Saturday, May 31, 2008

fuschia, baseball cap, Harley Davidson

The long view. If I were a jewelery designer, I would make earings from

A notice on the pub door says: "No baseball caps". I am wearing a baseball cap. I say to the landlord: "Sorry about my baseball cap." It's not meant for you, " she says. "It's a polite way of saying, no yobs."

A shining, red, brand new Harley Davidson, parked in front of someone's house, catches my attention. I stop and stare it for a few blissful moments. I have never driven a motor bike and have reached the age when, if I tried, I would certainly fall off. But this is a thing of beauty. My friend Barrett Bonden could explain it. Perhaps he will. Meanwhile, I feel about it, as he did in a post on his blog (now withdrawn) about a gun, which fascinated him for the beauty of its design though not at all for its function. Except, on the other hand, I would rather, in my wild dreams drive a Harley Davidson than fire a gun.
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Friday, May 30, 2008

collector, local brew, paradise

Pure nectar!

I walk some way for a pint of Larkins bitter , a local bitter brewed by a man, who drinks a lot of it himself; and it's worth the walk.

In Emil Zola's novel La Faute de l'abbé Mouret there is a lengthy description of the once formal gardens of Le Paradou, a deserted château in Provence. Within the high walls, the flowers and shrubs, many of them rare and exotic, have taken over and run wild over lawns, formal flower beds, through arcades and into woods and copses, creating a sort of Garden of Eden in reverse. The flora is described in detail within the context of the story, and there seem to be few varieties that are not mentioned. I thought of the friend to whom I had recently recommended Zola's le Ventre de Paris, where there are voluminous lists of foodstuffs, in the Les Halles market in Paris. To those, he objected strongly for the lexigraphical strain involved. Had I recommended this novel, which I won't, he would not have been grateful. For myself, I admit to a love of the French words for flowers, which I can't have enough of, but the chapter, neverthless, took me a long time to get through
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

fallen, specs, meadows

When a cut rose sheds its petals overnight, the scent by the vase this morning is overpowering. The single petal has a brief life of its own.

Reading the letters at the optician's is like taking an exam. Notes of approval from the lady optician are like passing with honours. If anything, it's better than last time, she says. My long sight is as good as ever. My regular reading glasses don't need changing . But I still need some compact glasses for browsing in bookshops, reading menus, and the like. They fit me out with a pair of "quick readers" - I think that's what they are called - without a prescription lens and therefore not expensive. But their great merit is that they slot into a hard case not much bigger than a fountain pen, and are easy as pie to carry around.

There is a modern terrace in the "village" set amid the Victorian houses. In front of it are a some little stretches of "lawn" intersected by paths to the front gates. These are usually kept neatly cut by a contractor. But the contractor seems to have defaulted. and the result to my, though by by no means everyone's, delight, is a series of mini-meadows. Long grass with swaying, feathery heads, buttercups, thistles and docks have taken over from the dandelions. In the rain this afternoon, there is a smell of the country and you can sense a stirring of wild life.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

drop, so far, meretricious,

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Today's most beautiful thing, and one that it is worth looking at more closely, by clicking over the picture.

In Carluccio's delecatessen,as I buy some mozerrela, a young manager , whom I have never met before, standing in front of the counter, asks: "How's your day so far, sir?"

I wake up with the word "meretricious" on my mind. It is a good many years since I confused it with meritorious. But how did it come to mean flashy or noisily boastful? There is an almost sensual pleasure in opening a dictionary on a wet morning to find out. Its primary meaning, I learn, is "characteristic or worthy of a prosititute", being derived from the latin meretrix meaning prostitute. Three words above it my eye falls on a word I have not met before, "merdiverous". Yes, it does mean dung-eating with, as it happens, special reference to insects.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

branches, pushing, cds

To look up into the branches of a tree is to see a different tree.

Posted by PicasaTwo young men chat briskly as they, vigorously, manage push chairs containing small babies. Behind them, at leisure, stroll their wives.

The CDs, which I have hung above the green, pointed cauliflowers known as romanesco, have kept the pigeons away so far this year. Pigeons, given the chance, will nibble the big, green leaves to extinction. The CDs flash in the sun and throw disturbing lights across the garden. At first I fear that I have scared off the other birds, largely robins and blackbirds, which visit when I am digging or hoeing. And indeed I am beginning to notice that they are less in evidence than usual. Today I'm pleased to see a female blackbird foraging directly beneath the CDs. They must have grown accustomed to them. But a voice tells me that if they can get used them, so can the pigeons.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A rose..., two tiers, lone fish

 a rose is a rose

It is a long time since there has been a baby or two for me to push. But I can't help noticing the evolving design of push chairs. The arrangement where the child is facing forward in the same direction as the pusher, is now almost universal, though it does have the drawback of excluding conversation between parent and child. Most twin push chairs, where the twins sit by side, also have the children facing forward. There was, I recall, in the days of perambulators, a twin version, where the babies faced one another at either end of the gondola. Now I notice a new design of push chair for children, close in age, though, not I would have thought, intended for twins. This has the children sitting or lying in tiers as in a bunk. The lowest cradle rides just clear of the pavement, while the higher one is at the normal height. It strikes me that the lower level is only suitable for a baby, for whom status means very little; it clearly has little attraction for a child, who wants to sit up and see what's going on in the world.

Our new next door neighbours, away for a couple of days, ask us to feed their fish. This is fish in the singular It lives in a cube-shaped, aerated and illuminated tank. There is a hatch at the top through which food is dropped. The fish, known as Silky, is less than two centemeters from head to tail by my reckoning. It eats no more than three tiny flakes of fish food a day. Meeting the solitary Silky has been a new and enlightening experience for me. I pray that he or she survives my care.
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

opening time, nice, mates

This dark toned magnolia in the Grove flowers later than others in the area. It poses for me with its buds just beginning to open.

At the delicatessen counter in Sainsbury's I buy some Parma ham. A pretty assistant slices it for me and removes some of the outer layers of fat. The label says that it has been matured for 24 months. "That's a very good one," I say. "I'm not a fan of it," she says, and then in case her reaction sounds a little harsh, adds: "But it's nice if you like it."

After the damsel fly of the other day, two visit us in our little garden today, their wings folded back on their abdomen when they settle. They are in the process of mating and fly and settle in tandem.
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Grove, reverie, book search

I mention the Grove frequently here. For those who don't know it, this is a recent snapshot. It was taken on a wet day, when only I was there to enjoy it. This prominent grove of trees on the hill known as Mount Sion, was given to the people, who live in the neighbourhood by the Earl of Buckingham in 1702 " to be preserved for a Grove for the use of Inhabitants and lodgers of the premises ... to walk and the trees there growing preserved for shade and not any of them to be cutt down nor any building to be erected."

I like the word reverie and what it describes. It has been on my mind recently because I realize that it is the pleasant state, which I have been entering recently when I feel that I am still asleep though I am sufficiently awake to be conscious of the sun coming in at the edges of the blinds, of bird song, the occasional passing car and other sounds of awakening. All kinds of thoughts and images come and go in my head but remain longer there than those of dreams. Marcel Proust, I realize, describes something similar in the opening chapter of In Search of Lost Time. And my reveries seem sometimes to join forces with his.

My neighbour, Michael tells me that he has seen a copy of F W J Hemmings critical biography of Emile Zola in Oxfam. I am on my way out, and, in a hurry to take advantage of his tip, I make a detour via the Oxfam bookshop in Chapel Place. It is not there, and it dawns on me that he must have meant the Oxfam charity shop in Mount Pleasant. It is not there either, at least I can't see it among the other biographies on the shelf labelled Biographies. By this time, I desire this book out of all proportion to its value. Though my interest in Zola, which has mounted in the last few years, as I have pleasurably worked my way through the Rougon Maquart series of novels, has in fact made it required reading. This was yesterday. Today he tells me which of the two Oxfams he had meant. "I couldn't see it among the biographies, " I say. "It was on the shelf marked Classics," he says. On my way up Mount Pleasant this morning, I eventually lay hands on it. It is a worn Oxford University Press paper back, quite intensively used and underlined to prove it. But I think I shall come to value it not only for its content but for its pursuit and eventual capture.
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Friday, May 23, 2008

campanula, long grass, poppies

Campanula lusitanica takes over part of our garden every year. It sprouts in cracks and fissures in walls and paths.

The mowers in the Grove have left islands of long grass where daffodils flowered and where buttercups, daisies and dandelions now persist.

There is one common word for poppy in English. The French distinguish between pavot, garden poppy, ponceau, corn poppy, and, lovely word, coquelicot, wild poppy.
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

seeds, game, cold and hot

Dandelion stars.

Outside the Pizza Express restaurant in the High Street, they provide a high chair for a baby boy. His parents sit on either side of him. He discovers a new game. First he throws the menus, one by one, on to the gound, and each time his indulgent father picks them up. Next, he throws his father's sunglasses as far away as he can. He thinks its very funny to see his Dad go after them. So, strange to say, does Dad. Perhaps he's proud of his son's michievous energy. Mum looks on with growing distaste. When the child reaches for an empty beer bottle, she, not her husband, calls a halt.

It's been cold out of the sun these last few days. When the sun comes out in the High Street, I feel the warmth, as one does in the dead of winter when coming close to a fire. "It's quite nice, now," says a cheerful woman to her husband.
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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mr Crow, sad, dragon fly

Mr Crow has not been around in the Grove for some weeks. Yet here he is today back in business inspecting his property.

I have mentioned Peter the fish and chip shop owner before. He is a man who manages to be both crude and witty at the same time. Yesterday, his pint on the table in front of him, he reflects sadly, when the conversation has turned to food: "I can remember sitting out here in the old days. All we talked about was getting a leg over. Now it's food. Sad isn't it!" This morning, he says: "I can't make up my mind about lunch. Cauliflower or cabbage?"

While I am reading Wallace Stevens in the garden, a dragon fly (or is it a damsel fly) lands on the back of the bench. Its two sets of wings are still for a moment, folded and aligned with its long blue abdomen, which glitters in the sun.
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

forty winks, exchange, nettles

This is one of two lions, which have sat outside our house for a good many years, a little pretentiously, I admit. Sometimes a hat of some sort brings relief.

Two builders are resting beside a skip. One is using a mobile phone, which he holds away from his mouth, and says to me "excuse me." I look towards him. "Is England a country? he says. "Like Scotland and Wales?" I give my opinion. He conveys it to the person on the other end of his phone. I am holding a broken garden fork, which I am seeking to dispose of. "May I use your skip?" I say, feeling that some reward is due. They agree and I toss the old fork in amid the rubble. I guess that I have earned the skip space.

With a sickle, I cut down some tall nettles and breathe in the intoxicating smell of summer.
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Monday, May 19, 2008

robin, horse chestnut, clams

This is a very small and slim and, I think, very young robin. I have seen it three times in the same corner of the Grove. Its rebarbative pose comes, I think, from shyness and inexperience rather than a dislike of the paparazzi, not a characteristic of robins in general.

While hoeing the broad beans, I encounter a horse chestnut seedling sprouting from a half buried conker - a strange conjunction.

In the Pantiles farmers' market, there are clams on the fishmonger's stall. They are palourdes, he says, by way of explaining that they originate in France. Clams or cockles, palourdes, in Italy vongole, and in Spain berberecho and almeja, are all similar but distinctive crustacea. We'll make spaghetti a la vongole, we decide. They have different names and architectures, but, quickly sauteed and assisted by a little stock and white wine and perhaps some cream they taste much the same, sweet, tender and slightly salty.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

helianthemum, song, long grass

I have been referring to this as a cistus, but my flower bookcalls it helianthemum. It is however a member of the family, Cistaceae. So I suppose we are both right. I bought it as a small plant in the Farmers' Market several years ago. Now it is a shrub about five feet high, about to be covered in these white flowers with slender yellow stamens. Here is one of its first blooms this year.Posted by Picasa

Blackbirds have been awake early these last few weeks. Their song seems to me, as I lie drowsily in bed like water flowing fast, cool and clear over the pebbled bottom of a stream.

What are these: Jersey Pop Up, Oregon 5, Hartford 4, Montana 6, Minnesota? All have the qualifcation Outwell. They are tents, advertised outside a camping equipment shop.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

bud, wall, starlings

A poppy bud bowed under the weight of its promise.

There is a window, which I pass regularly, next to the pavement, through which I usually sneak a look. Today I see, instead of a table and a fridge with stickers on its flank, a plain, white-painted outside wall as though the room behind the window has disappeared. Because of the light at this time of day, the window has become a mirror and what I am seeing is the house opposite. It has the effect of a surreal painting and makes you stand still and think for a minute about the permanence of things.

Sunk into the the classical frontage of the house opposite is a pillar with a carved capital. At this time of year, as I almost certainly noted here last year, starlings nest within the capital. When the parent birds are away looking for food, the young make a noise like a telephone under a pile of linen, insistant, monotonous, urgent.
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Friday, May 16, 2008

street art, cup of tea, grass

Someone has painted or stencilled this cat on the bottom of a wall behind an enclosed car park. I have passed it many times, but not until I photographed it today, did I realize how much I liked it. It is rather smaller than life size, and easily missed if you are not looking our for it.

In the Farringdon Road in London near where I used to work, is what used to be a working man's cafe. It made no pretensions to be otherwise, when I used to use it. Though it has now become a modest but successful restaurant, its provenance is not lost. The current owners have retained the frosted glass windows on either side of the door. On one is etched the words: "London's Noted Cup of Tea", and on the other: "Progressive Working Class Caterer".

This morning, they are cutting the grass in the Grove. It is drizzling and the grass has a succulent, green smell in the damp air.
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

alkanet, talking, bus pass

The flowers of green alkanet. The plant has a coarse, untidy habit which does no justice to the beauty of its blossoms. The name is derived from the Arabic for henna. It has been sugested that it was introduced into this country for the red dye, much cheaper than henna, which can be extracted from its roots. I know, from personal experience, that it is a deep rooted plant because it intrudes in the vegetable beds and needs to be dug out rather than pulled out, before it takes over. I have as yet extracted nothing from the roots. It flowers from March well into the summer. It is a member of the borage family.

I meet an old friend for lunch. We talk of matters of common interest, old times and new times, and suddenly five hours have passed. "We tire the sun with talking and send him down the sky."

I use my bus pass, which gives me free travel anywhere in the country, for the first time on a London bus. There is a card reader by the driver's cab as you enter the bus. The reader flashes and bleeps, and bob's your uncle.
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poppies, offices, cleverness

These yellow poppies, sown only by the wind, are popping up everywhere this year, delicate gifts of nature.

From the train, glimpses of people in dark offices next to the railway line on the way into London. Peoples' heads bowed towards screens, arms stretched across scattered documents on cramped desks.

Notice above a display of books in Waterstone's bookshop: "Clever books for clever people". Who's a clever boy?
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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

petunia, perimeter, routines

The delicacy of the veins in the petals surprises me. You don't notice them until you see the photograph.

We go to a neighbour's 8oth birthday party. There I talk to an elderly acquaintance, whom I bump into sometimes in Hall's bookshop and sometimes in the Grove. He informs me that the perimeter path round the Grove measures 483 yards (441 meters). He says that a former resident, who used to walk fast round the Grove several times a day for exercise, had asked the Council for these measurements so that she could better plan her regime. Four times round and she had walked a mile. I didn't know her, but I used to see her in a track suit, grim-faced and looking neither to left nor right.

Creative routines where there is something to show for your work are the best sort of daily or weekly bench marks. High up on my list of such routines is bread making. I enjoy keeping the yeast starter foaming gently in a small jug and feeding it daily. Then there is the preparation of what bakers call a sponge, a loose almost liquid dough, where the flavour of the flour is allowed to develop. This is used later to ferment the final dough. Mixing this in the food processor and then kneading the resultant dough by hand for a minute or two is another source of satisfaction. The ball of dough on the table, lightly dusted with flour, full of energy and promise, has a sensuous feel about it, which takes you back through thousands of years of bread-making. Noting how much the dough has risen every time you visit the the bowl in which it is sitting, is another pleasure. So too is knocking back the dough and placing it in tins to prove. Baking the bread and airing the hot loaves on a wire rack is a fitting climax. If it sounds complicated, think that the different tasks involved, when spread over several hours are, none of them, hard or time consuming, and you will understand the simple delight of seeing flour and water become bread
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Monday, May 12, 2008

bark, mice, silence

Fish in tree.

My friendship for wild life falters when it comes to slugs and snails which eat my lettuce seedlings. To this black list I must now add mice. They eat the garden pea seeds which I sow fruitlessly every year. So at any rate experienced gardeners tell me. If it is not true, what else prevents the seeds from germinating? But if it is true, I must reconcile myself to these intelligent creatures, which seem to know where precisely the seeds are. Do they deduce their presence from the pea sticks which line the row? Or do they lurk in the long grass, watch me at work and mark the spot? Either way they seem to exhibit something like a sense of humour. Because on each of three occasions that I have sown disappearing peas, one, just one seed has eventually sprouted.

In the Michel Tournier's novel La Goutte d'or, there is a chapter which involves the arabic art of calligraphy. Among other things, it stresses the importance of correct breathing when working on a manuscript to ensure an even flow and rhythm in the lettering. At the head of the chapter is a sentiment, which though often expressed, I find particulalrly pleasing on account of the way it is expressed here:
Si ce que tu as à dire, n'est pas plus beau, que le silence, Alors, tais-toi!
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Sunday, May 11, 2008

bells, familiar faces, geese

Blue bells are still in flower. Just. I always find it interesting that these plants cling to the shade where they flourish. They are spring flowers of temperate climates, and the English blue bell, of which this is an example, as distinct from the Spanish blue bell, is not associated with the hot weather, which we have at the moment in the south of England. You can tell a more showy Spanish blue bell, increasingly common in England, by the flowers, which appear on both sides of the stem, and by the stem, which is errect rather than curved over like the one in my photograph.

I realize in Sainsbury's this morning that there are people whose faces I recognise because they shop at the same time as I do. If you watch people, they become as familiar as friends or neighbours, and you may fall into the trap of a spontaneous greeting. Easily enough done. Once, some years ago, I was at a reception in Brighton, where I knew a lot of people though not very well, when I saw a familiar face coming towards me. It was one of those occasions when you do not want to offend people by appearing to ignore them. So, before I could stop myself, I said "hullo," only to find that I had greeted the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, whom I had not met before and have not met since. She didn't seem put out. "We're just going to win the next election," she said mistaking me for a fan.

Half a wake this morning, I hear, through the open window, geese honking overhead. I doubt if I had jumped out of bed and looked out of the window, that I would have been in time to see them. But I would dearly have liked to see them. The thought of a vee formation of these birds, their necks stretched out in front of them, appearing to know exactly where they were going, makes me feel contented, almost happy.Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 10, 2008

family, watching, dove

Three generations.

In the shade, an old dog, part collie, sits with its paws forward, its head resting between them. It is watching some children kicking a football. Its eyes never leave them.

Listening to the Archers , I hear a ring dove in the background. Does the sound come from the radio or from outside our open window. "It's on the radio," says Heidi.
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Friday, May 09, 2008

message, call, at last

Message on plywood board, replacing window in derelict building, for whom? From whom?

The Morse code like the call of ring doves, which are plentiful round here, can, when abbreviated, be mistaken for the call of a cuckoo, although you don't see or hear cuckoos in these parts nowadays.

People say almost out of habit, "summer at last," as though summer were late, when in fact the hot weather seems to be a little early. "Summer at last", is the sort of thing people say when they are little disappointed that there is no longer bad weather to grumble about.
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Thursday, May 08, 2008

bud, Bonden, nuts

Wisteria bud and wisteria shadows.

It gives me pleasure to see that my friend Barrett Bonden has refused to be defeated by the cyber censor who labeled his new blog as possibly objectionable. He did withdraw a post about the beautiful, intrinsic design of a gun, while expressing distaste for the purpose to which guns are put. And he has launched a new blog- but the health warning from Blogger has persisted despite his remaining posts being confined to mathematical equations, poetry, Ohm's law and other aspects of science and technology, which could not, by the remotest association, hurt anyone except the densely stupid.

In the small patch of lawn beside our house a small hole has appeared, and, by the hole, a couple of hazel nut shells. Although the setting of our house is largely urban - a street of 18th and 19th century houses - come to think of it, I have noticed a squirrel in our garden recently. It's good to think that we have unknowingly provided a larder for the creature.
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wisteria, bonden, nuts

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