Wednesday, February 28, 2007

truth, pigeon, success

There is a debate on Radio 4's Today programme about the existence of God. Because there is so little time, arguments for and against seem equally ineffectual. The next day I wake with the thought: Truth comes in small packets, which are usually sent to different addresses.

Being no geek, I feel pleased with myself when I can help a technophobe. Today I persade and help one to download photographs on to his computer frim his new digital camera. To my surprise it works, and he as even more delighted than I am to see his photographs appear on the screen.

In the hall the shadows of leaves cast through the front door by the afternoon sun, dance longingly on the painting of a pigeon, which hangs there.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Glenn Gould, shop talk, coincidence

My most used disc is Glenn Gould playing J S Bach's Goldberg Variations. For a change today I listen to Gould's performance of Bach's partitas, which ring their way across the afternoon.

Last night I see a programme on the More 4 channel in which Harold Pinter discusses his plays with a group of actors as they rehearse extracts from them. He speaks with relaxed humour, perception and authority about the stage, playwriting and acting. It is always gripping to hear a creative artist talking about his work, particularly one as old and distiguished as Pinter.

I read a story in True Tales of American Life, about a young woman who is reading Great Expectations in a crowded restaurant in New York. She is joined at the table by a young man who says, as he sits down: "A tragic life for poor, dear Pip." They are immediately attracted to one one another. She writes her telephone number, but not her name, in the book and presents it to him. Soon after he leaves, (and fails to recover), his jacket with the book in its pocket, in the subway. He tries without success to trace her. She goes to Oxford to study English literature; he to Paris to study painting. She takes a short holiday in Paris and again finds herself in a crowded restaurant. She is again reading Great Expectations. A waiter asks if she would mind sharing the table. The same young man as before says: " A tragic life for poor, dear Pip, " as he sits down. The person telling the story is the daughter of the couple, who didn't repeat the mistake of their first meeting. Heidi reminds me that we recently saw a film of this story.
In the Mind charity shop in the High Street, a few mintues after reading the story, I find a book on synchronicity. I am not certain what the term means, and have to buy it to discover that it is a term invented by the pyschologist, Carl Jung to describe "meaningful coincidence". telephone you.

Monday, February 26, 2007

buds, cricket, silver

From the bedroom window, I can see that the tulip tree, although it is in the middle distance, is already in bud.

There is a sign post at the corner of Warwick Road, which points the way to Tunbridge Wells' Neville cricket ground. There are no words on the signpost, which relies entirely on graphics to do its job. The simple image consists of : three stumps, two bails and a ball. The ball is hitting a stump and one of the bails is in the air.

The vertical lines of silver birches seem to have a light of their own as they contast with the browns and greys of other trees and shrubs which climb the slopes of the Common

Sunday, February 25, 2007

blue, toreador, breathing

A grey, monotonous sky is broken by a tattered hole. Blue shows through it for a moment, but it quickly closes.

In Sainsbury's a short, round man, walks slowly past me as I wait on the far side of the checkout. He wears a dark blue cap and a light blue shirt bearing the company logo. He is carrying two transparent boxes of fruit salad. He is whistling the theme of the toreador's song from Bizet's Carmen.

I put my head out of the front door and breathe the late afternoon air. It smells of rain and wet vegetation. In the distance I hear the contented cooing of doves.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

hot, bee, pirate

In the Farmers' Market is a stall with different chili sauces to sample. They range from mild and sweet to hot. At the hot end, is one marked "hot beware", and next to it, right at the end, is another labeled "beware hot". I assume the last one is king of the hots. I take a nip of it on the strip of tortilla provided. Six hours later, I can still taste it.

To my collection of unseasonable creatures this winter I must, this February day, add bumble bee. It explores a front garden as I pass.

Through the window of a cafe, I catch sight of a man with a scarf wrapped round his head. One end of the scarf hangs behind his neck like a pigtail; it is tied in such a way as to show the round shape of the top of his skull. He is seated at a table and, with a knife and fork, tucks in to something on a plate. He has a pointed black beard. In my fleeting glance, I do not see an earing, but there must be one, I think, for he is the picture of a pirate..

Friday, February 23, 2007

cherry, violets, beaks and buds

A flowering cherry enlivens a day of damp and drab weather.

An uncared-for front garden boasts, among weeds and junk, a generous cluster of violets.

It is tempting to apply the adjective "intelligent" to the beaks of birds. They possess a potency of their own, a capacity to unravel problems. In a different way, I am tempted, to day, to see "intelligence" in the green, pointed buds of daffodils, as they probe the air, testing it for Spring.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Drips, by, kind driver

I walk in the sun after rain. Everything is dripping: the branches of trees, gutters, eves, shrubs; the rain water gurgles into drains and you can hear it flowing above and below ground.

People have way of ending telephone calls with a note of satisfaction or relief. Thank God, that's over! " 'By", they say, but it isn't really " by"; it's "by-e". Air is expelled from the lungs.The final e, not quite an extra syllable, is just a little more than a full stop.

I do not often go to London these days. When I do, I still miss the old Routemaster buses. You could join them at traffic lights or in traffic jams by leaping on to the open platform at the back. Now, if you don't reach a bus stop in time, you can have to wait for the next one, even if if the bus you have just missed stops a few yard further on. This happened yesterday, but the driver, opened the doors to let us on, even though he was waiting at a red light. Such little acts of kindness do not go unnoticed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

hidden railway, elastic bands, cafe noises

I have always known that the main line London to Hastings railway passes near our house. But it is easy to forget, because it runs in a tunnel, deep under the little park called the Grove, and emerges on the other side in a deep cutting. You can look down on the railway if you take the un-made road that leads off the top of Mount Sion, opposite the entrance to the Grove. On one side are the back gardens of some old houses in Claremont Road, and on the other several houses perched on top of the cutting, with sloping gardens and the track some way below them. Today, on a short stroll, we remind ourselves of the railway's existence, and it still comes as surprise that it should be there, only two or three hundred meters from our front door.

Are we alone in these parts in having postmen who shed elastic bands? You see the bands, usually in pairs, discarded on the pavments, as the posties separate the packets of sorted letters before delivery. It is one of those features of everyday life, which we take for granted and could one day even become nostalgic about.

The sound of bacon and egg frying in my favorite cafe and the hiss of the steaming water-boiler.
A young man comes in and orders "an all-day breakfast" plus an extra egg and an extra sausage. He sits himself at one of the tables and contemplates his mobile phone, and then, as an afterthought, adds hash browns to his order.

Monday, February 19, 2007

view to go, companions, orchestra

The lower end of Tunbridge Wells High Street, bends at a right angle, before meeting the London Road. Opposite the intersection is the site of a disused petrol station backing on to the common. The site has now been boarded up, and there are signs of imminent bulding work. As I look at the view of bare trees climbing the slope of the common above the site, I realise that soon the view will no longer exist; it will be difficult, as so often happens when new buildings are put up or old ones knocked down, even to imagine what was there or not there before. I'll enjoy it while I can.

As I walk down Mount Pleasant, I see a thick set, black mastiff negotiate pedestrians with a confident trot It seems, surprisingly, to be on its own, and it is a minute or two before I see, at some distance from the dog, a middle-aged man in an ankle-length, leather overcoat. The two, I think, can only belong together. And it is pleasing to note a minute later that in fact they do.

Yet again I find myself bemused by the sound, which the starlings make as they gather in the Grove. They sound like an orchestra tuning up before a performance, but somehow more deliberate and more practiced. I think that, if I were a composer, I would begin a symphony with chords based on their fluting and whistling.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Samuel Palmer, groups, the papers

One of a series of posters of British art treasures issued by the Independent newspaper is a reproduction of Early Morning painted by Samuel Palmer in 1825. He lived in Shoreham in Kent, not far from Sevenoaks, and the picture shows a path through a wood near the village. The picture is almost entirely composed of glowing browns and sepias with clinging black shades. Leaves, grasses and other plants are picked out in minute detail. An oak tree with a heavy, solid trunk spreads its branches like an umbrella. A rabbit lopes in the foreground, a small group of people in the centre of the picture, labourers perhaps, appear at the edge of the corn field. The more you look at it, the more you see, and the more you see, the more you wonder.

Grand daughter Giselle explains the various groups in her London school. She is, she says, an indie (independent) as distinct from a chav, an emo, a goth or a bimbo, each of which she defines with the precision of a sociologist.

One of the things I most enjoy in my daily routine is having the newspapers, mostly full of bad news and irrational opinion, behind me, so that I can indulge myself in the sudoku.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

coal tit, continental, Bald Primadonna

For some years I have heard but not identified a bird call while working in the vegetable garden. It is a repetative ringing, two-tone sound, crystal clear. This afternoon in the Grove, I hear it again high up in an oak tree. A tit of some sort, as I suspected. But which member of that vocal family? Now thanks to a CD and accompanying book which I was given for Christmas, I pin it down. It's a coal tit, Parus ater. I can still hear it, chiming, in my head.

In the Pantiles the Farmers Market is on and their are people, some of them in shirt sleeves, enjoying the sunshine. A man approaches some friends at a table. "All very continental!" he says.

In the paper today, I note that it is the sixtieth anniversary of the world's longest running play La Cantatrice Chauve, The Bald Primadonna, by Eugene Ionesco. It has been playing at the Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris since 1957. I enjoyed reading this surreal play a couple of years ago. For most of the action, the central characters - an English couple, who inhabit a suburban house - converse in the language of a phrase book, which is their basic means of communication. Hence the opening lines of the play, which I translate:
Madame Smith: Goodness, it is nine o'clock. We have eaten soup, fish, potatoes with bacon, English salad. The children have drunk English water. We have eaten well this evening. It is because we live in the suburbs of London and our name is Smith.

Friday, February 16, 2007

long brush, stories, white among grey

A window cleaning firm has an intriguing extending arm, which reaches windows 45 ft above ground level. I pass one today in operation. Attached to the light, extending arm is a hose. This feeds a brush similar to those used for washing cars. The combination of arm, hose and brush must be exceptionally light, because one man can operate it, fully, extended without apparent difficulty.

A year or so ago I bought a paperback from the Oxfam Bookshop called True Tales of American Life. I forgot about it until today, and now I cannot put it down. It is based on something called the National Story Project, in which members of the public were invited to submit true stories about themselves. The stories were read on a radio show called Weekend All Things Considered. The book is a collection of the stories edited and introduced by the novelist Paul Auster, who was involved in selecting them for the programme and reading them on air. The stories are short, on average about 500 words, some even shorter. They have been edited skilfully so as to leave a taste of their original language, but, as they are presented by a man who is a brilliant stylist, they flow like a clear stream. In fact you forget the form and are drawn immediately into the humour, sadness and joy of the narratives. They are written by people of all ages and from all walks of life. They seem to me to say more about American life than a roomful of sociologists, economists or historians.

As you walk down the steep roads, which lead to the High Street, you often see flocks of pigeons wheeling against the tree-clad slopes of the Common opposite you. Today, I spot a white pigeon in the middle of a flock of grey ones, glinting against the mass of bare branches.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

glitter, moment, Everyman

Shiny, evergreen cherry laurel leaves in the middle distance behind the tulip tree sway and glitter in the morning sun helped by a light breeze.

A moment captured, just below the Grove. A magpie clucks noisily in a holly tree. A black cat sits on the fence beneath the tree. It is curious about the bird. Probably the bird is alarmed by the cat. The cat's green eyes catch the sun.

Everyman Books, since their new design came out about 20 years ago, are the most comfortable way to read classic authors I can think of. Today, I spot a series called Everyman Pocket Poets. They are delight to handle and to read, and they do fit comfortably into the pocket. On an impulse I buy an anthology of Indian Love Poems and another anthology called The Dance

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

shadows, Valentine, legs

In the shadows under a holly bush a blackbird hops and looks at me but does not fly away.

Two girls cross the park with red heart shaped gas balloons. A tall, tough looking man in jeans and a black jacket strides in the opposite direction , in one hand the strings of a mauve, paper bag contain an arrangement of bright red and orange flowers.

A leg-less woman rises from the floor in a window display in Hoopers department store. She wears a blouse and a cardigan. In front of her, wrapped in a length of cloth, are her legs. A male manekin stares in front of him unconcerned

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

English French, not heard, cabbage

Drifting through the French dictionary I note that there is a French word, le five o'clock for afternoon tea. Another, le brain trust, means brains trust.

The Thought for the Day slot on BBC 4's Today Programme is usually a home for cliches but I enjoy hearing the Bishop Southwark, Tom Butler, refer, this morning, to the importance of silence , and to the significance of what isn't said.

Cabbage heart, chopped and gently softened with some butter in a pan. A glass of dry, white wine is added and reduced, as the cabbage continues to cook. Lastly, cream is added. The cabbage and cream are then allowed to go on cooking slowly, until the wine and cream reduce to make a flavoursome sauce. The cabbage should retain, as much as possible, its original, creamy white, faintly green colour. Season with salt and pepper. The whole operation should take no more than 5 or 6 minutes.

Monday, February 12, 2007

meerkat, bike in a bag, slicing beef

The alert expression of a meerkat on the look out for danger in the current BBC2 television series is so endearing because it is strangely close to the way human beings look in similar circumstances.

A motor bike wrapped in plastic sheeting outside the entrance to the Grove looks like an ungainly animal.

Nowhere better than supermakets to spot the way marketing men play around with the English language in order to redefine standard produce. "Beefsteak tomatoes" have been with us for long enough for the term no longer to be surprising. Now I note, with amusement rather than irritation, a tomato described as "Slicing beef".

Sunday, February 11, 2007

sparrow visitor, barramundi, hellebore

A telephone wire, a meter or so from the bedroom window, is usually free of visitors. This morning, a sparrow alights there and stays for a moment or two. I do not imagine for a moment that -a sort of avian twitcher - it is looking in at me, but it is a pleasing thought.

In Sainsbury's on the fish counter is a fish that I have not seen there before. It is the barramundi. But no ordinary barramundi - a popular fish in Australia, where it swims wild in lakes in Queensland, and where it is also farmed. The fish in Sainsbury's is described as a New Forest barramundi. The New Forest in Hampshire is known for its ponies, its wild mushrooms, once presumably in the time of the Norman Kings, for its venison (William II was killed there deliberately or accidently by an arrow, while hunting deer); but, until now, not for its barramundi.

There is something satisfyingly modest and restrained about green flowers. Several varieties of hellebore are green. I stop in front of one in a front garden, and photograph it, using the macro lens.Then home to read about it. The plants are very poisonous. The stinking hellebore, H foetidus, was, I learn, used to "cure coughs and wheezing in horses, or for humans as a drastic emetic, according to Gerard for 'mad and furious men'".

Saturday, February 10, 2007

contrast, ahh, red mullet

Sun after a cold damp morning. Everything gleams.

Being able to sit down and stand up with out excruciating pain. The lumbago lasted three days and I am not sorry, pun not intended, to see the back of it.

A dish of red mullet with a Thai stir fry, at the bar restaurant in the Pantiles called Ragged Trouser.

Friday, February 09, 2007

sweet and hot, branches, Mr Crow's morning

Sweet and sour is a familiar flavour combination. Less familiar is sweet and hot. I enjoy salads just now made with chilli pepper and a little sugar, plus oil of one kind or another. Cucumbers, red peppers, cherry tomatoes and carrots are well suited to such a sauce. Chopped coriander leaves add to the spiciness. A useful hot flavour comes from the preserved chillies marketed under the name Pepperdew.

Seen through the open slats of the blind, the pattern of upward-pointing branches resemble books lined up on a shelf.

In the early morning, sparrows twitter in the eves; in the distance Mr Crow says: "I'm here... I'm here!"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow, finishing a long book, haiku

You know that it has snowed overnight because of the quality of the light coming through the shutters in the early morning, and the unusual hush in the street.

I reach the end at last of Perez Galdos' Fortunata and Jacinta, not the most gripping of novels, and surely one of the worst constructed. The two women in the title are the mistress and the wife of the central character, in whom you begin to be interested, only to find him discarded by the author half way through the book. If it does give a picture of Madrid at the end of the 19th Century, it is not one that suggests that it is inhabited by very interesting people. There is pleasure only some of the humour, in having persisted to the end, and knowing that you don't have to read it again.

The best account of haiku which I know and which also seems to me to be an excellent anthology, The Classic Tradition of Haiku. It has the merit of spelling out phonetically in Latin characters the 17 syllables of the original Japanese. So that if the same number of syllables (essential to true haiku) do not always surface in the translation, you still get the form of the original. The book is edited by Faubion Bowers. The haiku form has always seemed to me to be well suited to the English language. In his introduction Bowers demonstrates this when quoting the English poet James Kirkup, who sets out to provide a model and a definition:
Haiku should be just
small stones dropping down a well
with a small splash.
The book is published by the American publisher Dover Publications Inc, Dover Thrift Editions. I can't recommend it enough.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

vixen, long embrace, falafel

At this time of year, you sometimes hear, as I did last night, a vixen in the road outside our house, or in one of the gardens opposite. It is an eerie, screaming sound - "a woman wailing for her demon lover" or a wandering ghost; but I like it for the breath of wildness, which it brings to our comfortable lives.

In today's paper, I read an account of some skeletons buried between 5000 - 6000 years ago,and found during a dig near Mantova in Northern Italy. The skeletons are of a young man and woman, who were buried and are shown in a photo, hugging one another. We'll probably never know the story behind this long embrace?

At lunch today, our neighbour serves falafel made from green peas and corriander instead of the usual dried beans or chick peas used in this Middle Eastern street food.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Feta cheese, Bob Newhart, sharpening stone

Olives stuffed with feta cheese: a Mediterranean double whammy.

I listen to some Bob Newhart monologues. That deadpan, slightly surprised American voice and his genius for understatement and throw-away line make me laugh as often as I hear him. The Driving Instructor, Rocket Scientist, Defusing a Bomb, or Merchandising the Wright Brothers, I don't know which is my favourite.

A pair of garden/kitchen scissors has become blunt. I find the little carborundum stone which I keep in my desk drawer, and grind away. I don't think it has helped, but there is satisfaction to be had in fining a blade.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Yorkshire pudding, blackbird, periwinkle

I see, through the glass door of the oven, a straw-coloured Yorkshire pudding rise in airy mountains.

This morning, a blackbird sings as it gets light outside the window. It is the first I have heard this year.

In the shrubbery known locally as the Village Green, some periwinkles are in flower. I apply the macro-focus of my camera on to one the blooms with its five blue petals, and suddenly it seems more important.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

sunflower, game, collared doves

A beaming elderly lady hums through the Pantiles farmers' market in the bright sunshine. Attached to the front of her basket is a big, plastic sunflower.

Two little girls hide behind the sheeting in front of their mother's jam stall in the market . Two terriers of the bull terrier type make friends with them, but cannot see the joke, as the girls are overcome by an attack of the giggles.

A pair of collared doves now appear regularly in the Grove. They are distinguishable by a half collar at the back of the neck. They are a soft grey colour, and of the delicate shape that one supposes separates doves from pigeons.

Friday, February 02, 2007

pretty cops, oysters, keyboard

We pass a good looking young man and woman, chatting and laughing as they walk by. They greet us cheerfully. They are wearing community police uniforms.

I buy some oysters from the fishmonger, who calls every Friday in his white van. Last time I tried to open oysters, it was a struggle, and as a result I bought a specialised oyster knife. That was several years ago, and until today I have not used it. It was something of a triumph then to succeed, not without a little difficulty at first, in finding the tricky little muscle at one end of the mollusc, and leavering the two sides of the shell apart. A bottle of Chablis saved for such an occasion enhances what is already a treat.

In a skip, I spot a cardboard box with one of those Yamaha electronic keyboards inside. Someone has written on the box: "Please take me. I do work." I don't take advantage of the offer, but hope that someone with a taste for such things is as nosey as I am.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

February butterfly, shadow, Sarcococca

Again, a brown butterly flutters above me at first floor level, this time in Mount Sion. Like the last butterfly I saw a few days ago, it seems to be in a hurry.

My long shadow goes ahead of me on a path in the Grove.

There is a shrub, about four feet high, which I pass every day. It has small white flowers in loose clusters and dark pointed leaves. I note it because of its extraordinary perfume, which greets you long before you spot where it comes from. I have tracked down its name. It is called Sarcococca and though it is, like the English Box a member of the Buxaceae family, it is a native of the Himalayas. As I type, I can smell the tiny sprig, which I picked for identification purposes, and which consists of only one cluster of flowers just a centimetre across.

tree towers