Saturday, January 31, 2009

portrait, job, parrots

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I can see you too.

Too old, too daft, too bloody-minded I am positively unemployable, yet I have always liked work. So I have to confess even now to reading job advertisements with more than passing interest, prompted I admit by an underlying strain of fantasy. Today, my eye alights on something just right for me, or the fantasy me, looking over my shoulder:
Chief Executive Officer Salary £130k - £160k + negotiable benefits and significant package: near Oxford. Ideal skills and qualities include: Strong leadership capability; emotionally intelligent; team builder; political nous; strategist; creative; high energy; high achiever.
I suppose I would have to set the alarm a bit earlier than now, but hey!

In a vase is a crowd of parrot tulips. Green tinted outer petals like beaks; inner petals deep red; the blooms not yet fully open are at their best. Parrots: you can almost hear them.

Friday, January 30, 2009

the squirrel click, dull elves

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This morning I go out with my camera and point it here and there, almost at random. Click, click click, I go without much thought or care. Digital ital equipment still make me uneasy. Not that I am ungrateful for the benefits it brings. But brought up in an age of parsimony, when you counted each exposure on your camera and the cost of developing and printing your compositions, I still can't get used to the size of the digital resource and the freedom to shoot and discard with what would then have seemed shocking profligacy. Click, click, click, we go, and minutes later there, on the screen is the result of our art. Masses if it. Art? Well, art and much luck. The art I suppose comes in cropping and tweaking afterwards. Free services like Picassa make it easy, and then there is all that capacity for back up. Hundreds of photographs stored on a memory stick or a DVD, though future generations will take it for granted, still seems an amazing achievement to me, and one, which makes me feel, in an irrational way, somehow greedy and extravagant.

On receiving one of the first printed copies of Pride and Prejudice from her London publisher, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Casandra, on 29 January 1813: "There are a few typical errors; and a "said he" or "said she" would make the dialogue more clear. but I do not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

close-up, saints, comfort

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Our snowdrops have been in flower for at least a fortnight.

Barrett Bonden comments on yesterday's post with some reflections on the unlikelihood of eternal life. He refers in the process (how good it is to be able to join in a conversation that spans so wide a range of subject matter and personalities) to Lucy Kempton's post, little saints, in which she describes the "earthy, heartfelt little chapels" in Brittany where she lives. That posting, which she has just "reissued" as it were, was one of the first I read in her blog, box-elder a couple of years ago. I found it thought-provoking and touching then, and again on rereading it today. Though I find myself in no way drawn to religion, which seems to bestow more damage than good on the human race, there is, as Lucy beautifully illustrates, a quality, which transcends the ugly and mundane, and provokes profound contemplation in some of the places and buildings associated with it. I think of stone polished by hands or feet or (I once saw, but did not kiss the Blarney stone) lips, over hundreds of years; of frescoes, which age and damp have added mystery to; and carvings re-carved by the wisdom and kindness of the wind and rain. In an abstract sense too, Lucy reminds us, of the saints, who are attached to villages, woods and streams, like their pagan forbears, with special responsibilities for different aspects of human welfare, in the eyes and hearts of human beings through the ages.

In Hall's book shop this afternoon we discuss the importance of comfort in the size and shape of books. They should, if possible be easy to hold if reading in bed, or in the bath, but not so compact as to demand print too small to read with out strain.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

rosemary, smile, 2020

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After a recent frost, rosemary flowers support the melting crystals.

In Calverley Grounds, the largest of two parks, close to the centre of Tunbridge Wells, I pass a young woman, pushing a pram towards me. She is smiling, not at me, as I momentarily imagine, but at the supine and, I guess, very small occupant of the pram. It is the secret, possessive smile of a new mother.

As I read in the today's paper about the present level of debt ,which future tax payers may be expected still to be accounting for in 2020, I tell myself selfishly, but with little regret, that it is almost certainly no business of mine to be indignant about.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

asleep, smoke, great tit

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High up in the branches of a silver birch this squirrel sleeps, safe from the dogs and children who like to chase it.

I watch as smoke pours urgently from a chimney as though it is looking for something it has lost, and then quickly loses itself.
It makes a haiku:
Smoke from a chimney
Rushes after something lost,
And loses itself.
Head back, I am standing in the middle of the broad central walk of the Grove, and staring up into the top branches of a tree. I feel a bit of a wally as people walk past me; I have my camera in my hand, and I want to photograph a great tit, which I can identify by it sharp, two-tone song "tea-cher, tea-cher", rather than by its appearance. In fact I can barely see it, until I pick up the bird in the view-finder and zoom in, to confirm the distinctive, black band on a yellow breast.

Monday, January 26, 2009

amarylis, rainwater, magnolia

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The plant arrived for Christmas and has been a constant pleasure ever since. This is the third flower it produced; another is in bud.

The Grove slopes gently towards the south west. Its perimeter path has a gutter on either side, which consists of rows of parallel bricks placed end to end, side by side and slightly angled towards one another to capture the rain. By the south west entrance this morning, though it has long since stopped raining, you can see the water running in a steady stream over the bricks, and above all hear it, gurgling into a drain. Though there is normally no running water in the Grove, this pleasant sound reminds me of a mountain stream, and suddenly I long to be transported to the Lake District where I used to walk a long time ago in the footsteps of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

The buds of the magnolias of which there are a number around here are sprouting. From a distance they resemble hazel catkins, but as you get closer you are aware of a satiny sheen on the almond shaped buds, which accounts for the catkin appearance. They seem small and unimportant when you think of the size and splendour of the flowers, which will open in two or three months time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

blackbird...calming down, present

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.... among the leaves.

A sad complaint on a mobile on the train: "Hullo, Bruv", says the phoner, a young man in his early 20s, I think,"I'm going home. I can't learn nothing. I said to the teacher, 'you're not teaching me nothing'... They kept putting me on to the Internet... I can't work there. I can't work the Internet thing. They said 'calm down' so I'm going home to calm down." There is something deeply sad in any failure to help someone to learn who finds learning difficult, and who wants to learn. For a few minutes, I feel that I need to calm down too.

A neighbour returns from Menton on the border of France and Italy and brings us shiny black olives and some slightly squishy Gorgonzola, which though, it is nowhere near me at the moment, I can smell as I type.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

roadmap, essentials, plain trees

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Which exit?

As I set out for London in the rain, I reluctantly take an umbrella. I have never liked umbrellas, even the tightly rolled symbols of respectability carried by bowler-hatted city gents in the old days. They are an encumbrance, a restraint on freedom. In the country I never use an umbrella, but I am going to London. The one I am carrying is a miniature of the species designed, when collapsed, for the pocket or a slim brief case. As I walk to the station, I find it comforting enough to hear the raindrops pattering on to the nylon above my head. But still the umbrella is not an essential companion for an outing. Of those there are plenty enough. I walk through the Grove checking them in my mind. Money for the fare, the wherewithal to pay for the lunch to which I have invited my brother, my notebook (pen to write in it and pencil to draw in it), compact camera, and the Arden Shakespeare edition of Pericles (which has served this purpose unopened for about six months) in case the train breaks down. What has happened to freedom, I think to myself, if it is so hard to go out without having to tick so may boxes first?

The globular, prickly brown fruit of the London planes on the otherwise, bare branches of the trees are at eye level with the first floor window of the bar above the Aldwich where I am sitting. On the basis of their appearance, they alone remind me of lychees, though, ready to disperse their seeds in the Spring, they are different in all other respects from that exotic fruit.

Friday, January 23, 2009

evening, sodden, washing

Posted by Picasa Feather.

The fields are sodden or flooded, there are puddles on the paths. The vivid expression that I first heard as a child still appeals to me for it is, one supposes, true: "Nice weather for ducks."

Above an extension of a terrace house backing on to the railway line, I note as the train passes, a line of washing hoisted to the level of a first floor window. It reminds me of flags at a fete, though it is blown by the wind and rinsed by the driving rain.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

mask, worried, Milton

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A splash of black paint becomes a mask. The mask of Rorschach?

In a close up photograph of a cow's head, there is look of alarm. The white of its eye describes a half moon above the iris, as though the animal is trying to see what is happening behind it.

Thinking about books to which I am attached not just because of their content, I often come back to the Oxford University Press, World Classics edition of the English Poems of John Milton. Its board cover is a faded, navy blue, - battered but still holding together. I have owned it for as long as I can remember, certainly since my schooldays. Though it contains so much that I want to return to, it can fit comfortably into my pocket and has done on many occasions, yet its print seems as easy to read as when I first set eyes on it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

relections, ideals, worm

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Next door to the abandoned cinema in the heart of Tunbridge Wells are the premises of a shop now vacant for a long time. Opposite the site is the Town Hall, here reflected in the broken window of the shop.

As I go to sleep last night the words of Barak's Obama's inauguration speech are still in my ears. Its backbone of bleak truth and directness anchors the rhetoric with which he seeks to rally the best in America and the world. One statement above all reminds us that there is hope for nobler values than those we came to expect from the previous administration:
"As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expedience sake."
This blog does not do politics but that, I think to myself, is a beautiful thing to hear, and a necessary thing for the new President to say.

I approach a thrush which is busy with a large earthworm on the pavement. As I draw near, it abandons its prey and flies off into a nearby shrubbery. When I have walked on, I look back to see if the thrush has returned to finish its meal. But despite the fact that there are no other passers by, it seems to have found other things to do. The worm is left for another's lunch.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

proclamation, snowdrops, six

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Two glue marks left by fly stickers that have been removed from a boarded up window.

Snow drops are already appearing in our garden. When I planted bulbs in the Autumn, very few came up, but last Spring and the Spring before I planted bunches of the still flowering bulbs, a far more successful strategy.

This morning I look up into the branches of the lime tree opposite and count five wood pigeons in the branches, their heads sunk into their bodies against the damp and cold. Half an hour later I look up again to see that there are now six.

Monday, January 19, 2009

oak, perfume, click

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Of the 450 - 500 varieties of oak in the world, only two are native to the British Isles - Quercus robur and Quercus petraea. According to The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge, Quercus originated in South East Asia and spread in all directions, and by the Eocene, around 55 million years back, they were common in China, Europe and North America. I always enjoy the thought that the word "cork" is derived from Quercus because, of course, corks are made from the bark of the cork oak, Quercus suber. At least they were until the arrival of plastic or composite substitutes.

At this time of year if you walk through Belview the short, brick paved pathway that leads from The Grove to Little Mount Sion, you will encounter a powerful scent. My first impression was that it had something to do with horses. It reminded me of the sweet smell of straw combined with the smell of steaming horse, that you get from stables. Except that there are no stables there and no horses. The source of the scent is in fact a shrub called called Sarcococca, or sweet box. The white flowers are small and, in themselves, unimpressive but, as my plant book says, you smell them before you see them.

Lying in bed in the morning I note that it begins to get light now at about the same time as the alarm would go off, it it were set. Because I am invariably half awake, I hear the alarm mechanism in the digital clock make a satisfying click as the hands touch 7.15, and I don't even have to open my eyes to know the time.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

haze, sounds, cruel

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Mist, tree and sun.

Of all the sounds I hear in the garden and in the road passing the house the alarm call of the blackbird - the urgent, repititive single note that it makes as it flees the approach of a human or a cat - is the one I notice the most. It is a sound so different from its fluent song of spring and summer, that you are surprised to find that it has the same source. Blackbirds are common round here; we live side by side; and I am not surprised to find that their priorities are often quite close to my own.

The photograph and lines from a poem - "nothing as beautiful as birds could be so cruel and fearful as they are" - which Lucy Kempton published in Box Elder the other day, stay in my mind. The photograph is hers; the lines are from a poem by another blogger, Christopher, , a poet and mechanical designer from Gladstone, Oregon. Then, today, when I open at random the notebooks of Albert Camus, a single entry from 1938 catches my eye: L'air est peuplé d'oiseaux cruel et redoutables. It is curious but not surprising that the space in time and geography can be filled by a link between two such powerful images.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

crow, side by side, sunshine

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The poet Ted Hughes wrote a series of poems called Crow. The eponymous bird does not emerge from the book very favourably. The author sees Crow as sinister, evil, greedy and destructive.
"Crow saw the herded mountains, steaming
in the morning
And he saw the sea
Dark-spined, with the whole earth in its coils.
He saw the stars, fuming away into the black
mushrooms of the nothing forest, clouding
their spores, the virus of God."
Hughes may be right about Crow in particular and crows in general (not a popular bird in folklore or mythology), but he might have noticed as well that there was a comical aspect to them, a sort of pomposity and self-importance.

On a branch of the lime tree, two wood pigeons sit side by side, cosy and companionable.

In the shelter outside the Compasses we sit and allow the midday sun, low over the roof tops, to bathe us in mid-winter warmth.

Friday, January 16, 2009

catkin, reptition, well done

Posted by Picasa A drop of melted, frost crystal on the end of a catkin.

Repetition is part of the rhythm of life. Every Christmas we seem to take the same photographs of each other; in every season the same natural features attract us as signs of change; every day the rising and setting sun repeats it routine. I think to myself as I take a photograph, I've done this before, or somebody else surely has. And then I ask myself: does it matter? It's the seeing that counts, the registration of the event. There must be minute difference between this time and that, this angle and that angle, bigger differences sometimes, but usually some small thing to note, some flutter in the direction of evolution. Then I think of those prints by Andy Worhol, where the same image is repeated over and over again, side by side. What differences are there between the images? Or the images on a sheet of postage stamps, straight off the press? Identical except that that each occupies a different position on the sheet. And come to think of it, I am practically certain that I have posted something very similar to this thought before. To paraphrase Walt Whitman : Do I repeat myself? Very well then I repeat myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.

In the Grove a little girl rides her bike helped by her mother. Suddenly she is on her own. "Well done, Sophie," he mother's voice rings through the damp air, "Well done." And Sophie? Sophie has learnt the taste of freedom.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

drop, three, elephant

Posted by Picasa After a hard frost, the particles of rime melt to form drops like this one on on the end of buds. (Please click photo).

When visiting this blog, Dave King, has often commented, on the way disparate headings seem to link at a deeper level. It is not something I have deliberately sought after, but it may have something to do with the number 3. From the start, the idea of Best of Now, which came from Clare Grant's blog, Three Beautiful Things, was to focus specifically on three things every day. I have never been quite sure why three is so important, but it has always seemed to enhance the contrasts, which I have consciously looked for. Now, prompted by Dave, I have given further thought to the deeper links which seem to occur so often.
Drawing largely on the Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting numbers I have listed the following characteristics of the number 3, which may throw some light on the matter. Apart from the Christian Trinity, there were trinities of gods in Greece, Egypt and Babylon. There were three fates, three graces, and three muses. Paris had to make a choice between three goddesses. But more important, 3 was considered to be the first number by the Pythagoreans, because, unlike one or two, it possesses a beginning a middle and an end. To the Neo -Platonist philosopher Proclus, it is the first number because it is increased more by multiplication than by addition, eg 3 x 3 is greater than 3 + 3. It was Proclus who advanced the idea of triadic development, relating permanence, procession and return.
Somewhere in all that I sense that it should not, perhaps, be surprising that three disparate elements listed side by side are likely be linked in unexpected ways.

A parked motor bike, protected by a waterproof cover, fills up with wind. The cover is constructed to allow space for the handlebars, and these bag-like shapes become ears as the wind enters them, while the sheet, projecting over the front wheel and mudguard of the bike, becomes a trunk. The whole, as I pass it, I realize, has turned into an elephant.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

frosty, acid drop, health-check

Posted by Picasa Recollections of the frost of a few days ago.

This morning, a heavier than usual layer of mist veils the rising sun behind the tulip tree. This time the sun is so pale that it resembles more a half-sucked acid drop than the barley sugar sweet of a few days ago.

The huge oak on the corner of the Grove and Belview is receiving attention as I get to the top of South Grove. A tape measure is strapped round its girth, and higher up about 20 sensors are fixed to the bark in a circle round the tree. A man in an orange jacket taps a sensing needle into the trunk beneath each of the sensors while a woman with a laptop in her hand checks the result of his probe. "We're checking the health of the tree," says the woman in reply to my question. "It's like a cardiograph, " I say. She nods in reply. I tip toe away feeling that I have been intruding in a patient's medical procedure. Because I care deeply about this tree, I want to ask about the health of the patient, but the tree doctor seems so absorbed in her job that I am constrained to be silent.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

composition, jargon, mirrored

Posted by PicasaMold and ivy on a fence.

Cockney rhyming slang is one of the curiosities of the English language. Do other languages have similar odd corners of usage? It seems that French, for one, does, though I have not encountered it, as it were, live or even discussed it with a French person. I refer to largonji . To make one you replace the initial consonant of a word with the letter "l". You then move the original consonant to the end of the word, where it is followed by a vowel to aid pronunciation. For example à poile becomes à loilpé. Both words mean in "the buff", but the second is a more secret or perhaps euphemistic way of saying it. Another example: en douce, "on the sly", given the largonji treatment becomes loucedé. Largongi, if you haven't worked it out, is a largonji for jargon.

This afternoon, purple clouds over the Common presage rain. A heavy shower follows. And then the sun. The brick pavement becomes a mirror over which I hurry home.

Monday, January 12, 2009

shadows, brackets, saw

Posted by Picasa Contre jour.

Sometimes even an incomplete sentence in brackets can tell a good story or paint a touching picture. Here from Samuel Pepys diary for 12 January 1661:
"With Colonel Slingsby and a friend of his, Major Waters (a deaf most amorous melancholy gentleman, who is under a despayr (sic) in love, as the Colonel told me, which makes him bad company, though a most good natured man) by water to Redriffe ...

Old saw: A young saw likes something to get its teeth into. Christmas cracker joke writers, this is my copyright.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

looking up, blackbird, gust

Posted by PicasaThis is yesterday. Looking up in the Grove.

I walk past the station and hear birdsong over the noise of traffic as it swings round the bend into Vale Road. I look up and, after a moment, see the source of the song - a single blackbird on a chimney pot, high above the shops. It is singing at the top of its voice, an energetic, liquid melody, that doesn't want to stop. Perhaps because the frost has vanished, it believes, despite the icy wind, that Spring has arrived. Blackbirds don't, as a rule, begin to sing, round here until the end of February.

As I enter Sutherland Road from the Grove, a sudden gust of wind, blows a hoard of leaves past me, like a crowd of noisy boys. It has been so still lately that this little drama is quite pleasurable, a little excitement to relieve the monotony of welcome but unaccustomed frost.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

frost, barley sugar, coin

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Odd how the leaves on the beech saplings planted this Autumn have hung on, and not even been driven to leave the branches by this morning's frost.

There is a point in its ascent this morning when the sun behind the tulip tree, veiled in mist, doesn't hurt the eyes and looks like a half sucked barley sugar. Minutes later, extracting itself from the upper branches of the tree, it glares on the world in full majesty.

"That's not one of ours," says the girl at the stationery counter in Sainsbury's when she spots a 2p piece that she doesn't recognise in the change, and hands it back to me. "It's got the Queen's head on it, " I say, unable to discern the inscription, and look in my pocket for a substitute. "Don't worry," she says, "It's only 2p!" which is kind but makes me worry about Sainsbury's profits. When I get home, I examine the coin. Encircling the Queen's head are the words Isle of Man, and the date, 2000. On the reverse is: "Clasht rooin o hiarn" which I take it is Manx. There is also an engraving of a sailing boat. I think it is probably legal tender, but I am not sure that I want to spend it. Who knows, it could bring luck!"

Friday, January 09, 2009

seeds, neighbour, carnivores

Posted by Picasa Seeds hanging on in winter.

I see out neighbour, back from Australia, standing outside his house. I do not recognise him because he is wearing a hood to keep out the cold. He sees me and smiles, while removing his hood: "We're back, " he says. After exchanging politenesses about the merits of our respective Christmas pleasures, I confess to having stolen some of the space in their fridge, in the two days before Christmas, to store our turkey, while checking on their house as requested. He admits to feeling the cold after the heat of an Australian summer. There is this much else to agree about.

In Hall's, Tunbridge Wells' renowned book shop, they say they have been much busier than usual since the new butcher opened, directly opposite them, before Christmas. Carnivores and bookworms, a healthy combination.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

table top, squirrels, broth

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Rust and leaves on an enamelled garden table.

In the Grove, a squirrel sits on a bare branch. It is quite still. It appears to be happy except that it is making the extraordinary noise that squirrels make. This is something between the quack of a duck and the squelch of a wellington boot half full of water, when you try to walk in it.

A soup of fresh, home-made chicken stock and wafer thin slices of vegetables - carrot, celery, spring onion, cherry tomato halves. You prepare the vegetables - nothing should be more than a millimeter across - except for the baby tomato halves, which you set aside. Bring the fragrant stock to the boil. Add the vegetables and cook for one minute. Add the tomato halves and cook for half a minute. Serve in a delicate white china bowl. Season each bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice and perhaps a sliver of fresh ginger. You have one of the prettiest, quickest, most tasty and health-giving soups, you can imagine.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

local, escape, disguises

Posted by Picasa Regulars at the Compasses.

Because one or two projects have kept me busier than usual recently, I have noticed that the abandon with which I used to type emails has become downright carelessness. Grammatical and spelling errors seem to sprout everywhere, more than usual. So I have to check everything twice. Today, for example when I want to say : " I will now get down to the next job," I write "not" instead of "now", and only just spot the error in time; and so avoid a serious misunderstanding. Something to be cheerful about. Just.

Two people pass each other in the street. They are wearing headgear which involve flaps or muffs over their ears. They stare, at first not quite recognising each other and then burst out simultaneously:
"It's you! It's me!"