Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Faded hydrangeas, tea sounds, lost and found

Deep blue hydrangers, so spectacular last summer, are still a pleasure to look at, but now sitting in a vase in the hall they have been transformed into a blend of crimson and that pale green known as eau de nil, or Nile water.

The sound of tea being made. Hot water is poured into the pot, the brew stirred; milk jug, cups and sugar are set out and after a suitable lull, the tea is poured from the pot into cups - a sort of domestic symphony composed of whirlings, staccato taps and tinkles.

A book I had given up reading some months ago and mislaid, and now need with increasing desperation yields itself up after an intensive search.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A tenner for being late, nasturtiums, chattering

For various reasons we ordered our groceries from Sainsbury's this week. To save you waiting in unnecessarily, they promise to deliver within a one hour slot, which you can specify. The delivery was more than an hour late, and the delivery man handed over a £10 voucher to compensate for the broken promise, standard practice when this happens. You couldn't be cross.

In the vegetable garden nasturtiums have as usual taken over. The only thing that is unusual is that they are still vigorously in flower at this late date. I pick a bunch and enjoy the spicey scent. The colours range from yellow through orange to dark red.

I come across the french expression "jaser comme une pie borgne", to chatter like a one-eyed magpie. I like it because "jasser" so well describes the noise magpies make, and it seems especially appropriate just now as there are so many magpies around at the moment.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

busy sky, gnats, pruning

The Grove is busy with families, scooters and push chairs, enjoying the sun; and the sky above the park is busy too. Vapour trails criss cross like paths ending nowhere, and I count five planes travelling at different heights and in different directions.

In the sunbeams, gnats move to and fro like specks of gold, but some move up and down like yoyos.

We prune the lavender, cutting back the flower spikes which are at last exhausted and our hands and the surrounding air smells sweet.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lego, Tesco, rain

It is a fact, I read, that if all the Lego in the world, were divided equally, we would get 30 pieces each.

Another "fact": In 2005 Tesco controlled 31 per cent of Britain's grocery trade and 13 per cent of retail sales. The figures must surely have changed by now, and to day we learn that another adjustment must be due. The Morrisons formerly Safeway store opposite Tunbridge Wells station, which ceases to trade to day, is to be revived by Tesco, which will open there at the beginning of December.

Rain is a beautiful thing.
"O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s'enuie,
O le chant de la pluie!

Friday, October 27, 2006

people from the past, yingtang song, sounds

Someone gives us a lift to the reception following a funeral. It is a chance encounter. But after a while he says: "I know who you are!" and I say, "I thought I knew your face." The years fall away as we explore encounters from the past and people we know in common.

During the funeral service, they play the Goons' Yingtang song. It says a lot that's specificaly charming and unusual, about the person who has died and his family.

On the Radio 4 Today programme they have a feature about sounds that turn people on. I can think of lots that turn me on, but if I had to choose one, it would be the wild, raucous sound of waterbirds. The mewing of seagulls will do, but for sheer savage abandon, it would be the mingled cries of marshland and estuary birds, such as I remember once in particular along a dyke behind the Maltings near Aldborough. It recalled Stravinksy's The Right of Spring, as the Right of Spring, years later, recalls that walk.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

shades of gold, leaf, green and red

Going up the hill between the High Street and the Grove, I enjoy the variety of Autumn colours. I try to count them and find names for them. The spectrum within a sheet of gold, containing green, umber, lemon yellow, crimson, cream, sienna, ochre might sum them up.

A leaf, with streaks of crimson, curls like a claw on the tarmac in the middle of the road as I walk up Mt Sion.

Giant peppers from Sicily are on display in the delicatessen. They are in the process of changing from green to red; the green streaks are dark, almost black; and the red streaks, deep red, merging also into a depth of darkness, which they share with the green.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

draped, bell pull, kiss

Those expressionless, plastic lay figures in shop windows always fascinate when the window is being dressed. Today in Hoopers department store a group of alabaster-white women, revealing the lines where they are articulated above the hips, are ranged with their backs to the window, grouped as though watching the window decorators painting the backdrop. A dustcloth is draped over them not so much for the sake of modesty as to shield them from paint splashes.

As I pass the front door of a house, which gives directly on to the street, I see a visitor reach up and pull a handle. It is an old fashioned bell pull and I hear a responsive tinkle inside.

My friend Anna sends me a postcard in which she mentions a happy encounter. "I saw a daddy with a little boy with very blond hair floating above his head, jumping up to his dad to tell him something. It was a friend with his Downs sydrome son Archie, friends of our family. Archie has a beautiful face and I gave him a kiss. He wanted to do it again, We did it again. We did it three times." She adds: "All my gloomy thoughts flew away."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

cooking eggs, emptiness, snowman

I have been looking at Velasquez's An old Woman Cooking Eggs, painted in 1618. It captures a domestic moment. A woman is seated by a table on which various implements are spread, an egg in one hand, a wooden spoon in the other; the spoon is held above an earthenware dish on a brazier in which you can just see glowing charcoal; two eggs in the dish already sit in hot oil; a boy with a pumpkin in one hand, a decanter of oil in the other, stands beside her. She looks up, the boy looks down. Their eyes don't meet and never will.

Morrison's supermarket opposite the station, formerly Safeway, is closing its doors on Friday. Today most of the shelves are bare. It seems a nightmare of want.

In a furniture shop window is a little snowman made of twisted wire, sprayed white. He has a hat made of black wire, and a real carrot for his nose. White christmas tree lights are woven into the structure, as is a motor which cranks his arm to make him continuously lift and replace his hat.

Monday, October 23, 2006

always a birthday, greetings, kicking leaves

There are three or four customers in Hall's bookshop this afternoon. A little girl approaches each of them with a home made chocolate cake on a paper plate and offers a slice. "Is it someone's birthday?" asks one of the customers. "It's always someone's birthday," says the girl.

I am often surprised and made a little uneasy by someone I don't know greeting me warmly, as happened today in the bank. It took me a few moments to realize that he was talking to the man directly behind me in the queue for the counter. Something similar happens when someone comes up behind you in the street and says "hullo" into a moble phone.

Under the turkey oak in the Grove, I kick my way through the fallen leaves, and realize that kicking leaves is something I have done as long as I can remember.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

wondering, reading, autumn

Wondering what is going to happen in the next second.

Reading by the window where rain drops tap the glass and collect.

"Voici moins de plaisirs, mais voici moins de peines.
Le rossignol se tait; se taisent les sirènes".
"There are fewer pleasures here, but less pain.
The nightingale is silent; the sirens too."
Jean Henri d'Aubigné

Saturday, October 21, 2006

tuna, white heather, clouds

Something special for supper and beautiful to see as well as eat: tuna steaks briefly marinated in lemon juice and sesame oil, and seared on the griddle; with them a stir-fried mixture of vegetables - cucumber, sugar snap peas, red and green peppers, spring onions, lemon grass and coriander, spiced with finely sliced ginger, a little fresh chilli and a drop of soy sauce. To drink with these - a perfect match it turns out - a bottle of dry, aromatic Wolf Blass Reisling from South Australia, a present from Ken and Joyce last time they came to see us.

Long flowering white heather plants from the new farmers market in the Pantiles to go in the window box outside the dining room.

To read the afternoon, I watch the sky. For a moment, an almost perfect circle of blue appears between the surging clouds.

Friday, October 20, 2006

gold dust, ladybird, after school

Small drops of rain blow past in the sunshine like specks of gold dust.

A ladybird crawls across the head of one of the stone lions beside our doorstep.

In the heart of town, outside Cafe Nero, teenage school children gather after school. The girls scream and greet one another with hugs and kisses. They are like a flock of birds gathering on an especially propitious site, fluttering and shrieking, playing for territory, showing off their feathers.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

boot, leaf mosaic, oldies

You sometimes see one half of a pair of shoes abandoned in a field or by the road side, less often a wellington boot. In our twitten, (the little path that runs between the back gardens of houses in parallel streets), near the dustbins, lies a lone wellie.

Passing cars have pressed flat onto the tarmac the fallen leaves of the lime tree on the bend opposite; a rich mosaic of of reds, browns, ochres results.

A group of oldies follow a man in a brown suit into the Grove. He seems to be giving a guided tour. He stops and turn towards them as they gather round. It begins to rain. All the oldies open their umbrellas; he has no umbrella. As I pass, I catch the phrase "...in the eighteenth century ..."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

peace, jelly, acorns

"Quand on ne trouve pas son repose en soi-meme, il est inutile de le chercher ailleurs."
When you can't find peace in yourself, it is useless to look for it elsewhere. Le Rochfoucauld.

I work on the crab apples, which I cooked yesterday, and allowed to drip through the jelly bag all night. Now I have the pleasure of labelling. The scruffy little green apples have been transformed into four jars of translucent crimson jelly.

Crunching acorns under foot, I make the connection with the oak forests of the Andalucian sierra, and think of the pata negra, long legged Iberian pigs, which live up there, feed off acorns and produce the sweet, air-dried serrano ham, which you find in every self-respecting bar in Spain.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

memories, adagio, perfume

"Les souvenirs sont cors de chasse
Dont meurt le bruit parmi le vent".
Memories are hunting horns whose sound dies in the wind. Apollinaire.

Listening to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. It joins sadness with a profound feeling of content, and brings to mind:
"...And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well..."

Crab apples slowly cooking perfume the house.

Monday, October 16, 2006

accents, pomagranite seeds, three crows

Now here's a beautiful thing. Ever since I have written this blog I have been unable to use accents over letters, umlauts etc. within the blog format. Now thanks to Clare Grant, who had the original idea of describing, every day, three beautiful things in her log , I have discovered the knack, with the help of the program called character map. What a souflé to savour!

Pomegranite seeds are beautiful things. Just look at one. It is like a jewel, a ruby; its single seed looks like a source of light within it.

The other day I saw three crows struttin' there stuff in the Grove. Today, on a roof top above Five Ways, three crows (could they be the same?) take over the chimney and slates, fluttering and squabbling ; and below flows the traffic.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

10 verb poem, pumpkin, crab apples



Ron Wallace of Rhode Island, I read in the paper, has grown a pumpkin which weighs 1,502 lbs (720kg). It has a circumference of more than 9ft.

Today in search of crab apples we find that the tree in High Rocks Lane, which was barren last year, has recovered. We came home with a rucksack full of the unpreposessing little green fruit, and there will soon be several jars of translucent rose-coloured jelly with which to remember a gentle, autumn walk across the Common and down Cabbage Stalk Lane.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Kohl rabi, anniversary, October butterfly

At the farmers' market is a stall with kohl rabi, that strange looking, member of the cabbage family, which is notable for its swollen stem, a bulbous shape, the size of a tennis ball, or larger. This is the part you eat. When displayed at the greengrocer, the leaves, which are not usually eaten, are cut off, leaving spikes protruding from the bulb so that it looks a bit like a mine.

We pass a neighbour's house. The owners who are in the garden invite us for a drink. While we are sitting in the sun, we learn that it is their 55th wedding anniversary.

While we are at a cafe table opposite the station, I see a butterly fluttering past the station: I check the fact that it is October 14.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Flash mobbing, grape juice, dragon fly

I am intrigued by "flash mobbing", where people with ipods and mp3 players collect to dance in silence, they are united but separate, enclosed in their own worlds. The papers show a photgraph of the concourse of Liverpool Street station, London, full of dancers at one of these "silent discos".

The neighbour, whose grapes tumble over the wall of his house, brings round a large garden sieve loaded with tight little bunches of the black grapes (I stole one such bunch the other day as I walked past). There must be several pounds of them. I feed them into the juicer and produce, to everyone's satisfaction, pints of foaming, purple grape juice. Sweet enough to drink yet sour enough to be refreshing.

A dragon fly, not for the first time, but never, surely, so late in the year, flies past me up Mount Sion, keep more ore less to the centre of the road.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Holly,grapes,time to stare

Holly trees are laden with clusters of bright red berries. I am not sure that I believe the saw that this betokens a hard winter.

Bunches of ripe grapes tumble over a neighbour's wall. I steal a bunch. The grapes are small and not very sweet, and each contains a large pip. But, what is it they say about stolen fruit?

The slogan of this log (and others like it eg the emotional blackmailers handbook and three beautiful things) must be
" ... what is life, if full of care
we have no time to stand and stare?".

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

crows, vapour, milkmen

Usually there are two crows stutting on the grass in the Grove or flapping lazily into the trees, as though they owned the place. Today there are three.

The sky to the west where the sun is setting is laced with the vapour trails of aircraftin the direction of Gatwick airport. They shine in the setting sun, criss crossing paths going nowhere in particular.

Very early this morning while it is still dark, I hear the electric milk float stop, deliver to the house opposite and race its motor to start again up the remains of the hill. My mind goes back nearly 7o years to the sound of a milkman with his horse and cart, and the noisy clinking of the glass bottles you had in those days.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

caught, clock pigeons, chyrsanthemums

A shadow takes a photograph of its owner.

A cluster of pigeons occupies the roof of the four-sided clock tower, which stands above the railway station. The pigeons look like voluntary ornaments. The clock has been out of order for several months. This may explain the boldness of the pigeons.

The golden, yellow-highlighted, glowing flowers of russet Chrysanthemums, are the best of all Autumn colours. They sum up the gentleness of the season, only mildly tinged with sadness. of the season. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 09, 2006

weather forecast, plastic water, watching the screen

I take pleasure in ignoring the weather forecast prefering to wait and see what happens.

A vase of roses in the post office has drops of water on the leaves. Like the flowers, the water drops are plastic.

From the terrace outside Sankey's I see framed in a window a man in his shirt sleeves looking in front of him. I can't see a screen, but he must be at at a computer. How many people in offices are not at computers?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

condensation, checking up, ash keys

The area of condensation on the bedroom window this morning goes up and down like a graph or outline of a mountain range.

A little girl, six or seven, checks her mother who is choosing carrots. "I'm not going to poison you with carrots after all this time," says the mother.

Ash keys sometimes do resemble bunches of keys as they hang in the Autumn sun. I doubt if they tinkle like real keys do when shaken, but if you could get close enough to distinguish the sound, you might hear them rustle or crackle.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

dried fruit, thin cat, toy drum

In the French market in the Pantiles is a stall with many different varieties of dried fruit. We buy dried, sour cherries. Better than a bag of sweets, we say!

A long, thin orange cat sniffs the tailgate of a black Rangerover, and sidles off. Not its sort of thing.

I can't resist playing with a toy drum with proper parchment in the smart toy shop in the High Street. I love toys as much, if not more, than when I was more of an age for them. Another grandfather passes. "I'll join in with the xylophone," he says.

dried fruit, thin cat, toy drum

In the French market in the Pantiles is a stall with many different varieties of dried fruit. We buy dried, sour cherries. Better than a bag of sweets, we say!

A long, thin orange cat sniffs the tailgate of a black Rangerover, and sidles off. Not its sort of thing.

I can't resist playing with a toy drum with proper parchment in the smart toy shop in the High Street. I love toys as much, if not more, than when I was more of an age for them. Another grandfather passes. "I'll join in with the xylophone," he says.

Friday, October 06, 2006

paved with gold, cowboy, skyscape

After the heavy rain, it is still warm and steamy. The sun appears unnaturally bright. The wet brick pavements, in reflecting it, seem to glow. The black tarmac of the roadway glitters.

As I walk, without stopping, past the open door of the Grove Tavern, I glimpse in the corner of my eye, a man, in a broad-brimmed hat, lining up his cue at the bar billiards table.

Big banks of white clouds move fast, chasing one another across the blue space between. A silver plane crosses a gap in the clouds.

It's all the same to me!

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

grass, all these I learnt, warnings

The smell of grass in nearby streets tells you in advance that they they are cutting the grass in the Grove.

Today is National Poetry Day. I wouldn't have known it, if I hadn't heard Prince Charles on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. To celebrate the occasion, he was reading something by the travel writer, Robert Byron, whose book The Road to Oxiana was published before World War 2. It turns out, that it was not, strictly speaking, a poem, but a piece of prose, having no metric pattern, line form or rhyme - a prose poem perhaps. I tracked it down with the help of Google. The Prince chose well, no old chestnut, but something, which will be new to most people as it was to me.
It is a beautifully written list of flowers, butterflies and moths in the English countryside which he would like his son to know, as the writer came to know them in his own childhood.
"....He shall know the tree-flowers, scented lime-tassels, blood-pink larch tufts, white strands of the Spanish chestnut and tattered oak-plumes. He shall know orchids, mauve-winged bees and claret-coloured flies climbing up from mottled leaves. He shall see June red and white with ragged robin and cow parsley and the two campions. He shall tell a dandelion from sow thistle or goat's beard..." . There is more, and the piece ends: "All these I learnt when I was a child and each recalls a place or occasion that might otherwise be lost. They were my own discoveries. They taught me to look at the world with my own eyes."
The piece was quoted by Laurence van de Post in a lecture to the Royal Geographical Society in 1995. Van de Post was of course a friend and advisor to Prince Charles. The BBC will almost certainly be flooded with enquiries about its source, and rightly so. It is a forgotten masterpiece and a truly beautful thing by an observer of beautiful things.

The preposterous warnings by manufacturers, scared witless by the threat of law suites, are highlighted by Simon Carr in today's Independent. They are taken from a list published by the Michigan Law Suite Abuse organisation, and may be verified on www.mlaw.org/wwl/index.html should they seem too crazy to believe. Here are some of them:
A label on a new kitchen knife warns: "Never try to catch a falling knife".
A popular scooter for children warns: "This product moves when used."
A label on a hair dryer reads: "Never use hair dryer when sleeping".
A household iron warns: "Nevr iron clothes when they are being worn."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Two conkers

 Posted by Picasa

marrows, chard, magpies

Neglected while we were away, the courgettes have become magnificent vegetable marrows, some yellow and some green.

The chard has shot up. Huge green leaves are ready for picking. They are the size of docks but promise something altogether sweeter. For some reason the red or ruby chard has failed this year.

I see three magpies fluttering round a rowan tree and then flying up and taking over the roof and gables of a house. Then to my surprise they are joined by another, and then two more. Six magpies altogether, something I have never seen before.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

red creature, Golden october, virginia creeper

Sitting at a table on the terrace of Sankey's I spot a minute red creature - I suppose about a millemeter long - tearing here and there. At first I think it is some kind of spider, but it is too small to check whether it has eight legs, which would be an indication. Google helps but doesn't completely answer the question. Mites are similar to spiders having four pairs of legs - but spider mites tend to be pests don't they and inhabit greenhouses. And surely they don't race around tables on their own at top speed!

Sitting in the October sun with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Golden October.

The blood red colour of virginia creeper is most striking when it climbs through, and is contrasted with, variegated ivy. I watch its tongue-like leaves flame in the sun.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Watching umbrellas, dog shelter, conkers

In the shelter of a dripping doorway, I watch people pass. They lean into their umbrellas which they hold at an angle against the wind.

Outside the Italian delecatessen there are two sets of tables and chairs where people can take their espressos and capucinos. In the rain, an umbrella has been secured bridging a chair and a table. It shelters a small dog with white paws and long ears. The dog is wearing what looks like a macintosh stretched over its back. It licks the water from the pavement. The umbrella carries the logo "Porsche-Club Great Britain".

Fresh conkers: they shine as though they have been french polished. The rings, which show through the veneer of their shells form patterns like isobars on a weather map.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Onions and tears, monkshood, human race

An article in the paper (drawn from the Last Word correspondence in the New Scientist answers the question, why do onions make you cry? They contain, it says, a derivitive of sulphur, which is decomposed by an enzyme to form the volatile propanthial S-oxidide. This is the irritant or lacrimator. Upon contact with water - in this case on your eyes, the irritant hydrolises to propanol, sulphuric acid and hydrogen sulphide. Tearfully the eyes try to dilute the acid. What it doesn't say is what most chefs will tell you; that nearly all the tear-making irritant is in the root end of the bulb. If you cut this off and discard it before chopping there should be no tears.

About this time of year the monkshood in the garden is in flower. It is poisonous, but a bright, magical blue.

The human race is a race which, in the long run, no body wins.