Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pigeon in the net, alternative destination, thistle

To deter pigeons, they have suspended netting from the roof structure of Charing Cross Station. One pigeon must have got through and, sad to say, is now suspended, dead and shrunken, by a wing from the netting. Its little head hangs down, curled over like the hook of a clothes hanger, and its little claws clasp the air.

I like hearing the announcement for the Hastings train which ends its journey at a place called Ore. You hear: "... West St Leonards, StLeonards Warrior Square, Hastings and/or".

They are refurbishing a house which abuts on the Grove, which explains, why beside a recently planted magnolia on the grass by the wall of the house, rises a magnificent, four-foot high thistle, with a stem about an inch in diameter.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Wildness, false perspective, orange fungus

There is a narrow strip of front garden behind iron railings in front of one of the 18th Century houses in Mount Sion. It has been sown with wild flowers, a small formal hedge, at the back. Charlock, poppies and thistles push through the railings and spill on to the pavement. Wildness imprisoned, you think.

Walking up the High Street I hear a snatch of conversation from two men sitting outside a cafe: "You have a false perspective on the state of England..." I hear no more. Football, I wonder? Probably. Or politics? Or geography?

In the Grove, I catch sight of what looks like an orange plastic flower in a corner between a gate post and a wall. It is a bracket fungus prompted into existence I suppose by the unseasonable weather.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bank holiday, blue geranium, watering in the rain

I wake up remembering that today is a bank holiday, and think of the money suspending for a while, or at least slowing down, its breeding activities.

The first blue geranium, urged on by the sun between showers, is in flower by the front door; others, in full bud, are waiting to follow suite.

In the vegetable garden I hoe for a few minutes and then, driven in to the greenhouse by a heavy shower, water the the tomatoes in their grow bags.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hedge between showers, starlings gone, letters of Gustave Flaubert

Rain prevented me from tackling the long, high hedge which separates our garden from the road and shelters us from the curiousity of passers-by. An electric hedge-trimmer is not a good idea when the leaves are wet. Today they were dry and the job is nearly done.

The starlings, which were so busy a week ago, are relieved for a while of their parental duties. The recess, where they nested at the top of the column inset into the wall of the house opposite, is silent and empty after the raucous screeching of the nestlings, which must now be foraging for their own meals.

Flaubert's letters, which I am reading immediately after finishing his marvellous but neglected last novel, Bouvard et Pecuchet, is proving even more exhilirating than I had imagined. "Don Quixote and Sancha Panza are more real than the Spanish soldier who created them. But no invention of Flaubert is as real as Flaubert," wrote the Argentinian, savant, Jorge Luis Borges. He is right.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

hillside trees, lost lawnmower, oriental radish

I like the sight of trees dressing a hillside.

In a neigbouring garden is a small, unkempt lawn, where rye grass has sprouted its seeded stems. Watching balefully over it, the grass nibbling at its rusting blade and roller, is an abandoned lawnmower.

In the Farmers' Market this morning there are bunches of long, white oriental radish, such as you might see in a market in the Far East.

Friday, May 26, 2006

travellers, broken umbrella, tricyle power

"True travellers alone , " wrote Braudelaire, " leave for the sake of leaving".

A broken umbrella, with its ribs broken and its black cover flapping like a bat's wing, is a sad sight, but a surreal one too. This afternoon I see one stuffed into a litter bin which bears the logo of Walls Icecream.

An immense noise in the Grove as two small boys race down the sloping path on strange tricycles. They have two small wide-tyred weels behind and one big yellow-hubbed wheel in front. They are low slung and the seats are angled so that the drivers can lean back a few inches above the ground to obtain maximum leverage on the pedals.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wet and warm, noisy starlings, internet statistics

After the cold and wet, it is warm and wet, with the wetness on the grass and in the soil. So a good day for setting out lettuce and courgettes plants. This afternoon you feel the wamth of the sun and you can almost feel and certainly smell things growing in it.

The starlings, which have been feeding their young in a nest at the top of a column set into the wall of the house opposite, must now be breathless, if that is what birds become, with rushing to and fro with food. The nestlings are becoming increasingly aggressive in their cries for more. What is the world coming to?

Well I'll tell you. With today's Independent came a map of the world in facts and figures.
It tells us that the population of the world is estimated to be 6.525 billion by July of this year.
Of these 1.018 billion are internet users. That's what it says.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pushy clematis, buttercups, foxhole

A clematis montana alba grows through the bay tree in our front garden. Last year the tree had to be pruned and the clematis didn't flower. I thought it might be dead, but this year its white, star-shaped flowers are pushing through on top of the bay and at the sides.

There is an unculitivated strip of garden in front of one of the houses in Mount Sion. Recently it was a mass of bluebells. Now the bluebells have, for the most part, gone to seed; and amid the fresh grass has appeared a galaxy of buttercups.

A deep hole has appeared in the shrubbery bordering the drive, which I have to cross when I go to the vegetable garden. There is no sign of the fox; if I were smaller, I might, like Alice, be tempted to plunge into the hole. Then, who knows what?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Copper, bare wall, stretched leaves

The colour of copper beeches in full sun shine, now that the leaves are fully open, is at its best and deepest today.

Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand of the pleasure which he felt in contemplating with "his heart beating faster, a wall of the Acropolis, a bare wall".

In the Grove the wind drives at the new leaves on the trees, which stretch away from it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Crabbed age and youth, everything but treacle, limestone paving

In the supermarket, a very old, small and frail lady is provided with help by a strapping girl twice her size who adjusts her pace courtiously to that of the customer.

An old shop sign in the pub reads: " D B Hanson, Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells. Prams, Mangles and everything but Treacle. Easy terms. From 2 Shillings per week.

Some honey coloured limestone paving arrives to replace the ugly cement slabs which we have put up with for too long on the path to the front door.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

blue mist, cows, halo of stamens

When you look long enough at the dense blue flowers of the ceonothus in bloom just now in people's gardens, a blue mist seems to grow round the shrub almost like steam.

Cows grazing in a field all face in the same direction.

The slight yellow poppies which I put in a vase a few days ago have shed their petals and leave a halo of gold-tipped stamens clustered round the green ovary.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Flying sunshade, ants and lettuce, sashaying sheet of paper

In the Pantiles yesterday, a gust of wind picks up a sunshade from outside a cafe and blows it into the air, where it turns a somersault and lands without hurting anyone.

Joyce tells me of a Thai restaurant in London, which was infested with ants on her last visit. When she referred to the invasion and pointed out that it wasn't much fun to eat surrounded by ants, the management said that the ants must have arrived with the lettuce.

From the train outside Charing Cross, I see a sheet of white paper shashaying down in front of an office block fronted with black glass.

Friday, May 19, 2006

All books, wisteria, tree-top sea

I step aside as three bargain-hunting women barge into the Oxfam bookshop in Chapel Place under the impression that it is the more general sort of charity shop selling discarded clothes, lonely teacups, prints of imperial India and the like. "It's all boo oks!" one of the women says, her north country accent doing nothing to hide her disappointment.

Pendulous blooms of wisteria are outside the study window, and beyond, across the road there is more wisteria on the wall of the house opposite.

Coming out of the Grove this windy afternoon I hear the sound of the sea in the tree-tops.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Daisies, coppiced oak, hieroglyphic rooftops

The grass is still uncut in the Grove. And the daisies accordingly flourish. They look like stars.

An oak sapling has been pruned in someone's front garden and though only a couple of feet high it has begun to sprout new branches in all directions.

I look up at rooftops and notice how lines of aerials describe hieroglyphs across the sky.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Raindrops, happy talker, pied wagtail

Big drops of rain this afternoon, and so widely spaced that you could almost run between them without getting wet.

People on mobile phones seem to talk louder than they have to, which allows you to overhear some interesting, if puzzling, statements. "I'm happy," shouts the man walking across the pedestrian bridge at the station this afternoon.... "because I'm seeing someone. I'm happy in that respect."

Pied wagtails often turn up in the Grove. They are sprightly creatures with a pretty, swooping flight. No bird has a name, which better describes it, for it is both pied and manages to wag its tail as it hops on the ground in pursuit of food.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Starlings' nest, grass in seed, dog's pub

So intrusive have been the blackbirds with their fluent song and their territorial squabbles, that I have not mentioned the starlings. They are nesting in the space on top of a corinthian column embedded in the wall of one of the two houses opposite (we look out in two directions). Compared with the blackbirds they lead a respectable middle class existence bringing up their family with determination and energy. The capital of this column could have been designed specifically for starlings to nest in.

The grass in the Grove has not been mowed for a time and it is going to seed in places, a pleasing sight in an orderly context.

Outside the Grove Tavern there is a plastic container, on which are written the words: "Water for Dogs". This is a rare facilty in this country, but I noticed, when we were in Munich, that Gasthouses (more or less the equivalent of pubs) nearly all provide such a service .

Monday, May 15, 2006

Fighting blackbirds, passing push chairs, when losing is winning

The two male blackbirds are still fighting. This morning the are at it on the pavement opposite, and this afternoon clashing in the air above the fence between us and our neighbour. Cherchez la femme? But there doesn't appear to be one at the moment. So it must be just about territory.

Two people pass each other on the pavement outside the post office, with push chairs. One is an old tramp and his push chair is loaded with his posessions. The other is a young women; in hers is a small baby.

The relief when you forget to do the lottery and your regular numbers don't come up.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Blue Angel, green asparagus, hedge connects

DVDs of old black and white films sometimes astonish by keeping you glued to the screen. So it is with The Blue Angel in which a young Marlene Dietrich sings, Falling in Love Again for the first time, and succeeds in vamping and, in the end, destroying the poor old school teacher who falls for her.

Freshly picked green asparagus from the farmers' market is vegetable perfection for supper yesterday evening with sweet Italian ham and a little melted butter.

The arch, which I have been hoping for when the two sides of the 8ft hedge on either side of the front gate make contact, is about to take shape.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Playing the game,argument, dandelion moon

A little boy is playing hide-and-seek with his father. The little boy covers his eyes as dad runs towards a tree to hide behind it. The little boy takes his hands away from his eyes as soon as dad has turned his back, and watches him hide, a naughty smile on his innocent face.

Reading this morning Bouvard and Pecochet by Gustave Flaubert, I note this vignette from a description of one of those arguments which occur in France, and which the French enjoy ridiculing as much as taking part in. "The notary stopped him and raising himself at each word on to the tips of his toes, said: 'I find your system completely immoral....'". The motion described contains the essence of a certain sort of comic behavior, ridiculous because the person performing it is taking himself so seriously, that he cannot see how daft he must look.

I spy on top of a high wall a dandelion clock. It rises into the sun and the perfect seed-head shines agains the blue sky like a full moon. I don't have my camera so have now to content myself with a verbal photo.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Periwinkles, Jack Russell, wisteria

The popular ground-cover plant Periwinkle (vinca) is in flower all over the place. Sometimes the blush-purple flowers seem overwhelmed by the dark green leaves, but this year the flowers are holding their own.

There is a Jack Russell in the Compasses pub nowadays. Someone must love him. A red lipstick imprint today sits in the middle of his forhead.

The scent of the wisteria, which climbs over the front door, floats in the garden.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dispute continues, floating seeds, plural of mouse

The two male blackbirds, which were at war yesterday morning, were still in dispute in the evening. We watched them from from the garden, on the roof of the house opposite. Their sillouhettes stood out against the bright yellow evening sky emphasing their blackness. They challenged and retreated, and then flew up in the air to clash, before dropping back to the roof. One seemed to be defending the chimney stack; the other, he with the ruffled feather still on his breast, wanted him away. This morning there is no sign of them, though they, or some other blackbirds have been singing their heads off, since the first light.

It is snowing steadily in the vegetable garden; a non-stop cloud of pussy willow seeds drifts over the beds. The seeds even settle, leaving tatters of lace on the rows of seedlings.

The plural of mouse is mice, but what if the mouse is a computer mouse? A sub-editor on the Independent seems to know the answer. The headline of a survey feature in today's paper reads: The Ten Best Mouses.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Disputed territory, maze, swifts

From our bedroom window this morning I see two male blackbirds on the roof opposite. One has a loose feather sticking up on his breast. It is clear that they are in dispute. One sits on top of the roof; the other challenges his position. Suddenly they both take off and clash in mid-air before descending to land separately. This continues for most of the morning.

The terrace at the back of Sankeys pub/restaurant has new tables and chairs. Very smart and popular in this fine weather. The only problem is that they are too close together. Finding your way to your table is difficult for customers and staff, especially when customers, in an expansive mood, push their chairs back. It really is a sort of maze and requires skill to calculate the best way through, and it's fun to watch others, once you have your seat.

Sitting outside, I hear the screaming of swifts for the first time this summer. I look up and see, flying high, two swooping and tilting over Tunbridge Wells. Far, far above them is passenger jet looking half their size.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Antepasti, silent mobile, sweet cicely

Sitting with a glass of white wine at one of the new tables outside Giuseppi's and sharing a generous plate of antipasti in the sunshine.

A man sits at a table with his mobile phone in front of him. It seems that it remains for him disturbingly out of use. He looks at the keyboard with an urgent longing.

The sweet cicely, which I have always had in the bed in front of the dining room, is in flower again. The perfume of its white flowers suggest annis as do the seed when they appear. The leaves can be used to give flavour and add sweetness to a gooseberry pie. It is one of the first garden herbs to emerge in the spring and among the last to die down.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lovage, raindrop train, shadow bluebells

Lovage is sometimes called sea parsley,though leaves resemble those of celary. It has come up looking strong and healthy in the vegetable garden. With its slightly bitter flavour it needs to be used sparingly in salad, but makes a sterling soup. Soften a chopped potato, a chopped onion and a good handful of lovage, in butter; add chicken stock until the vegetables are ready to liquidise or to push through a sieve. A little lemon juice with salt and pepper fine tunes the taste, and a good dollop of double cream gives an unctious finish.

Through the bedroom window, this morning, I watch raindrops running along the telephone wire, pearly bright, constantly moving, like the cabins of an overhead cable car.

Bluebells grow in partial shade and and when not growing in woodland, the flowers conform to the pattern of shadows cast by individual trees. When there is no sun the flowers indicate the area where shadows would have been.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Swans, black parrots, oak catkins

It raises the spirit to see swans half unfold their wings when swimming as though to serve as sails.

The "Black Parrot" tulips, which I planted last winter in a large and shallow round pot, are in bloom. Their tattered petals are dark purple, rather than black, almost the colour of the thunder clouds, which are hanging around today.

The big oak at the corner of the Grove is just in leaf. The pale yellowy-green, infant leaves burst out of brown buds, and delicate strings of catkins in the same tone of green, hang down among them.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mussolini, water tasting, bluebells

Incidents during our recent visit to Munich keep popping up in my memory. We were taken to a long established restaurant called Osteria Italiana, known to have been, though not vaunted as, a favourite haunt of Adolf Hitler. No sign of that dictator, but one of the waiters bore a striking resemblance to Mussolini.

At the Chalybeate spring in the Pantiles some tourists sample the spa water in wine glasses. They hold the glasses up to the light as though it is wine. My own tasting notes: "A mellow, bilge-water, brown colour. A hint of sewer on the bouquet, and a distinctive, rusty palate with sluggish undertones of wealden clay."

Bluebells in our small garden. Over the years I did my best to dissuade them from growing here, because they did not seem to belong in a slightly formal town garden. Once, before the houses in our road were built, there must have been carpets of bluebells on this hillside, because I have noticed them in other front gardens. Now I have given up and welcome them as the delightful visitors they are. So we, rather than they, seem to be the intruders. And they are English bluebells, their blooms falling to one side of the stem, rather than the more showy, introduced Spanish variety.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Purple sprouting brocolli, cut grass, violets

Protected from the pigeons by nylon fleece and netting, the purple sprouting brocolli, has survived the winter and now sends forth its close knit purple flowers. Steamed and served with anchovey butter (you mash some butter with chopped anchovies and a little lemon juice), hollandaise sauce, or just a little melted butter, there is little better at this time of year, even though the first asparagus is expected.

They are cutting the grass in the Grove. The machine emits petrol fumes, but you can smell the cut grass through them.

Violets pushing up between crazy paving stones seem unusually fat.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Baby turnips, sauvigon blanc, voting

Baby turnips cooked slowly in just a little olive oil on a slow heat in a pan with the lid on, and served with finely chopped parsley.

Sauvignon blanc can be overwhelming sometimes, too scented and herbal, but when these characteristics are restrained as in the wines of the upper Loire, it is good for a summer, mid-day drinking. You look for and find a steeliness in the taste.

Voting in a church hall, empty except for the supervisors who are half asleep, is a surreal, dream-like experience.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Spotted Dog, The Wasteland, date and time

The Spotted Dog near Fordcombe just outside Tunbridge Wells used to have fine views over the Weald from the terraces at the back. Then a neigbouring landowner planted some trees just below the terraces because he didn't like the idea or the sound of people enjoying themselves. The tree grew and the view was obscured. Now with a new owner of the pub and of the neighbouring land, a number of the trees have been cut down restoring the view. Lunch there at one of our favourite haunts with daughter, Pippa was a double treat for us. And the sun shone.

Lucas reminds me that the Starnbergsee, which we visited when in Munich (photographs in earlier post) is mentioned in TS Eliot's Wasteland.
"Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee and talked for an hour."
We, too, went to the Hofgarten in the centre of Munich and talked for an hour, though we had forgoten the Eliot connection.

A reader's letter in the Independent points out that tomorrow Thursday May 4, at 2 minutes and three seconds past one am, the day, date and time will be: 01: 02.o3 04 05 06.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Camelia, cows, pieris,

A tall camelia, in a front garden, sheds its bright blossoms, which form an opaque, scarlet apron on the pavement beneath it.

In case it comes in useful, according to figures in a book of statistics given away with the Independent, there are around 1.5bn cows in the world. Roughly a quarter are in India. The UK cow population us about 10.5m.

There is a shrub call pieris which is showing off its assets in a lot of gardens round here. It has clusters of creamy white flowers, which hang like bunches of grapes, and the new leaves are a brilliant red.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Whisker, doing the right thing, strong drink

I hear, on the platform at Tunbridge Wells station, a middle aged man describe a vehicle as using "only a whisker of petrol".

"He wasn't clever, but he always did the right thing". Lord Fisher, First Sea Lord in World War I on Edward VII. Two English virtues described in one brief sentence.

Now here's a word to enjoy: Potvaliant. It is to be found in Johnson's Dictionary, and means heated with courage by strong drink.