Tuesday, July 31, 2007

house martins, basket ball, warmth

The next installment of Lucy Kempton' photographic account of Handbook for Explorers is complete, and may be found on www.compasses-lucyandjoe.blogspot.com/

The house martins fledge, There is a whirl of wings, and the swooping and wheeling birds are everywhere. Amazing to see them fly free from the tiny nest that once contained them and their endless calls for food. How many are there? Difficult to tell, because the parents still seem to be around. Three, or perhaps four. As part of the celebrations, they fly to the nest, hover outside it, or against the soffit under which it hangs, and they're off again.

On the pavement outside the house is a basket ball net and post, and the base into the pole fits. On the base is a label which reads: "I'm free. Please take me home with you."

During recent chill, rainy days, the vegetable garden, never an unfriendly place, has not been at its best. But this morning, in the warm sunshine, the lettuces and beans, which have been holding back, suddenly seem to revive; and so do I.

Monday, July 30, 2007

good news, meeting, sparrow hawk

Although it had never occured to me to support the Iraq national football team, I couldn't help feeling cheered that the team composed of Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, should have won their Asian cup final match. A light of hope and reconcilliation among so many stories of hatred and murder.

In Chapel Place I meet the elderly gent who goes to Hall's bookshop every Monday for a cup of tea. He is looking a bit frail, as he has been of late, but remarking on the fine day, the first for weeks, he says: "To use an old fashioned phrase, I feel buoyed up!"

Some weeks ago I saw what I thought was a bird of prey circling high over Tunbridge Wells. Now a neighbour tells me that a sparrow hawk was seen yesterday in the garden of his terrace house. Apparently it made off with a small bird in its tallons.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

spices, aimant, house martins

Putting together the spices and other ingredients for a cous cous is like making a painting.

A French word threw me today. Aimant. Surely that means lover. But that's amant. So what is aimant? A magnet, of course. And when you think about lovers, because of its association with aimer, to love, it is not inappropriate. Neat really: magnets and iron and steel are attracted to one another like lovers to each other.

House martins have been nesting in the eves of the house opposite. The sound of the young calling for their parents and the sight of them responding, keeps us entertained.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

poppy pod, lobelia, chard

I photograph, in close-up, the fruit of a large, white poppy that has shed its petals. It is a little sinister.The greenish hemisphere of the ovary is divided into 12 equal sectors by the dark brown ridges of the stigmas, like miniature hedges radiating from a central node. It's like a bomb containing seeds and, though it's not that sort of poppy, it could be; and would then contain the white juicy substance, the basis of opium, heroin, the lot. It could be a symbol or a logo, standing for something at the same time beautiful and ugly, perhaps planet Earth and its inhabitants.

In the WI Market I buy a tall lobelia, with dark almost purple leaves and scarlet flowers. It now sits in a flower bed by the front door next to a delicate, grey-leaved fuschia.

For a dish planned for tomorrow's guests, I cut big, shiny leaves of ruby chard (bright red stems and red veins in the leaves) and even bigger, green leaves of white stemmed chard. In separate jugs, they look magnificient and bend and twist in the light. They, like the poppy, will pose for photographs. But how different they are!

Friday, July 27, 2007

leeks, idle moments, singing man

I am planting leeks. I make a hole for each plant with a dibber and drop the plant it. Along comes the pretty, ginger and white cat. It says hallo, and sticks it paw into the hole, which I have just made, tests its depth and wanders off.

I think this afternoon: in the two years and a bit during which I have been posting this blog, there have been no boring moments. Waiting for a person or a bus or train is no longer tedious. There is always the sense that something is happening, or going to happen, which will be worth noting.

I have mentioned the youngish man who walks through the town singing tuneless songs aloud, and sometimes executing a little dance. Typically, he chants the words "I'm a naughty boy, I'm a naughty boy" . He usually wears an old bowler hat, but today he has a black, conical wizzard's hat, presumably something relating to Harry Potter. People in the Grove, including the children take no notice of him. They are used to him.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

lords and ladies, scallywag, unwanted

The berries of lords and ladies ripen , from green to bright red, in a corner of the garden.

In the last couple of days I have read the word, scallywag, twice in the same newspaper and, this morning, heard it again on the BBC. It seems originally to have been used in 19th Century America to describe a southerner who supported the Federal cause, and has come to be a general word for a scamp or scoundrel. I seem to remember some grown-ups calling me a scallywag when I was a small child. And I believe I was but I hadn't supported either side in the American Civil War.

In between the handles of a wheelie bin in the street outside a house someone has thrust a fresh bunch of chrysanthemums. An unwanted gift? Has someone said it with flowers and someone else said no thanks. Thereby hangs a tale.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

runner beans, not worried, surprise

I pass a house, where runner beans are growing on the balcony. Their scarlet flowers nuzzle a TV dish.

An unseasonal, chill wind blows. Rain threatens. But I don't care.

In Chapel Place, I meet Heidi unexpectedly. A happy, warm feeling, as she takes my arm.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Anti-climb, bucket, silk

A high wall with an iron gate in the middle of it bears this notice:
"These premises are protected with non-drying anti-climb paint. Unauthorised entry will result in damage and contamination to you and your clothing. KEEP OUT."
I rub my finger against the painted brick. It leaves no stain.

One of my favourite tools in recent years is a plastic garden bucket. It is not at all like a conventional bucket; it has two handles, and is much wider. You can squeeze it to pour liquid or shake out earth or compost and, because of its width, it is ideal for collecting weeds and trimmings. Also, because it is so wide, in the last few days, it has collected a considerable amount of rain water, which I comfortably transfer to a watering can.

While Heidi is in a clothes shop, I notice some white roses in a vase in the window. Are they real? Surely not. But there appears to be water at the bottom of the vase. I ask the shop assistant. "Silk," she says. What about the water?" I ask. She picks up the vase, and tilts it. The water, too, is ersatz, some sort of transparent plastic.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Three Graces

Posted by Picasa


Posted by Picasa


Another word from Foyles Philavery, which keeps circling in my mind, is:
groak verb, to look or stare at lovingly, especially at someone who is eating. "A very uncommon word", writes the compiler, "which I was unable to find in any dictionary. This is an ancient art still widely and ably practiced by pet dogs everywhere."

I watch as a mother and two small boys cross on a zebra. Each of the boys has a plastic sword, with a bright, silver blade and a golden hilts. They wave the swords energetically and proceed along the pavement, looking for someone to fight.

In the Pantiles, where usually pigeons look for crumbs amid the feet of visitors, today, in the drizzle, a hefty crow waddles to and fro. He usually hops but occasionally flaps a lazy wing, to get from point to point. As crows often do, he gives the impression of owning the place.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

dance, longing, blog

In the Hight Street, a couple are dancing to the sound of catchy music coming from an open, top floor window above the shops on the opposite side of the road.

An extract from a treasury of unusual words Foyle's Philavery, by Christopher Foyle appears in the Independent newpaper. It includes:
brool, noun. A deep low humming sound; a murmur as of a large crowd.
oniomania, noun. Compulsion to make purchases.
pilgerous, adjective. Covered in hair or down.
zaftig, adjective. 1 Full bosomed. 2 Having a full, shapely figure; buxom.

A response to something you have written, any response, is always pleasing. When it is a felicitous response, what bliss! I refer to Tristan Forward's comment in Compasses, where he writes: "Blogging seems a bit like casting out a message in a bottle to drift away for who knows how long, far beyond that "long white skyline".

Saturday, July 21, 2007

stillness, clouds, counting Gormleys

Is there anywhere in the universe, I ask myself as I wake up this morning, that is absolutely still? No particle in motion, no matter perishing or burgeoning, no string vibrating, no star exploding, no bubble bursting? No source of energy lying low, undreamed of, or revving up? Probably not, I tell myself. But would anybody know? Does anybody know?

Coming into London on the Hastings train, we watch the sky laden with cumulus, spread out over a new city: Canary Wharf, the Dome, the Gherkin, countless, tall, glass buildings and more go up. Round them, cranes cluster like curious birds, ( like the cranes after which they are named).

Anthony Gormley's life sized sculptures, moulded from his own body, are becoming familiar sights. We have seen them looking out to sea on Blackpool beach, and now a large number of them stand in prominent places on rooftops in the city and on either side of the Thames. From the new bridge, which connects Charing Cross station with the south bank, we look towards the City, and see who can spot the most Gormleys. We count eight (or is it nine?) from where we stand.

Friday, July 20, 2007

rain, growth, flow

This morning outside the window, not a shower. Rather the rain is falling in a steady, dense, continuous downpour.

Because I have been unable to get through to the vegetable garden for four days I am confronted by what seems a prodigious growth. Lettuces have bulked up and the oriental mustards are asking to be sheered. The weeds are looking pleased with themselves, and require immediate hoeing.

After this morning's heavy rain there is a strange pattern of twigs on the footpath up which I climb. Is it the work of a child? Then I realize that the heavy rain of this morning, overflowing from the paths in the Grove, has streamed down the pavement leaving a parabola of detritus.

Compasses a New Installment

A new set of photographs by Lucy Kempton illustrates five more of the Handbook for Explorers (15- 20) poems on www.compasses-lucyandjoe.blogspot.com/

Thursday, July 19, 2007

monbretia, lemon grass, iced lolly

Sprays of monbretia, tending to scarlet rather than orange, are transferred from a flower shop window to a vase in our sitting room.

The fresh, spicey taste of lemon grass, lime leaves, gallingal and chilli linger after a Thai meal, on the palate and later in the memory.

A father and son are walking side by side through the Grove. Both are sucking bright yellow iced lollies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

lavender, winged seeds, shadows

If on the train from London, Charing Cross to Hastings, sit on the left of the train and look out for the fields of lavender after Orpington and just before Sevenoaks.

Today, winged seeds twirl in the wind, presaging autumn, when summer is barely with us.

Copses on the sunlit common have deep and mysterious depths.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

cricket, age, ragwort

A mother and father are playing cricket with their small son. The little boy stands in front of a miniature set of stumps. The mother stands behind the wicket. The father lobs the rubber ball gently to the boy. The boy whacks it as far as he can and runs to the far end of the improvised pitch and back. There are no fielders, and the father ambles after the ball, as though he was on his way to a buy a Sunday paper, while the boy runs and runs. This happens again and again. The father never hurries and the boy never misses so that the mother, behind the wicket has nothing to do.

Today, I reflect that I now see people as young, who once I would have thought of as old.

Yellow clumps of ragwort are scattered over the fields, just now. In Scottish and Irish legend, it was used by fairies, who rode on ragwort sticks between islands, as a means of travel. Known as the herba sancta Jacobi, it is associated with the feast of St James, July 25, when it is in full blossom.

Monday, July 16, 2007

cheers, quark, fuschia

"Cheers, bruv," says the guard on the train when I show him my ticket.

The word quark signifies two very different things: a low fat curd cheese, and a sub atomic or elementary particle, hypothetical rather than directly observable. Setting aside the cheese, I learn today that the quark is linguistically rich. Six kinds of quark have been named. They are: up quark, down quark, charmed quark, strange quark, bottom quark and top quark. Bottom quark is sometimes also known as beauty and top quark as truth.

Two fuschias are in full flower in the garden just now. Lineaus would have enjoyed the sight. He compared the sexual parts of flowers to complicated human relationships. The fuschia, which usually has eight stamens, he described, "as eight men in the same bridal suite with one woman."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

surprise, buddleia, cheers

A young woman, who, for want of friendliness in the past, I supposed did not like me, stops to talk to me in the Grove. We walk on together until our ways part.

Buddleia is everywhere in flower. Most of the year the shrub looks faded and untidy, particularly on the edge of railway lines, where it seems to have found a friendly place to grow. But today, the usually purple, sometimes white, cones or spikes of crowded, tiny flowers, each with a yellow centre only noticeable when you look closely, are spectacular, as they twist into the sun. Buddleia is sometimes known as the butterfly shrub because butterflies like it, but in the vicinity of the buddleias I see, there are no butterflies in sight today.

In Dover Street in London, a stately man wearing a panama hat and a black tail coat stops in a doorway to address a small grop of tourists. He is wearing a green carnation; a matching green handkerchief flows out of his top pocket.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

No bonus, bonus, paintings on show

On the train: "There are two carriages of students at the back," says the guard to the catering attendant. "No bonus!" says the catering attendant from behind his trolley.

Flowers rising above the achitectural leaves of hosta appear as a bonus.

Familiar pictures in a new setting. Seven of Heidi's were today installed in the bar of Langan's Brasserie in London, where they will be on display for the next three months.

Friday, July 13, 2007

New view, lime petals, out of context

From the Grove, a high point in Tunbridge Wells, I note an unusual view of the tower of Trinity Church (now an arts centre). In the foreground are the upper floors of Hoopers, the department store. From the roof of Hoopers, flies a bold red flag, upon which is inscribed the single word: sale. The flag almost obscures the Victorian gothic church tower.

A rain of petals blows down from the lime tree, swirls in the sun, and covers the table in the garden, with crumbs of green and gold.

I like meeting people in unexpected places. There is a Spanish woman who works on the delicatessen counter at Sainsbury's. We often exchange greetings in Spanish when I am stocking up with serrano ham. Today, when in Tesco at the top of the town, I feel a tap on my shoulder, and there she is, back from her holidays in Spain, but a customer now, and shopping in a rival chain.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

rabbit, baby and tree, aaron's rod

In the street, I pass a fat, ginger-coloured rabbit. As it nibbles the grass verge, it looks at me without much interest. It is clearly a pet and not a wild rabbit. After a while it lopes off and hides under a car. I believe I might know its owner but that would only be a guess. How do you capture a rabbit? Should I grab its ears and carry it that way, as I used to see farmers carrying rabbits for sale in Spanish market places? This afternoon I meet the supposed owner in the street. People think it's mine but it isn't," she says. " It lives on the other side of the road. It's always getting out. It's called Biggles."

A woman takes her baby out of its pushchair and carries it to the trunk of one of the spreading copper beeches in the Grove. She introduces the child to the tree. It pats the bark and laughs.

The tall, yellow spikes of Mullein, also known as Aaron's Rod, Verbascum thapsus, are appearing just now in neglected and uneglected gardens. It is a native perennial, a wild flower, but looks like a garden plant. Geoffrey Grigson, in An Englishman's Flora, says "It is a plant that cannot be overlooked," and quotes Henry Lyte (1578): "The whole toppe with its pleasant yellow floures, sheweth like to a wax candle or taper cunningly wrought." According to another book its leaves were once used to treat bronchial troubles and smoked in a pipe as herbal tobacco."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New things, flying, peace

Particularly where flowers are concerned discovering the French name is like seeing the flower for the first time. This comes to me when I note for the second or third time in my filter of a memory that hawthorn in French is aub├ępine.

By chance, I dsicover that Google Earth has been upgraded. Playing with the new program, I type in the addresses of people in my address book, watch the earth tilt beneath me, and close in on their back gardens or front doors.

Peace. The central heating engineers have said goodbye. I don't believe that I have used the word before, but the quiet is palpable.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

song, dog, jays

One of the noisy, cheerful young men who are upgrading the central heating unexpectedly sings, in a falsetto voice, the line of a song along with the radio which has been blasting all day: 'cos I know you're gay... " Judging by page 3 of the tabloid newspaper, which he left behind yesterday, he is not.

A car passes with a terrier of some kind, its head out of the window of the front passenger seat. Exhilirated by the airstream, it barks at me and other pedestrians.

On the common, I see a party of three jays flying with slowly flapping wings among the trees. I have alway liked jays for their bright plumage. They were one of the first birds I learnt to recognise as a child. As I walk on, one of them says "skaak", behind me, which is what jays are supposed to say.

Monday, July 09, 2007

keeping dry, prosecco, snapshot

After one day without rain, while in the vegetable garden, I forget for a moment about showers, and down comes a heavy one. I stand in the greenhouse while the drops clatter on the roof and slide down the glass. I watch the paving begin to shine and the earth to absorb the water. A moment of mindless happiness.

Workmen have come to replace our old, very old gas-boiler, and shout to one another from floor to floor and room to room. One is called Flash and another Stew. They are efficient and cheerful and noisy. The kitchen is inaccessible. I buy a couple of sandwiches from the Italian shop at the bottom of the hill, open a chilled bottle of Prosecco, and we picnic among the books.

In the street, I pass a baby in a push chair. Father pushes the chair; the mother holds the baby's hand as though the baby was walking rather than sitting beside her. The thumb of the baby's other hand is in its mouth. A fleeting family portrait, which, probably, no one will remember except me.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

silence, ok, sounds of tennis

Silence is to be treasured. But do we ever experience complete silence? And do we want to? When there is silence, there is usually the wind somewhere about, or the sea, or a distant engine , or the sound of breathing, or your heart beating.

In Waitrose this morning, I realize that I still feel pleased with myself, when "pin ok" comes up on a credit card reader.

Now that Wimbledon is over, there will be a rest from the sounds of tennis on the tv calling you to the room, when you have taken a break from it. The crowd-sounds, like waves breaking or a lorry passing outside the window; the shriek or grunt of the players as they strike the ball ( a new feature of the game, this), the drone of the commentators. I won't miss them, but I enjoyed them while they were there.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

dust, lords and ladies, no euphemism

A piece of fluff, a solitary amalgamation of dust , left over, I suppose, after my book-clearing yesterday, scuttles across a table moved by a breath of air, so that I think for a moment it is an insect.

In a shady corner of the garden, the as-yet green fruit of lords-and-ladies or cuckoo pint cluster among broad, pointed leaves. They seem to be selling something sinister, or is it just the promise of autumn, when summer has hardly begun.

The man who owns the fish and chip shop up gets up from his table outside the pub and, on his way to the gents, says to his companions: "I'm going to hang my willy out".

Friday, July 06, 2007

book space, torta, dry

Making space on bookshelves is the hardest of tasks, but rewarding when the shelves are unencumbered with books resting horzontally on top of their properly arranged companions, or squeezed in too tightly where they don't belong. Sad though to say goodbye even to the scruffiest of books which you are least likely to need again. Though you know, that once it is gone, you will remember it and find a need for it.

A thin, Spanish biscuit made with olive oil, sugar and flour and season with aniseed. Rich but not too sweet, crunchy but giving.

A day, the first for a week - it seems a month - with any rain at all.


Please note that the link to Compasses in yesterday's post has now been corrected and is working.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

explorers, dressing, understanding

Lucy Kempton has just completed a set of five more illustrations of my sequence of poems Handbook for Explorers. I have been looking forward to them as though they were the next installment of a serial story. Though I know the words, I don't know how Lucy will have interpreted them. When I see the photographs, the words, though they are the same, seem seem to have been refreshed and to have taken on new dimensions. http://www.compasses-lucyandjoe.blogspot.com/

A salad dressing made with mustard, lemon juice and vinegar, into which an egg yoke has been beaten, and to which oil is added drop by drop. It's like mayonaise but lighter and more spicey.

This morning I had to read something in French several times, until, eventually, I experienced one of those dawns of understanding, which make you see an object as though for the first time. This is one of the reasons why it is always worthwhile to read something in another language.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

broad beans, baby conkers, contrast

The youngest and freshest broad beans, picked this morning, are not much bigger than garden peas. A pithy smell when they are taken from the velvet lining of the pods. On the plate, the emerald beans, peep through fissures in their grey jackets.

Summer has scarcely begun, yet bunches of spikey, conkers already hang from the horse chestnuts.

The sun is shining and the sky is blue in one corner. In the other corner, is a massive, purple bank of cloud, against which trees and rooftops are highlighted by the sun - the light and the dark.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

balloons and reflections, jungle, asleep

In his classic biography Shelley - The Pursuit, Richard Holmes describes how the poet, aged 20, distributes subversive political views, with the help of miniature, hot-air balloons. He was living at the time with his wife, Harriet, in a cottage in Lynmouth, Devon. They cut up pieces of silk, from which they made the balloons, and suspended pamphlets beneath them, before launching them, complete with fire baskets, over the Bristol Channel. From the moment I read that, I was won over to Shelley, whom I had not previously fully appreciated. Now, I read in an article by Anne Wroe, author, of a new book on Shelley, descriptions of him staring into lakes, pools and puddles, enraptured by the relationship between the real and the reflected world, which makes me like him all the more. After several descriptions of the poet transfixed by such reflections, she quotes from Promethius Unbound:

"And thinning one bright bunch of amber berries
With quick long beaks, and in the deep there lay,
Those lovely forms imaged as in the sky".

She quotes him again asking from Pisa:

"Why is the reflexion in that canal far more beautiful than the object it reflects. The colours are more vivid, & yet blended with more harmony & the openings from within the soft & tender colours of the distant wood & the intersection of the mountain line surpass & misrepresent truth".

Plants such as ferns and broad leaved trees flourish in the humid atmosphere where rain is followed by sun. They release powerful scents; oils and resins infuse the air. I walk out after a heavy shower among dripping plants as if in a jungle.

On the Common, I see a person asleep on a bench sheltered by a canopy of branches. Birds are singing. The sound of traffic is distant. There are worse places to be asleep.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Received Idea, expectations, fleeting

"Alright: What everything's going to be". From Joe Plutarch's Dictionary of Received Ideas.

When I make my way to the vegetable garden after a couple of day's absence, I always feel, as I did this morning, a strong sense of excitement and anticipation of growth and abundance. It reminds me of a similar feeling I had on my way to the tennis courts, when I used to play tennis, and looked forward to the satisfaction of hitting the ball square in the middle of the racket.

When you catch sight of something in the corner of your eye, fleeting past, and you think, if I believed in angels, that would be an angel.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

connected, sparkle, lions

Around 6 o'clock, I get up for a pee, and, just for a minute, switch on radio 4 (BBC world service at this time on Sunday). It is not to wake me up, but rather to top up my dreams which are losing definition and crowding out of my head. I hear a woman's voice (American) talking about the interconnectivity of the universe. "We are not separate from nature", she is saying; "We are part of it. We are not part of a hierarchy as we used to believe; we are part of a holarchy. Then she quotes someone, who said: "Pick a flower, and you'll move the furthest star". As good a s a dream.

In the sun, after the rain, everthing looks washed. Tiny drops glitter in the grass, on bracken, on the leaves of trees. The tarmac on paths shines like a mirror. Steams rises

There are benches in the High Street, with wooden slats, and cast iron frames, painted a sort of faded burgundy. I haven't looked closely at them before, and, this afternoon, note for the first time that the lateral frames curl over, behind the backrest, in the shape of lion's heads. Moulded into the side of the frames, the face of a lion stares out from beneath the seat on either side.