Tuesday, March 31, 2009

maple buds, numbers, forsythia

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It's difficult to tell with buds, but these unfolding leaves, if my memory serves me right belong to a maple tree in the Grove.

Waking this morning I find that numbers have invaded my head. Nowadays billions and even trillions are in all the newpapers - billions of pounds or dollars of debt, and trillions of pounds or dollars of debt. Not used to such large numbers, I find it necessary to clarify the terms. When I was young, a billion used to mean a million million. But nowadays we seem to have adopted the American billion, a rather more modest thousand million. Trillion , it seems, steps in to mean a million million. The presence of such large numbers are of course explained by the bursting of the debt bubble all round us. It is interesting to reflect that the other, wide use of such numbers, which you often come across, is when they are applied to the age of the Earth (4.5 billion years) and the age of the universe, still believed to be in the throws of the original explosion, which gave birth to it, 13.7 billion years ago. You could, I suppose, apply them, to dimensions of the galaxy and that of other galaxies in the universe. But light years are used here, a measure which has not yet been applied to the exploding and collapsing global economy.

Poking through a tightly clipped, dark green leylandii hedge, are a few, golden four-petalled flowers of forsythia. I count the petals out of interest and for descriptive purposes.

Monday, March 30, 2009

proclamation, fork, dragonfly

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The spring is sprung.

Last Autumn, I broke the shaft of my old garden fork. Seeing some builders having a natter beside a skip, I asked their permission, and threw the useless pieces into the skip with a satisfying clatter. Today I buy a new fork and, using it as a cross between a zimmer frame and a walking stick, make my way home with it. I need it because the earth in the flower beds here has become compacted and needs to be loosened and aerated, and plants, that have proved themselves too greedy for space, need to be dug up and broken into more modest units.
In contrast with the Autumn, when the spade is used to turn over the soil in the vegetable garden , the fork is now wanted to break it up , and dig in compost in preparation for sowing. But there is another largely aesthetic reason for a fork. I like to leave it standing upright in a bed, supported by its tines. Sooner or later a bird, a blackbird or a robin, will use it as a perch, as pretty a sight as you ever did see.

Sometimes it is hard to fall for a word in a foreign language. Libellule, the French for dragonfly, which I come across this morning, is a case in point. The French, papillon for butterfly is less enchanting, and is certainly improved on by the Spanish mariposa, and even by the German Schmetterling.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Groombridge Place, meat, willow

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Groombridge Place. Moat view. Exit or entry?

Pussy-willow catkins lit by the sun have furry halos. On the ground, where they have fallen, they look like plump caterpillars.

Outside the butcher's, people look into the window and lust after meaty things.
Woman: Oh God, I'd love that!
Man: What?
Woman" Steak and kidney pudding.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring, opening time, freedom

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Walking through the Grove and in the adjacent streets, I note that it is opening time. The wild flowers and the cultivated ones, the shrubs and trees, of which I try to remember the names, seem every day to attract attention with new blossoms. Camellia is out, so are the white, crowded bunches of bell-shaped pieris flowers, the close knit heads of creamy spirea, blatant, untidy, forsythia, and on the ground daisies, dandelions and lesser celandine; and as I look up I see that the horse chestnut buds are opening, in the centre of each an embryo candle, green and tightly packed for the moment.

There are lot of activities - playing a musical instrument or singing in tune for example - which I know that I will never master, but wish, in an imaginary world, that I could. Now there is another to add to the list - Parkour or the L'art du deplacement, or the Art of movement. Someone is talking about it this morning on the radio. It is a new and intriguing skill, usually applied in urban settings and developed in France. It involves climbing walls, running along the top of them, leaping structural spaces, behaving a bit like a cat, almost but not quite flying. It requires no kit other than light clothing and good pair of trainers. It is similar but apparently, according to practitioners, not the same as Free running, defined as: "Getting over all the obstacles in your path as you would in an emergency. You want to move in such a way, with any movement, as to gain the most ground on someone or something, when escaping from it or chasing towards it." Both have entries in Wikepedia, but I cannot spend too long reading them because they excite a friskiness which is beyond the capacity of my old limbs, and thereby induce melancholy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

lost, tomato, technology

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In search of lost time.

Tomato soup made from fresh tomatoes and seasoned with a little chili and cardamom seeds.

Barrett Bonden and his blog Works Well comes to mind when I read an interview with Alain de Botton in today's Independent. "I find technology quite interesting and moving," he says, " because it is the result of so much labour and so much dedication. We're used to seeing a cathedral and thinking of all those people chiseling away at it. But we don't think the same way when we look at a radiator. What I am trying to do is to give the radiator a bit of glamour."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

fairy story, almonds, repairs

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This door over the moat at Groombridge Place, makes me think of secret coming and goings in the middle of the night, of fairy tales, and escaping prisoners.

"The first almond trees in blossom, on the road and in front of the sea. One night suffices to produce their delicate snow. One imagines, that the flowers find it hard to survive the cold, and the rain which soaks their petals." From the notebooks of Albert Camus, written I guess, at about this time of year.

Round the corner from where I live there is a small car-repair workshop. It has been there since the early years of the last century. Passing the open door you hear hissing pneumatics, the hum of a hydraulic platform, and metal clinking against metal. There is a sharp, oily smell, not altogether unpleasing. Like the peaty smell of Islay malt whisky.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

sign, Geurnica, layers

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Pub sign above the door of The Crown at Groombridge.

The picture they had to cover with a curtain is how many people will remember the tapestry reproduction of Picasso's Guernica , which hangs in front of the entrance to the Security Council Chamber in the UN building in New York. I am reminded of this extraordinary story this morning on Radio 4, because a similar reproduction of Picasso's Geurnica is to be exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London from April 5. It is not the first time that this enduring indictment of the evils of war, will be seen at the gallery. The original painting came to the Whitechapel in 1939 after its first showing in Paris at the 1937 International World Fair for which it was commissioned. The original is now on permanent exhibition at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. I went to see it there a few years ago and, having witnessed its scale and presence, left convinced that it is indeed among the greatest works of modern art.
Its power as an anti-war statement is no better illustrated than by what happened in February 2003 when Colin Powell argued before the Security Council that Iraq had not complied with UN demands, and that military action was called for. Powell was to face the world's media in front of the picture. Why precisely the picture was covered up is still a matter of debate. Some people say that it was because news photographers wanted a plain, blue background for their shots, but it is more generally believed that the warlike nature of Powell's message was not compatible with Picasso's cry of blast against war of any kind. The well known images from the picture would have conveyed an ambiguous message beside Powell. And what a gift to caption writers!

As I climb the path up to the Grove, I see through the layer of branches above me, a layer of dark rain clouds and behind the clouds, a pool of blue sky.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

yard, human, hawk

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The whole picture.

In Grosvenor Precinct a young man with a brief case under his arm hovers near me as I pass. He wears a tee-shirt emblazoned with the words "Save the human". Further on there is another young man with a tee shirt bearing the same slogan. Suspecting a cult I move on quickly but it seems that there is between us a mutual absence of interest.

In the pub, Geoff says, eyeing my camera: "There was a hawk over here, yesterday lunch time."Last year there were several citing of a hawk over "the village", which is what we call the area of Tunbridge Wells adjoining the Grove. Once I saw a hawk near here carrying a smaller bird in its talons. I shall be on the look out for hawks now. I would like get a shot of one on patrol overhead.

Monday, March 23, 2009

bales, doves, totem

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Baled hay in a Groombridge farmyard.

A flock of pigeons, most of which are grey, wheels over the edge of the Common above the London Road. Among the grey, some white wings catch the sun.

Unable to remember the model number of my printer, I scan the shelves to see if the cartons on the shelf will jog my memory. There are so many models. But I am helped by a totem. "What is the animal on the carton?"asks the assistant in the stationers. A group of about 12 different Epson printers are all labelled with a photograph of a cheetah. That's it I say and growl to myself with feline satisfaction. I shan't forget again. Until I replace my present printer, of course.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

reflection, boxes, gravel

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By the lake.

Sometimes I wake up with a phrase in my head, which I would never use or want to use. This morning, it is "tick all the boxes". "It ticks all the boxes," someone says on a tv programme, meaning it meets entirely with his approval, leaves nothing to be desired. We seem to live in a box-ticking society, in an age of box ticking. All the time we are asked to complete questionnaires which involve ticking boxes. I amuse myself, while still half asleep, with a box-ticking exercise of my own. Plutarch Research Inc, my newly formed global, opinion and market research organization is not going to be left out of the procedure. We have devised ten simple questions, which tell us everything there is to be known about anyone foolish enough to answer them.
Do you think of yourself as:
Happy? [ ]
Utterly mistaken? [ ]
Heathrow airport? [ ]
Shroedringer's cat? [ ]
George Washington? [ ]
The special theory of relativity? [ ]
A teddy bear? [ ]
BBC Radio 4? [ ]
In need of quantitative easing? [ ]
A box that needs ticking. [ ]
When relevant boxes have been ticked indicate the importance to you of your answers in the following box on a scale 0 - 10oo., where 0 is of no interest or relevance and 10oo , a matter of life or death [ ]

How reassuring is the comfortable crunch of gravel under foot.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

newfoundland, coincidence, celandine

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Seal, the Newfoundland who lives in the house on the corner of the Grove.

Two French words, which I always used to confuse are éblouir, to dazzle, and épanouir, to bloom. How pleasing then to day to find in A la recherche du temps perdu, a sentence which contains both words, and which should therefore, I hope, banish my problem for good. Marcel is left by his friend, Saint-Loup's in a suburban road, while Saint-Loup collects his girlfriend from her apartment. Marcel is struck, as he is wont to be by such sights, by the cherry and pear blossoms towering above him in some front gardens and the way the gardens ..." éblouissaient par l'épanouissment de leurs cerisiers et de leurs poiriers en fleur...", were dazzled with cherry and pear blossom.

There is a triangular piece of land mostly planted with shrubs and bulbs, which is known locally as the "village green". Sad to say, an over enthusiastic gardener last year grubbed out the lesser celandine that brighten the ground under the shrubs in the spring, with their yellow star-shaped flowers. It seemed as though lights had been extinguished. But, now, a little later than usual, I note that the flowers are back, pushing up a bit late, but bright as ever through the dead leaves.

Friday, March 20, 2009

unfriendly, mirror, shreds

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The pretty cat, in the process of taking no notice of me, is on the look out for the neighbourhood bruiser.

The image of a gorilla being shown a mirror and appearing to recognise itself sticks in my mind. The gorilla moves its head from side to side and looks at the mirror out of the corner of its eye to see itself from a different angle, much as a vain human being might do. It is part of a tv programme (concluded this week). It is presented by the farmer and naturalist, Jimmy Doherty,.who repeats for the camera some of the experiments made by Charles Darwin. The inference here is that the gorilla recognises itself and does not mistake its reflection for that of another gorilla. It is pretty convincing. But it is surprising nowadays that any intelligent person should find evidence of the genetic closeness of great apes to homo sapiens other than normal. How different from the reaction of most of Darwin's 19th century contemporaries.Darwin's theory was based on close observation and deduction. To support it, he did not have the benefit of the discovery of DNA . In an article in the current National Geographic magazine, a curious link is established by its author, Matt Ridley. He writes that two weeks before he died, Darwin wrote a paper on on a tiny clam found clamped to the leg of a water beetle in a pond in the English Midlands. The man who sent him the beetle was a shoemaker and amateur naturalist called Walter Drawbridge Crick. The shoemaker married and had a son named Harry, who had a son named Francis, the same Francis Crick, who, in 1953, together with James Watson, discovered DNA.

The bouquet of balloons, which I featured in this blog a few weeks back, still clings to the wire stretched across the High Street. But, from its former gaiety, it has shrunk to a few tattered shreds of rubber and tangled ribbon. It is a sad thing, if you should notice it - rather like a cast of garment or a sloughed skin.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

crow, moon, chain

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Nest building over. Time for a snack.

Early this morning, in the brightening sky, I see a half moon sniffing at the pineapple finial on the corner of the roof opposite. When I move, the moon moves behind it and then to the other side of the finial.

There is a bright, curtain of stainless steel chain in the doorway of the butcher's shop in Chapel place. You have to push your way in, separating the chains with your hands like undergrowth - a dramatic and rather satisfying form of entry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

window, triffids, vapour

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Window at the top of the derelict cinema in the centre of Tunbridge Wells.

After a pint and a baguette in the sun outside the Crown in Groombridge, we wander across the field opposite the pub to Groombridge Place. This is a pretty 18th Century House with a moat and lake in front of it. all round the house, this afternoon, are vast scaffolds supporting floodlights and cameras. Thee are vans and cables everywhere. Apart from the occasional burst of machine gun fire, nothing seems to be happening. "They are making a TV film of the Day of the Triffids," a young man tells us, in between bites of a sandwich. I recall that scenes from the Peter Greenaway film, The Draughtsman's Contract, were shot in the gardens here. The Day of the Triffids, is a novel by John Wyndham about the world being over run by venomous vegetables that move around on legs, have frightful stings and live off rotting meat. We guess that the machine gun sounds must have had something to do with the destruction these vegetables, but there are no actors visible, no sign of action and, worse, no triffid in sight.

The high pressure, which brings us fine weather this week, seems to help in the production of vapour trails on a vast scale. The sky is criss-crossed with white lines broadening out into thin clouds. You can see silver insects drawing the lines behind them, decorating the sky like graffiti artists.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

quail egg, drama, euphemism

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Hard boiled quail egg. Before and after.

From the vegetable garden, I witness a drama over the fence. The pretty ginger cat which always ignores me, is on one of her regular tours this morning. Having scaled the fence, she climbs a tree on the other side, clawing her way up the trunk, slowly as though she is stalking something. What she is stalking soon becomes apparent as two magpies rise from the branches shouting blue murder. The magpies circle her trying to sabotage what one supposes is her assault on their nest. The next thing I see is the pretty cat coming like a bat out of hell, back to where she came, from pursued by the other ginger cat of the neighbourhood, a big bruiser with a mean look. The pretty cat sits on a wall above my head watching the territory of the bruiser. The bruiser means while watches her from his section of the wall. Her attention is undivided and not a scrap of it is wasted on me, who photographs her, profiled up there like a feline avatar.

In the waiting room of the hospital where Heidi is undergoing a 1o-minute operation, there is a notice on the outside of a lavatory door which says: "Closed for repair. Sorry for the inconvenience."

Monday, March 16, 2009

rose window,double base, gait

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Separate accommodation.

In the window of Brittens, the music shop in Grosvenor Road, stands a double base. It is not a new one, and its scratched and faded belly suggests that, like me, it has undergone a bit of wear and tear. Beside it, new or newish cellos, violas and violins demonstrate the extent of the violin family but my sympathies are with the old double bass.

Through the hedge, now without most of its old leaves and with none of its new ones, , I detect my neighbour walking past in the street. I cannot see his features or what he wearing, but identify him by his gait - his jaunty walk, and the way his heads bobs up and down

Sunday, March 15, 2009

question, pig, flexible

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Whence the expression: the answer is a lemon?

On BBC Radio 4, I hear someone refer to the American saying: "Don't wrestle with a pig. You may get dirty, but the pig likes it!"

The climbing rose in the garden used to climb up the house. Unlike a hybrid tea, it doesn't need pruning hard every year, but it is vigorous, and difficult to maintain. Now I realize that its branches are flexible and easily trained horizontally, so that it can reach round the corner comfortably in both directions - an improvement, which is both aesthetic and practical.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

visitors, line, carrots

I have been trying to take photographs of birds flitting about in the wild all day when, on returning home, I spot and snap these blue tits through the study window.

Some years ago, at an exhibition at Tate Modern, I saw a quotation from Paul Klee on one of the walls in a room of his pictures. I like his work for the way its fantasy tends to veer towards reality, and for its insights into the way things are structured. The quotation was about a line "going for a walk ... for the sake of the walk". I wrote a poem at the time, with his words as an epigraph and forgot about it. Until yesterday, when on Marja-Leena's blog (see link in right hand window) I saw a video by William Kentridge called "Taking a line for a walk". By way of response I sent my poem to Marja-Leena, who has published it next to the video. Klee's line seems to have wondered through the ether in a curious and satisfying way.

In the greengrocer's next to the Opera House, I see a display of rough looking carrots, in colour black, and yellow as well as orange. Their shape is much like those of the uniform orange carrots you normally see, except they are of different lengths and thicknesses. Their description "Natural carrots" appeals in particular, and reminds me that cultivated carrots are related to the wild carrot Daucus carota, an umbelliferous plant with an unassuming root, according to Mrs M Grieve's A Modern Herbal "small and spindle shaped, whitish, slender and hard."

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Friday, March 13, 2009

violet, smile, nidification

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This violet was growing out of an old wall when I spotted it.

In the window of a hairdresser's, a woman, whose hair is being attended to, watches herself in the mirror. Her expression is composed of a wistful smile,  a mixture of regret and compassion for the person she sees looking back at her.

Nest building proceeds. The crow, which I assume is the female is busy this morning under the trees in the Grove. She adds to the bundle of twigs in her beak, with the determination that I noted the other day, and which contrasted in so marked a manner to the idle collecting behaviour of the bird which I took to be the male. And today, where is the male? Not be seen at all.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

catkins, daffodils, i player

Posted by Picasa Hazel catkins. Once in my green and salad days I met a girl at a party who said that her name was Catkin Hazel. I may have dreamed it or she may have been pulling my leg. But whenever I see lambs tails at this time of year I think of Catkin Hazel and hope that she was real.

It's daffodil time again. This year there are new drifts of them in the Grove because, last year there were one or two bulb-planting exercises in which local children were involved. The brazen trumpets are back with a vengeance and there can be no regrets.

By chance on the ever resourceful BBC web site, I discover that BBC i Player allows you to play back TV features, even films, for a week after their first appearance. (I knew about the facility with radio programmes, but not with TV). The quality is astonishing. This afternoon, I find myself watching yesterday's episode of Nature's Great Events on the computer screen, and hearing the mellifluous voice of David Attenborough from unaccustomed speakers. The sight of water spreading over the Okavango wetland in the usually parched Kalahari Desert, and the animals, particularly the stoic elephants responding to the flood, is moving like an opera or ballet, or an epic poem.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

rosemary, pancakes, shopping

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Another harbinger of spring.
Yesterday: spinach pancakes. A sauce of chopped spinach combined with béchemel, seasoned with nutmeg and made succulent with butter and minced pancetta, is enclosed in the rolled pancakes and served along side them . Today pancakes made with the rest of the batter are served with lemon juice and sugar as on Shrove Tuesday.
Long live pancakes.
The two crows, whom I refer to as Mr and Mrs Crow, circle the Grove and descend to do some shopping. Under the trees they busy themselves collecting twigs in their beaks. I don't know which one is Mrs Crow, but I suspect that it is she who is clearly more interested in the process than her mate. While she collects more and more twigs in her beak, he contents himself with one twig, and mooches around until she is ready. Then they both fly off, he ahead of her, whereupon he will presumably supervise her assembling the nest.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

flying, translation, crocuses

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Two pigeons.

I am returning to Proust, whom I left one third of the way through A la Recherche du Temps Perdu , a few months ago. The prospect of continuing to read it in French is none the less daunting. I wish to lose no nuance in a work overflowing with nuances, and my French is not nearly good enough to grasp the finer points of those elongated sentences from which exploring tendrils reach into the most obscure corners of the mind.
So there is no alternative but to read the original alongside the Kilmartin translation, as well as a dictionary. To my surprise, I find that I am enjoying myself. The complex thoughts and descriptions unravel in two languages. I am a slow learner, who is forced to learn more slowly than usual. The odd thing is that if I were studying for an exam, I could not be reading the book more carefully, and yet I am doing it only for pleasure. I hope that in time the need for the crib may fall off, but I want to miss as little as possible.
The whole exercise makes me ponder the problems of translation. Does it ever approach perfection? It seems to me that the chief difficulty is to capture the essence of the original, which inevitably is founded in language. When the language changes, however satisfactory equivalent words may be, something important is lost. One example which comes to mind is the use of regional accents in the performance of translated radio plays. A production of the Don Camillo stories on Radio 4 a few years ago has Don Camillo speaking English with a north country accent. OK, he has to speak English, but the regional accent localises it in a way which makes suspension of disbelief more difficult.
In Proust, the use of idiomatic expressions in dialogue in particular, when translated localise the usage, not necessarily in respect of region, but in respect of time and class. The translator, hoever good he is, can't help creating something separate from the original, but it is separate and different as well in a way that cannot happily be bridged. Does it matter? We shall see.

After the rain, the crocuses in the Grove, which, with their long pointed petals, have done well this year, have tumbled over, and look, from a distance, like litter.

Monday, March 09, 2009

dudes, saying, stars

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Dudes of the bird world - handsome but rather frightening, if you happen to be a law abiding couple of birds trying bring up a young family. It's true about magpies' nasty habits. Last year, we witnessed a magpie sitting in our bay tree eating a blackbird nestling.

The French expression "métro-bulot-dodo" meaning metro, work, sleep", has always appealed to me for its succinct description of a pointless existence. I have only just learnt that it comes from a poem by Pierre Béarn called Couleurs d'usine. The original line is "Métro boulot bistrots mégot, dodo zéro", which means "metro work bars fags sleep nothing".

Nowadays newspapers have the habit of prefacing reviews of films, plays, exhibitions, and the like to indicate at a glance, where they are on the spectrum - outstanding to worthless For those who, like me, increasingly resent time spent reading newspapers,this has the merit if making irrelevant the majority of reviews because anything with less than four stars is not going to be of interest.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

pond, memory, sunlight

Posted by Picasa A large puddle in Calverley Ground, often occurs after rain. Local historians will tell you that the hilly park in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, used to boast an ornamental lake. This is all that remains of it, and only in wet weather; but a town that has no river, no fountains and few ponds other than one or two skirting the Common, should be glad even of this temporary and least dramatic of watery features.

Seldom able to remember lyrics even the best known ones, I am impressed by Barrett Bonden's recollection of the song which contains the words "pale moon" and which eluded me and the visiting crow, two days ago. And I'm grateful to him for enlightening us. Despite the banality of the words, his remembering them, is a beautiful thing; as it must be to hear him sing them while doing the washing up.

While waiting outside a shop I stand in a shaft of sunlight, which descends over the spa building in the Pantiles.