Friday, February 29, 2008

tape, takeover, new issue

A roll of paper tape for printing tickets or receipts unravels amid the traffic in Mount Pleasant. It flows and ripples in the wind on the tarmac like a long white tail; and the tyres of cars and buses cannot tame it.

Because of the cold, wet wind, there are no children in the railed-off playground in the Grove. Mr and Mrs Crow have taken it over. Mr Crow sits on the railing and caws. Mrs Crow pecks at the grass and looks for sweeties that the children may have dropped. She makes a strangled clucking noise, a dutiful acknowledgement of her husband's sovereignty.

Whether it is because of the printing ink or the glossy paper on which it is printed, the National Geographic magazine smells wonderful when you first open the new issue. It smells almost as good as some of the photographs look.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

footnotes, Mr Crow, knickers

Footnotes can intrude. Perhaps that is why, nowadays, publishers seem to place notes at the end of a book. I find that this is not always an improvement. English publishers seem to arrange the notes chapter by chapter and number the notes of each chapter separately under the chapter headings starting each time with 1. So you have two things to look for -the number of the chapter and the number of the note. In contrast, the French tend to print footnotes continuously and always linked to the page number. I'm reading Emile Zola's novel, L'Oeuvre at the moment in the Gallimard Folio Classique edition, where the notes, arranged in this way, are easy to follow. It so happens that, in the case of l'Oeuvre, they are of particular interest because they explain the story's links to the early impressionist painters and their struggle for acceptance in the face of ridicule by the critics and the public - a dramatic episode of art history, fascinating even if it were not supported by a plot. So thank you Gallimard.

Mr Crow, atop the Turkey oak in the Grove, caws his head off, this morning, proclaiming his territorial rights, I expect. "Noisy devils, aren't they!" Says Olive who lives on the other side of the Grove.

Discarded undergarments suggest a story. In the gutter, a pair of black underpants, (male probably for want of close inspection), look like an item of road kill.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

slogans, fragrance, looking down

It is nice to be reminded (in an article in The Independent, of slogans from the Paris of 40 years ago."Il est interdit d'interdire"; "Soyez realiste, demandez l'impossible"; "Imagine- c'est la guerre et personne n'y va"; and above all; "Je suis marxiste, tendance Groucho" . What joy 'twas then to be alive! To be young was very bliss!

A new book called Cooking with Flowers by my friend, Frances Bissell, who used to be cookery writer for The Times , arrives in the post. I have always loved the taste and scent of rose water and orange flower water, which unsurprisingly feature in a number of her recipes. Lavender, too! And my favourite, nasturtiums! She writes of using the flowers' scent as a flavouring as one might use a herb or spice. But there is no doubt that flowers also add to the appearance of a salad or a dessert, and there is plenty in her book to inspire in that direction as well.

Standing by the traffic lights at the top of Mount Pleasant and looking down the hill it is a pleasant surprise to find that you are at the same height as the clock tower over the station.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

sour and sweet, old, japonica

More about pomegranates. In a book called The Origin of Plants, I read that Henry IV of France took the pomegranate as his device with the motto "sour and sweet". The book quotes a poem by Andre Gide:
A little sour is the juice of the pomegranate
Like the juice of unripe raspberries.
Waxlike is the flower
Coloured as the fruit is coloured.
Close-guarded this item of treasure,
Richness of savour,
Architecture of pentagons.
The rind splits; out tumble the seeds,
In cups of azure some seeds are blood;
On plates of enamelled bronze, others are drops of gold.

We greet the fish and chip shop owner on his way into the Compasses for a pint. "Terrible, " he says, "Nothing works when you get to 79!"

The wax-like red flowers (perhaps a little like the wax-like, red flowers of the pomegranate) of Japonica ride up some railings in Mount Sion. You want to say that, in the perfection of their shape, they look almost as good as artificial flowers. But the light comes off them more with more confidence than if they were really made of wax.

Monday, February 25, 2008

rare, monopoly, brassy

The second of the rare Chinese teas which, Heidi's daughter Caroline gave me for Christmas is Oolong Gold. It has large leaves which, when brewed, retain the shape and outline of leaves coarsely chopped. The beverage itself is the most gentle, greenish, golden colour, pale and translucent, which almost describes the way it tastes. You need to compose yourself into a state of spiritual receptiveness before sipping it.

In the window of a house in Christchurch Avenue is an unfinished game of Monopoly, where green houses and red hotels, already occupy some of the streets.

How brazen is the daffodil flower!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

green rug, pizza, literary character

On a bench in Calverley Park, I see what looks like a rough, green blanket twisted over to reveal a brown lining. When I look closer, I see that it is a strip of turf that has been left there(presumably by exuberant young people on a spree). "Is that your turf?" I say to a park attendant in his electric tractor". "I'm just going to collect it," he says. He tells me that the turf is used to repair patches of worn grass," a task which he is currently engaged in, a remarkably pleasant one I think, fit for an angel.

Two empty pizza boxes are in a green waste box outside a gate. They bear the injunction "enjoy your pizza" above the pizza's measurement - 18 in. They puts me in mind of my first pizza, 50 years ago in Rome. I remember a dark, little hole of a restaurant, with a wood-fired oven, and, hot out of the oven, on the blade of one of those long flat shovels, these fantastic bread circles covered in tomato and cheese, olives and anchovies. Pizzas were unknown in England then. I had not even heard of them. The experience was, I suppose, an epiphany, if you can apply the word to an item of food.

Clare (Three Beautiful Things) Grant, whom I meet, this morning, on her way back from the farmers' market, while on my way to the farmers' market, introduces me to her boy friend Nick. "I've read about you," I say. "Yes, " he says, "I'm a literary character". And I think that in a sense he is, and that I have just met someone who has stepped out of the pages of a book.

Friday, February 22, 2008

railwaymen, pigeons, camellia

Four railway workers in orange jackets walk briskly past the station. I think to myself: they need someone to write a poem about them or put them in a picture?

Pigeons wheel and ride the wind above Mount Sion.

Last year and probably the year before I made a note about the pink camellia in flower in Grove Avenue. Though it looks a little out place against the stucco houses and subfusc paving, it has found a perfect new home here where it can flourish, far from its origins in the foothills of the Himalayas or a mysterious Chinese valley.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

half and half, turkey oak, party

"I half like him," says a bloke to his mate as they pass me in the street.

There is a towering oak tree in the corner of the Grove. For a long timeI have thought of it as a Turkey Oak on account of its characteristic, long pendulous leaves. But I occasionally have doubts. These are allayed from time to time, because Clare of Three Beautiful Things fame refers to a Turkey Oak in the Grove in her blog. But is hers the same tree as mine? Today, I meet Clare in the Grove and venture to ask. "It's the one in the corner," she says. "I'm never completely certain," I say. "It's the one on the corner", she says. "I think I must have got it from you." In this way myths are made. I hope I had it right from the start.

A party not to have missed. On May 18, 1922, a rich Englishman called Sydney Schiff, gave a supper party at the Hotel Majestic in Paris. Present were Picasso, Proust, Stravinksy and James Joyce. According to John Richardson, who describes the event in his biography of Picasso (vol 3), it was not a notable success.
"When asked by Proust whether he liked Beethoven, Stravinsky said he detested his music. "But surely the late quartets?" "Worst thing he ever wrote," Stravinsy snapped. Proust fared no better with Joyce, who arrived late, drunk and inappropriately dressed. 'Joyce complained of his eyes, Proust of his stomach. Did Mr Joyce like truffles? He did. Had he met the Duchesse de X? He had not. 'I regret that I do not know M Joyce's work,' remarked Proust. " I have never read M. Proust' , Joyce (lied)... Thus the two greatest novelists of the Twentieth Century met and parted".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

licked, apocope, halos

A man with two alsation puppies on leads stops to do up a shoe lace. But the dogs won't let him. They assault him with paws and tongues, licking him as though his face was made of sugar, clearly impressed to find him at their level.

On a blackboard announcing the menu of the cafe in Calverley Park, after sandwiches, cakes and the like, "jackets". Jacket potatoes, of course. In the same way greengrocers sometimes shorten tomatoes to "toms"., and cucumbers to "cues" . Apacopes. I thought the word would come in useful.

The morning sun highlights the heads of people in the street, where I wait for Heidi outside the post office. It touches dark hair and fair, and edges white hair with silver. It gilds the tops of heads, bald and hatted, and gleams even on the hard hat of passing building workers. Saints everyone, they seem, and walk past ignorant of their short lived grace.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

old joke, sunset, sun up

Last time there was an election in the USA, a correspondent in Washington sent me a spoof proclamation to the effect that Britain is repossessing the USA.

"In the light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA ... we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately," it says. "Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume duties over all states, commonwealths and territories (except California, which she does not fancy ...).It goes on ann on. Item 16 reads: Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4pm with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quility biscuits (cookies) and cakes: plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.Today, effectively the same email arrives.

A woman we know describes a sunset, which she saw while driving back from Eastbourne on Sunday. "The sun was setting on the left," she says, "you might say in the West. We couldn't keep our eyes off it. It got quite dangerous."

Early sun: white balloon, creamy mist.

Monday, February 18, 2008

reward, seagulls, straight ahead

We sit outside of the Compasses with a pint of bitter and some cheese on toast after a good walk on this bright, crisp morning.

Seagulls wheel in a continuing circle over a pond at the end of the artificial lake in Dunorlan Park. I point my camera towards the vortex of flapping wings. I have no confidence in the results: the birds themselves are enough for the moment.

From a distance, I watch a neighbour walk across the Grove. He look neither to left nor right. He had no eyes for the groups of people under trees or on the paths ahead of him. Nor does he appear to see the play of sun on the grass and trees. I wonder what he sees inside his head.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

composition, to the point, machines

Two vapour trails are drawn parallel by aircraft at different heights. A seagull, gliding, not a movement of its wings, crosses both lines, its flight slow and graceful.

In the supermarket, a child perched on a trolley pushed into me by a bustling mother, says to me as I try to reach some fruit: "Who are you?"

An American engineer called Ray Kurzweil, I read on the BBC website, believes that humans and machines will eventually merge as machines, such as tiny robots, are implanted in the body to boost intelligence and monitor and cure disease.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

eggs, hellebores, dog carrier

In the Farmers' Market there is a stall with new laid eggs. The eggs are of different sizes, ungraded and unstamped. What is more they are dirty. None of these attributes suggestive of their outdoor origins may nowadays be taken for granted. Free range?" says the chicken farmer: "We have a fox-free, fenced-off area for about 400 chickens. Some of the them roost in the trees."

A man hurries past with several blue plastic bag filled with different coloured hellebores (lenten roses).

A collie-like dog snuggles up to its owner who walks up and down, the dog under his jacket. It looks very pleased with itself. And who wouldn't?

Friday, February 15, 2008


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What did you say? swinging, next feast

In the newagent, the young man behind the counter says something to me in a language I do not understand, nor recognise.It takes some moments to discover that he is talking into a no-hands telephone hanging round his neck. It is a relief not to have to reply.

A woman passes me with bouquet of flowers in one hand. She swings it like a club as she marches up Mount Pleasant as though she intends to hit someone with it.

Valentine's Day is history. Outside The Barn Bar and Grill, a notice advises Mothers' Day. Book Today.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

puns, all day, knitting

Thinking about puns, I come across a line of W.H. Auden's, "... Good poets have a weakness for bad puns..." which, as sucker for bad puns, I find a consolation.

At four o'clock this afternoon I am enjoying a cup of tea and some buttered toast in a cafe when in come four people who ask for "all day breakfasts".

In Hall's book shop, today, the conversation turns to knitting. Suddenly I remember how as a child, when I was once confined to my sick bed, my mother, to keep me occupied, gave me thick wooden knitting needles and a ball of string with instructions on how to knit dishcloths.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

daffodil bud, heavy metal, monkey love

The paper-thin membrane, which covers the bud of a daffodil, wrinkles and begins to fall away as the bud opens.

"I'm not a silver person, " says a woman in a fashion shop, to explain to the owner her lack of interest in the silver necklaces, bangles and other trinkets on offer. Pleased with the description, she repeats: "I'm not a silver person."

Yara and Thiego, a pair of red titty monkeys in the rain forest zone of the London zoo, I read in today's paper, are so devoted to one another that they sleep with their tails intertwined.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

romanescos, drama, scattering leaves

I have, for various reasons, neglected the kitchen garden this winter. When I last visited it, I had given up hope of any of those strange half broccoli, half cauliflower like vegetables, ever appearing among the kale-like leaves of the romanescos, which I sowed in the summer. Today I find they have sprouted magnificently, and though some have gone to seed, there are several for me to harvest.

When I raise the blind in the morning I enjoy seeing the sun coming from behind the house opposite and lighting, with a touch of theatre, just the tops of the evergreen trees in in its drive.

In the Grove, a park attendant is patiently sweeping up some leaves from a path, while some three-year olds are doing their best to put them back. They pick up the leaves and scatter them shouting "Autumn, Autumn", as they do. A parent runs forward; and, though she doesn't go as far as stopping the children, she says "sorry" to the sweeper, who goes on indefaticabily sweeping.

Monday, February 11, 2008

six words, canine valentine, sprout puree

Thirty words, huh? The BBC Radio Today Programme has just drawn attention to a competition run by an on-line magazine called Smith, which invites six word memoires from readers. The idea is based on a $10 bet made by Ernest Hemingway that he could write a short story in six words. He won the bet it with: For Sale:baby shoes , never worn. From now on I shall venture the occasional six-word post. But not today.

A pegkingese sits on its owner's lap at a table outside the Ragged Trousers bar in the Pantiles. It is so pleased with itself in this elevated position that it appears to think it is a person. But this doesn't stop it making eyes at a Jack Russell terrier at a neighbouring table. After while the Jack Russell's owner stands up. Before leaving she lifts the Jack Russell and carries it to the Pekingese. "Say goodby to your friend then," she says, proffering her dog, face to face with the Pekingese. The two dogs sniff at each other's nose, not without, it seems, a certain embarrassment.

Tonight's supper: one of the stalks of sprouts from Saturday's markets provides the sprouts for a sprout purée to accompany grilled pheasant breast, the last pheasant of the season.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Long finish, hand-in-hand, violets

Wine tasters talk about a wine having a long finish, when the flavours endure long after the wine has been spat out or swallowed. The nibble of goat cheese, which I was offered from a stall at the farmers market has a long finish too. I can still taste it on my way down Mount Pleasant and, come to think of it, a day later it is still "finishing" in my mind.

An old couple, he in a green jacket, she in a blue, walk hand in hand through the Grove. They stop and point things out to each other as though they are in the Garden of Eden.

In a wild, neglected front garden, a mass of sweet violets, glimmer among weeds and stones.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

new word, voices, hooter

The pleasure of finding a new word for something you didn't know had a word to describe it is a bit like that of being given a name for an as yet unidentified flower or bird, which you see differently as a result. In a French dictionary, I come across apocope, which describes the shortening of words by dropping the last syllables, as in as in labo for laboratoire, expo for exposition, and bachot for baccalauréat. It is quite common in idiomatic French, and I think at first that it is exclusively a French word for a French phenomenon, but when I look I find that it exists in English too, which indeed it should, as in tele for television, psycho for psychotic, and the more settled curio for curiosity. It is spelt in the same way, though pronounced differently.

In the Grove, the rising voices of birds and children say it's warm enough for Spring, and it is.

As we climb Mount Sion on our way home we hear behind us an old fashioned motor car hooter. It sounds like a duck quacking. We turn round to see a man with a hooter -the device has a rubber bulb to squeeze at one end, and a horn at the other. In his other hand is a pint tankard, half full of beer. "Let's all have some fun," he says. "We've got to enjoy life, or what's it for!" And he offers us the hooter to squeeze, which we do, taking it in turns.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

big sauce, photo, necessity

Sitting outside Ragged Trousers in the Pantiles for a tipple and a snack, we are brought a giant bottle of Lee & Perrins Worcester Sauce to go with some toasted cheese. Worcester Sauce, in its familiar bottle, is one of those things that's been around since my childhood and long before, and, in my travelling days, I've spotted it in bars and restaurants all over the world bars, but never have I seen a bottle this size, twice the normal size. "It's specially for bars," says our friend at the Trousers. I look on the label and note that the bottle contains 568 ml.

An elderly gentleman with two cameras, one in a case over his shoulder and one hanging in front of him, takes a photograph of the 18th century music gallery above a jewellers shop in the Pantiles. But he doesn't move on. Instead he waits looking round him as though hoping that something will happen. After a while, he homes in on a couple, about his age, walking past. It becomes clear that he wants to photograph the man, so that he can take another shot of the plaque, which reads "Musick Gallery...1789", with his model in the foreground. He takes great care in posing him with his hand to his ear, looking up at the plaque and the empty gallery.

In the chemist, an old woman with a credit card gets ready to pay for her purchases."That will be £39.72", says the assistant. And adds: "Is that OK?"" It will have to be," says the old woman, swaying a little.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

switch grass, valentine, holly

In a vase in the hall are some stems of panicum or switch grass. The minute flowers shine like little, white fairy lights.

Almost without exception just now, shop windows, not just florists, jewellers, confectioners and the like, have some reference to Valentine's day. My Oxford Dictionary of Saints says that there is no clear connection, in the lives of either of the two St Valetines, to lovers or courting couples. Both saints were probably martyred on February 14 though in different places and in different years. There were indeed two St Valentines and they lived in third century Rome. The day is, instead, linked to the belief, going back at least as far as Chaucer, that it is when birds are supposed to pair. Meanwhile if either of the two saints is in need of a group to patronise, he could, it occurs to me, choose people engaged in sales promotion.

In the groin of a beach tree bowl in the Grove springs a holly seedling.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

crocodile bubbles,parrots, murmurs

Salt water crocodiles, in David Atenborough's new tv series on reptiles, last night, blow bubbles at each other as part of the mating ritual.

The outer petals of red parrot tulips are streaked with green.

In a French dictionary the word roucoulement is defined with the help of the phrase- le roucoulement de tourterelles. This reminds me of the example of onomatopeoia which we were given at school in Tennyson's phrase, "the moan of doves in immemorial elms". But roucoulement isn't exactly "moan", more "coo", less melancholy and not nearly so poignant. Le gémissement de colombes en ormes immémorials, might do. But Tennyson and English has it, just. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to translate!

Monday, February 04, 2008

nosh,walkies, gulls

In a half coconut hanging from a tree branch, someone has provided pumpkin seeds for visiting birds.

From the window, I watch, in the distance, a woman walking a dog. The dog, on its leash, walks slowly and lags behind. I guess that the dog is old and wishing it were at home on a rug in a warm corner. If the dog had been younger it would have been ahead pulling in the direction of the park.

Look up. We are miles from the sea, but sea gulls are attracted by the rubbish tip on the outskirts of the town. Now, two or three take time off from foraging, and glide overhead in lazy circles. You know they are gulls because the sun catches the white of their wings. High above the gulls, from different angles and at different heights, two planes, the sun touching them with silver, fly in a westerly direction on their way to Gatwick.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Laughter, trails, wind

Loud, violent laughter seems to take posession of a pub, which I am passing. I get the impression that it lives there and could erupt again at any moment.

In the blue sky, two vapour trails intersect and become a cross, like a christian cross. The wind up there is blowing hard and the cross changes to one where all four sections are equidistant. A few second later, the cross becomes a T and then an L.

Today the wind is biting and people walk with their hands in their pockets, their shoulders hunched forward, and look as though they are trying to shrink into themselves.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

dream, cheerful tale, real fly,

Though I seldom remember dreams, I recall waking last night in a worried state of mind. I had been dreaming about a gangster who had a hold over me, and wanted me to belong to his gang, which did all sorts of bad things. What was worrying me was that these things were so bad that I could see no way out, other than to shoot the gangster. My first problem was how to get hold of a gun and having acquired one and shot the gangster, how I was to dispose of the body. Little details concerned me, like how to learn to use the gun efficently. On waking I was still trying to answer these questions, and it was some time before I was able to relax and enjoy the feeling that I needed no gun and had to shoot no one.

The son of someone I know has drink problem which has resulted in the break up of his marriage. This morning, my friend tells me a story with a cheerful outcome. Last night her son , J, had dinner with his wife and children and instead of going off to a pub afterwards to drown his sorrows, he took the underground back to where he was staying with a friend. On the platform of the station a young couple were having a row. The young man went away and left the girl on her own, whereupon she sat down on the edge of the platform, with her legs dangling over the edge. J went over to persuade to get up and stand out of danger. Just in time because a minute later a non-stop train swept past. A step on the way to sobriety.

The morning sun casts a reflection of the window, filled with light, on to the white wall opposite. On the reflection, crawls, unreflected, a real fly.

Friday, February 01, 2008

stalking trolley, pockets, first throw

In the twitten, near our house, someone has left a supermarket trolley. It rests on some uneven ground so that one of its wheels is raised, while the other three are level with the path. The posture is that of a cat, which freezes when stalking a bird or mouse, while at the same time, readying itself to pounce.

I like jackets with plenty of pockets. If they have zips so much the better. I want somewhere to keep a note book, pencil, money and other valuables, a camera, spectacles, whatever I happen to be reading, and anything else which may come in useful. Those fishing jackets which are more pocket than jacket are ideal for me, though I am not a fisherman. Barbour waterproof jackets have big, inside pockets known as "gamekeepers pockets". I like those too, even if I do not use them everyday to stow the carcasses of pheasants. I have, for a long time, had the fantasy of having a garment made with pockets in which I could pack the few clothes I would need to walk round the world, making rucksacks and the like, unneccessary and leaving my hands free to scale mountains and other obstacles.

A small but potent pleasure is throwing something at a wastpaper basket and getting it in first time.