Friday, October 31, 2008

exits, busy holly, bubbles

Posted by Picasa Behind the derelict cinema in Tunbridge Wells.

A dense, closely pruned holly tree is alive with unseen, twittering sparrows.

As I walk up the street called Mount Pleasant, I am greeted by clouds of bubbles, shining in the sun, wafted by the wind, into the road among the traffic and up into the remaining leaves of the plane trees, where they drift and perish. The source of the bubbles is a group of young people with little jars of liquid and wire rings, as intrigued by the magic of bubbles as I am.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

variation ..., hair, fielder

Posted by Picasa ... on a theme.

Here's story, from A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, which strikes me as demonstrating a typical and delightful aspect of French humour. Marcel, to illustrate, how people fail to note the true appearance of others, even when close to them, tells us about his grandmother's drawing teacher. He had, we are informed, a mistress, who had born him a child. Shortly after the birth of the little girl, the mother died and the old man was left to bring her up on his own. After a few years, he became ill himself and was not expected to live long. Marcel's grandmother, with some other ladies, pupils of the teacher, clubbed together to raise some money to ensure that little girl would be well looked after. When the old man brings the little girl to introduce her to her benefactor, the grandmother remarks on the beauty of the child's hair. "Did she inherit it from her mother ?" she enquires. "I don't know," replies the teacher, " for I never saw her when she was not wearing a hat."

In the Grove, I watch a Jack Russell terrier pursuing a ball, which its owner throws for it to chase. The dog hurtles after the ball with exuberant energy and invariably, its mouth already open, catches it on the bounce, and skids on the fallen leaves as it stops and turns to bring the ball back, so that the process can be repeated. I find it hard to drag myself away from this demonstration of athletic skill and timing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

low in the sky, record? stalker

Posted by Picasa The sun, low in the sky, shows the Grove at its best and most gentle this afternoon.

The rural habit of spotting a seasonal,natural occurrence early in the season is summed up, you suppose, by those letters to the London Times in the old days claiming to have heard the first cuckoo of Spring. The habit, I think to myself, can now safely transfer from rural and natural, to urban and commercial phenomena, as I spot, on Sunday 26 October, the first Christmas tree of 2008. Is this a record?

The similarity between the big cats shown on countless tv nature programmes and the domestic cat is never more noticeable as when the domestic animal is after a bird or other local creature. Today, I watch a long bodied, ginger cat stalking a squirrel. The squirrel is engaged in eating a nut, which it has just collected from the grass. Sitting upright, it rotates the nut between its little paws. It is concentrating on the job, and may be a little less alert than usual. The cat, its tail extended for balance, moves forward in a slow, straight line, its muscles rippling. It stops, quivering imperceptibly as it waits for the moment to leap. I think that the cat cannot fail to catch the squirrel. But the squirrel runs and, as the cat skids in its tracks on the leaves under a tree, up which the squirrel scampers, is it my imagination that the cat, almost in possession of its prey, lets it go, as though the prospect of dealing with its remains, is not worth the effort. Spoilt is it? I wonder. Has a daily tin of cat food, robbed the domestic cat, of its instinct to kill.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

missing, grass flowers, tomato

Posted by Picasa... and forlorn.

Although, in one form or another, we eat the seed, we often forget, because they are usually so inconspicuous, that grasses have flowers. Today, while putting another book away, I take off the shelf The Penguin Dictionary of Natural History and open it at random. It opens on a page with a diagram of a typical grass flower. The names of the different parts of the flower - awn, glume, lemma and palea - more than make up for the flower's small impact.

We are still eating the rare varieties of tomato which were on display at last Saturday's Farmers' Market. One, though ripe, is green and remains green. Another - a plum tomato - is green but generously streaked with red like a sunset sky. All have good flavours and thin skins.

Monday, October 27, 2008

leaf map, rising dough, starlings

Posted by Picasa The scars and erosions of time and predation have stories to tell.

I have been baking bread about once a week for the last fifteen years. Yet it always with slight trepidation that I lift the cloth over the fermenting dough to see if it is rising as it should; and, though I can't remember a time when it is has not risen, it is with a sense of satisfaction that I see that it has.

At this time of year, the starlings that I have heard twittering and fluting but not been able to see, become visible in the branches of trees, where the leaves have fallen, and where they sit like large and mysterious fruit.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

installatiion, tree and leaf, onions

Posted by Picasa This installation is to be found on platform one at Tunbridge Station. You walk along the platform beneath the bridge and towards the tunnel at the end of the platform. I am not sure what purpose it serves, though it does suggest a series of fuse boxes. It could of course be a work of art - you can't be sure nowadays, can you?

As I walk through the Grove I ponder the charming suggestion that the shape of a leaf reflects the outline of the tree it comes from. A lime tree confirms the theory. But a maple proves more challenging. The more I look at the tree the more I see the leaf shape in the outline of its branches against the sky. But I could be hallucinating. It seems to work for a beech, and even for a delicate silver birch. But horse, and sweet chestnuts present a problem. And then there are conifers. Do you look at the way the needles bunch on a Scotch pine? Or at the lithe and narrow outline of cypresses and compare them with the shape of the individual shoots?

In the supermarket, some onions fall from my trolley. "Your losing your onions," says a girl in Sainsbury's uniform with a friendly laugh. It sounds like an expression that people use, but I can't quite place it. Am I losing my onions? And then I realize that what I may be losing is not my onions but my marbles.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

under the maple, apples, grazing

Posted by Picasa Leaves curl round the bole of this maple in the Grove.

In the Farmers' Market, there is a stall with 4o or more different, locally grown, apple varieties - pippins, and reinettes, blenheims, pearmains, joanettings and russets to mention a few. It is a reminder that oases remain among the fading orchards of The garden of England.

From the train I pass a field of sheep and then a field of cows. In each case the animals evenly scatter across the field. Tidy, you might say, and then realize that it their way of optimising the efficiency of their grazing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

prints, joke, parallel talk

Posted by Picasa Bee, taking up Lucy's comment, asks if Lucy's term "tenderness" is the collective noun for leaves? If it isn't, it is now.It is in my mind at least. As though in anticipation of the thought, but before these comments were made, I find, yesterday, these leaf prints on the tarmac- ghost leaves -made I assume by leaves, which left a "shadow" where they had sheltered the ground beneath them from the rain before blowing away.

Sometime you have jokes on the brain like tunes on the brain. My current joke on the brain relates to a story told on BBC Radio 4 about the late Alan Coren, who during a French class at school, remarked to the teacher, "one man's fish is another man's poisson".

In the train, two businessmen, unconnected with one another, are sitting side by side. One is discussing at length the strategy to adopt in order to obtain a contract. The jargon flows. "We'll call price the product accordingly" he says. His neighbour, meanwhile, is talking about something quite different, interrupting his argument, with the sort of laughter, which sounds like the way it is written - ha, ha, ha . As their two voices overlap and contradict, you think of those moments in opera where two character sing in opposition to one another and in rising crescendo at the same time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

As they fall..stand-by, old-fashioned

Posted by Picasa ... leaves speak for themselves, sometimes of things other than leaves and of animate relationships beyond the capacity of leaves.

For as long as I can remember, I have always carried a book with me as a stand-by even on short excursions, in case I am stranded and waiting for a connection. But recently I have noticed (and maybe it's because I am writing this blog every day) that I seldom have recourse to a book, because there is always so much to look at or listen to when travelling or simply hanging around a station.

An old fashioned lunch (grouse and Burgundy) with an old friend at a London club surrounded by old gents also enjoying an old fashioned lunch, and, like us, talking more about old times than present times - a beautiful, if old fashioned break, from present preoccupations.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

fallen, green light, Picasso

Posted by Picasa A few weeks ago I spent a lot of time looking up in order to photograph chimneys, which I felt deserved attention. Recently I have been looking down at the pavement, where leaves and other detritus often, of their own accord, make interesting compositions. Although I crop the photographs, I do not move or adjust the fallen leaves. Sometime a leaf folded over or one beginning to disintegrate adds drama to the scene.

Reflections, even in familiar places, sometimes take you by surprise. In our house, there is an internal window between a half landing on the stairs to the basement, and a raised part of the basement, where there is a built in dresser. Opposite the window and next to the dresser, is another window giving on to what used, in the distant past, to be a coal hole, and is now a sort of winter garden - a small raised area protruding outside the house and enclosed by a glass ceiling. This morning as the sun comes in through the winter garden, I see there a strange green light - the sort of thing you find on an electronic appliance. But there is no such appliance there. It takes me a minute at least to work out that the green light is a reflection of morning sunlight off the rim of a jug on the sill of the stairs window, transferred to the glass of the winter garden window. An oddity relating to the time of day and the angle of the sun, which seems, then, and still does, now, to be a beautiful, fleeting thing, worthy of note.

As I walk past the entrance to Calverley Ground , two boys call after me, " Picasso! Picasso!" I remember that, with the onset of Autumn, I have taken out my beret Basque and today worn it for the first time since last winter. The association with the artist, does nothing to spoil the pleasure I get from the comfort and utility of this head gear, and, in fact adds to its attractions.

Monday, October 20, 2008

escape, colours, socks

Posted by Picasa A fire escape at the rear of the abandoned cinema in the centre of Tunbridge Wells. Like Marjo -Leena Raithe's disused shipyard, the cinema site offers the camera remarkable shapes, textures, colours and compositions, as nature takes on the iron-founders.

From our bedroom window there are two trees to watch close-to, a venerable tulip tree and, directly opposite, a lime. Though many leaves have fallen, quite a few remain, and these, just now, glitter in the morning sun a mixture of green and gold - a combination, which sums up October for me in this leafy corner of the town.

A pair of tidily discarded, green socks, in a shop doorway invite speculation as to their owner and the reason for their abandonment.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

gurnard, dance, books £1 each

Posted by Picasa "Beautiful," says the fishmonger in the Pantiles Farmers Market, "demonstrating the forward fin of a gurnard. Gurnards seem to be generally available nowadays on fishmongers' slabs, presumably because of the shortage of more popular fish like cod, haddock and sole, which are becoming, for many people, depressingly esxpensive. Though an enthusiastic eater of fish, I have not got round to trying gurnard yet, and eager to find out more about it, I have been doing some research. It is, I learn, a member of the Scorpaenidae family, which doesn't mean much to me, until I read that the French name for gurnard is rascasse; and rascasse, as gastronomes insist, is the one fish, which is an essential ingredient of bouillabaisse. The late Alan Davidson, author of Mediterranean Seafood, quotes the writer Joseph Méry as evidence:
"La Rascasse, poisson, certes, des plus vulgaires.
Isolé sur un gril, on ne l'estime guère,
Mais dans la bouillabaisse aussitôt il répand
De marveilleux parfumes d'où le succes dépend."

A winged leaf, caught on a single strand of cobweb by its two ends, dances and quivers as it pulls the almost invisible web up and down, as though trying to get free. Its shadow against the white wall behind it, where the web is anchored, meanwhile mimes the fruitless struggle.

Outside the Mind, mental health charity, charity shop, a notice reads: "Books £1 each." It strikes me that this generic statement somehow reduces the differential that exists between books as it exists, for example, between paintings or films or people, in much the same way, but without the irony, as does Books Do Furnish a Room - that clever title in the Anthony Powell sequence of novels A Dance to the Music of Time.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

take a leaf, diamonds, idiom

Posted by Picasa

...take any leaf.

Outside a cafe in the bright sunlight a waitress sweeps, from the pavement into a dustpan, the fragments of a broken wine glass which look, for a moment, like a hoard of diamonds.

A Spanish idiom which has always appealed to me because I suppose I am prone to a desire to do so is "tener la sartén por el mango" which means, literally to hold the frying pan by the handle, and idiomatically, to be in the drivers seat. While drifting though a reputable French dictionary I find that the French use the same, or almost the same imagery when they say tenir la queue de la poêle

Friday, October 17, 2008

fall, other's views, gloves

Posted by Picasa

Under the apple tree.

"Since the risk of giving offence arises primarily from the difficulty of appreciating what does and does not pass unnoticed, we ought at least, from prudence, never speak of ourselves, because that is a subject on which we are sure that other people's views will not be in accordance with our own." Marcel Proust, among other things, is a master of irony.

On a ledge is a pair of discarded workmen's gloves. They are worn and bruised and stained with paint. They lie overlapping one another and, though deprived of an inhabitant, have the sort of "expression" that hands sometimes have - indicative of character, attitude, state of mind - when folded in a lap or on a table top.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

postcard, touched, blowing leaves

Posted by Picasa The idea of making or modifying postcards has always appealed to me. Now, as a result of Marja-Leena Rathe's blog, I have found a site for postcard-makers called Postal Poetry. I have immediately placed it under my links heading and have no hesitation in recommending it to those who don't already know it. Meanwhile, I have found this card, which I made a few years ago with the help of Paintshop, and which I still quite like.

A piece of technology new to me comes to the house in the shape of a table lamp with a touch-sensitive switch. You turn the light on and off and choose between three different degrees of brightness, simply by touching the lamp. The light operates by means of a capacitance switch, which has no moving parts and none of the problems associated with them. What is a capacitance switch? It is based on two loops of wire close to one another, which become part of a circuit when linked, but instead of a mechanical linkage, there is a power linkage created when the circuit output is increased for a second. The power increase is affected by the intervention of human touch. And that succeeds because the electrons, which are present in the lamp, require only to be boosted by those in the human body to complete the circuit. It is simple and not expensive - a beautiful thing, and Barrett, it works well.

In the sun outside the Compasses, a leaf lands in my lap, almost in my beer. Other leaves fly merrily past.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

nectar, bubble and squeak, ring doves

Posted by Picasa While the sun shines there's still honey to be made even in October.

My favourite cafe serves sandwiches, eggs and bacon, sausage and bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans and bacon, fried bread, cups of tea and endless variations of these. But not bubble and squeak (for those who may not know, this is a concoction of shredded cabbage, mashed potato and left over meat, cooked together in a frying pan, an icon of British cuisine). While I am waiting for my cup of tea and cheese and pickle sandwich, the telephone rings and there is a prolonged conversation in which the words "bubble and squeak" occur with notes of increasing surprise. When, at last, the telephone is hung up, the conversation is continued with a colleague in similar tones of astonishment and, I fancy, indignation, in which I hear "bubble and squeak" repeated over again.

There is a pair of ring doves, which I frequently encounter in the Grove. I love them for their soft, misty-grey plumage and pretty shape, so much more elegant than lumpy wood pigeon and scruffy feral pigeons. They always seem to occupy a particular corner of the little park, which I assume to be something to do with territory. Today, as I pass that way on my way home, I note not two but five ring doves pecking at the rain-sodden grass. As I approach they rise in the air and fly up into the trees.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

returning, grandmother, on guard

Posted by Picasa It has struck me recently that birds were were not as much around in the vegetable garden as they have been . Today, I stop for a moment after beginning, in a desultory way, my Autumn clearing and digging. I pick up my camera just in case and look around at the lettuces, rocket and mustards gone to seed; the bean poles, still dense with leaves but stripped of beans; and the general sense of riot and waste in the untidy beds. Suddenly a robin appears where I have been digging. Before long the old apple tree in the next door garden has two or three blackbirds attacking the fruit, then blue tits and great tits appear. A pied wagtail next. And a jay. I realize that, just by standing still and fading, as it were into the undergrowth, I have allowed the birds to return to the domain from which I have unintentionally excluded them by my presence.

My favourite character in A La Recherch du Temps Perdu, and possibly in all literature is Marcel's grandmother. This morning, I noted with a surge of fellow feeling: " For naturalness was the quality which my grandmother preferred to all others, whether in gardens, where she did not like there to be, as in our Combray garden, flower beds which were too formal, or in cooking, where she detested those dressed up dishes in which you can hardly detect the the foodstuffs that have gone to make them..."

Across the road from the jeweler's shop in the High Street, there is usually a burly security man on guard. Today I notice that he appears to have a string of pearls behind his ear. On closer inspection I realize, with some relief, because it would be sad to see a stereotype, so bizarrely out of character, that the adornment is one of those expanding, curled cables which leads to his telephone and alarm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

lines.., breathing, hidden

Posted by Picasa ...and connections.

To wake in the night and listen, in the surrounding silence, to the quiet breathing of someone sleeping next to you.

First thing in the morning I raise the blind and there is a pigeon sitting in profile on a television aerial. It strikes me that if you draw a line from under the beak of the bird (any bird really) to the lower part of its breast, you have a question mark. In the same way, hidden in the shape of a bird are two eggs. The first and smaller egg is its head; the second is its body.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

searching, sorting, sitting

Posted by Picasa According to the book this is a Thea 22-punctata lady bird. It has 22 spots. There are apparently 45 different species of ladybird found in Britain. After a fruitless search on this table top, it flew away.

Outside the Compasses, we meet a family with whom we sometimes have a drink. Today, we sit in the sun and sort out most of the problems, which beset the world just now. It occurs to me that if the world's politicians could drop by for a few minutes the monetary crisis and threat of meltdown (whatever meltdown is) would melt away.

I sit in the garden and watch yellow leaves from the lime tree float down from a bright sky and land on the grass which, a few hours ago, I have raked clear of leaves.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

late, bag, chicken

Posted by Picasa
As with yesterday's maple leaf, it was hard to resist snapping this dandelion clock. There was, a sense of fellow feeling perhaps for its tattered quality and loss of adornments. Can a dandelion clock be fast or slow? Or just a little weary?

In the wind and bright sunshine, a plastic bag, transparent and without print or insignia, inflates and rises above the the High Street. With its two handles trailing behind it, it floats, like a flying jelly fish, above traffic and pedestrians.

At the farmers' market, I buy a chicken and ask the farmer about its provenance. "We have 10 acres for the chickens," he says, " and they peck around for worms among the bluebells." So pleased am I with the picture of chickens and bluebells that I omit to ask what they do for background when, as at this time of year, the bluebells are not in evidence.

Friday, October 10, 2008

passing, hot air, wooden

Posted by Picasa

It's difficult for me to pass a leaf like this one on the wet brick, pavements of Tunbridge Wells without taking a photograph of it.

This morning first thing, at 8 o'clock to be precise a hot air balloon appears outside our bedroom window. It is black, with gold insignia and flying very low above the rooftops. The words, "Out of this World" are inscribed on its flanks and you can see a number of people in the cradle. The balloon company of that name, a Google search reveals, operates locally in Kent and Sussex. It offers the public flights first things in the morning and in the late afternoon or evening. I go back to reading Proust and wonder what he would have made of the sight.

A large barrow arrives opposite the entrance to the shopping precinct. It is loaded with what are described as "wooden roses". They appear to be made from shaved pieces of wood of the same size and very thin, stuck together to form a bud shape. They are painted in a number of very bright, unrose-like colours. Not beautiful things, but certainly curious ones. It is notable that a bunch of 12 is considerably less expensive than a bunch of real roses.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

looking, blobs, cheese and pickle

Posted by Picasa
Roots are always looking for something.

On a page of my notebook are small blobs made by drips from buttered toast. They have created shapes which invite the point of an exploring pencil to complete or modify. They have become a reference for a particular moment on a particular day.

A belated breakfast outside my favourite cafe. A cup of tea and a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich. I sit in the sun and think to myself that on a desert island this would be the luxury I would most be in need of.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

modesty, mountains, reincarnation

Posted by Picasa Sunflowers are bold and sometimes garish flowers. This sunflower in bud, however, suggests first of all modesty.

On the bedroom windows this morning there are patterns of condensation peaked like mountain ranges.

An old lady, whom I have known for a long time, says in a letter to me that she believes in reincarnation. I am not sure that I do, except perhaps in a literary sense. In a BBC 4 radio play this afternoon based on Patrick O'Brien's novel HMS Surprise, for example, I hear the voice of the original Barrett Bonden, now reincarnated as the author of the blog, Works Well.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Autumn, perfume, replacement

Posted by Picasa Ripe and ready.

The smell of quinces, chopped and stewed, and the sight and smell of the cooked fruit dripping from the jelly- bag into a bowl.

Steady rains keeps me in, so I replace a saucepan rack, which crashed to the ground the other day. The new one, screwed into position at the back of the larder is cause for quiet satisfaction, and one chore less on the list which always nags at the back of my mind.

Monday, October 06, 2008

sunflower, Marcel, ice-cream

Posted by Picasa
At this time of year the sunflowers, which I sowed in May, continue to produce blooms but progressively smaller and tidier.

Dave and Barrett's comments are encouraging. I am currently on page 662 of 1001 of the first of the three volumes in the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade edition. Proust is all absorbing (and often difficult) because so many layers of thought and observation are packed together in a single paragraph or a single sentence. (Very tortuous, as Barrett says, when the abstract is involved). Marcel has just stopped off at Balbec ,on his way to Balbec Plage, to visit the church for the first time. He has built it up in his mind to become something of almost mythical qualites, and his disappointment in the reality, like his initial disappointment, when previously he hears, for the first time the actress Berma perform, forms itself into a general reflexion, in which we can all share, of how our imaginations create an ideal state of existence, which reality seldom lives up to. When reading Proust, you keep encountering such reflections on relationships - on time, on taste on aesthetic matters -and you want to say: "Yes, isn't that true!" And you go on reading because you feel drawn into an intensely personal discourse, which seldom fails to have a general application, and to touch you personally, however far removed you may be from Marcel's world.

A small boy loses the last mouthful of ice cream from the stick which he holds in his hand. He jumps up and down beside the melting lump on the pavement. I know how he feels. I think of that sad song of which the refrain goes: "When you come to the end of the lollipop..."