The other day I saw a group of them clustered in one corner of a window in Hoopers department store, while window dressers were at work in the other. The figures turned in towards one another seemed to be in conversation with one another and a little embarrassed to be caught without their clothes.

On my way home through the Grove, I stand still for a moment and listen. That thrubbing engine sound is a helecopter passing overhead. In the house on the corner decorators are at work, and the sound from there seems to be one of those mechanical floor sanders, scouring away. In the distance there is the drone of at least one other aircraft. There are children's voices. You can just hear traffic in the High Street. And somewhere in the branches overhead a blackbird is singing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Composition, left-overs, no enemies

Framed by the window of Zizi's restaurant, where we are sitting, I see a composition consisting of the following: a street sign showing a motorcycle flying over a car; a shop window with the name of the shop, Sahara, engraved on it; various dresses, arranged in the window like people watching the street; two shop assistants inside the shop; a fire-escape sign on the door of the shop, showing a man running away and a staircase; and outside the shop, a live policeman talking into a mobile phone.

I find a use for left over narrow strips of card from my Christmas card printing. They are folded over so as to clip over a page and become bookmarks each with a bird, insect or flower painted or drawn on it.

In W H Auden's commonplace book, A Certain World, I read this:

"Priest: Do you foregive your enemies?
A dying spaniard: I have no enemies. I have shot them all."

Auden doesn't say where he got it. Perhaps he made it up.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Five soggy dogs, soup sandwich, sounds of rain

Five soggy dogs of uncertain breed, but almost certainly related to one another, sit outside the newsagent in Grove Hill Road, waiting for their owners in the rain. They are black and white, with ears all over the place. When the owners, two men equipped now with bottles, come out of the shop they all make for the Grove, where the dogs go wild, racing and barking and chasing each other.

"It's a soup sandwich", is how Rich Armitage, Colin Powell's Deputy Secretary of State in Washington, describes the inter-departmental rivalry and turf wars in the White House, according to the former British Ambassador Christopher Meyer in his book, DC Confidential .

The sound of raindrops when it hasn't rained for some time.

Monday, March 06, 2006

hydranger ball, cup of tea, olives

A dry hydranger blossom, cut loose and curled into a loose ball, blows along the road as though it knows where it is going.

A cup of tea is a darling thing. When it is accompanied by a slice of cherry cake, it is just my cup of tea.

A bowl of big, fat, meaty olives. They are not supposed to taste as good as the smaller one, but there is a satisfaction in their generosity.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Light and senior, baby, joys of spring

On the check- out conveyor in the supermarket is a bag on which the only words I can read are "light and senior". To what they refer I shall never know because they are quickly whipped away by the purchaser.

Surmounting a pile of shopping in a supermarket trolley is a very small baby in a basket.

On the grass in the corner of the Grove in front of his house, which gives on to this little park, is Giles and his wife and one of their children. He puts his arm round his wife, waves and says: "The joys of spring: will this get me on to the web?"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

By Royal Appointment, outdoor girl, looking up

The regency building in the Pantiles used to be the Royal Victoria and Sussex Hotel. The young Princess Victoria stayed there with her mother before she came to the throne. A massive royal coat of arms stands above the door. The building now incorpororates an indian restaurant. Sitting opposite in this morning's sunshine, I notice, not for the first time, and with a sneaking admiration, that the name of the restaurant, Masala, is majestically inscribed just beneath the coat of arms, which gives the restaurant a surprisingly elevated status, as though it is by royal appointment. Perhaps, the spirit of the former Empress of India presides.

Outside a cafe in the High Street this afternoon sits a woman with a woollen hat, a thick scarf and a heavy overcoat. She is dealing with a cup of coffee, but doesn't seem to be enjoying it, for the wind is getting up and the sun has gone.

I stand close under under a huge oak and look up as though I were a camera searching for an unusual angle, and the branches spread out from the thick, towering trunk in all directions, and take over the sky.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Talking starlings, robin returns, chitting

I recently learnt, when reading about them, that starlings were good mimics. So I am not too surprised when I read this morning in Marcel Pagnol's Le Chateau de ma Mere, the second volume of Souveniers d'enfance, set in the hills of Provence, the following exchange between him and his friend Lili on the question of starlings. Marcel is speaking:
"My uncle Jules has told me that you can tame them".
"Certainly you can. My brother had one of them, and it could speak, but it spoke only patois".
"I, on the other hand," I said, "will teach it French".
"Don't be too sure of it. These birds are country birds".

With Spring not far off, I collect some compost from the compost heap, and just as I notice the absence of a robin, ever present at the heap last year, there is a chirp and flutter, and here is one again. Is it my friened of last year? It was certainly quick to spot me and to make use of me as a turner-up of delicious bugs. I hope so.

I unpack seed potatoes and place them in egg boxes to encourage them to sprout as a prelude to planting. The process is called chitting.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

book day, crocuses, nest-building

Today, I notice, is International Book Day. I wonder how many people in the world are aware of this.

Crocuses are pushing through dead leaves.

On the fence when I am feeding the wheelie bin, I see a female blackbird on the fence with a bouquet of twigs and grass in her bill.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Plastic bag, open is closed, diamond cuncher

A plastic bag blows across Christchurch Avenue, like the bag in American Beauty; it seems that the wind, which gently inflates it, as it sweeps it along in a dislocated dance, is breathing life into it.

In the cafe, I notice that the closed/open sign, which hangs on the inside of the door proclaiming that the cafe is open to those in the street and the rest of the world outside, being reversed for those inside, announces to them that the street and the rest of the world is closed.

Gail Rebuck, who is chairman and chief executive of the publishers Random House was, apparently, described in Private Eye as "crunching diamonds between her teeth".