Monday, June 30, 2008

salad, bollards, kiss

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Two fat lettuces ready for the table.

They are painting the bollards in the pedestrian precinct opposite Royal Victoria Place. The colour is the pleasant tone of burgundy that is the corporate colour of Tunbridge Wells. It is, in fact the colour of aged Burgundy wine, but the bouquet is just paint.

The buds of the sow thistle, just about to open, are like pursed lips on the point of blowing a kiss.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

creeping, fat gulls, cool dog

There are, according to Geoffrey Grigson's Englishman's Flora, nine wild flowers called locally "Creeping Jenny" . Here is the one which I know best. It is a wild flower but is also cultivated as ground cover to deter other more intrusive plants. That is one of its purposes in a difficult patch in our garden, but we alway look forward to its flowering, at this time of year, and its energetic way of speading its favours. For the sake of precision its latin name is Lysimachia nummularia. Apart from Creeping Jenny, its other widely employed common name is Moneywort. As a medicinal herb its most common use is to reduce bleeding.

As we queue for passport control at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, we see three fat seagulls wandering among the slow moving wheels of cars. Someone has been feeding them from a car window. They show no fear of the wheels; if they were big enough, they would kick the cars out of the way. Seagulls look better when they are flyimg.

In the closed train, which carries cars in the tunnel under the English Channel, we see that a woman is making her labrador comfortable in the rear compartment of her shooting brake in preparation for the 35 minute journey. Not only does the dog have a bowl of water, but an electric fan, powered from the dashboard.
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Underworld, reader, thought

The way in or the way out?

In the Grove, a grey-haired man on a bench is reading A Brief History of Time.

Tunbridge Wells, where I live, is in the news. The Borough Council has banned the use of the phrase "brain-storming" because it believes that it may offend people suffering from epilepsy. The charity The National Council for Epilepsy says that it has no objection to the term, which it claims to use in its own work environment. Tunbridge Wells Council prefers its employees to say "thought shower".
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

wildness, paths, not so bad

One grassy area of the Grove, instead of being mowed like the rest of the grass, has been allowed, in the hope of encouraging wild life, to follow its own inclinations. The result, after only a few weeks, is the appearance of wild flowers not usually seen in this little park. Buttercups and clover are profuse. There are docks and sorrels, bugle and a patch of heath bedstraw, shown here among the blades of grass.

Walking across the Grove from the Sutherland Road entrance to the Compasses, I strike out across the grass, and ignore the paths. I reflect that most roads and paths are the result of people or animals taking a particular route over the years until it becomes established. New routes, new paths, new roads take time, and sometimes courage.

A middle aged woman comes out of the front door of her house holding a compress to the top of her head. Her husband leads the way to their car. "It looks worse than what it is," says the woman. She laughs, perhaps to reassure me.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

new, bones, frisbee

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I pick and open a pod of the first broad beans, couched in a bed of white velvet. They are still small and tender enough to eat raw, which I do one by one.

My favourite restaurant in Tunbridge Wells is Sankey's. Fresh fish purchased "direct from the coast" is its theme and speciality. Like most of those, who serve the public nowadays, however, the management has to be careful in case somebody sues it for the least mishap, as this warning on the menu demonstrates. "Please be aware that Fish may contain bones, even the filleted ones. Oysters are consumed ALIVE... Customers do so at their own risk."

I am struck by the aerodynamics of a frisbee, which two young men are throwing to each other in the Grove. Unlike more primitive frisbies, it is not a saucer, but rather a flat and narrow plastic ring, skillfully shaped for uplift. I guess that the air in the middle of the ring, stirred by the ring's circular motion, becomes like a balloon (or perhaps the motion creates a partial vacuum), which accounts for the way it floats and soars, as it seems to rise of its own accord after it is thrown.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

pride, evolution, unexpected buds

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For many years I have stopped to pass the time of day with these ladies on London's South Bank. The sculpture is by Frank Dobson and is called London Pride.

As I walked past the office just off the South Bank where I used to work 25 years or more years ago, I was struck by the thought that I had shared the room with an old fashioned office typewriter. It had keys that clattered like a machine gun. There were carbon paper and white bottles of correction fluid and the smell of typewriter ribbon. I suppose I might be nostalgic but I'm not.

For some years now we have had an agapanthus in a pot. For the last couple of years it has not flowered. But I heard someone say on the radio that, although the roots like to be crowded, they also liked to be fed. Ours had not been fed. This year over generous applications of feed have resulted in at least five buds, shooting up among the spikey leaves.

Monday, June 23, 2008

honeysuckle, gibbous, framed

Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms...
So doth the woodbine - the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist.

Awake early, I look out of the window to see, pale against the pale morning sky, a gibbous moon. What a good word, gibbous!

Across the area of sky framed by the terraced houses and roof tops of Grove Avenue, and the trees which mount the slopes of the Common, big, fluffy clouds pass in rapid procession on this windy day.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

poppy, fledging, bubbles

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The architecture of a poppy. When the flower is over and its petals shed, the globular seed capsule remains. Here on top of the globe, the sesile stigmas, (that is stigmas without stems), radiate from the centre, and nurse beneath them the numerous seeds.

Starlings, as in previous years, have been nesting in the capital of the column set into the wall of the house opposite. I have mentioned before the constant din of the young demanding food. Yesterday, as I passed in the street, I looked up to see that the nestlings were in the process of fledging. It is wonderful to see them fluttering from ledge to ledge before taking to the air, and to think that they must have emerged from a clutch of eggs only a few weeks ago. Today, the nest is silent and deserted and the new generation is busy looking after its own needs.

As I round the corner of an alley off Mount Pleasant and alongside Calverley Ground, I encounter a solitary soap bubble. It floats past me in the wind on an " urgent volantary errand". Soon I meet another and then another. By the time I turn into Mount Pleasant, there are bubbles galore. They are produced by a machine on the pavement outside Hoopers department store. Beside the machine is an empty deck chair and a rug suggesting a picnic. It is clear that the bubbles are part of a summer promotion to draw visitors into the shop in the hope that they will buy leisure clothes. I have seen the machine before when it was engaged in a similar marketing exercise, and it has featured here. It consists of a resevoir filled with soapy liquid. An electic powered, rotating wheel supports plastic rings positioned as though they were the blades of a water wheel. As the rings pass through the water, they form bubbles and impel them into the air. The device seems to require little suppervision.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

escape, sun, the past

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Another plant that likes to grow on walls and in corners, out of cracks and crevices. There's lots of it in these parts. Nobody takes much notice of it. It is described as a garden escape. Its common name is Yellow FumitoryIt is also known as Yellow Corydallis.

I say to the chicken farmer at the Pantiles Farmer's Market: "It looks as though the sun's coming out". "Shh," he says, "The bugger 'll go away again."

As I walk down the street called Hatfieldsoff Stamford Street on the South side of the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge, I count the third window from the left on the second floor and look up at the office I used to occupy 25 years ago. I try to remember what was on the window sill next to my desk, and I think of the years that have intervened.

Friday, June 20, 2008

wall lettuce, lamp post, mayonaise

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This is wall lettuce, Mycelis muralis. It is not much noticed because it grow in cracks and corners of walls and other unloved places, but deserves more attention. I like it for it little yellow flowers and elegant stems which are often of a purple hue. Its deeply lobed leaves may, apparently, be eaten as salad.

Glimpsed from the train, a lamp post, round which wild clematis clambers, and to judge by the protruding tendrils, embraces energetically.

I have taken to making mayonnaise again. I used to think it a delicate operation (in fact, the fear of the liaison separating, when oil joins the egg-yoke base, far exceeds the likelihood of it happening. Beating egg yoke into vinegar, lemon juice and other flavourings takes barely a couple of minutes and whipping in a steady stream of oil, only a little longer. I used to use a food mixer but the old fashioned hand-held, bulb-shaped, wire beater is easier. And the smooth, creamy, savoury sauce, which results is a beautiful thing. Making it is one of those little creative acts, which round off a day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

foxgloves, precision, shower

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So uniform in shape and function is the foxglove, yet the spots inside the corolla seem to be scattered at random.

To read spare, precise and accurate yet simple descriptions of objects is a special aspect of the pleasure of reading. Two instances, one in poetry and one in prose, have come my way recently.
One is the content of Barrett Bonden's blog (already mentioned in this one on a number of occasions. No apology for doing so again).The other is to be found on Dave's, where a series of 20 poems describe familiar tools (Odes to tools), so as to allow the subjects effortlessly and wittily to transcend themselves and lead naturally to new associations. An example from Ode to a socket wrench must suffice:
" ...Its accommodating nature
its chrome-plated steel,
its handling of torque.
It can make a complete revolution
From the smallest arc..."
Read the lot. They deserve to be.

To wait for a shower to end and walk out in the warm sunshine and smell in the damp, aromatic air, the oils and resins released by leaf and flower, is one of the pleasures of an uneven and unpredictable climate such as ours.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

mostly students, oil, lime flowers

This wall outside the Tunbridge Wells Education Institute where evening and other adult education classes take place. The names and countries testify to a number of overseas students.

Somebody in the pub says: "My brother's in oil". It reminds me, though I do not say so, of a cartoon in which one woodworm beatle says to another: "My husband's in antique furniture." I think, now, of two sardines having a similar conversation.

The lime trees are begining to flower.The tight spherical buds open beneath the pale green bracts, which will soon carry the seeds in the wind. Miniature spiked green balls are already in the horse chestnut trees. It is strange to think of Autumn when Summer is barely with us.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

end, hand, seagull patrol

Unable to resist a creative flourish, the smith who made this to secure an iron gatepost, could not refrain from turning the end of it into a snake's head. No more can I resist photographing it.

Caught in a tangle of seaweed, where the waves are breaking, I see what I take to be the claw of a small crab. Close inspection reveals thet it is the tiny arm of a minute, plastic doll. It is a surreal image, which reminds me that Salvador Dali lived a little way down the coast on the other side of Barcelona from us.

On this windy day, I repeatedly see a patrol of six or seven seagulls. They keep formation, their wings barely moving, as they look down on the shore and the sea front.
This the last of the holiday images from my notebook. Tomorrow, it's back to real time.
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Strelitzia, conference, rivers

This, I think, is Strelitzia nicolai; or it could be Strelitzia Caudata, also known in South Africa as "wild banana". It grows by the hotel pool alongside other exotica. The more common Strelitzia regina, bird of paradise flower, with its strident orange and blue flowers, also grows by the pool in pots.

Beside the tranquil pool, is a conference room with a long table, tall, sliding, glass doors and space for a maximum of about 20 people. While swimming, we are aware of a dozen or so men in shirt sleeves, sitting at the table, an open lap top in front of each of them. One man looks longingly at the water through a partialy open door. Not a smile, not a laugh is heard, only the steady thrumb of a single, authoritative voice.

On one rainy night, the water streams down the steep, narrow streets, flows through broad ducts under the road beside San Sebatian Playa and forms miniature rivers and estuaries on the sand.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

no grafitti, depth, clouds

Although the occasional squiggle and twirl of graffiti has appeared on the panels of the beach huts used by the town hall for beach maintenance, none seems to have disfigured the white walls of Sitges. Perhaps it is because of this magisterial prohibition in Catalan. Identical blue and white porcelain plaques are fixed to walls throughout the town.

When, as a nipper, I first learnt to swim, my mother would stand at the edge of the sea and tell me not to go out of my depth. It is partly for the pleasure of ignoring her orders and partly for the equal pleasure of leaving the shore as far behind as possible, that I have always enjoyed being out of my depth. It is a state, which come to think of it, I have been in for the best part of my life. Now, however, as Heidi, following her hip operation, swims parallel to the beach, I find myself doing the same.

From the balcony, this one wet day of our holiday, I watch a long line of low, black clouds move slowly, like a freight train, from left to right above the sea and against a background of higher grey cloud.
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

bougainevillea, bat, pusher

Now is the season when bougainevillea scrambles over white walls of houses and gardens in Mediterranean countries. Beside our hotel swimming pool there is a an entire wall covered with a red variety. I used to think of it as a prolific purple or red flower. What I haven't noticed before is that, what appear to be its butterfly-like flowers are reallybracts. There are in fact three small white flowers, the true flowers, to each group of bracts. I learn that the plant is named after Louis Antoine de Bougaineville, who sailed round the world between 1766 -69.

D H Lawrence wrote a poem called Bat, set in Florence in which he describes "swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together" as the evening draws in. And suddenly as darkness falls:
The swallows are gone".
I am reminded of this poem as the swifts, shrilling above us in front of the sea , vanish with darkness and are replaced by, as far as I can see, just one bat. Its wings are, as Lawrence declares "... like bits of umbrellas."

Walking in front of us up a narrow pedestrian street, is an elderly man, dressed in black, with straggling long hair. With the ferule of his umbrella, he obsessively pushes dog ends into the narrow gutter that runs down the centre of the paving. Sometimes he stops when the rain has made a dogend heavy and unmanoeuvrable, and putts it like a cautious golfer eager not to miss his target.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

collared dove, pool, moving lips

This collared dove arrives on our balcony and waits long enough to pose for a photograph before departing for the balcony next door.

The hotel has a tranquil pool which we always have to ourselves. It is surrounded by banana and date palms, bougainevillea and strelitzia with their bird of paradise flowers. Three or four sun-beds and some cane furniture are comfortably faded. We use the pool in the morning before breakfast. Its surface is still like a sheet of blue glass. I enter it quietly and swim across it with a slow breast stroke so as to disturb the surface as little as possible. In the middle, I roll on to my back and watch the swifts swooping overhead. They trill like muted telephones.

A young woman is arranged on a towel on the sand under the afternoon sun. Apart from a silver ornament in her navel, she is dressed only in a bikini bottom. Her eyes are closed and her lips move without any sound. You wonder if she is suffering from some sort of sunstroke, until you realize that she is singing silently to herself, accompanied by music only she can hear from the minute MP3 player on the towel beside her and connected to her ear by a thread-like cable.
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

San Sebastian, relief, Medusa

This tidy, block-free bay is called Playa San Sebastian. Our hotel, sideways on to the sea, with just two sets of balconies facing it directly, is just in the middle of it on the extreme right of the picture. Our third floor room is just a few meters from the sea, which whispers or crashes in our ears all night. Now that we are home the relative silence is odd and only a little welcome.

It is a pleasure and relief to be able to post on this blog again. It's been going for three years and I have been able to post every day, even when on holiday, from the lap top for guests' use on the hotel reception desk. Half way through our stay, Google changed the access arrangements, and as I could not reach my emails, I could not find the new password and address I was supposed to use. It was a bit like coming home to find that someone had changed the lock on your front door. At last, now, there is relief, for my poor cow of a notebook, its udders heavy with un-drawn milk. A steady stream ensues, if you can stand the metaphor, prompting holiday memories in the next few days.

A lithe and leathery middle-aged woman on a sun bed exposes almost every inch of her body to the sun except for her eyes, which are covered by yellow cup-like protectors. She has reptile eyes, gorgon eyes.
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Saturday, June 07, 2008

bananas, waterloo, kites

In England and other northern countries, we do not associate bananas with the palms on which they grow. Round here, in the swimming pool area and in the entrance to the hotel, there are banana plants and on the banana plants banana flowers, white angular blossoms emerging from long, purple, banana-shaped buds, which are horizontal with the ground, so that the flowers look like the sails of a schooner.

A tall, thin American wears a red tee shirt on which the words Waterloo Belguim are inscribed.

Off the beach, in the distance, kites like large birds, their wings permanently pointed downwards on the downward beat, haul surf-boarders across the waves in the brisk wind.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

walkers, sleepers, clear up

On the crescent of beach, known as St Sebastian, people have the habit of walking the 400 meters from end to end for pleasurable exercise. This morning I watch a couple engaged in this ritual. They walk from one end to the other, he with resignation, she with a determination almost militaristic. She in a bikini top, he in white shorts and a baseball cap. She swings her arms and holds herself upright; he ambles, his head forward, his shoulders slightly bent, his arms dangling. Her short legs and his longer ones seem, by some miracle, to keep in time, and they manage to keep pace with one another.

This afternoon, on the sea front , a young woman lies asleep on her side on a bench. Beside her is a push chair. In the push chair is a small baby asleep. The woman`s arm is thrown across the push chair, her hand reaching across the sleeping child.

Yesterday afternoon, the waves gradually washed up a long line of driftwood - trunks of trees, uprooted vegetation, bamboo-like stems and tangles of foliage. This morning first thing, men in blue uniforms from the Sitges town hall arrive with a white truck, brooms and shovels. Into the bags go the jetsam, and before long, there is a line of full bags following the tide line. The bags are thrown on to the back of the truck. The yellow sand of the beach is restored to its pristine state.

net, dance,dove

Through the clear water, the sun makes a pattern like a golden net, on the sand beneath my feet.

On the beach a little girl in a pink dress dances in and out of the last corner of the sunsnine on the beach as the long day draws to an end.

We hear the cooing of ring doves as we do at home. Suddeny this morning,, Hedi says:"Look." there is a grey dove on the parapit of our balcony. Its soft grey feathers are slightly ruffled. It lloks small and young. It edges along the top of the parapit. I reach for my camera and take a photograph through the glass of the French window. And another, a little closer this time. Finally I ease myself on to the balcony and it allows me another photograph without the glass between. Only then does it fly off to the parapit of the next balcony.

back again, leopard, poppy again

It is a beautiful thing to be back again in this pretty seaside town near Barcelona. We are staying in the same hotel, where we are greeted as old friends. There is even a bottle of cava to welcome us in our room. We are usually here in September and it is interesting to note what is different in our surroundings. Most important to me are the swifts no longer here in the Autumn. They seem to swarm like flies round the old town, when seen from our balcony. In broad sunlight you see the birds moving against their shadows on the white walls behind them. But as the sun goes down they fly low over the beach in front of the hotel and the restaurants on either side of the hotel. They are drawn by the insects which are attracted by the lights. In close up you can see their swept back, pointed wings and above all you can hear their sharp cries and appreciate the astonishing angles of their flight.

In a shop window is a crash helmet covered in a leopard skin print.

In pursuance of a recent theme, the Spanish word for poppy, I am reminded, is amapola, and I learn, having asked at the reception desk, where I use this laptop, that the Catalan word is rosella.

Monday, June 02, 2008

grazing, dry hills, elsewhere

After the rain, pigeons and other birds wander over the grass pecking at the soft ground in much the same as quadruped mammals graze.

The cistus in our garden is flourishing as if it were growing on the garrigue in south west France where it is native. Even on a grey day here in Tunbridge Wells our shrub is swarming with bees. Reading about the plant in The Botanical Garden by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, I note that the scent of the leaves is "reminiscent of hot, dry hills". I rub the leaves between finger and thumb and sniff the emergent slightly sticky sap. Hot, dry hills? I wonder if it really is. Perhaps the suggestion is enough to evoke, on its own, that distant landscape.

As I walk through the Grove or in the High Street on the look out beautiful things for this blog, I think to myself: when you see something interesting happening, something else of interest is usually happening somewhere else and out of sight.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

apples, car doors, blue dust

Early apples immitating the open beaks of newly hatched nestlings.

On a tv newsreel two limos full of politicians and their bodyguards pull up outside a conference centre. I am struck by the way the four doors of each vehicle open simultaneously and, after the passengers emerge, slam shut in rapid succession like pistol shots. Only in American gangster movies do you find the same urgent and rather threatening mode of arrival by car.

Under a ceanothus bush is a shadow of blue blossom dust.

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