Wednesday, April 30, 2008

brick, print, overhead cable

There is an old wall opposite our house. This is the surface of just one brick on that wall.

Pressed into the pavement is a white magnolia petal. It bears the striated imprint of the sole of a shoe.

Drops of rain glide along the telephone wire outside our bedroom window at regular intervals like cars on an overhead cable way.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

time and weather, forecast, flight

What can't be said is written here
In damp and lichen spread on walls,
(With time its slow interpreter),
And mimics flowers and animals,

And catches soldiers trundling by,
Lovers running through the grass,
And makes them dance or fall or fly
Or fade away like clouds that pass,

While in the grit and living leaf,
In crevice, fold and shadow,
How strange and past belief,
It fails and starts again to grow.

For sure, you'll see yourself
And watch your story told
All at once or half by half,
As frame and film unfold.

Look closely then and tread with care,
And learn how to forget,
Before you find out who you are
Or were or will be yet.

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On the screen, this morning, the BBC weather forecast for today says Heavy Rain. I look out of the window. The sun is shining.

Black birds are nesting in the bay tree in the front garden. When we stand outside the front door, they swoop past us at knee level on their way to and from the nest.

Monday, April 28, 2008

abstract, carpets, camera angle

If someone had painted this, it would have taken a long time before he (or she) was satisfied with it. The camera is quicker though the labour of the elements no less intense.

Dandelions on one side of the path, daisies on the other, make carpets of gold and white where the grass in the Grove has not been cut.

In the window of an expensive tv and hi fi shop a young man is lying on his back on the floor beneath a CD player in the shape of a narrow column. There are slots for the disks - four in all -arranged one above the other, so that the disks face out, level with the front of the column. From the floor, he takes a photograph of the column with a digital camera pointing upwards.
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Sunday, April 27, 2008

armed, white bluebell, conversation

I have to look up the word "stanchion" to see if that is what this is. I think it may be.

A white bluebell appears in a patch of blue bluebells where, in previous years, there were only blue bluebells.

"Have you done anything exciting this week?" asks the checkout girl at Sainsbury's. "Yes," I say because it seems the easiest alternative to a dissertation. Half way through the checkout procedure she pursues the conversation: "Are you looking forward to anything next week?"
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Saturday, April 26, 2008

poster, the end, clock

Announced and forgotten. "What images return
O my daughter."

There is a man who wanders round Tunbridge Wells singing loudly, a tuneless incantation. He is in full throat this morning in the middle of the farmers' market. He is wearing a red fez and carries an orange, plastic bag. People smile and look away. He sings the same words over and over again. "It's the end of the world tomorrow." He draws out the syllables and repeats "tomorrow." Again: "It's the end of the world, tomorrow....To blow us all away."

In a greenhouse, by no apparent design, is a single dandelion clock on top of a long stem. Through the transparent, silvery sphere, you can see the brown core where the seeds reside beneath their tufted wings. No breath of air disturbs this perfect structure.
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Friday, April 25, 2008

indignation, fashions, spared

Artifact with expression.

One of the pleasures of reading nineteenth century novels is to note, that while human nature remains much the same, fashion can go to the other extreme. In Zola's Une Page d'Amour, a woman asks her neighbour, having just returned from her holidays in Deauville, if she appears brown. The inference is quite clearly that she should have, and has in fact, remained respectably pale.

There is a clap of thunder and huge, dense drops of rain begin to fall. I am unprepared for rain, but fortunately find myself outside a bookshop. Where better to take shelter?
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

surface, euphorbia, honey mangoes

Shapes and colours, usually ignored on a disintegrating wall prove full of promise when photographed. Seams, wrinkles and fissures become tokens of a state of being.

Modest flowers suit me best. What more modest than euphorbia with its clusters of greenish yellow, heart-shaped petals and green bracts!

Some little, golden mangoes described as "Ghana honey mangoes" are soft to the touch and aromatic. "I bet they taste good, " I say to the greengrocer on the strength of their perfume alone. "There's a little old lady," he says, "who has bought two every day, since I have had them."
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

cross section, towels, Jack Russell

Looking down on the top of a wooden post, I see someone looking out.

Freshly laundered folded towels on a shelf.

A Jack Russell on a lead after a squirrel, barks up a tree, puts its paws on the trunk as though to climb it.
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

spring, smoking, ignorance

  • On this tree, opening soon!
  • A man, in white overalls, up a ladder, paints the wall of a house and smokes a pipe while he is at work.
  • I think to myself: I know very little but I know enough to know how little I know.

Monday, April 21, 2008

footsteps, laughter, bush tea

In the footsteps of ivy: where the live tendrils have been torn from a wall leaving behind their withered imprints.

In the Radio 4 programme, Start the Week, they are discussing laughter. They say that human being are distinguished from other animals by the capacity to laugh. Or, I think to myself, to see the joke? "Laughter", one of the speakers says, "is a reaction to how things are in contrast to how they ought to be".

When I read The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency soon after it first came out (it has since been followed by numerous sequals, I did not think that the red bush tea which Mma Precious Ramotwe offers to her clients would be available in UK supermarkets. Perhaps as a result of the success of these unusual detective stories, now made into a film, by the late Anthony Minghela, it seems to have become a popular drink over here - a tendency, which the producers of the tea have not ignored. "This tea is for people who really appreciate tea," says Mma Ramotswe. "Ordinary tea is for everyone." Heidi and I have taken to drinking it without milk mid-morning. Heidi says she regards it as medecin, but no one makes her drink it. I have come to like it."
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

garden, yeast, bouncing

After some desultory gardening, I sit in the sun. The blackbirds are at it again. But this time a great tit with its two tone, electronic peeping joins in. Insects buzz.

"Fifty grams of yeast," says the white-coated, white-hatted baker at the Sainsbury bakery counter. "I'm getting to know your face every Sunday".

As we enter the Grove, rubber balls are bouncing everywhere, on the paths, on the grass. Children throw and kick them in the air, catch them, trap them with their feet. A feature of spring?


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Saturday, April 19, 2008

cranes, blackbirds, climbing

A photograph in the paper of crane masts profiled against a background of fluffy clouds and blue sky, reminds me that the words for the machine and the bird are the same not just in English, but in French (grue) and Italian (gru). Presumably, in the early days of the machine, a perceived similarity gave rise to its appropriation of the word.

The two male blackbirds which, first thing in the morning, were disputing territory on the roof of the house opposite, the other day, were at it again this morning. They challenge one another on the same area of the roof and head-on in the air with the same fluttering action. Just recently I have noticed how loud is the blackbird song outside our bedroom window at dawn, and guess that it must be the same birds disputing the same territory. It is a lovely sound , so much more beautiful than its apparent purpose.

In the Grove, I watch two boys climbing a tall, difficult tree. They ascend with the steady assurance and intelligent progress of rock climbers. And it pleases me that, in an age when the game of conkers is banned in some schools because of possible dangers, and children have to wear crash helmets on their bikes, it is still possible for children to undertake adventurous activities without being nannied.


From a relief map of a yet to be discovered region of an undiscovered planet in an undiscovered solar system. The blue areas are land composed largely of cobalt. The brown areas are water with a high ferrous content.
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Friday, April 18, 2008

picture-making, clear spaces, read or reread

A burst of enthusiasm for pictures and patterns on surfaces, stained, scratched, cracked, peeling and crumbling, results in this morning's batch of photographs. This afternoon, as a result of seeing what I have uploaded on to the computer, I keep spotting more subjects, which I have not noticed before. The more you look the more you see. I suppose it goes on, deeper and deeper, as you begin to investigate molecular structures or sub-atomic particles hurtling towards one another at CERN.

How I enjoy having table and desk space clear! When, as a magazine editor, I had an office, my desk was always stacked with stuff; the more I cleared, the more stuff accumulated. The idea of a paperless office with everything on a wafer-thin screen remains a dream, but at least now I can have a desk and table top more or less permanently clear for action. The uncluttered surface in itself makes me feel happy.

My friend, Barrett Bonden, who is contemplating the challenge of bloggery raises the question of whether 't is better to read books for the first time or reread books which qualify as masterpieces. It makes me think, this one. I tend to agree with my friend Anna, who says that she reads for pleasure, and where pleasure leads her, there she reads. This for me means a mixture of new reading and rereading, but the emphasis is on duty-free. What do others think?

Surfaces 2

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

cowboy, everything, glow

Outside the station, a man in a cowboy hat, a satchel over his shoulder, has a tartan scarf wrapped round his face and covering his mouth. Every now and then he stops and the woman who is with him adjusts the scarf, as though he is about to be photographed.

Message on girl's tee-shirt: "I want everything".

As you come out of our house and turn right down Mount Sion, there is a view of the steep tree-covered slope of the Common. Today, in the sunshine the branches of the trees glow green with buds.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

security, instructions, gardening

While Heidi is trying on a dress, I talk to the shop manager about security tags - those nasty devices which make a noise when someone tries to steal garments to which they are attached. She tells me that shoplifters are in for a shock if they manage to get nicked clothes past the sensor. Apparently when you remove a tag from a garment without the appropriate device, it bleeds ink and ruins the clothes. "But", she says "when I was working at Dickens and Jones, young men would come in wearing stolen jeans with ink all over them. They wore them with pride as a badge of honour."

Nick the electrician fits a new ceiling lamp. It is rather an awkward one to fit. "Would you like to see the instructions? " I ask. "I usually look at them afterwards" he says, which appeals to me, because that is what I tend to do, when assembling or fitting something.

Gardening: I like it for two reasons. First, because I like being in the garden. And second, I suppose because helping things that I want to grow, grow, and stopping things that I don't want to grow, from growing, invests me with a sense of power.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gollum, black and white, 100 years

A sound, half a hiss half a growl, comes up behind us. A small boy with a thin, clever face, says: "I'm Gollum". His mother's smile is a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

Mr Crow is oh so black. Oh so white is the plastic bag, which quivers on the grass. Says Mr Crow, "I want nothing of you"; and off he flaps.

On the wall of Miles' Garage in Little Mount Sion, a sign has been painted, which reads: "Established 100 years". There would have been few cars in 1908. I like to think of those that were around being repaired at Miles, as cars of a different vintage are today. The little workshop on the corner of the road almost encapsulates the entire history of the motor car.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Barrett Bonden, checkout, chilled

For those who haven't read the books, Barrett Bonden is a character, a bosun, in the sequence of sea novels by Patrick O'Brien set at the time of the Napoleonic wars. It is also the name adopted by an old friend, who visits the shores of this blog from time to time. It was with such pleasure that I detected his pseodononymous visits that, when replying to his comment the other day (30 March), I extended the nickname into a metaphor, and ran with it. When he reflected a few days ago on the difficulty he had with enjoying gardening, I suggested that he was in fact a sea faring man, more at home on a tilting deck than in a cabbage patch. In fact he is by no means a regular sailor and I was afraid that I may have cut him off from his true personality and interests. But to day I am glad to see that he has responded to Lucy Kempton's sympathetic response to his dilemma.

The lady called Jean at the supermarket checkout is always worthwhile conversationally. "I've had may bacon and beans for breakfast and I'm set up for the day," she says in reply to my "How are you?". Not wishing to let the dialogue rest there, she says: "You wear your beret like a Frenchman," "Yes", says I, "It's a French beret."

Some friends offer us chilled Fleury with salmon at dinner the other day, demonstrating that red wine (particularly light red wine like a Beaujolais) can be served cold, and that it can also go well with fish.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

the thought, spray, names

In the supermarket, I grab a bunch of tulips, and add it to the shopping. At home, it appears that the flowers are on their last legs, almost at an end of their useful life. "The thought is nice," says Heidi. We decide to discard most of the flowers and put the thought in a vase.

The buds and embryo catkins of a silver birch spread out from its branches like green spray.

Among some people's names which emerge in a Collection of Bad Baby Names by Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback are: Warren Peace and Chastity Beltz.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

semi-colons,eight shades, weather

I like semi-colons. And I like this quote from an anonymous French grammarian: "The semi-colon is necessary; I have just proved it."

In the florist, sheets of tissue paper are hung by the corners separated into eight colours, each bundle on a separate butchers' hook. The hooks hang from a rail above a work table. I note eight colours: brown, mauve, three shades of red, orange, yellow and green. An assistant, when wrapping a bunch of flowers, pulls down a tissue, lays it on to a sheet of brown paper and folds over the edges to keep it in position . She selects a colour to match the flowers. Finally, she secures the wrapping with raffia.

Outside the window this afternoon, it grows dark. There is a sudden flash of lightening and a roll of thunder. Big drops of rain rattle against the glass and suddenly the sun comes out, though it hasn't stopped raining.

Friday, April 11, 2008

flower tea, fighting, where is it?

This morning we brew the last of the special teas which Caroline gave me for Christmas. I had saved this one because I knew it was special. It consists of light, brownish balls of leaf over which you pour boiling water. What follows is spectacular. The wrapping of leaves opens and spreads out like live seaweed swaying in the water. From the centre, next, emerges in a trickle a broadening white stain. This turns out to be composed of jasmine flowers which, following the example of the leaves, proceed to open and sway to and fro. The liquor itself is of a golden colour and lightly perfumed, and tastes all the better for the ballet performed in its making.

In the Grove there is a great kerfuffle in a bush. Two male blackbirds fly out attacking one another in the air, where Spring and territorial urges drive on their violence.

In the flower shop the telephone rings. One of the assistants darts around looking on the counter and elsewhere for the source of the ringing. Where is the phone? Everyone is laughing by now. It is in her hand and has been all the time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

seed rescue, label, reindeer

Some packets of seed, which, just a couple of weeks ago, I left in the green house in a narrow wooden box ready for sowing, have been attacked by snails. The gastropods have nibbled and digested areas of the packets in some cases rendering them useless as containers. Today, I carefully collect the seeds, which have spilt and transfer them and what remains of them in the damaged packets to white envelopes, and label each - a satisfying little chore, which has some of the charm of collecting seeds in the wild for future planting. In the process, I have to disturb one small snail still at lunch.

My memory for the names of shrubs is weak. Half way up Mount Sion, an established shrub with close-knit heads of white flowers following the line of its branches, stumps me as it did last year. Then to my pleasure I spot a garden centre label. Spirea Aguta it says. It is a plastic label with planting instructions and designation still legible after several years. I am gratful for its longevity.

Last night on BBC 2 there was a documentary film about reindeer and the Sami people of northern Norway, who accompany the herds on their annual migration. It makes me think of W H Auden's poem, The Fall of Rome which concludes with the lines:
Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

on the look out, unexpected guide,surprises

I do not tire of watching the greedy walk of pigeons - the way their heads move from side to side as they waddle forward searching for tidbits on left and right.

Outside The Ragged Trousers in the Pantiles, a couple have a drink and meal. On the table in front of them is a guide to St Petersburg.

I seldom go anywhere without my compact camera. I take photographs on most days. Sometimes I forget what I have photographed with the result that quite often there are, as today, some pleasant surprises on the memory card, things I have completely forgotten as though someone else has been using it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

calm, horse-chestnut, bank debt

A long , slow, sad film called In the Mood for Love by the Chinese director Wong Kar-Wei, is about unrequited love. It rains a lot. Thinking about it afterwards, I enjoy the way the characters move slowly and gracefully as they go about their daily lives.

Horse chestnuts are in bud. What will eventually be white, cone-shaped candles are now little peaks of close knit, green buds. They remind me of bunches of grapes but they point up rather than down.

The clock above the door of the National Westminster bank is an hour behind the rest of us. Presumably it has been that way since the clocks were supposed to go forward on March 30. I amuse myself by trying to calculate how much time the bank would be in the red if it banked time.

Monday, April 07, 2008

melting, lips, birthday

Yesterday's snow has not yet melted this morning. It lies in a blanket on our hedge and lines the branches of trees. Dandelions and sad daffodils appear amid melting patches. The trees and gutters drip. Lumps of snow fall from rooftops and evergreen trees. Scattered through the Grove are the remains of several snowmen. Some are reduced to small, shapeless piles of snow. Other take on unintended shapes. One looks like a squirrel.

The petal of one of the tulips, which yesterday made such a striking impact in the snow, has become separated from its flowers. Lying alone and on its side, it looks like a pair of painted lips.

"That will be fifteen sixty four" says the clark in the Post Office having added up my transactions, and then adds: "Shakespeare's birthday!"

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Newfoundlands, prologue, tulips

There are two Newfoundlands in the neighbourhood. Their owners usually walk them in the Grove, and the two dogs are apparently friends. But today their meeting is special. Off their leashes, they bound towards one another. Snow, you suppose, is the habitat of the breed and they seem to recognise their inheritance - two bulky black silhouettes gambolling in a field of white.

As the snow flakes race down outside the window I listen this April afternoon to Chaucer's Prologue read on CD in Middle English by Michael Bebb:
"Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droughte of March hath perced to the rote..."

No, there is no escaping the snow today. That goes for an early bed of flame-like tulips where the collapsed petals, with a distinct sense of drama, spread like blood in the snow.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

tabled, kaffir limes, hedonist

At the bottom of the steps, in front of a house, which has been turned into flats, is a small gueridon table. On it is a vase containing white roses.

A neighbour has made a tiny strip of garden off the twitten behind our house. Among his produce is a lemon tree, bearing three lemons, and behind it a kaffir lime tree (the leaves, and fruit which, when ripe, are about 4cm across, are popular in Thai cooking). There a two or three white, embryo fruit on the lime tree too. The lemon tree and the lime tree are sheltered by a mini-greenhouse, rather like a giant cloche, made from a plastic frame and polythene. It is light enough to be removed and positioned by hand. Inside it he has installed a small, tubular heater.

I stand under an awning to shelter from the rain, and watch a man walking up the hill, his head tilted back to catch the rain. He has a grey pigtail and a crude metal cross hangs on his chest. An aging hippy, a hedonist, he smiles to himself with sheer pleasure as the rain streams off his face.

Friday, April 04, 2008

kindness, drifts, mezzes

The kindness of people in buses who, in the absence of bus conductors, help one another identify the stop at which they want to get off.

At Groombridge Place, the daffodils, which we had come to see are almost finished, But on the bank of a stream there are drifts of wood anemone, like white shadows on the grass. And not yet in flower, ramsons or wild garlic, with their broad tulip like leaves. You find little bundles of these leaves for sale nowadays in smart food shops in towns.

"Two messes," calls the cook bringing two plates of mezze to customers outside the pub.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

mirror, sawing, leeks

A mirror is left in the forecourt of a house. It surprises the world with its reflection.

The sound of sawing on the other side of a wall, this morning, tells me that my friend Milo is in his garden and still at work on his dingy.

The smell of leeks, freshly lifted from the garden, trimmed and quickly washed. They will form the basis of a leek and potato soup, perfumed with ceps.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

bananas, pendant, watch dog

"Come on, banana cake, " says a mother to her dawdling child.

A slim and elegant MP3 player, without benefit of earpones or connecting wire, hangs round the neck of a woman like a piece of jewellry

A black and white dog is tied to the play ground railings on the outside. Its eyes are fixed on its owner and her small child. When the the child attempts something particularly venturesome on a small climbing frame, the dog's ears prick and its nose pushes against the bars.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

covers, sunny side, bubbles

I have been looking at those covers in the street, which give access to drains, ducts, cables and the like. They could, I fantasize, be gateways to the underworld. Engraved on the wrought surfaces are the names of their manufacturers, such as Guest and Chrimes of Rotherham, Thomas Dudley Ltd.

In Calverley Precinct people drift over to the side where the sun is shining and desert entirely the shady side.

Bubbles float over a fence into the Grove and dance in the wind before vanishing.