Monday, December 31, 2007

fresh, porridge, unseasonable

"Will you be seeing in the New Year? I say to a neighbour. "I''ll be in bed by 9 0'clock," he says," so that I can be fresh for New Year's Day."

I like the sound of porridge bubbling as it simmers. It sounds as if it is talking to itself.

A yellow primula is, unseasonably, in flower.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

potatoes, buds, 400th birthday

Peru, I read to day, has suggested that 2008 should be the year of the potato. Who rules on these matters? Why not the year of the pomegranate?

Daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops are pushing their shoots up through the grass. Meanwhile I note the tight buds of magnolia.

John Milton was born almost 400 years ago in 1608.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

what day? resistable, sales

Amid this cluster of bank holidays, it is difficult to be sure of the day of the week.

In Hall's bookshop a hefty volume on car parks entitled The Architecture of Parking. Resistable.

The word "sales" is in almost every shop window, and in many, the bold words "50% off" surmounted in much smaller print by the shifty words "up to".

Friday, December 28, 2007

not recylcable, olive oil biscuits, rubber bands

On the label attached to a pack of onions (yes, the now mythologically renowned Roscoff onions, referred to here the other day) which I found in Sainsbury's, are the words: "sorry not yet recyclable", not once but twice. In the first instance, they apply to the bag, and in the second, to the label itself. The onions meanwhile have been recycled.

It is not often that a full address serves as a marketing device. The wrapper of each of the "hand-made, sweet, olive oil biscuits" which we eat today with our afternoon tea is an exception. The slightly transparent greaseproof paper, which wraps each biscuit (diameter about 12 cm) is printed in striking, bold characters with the words "Las legitimas y acreditos tortas de aceite de Ines Rosales, Calle Real 102, Castilleja de la Cuesta, ". They are, crisp, only slightly sweet and have a delicate anis flavour. Their journey from Seville to Tunbridge Wells, where I bought the biscuits, seems on this damp afternoon, to be a little miracle.

The streets round here are notable for a scattering of elastic bands. The explanation is that postmen divide their letters into packs according to street and delivery order. Each pack is held together by a pair of elastic band. As the bands are removed and the letters delivered, the bands are discarded on the pavement.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

fate, changing loads, age

On the pavement this morning, I see some playing-cards scattered on the pavement, some of them face up - a jack of diamonds, a nine of spades, a five of clubs. I think to myself that someone inclined towards fortune-telling and the like, would take the opportunity to seek here for signs of what the future has in store for him. Not I.

In the days before Christmas, you saw people in in the street with colourful, carefully wrapped packages on their way to friends. On Boxing Day, there were people with bags full of used Christmas wrapping paper on their way to discard it in bins: the digestive process of the consumer society. Today, people are carrying pristine bags with fashion shop labels on their way home from the sales. Indigestion.

From Wrinklies Wit and Wisdom, a book of quotes about age, which someone gave me for Christmas: "I've got things in my refrigerator that are older than you." The golfer, Lee Travino to the golfer, Tiger Woods.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas dinners, building, well fed

It is usually, and has been for some time, my job to cook Christmas dinner. I have always enjoyed it - the logistics, the timing, the feeling that I am doing something useful rather than hanging round. As I bring this one to a successful conclusion, I realize , though I can't be precise, that I must have myself been responsible for about 4o Christmas dinners. It has been goose, but it is usually turkey. Though I get the best of both world by roasting mine wrapped in muslin which has been thoroughly smeared with goose fat. What can you do with the remains of the bird? Soup, risotto, sandwiches( sharpened with a little lemon juice and mollified with chestnut stuffing), rissoles, and cold with a fresh and invigorating salad.

I see a squirrel it mouth full of leaves race up a tree to refurbish its drey. As it reaches its destination high in the tree, a single leaf flutters to the ground.

Do I imagine it, but are the pigeons, which waddle across the grass and the paths in the Grove fatter and more relaxed than usual, this spring-like, sunny Boxing Day?

Monday, December 24, 2007

family likenesses, baby boss, origins

Watching strangers in a queue, it is rewarding to spot family likenesses and to guess at relationships. A father (forty plus) and son (fourteen plus) in the bank queue this morning, have the same nose, the same eyes, the same expression round the mouth.

In the pub restaurant, a very small baby sits at the head of the table in a high chair, while a party of eight have lunch and exchange presents. Every now and then the child, aged perhaps 8 months, throws a parcel to the floor to assert his responsibilities as chairman.

Poem for Christmas and the New Year

The more you know, the less you understand,
Too close to recognise what you embrace
Or the paths that spread from your open hand
Like roots in search of nourishment and space.
The closer you look, the less you see
Of features that were there from the start.
Impossible to shake off even now -
Uncertainty for certain, the future free
Up to the edge of singularity.
You may be in two places at the same time,
And not know, in either, how to behave,
Particulate, blind anarchic, random,
As stories told of you and me and her and him
Merge in the crash of a breaking wave,
Ride up the shore, slap rocks, grind shingle,
Caress the wind-smoothed flanks of shifting sand
Where foamy fingers soak away, and gulls call
Victory over the salt-spiked wind.
You must keep going, though you won't know where,
Where you begin, or where, if ever, you will end,
Enthralled by the rhythm of this big affair,
Too long, too bright, too fast to grasp.
Moment after moment keep the first moments live,
Billions of fragments in your expanding mind
Fuel the questions which keep coming up.
And from the pupa, complete, past common
Sense or reason, you climb, immense, four wings
Intact, six legs, eyes, thorax, abdomen;
And antennae poised to unwind like springs.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

shadow, winding-up, glow

"In all literary matters, to delete in error is better than to include in error". From the Book of Shadows by Don Paterson.

In the supermarket even early in the day the aisles are blocked with people on the whole cheerfully stocking up. I hear only one woman showing signs of strain, as she says to her husband, "you're winding me up, you're winding me up,to which he replies, "I won't say another word."

There is no sun this afternoon, but the sky has a diaphanous glow and the trees look like shadows. There is a white light in which the starlings (just a few this year) flute and whistle.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

snapshots, bus, Christmas notes

From the train, we catch sight of sheep, snow-coloured in the mist, a fox loping across an otherwise empty field and a heron flapping lazily against the pale sky.

In Sevenoaks, where the wait for the bus, expected at hourly intervals, its arrival unpredictable, can be painful, we say, "let's try for the bus" And when we turn the corner, there it is standing by the stop.

Two observations on Christmas cards from old friends received this morning reflect the ageing process. The first:
" As my house is in the centre of the medieval grid, and within a few minutes, I have access to the cinema, doctor, chemist, theatre, market, cathedral, brewery and funeral director, all my needs are catered for."
The second:
"As people age, they get a bit reptilian, may be with fewer reflexes, the beady eye, the single quest for a sandy gulch or a sunny rock."

Friday, December 21, 2007

frost, surprise, out of season

It is still daylight, when I leave the house. But patches of frost have already begun to appear, where last night's had melted during the day. In the fast gathering twilight, by the time I am on my way home, the window of a car, covered in hard rime, is glistening in the lamplight. I pass my hand over the window's rough surface.

A packet of dried chestnuts has the mystifying warning: "May contain traces of peanuts".

Under the moon with a halo, a black bird sings for a moment forgetful of the cold and the season.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

wallnut oil, rime, never

Getting home yesterday after a visit to the dentist, I find that my friend, Tristan the blogger has made a brief visit and left a wonderful litre bottle of French wallnut oil, outstanding with warmed goat cheese and, as Tristan reminded me last time he presented us with such a bottle, with toasted wallnuts.

Looking closely at the rime on top of a wall, I see that it is composed of thousands of tiny spikelets piercing the cold air like mountain peaks.

"Never, never, never, never," says a young man to his girl friend, as they pass me in the street, "ever, ever!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

balloon man, 30 years on, guess who

Opposite the entrance to Victoria Place, a tall, beefy balloon-man, hangs on to a crowd of gas-filled balloons. The balloons are printed with images of Father Christmas, elves and fairies. They bob and swing in the wind. Will they carry the balloon-man off to fairy land? He is too big and too much a man of this world. He produces a cigarette and lights up. I look back to see if he and the balloons have gone up in flames, but hope and presume that the gas is not inflammable.

I walk past a house that I lived in 30 years ago. In the front garden are some shrubs, which I can remember planting there, almost certainly the last trace of my presence in the house.

A female figure approaches. A hat covers the top of her head, a scarf, against the cold, her mouth and nose. We greet each other, though all I have to identify her are her eyes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the end,crisp, name

In, I am afraid, a childish way, I have always been drawn to ambiguous notices. I like especially those, which have an unintended finality when taken out of context.. In a draper's shop called Roseby's in Mount Pleasant, a large, solitary notice announces: "Everything must go."

In the Oxfam charity shop, a jovial man in charge says to a customer who hands him a £10 note: "Nice and crisp! Did you just run it off?"

I stop for a coffee at a new coffee shop in the town called Ishmael. There is a long counter and quite a fuss is made about the different sorts of coffee and tea. There is coffee roaster in the window. No one else is at the counter when I ask for a coffee. "Give me your name," says the girl behind the counter, "and I'll call you when it's ready." A curious routine. "Dick", I say, "Moby Dick".

Monday, December 17, 2007

revision, better and better, treats,

My friend, the journalist who shelters behind the nom de plume of the fictional mariner, Barret Bonden, is right (see my post two days ago): "The reflex of a star" is much more powerful than the "image of a star". This was one of the real improvements ,which Wordsworth made in his revision of The Prelude. But are all revisions better than the original in work of art? Sometimes you lose freshness and simplicity. Here's an instance where Wordsworth did just that in The Prelude. His final version of the lines, which describe how, with his sister, he lay on the battlements of Brougham Castle

... Catching from tufts of grass and hare bell flowers
Their faintest whisper from the passing breeze,
Given out while mid day heat oppressed the plain.."

seems tired and unduly complex beside the original

...lay listening to the wild flowers and the grass
As they gave out their whispers to the wind.

It's not often that you hear the name of the French psychologist and best selling author (from the 1920s), Emil Coué nowadays. In my childhood, I remember my father regularly quoting the slogan behind Coué's system of optimistic auto suggesion: "Every day, in every way I get better and better." That was what you were supposed to tell yourself to speed your recovery from an illness or a spell of bad luck, or simply to keep on top of things. During Heidi's recovery from her hip operation, I find myself repeating the words to her. But it is a surprise when a neighbour, having enquired after the hip, and heard me say, she gets better every day, says "... every day, in every way." And adds "Coué!" I express surprise. "My housemaster made us repeat it when we were recovering from flu. We had to sit up in bed and beat our chests and say, 'every day, in everyway I get better and better'. He was a fanatic, a real fanatic!"

A woman walks briskly along the pavement holding a brightly wrapped present in her hand. She approaches a front door and knocks loudly. Her face is set in a grim rictus, one hopes because of the icy wind rather than because she feels she is performing a burdensome duty.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

live and dead, euphemism, matching

As I watch the Matthew Collings art programme, This is Civilisation on Channel 4,last night, it occurs to me that the birds that settle on outdoor sculptures add a special truth of their own to what the artists intended. You don't take the statues of Lord Nelson, Mark Quinn's Alison LapperPregnant, or the equestrian generals on surrounding plinths in Trafalgar Square, quite as seriously as you were intended to, when pigeons are sitting or crapping on their heads.

Is there really a need for a euphemism here? In Sainsbury's this morning, I am intrigued to see that what used to be called a staff restaurant is now a colleague restaurant.

Some lillies are brought to the house. They are of an unusual colour - yellow, with a hint of salmon, a touch of tangerine, streaks of orange. They are arranged in a vase in the hall next to Heidi's much admired painting of a woman smoking. With pleasure we note, that the colour of the flowers and of the woman's hair are a pefect match. The flowers were not, but might have been chosen (or even bred) to match.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Alright? cold, reflections

It seems to be quite common now, this form of greeting, simply: "Alright?" This afternoon in the newsagent: "Alright?"

At last cold, crisp weather, the sort we used to know at this time of year. I catch my breath condensing.

The windows of houses at the edge of the Grove are lit by the setting sun. And I recall that passage in Wordsworth's Prelude, where he remembers, how as a boy, he skated on the lake as night was falling
"...And in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows through the twilight blaz'd.."
And then, as it got darker,
"Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Inot a silent bay, or sportivley
Glanced sideways, leaving the tumultous throng,
To cut across the image of a star
That gleamed upon the ice...."

Friday, December 14, 2007

cream, kitsch, get him

Apologising for the increase in price of the pomegranates in his shop, the green grocer says: "They're the crème de la crème. From California !"

As daylight fades and the lights come on in the Grove and in the surrounding houses the whole scene takes on a gemütlich, almost a kitsch appearance like a Christmas card, or pantomime scenery.

Mr Crow is strutting about in the Grove. Along come a couple with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. The dog looks towards the bird. Its owners encourage it. "Get him!" they say and it rushes off. But Mr Crows only rises lazily in the air and flops down a few feet further on, and the terrier veers away as though scared of the imperturbable, black monster.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

steam, ivy feet, benches

The steam iron sighs in the room next door.

Ivy leaves fine, brown foot prints where its rootlets have been dragged off a stuccoed wall.

Two park benches are perched on top of the container used as a lock-up for the little JCB digger at work in the Grove. Have workmen put the benches there to keep them from vandals? Or are partying vandals themselves responsible for this surreal sight?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

gifts, nail pairing, tripping

In the Oxfam bookshop I come across a book on Essential Oils, which will make a good present for someone I know who likes using such things. As it is nearly Christmas, I look up two oils, which have a seasonal ring. Frankincense, I learn, is "a tonifying oil with anti-inflammatory and astringent qualities.... It imparts a calming and uplifting effect, while at the same time increasing energy". Myrrh is "strengthening and highly antiseptic... It is an excellent expectorant." The three wise men would have been wise enough to refrain from explaining the virtues of their gifts in the stable.

Above the station clock, and later, as I walk home, over the Grove, the new moon hangs like a nail-pairing in the translucent sky.

A notice in the station warns: "Please be aware of tripping hazards."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

just, anticipation, waiving

With a half-hour wait on a cold platform as an alternative, catching a train, just.

I usually bake bread every week. Too often, I use a "sponge" made with a liberal quantity of fresh yeast, and the bread ferments and then, formed into loaves, proves in a matter of three or four hours. The bread is good, but not nearly as good, as when, leavened by a mature "starter", the dough ferments more slowly. It can take 12 or more hours to ferment and the same amount of time again for the loaves to prove. The result is sour dough bread, so flavoursome that, when it is fresh, you want nothing with it. This morning, having left the loaves to prove overnight, I come down to the kitchen full of pleasurable anticipation to see how well it has risen. I bake the bread after breakfast and the house fills with the smell.

A beaming woman waives vigorously in my direction. I have no idea who she is and I admit to a sense of relief when I realize that the object of her attention is walking behind me, and I do not have to summon a name from my failing memory.

Monday, December 10, 2007

exhilaration, unfallen, relativity

Twice recently, this morning included, I have seen a car drive past with a dog sticking its head out of the front passenger window, its fur and ears flowing back, its eyes narrowed in the slip stream. I share the exhilaration which it must feel.

One bright red apple remains on a tree in the front garden of a neighbouring house. It is not attached to a branch but rests on the fork of two branches where it has fallen. Even the recent strong winds have not dislodged it.

When you watch a train move forward alongside the train on which you are sitting, and you think your train is moving, but it is not.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

onions, new word, Christmas jazz

Earlier this year I wrote about the special onions from Roscoff in Britanny, which I had bought in Sainsbury's. I was wondering whether they would turn up again, and sure enough there they were this morning. I was pleased because, as the label says, they are sweet, pink and juicy. My reference also, I believe I am right in saying, led Lucy Kempton, who lives near the place where the onions originate, and who happened to be researching the variety, to visit this site. That in turn led to the Compasses site where Lucy has illustrated my Handbook for Explorer poems with her photographs. Testimony to the power of blogging and to the power of the onion.

Twice in the last two day I have been puzzled by the word miniseries, which I pronounced in my mind with emphasis on the the second syllable. I had no idea what it meant except that it was something that you looked at. It was only to day that I realized that what the newspaper meant was mini-series, as in a sequence of television programmes.

In the Pantiles, a jazz band, its members dressed in Father Christmas outfits, plays Jingle Bells in the watery light. A giant on stilts staggers around in huge boots. He has the word "loony" on the back of his tee shirt.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

splash, wet feet, bore

An afternoon walk in the rain, amid splashing drops from the trees, gurgling drains and flowing gutters, awakens the senses.

A young man, whose otherwise bare feet are plunged into a pair of soggy trainers, crosses the road in the rain and gets into his van, which proclaims his profession as chimney sweep.

If I were going to be a bore I would want to be a hellebore. In particular I would choose to be hellborus niger or the Christmas rose with its dark leaves and fragile white blooms. As its name suggests, it flowers very early (or late, if your take it litterally) in the year. Why niger? Because of its black roots. These have been known for centuries as a cure for "mania, insanity and melancholy" The seventeenth century herbalist Gerard believed that a purgation of hellbore is "good for mad and furious men".

Friday, December 07, 2007

well, lifesize, understatement

At this time of year we receive Christmas cards from people whom we don't see very often with the added words: "Hope you are both well". It strikes me, as the years go by, that what they often mean to say is: "Hope your are still alive."

There is a junk shop in Crescent Road where two life size plastic gorillas stand among the furniture displayed. They may be life size, but do not seem to me to be life-like. Both animals have fierce snarls on their faces, their jaws wide open, their teeth bared. Gorillas, such as I have seen, generally have rather sad faces and are not given to ferocious expressions or behaviour.

I was sorry to see that the computer manufacturer, Evesham Electronics, has gone into liquidation. I still pass the empty shop, where its rather smart computers used to be on show. Bankrupt they may have become, but an obvious talent for understatement has to impress. "I'm sorry," says a notice in the window,"but due to an electrical problem this showroom will be closed."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

goden apples, sleepwalker, sadness

In the lamplight, some apples fallen under a tree which overhangs an alley, become golden apples. I have passed them often by daylight, green and not very interesting. But this afternoon I recall W. B. Yeats:
"...And pluck till times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun."

A small book of watercolours by the German artist Emil Nolde turns up in the Oxfam bookshop. Among the treasures inside is a picture called Nachtwandler. A man with long hair, moustaches, a blue nightshirt, bare feet, and one arm outstretched is profiled again a billowing fog-like brownish background; a streak of orange lights up the top right hand corner. It is one of those odd pictures which stay in your mind like a familiar tune.

I keep returning to a book called The Book of Shadows by the contemporary Scottish poet, Don Paterson. This is a book, not of poems but of epigrams and observations - pithy, rude sometimes sad and often funny. Opening it at random I come upon:
" The sadness of old shoes. Putting them on again, I suddenly remember all the old friends I haven't seen for ages; and why." Things are often sad in themselves. Who was it who spoke of "the sadness of things"?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

walkies, powder, freedom

A man is taking his dog for a walk on the grass in the Grove.He gets ready to clear up in its track. "Don't tread in it," he shouts. "You big lummox! You great nit!"

It is raining. The sun is shining. The sky is pale blue and elsewhere is covered in purple cloud. As I look down Mount Pleasant, I note a golden, powdery light over trees and rooftops.

Michael, a neighbour, whom I meet at the bus stop, declares that when the free national bus pass comes in next April, he will challenge other oldies to a see who can get first from Tunbridge Wells to Edinburgh travelling only by bus.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

cycle racks, chime, doves

Two new minimalist, bicycle shaped cycle racks have appeared in the centre of the town near the Opera House. They stand alone as elegant pieces of sculpture when not in use. They are inscribed with the words; "To celebrate the passage of the Tour de France through the Borough of Tunbridge Wells on 8 July 2007. The racks are identical with those presented, a couple of years ago, to the town by its German twin German town, Baden. They reside outside the town hall.

Once again the station clock is keeping the right time on all four faces. And it chimes on the hour, a quality which few knew the clock possessed.

The gentlest and softest grey is the grey of collared doves. There is a pair nearly always to be seen in the same corner of the Grove. They are smaller and more beautiful than most other members of the pigeon family. Until 50 years ago, apparently, this charming bird, which originates in south eastern Europe, was not seen in Britain. It is now widespread and should be welcomed wherever it goes.

Monday, December 03, 2007

tails, uniform, traffic

Two men at the counter of the cafe have items protruding form the back pocket of their jeans. One sports a blue cloth that looks a bit like a tail, the other has a folded sheet of paper that could be an instruction sheet.

In the Grove, a bounding dalmation barks at young community police woman. "It's the uniform", she says and removes her hat to reveal some pretty blond hair. Impressed, the dog decides to be friendly and wags its tail as she strokes its head.

In Calverley Park, I hear a car where there should be no cars. It is a brisk gust of wind raking the branches of a couple of tall larch trees planted close together near where I am walking.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

dank, Newfoundland, ship

"...Now that the fields are dank and ways are mire,
Where shall we sometimes meet, and by the fire
Help waste a sullen day ...?"
It's that sort of day and not necessarily the worse for it.

In the Grove, I meet Giles and his Newfoundland puppy. The animal, which I mentioned earlier when it was a newcomer, is, appropriately, called Seal because of her glossy back coat. It is now a very big puppy, (about the size of a small elephant) and playful.

With the wind behind me, my padded jacket seems to inflate, and I beat along like a sailing ship.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

music overheard, football, drinking in the rain

The far off tinkling of a piano greets me as I step out of the front door this morning. I reflect that distant music overheard is sometimes preferable to direct confrontation. As I walk down Mount Sion, the wind brings the sound of a saxaphone. It comes and goes, and because of the hillside and the buildings, it is difficult to determine the source of these sounds. Eventually I find it in the Pantiles where a trio is performing jazz to enliven the first of two Christmas markets which takes place to day.

In the Grove, I notice a collie lying flat, its nose to the ground - the sort of pose you see when collies are managing sheep. This afternoon, it is not sheep, but a football, which the collie is managing. A small boy kicks the ball and the dog pounces on it, caressing and holding it with his paw. The boy tries to kick it away while the dog hangs on to it. The boy eventually kicks it free and the dog pounces again. When the boy becomes tired of the game, the collie lies in front of the ball, its nose twitching.

The jolly grey haired lady whom I often see with her wine and cigarette outside the Grove Tavern is there again. There is a shower of rain, but she is not put off. Someone from the pub dries the seat so that even though it is raining she may sit on a dry place. Somehow I am reminded of a surreal Buster Keaton film called the Navigator, where Buster, in a diving suit goes down to repair the hull of a ship. While under the water, he opens a bag of tools, erects a "danger men at work" sign and begins the job. When he has finished, he fills a bucket, washes his hands, dries them on a cloth from a tool bag, wrings it out and prepares to return to the surface. It must be 50 years since I saw the film, so I may have not have all the details quite right. But Buster Keaton and my new friend are good companions in my mind.

Friday, November 30, 2007

looking up, different, landing

It's always worth while looking up, provided there isn't a hole in front of you. Looking up, I see the network of telephone wires, surrounding a telephone pole, like the start of a spiders web, the lines leading out from the centre to people's houses.

In Barclay's bank there is a television set to keep people occupied while they queue. It is silent but subtitles written at talking speed, help to keep you informed. As I watch a politician talking about the latest political donations scandal, the subtitles read: "It's a different ball dish, a different ball dish."The subtitles correct themselves: "It's a differentball game", but the variation on the cliche strikes me as more appealing.

I like the way magpies land with a bounce and a little run.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

marching, decorations, pipe

Recently, I have heard weather forecasters, dramatically, speak of bands of rain "marching across the country".

On shrubs this morning, the early sun lights up lines of raindrops so that they look like Christmas decorations - the minimalist ones of one colour only.

A man in a flat cap and rain jacket walks towards me. He is smoking a pipe, rare nowadays. As he puffs past, I catch the sweet, almost forgotten scent of pipe tobacco.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Enid, ears, coins

"Enid is on my side," effusive laughter, "Enid is on my side..." a middle aged woman, is enjoying the drama of a telephone conversation and sharing it with the test of the carriage. "We're going through a deep tunnel," she continues, " I mean a deep tunnel... Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" When we emerge from the tunnel, we are robbed of the story of Enid. The mobile remains dormant.

The orange handles, fixed to the grey, upholstered gangway seats in the train look like stylised ears.

In the Grove, I talk to one of the men working on the paths. "We've found lots of coins," he says, " a six pence, and a Greek coin dated 1811".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Amaryllis, fitting, reduced

Three amaryllis of a deep burgundy colour arrive in the house to advance Heidi's recovery. The flowers are still in tight bud, like the beaks of birds, the outside petals marked with faint green veins. It will be a pleasure to watch them open. I think of Milton's Lycidas
..."Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade
Or sport with the tangles of Neaera's hair?"
I used to think that Amaryllis and Neaera must have been mythical women. Only now a little research suggests that they were just ordinary country girls, the names used as such by Latin and Greek poets and chosen by Milton for the same reason and for their undoubted euphony. He wouldn't have envisaged these big flowers otherwise known as belladona lilies.

I find in the cupboard reserved for them a used box, which makes a perfect package for the Bendick's bitter mints, (in my opinion the best chocolates in the world) which Heidi is sending to friends in Germany.

Fragments of a sky blue, burst balloon on the wet pavement. Not a beautiful thing but a melancholy one, poignant I guess.

Monday, November 26, 2007

saws, repeat performance, rugby ball

My neighbour, Pammie, comes up with an old saw:
A whistling woman and a crowing hen,
Neither good to God nor men.
Politically a bit off, we suppose. But not as as bad, we agree, as:
A woman, a dog and a walnut tree,
The more you beat them, the better they be.

"Have you done your Christmas shopping yet?" says the lady at the building society, as she hands me back my paying-in book. I remember that, at this time last year, she asked the same question. There is something oddly reassuring about repetition and regularity. Did she ask it two or even three years ago? And does she ask it to all those who come to the counter? I say: "I've done some of it, " and, feeling that it is rude not to show a reciprocal interest in her shopping, ask: "Have you?" "Some of it," she says.

At the entrance to Calverley Park, I see a rugby ball soar majestically into the sky above a shrubbery. It rotates in the air. Its oval shape glints in the sunlight as it turns. It seems to stay up for a long time. It transpires, as you would have guessed, that some lads are kicking the ball to one another. One of the lads has an unfailing, mighty kick, which explains the height and length of its trajectory.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

sprouts, divided, smile

In the farmers' market, they sell Brussels sprouts on the stalk. This is quite common now, and it is a good idea; it keeps them fresh and looks interesting. And it is better to let customers remove the sprouts from the stalks than pay workers to do the job.

Looking out from the window of Hall's bookshop, I see passers-by in Chapel Place, divided horizontally into three by bookshelves, with gaps between them, ranged against the window. I glimpse unattached legs, torsos and heads moving, it seems, independently of each other.

There is a very thin woman with a walking stick, who walks rapidly about the town. Her face is normally set in an expression of grim concentration. But today, as we pass her on the pavement - Heidi, (recovering from her hip operation), one hand on her own stick, her other hand on my arm - she smiles at us, a shy, confederate smile.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

it works, Zola, round head

After a sticky 24 hours the land line telephone, which replaces, an earlier new and faulty telephone, its batteries now fully charged, seems to be working as it should. I still approach it with caution, though, as you might, someone, whom you feel you may, inadvertently, have offended.

I have started on my seventh Zola novel in the Rougon Macquart series. Why do I so much enjoy these books? There are 20 novels altogether. Although they all touch on members of Rougon and Macquart families, this is no family saga. Each novel stands on its own and I have found that there is no need to read them in sequence. The series describes life in France across the whole spectrum of social class and weaves stories into every aspect of society -from coal mining to the development of a huge department store, from the theatre to the railways, from alcholism to political intrigue. At first I feared boredom, a too serious social purpose. But page-turning stories have kept me entertained, and observations based on Zola intensive research help me to understand the French people and French history. It constantly surprises me that so much of the content seems relevant today. I cannot quite relax until I have at least two more in the series lined up for when I have finished the volume I am reading.

A cat sits on the indside window sill of the front room of a house which I pass. The window is open and it pops its head out to enjoy the fresh air, while keeping warm indoors. It is the cat with a round head, which I have often seen in the summer sitting on the bonnet of a car or in patch of sun light on the pavement.

Friday, November 23, 2007

psychic, ambiguity, working

"And the Evening Standard for you," says the girl in the newsagent. It is only the second time I have been there recently. "I'm psychic," she adds.

On the rear door of a security van are the words Police follow this van. Richly ambiguous, it makes me think of the music hall song "My old man said follow the van, and don't dilly dally on the way".

The new telephone is working, after it apparent mental breakdown, night before last, while its batteries were charging. The demented female voice is relegated to its proper function. At least I hope so.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

tulip tree, help! gauze

A few leaves remain at the top of the tulip tree. This morning, outlined against buttermilk clouds and blue sky, they wave to me, stirred by the breeze, as I drink my morning tea.

Last night, I am watching one of our favourite sit coms - One Foot in the Grave. Victor Meldrew pursued by one disaster after another, is succumbing to his (and our) favourite expression of disgust: I don't belie.. eve it". Just then I hear a woman's voice in our house. It is not Heidi's voice. In the study, is a new land-line telephone. It is a replacement for a telephone, which I bought a few days ago, and which had gone wrong. I had, that day, been up to the top of the town to take the old phone back to the shop and pick up the new one. Just now, the new phone is supposed to be charging its batteries and is not connected to the phone line. I go to investigate. The voice is saying over and over again in a smug , don't -I- speak-beautifully-voice. "You have no new messages. You have no new messages." This must be part of One Foot in the Grave, being broadcast in the next room. I can't separate myth from reality. Have I become Victor Meldrew? I say: "I don't belie ..eve it." And find it difficult not to laugh.

A plane flies behind a small tangerine coloured cloud in the late afternoon sky. For a moment, it becomes a shadow behind gauze and then emerges intact again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

stretched, miniatures, detox

A pink stretch limo drives past me in Mount Sion. As these strange vehicles ususally do, it stretches the imagination.

In the Grove, they are remaking the minor paths. The first job is to dig a narrow trench on either side of each of the paths. This is to house pairs of bricks placed side by side to form a shallow gutter. To dig the trench, there is a neat little JCB , and to remove the turf, which the digger has lifted, a tiny tipper truck. The little park seems suddenly to belong to toy town.

In the health food shop, where I am buying porridge, the counter is covered with tins of something called "green barley leaf powder". "And what does that do for you"? I ask. Says the assistant: " Detox. It's got enzymes." I should have guessed. I like the language of health food, though not the food itself. Porridge is enough for me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

few words, two books, lights

A few words can go a long way. Here is Jane Austen writing to her sister Casandra, as it happened on 20 November 1800, about a ball which she had attended:
"Mrs Blount was the only one much admired. She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband and fat neck."

One of my favourite and one my least favourite Victorian novels are being broadcast by the BBC. They are Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens, on the radio; and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell on the tv. A couple of years ago I ploughed through Dombey detesting more and more its tendentious plot, sentimentality and cardboard characters. I read Cranford 50 years ago and was delighted then, as I am now, seeing it on tv, by its humorous, accurate picture of small town life.

Coming home in the rain, I walk over the reflection of street lights which shine mournfully on the black road and red brick pavements.

Monday, November 19, 2007

squirrel, daft, expression

A squirrel runs down the steps of the fire escape opposite. It is as though the steps were constructed for its use.

People must think I am daft as I pick the plane leaves from the pavement of Mount Pleasant and make them into a small bouquet. Why am I doing it? Ah!

"I'm going to peel a pomegranate," I say to Heidi. Then I think it sounds like one of those expression that form like crystals in the language. To phrases like "run the gauntlet", "pop the question", "jump the gun", perhaps one day will be added "peel the pomegranate". What would "peel the pomegranate" mean? Getting down to the nitty-gritty, reducing something to its basic elements, I suppose.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

swearing,window display, wet and dry

The BBC, I see, has been censured for a serious breach of guidelines. Apparently the word "fuck" was broadcast three times between 14.50 pm and the end of the Live Earth Show. Someone must have been listening and counting carefully.

In the window of a shop, which has been vacant for a few months, two women delicately paint the window frames and sills, as though they are performing an intricate mime.

From the dry, I watch the rain falling outside, and the drops collecting on the window.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

jolly lady, ironing, pruned

There is a jolly, grey haired lady who sits most afternoons outside the Grove Tavern with a large glass of red wine and a cigarette. She is seldom, if ever, alone and is clearly popular, with other drinkers. She has taken to waving to me as I pass, which I take as a compliment. Today I respond to her wave with a cheery, hullo, as I pass. It is good to see life being enjoyed.

Ironing is my favourite chore. Heidi likes it too, but, while her hip is gaining strength, I have the privilege of the domestic iron. I love the smell and feel of a stack of freshly ironed clothes.

They were sawing away at a tall oak in the Grove the other day, pruning it, presumably of damaged or infected branches. Now it looks more like a piece of sculpture than a tree. One branch bends up and forward to look like a giant sea horse. The trimming of the end of the branch even looks like the frills at the front of the sea horse's "nose".

Friday, November 16, 2007

coteries, plane, valour

For years I thought how good it would be to belong to, or at least to be close to, a coterie. This morning it occurred to me that in a way there is one all around us. If you are a blogger and people visit your site and you visit other sites regularly, a group begins to build, as comments are exchanged, common lines of thought and interests developed. It may not be Bloomsbury or the Algonquin Hotel, Montmartre, or Chelsea in the time of the Pre-Raphaelites. But in the age of the global village, it is almost something better, more open, freer. So Clare, Lucy, Tristan, Tall Girl, Marja Leena, Dave, Lucas, Rashmi and many others ( and all the links stretching out from your blogs), think: the world is weaving round those observations and photographs, something is taking shape, to which one day a name may be given.

The plane leaves on the pavement of Mount Pleasant are enormous. They lie separately on the pavement like green and gold stars. Today, I see a child in a push chair holding one by its long stem as though it were a toy. But it is something better.

As I walk in Calverley Park, I hear from a neighbouring church, this bright and crisp afternoon, the just discernable words of John Bunyan's hymn:
He who would valiant be,
'Gainst all disaster...
...We know we at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I'll fear not what men say
I'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

home, animal eyes, design kindness

A walk with Heidi, this crisp afternoon, the sun low in the sky, the shadows of trees reaching elegantly across the leaf strewn grass. This is her first day home after her hip replacement operation. She becomes more agile every day.

In Kathleen Raine's collected poems, I note the lines:
" ...Shapes I had seen with animal eyes
Crowded the dark with mysteries."
I have been thinking a lot about animals recently. I believe, along with the philosopher John Gray, that we are part of their kingdom, that human beings differ from other animals only in having an over developed brain. Your brain's too big. That's our problem. We're a bit like the dinosaurs who became too clumsy for comfort, or the shells of their eggs too thin, for the young to survive. To see "with animal eyes" is, perhaps, how we should see if we are to understand the past and even the present.

The kindness of designers: we are running out of the paper dust bags for the Miele vacuum cleaner, which we have had for many years. In order to be sure that I buy the right replacements , I go, as I have done in the past, to the box, in which they are supplied, armed with scissors to cut out the label indicating the model number. I find that the frame, which surrounds the numbers was, in the last box purchased, perforated for easy removal. I slot it neatly into my wallet. This little piece of thoughfulness gives me disproportionate pleasure.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

overheard, hands, chilly

I overhear a woman's voice in the train. It is like a stream bubbling over pebbles. She seldom stops talking and seems proud of her carefully modulated voice, and of the little irruptions of gentle laughter, which underline the irony of an anecdote. She is sitting behind me and talking to a woman friend. I hear only snatches of her monologue... "I was waiting at London Bridge and a train came every two minutes but it wasn't mine ....I said .... and she said... and I said... It takes weeks to grow the damn things ...of course the computer went wrong..."

Early this morning from the back of a taxi, I catch sight of two pairs of hands arranging rings, watchs and other adornments in the window of jewelers. A daily spreading of the peacock's tail.

Outside a pub called TN4 is a notice announcing among other attractions: "chilled atmosphere".

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

milk, boat, alright?

The sun over the fields is like a splash of milk soaking through grey sky.

Across a large puddle a curled leaf sails blown by the wind like a toy boat.

A woman's voice behind me: "Hullo. Are you alright?" I think so. But I ask myself who is asking? I should have know. Everywhere, everyone has a mobile phone. And everyone is asking everyone else, are you alright?

Monday, November 12, 2007

smart cat, fuschia, silver sheep

A cat, its chest white like a white apron, sits in the sun looking smart. And smug, as cats sometimes do.

An unusual pale pink fuchsia in a front garden, a few yards on, another fuchsia, this time the more usual, red and purple variety. Both, uncharacteristically for November, are in full bloom.

From a car I catch sight of a field of sheep. The sun, low in the sky behind them gives the edges of their fleece, a silvery halo.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

pitter patter, austins, knitting accents

Lucy Kempton has now illustrated the last five poems in the Handbook for Explorers sequence of poems. The complete series of photographs and poems may now be seen together for the first time on

Standing outside my neighbours front door this morning I enjoy the sound of rain falling on the shrubs. It falls straight down, in large, nicely spaced drops, nothing excessive, a measured English rain.

In the supermarket carpark, a group of vintage Austin 7s are parked, their owners, of a like vintage, gatherered in front of them. I count the cars. There happen to be seven of them. Seven Austin 7s. I recall a faded photograph of my mother leaning out of the window of hers and looking very proud of her new car.

Heidi and a neighbour talk about knitting. It seems that Germans knit in quite a different way from the English, though with the same results. It's as though there is in an accent in knitting as in speaking.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

wagtail, screen, olive oil

In the Grove I see a pied wagtail. Its swooping flight is delightful to watch like a dance. And when it settles, it really does wag its tail, up and down though, and not, like a dog, from side to side.

From the street, I see into a room, where a television screen is reflecting yet another room.

A bottle of olive oil attracts my attention in the wine merchant this morning. "It's made by one of our wine suppliers," says the owner. I recall visiting an olive producer in Andalucia some years ago and tell him of a family meal in a low ceilinged cellar next to the stone press. "There was a dish", I say, "of orange-slices dressed with olive oil, unusual and unforgettable. The oranges as well as the oil came from the farm." He says: "I can taste that." And in my memory, suddenly come alive, so could I.

Friday, November 09, 2007

too familiar, moue, sky watching

It should be called the Nessun dorma syndrome. If you heard Pavorotti sing it for the first time you might be impressed. If only you could! Van Gough's sunflowers would likewise would be strike you as fresh and original if you hadn't seen them before. And then there's Wordworth's Daffodils! I confess to liking such over established works of art and literature, despite their familiarity, even if they are sentimental, like Louis Armstrong's It's a wonderful world, which I heard this morning on Deseret Island Disks.

I notice the face of a girl sitting by the window of a restaurant. She is pretty, I think, but there is something about the set of her mouth, which is worrying. Then I know what it is. The French word moue comes to mind. It signifes nothing as simple as a "pout", which is a common English translation. Rather moue suggests a look of disdain, of rejection, of superiority. It is above all a word which is utterly French, both in the way it sounds and in the behaviour it describes. When you read: elle fait une moue de dégoût, you can see the lips and hear the sound.

What is he watching? A clear, ice-blue sky with small clouds and vapour trails touched by pink light from the setting sun.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

more leaves, pasta taster, for the masses

Because they have stayed so long on the trees and the weather has, at the same time, been so dry, the leaves have been extraordinary this year. Yesterday they lay scattered on the slopes of Calverley Park shining in the sun, not just copper, but burnished copper. Today, they whisper noisily - dry, paper thin and curled at the edges - as the wind drives them along the road.

Competing for the title of the most unnecessary kitchen utensil ever, is the pasta-taster - a small cup, pierced with a single hole, at the end of a handle - which I see in the window of a shop.

Ambiguous notices often give pleasure. If I hadn't know that there was a Catholic church in the vicinity, I might have enjoyed speculating on the meaning of "mass parking only".

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

toe, polishing, wind watching

The windows of Hooper's department store are draped with red theatre curtains. The inspiration of a forthcoming window display is announced across the curtains in gold letters as: "Sleeping Beauty. English National Ballet". In one window, creeping beneath the curtain is, intriguingly, the naked toe of a mannequin.

Against the war memorial opposite the public library is a ladder. The memorial consists of a life size bronze statue of a fully equipped soldier on top of a marble plinth. This morning, on top of the ladder is a man polishing the statue with a cloth , making it ready, presumably, for the Rememberance Sunday parade.

You can see the wind as it chases the leaves over the grass and across the paths in Calverley Park.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

stealing time, nests, beans

A few days ago Lucy Kempton commented on this web log that, generally speaking, clocks only began to tell the same time as a result of the introduction of the railways. The use of chronometers in the eighteenth as an aid to navigation may be an exception. But the railway connection throws an interesting light on Victorian England. Another curiousity, which I encountered, when I inherited a nineteenth century bracket clock a few years ago, is the lock on the glass window covering the dial. Why lock up your time I asked a clock repairer? The answer is apparently that servants were in the habit of putting their employers' clocks forward so that they could work less time. The lock was to prevent this curious form of theft.

When leaves fall from the trees, you have the consolation of seeing the nests, which have been hidden all through the summer.

Yesterday evening, I shelled and boiled the last of the mature borlotti beans which I picked a few weeks ago. Tonight I shall sauté them with finely chopped shallots and a little garlic. They will go well with a grilled slice of fresh tuna.

Monday, November 05, 2007

holding on, excuse, risotto

An oak leaf hangs from a spider's web attached to a branch. It swings to and fro in the breeze, while other leaves float by.

Reading the papers is nearly always a chore. The only pleasure is finding an excuse to stop reading an article early on, because you come across something, which suggests that going on will not worth while. Today, for example, I read, in the first paragraph of an article about an impresario, that "he managed to bestride the global film industry like a Colossus". Bye bye.

If cooking is therapy, cooking a risotto is the best therapy. You feed the rice at intervals with ladles of hot broth, let the rice absorb the broth, stir and watch the rice swell, until it is al dente. As you stand over the pan, there is an immediate pleasure in the evolving dish, the smell and texture of it, and the anticipation of a meal to be shared.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

naturally, hair, woodpecker

On the fishmonger's slab in the supermarket, certain fish are labelled "natural fish". It takes me a moment to realize that these must be wild, as distinct from farmed fish. But you have to be on top of these things nowadays. Who would want an unnatural fish? Or a supernatural fish?

As I pass, in the corner of my eye, I see in the window of a hairdresser's shop, a seated girl with long, fair hair down to her waist, her back to the window. With calm, long strokes, a hairdresser is brushing it over her shoulders and straight down her back. A mermaid glimpsed through the glass!

On the grass outside Heidi's ground floor room at the hospital where she is recovering, is a green woodpecker, pecking away in search of ants and the like. That was yesterday. This afternoon, I look for it again. But strutting in its place is a fine cock pheasant.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

surprise reader, sniffing, poppy

The vastness of the internet and the opportunity of chance encounters always surprises me. It is a surprise and a pleasure to learn the other day that a neighbour who had no reason to look it up and who had certainly not heard of it through me, has come across Now's the time, by chance. You launch a balloon with a message and never know where it will land, far or near.

In the Pantiles farmers' market a fine, black haired retriever sniffs at cryovac wrapped beef and lamb joints on a butcher's stall with penetrating intelligence.

I visit a neighbour, a military man, who has been seriously ill for some months, and who yesterday celebrated his 80th birthday surrounded by his family. As he greets me, I notice that a poppy is pinned to the collar of his pyjamas in anticiption of Rememberance Sunday. A few years ago, a tabloid newspaper sent a reporter down from London to inverview him. The object was to profile an archetypal "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells", and I recall his pleasure with the double page spread which resulted. Disgusted or not, he is a man who knows who he is.

Friday, November 02, 2007

clock trouble, toboggans, real squirrels

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a station clock should be accurate. And a source of amusement (to me, at least, whose mode of life no longer requires intensive travel and tight schedules), that the four faces of the clock in the tower above Tunbridge Wells railway station are never right. For two years the clock was not working at all. Then, earlier this year, they appeared to do a refurbishment job. The clock is working again. But you soon realize that the different faces show different times, none of them coinciding with the actual time. The one you can see from the entrance to the station is two minutes slow - the worst degree of inaccuracy for someone hurrying for a train. Better be half an hour out. The trouble is that the trains are, nowadays, for the most part on time. Pity that the clocks are not. I make an observation to this effect to an official on the platform. "Shame," I say after all the work they've done to clean up the clock." He doesn't seem concerned: "It's the works," he says. "Victorian!" Sometimes, it is a beautiful thing to be able to conform to the old catch phrase: "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells."

A warm, almost balmy afternoon. As I pass Hooper's department store, I note that, in the Christmas window, now being prepared, there are two stacks of toboggans. and a gilded sleigh.

Shadows of branches spread ahead of me over a path in the Grove. Across the shadow-branches scamper real squirrels.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

retake, wine dark, pumpkin

I keep finding myself wanting to retake a photograph I have taken before or one that someone else has taken. I have to stop myself photographing the yellow leaf of a plane tree pressed onto the pavement like a print. The same goes for the one of a squirrel with its paws together holding a nut, and managing to look like Jonny Wilkinson on the point of taking a penalty.

A grape vine which I pass regularly has not shed its leaves. Instead the leaves have turned dark red, the colour of mature burgundy.

A carved out pumpkin grins at me through a window.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

title, filming, chips

Though I haven't read it, I have always liked the title of the book, which a friend of mine is reading. The book is Le scaphandre et le papillon, in English The diving bell and the butterfly. The author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, was almost completely paralysed when he wrote it, and managed to signal every letter by the movement of an eyelid.

There were goings-on in the Grove last night. Big spotlights, cables, vans galore and bags of artificial snow, labelled with the name of its provider, a company called Snow Business betokened some sort of film. They were in fact going to shoot a Christmas commercial for the supermarket chain, Morrison's. Ironic. Morrison's is not a popular name round here. It acquired the shop with the Safeway chain, which it bought in its entirety a couple of years ago. Because they were building a new store in a neighbouring town, they decided to close this branch down. Everyone in the area of the Grove had used it, as it was in comfortable walking distance, and came to regard it, much as villagers do their village store, as their own. The big building is now vacant and boarded up, and residents have to walk twice as far or use their cars to do their shopping.

Walking down a hill in Sevenoaks, I pass a mother and her two children coming up it. They are eating on the hoof, picking at trays of chips with little wooden forks. The very English smell of fried potatoes and vinegar hangs in the air behind them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

new hip, gnats, who's that?

Heidi has a new hip. The hospital rings to tell me me that her operation to replace the old one went well. Hallelujah!

Gnats fly in and out of the low sunbeams, this afternoon. You only see them when the sun touches their wings.

A squirrel on the railings sees its reflection in the window of a car. It swings its tail frantically while the rest of its body remains dead still. Its little eyes are fixed on its moving tail.

Monday, October 29, 2007

cider, agapanthus, two lights

Cider is best as an autumn drink. Outside the Compasses, there is some late warm sunshine, which imparts an inner glow to the cider in my glass.

I know now that the agapanthus didn't flower this summer in its big pot because I failed to feed it as I should have done. But today we notice that the long, pinate leaves have compensated for the absence of flowers by turning a brilliant yellow, an ornament in their own right, and a contrast to the blue umbels that should have been.

Through the rear, upstairs window of a house, I see, from the street below, a front window, and through the front window, this afternoon's bright western sky.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

golf, apples, raindrops

Dialogue outside the pub:

"Knowing that I'm an amateur, would you lend me your golf clubs?"

"Yer, alright."

"You weren't supposed to say that."

At the Farmers' Market there are more than 30 different varieties of apple on one stand, all grown locally.

Standing by the window watching rain drops falling, comforted by a mig of tea.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

story, headgear, Christmas

As I wait for the Tunbridge Wells train on Sevenoaks station, a goods train passes. It consists of open wagons loaded with hardcore. It is a long train and I have time to tell myself a story about it. I vault on to one of the wagons and cadge a lift like a hobo in the American west. The Welsh poet, W H Davies lost a leg doing this, but in my story, I retain mine. The story continues later, when I pass the goods train, standing at the entrance to Tunbridge station. Beside it is a crab apple tree spilling its fruit on to the embankment. I climb down from my wagon, which is beginning to become uncomfortable, and collect pocketfulls of the apples. I hitchhike home, chop and boil the apples, strain the mush through a muslin bag for 12 hours or so, and the next morning, make a translucent, amber jelly.

As I step on to the zebra crossing on the Frant Road, I am greeted by a man, whom we have met on one or two occasions outside the bar in the Pantiles. "Are we going in the same direction?" he says. "last time I saw you, you were wearing a beret. Today you're wearing a different hat. It's quite a good idea to wear a different hat every day. They seem to be bringing hats back!" I am unable to contribute to the conversation because, at this point, our ways part.

Though we are still in October, a group of men with ladders are at work in the Pantiles assembling Christmas decorations. The white pillars of the arcade are already adorned with plastic pine foliage, which winds round them like snakes. The same foliage is on the bandstand with the addition of red and gold baubles, and a string of lights not yet switched on.

Friday, October 26, 2007

visitors, chestnut leaves, record

In the Pantiles, this grey afternoon, are too groups of French school children, one at either end. Their teachers explain the origin of the paved walk with its spa, still in operation, at one end. The children, without exception have an agonised look of boredom, approaching despair. When will it ever ever end? The only sense of relief comes when one teacher announces: "After this we will return to London."

A woman holding a bunch of horse chestnut leaves walks down the High Street.

The Turkey oak remains the only tree in the Grove which has properly shed its leaves. The leaves beneath it are dry and crunchy and a number of children are piling them up, making leaf mountains. One particularly engergetic child runs with armfuls of leaves. " We need to make a world record," he says, to his companion " so that in 2008 we'll be in the world record book."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

lost, juggler, shared

The first good thing about losing my notebook this morning is that it had not been in use for long and so contained little of value. The second is that I was able to remember the latest entries, and the third will be if someone finds it and, as my name and address is on page 1, sends it back to me.

Sitting on a bench on the station platform is a young man juggling three, soft, plastic balls. After a while, he stands up and practices with the three balls using one hand.

In the train a young couple sit side by side doing separate sudokus in separate newspapers, but they share a Bic pen, holding it upright ready for the other to take, when it is needed. They do not speak, but the sharing is so nicely managed that you feel that they are happy in one another's company.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Arabian Nights, alien can, tee shirt

I have long intended to read The Thousand Nights and One Nights to give it its correct title. I have the complete four volume edition translated by Powys Mathers and Dr J C Madrus, and I realize it will be no hardship. Like most children of my generation I knew the nursery version of some of Scheherazade's stories. But those are remote from the sequence of tales, many them rich in sex and violence, told by the wife of the king to keep him from killing her, because he was convinced that she would otherwise betray him. Remember how every night she concludes the previous night's story, and sets up the next one to keep his curiousity alive. It is brilliant concept and proof of the the power of fiction. It confirms what I have felt for a long time that stories are better than so called fact. For who can verify the facts of a simple incident, while a story is complete in itself, unassailable by definition, and can contain truths which are missing from simple reportage?

I am standing opposite the entrance to the Victoria Arcade. Near me a hulky man, quite normal in appearance, starts shouting: "What are you doing in my country? Stamp it out. Stamp it out," he bellows. "Foreign legion. Stamp it out! " The object of his anger is an empty Stella Artois beer can lying on the pavement. Repeatedly, he stamps on the innocent Belgian artifact, until it is squashed flat on the brick pavement. Nobody takes any notice of him. He strides off radiating hatred.
A couple of minutes later, a woman street cleaner arrives pushing a mobile rubbish bin and wielding a pair of tongs. With the tongs, she lethargically picks up cartons and bits of paper and releases them into the bin. The can is a problem because it is so flat. She is far from athletic and has some difficulty bending down to lift it with her bare hand. Taking advantage of the pause in her progress, she takes out a cigarette and lights up; the foreign can is now out of sight and out of mind.

It is half terms. School children gather in the centre of the town, Dress code is jeans or miniskirts. Tee shirts are colourful and interesting. A thin boy wears one bearing the words: "I hate people". Two of his friends, a girl and a boy, one behind him and one in front, attempt an embrace with him, like a sandwich filling, in the middle. A people sandwich.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

cuppa, jeans,easy driver

"A cuppa tea and a piece of carrot cake, darlin' " says the newcomer at the counter of my favourite cafe. He is addressing the wife of the cafe owner, a neat, grey haired lady, not much given to smiling. If I didn't know, I would know that I am in England, and the South of England too.

From the terrace behind Sankey's bar, I look up to a rooftop where, from a washing-line, a pair of very faded jeans swings its legs in the breeze.

With practiced nonchalance, while smoking a cigarette, a grey haired old lady in an electric buggy, steers between pedestrians on the broad, brick pavement of Mount Pleasant.

Monday, October 22, 2007

time, kicking leaves, crowd

Next weekend, the clock go back an hour to save daylight. What we save if we put the calendar back 100 years?

The layers of leaves under the Turkey oak are thick and enticing. The leaves are dry and scrunchy. As I walk through them, I kick them up in the air. They rustle and crackle. I kicked my way through leaves like that when I was a child. And my children did too. I am glad that I have remembered how to do it.

In uncut grass, dandelion clocks are scattered like a white faced crowd waiting for something to happen.

New Explorers installment

A new set of photographs by Lucy Kempton illustrating five more poems in my Handbook for Explorers sequence is on

Sunday, October 21, 2007

wine glass, interest, interesting

This morning, in the twitton - the local name for the narrow path between the back gardens of houses in parallel roads- is a lone wine glass on top of a wheelie bin. It is half full of red wine, a rememberance, perhaps, of last night's rugby disappointment. Two sad balloons are tied at the twitton's entrance.

Is there an expression of interest as intense as that of a pigeon on the pavement, searching for crumbs, its head tilting to left and right, and its little eyes popping with eagerness?

As I pass a couple I know, who are sitting on a bench in the Grove, we exchange greetings. "It's really interesting sitting here, watching the world go by," says the wife. I say, "yes, isn't it!" But the husband makes a face and rolls his eyes.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

delivery, five, watch word

Quite early this morning a trailer arrives in front of our neighbour's house. It carries freight container which has brought their furniture from Australia. Four removal men start to unload it. They pause for tea, standing in the road behind the trailer in a semi-circle. Bubble wrapped shapes surround them. Each has a mug of tea in his hand and enjoys the convivial moment.

From a path on the Common, I look down the steep slope towards the London Road. Profiled against the passing a traffic are five young people sitting in a row on a fallen tree. Their backs are to me. They wear hoods and rucksacks. Lower down the slope than I, they watch the cars pass in a continuous stream. From up here, the sound is translated from a "whoosh, whoosh", to a gentle but unrelenting throb.

Everybody is asking the same question: "Are you going to watch the match?" I have come to prefer rugby to what I used to think of as soccer, and is now generally called football. In fact I am looking forward to the game. I shall not, like one of my neighbours, record it, and watch it afterwards only if England wins. I shall, while the game is on, be thinking of my friend Dave, who bet on Egland to win from the start of the tournement at odds of 36 to 1.

Friday, October 19, 2007

sign of the times, pink beatles, maple

The gents is being refurbished, at Sankey's bar and restaurant, so gentlemen are requested to use the ladies, only to be confronted within, by this commentary on the present day behaviour of gentlemen and ladies too.

Two little girls pulling identical , plastic Volkeswagen Beatles on pieces of string, race round the Grove, shrieking, while the cars bounce and topple behind them.

I had difficulty identifying a maple tree in the Grove when it was in flower. But the five lobed leaves, mottled with red spots are familiar signs of Autumn. Spring seems far behind.
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Thursday, October 18, 2007

framed, cross, rutting

From Platform 1 at Tunbridge Wells station you can see through the tunnel looking south. In the frame of the tunnel, I see, at the far end, in bright sunshine, a group of workmen in safety jackets. In anticipation of the train and, in fact, giving advance warning of its arrival, they cluster at the edge of the line like orange flowers.

Through the train window is an expanse of blue sky; across it, two white vapour trails make a perfect St Andrew's cross, the national flag of Scotland.

The stags are rutting in Knole Park. It is perfect weather for rutting. A group of stags and hinds perform on the gentle elevation, just above the Tudor house, as though they are putting on a show for the inhabitants. Hinds sit or stand about coyly, while the stags trot up and down. When other stags so much as look at their harems, they make rude and threatening, burping sounds, or challenge newcomers with lowered antlers. I talk to a man with an extravagant looking camera on a tripod. I ask if is a professional photogapher. "No, I'm builder," he says. "This is my obsession" This and bonsai. Do you know bonsai? Isn't this beautiful, " he says. "Isn't England the most beautiful country in the world? Pity to see it all go. Not just this, the whole country! " Then he adds, "Not in our time fortunately." An old man talking to an old man. I point out an ancient stag sitting away from the rest, uninterested in the competetion. "Retired, " I say, " like us!"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

reward, mondegreen, road drill

Following a routine visit to the doctor's surgery, I reward myself , by sitting in the sun outside my favourite cafe, with a cup of tea and two slices of buttered toast, and watch passers by.

Some years ago I made a note of the word mondegreen, a term for a misheard word. It is derived from an old ballad, which goes "They hae slain the Earl Murray/ And laid him on the green". The last line, misheard becomes "and Lady Mondegreen." The term comes up in a review in the Spectator , by Dot Wordworth, of a collection of mondegreens and malapropisms by Martin Toseland entitled The Ants are My Friends. The title is a mishearing of the Bob Dylan lyric "the answer my friend is (blowing in the wind)".

We pass in the street a serious looking purposeful dog of indeterminate breed. It looks straight ahead, until it reach the pedestrian crossing, and crosses on the green light. On the other side of the road it walks steadily on, stopping only to cock its leg against one of the maroon and gold, Royal Tunbridge Wells litter bins.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

cows, squeaking door, invitation

Glimpsed from the train window: cows grazing their way across a field, all facing the same way.

The door of the gents at Sevenoaks station has a pronounced squeak as it swings to. A sound half way between a protest and a jeer.

An invitatation has arrived to a reception to celebrate the 90th birthday of my English teacher, Stephen Lushington. He was greatly respected at school not just by me, but by everyone he taught. What lesson do I remember? I handed in a piece of homework, a description of trees. I thought it was a little masterpiece. It was in fact a string of platitudes and clichés. When returning our work to us, he saved mine until last, and was unsparing in his assessment of it. What I had thought was so wonderful, was I realized truly awful. I don't claim that I never used acliché again, but the fear that I might, has always been with me and still is.

cows, squeaking door, invitation

Monday, October 15, 2007

observing, mice, spooks

There is a swarm of school children in blue and grey uniforms in the Pantiles today. They run about, and stand around, and sit and kneel down to write on clip boards. One boy sits in front of the old letter box, which bears the insignia of Queen Victoria. He is apparently writing a description of it. Another shouts: "There are three more things to find." The composite sound of their voices is pleasant, like the starlings the other day in the Grove.

A light breeze rises for a moment and seems to blow at ground level. Dry leaves, with the faintest rustle, move between the feet of lunchers outside bars and restaurants like an army of mice.

The unwanted CDs and DVDs , which I hung up in the vegetable garden in the summer to scare pigeons, has proved unexpectedly successful. The bright surfaces send spots of light running over the beds and up and down plants. Alone among the vegetables, you sense a presence other than your own, which catches you by surprise. What I hadn't noticed until today was the title of one of the CDs. It contains several episodes of the BBC spy series, Spooks.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

race, love and woes, cold

A line of five or six children of different sizes, riding bikes of different sizes, following one another round the Grove, as fast as they can go.

We talk to the fish and chip shop owner outside the Compasses before lunch. He is 65 and full of woes. But he seems to enjoy dramatising them over a pint in the Autumn sun. "Got to get back to my wife's cooking", he says. "She either over cooks everything or under cooks it," and, parting, adds: "I love her to bits."

In Sainsbury's, successive shopping aisles list: "Frozen ready meals, Frozen vegetables, Frozen Meat, Frozen deserts, Frozen fish". And they say, the poles are melting.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

duck ham, leaves, carrots

A packet of what we thought were thin slices of very fine, serrano ham turns out to be slices of "duck ham". We bought it at the last minute before leaving Spain, no time to read the label. But it proves even more delicious, especially when eaten with fresh figs, than the ham made from the black legged pigs, bred in the upland, oak forests of Andalucia, which we thought we had bought.

I see a shower of leaves behind the trunk of the Turkey oak in the Grove. The cause is hidden by the thick trunk.. As I move on, I see a small boy tossing up arms full of leaves and letting them fall on his head.

Emerging from a woman's bag, is a crest of carrot leaves. Are carrots growing in her bag? Of course not. Don't be silly. But wouldn't it be wonderful if they were?

Friday, October 12, 2007

paneer, crap, lawyers wig

I have been wanting to make the Indian curd cheese called paneer ever since I saw it done on television. You bring milk to the boil, add lemon juice or yogurt and wait until curds form. You then strain the milk through a muslin-lined sieve, drain, wash the curds, still in the muslin, with cold water, and leave them to drain further. Then, keeping the curds in the muslin, tie it at the corners, press the cheese flat on a board or large plate, put a weight on it and leave it for a further hour. You are left with a fresh , milky cheese, which you can cut into cubes. Though it has little taste on its own, it acts like a sponge to absorb flavour when used with spices, and a variety of sauces.

As I pass a group of taxi drivers talking outside the station, I hear a woman taxi driver say intriguingly: "I'm just about crap at noticing other cars."

Pushing through the gravel on the drive of the house opposite is a pointed, white fungus, like the tip of a closed parasol. It is a Shaggy Ink Cap, also known as Lawyer's Wig. You can eat it while it remains white, but I have never felt inclined to.

restored, back again, gossamer,

Yesterday my telephone line went down and with it access to the internet. Relieved of blogging duties, I was at a loss, until a phone call announced its restoration earlier than promised. The birds began to sing.

And, in reality, I see and hear the starlings back in the Grove, a tree full of them, the air full of their fluting calls. And in the middle of them in the same tree, the boss, Mr Crow, looking smug.

Gossamer in the hedgerows, intricate silver nets. From the branch of a tree, one fine thread extends in a gentle downward and then upward curve and ends floating in mid air. I examine it closely and guess that the parabola, which it describes, dips because of moisture - dew or frost - which has weighed it down in the centre.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

best words, prodigious, time

The best words that a cook can hear: "I'm hungry".

Prodigious is not a word I use often. But the snail I meet this morning on the decaying leaf of a courgette plant is prodigious, vaster than empires.

I enjoy telling the time by the quality of the light allowing for the growing hours of darkness and the state of the weather.


comes under the blind in the morning, making allowance for the longer period of darkness and the weather anticiapted.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

dry, identical, carpet

Walking in the rain in a waxed cotton jacket and broad brimmed hat.

In the High Street, in the rain, I pass a middle aged man and woman of similar size. They wear identical, blue jackets with pointed hoods pulled over their heads. Their faces are similar, rather porcine. They look a little out of breath. Are they brother and sister, or husband and wife, who have grown to resemble one another? As I look back to watch them walk away, I note that beneath the collars of their jackets are identical designer labels, too far away, unfortunatley to read.

A thick layer of sodden leaves make an intricate pattern of red, yellow and brown, under the turkey oak on the corner of the The Grove. Rain, which has soaked the dead leaves, has been responsible for the sudden fall rather than the wind, and the leaves have stayed put where they have fallen, which explains their density.

Monday, October 08, 2007

shades of pink, contrast, quantum weirdness

In the October sunshine in the Pantiles, I see shades of dark red, pink and even yellow in a glass of rosé wine.

Next to a tarmac-covered area, marked out for basket ball, some schoolboys throw and bounce a ball, shout and push each other, kick the ball and leap up to catch it. Separated by some wire netting is the Royal Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club, where middle aged and elderly people play a sedate game of croquet on an immaculate lawn.

Why is the universe so strangely adapted to support life? The physicist Paul Davies asks, and to some extent answers, this fundemental question in his book The Goldilocks Enigma. He argues that aspects of the cosmos from the properties of the carbon atom to the speed of light, and even the laws of physics themselves, seem to conspire to make life possible. Though I understand much of them imperfectly, I enjoy reading statements like "quantum weirdness implies that a particle such as an electron possesses an intrinsic uncertainty", and "quantum uncertainty cannot be ameliorated by 'looking harder'. Though "uncertainty" there refers to the behaviour of particles, they appeal because they seem to mirror my own uncertainty about most things. There is a delicious mystery about learning what happened fractions of a second after the big bang, where we all began.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

playing, voices, bee

Sainsbury's is just opening for Sunday shopping. Two male employees are playing with a pedestrian-operated, powered pallet truck. One steers the machine forward, the other hangs on, sliding backwards like a skater. They disappear into the warehouse.

From an open, sash window I hear voices talking within as I pass in the street. Or is it the radio?

Outside our front door, hangs a single inflorescence of unseasonal wisteria. A bee moves from floret to floret. I watch it run out of options and fly away. A moment later it returns. Or is it another bee? I watch again as it repeats its routine with the wisteria. Off it goes. I see it circle and return, this time definitely the same bee. Bees and wisteria are as scarce as one another today.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Borlotti beans

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old friend, hips, air

There is a man whom I used to know when he and I were younger men. He was the press officer at company which I worked for. He would give me lunch sometimes at The Press Club in Fleet Street. After we had both retired, we would bump into one another in Tunbridge Wells. It seems that he and his wife drive here from Crowborough and stroll through the town on fine Saturday afternoons, and in recent years we have become used to these encounters. Forty years must have passed since we were first colleagues. This afternoon we see Derek and his wife in the Pantiles. When he stops to talk, his wife wanders on not realizing that he has stopped. He looks up worried. "Where is she?" "She's gone into the garden shop, " I say. We say good bye and he walks on looking for her, and misses the door into which she has disappeared. In a moment or two they are reunited. A few minutes later I see them ahead of us walking slowly up the High Street. They are hand in hand. I believe they have been married for at least 50 years.

Fat rose hips with their sepals like trumpets. Rose fruit.

This morning I go into the garden to see what's in the air. There is a hint of spice, fruit, leaves, acorns, a trace of bonfire. Just a hint of all these things, their faint imprint in the air. I think of wine, gewürztraminer, to be precise.

Friday, October 05, 2007

bookmarks, monsters, leaves

I like a bookmark which includes a clip to prevent it from falling out of the book. Better and less fussy is the kind (I have made many of them) that consists of a strip of light board, folded about a quarter of the way down. It hooks neatly over a page. The board may be illustrated or left blank for notes. I can't have enough of these, and they inhabit my library, like birds or squirrels.

Among the courgette plants, I keep finding a number of overgrown courgettes (become vegetable marrows) lurking like shadows among the still prolific leaves and cable-like stems. They are not much to our taste but fortunately there are a number of our neighbours who enjoy these great beasts, thick skinned and heavy with water.

Two or three dead leaves falling on to the stage to signify Autumn or time passing, is a theatrical cliche, which I recall from my theatre-going days. This morning, as the odd leaf drifts down, nature seems to be immitating art.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dungeons, salad, notebooks

In the window of the Early Learning Centre toyshop, is a boxed construction kit, called Dungeons of Doom. "For 6 - 8 year olds", the box says.

Rows of lettuces are in flower. Some have gone to seed. In a few cases, new leaves have sprouted from plants, not yet in flower, where lettuces were cut earlier. These offer themselves for salad. More salad in the rows of mixed, oriental mustards and rocket. The mustards have yellow flowers, the rocket, white. Flowers as well as leaves go into salads, and have the same spicy flavour.

Still thinking about notebooks, I read by chance in Ann Wroe's new biography Being Shelley, this account of the poet's notebook habits:
"Thought demanded fresh pages in new notebooks, used pages in old ones (turned upside down, thrown sideways, one poem burying another), or any spare piece of paper, or letter back, or bill, which he was sometimes reduced to begging from visitors and friends."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

now, crow, notebook

I was never very happy with the title of this blog. Until today, that is. The Sufi poet Rumi who wrote in Persian in the 13 th century somehow justifies it. Today I read:
"Do not look back, my friend
No one knows how the world began.
Do not fear the future, nothing lasts for ever.
If you dwell on the past or the future
You will miss the moment."

Mr and Mrs Crow, whose activities I recorded last winter, have taken up residence in the Grove once more. There is no doubt at all that they own the little park. I watch them waddling about on the grass, checking that everything is in order, as they peck out bits and pieces for their lunch.

The pages of my new notebook, started a month ago, are, as a schoolteacher might say, a marked improvement on my last one, in terms of tidiness. He has tried hard. This is partly the result of a suggestion by Marja-Leena Rathje that I should reproduce a page or two of my earlier notebook here. I looked through it, but couldn't oblige at the time because it was all such a mess and quite incomprehensible even to me. At least, now I can read what I have written and decipher what I have drawn. Posterity may thank you Marja-Leena, as I do now.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

jazz, rare goods, juvenillia

Still on holiday in my mind,with the help of photographs and a 15 second video, I see and hear, above the sea, 30 or more young musicians called the Banda Los Teoporus. All the instruments they play are brass except the drums. They are all there - clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, tubas. The boys and girls are dressed casually and many are adorned with funny hats, including, in one case, a red, white-trimmed, Father Christmas bonnet. Their music, a sort of folksy jazz, is the sound of total cheerfulness. Buxom, blithe and debonair, they move their instruments in time with the music, and sometimes even dance while playing. Some small children begin an impromptu dance in front of them. The audience of passers-by cannot, themselves, keep still.

In a Tunbridge Wells shop window, all I can see is a woman sitting on the floor with her back to the street. She is a window-dresser sewing away at some striped material.

In a cupboard, which has needed clearing out for some time, I find a notebook full of juvenillia almost all of it, embarrassing. Just one poem catches my attention. After rendering a few nips and tucks, I find myself liking it, viewing it, as I do, in a completely detached way, as though I never had anything to do with it. I can't remember who the "you" was or even if it was any particular person:
The red flame contains a blue
And in the blue flame I see you,
And there you leap up bright and stark
To look into my enormous dark.

Monday, October 01, 2007

watch, palace, paradise

In the back of a drawer, which I am tidying, I come across the wind-up Seiko watch, which I have had for at least 40 years. A year of so ago, it seemed to have stopped working for good , despite several attempts at resuscitation, and I had banished it to the drawer rather than pay the £90 quoted to have it repaired. Now, to my surprise and pleasure, it has come back to life on its own, and has been telling the time and date accurately for the last 24 hours.

It surprises and interests me that the French word palais means both palace and palate. A palace for the senses, or at least one of them?

A memory of our recent holiday is the orange and blue bird of paradise flower in bloom at one end of the swimming pool. Its botanical name, strelitzia, strangely enough links this native of South Africa, to northern Germany. It is named in honour of Queen Charlotte Sophia (1744 - 1818), a daughter of the Duke of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, mother of 15 children and wife of King George III.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

snail, sunflowers, coins

On the white top of a pillar supporting the front gate of a house, I spot a tiny snail, about two centimeters from head to tail when fully extended beneath its little shell. It makes its way across the square expanse of plaster. Out of my pocket comes my camera. I put it into macro focus and take two photographs. "Hullo, Joe" says a voice, addressing me, I realize; " what are you doing? It is a friend. I tell her what I am doing. Together we marvel at this little creature. We are joined by an elderly gentleman, who seems to be anxious to enter the house. It is his house and, we amiably agree, his snail. I promise to send him a print.

In the still soggy vegetable garden, the bronze sun flowers have collapsed, and lean on one another like drunks. Some have fallen over, and the stems have twisted upwards so that the flowers can, somehow, face the sun as they are supposed to do.

There is an automatic machine in the supermarket, which counts and sorts coins. It is called Constar and is, I imagine, designed to help people, who hoard coins in piggy banks and the like. "Bring your jar, pour in your coins, get cash," a notice urges. My attention is drawn to it by a noise like a metallic waterfall. A man is standing in front of it. He is feeding it with money from the gaping pockets of his coat. It crashes and clatters with the contentment of an animal enjoying a good meal.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

rituals, egrets, soft edges

Among the early morning rituals on the beach - the walkers at the water's edge, the exercisers, which I watch from our balcony - is a man who drags a folding sunbed close to the sea, in the same spot every morning, and builds a little wall of wet sand round it.

As we take off from Barcelona Airport, between the runways, I see ponds and reeds. Poking among the weeds are the white forms of egrets.

Walking through the Grove, I notice how objects, trees, people, benches, flowers, have mellow shades, and soft and unassertive outlines in contrast with the bright colours, sharp edges and brilliant textures of the Mediterranean. The autumn air this afternoon is like a very fine gauze.

Friday, September 28, 2007

pirates, smiling, islands

In a Spanish history book I read of los piratas inglesas, in particular Drake and Hawkins - heroic mariners, in the English history books they gave us when I was at school. Specifically, the author refers to "... Drake, not only a pirate, but a destabilising factor in strategic areas of the Spanish economy." There, our books and theirs agree.The fate of the armada in 1588 was, not surprisingly, a "tragedy", rather than an English victory, as we were told. I expect that English school history books are, nowadays, less chauvinistic than they used to be.

I watch someone smiling a secret smile into the screen of a mobile phone. A smile not to be shared.

From the plane, the reflections of clouds look like an archipeligo, while between the shadow-islands, a real boat navigates, its wake behind it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

knitting, quiet, shovel

From a cafe table, I watch in the open window of a cool, dark room, a woman knitting shadows.

The fiesta of Santa Teckla (the patron saint of Sitges) is over for a year. The streets are quiet, the fireworks extinguished, the processions finished, the tin drums put away in cuboards and cellars. The huge figures of the King and Queen and their companions are returned to their places in the town hall. It was fun while it lasted. The quiet is fun too.

After the rain of two days ago the water which poured down the streets in torrents flowed under the road and the pavement of the promenade through a culvert on to the beach where it cut a deeper channel. So deep that a small lake was formed. Today a mechanical shovel arrives and restores the status quo. When it has finished, it advances to the edge of the sea, dips its scoop into the water, as though taking a drink, lifts some water and empties it. After repeating the process, the scoop is judged clean and the machine leaves the beach.

Monday, September 24, 2007

connected, cat, yoga

One of the many pleasures of this small hotel overlooking the sea is the lap top computer which sits on the reception desk for the use of guests. Yesterday, it was not working. Today it is, and I have the added pleasure of seeing that Lucy Kempton has added five more sets of photographs to our Compasses blog. I have not looked at them yet, and may postpone that pleasure until I get home, where I am more confident with the technology.

There are six old fashioned, wooden sunbeds with faded, striped mattresses beside the swimming pool. The swimming pool is small and shaded by palm trees and other discrete greenery. At this time of the year, the sun does not reach the pool, so we have it to ourselves, except, that is, for a thin, grey cat, which is stretched on one of the sun beds, as though it were pretending to be a sun-bathing human. It stares at us angry at our intrusion. Heidi addresses it gently but it gets up crossly and slinks away into the shrubbery.

From the balcony, early this morning, I watch a woman perform a yoga routine on a mat laid out on the clean sand. She moves slowly and every move is balanced and considered. She concludes the exercises by getting herself, by various stages, into a head-stand position, where she remains for at least minute, perfectly upright, straight, balanced.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

new word, Eros, dry

In Allen Bennett´s new short novel called The Uncommon Reader, the Queen, who in her later life suddenly developes an enthusiasm for reading, says to her page, whom she calls her amenuensis: "...I´ve discovered what I am. I am an opsimath." And what is an opsimath? One who learns only late in life. I think that, like the Queen, as depicted here, I am an opsimath. Any one who likes books and who, as I do, likes to laugh out loud from sheer pleasure, should read this book.

There is an hydraulically operated bollard, which sinks into the road to allow permitted vehicles to enter a resticted area at one end of the little bay.Vehicles are equipped with electronic devices which operate the bollard. As soon as a vehicle has passed, the bollard rises again. Some children have caught on to this. They take it in turns to jump on to the smooth top of the bollard as a car moves off, and get a free lift.into the air. One, cleverly stands on one foot, leans forward, spreads his arms and pretends to be Eros.

There is a sudden, intense downpour, and as often happens here, all the streets, which lead down to the sea through the town , become torrents and waterfalls. We see a man, who has removed his shoes, protecting himself with two umbrellas, one with a tartan pattern and one black.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Finishing, swallows, tail

Coming to the end of a book which I didn´t like, about omens and destiny and the "soul of the world. I did like its large print.

High above the swimming pool, swallows appear as small as the insects upon which they feed.

Inside a a fish and shellfish delivery van, some white plastic boxes. Out of one emerges just the tail of a big fish.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

maps,cleaning up, helmet

Patches of foam in the smooth water after a wave look like islands on a map.

From the balcony, in the early morning, I see on the beach three women performing oriental exercises. Their hands clenched together, their arms extended, they stretch forward, describe a circle reaching forward and bowing to the sea. The only other people on the beach are two uniformed employees of the Ajuntement de Sitges. They are wearing blue t shirts and blue baseball caps. One has an orange rake and the other a green one. They are methodically sweeping the tide mark of jetsam.

At the table next to us, outside the tapas bar, sits a couple facing each other. On the table is an almost spherical, shiny black safety helmet. In its convex mirror I see: myself, Heidi, the umbrella above our table, the umbrella above the couple´s table, a patch of sky with sun coming through light cloud, the hands of the man moving as he talks to his companion, and the woman, still and contemplative.