Friday, November 30, 2007

looking up, different, landing

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

marching, decorations, pipe

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Enid, ears, coins

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Amaryllis, fitting, reduced

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

saws, repeat performance, rugby ball

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

sprouts, divided, smile

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

it works, Zola, round head

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

psychic, ambiguity, working

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

tulip tree, help! gauze

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

stretched, miniatures, detox

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

few words, two books, lights

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

squirrel, daft, expression

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

swearing,window display, wet and dry

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

jolly lady, ironing, pruned

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

coteries, plane, valour

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

home, animal eyes, design kindness

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

overheard, hands, chilly

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

milk, boat, alright?

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

smart cat, fuschia, silver sheep

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

pitter patter, austins, knitting accents

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

wagtail, screen, olive oil

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2007

too familiar, moue, sky watching

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

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

more leaves, pasta taster, for the masses

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

toe, polishing, wind watching

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

stealing time, nests, beans

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

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

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

Monday, November 05, 2007

holding on, excuse, risotto

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

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

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

naturally, hair, woodpecker

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

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

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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

surprise reader, sniffing, poppy

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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

clock trouble, toboggans, real squirrels

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

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

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

Thursday, November 01, 2007

retake, wine dark, pumpkin

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

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

A carved out pumpkin grins at me through a window.