Saturday, June 30, 2007

collecting, accuracy, sentiment

When I was a child I collected postage stamps. After giving up, I did not again consciously collect anything. Until fairly recently, that is. I have come to realise that for the last two years, since I started this blog, I have, every day, been collecting and seriously looking for the sort of things that go into it - things that give pleasure, amuse, make you think. To look out for them every day seems to me to be better than collecting stamps, or collecting anything else for that matter.

Watching Roger Federer on TV for a few minutes yesterday evening, I realize that powerful serves and drives in tennis are nothing without elegance and accuracy. Elegance and swiftness in footwork and balance, accuracy in postioning the ball where you want it and your opponent doesn't- at the baseline, just over the net, in the corner of the service box. A backhand drive whizzing low over the net down the tramlines is thing of beauty and a joy for ever.

I woke to day thinking, I don't know why, about sentimentality. "I don't like sentimentality," said a friend of mine recently. Neither do I, I said. And no more do I now. But somehow the subject drifted away. I didn't say what had been on the point of saying, an esprit de l'escalier. This morning, I say it to myself: Sentiment is another matter. Sentimentality distorts the truth; sentiment reinforces it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Early rain, raindrops, St Martin's,

This morning as I wake, I hear outside the window, a stationary lorry with its engine running. Then I realize, with pleasure, that it is the hushed sound of rain falling, steadily and without any urgency.

As I pass the big oak on the corner of the Grove, I hear heavy rain drops, and consider taking shelter under it. The rain continues overhead, until I realize that the drops have gathered on the leaves after the last shower, and the breeze is throwing them down. Beyond the canopy of the tree, it is not raining. I think of a large dog shaking itself after swimming.

The church of St Martin's-in-the Fields in Trafalagar Square is being restored. To protect the builders and avoid an eyesore, huge hoardings have been erected round the building. On them, as on a piece of stage scenery, the church as been accurately recreated life size. The bell tower rising above the hoardings is the only part of the building visible. It is as though a famous person was hiding behind his portrait.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

time off, flags, horsetail

On the train a young man, in a faded baseball cap, says to one of his mates: "When I'm 30, I'm going to save up some money, take a couple of years off, get a camper van and travel all over America. Know what I mean..."

In the Mall, union flags, at a 45 degree angle, reach across both side of the road, all the way from Admiralty Arch to Buckingham Palace. In Bond Street, flags, at a 45 deg angle reach across both sides of the road, as far as the eye can see. Each flag bears the name and logo of a well known consumer or fashion brand, whose premises are below: Max Mara, DKNY, Tifany, Omega, Mount Blanc, Rolex, Aspreys ....

From the train, I spy horsetail, the most pernicious weed I have ever encountered - it used to inhabit an allotment, I once ran - but there on the embankment, the feathery jointed stems and scale-like leaves, which I remember so well, seem innocent enough and admit nothing of their deep and persistent root system.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Compasses updated

Five more poems and a new set of photographs on

right page, lettuce, beard

This morning, the dictionary opens in the right place, with the word I wanted keyed at the top of the page.

I cut two perfect lettuces, like giant, green roses.

In a corner of the vegetable garden there is a tennis ball. It is in good condition, with the nap still on it, and the words Wilsons" and "open", still legible, except that a large tuft of grass grows out of one side like a beard.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

emails, presence, loaves

What is the difference between an email and a letter? As I no longer send or receive emails in the context of work, they give me as much pleasure as sending and receiving letters from friends and family used to. I was never a good correspondent. I fussed about the wording, wanting get it right, even in casual notes. The word processing facility has been a great liberator. That is not to say that I don't take trouble over emails. I do, but the knowledge that I can correct what I have written, has allowed my words to flow as they never could in long hand or on a steam-typewriter, however much I desired that they would.

In the vegetable garden I feel a presence. I am surrounded by glancing shadows and mysterious reflections shining over my shoulder. For a moment, I had forgotten them. They are the cds which I hung up, a few days ago, to deter the pigeons from eating my spinach. If they work on me they should work on the pigeons.

Three perfect loaves come out of the oven, and sit on a rack on the dresser. There is a smell of yeast, and of the pine kernels and pumpkin seeds, which I mixed with the dough and which now break from the bread's crust, where they have become little, brown nuggets.

Monday, June 25, 2007


They are grumbling about the weather. Weather (freak storms and tsunamis excluded) I like: weather forecasts, I do not. It seems uneccessary to spend time anticipating the worst or the best, when there is plenty to be getting on with. Sufficient unto the day... Any weather is better than no weather, and most of it - rain, like to day - storm or sunshine, can be beautiful, depending on where you are standing and what you are looking for.

Outside the jewelers in the High Street, there is always a burly security guard. Today he carries, anomolously, a pale green, dripping umbrella.

The first shiny-leafed chard from the garden today. It will be cooked with potatoes already boiled, finely chopped shallots, a little mint, and eggs, added at the last minute, and scrambled with the vegetables.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Zola, wet petals, parrot

As I draw near to the end of L'Assommoir, I realize that it will be the fifth of Zola's novels that I have read in the last year or so. What I have most enjoyed is discovering these books for myself. Most of the books I have read have been recommended by parents or teachers or reviewers. I have read very little about Zola. It is true that when I was at school someone recommended Germinal, but I was put off reading it by the impression, quite false as it turned out, that it might be a didactic piece of work, almost a socialist tract. Twenty novels in the Rougon-Maquart series are listed at the back of the Folio Classique edition, plus three more. I am so enthralled at the moment that I have my sights set on all of them. What I am discovering about Rougon-Maquart is that Zola placed relations or other connection with the family of this name in all the books. Sometimes it seems the connection is quite loose, and you certainly don't have to read the books in any particulal order. For me, a newcomer, it came as a pleasant surprise, to see Nana, the central character of the eponymous Nana, appear as a child in L'Assommoir. Having read Nana first, I say to myself: "that explains a lot".

Petals of the dark red petunias in various pots in the garden , shine in the rain, like highly polished metal.

In the street I hear a loud squawk. I look up. There, in a window, sits a parrot on a perch.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

brick, endurance, relief

I see a pair of trousers described as brick - a sort of grown-up pink. Brick is a colour that I like by association. Old claret tends to be brick red, though if it is too much on the brown side, it will probably be oxidised. Then there are penny red postage stamps, so much more attractive than the more valuable penny blacks. Then I like old brick walls set off by green moss; and the mellow red of cliffs on the Devonshire coast, in particular the cliffs that mark the bay and shingle beach at Sidmouth, where I spent part of my childhood.

Plants that stick around for a long time, I muse after the rain this morning, deserve special affection. The bay tree in front of our house came here with me in a small pot twenty years ago. And the fuchsia, which used to die down every winter, and is now more than 10ft tall and hard to restrain, arrived here at the same time.

A youngish man, quite fit looking, approaches a bench in the Grove and slumps into it with one of those sounds, half way between a sigh and groan, which you generally associate with men of an older vintage.

Friday, June 22, 2007

lime, shining discs, distant traffic

Lime trees are in flower again; the pale yellow flowers hang below the single wing-like bracts, which will carry the seeds, already half formed formed, on winds, which are yet to blow.

I hang discarded cds and dvds on strings above the romanesco plants, with the intention of scaring off the pigeons, which have already devoured the remainder of the seedlings in the seed bed. But I wonder whether it will be in vain. Birds are more intelligent than we sometimes believe them to be. How long will it be before the pigeons work out that shining discs will not hurt them, rather that they signify a source of sweet green leaves?

As I walk up slopes of the common, the sound of traffic whizzing up and down the London Road, quickly becomes no more than a muffled drone, as though someone has thrown a blanket over it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

lavender, magpie, wild flowers

A small wooden crate is tightly packed with pots of French lavender outside a garden shop.

In the vegetable garden a magpie disturbs the peace with a horrendous noise. The usual French name for magpie is pie. An alternative name is jacasse, from where comes the verb jacasser, to speak volubly. Today I can understand why.

There is, or was, a narrow strip of front garden half way up the road where I live which has been sown with wild flowers. Most of the year it looked a mess, but in the last few days, the poppies and corn flowers blossomed justifying its existence. Yesterday, on a visit to our house, Tristan, a regular visitor to this blog, took a photograph of it. You can see it on yesterday's post in http://www.emotionalblackmailers/. Just as well he did photograph it, because today, when it is looking at its best, a gardener has torn out the flowers, leaving a strip of bare earth. It is not the first time this eccentric flower bed has been blogged. Last year it featured on this blog, and a very short time ago, Clare Grant mentioned it in

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

petal, sweet and sour, hazel

A rose petal must have caught on my collar while I was sitting in the garden. It falls on to my desk. What is this? It is white, heart-shaped and transparent. There is a silken sheen on the delicately ridged surface; the ridges are fine lines radiating from the point, where the petal was joined to the corolla; the fine, translucent membrane curls slightly; light and shade follow its undulations. That such a complex, delicate material should exist, it seems unbidden, is worth noting, whether it is a chance occurrence or part of some unfathomable plan.

A perfectly balanced combination of sweet and sour, supporting to perfection its lingering aromatic flavours, is how I would describe the small, yellow mango called "golden mango" (Is it the same as the variety called Alphonso, which shares its qualities?) I found it in Sainsbury's last Sunday. It compares more than favourably with the standard supermarket mango even when the standard fruit is ripe and oozing juice. This sweet and sour balance, it seems to me, is important in all fruit and of course in wine (consider the great sweet wines of France and Germany, which are nothing if the impact of sugar and fruit is not supported by a firm backbone of acidity. In relationships too, sweetness, on its own cloys. Love between people needs an edge, a sharp line, where truth and honesty can carve a space for affection.

Where Major York's Road bisects the common, a hazel tree shows early nuts like little green lights. I wonder if the squirrels will spare these until they are ripe. The hazel trees adjoining my vegetable garden are invariably marauded by squirrels, which, in late summer, tear the nuts from the branches before they have time to form kernals, and scatter the broken, barren shells on the path where they crunch under foot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

two builders, answered prayer, cricket

A pigeon flies to and fro over the vegetable garden, on each occasion, a twig or straw in its beak. It is building a nest, while down below, with the the help of stakes, string and netting, I am building structures to stop it eating my spinach, and romanesco.

I read of a woman who, while at school gave the Amazon as the longest river in the world in a test. After the test, she realized that the correct answer was the Nile and prayed that God would make the Amazon longer. Now geographers have announced that the Amazon rises further west than had previously been thought, and is therefore the world's longest river, and not the Nile, as we were taught at school.

Behind me I hear the unmistakeable voice (something about the pace of the words) of a cricket commentator. An elderly man overtakes me. He is holding the hand of a small boy. In his other hand, is a radio, whence the commentary. I learn that England needs 110 to win the fourth and final test against the West Indies.

Monday, June 18, 2007

suns, stories, drying

Hypericum with its bold yellow flowers and untidy habit can seem a little gross at times, but it can appeal, too, when you look closely at it. Today, coming up the hill, I see it as a bush covered in suns.

I have been thinking about stories that send you to sleep and stories that keep you awake. Sometimes the same stories can do both and sometimes the same story sends some people to sleep and keeps others awake. In Segei Aksakov's Years of Childhood, he tells of an attack of sleeplessness. "And this", he says " put my my mother off her sleep, as she slept best in the early part of the night. To send us to sleep, we took the advice of my aunt and summoned to our aid Pelageya, the housekeeper.... I need hardly say that I stayed awake until the story (it was called the Scarlet Flower) was ended, so that I slept even less than usual.... It sent my mother to sleep at once; but when she awoke some hours later and found that I had not been asleep, and was discussing the story with Pelegaya, she sent her off. And it was very long before fairy-tales were again used in the house to send people to sleep.

I myself usually have little difficulty in getting to sleep at night, but if I do, I tell myself a story or deliver myself an after dinner speech, which nearly always sends me off.

A wet night and a warm, damp morning, dripping and humid. But this afternoon: a bluff, drying wind, makes you feel like a sheet on a clothes-line.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

alive alive O, ham talk, the Common

In Sainsbury's a notice on a stand where there are pots of herbs, annnounces "Live basil".

At the delicatessen counter I ask for some serrano ham. The man standing next to me says: "That's too salty for me!" "Haven't we had this conversation, before?" I say. "Yes", he says. It is in fact the third time we have talked about serrano ham and his salt intolerence, and the second time I have asked: "Haven't we had this conversation before?"

Tunbridge Wells common curls round the older part of the town like a large green cat. It is a quiet place.This afternoon I pass only one young couple as I climb the path from the road. A bank of rose bay willow herb rises above the feathery panicles of meadow grass. Blackberries are in flower. Bracken grows tall with some of its fronds still on the point or unfurling. In the space of five minutes, I encounter, along the unmade paths, a rabbit, a deer, and a fox. A contrast to the London Road, a couple of hundred yards below, where there is a continuous flow of traffic, and to the Pantiles, where people saunter, peer into shops, sit outside pubs and cafes, drink wine and beer.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

bird life, singer, compasses

House martins have been busy in the nest, which they built last yearunder the eves of one of the houses opposite. The young blackbirds in our hedge have, meanwhile, fledged. The world of birds and the human world proceed in parallel.

A man, who walks about the town singing loudly and tunelessly but always cheerfully, is one of the characters we have become used to in Tunbridge Wells. Most people turn away in embarrasment when he approaches them, but a woman in charge of the organic meat stall at the Farmers Market in the Pantiles, today, says in a friendly way: "Hullo". He stops singing and chats to her.

For some time I have been unable to enter links in the box on the side of this log. But an opportunity to re-format has allowed me to correct this want. And just in time. There is a new blog, the iniatiative of Lucy Kempton, a regular visitor to this one, which is our joint domain. In it, she has set out to illustrate, with her beautiful and mysterious photographs, the series of 50 sonnets, which I wrote a few years ago. The photographs are not mere illustrations, which seek to repeat images from the poems, but, instead, introduce complementary images, which extend and qualify the text, and stand in their own right. I have never sought publications for these poems, but this is better. The new site is called There us now a permanent link to the site in the right hand frame, and there will soon be other links to the sites of other visitors and those which I visit. Where the stone falls in the pond, the circles grown wide.

Friday, June 15, 2007

bubbles, promise, buffet

Bubbles, float over a wall into the Grove. You can't see where they come from, but they drift in the wind, at first in a crowd (what is the collective noun for bubbles?) then separate I watch a bubble, a hint of colour, the sheen of oil in water, on its skin, as it floats against the sun. It's still there, something perfect that will not last. Now its gone. Well. what is the collective noun for bubbles?

Bad weather is promised for today, but when I awake the sun is showing through the slats of the blinds, profiling the window frames. They throw stripe-shadows on the white wall. The whole world is out there, birds, animals, trees, roads, people, tranquility, horror. I can't wait to see what's happening.

After a heavy shower, Calverley Park has been washed clean of people. But judging by the birds, starlings, blackbirds in particular, spreading over and pecking at the grass, the rain has provided a buffet of worms.


rescue, jingle, lavender
In the Oxfam bookshop the other day, I spotted a book, which I read a couple of years ago, and of which I have long cherished my own copy. But I wanted to buy this one nevertheless, to pay homage to it, to rescue it. My hand hovered over it. I pulled it out, and reluctantly returned it to the shelf, a needless extravagance. Bouvard et Pecuchet, is Flaubert's last novel and was not widely appreciated when it was published after his death. It has since been undeservedly neglected. It was clearly ahead of its time. It was only when I got home that I thought of a friend who might like it. The next day I rescued it, indeed; and it is with pleasure that I can say, today, that it is on its way to a new and deserving owner.

In the Grove, I pass a woman with a bag over her shoulder. What is in it? As she walks, she jingles. I hear her fading into the distance like the tinkle of Alpine cowbells.

Two adjacent beds of lavender in Calverley Park. White lavender is mixed in with the blue. As I walk past, I move through waves of scent on this heavy, balmy afternoon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

snubbed, framed, about to be cooked

I had occasion the other day to speak severely to the pretty, marmalade cat that visits the vegetable garden sometimes, and sometimes our own garden at home. Knowing the way of cats, I was concerned about the blackbirds and their nest in the hedge. Whereas, there used to be some kind of acknowledgement, when I greeted her before, she now looks away when I say hullo. It serves me right, I suppose.

In the frame of an open window a woman sits in profile, like a picture in a frame.

Two girls, dressed with the intention of getting brown, greet each other in Calverley Park. Where's the sun?" asks one. "There," says the other pointing to the sun, which glares down from a blue sky, where you might expect it to be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

jungle, wedding,barbie

There is one wild bed in the vegetable garden, where weeds and last year's vegetables are having a party. I stand in the middle of it and make a list of what I can see and identify: a parsnip plant six foot tall, umbels on the verge of flowering; sow thistles, stately and challenging; sticky rollicking, goosegrass ; herb Robert peeping between more strident herbs; nettles with thin green beards; wild clematis or bind weed, creeping and twining and binding on a shopping spree. And one noble foxglove, queen of the ball.

In the High Street this afternoon a wedding party of suited blokes and girls in their best pour into Sopranos, the tapas bar, and spill out on to the narrow pavement with champagne (cava?) glasses, drinking and nattering and nibbling.

In the corner of a bench, a barbie doll - short skirt, thin legs like a starved fashion model's and bare feet, stands pale and forgotten.

Monday, June 11, 2007

welcome, walk, head first

Half way through Sergei Aksakov's memoir of his childhood in Russia at the end of the 18th century, I find these words of welcome (and forthright account of what is expected of guests) from his great Aunt (his father's aunt) to his mother and her family.
"I receive you thus in my bedroom, because it's the first time. I am no great lover of children, especially children in arms: I can't endure their screaming, and they are seldom sweet. Bring the children to me when I send for them. Serezha, of course, is older, and he may be shown to visitors. The children will have all their meal in their own rooms; they have the dining room as well, to play and run about in. It's a mistake to mix up children and grown up people. And now, my dear Sofya Nikolaevna, live in my house as if it were your own. State your wishes, give your orders - they shall be obeyed. When you want to see me, you are welcome here: if you don't want to see me, sit all day in your room: I shan't be offended; I can't endure tiresome people myself. I love you as if you were of my own blood, but I don't intend to put any constraint on myself on your account. All guests in this house are in that position. I don't make myself troublesome to anyone, and I expect others not to make themselves troublesome to me".

A rust coloured dog of uncertain breed, walks straight across the Grove from one side to the other. He looks neither to right nor left and stops neither to sniff nor pee. He is entirely in his own. I have seen him before and noted his independence. He hesitates only once when he passes a bull terrier on a lead, but only slows down and alters his course by a few inches so as not to collide, franternise or quarrel.

It's a pleasure to watch the parent blackbirds plunge into the hedge head first to feed their young, like ducks looking for treasure at the bottom of a pond.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

cat on pool, chard, received idea

To reach the vegetable garden I have to pass a domestic swimming pool. The pool is usually covered with a stout blue sheet, which rests on the water. Today, I see the pretty, marmalade cat curled up, asleep on the pool cover, as though it were a water-bed.

A row of ruby chard and a row of green chard. I use thethinnings for salad. Soon the leaves and wide, juicy stems will be big and shiny. When I first started growing chard, it used to be called perpetual spinach or spinach beet, and I used not to thin it out, until I noticed how well it grew when there were 9in or more between plants. Then, in the market in Concarneau in Brittany, I saw, on a stand tended by a husband and wife, giant chard leaves arranged in piles. There was a long queue for it and, since then, I have always grown it as chard. And chard has become a much more usual vegetable for gardeners and for cooks. For photographs of mature chard, see a recent posting by Lucy Kempton in

From Plutarch's Dictionary of Received Opinion. Honesty is the best policy: Generally used by people who are in the habit of leaving out the qualifying clause "as a last resort".

Saturday, June 09, 2007

posing 1, posing 2, nesting

I catch a pigeon guiding London visitors to the Queen.

In the Pantiles a young woman poses by one of our smart black and gold rubbish bins. She leans towards it spreading her arms wide and opens her mouth in a silent scream.

The blackbirds and their offspring nesting in the hedge are for the most part quiet during the day. We hear the young birds chirping in the the evening while their parents bring them a constant supply of filleted worms. The nest and its contents survived both my neighbour's hedge clipping, and, despite my firm instructions, the work of our own hedger, who was supposed to, but didn't, give the nesting place a wide berth. In previous years the blackbird nestlings in our garden have fledged during the men's singles final at Wimbledon. Could it happen again?


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Friday, June 08, 2007

mock orange, thunder, yorkshire pudding

The smell of phladelphus or mock orange as you walk down Mount Sion.

Thunder last night: a single roll was all I heard. I like the way it fades into a growl, and is followed by the splashing of heavy rain

An English guest from the USA comes for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. The pudding rises like a souffle helped by an extra egg. It is light and brown with just a hint of softness in the middle. Gravy is in love with it and it, with gravy.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

organic water, war time garden, bananas

It is reassuring to read the label on a bottle of Highland Spring water. It is described as organic. "Naturally filtered through lands certified as organic", it says.

In St James' Park, they have made a vegetable garden reminding people today of the vegetables grown in the Royal Parks during World War 2. There are a couple of scarecrows, rows of earthed-up spuds, lettuces, carrots, turnips and the like. On a fence is a Dig for Victory poster.

There are banana plants in the ornamental flower beds in the Embankment Gardens. I comment on them to a gardener who is watering them with a hose. "They've just come out, " he says. "They go indoors in the winter."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

bean poles, bubbles, pet shop

Today, I finish one of my favourite jobs - putting up bamboo stakes for climbing beans. I have two kinds of frame. The first is a traditional continuous structure like a pitched roof, where two sets of stakes are crossed over toward the top, tied together and linked by horizontal stakes extending the length of the row. The second is a series of wigwam frames, where the beans grow in circles and climb inwards, then outwards when the they come to the overhang. The framworks will provide supports for runner beans called Lady Di and White Lady, and a purple bean called Blauhilde because it was so good and so fruitful last year. And, for the first time, an Italian Borloti bean.

In the shopping precinct, there is a machine blowing bubbles. It consists of a tray in which a motor-driven wheel equipped with series of wires with circles at the end aligned in pairs. As the wheel turns, the wires rotate through a sink containing bubble liquid. Hundreds of bubble a minute fly into the air. Small children gather like flies.

I pass a pet shop called Wolfit.

Monday, June 04, 2007

end of the lollipop, sewing, beam me up

Upright on a bench in the Grove, an elderly lady, enjoying, to the last lick, one of those choc ices on a stick.

Through an open window and a gauze curtain comes, with momentary interruptions, the unmistakable whir, whir of a sewing machine.

According to day's paper the science behind the process of teleporting as in the Star Trek films is not entirely fanciful. Remember the phrase "Beam me up Scotty". At present teleporting potential is limited to information. In due course, why not people? I wouldn't know, but it is lovely to speculate about. The operative term is "quantum entanglement" which relies on the fact that two photons can be created in such a way that they behave as a single object even if they are separated by large distances. The teleportation machine is explained by the fact, says the science editor of the Independent, that changes to one photon cause similar changes to the other. A third photon is teleported from the proton in the transmitting station to the photon in the receiver. In the process, the third photon becomes entangled with the transmitting photon, and so carries its quantum information to the receiving photon, which interacts with the third photon in such a way that it becomes identical to it. The study from which this information comes is published in the journal Nature Physics.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

anything special, psychedelic bollard, warning

"Are you doing anything special to day?" asks the woman at the checkout in Sainsburys this morning. I'm still wondering.

There are lot of descretely painted black bollards in this area to deter motorists from parking on the pavement. Someone, for a lark, has turned one of them into a sort of psychedelic totem, by overpainting it mauve at the top and turquoise at the base.

On the windows of a pub called the Orson Wells, which has been boarded up for some time and is about to undergo a complete refurbishment, is posted the notice: warning guard dogs running free.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

differences, more differences, and yet more

What's the difference between a glove and a foxglove? Unlike a glove, a foxglove is more beautifully patterned on the inside than on the outside.

There had clearly been a difference of opinion this morning, as I inferred from the angry voice of a girl passing on the pavement on the other side of our hedge, complaining to a companion. ". all morning...he slammed the door in my face. He's been rude all morning. I bit my tongue, all morning." A snatch of soap opera.

In Emil Zola's novel L'Assomoir, differences in culinary styles between the north of France and the south are noted. Lantier, the character, to whom this refers, comes from Provence. "He made himself omelettes, omelettes cooked on both sides, crisped like pancakes. So solid that they might have been biscuits.... But his gala dinner was a soup made with vermicelli, very thick, into which he poured half a bottle of oil... Only he ate it, with Gervaise, because the others, the Parisians, once having risked a taste, had almost lost their guts and entrails."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Grass, hydrangea, elderflower

We are in the habit of cutting grass and of seeing it in its cropped form on lawns and in fields. But grass in flower and run to seed, is another and a better thing. Cereal crops aside, we miss a great deal where grass is concerned. And it's not just the feathery heads running in the wind - cream, pale yellow, red, gold, blue. In my grass book, I find the following grass names: Sweet Vernal Grass, Holy Grass, Feather Grass, Timothy Grass, Sand Cat's Tail, Meadow Cat's Tail, Creeping Bent, Yorkshire Fog,Gray Hair-Grass, Cocksfoot, Common Quaking-Grass, Mountain or Nodding Melick, Hairy Melick, Love Grass.

Climbing up the front of a terrace house, the cream-coloured flowers and pointed serrated leaves of Hydrangea petiolaris. It is a useful plant to cover a north or north-east facing wall, where other climbers are less happy or not happy at all. I imagine it clinging to a rock face in the foothills of the Himalayas, where it originates.

At this time of year the white saucers of elder, flying up the hedgerows or at the edge of woods lift the spirit; their scent is peculiarly English and makes me think of the Enigma Variations.