Monday, April 30, 2007

parrot tulips, old walk, litter

This morning, a sunbeam , on a vase of parrot tulips, spotlights just one of the lacy red and green flowers .

From the train, I see the top of a slope where I used to walk through a wood above the Darenth valley. It is now the route of a two-lane carriageway.

Litter on the door mat? Not litter, wisteria petals.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

bells, wisteria, ferns

The sound of church bells, not so often heard nowadays, drifts across the town.

This morning, through the glass panel of the front door, I am greeted by trails of wisteria.

A fern appears, its new fronds curled like green springs.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

soloman's seal, street scene, large coffee

From the downstairs window this morning, I wonder at the drooping green and white bells of soloman's seal polygonatum. The leafy stems have have shot up quickly this year. Or perhaps so much else has been going on that I haven't noticed them. Solomon's seal again at the farmers market, and along side it, though in no way related, dicentra, whose pink and white blooms, different in structure, also hang from long stems, like bells. Its common name is bleeding heart.

In the centre of the town, a bearded man is manoeuvring a large street cleaner, with rotating brushes behind and two headlamps in front. It sweeps and sucks up cigarette ends and other litter. Above the pedestrian way, formerly the beginning of Calverley Road, a banner announces a £75.00 fine for anybody discarding litter on the street including chewing gum. At the entrance to Calverley Road, two men in yellow gilets stand around. Their badges proclaim them to be "street scene enforcement officers".

Outside Costa, Heidi brings me the biggest cup of coffee I have ever seen. "That's a large one," she says. It is like those big mugs you sometimes see in France or Belgium for cafe au lait, except that this one has two handles like ears, very comforting.

Friday, April 27, 2007

earthworms, Lord Bute, new leaves

While I am preparing the soil for sowing seed, a female black bird gathers earthworms, fillets them tidily, and makes a bundle of the fillets in her beak.

Last year a pelargonium called Lord Bute, which I had in a pot, barely flowered and when it did, I managed to break off the flowering stems, by clumsy watering. I trimmed it back and wintered it in the greenhouse, where it seems to have flourished. Today, I bring it back to the garden where, although a little leggy, it is showing off more dark crimson and carmine blooms than I would ever have thought possible.

A gentle breeze stirs the new, fresh green leaves on the lime tree, which, for the first time this season, make a hushing sound; "shush, shush.."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

watering trees, poppies, raindrops

Yesterday in the Grove, gardeners pump water from a tank into strips of hose, which have been sunk into the earth at the foot of saplings planted a couple of years ago. They turn the earth over with a fork to eliminate competition from weeds.

Small orange poppies pop up at random in the vegetable garden, their petals the colour of barley sugar.

This morning raindrops on the leaves outside the window. The first for two or three weeks. I think with pleasure of the seedlings and newly sown seeds in the vegetable garden, which I have been watering for the last week or so in the absence of rain.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

up-to-date, near enough, hazel down

"This is the time. This is contacts. This is you." A woman explains her mobile telephone to her mother. "Much more up-to-date than mine," says the mother.

Scientists, I read, have discovered a planet, not much bigger than Earth, covered in oceans, and only 20.5 million light years away.

At this time of year hazel down floats on the wind like swarms of pale insects. They form little piles and drifts. On a cobweb, the combination of silver threads and white down looks like the milky way.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

moon, llamas, wall

A dandelion clock is one way of describing the pale sphere of the full moon in broad daylight.

From the train window, you can see on the left between Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, a field of llamas.

A big panel swings from a crane high above a building site. One day someone will lean against the wall, which is not yet in place, or stick a photo or a poster on it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

fritillaries, banknotes, charlock

Snake's head fritillaries grow in a shady flowerbed. The pale buds hang forward modestly as though not aware of the striking, spotted flowers they will become.

In the bank, the rustle of bank notes drowns the rustle of spring.

Two charlock or wild mustard plants grow in the corner of a wall and adoining pavement. It is a plant you usually think of in hedgerows and fields. Its yellow flowers look lost and dejected.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

food novel, tidying, balloon

I have just finished Emile Zola's novel Le Ventre de Paris. I read it slowly and with great enjoyment. It is the story of Florent, a political convict who has escaped from Devil's Island and returned to Paris soon after the completion of the Les Halles food market, in the 1860s. He takes refuge in the house of his brother, who is a charcutier and his sister-in-law, la belle Lisa. The story takes us through Florent's return to political activity and the growing clash of temperament and personality with the well fed and contented stall holders and tradesmen in the market. It tracks the growing hostility of Lisa ,who sees her livelihood and comfortable existence threatened by the presence her brother-in-law. Typical of a number of set pieces, where the descriptions of the market and its attendant trades are skillfully woven into the plot, is one, where Florent describes his escape with a friend. The scene is the kitchen of the charcuterie. His brother and assistants are making black pudding. His niece, a girl of nine is sitting on his knee by the fire and asks him to tell her the story of "the man who gets eaten by wild animals". Lisa is sewing. It is Florent's friend who was eaten by wild animals. But he tells the whole story, where he himself nearly dies of starvation, in the third person. It is hard to know which is more gruesome - the story of his ordeal in the jungle or the preparation of the boudin. As he tells the story, jugs of pigs blood are brought into the kitchen and onions are fried in giants saucepans on the stove; the blood is stirred into the onions, and the sausage mixture stuffed into pigs' intestines and curled up like a hose for further cooking. The contrast between the tall, emaciated and essentially gentle Florent and his plump audience is at the heart of the book.

I tidy up in the garden, cut back excesses amid burgeoning plants, and savour the smell of sap released in the sunshine.

As I sit in the garden with a cup of tea, a red balloon sails overhead. Its retaining string waives loose like a tail. It seems to know where it is going.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lion, lily-of-the-valley, peeling

Half way up a gravel drive which I pass on my way down Mount Sion, I spot a lion lurking in some shrubs. It is a black, porcelain line from Indonesia, almost life-size, but all the better and, paradoxically, more realistic for being stylized.

Lily-of-the-valley unfurling.

Today, while peeling half a pomegranate I take a step forward in this imprecise art. I had left the fruit in the fridge over night. To my surprise, this morning, the skin came away more easily than usual from the pods of seeds. And most pleasing of all, the juice did not spurt all over the place.

Friday, April 20, 2007

gull steals car, Bulgarians, cats

A fat, sleek herring gull occupies the roof of a car, one of a line of cars parked in the High Street of St Leonards. It walks to and fro brushing, from time to time, against the aerial, which is fixed to the roof above the windscreen. It seems to have assumed ownership of the vehicle. It doesn't seem disturbed by on-lookers but appears rather to enjoy showing of its new possession.

Bulgaria seems a long way from Tunbridge Wells and Tunbridge Wells from Bulgaria, so I like the notice outside a newsagent's window, which simply asks: "Are there any Bulgarians in Tunbridge Wells? "

Cats have the capacity to stay still for a long time, without becoming bored or restless. It must be part of the instinct to lie in wait for prey. I see a cat sitting absolutely still in the window of a house. I mistake it, at first, for a china cat.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

bluebells, garden, seagulls

Bluebells need shade, which is why, for the most part, they grow in woods. But sometimes you see them round the bowl of a single tree, where they survive like blue shadows.

From the train train window the countryside looks to me like a garden. Hawthorn, also known as May, because of the month in which it usually flowers, is already draping the hedgerows with white. Despite the speed of the train, I identify: primroses, wood anemones, ramsons or wild garlic, stitch wort, gorse and of course bluebells in the woods.

I watch seagulls glide into the wind above the front in Hastings. They ride into the wind overhead, until they almost come to a halt, before wheeling and swooping away. As I watch the gulls, I see, through the glass door of the restaurant outside which we are sitting, a gull of a pale milky colour, almost ghost-like. It is the reflection of a gull in the glass, a strange contrast, but one which for confused me for a few seconds.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

bouquet, down, raptor And photos

Trunk line

In the a crack between two paving stones in a neighbouring front garden, presented as a bouqet: a group of bluebells, a dandelion flower and a dandelion clock.

Down from hazel and other trees begins to float on the wind abovethe vegetable garden.

As I sit outside looking up at the afternoon sky, I see what must be a raptor - a sparrow hawk perhaps - circling, without once moving its wings, on a thermal, high above the edge of the town. It disappears. A few minutes later, I see it again patroling the same patch of sky. I go indoors to fetch my field glasses, but it seems to have gone for good.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

flowering cherry, less, changing language

Half way up the hill, a massive flowering cherry spreads its white clouds of blossom and disperses its amazing scent.

Can I help you? I doubt it. I doubt it.
Is there anything, in particular you were looking for?
There was, but I have forgotten what;
A troubling need lurked, but is no more.
You are fortunate then, and richer for having less.

In an office I overhear: '"How are you? " "Good, thank you!"'

Monday, April 16, 2007

fine weather voices, blooms, water

An exchange of voices in Mount Sion drifts through the hedge to where I sit in our little garden on this warm and peaceful day: " ...Fine. You alright? Beautiful!"

Suddenly, their scent,
Heavy blooms; their sharp shadows
On the white-washed wall.

Water sprays out and drums where it falls from the rose of my watering can.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

sun-down poem, policeman, ranunculus

As a result of quoting a poem here, which I thought I was alone in knowing and liking, someone who apparently shares my taste for it, has been in touch. This is a good example of the pleasures of the Internet and of blogging. Sam Thurston writes: "I have loved that poem (I heard a noise and wished for a sight) for over 40 years ever since I read it in the same volume you did when I was 21." His full comment and the poem, as quoted, are in my archive for Sunday April 1. (See column on right).Thank you Sam for getting in touch.

In the Pantiles, a community policeman passes the time of day with the owner of a cafe. They are a new breed, these police community support officers. He has a , pedal bike with a yellow saddle bag and the inscription "police" printed on it in black letters. He seems well equipped for the job. He wears a ridged, grey crash helmet and a yellow, sleeveless jacket. There are pockets and pouches everywhere, a telephone on his shoulder, a dynamo and powerful light on his bike. Without all this paraphernalia, you would barely notice him, a middle aged man in spectacles merging in with the crowd.

A friend brings a couple of ranunculus flowers , one bright yellow and one bright red. Their tight balls of petals seem far removed from the simple and often invasive buttercup, which is the familiar wild flower at the heart of the Ranunculacae family. Only the toothed leaves remind you of the connection.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

early thistle, wooden tulips, raising hats

The early stages of a giant thistle: I look down on and see its leaves spread out on the gravel, from which it is growing, like a green star.

In Grosvenor Road precinct, someone is selling painted wooden tulips. I do like them. But I prefer them to other artificial flowers made from silk or plastic. There is no pretence about them; they do not pretend to be tulips.

When I was a child I was taught to raise my hat to grown-ups. So, at the least encounter, off came my black and white school cap . Later, when the fashion for wearing hats had begun to fade, I still raised my hat in greeting, on the rare occasions when I wore one, whether a trilby, a bowler or something floppy in tweed. I still have the hat-raising instinct but hardly ever wear the sort of hats, which are made for raising, and there are fewer people around who would understand the greeting. Today, I see, in the distance, some oldie friends of the hat-raising culture. I think: they are too far away for a verbal greeting, so it would be ideal to raise my hat and wave it in a courteous way. But I realize that I am wearing a base-ball cap, and reflect that this is not the sort of garment that you would be expected to raise. The same goes for the beret basque, which I also wear. I reflect that these, like hats which are part of a uniform, were never intended for raising.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Blot drawing, paper chickens, surprise flowering

The English artist, Alexander Cozens (1717-86) had the idea, which is nowadays quite commonplace as an exercise for art students - to make a picture from a blot of ink, and to draw shapes over and around it. These, he found, can produce accidental forms and fresh and original images, particularly of landscapes. He wrote a book on his idea called A New Method if Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape. I knew nothing of Cozens until today when I read an article by Tom Lubbock in the Independent. The article describes just one picture by Cozens, not a landscape, but two tigers, which have been drawn from and out of a couple of fairly shapeless "blots". The picture is in Tate Britain. This sort of thing has always appealed to me. I like making drawings based on the sepia stains left by mugs of tea, and sometimes deliberately leave a mug on a sheet of paper with a drawing or doodle in mind.. But there has to be an element of chance in the exercise.

In the fashion shop called Jigsaw in Mount Pleasant, there is a window display of chickens made from wire and covered in sheets of newspaper moulded round the wire frames. The chickens are placed on an around packs of newspapers intended for recycling with the string still round them. If you look closely you can read the text.

Last year I bought at the WI Market a plant called Epimedium because I liked its variegated red and green leaves. This Spring it has spread and surprised me with pretty, pale yellow, four petalled flowers, on branched inflorescences, in surprising profusion. It has clearly found a habitat which it likes.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

dandelion clocks, jogger, through the hedge

In an unkempt garden, are three perfect dandelion clocks. Their brown seed cores, show faintly through the silver balls formed of closely packed, translucent wings waiting for release. They shine like pale moons.

A panting jogger slows to a halt and walks on panting heavily. I am glad that I do not jog.

Through our hedge, while sitting in our garden, you can see people passing, better than they can see you. Invariably, though detail is hidden, you can recognise people you know, as they pass, by their gait, their pace, their posture and the way they dress. Sometimes we call out to them. Sometimes not.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

alarm, defeated by bluebells, fleurs de mai

As I go outside yesterday evening to bring in the cushions from the garden, I see a blackbird scurry under some shrubs. As I get closer, he takes off, making his rapid, high pitched, alarm call. "Sorry", I say.

For some years I have tried to eradicate bluebells from the flowerbeds in our little garden. There is so little space. But the bluebells persist. I have now decided to leave them alone and look forward to their flowering, wherever and whenever they choose. They were selling bluebell plants at the WI market last week. "They're "English" said the lady behind the stall. Ours are English too. I suspect that there were bluebells here, before our house was built in the 1890s. Spanish bluebells apparently hang their blooms on both sides of the stem, exhbiting an unbecoming lack of modesty and understatement.

In the biography of Paul Verlaine by Harold Nicholson, which I found the other day in Hall's bookshop, emerges a strange fact. Verlaine, while still at school, found a tattered copy of Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Beaudelaire, abandoned in the schoolroom. He read it avidly without understanding much of it, although he was later to come under its influence. Apparently, he was to be under the impression for several years, because of its condition, that the book was called Les Fleurs de mai. I check the publication date of Les Fleurs du Mal, and find it to be 1857. Verlaine must have read his worn copy in 1862 or '63. In 1864 the author, publisher and printer were prosecuted for impropriety.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

ladder, catkins, Just William

Through today's post came a notice for an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by the Catalan artist, Artur Duch, who is a friend of ours. I have always been particularly fond of his sculptures, small "table top" works for the most part, worked from iron . On the front of the fly sheet is a woman sitting on top of a ladder leaning forward her feet on the penultimate rung, her hair flying out behind. The ladder is at a slight angle and leaning against nothing, fantasy and reality nicely balanced. It is 222cm high. The exhibition is at the Roglan gallery in Barcelona, until May 13.

Silver birch catkins hang from delicate branches. They are green with small, reddish brown spots, and look like caterpillars.

On Radio 4 this afternoon is an installment of William Strikes Again by Richmal Compton. I first came across William books when, aged seven, I found them in my school library. They have never lost their freshness and gentle subversiveness, for me and, presumably, for many others because the William stories, brilliantly read by Martin Jarvis, are still heard regularly on the radio. Will William and his friends escape the fate "worse than a thousand deaths" of attending the ghastly Violet Elizabeth Bott's birthday party? We'll have to wait until tomorrow to fin out.

Monday, April 09, 2007

unplanned flowers, new leaves, picnics

In the garden, unplanned, self-seeded violets and forget-me-nots appear.

The new leaves of horse-chestnut unfold in various stages of a slow explosion. At first the little leaves hang down like spaniels' ears. In more advanced trees, they stand up framing the embryo flower or "candle", still in close bud.

The Grove, this bank holiday monday, is full of people. Children and their parents are, as usual attending to the swings, see-saws and slides. Meanwhile, groups form circles of various sizes on the grass, talking. Some people lean back or lie on their backs or on their sides. The look like petals of large, ungainly flowers.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

cashew nuts, sunday sounds, shallots

It's good for a change to find an Indian restaurant with a menu quite different from the standard fare of curries and tandoori grills. A small group of restaurants, one of which is in Tunbridge Wells, specialises, instead, in the food of Kerala in southern India. On the menu are various savoury pancakes and breads. Something I had never tried before was cashew nuts fried in a spicey batter.

A fine Easter Sunday, and the sounds are different. Footsteps are more leisurely. Voices are slower and more relaxed. There is cheerfulness and occasional laughter in the air.

Shallots peeled and caramelized slowly in a saucepan, until they are soft and golden brown.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

goings-on, barrage balloons, feather

With the lime tree not yet in leaf, I see some goings-on in the branches this fine afternoon, which would normally be hidden. A female starling sits on a bough making fluting noises. It is unusual to see a starling on its own; and I reflect on the decline in starling numbers, which I have read about in the papers. In a while, she is joined by a male, who, to her apparent displeasure, sets about trying to increase the starling population with her help. She is not keen to cooperate and flies off with her swain in pursuit.

In his autobiography An Interesting Life, which I am reading at the moment, the historian, Eric Hobbawm remembers (as I do) war time London with "barrage balloons tethered like herds of silver cows in the sky".

I watch a feather in the wind climb the sky, attracted by feathery clouds.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Spring, cheeping, tomatoes sprout

A collection of quotations on the subject of Spring form an eight page section of today's Independent newspaper. Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Wordsworth, T S Eliot, all the expected lines are there. But there are some, to me, new ones. I like especially Rainer Maria Rilke's
"Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems".
And to escape sentimentality, Dorothy Parker's:
"Every year back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants."

In the hedge sparrows go cheep, cheep, cheep all afternoon. It is the noise which books tell very small children that birds make. And these birds are living up to their reputation.

The tomato seeds, which I sowed in the greenhouse just over a week ago, are already seedlings.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

pansies, shedding, waving

It had not occurred to me that the English word"pansy", referring to the flower of the viola family, is derived from the French word penseƩ, as in Pascal's PenseƩs. So at any rate the Oxford Dictionary maintains.

When my children were young, I used to read them a story about the north wind that boasted that it could blow so hard and with such strength that it could remove the stoutest garments from peoples' backs. The sun smiled to itself but said nothing. The wind blew and blew, but all people did was to pull their coats more tightly around them. The sun, still smiling, shone with all its warmth, and one by one, people removed their coats and undid their buttons. It is like that today, as the cold, windy, morning gives way to a still, warm afternoon.

Somebody waves to me from a passing car. I do not recognise him because it is often difficult to identify a passing car-driver when you are outside on the pavement. But I wave back, because it is always good to be greeted, and to greet.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

discovery, three little policemen, matched

I visit with special pleasure a website called , where Lucy Kempton has illustrated one of my poems with some photographs, which she took in New Zealand. The photographs are beautiful and mysterious in a way, which perfectly complements the theme of the poem. Her blog is called It's worth visiting.

In the Grove I spot three community policemen strolling side by side. They all seem to be the same height, not very tall, I would say. Suddenly the title of a comic sketch, as yet unwritten, comes into my mind - The Three Little Policemen. Their gait is jolly and light-hearted, and I think they might at any moment, begin to dance. It's all the more apt, when I realize that one of the little policmen is in fact a little policewoman.

Fifteen years ago today I went to a party. I was a widower, who was happily resigned to remaining single. And match-making was in the air. So I was an unwilling guest. Hence my reluctance to accept the invitation. The first person I saw on entering the room was, I correctly guessed, the person intended for me. She, aware of what was going on too, and, an equally reluctant match, resolutely kept her back to me. The following Wednesday we went to a pub together. She came back for a meal, and, I'm happy to say, has stayed put ever since.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

word on the mind, modest beginning, surprise

For no reason I can think of, a word comes to me as I wake up this morning. It is the french word "degingander", ( the first "g" is soft as in the "j" sound of the English word "judge"). I like it, not for its meaning - ungainly, gangling, lanky - but for its rhythm, and the way that its sound suggests so well what it describes.

On the 50p shelf outside Hall's bookshop, I pick up a biography of Paul Verlaine. Its opening words are: "It is not an easy thing to write a life of Paul Verlaine. It is not easy; and it is not quite necessary." Not a promising beginning. But then it is by Harold Nicholson, a writer of some distinction. So what the hell! It's only 50p!

A friend calls unexpectedly. He bubbles over with anecdotes and adds a little warmth to a cold day.

Monday, April 02, 2007

vineyard site, lap dog, guitar

The upper slopes of Calverley Park face south and receive the sun all day. Here, arranged on terraces, are tennis courts, a basket ball court and a croquet lawn. From the path above these sports facilities, you can look across the weald of Kent and Sussex. It always seem to be the warmest place in Tunbridge Wells. I often think these slopes are a perfect site for vineyard.

Outside a pizza restaurant in the High Street, a young man sits with a fox terrier on his lap. People stop and talk to the terrier.

In Chapel Place a man strums a guitar. A few aimless words of a song survive as the wind blows the sound away.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

sun-down poem, bee, still life

I have been asking people to name their favorite poems; to be more specific the poem which, if one was ship wrecked on a desert island, one would recite to oneself as the sun goes down. Here is mine. It is an anonymous poem, which I found when I was young in volume one of a five volume anthology English verse. To the best of my knowledge, it has aroused the enthusiasm of nobody else, but it has always be one of those theraputic poems for me, in times of adversity, melancholy or even joy.

I heard a noise and wished for a sight,
I looke for life and did a shadow see
Whose substance was the sum of my delight,
Which came unseen and so did go from me.
Yet hath conceit persuaded my content
There was a substance where the shadow went.

I did not play Narcissus in conceit,
I did not see my shadow in a spring:
I saw the shadow of some worthy thing:
For as I saw the shadow glancing by,
I had a glimpse of something in mine eye.

But what it was, alas, I cannot tell,
Because of it I had no perfect view:
But as it was, by guess I wish it well
And will until I see the same anew.
Shadow or she or both or choose you whither:
Blest be the thing that brought the shadow hither.

A big, furry bumble bee announces Spring in the garden.

Through the open sash window of a basement flat, I see a pair of walking boots and a vase of tulips on the floor.