Gulls over the Thames.
In the pantiles, a black, long-haired retriever, drags a metal chair behind it by the leash with which it is tethered. The chair makes a grating sound, which the dog ignores as it proceeds towards the open door of the delicatessen, where its owner is shopping. As dog and chair get nearer to the shop, a man, with a demeanour similar to that of a retriever, but of a different build, approaches and begins to stroke and scratch the back of the retriever's neck. The dog ceases to pull at the chair, but keeps its eyes fixed on the interior of the shop. Eventually the owner emerges and the retriever man, politely removes the leash from the chair leg, and hands it to the owner - a middle aged woman who seems to take the rescue for granted, with only a little more acknowledgement- a polite thank you - than her dog is able to offer. The retriever man wanders off in the opposite direction.
As I walk over what appears to be a mass of worms on the pavement, I realize what I am seeing is nature imitating nature and that the worms are soaked silver-birch catkins which a recent squall has blown to the ground.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Portrait of a sheep. I have always liked the knowing expression round the mouths of these animals. I wonder what they know.
The area of the Grove, which they left unmowed for the first time last year, has again been spared the whirring blades. The restraint is already showing dividends. Today I find, among the usual dandelions and daisies, several of those pretty Spring flowers called lady's smock or cuckoo flower. Four mauve petals pale and lightly veined.
My attention is caught by a black drinking straw, angled three quarters of the way up with a flexible corrugated section like the links between railway carriages. It stands in an empty tumbler and, its bent section leaning over like a beak, swings round in the wind. It is always fascinating when an inanimate object appears to become animate as a result of such natural impulses. And it is now. The beak swings round and nuzzles for a moment the rim of a neighbouring glass. Then moves on round the rim of its own glass shaking and nodding as though in conversation.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Flying is easy, if you are properly equipped and have the experience.
For some time now I have a block about two words - frugal and thrift. When I try to remember them, though I am drawn to the modest virtues which they represent, they tend to vanish from my mind. On the spectrum extending from extravagance and prodigality at one end to parsimony and avarice at the other, they fit neatly into the middle, where you would expect to find moderation, common sense and a balanced way of life.
I wake this morning full of resolutions to roll up loose pieces of string and store them in a drawer, to collect the rubber bands, which the postman drops on the garden path, to save paper clips, to reuse envelopes (no, I stop short at that); and to write the book of recipes which I have longed planned on the creative use of left-overs, above all on how to make left-overs look as though they are prepared for the first time, the remains of mashed potatoes, for example, transformed into potato cakes.
At the entrance to the park called Calverley Ground, there is a former gatehouse where a group of dentists have been nesting for some time. I am struck this afternoon for the first time by the way these dentists have substituted the word "surgery" with "studio" on the notice outside. If dentists can have studios, I walk home wondering, will artists and broadcasters, for example, want to complete the swap? But it is an open question whether the word "studio" is, somehow, more sophisticated (a better way of selling their services) , than "surgery", which is presumably the dentists' reason for adopting it. Then it strikes me that if you have an operation, you have it in a theatre. Deep water, this.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Readers in the sun on the South Bank of the Thames.
Looking up for a moment towards the sun I catch sight of tiny seeds floating beneath their downy parachutes, metallic, like silver flies.
It took me a few days to realize that Lucy Kempton's poem in response to the question,Who will police the policemen? contained a quotation from the Book of Job. " ... he goes
'to and fro upon the earth
and up and down in it.'" In this way, she associates Mr Punch with Satan, before introducing the question put by God to Satan , And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou?' It is that question, which a new poem in the series, published today in Compasses sets out to answer (see link on right). Although it is a mere man, not Satan to whom the question is addressed and who answers it.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Sounds of summer: the ice cream van chiming in the distance. The Pied Piper of Tunbridge Wells.
I sit in the garden and watch as the herbs - thyme, rosemary, parsley, mint, sage, chives - appear to be growing before my eyes. I make a note to remove the pointed buds from the chives before they flower. A potato salad should do the job.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Somewhere between hope and suspicion.
Lunch with my blogger brother at the Indian restaurant which has now been aptly and imperishably named by blogger, Barrett Bonden as the Bloggers' retreat. There is still a problem with the licence to serve alcohol, but you are allowed to bring your own bottles. So off to the nearby pub, The Savoy Tun, a few steps away, and back to the Curry Club as the restaurant is also known. "You've come well prepared," says the restaurant's gentle owner, as we mount the narrow stairs.
There is a half-window above our front door and next to it wisteria just coming into flower. This morning a long-tailed tit flutters, as I pass the door, from wisteria to window and back. No camera is to hand as it seldom is when such an opportunity occurs. So these few words will have to do, to capture the fleeting presence of an unexpected visitor.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Before the leaves.
Something to do with atmospheric pressure today, the sky is criss-crossed with vapour trails; they have thickened a little, but remain interwoven like the script of an impossible language.
From the train,I see two Canada geese in a large playing field. They occupy the cricket pitch in the centre as if it belongs to them; they are inspecting it, as a source of worms.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
You might guess that this door is seldom used. A punster might remark that Ivy lives behind it.
If there is a dandelion season, it is now. The verges are overwhelmed with dense crowds of them, unapologetic and bold. No spherical clocks yet for the wind or passing children to blow. If they were cultivated and the leaves blanched,
what a feast of salad!
In the long cross a black lies, just the ridge of its back showing, its round head and its pointed ears.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The greeny - yellow flowers and bracts of Euphorbia often seem surprising in their restraint.
In the Grove, it is like a summer afternoon. A woman lies on her back on the grass, a book held up against the sky. Further, on a man, his knees drawn up and apart, his hands supporting either side of his head, is absorbed in a book open on the ground between his bare feet.
A woman wears an orange tee shirt with the message Buddha rocks.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Silver birch catkins.
As the need to garden becomes more pressing, I push myself to weed among the rose bushes, set aside for cutting. The reward is looking back at what little I have done, and feeling satisfied enough to do more.
Summer, rather than spring, today. I rest my hand for a moment on a plastic water butt. The surface feels as hot as a hot water tank in a central heating system.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Bluebell with raindrop. The photograph is worth clicking.
Ground elder can be difficult to eradicate. But I am beginning to come to terms with it, and even enjoy the chore. At this time of the year when the ground is soft, after loosening the surrounding earth with a fork, it is possible to lift out, in their entirety, the insidious, white roots, knowing that if cut up with a spade, they multiply and spread. The leaves, when young are quite attractive, and, according to Richard Mabey's book Food for Free can be cooked and eaten as spinach, which, he maintains, the Romans used to do.
Sabrina, who owns Hall's Bookshop tells me that, while pick nicking with friends at Eridge Rocks, a sandstone outcrop near Tunbridge Wells, where climbers come to practice their sport, she noticed that some of the climbers were taking precautions against broken bones, by placing mattresses at the foot of the rock face. Not far to fall, as the rocks are not much more than 20 ft high, but such precautions strike me as a little too comfortable for comfort.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The structure of a bud.
Awake in the early hours, I try get a grip on the landmarks of my life - a difficult task because I have a very poor grasp of dates. To make things easy, I ask myself where I was when I was 10 and then at at the end of every 10 year period. I have nearly always lived in the south east of England, in the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Kent. But what I realize, for the first time this morning, is that the longest period, in which I have lived in the same house is that, which extends over the past 20 years until the present, and that the house, which I now occupy, is the one where I have lived for the longest uninterrupted period.
What is the black cat watching with such intensity in the flower bed? And makes a prodding gesture towards with its paw? It is a bumble bee. The bee takes little notice and continues on it odd, circuitous flight, searching
Saturday, April 18, 2009
It is raining steadily, but it is a gentle downpour. The Grove, as the buds open on every tree, is overwhelmingly green. It is deserted, but for me, and the bloke who helps behind the bar in the Compasses, who is having a quick puff outside the rear entrance of the pub, where some shrubs provide a little shelter.
It is not often that you find an article about the town where you live in a national newspaper. When you do there is a pleasant start of recognition - not quite your fifteen minutes of fame - but a link with the world beyond your accustomed territory. The article, in the property section, of this morning's Financial Times is headed "Delighted Tunbridge Wells". It is by a resident of Tunbridge Wells called Chris McCooey. The headline is a reference to the catch phrase "Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells", which the author ascribes to "indignant matrons" who signed their letters in this way when writing to national newspapers.
That may be correct, but I can offer an additional source for the phrase. When I was a child there was a comedy programme on the the radio called Take It from Here. Among the regular spots on the programme was one where Jimmy Edwards, a resident comedian on the show, would proclaim, every week, a pompous and angry protest about the state of the country or the world, in the form of a letter to the Press, which concluded with the words "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". It was a point I looked forward to every week, because it set out to ridicule values that were stuffy and old fashioned; and, for a young person like myself, there were plenty of targets for such ridicule in a world, which still lay in the shadow of the Victorian era. I'm sure that the phrase, which must have been absorbed into the subconscious of the nation, helped to contribute to the myth of Tunbridge Wells as a stuffy place.
You cannot have lived in Tunbridge Wells for as long as I have without encountering a number of candidates for the origin of D of TW. One, I recall was the Rev John Banner, the former vicar of Christ Church in the High Street, who proudly made it, under this label, on to the magazine section of a Sunday newspaper. Another, more recent D o TW was my friend and neighbour, Tony Wade, who died last year. He was (conforming to the archetype), in fact, a retired colonel, and looked the part with his clipped, white moustache and matching hair. When a national daily paper sent a reporter down to interview him, some years ago, he couldn't have been more pleased. Never more so, than when he was able to show off a double page spread with the headline "The Original Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells".
Friday, April 17, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Among the buds.
In a splash of sunshine I encounter a drift of petals flying in the wind.
I meet the same neighbour twice in the space of 15 minutes. Our circular routes, in opposite directions, through the Grove and along the High Street, trace a dance of almost geographical magnitude.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Blackbirds, have a habit of chopping up an earth worm into bite-size pieces ready to feed to their young, and know how to pack an optimum number of portions into their beaks.
This morning, in a rare confrontation with a mirror, I am alarmed by a red blotch on my cheek. A quick rub and it disappears, as I realize that it must be a splash from the pomegranate I was peeling for breakfast.
A neighbour sweeps blossoms from his magnolia into a pile on the pavement as though they are Autumn leaves.
Monday, April 13, 2009
On the roof.
To do the same thing at the same time every day; to recognise the days of the week, by particular activities scheduled for those days; to perform every year the same tasks according to the season, can be comforting and reassure the restless spirit. But sometime it helps the spirit to jump ship and see how they do things where you happen to land.
The buds on a broom form a dense cloud of golden flies.
To find out whether Plutarch is smiling visit Compasses. And watch the space there for the guards and those who guard the guards.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Light in the blossom.
Thanks to The Crow who settles on this blog from time, I have been reading a short poem by the American poet Wallace Stevens that was new to me. I mentioned Stevens in one of those blog discussions that occur from time to time (the more the better as far as I am concerned). I have always liked his poems and a long time ago reconciled myself to the obscurity of his references and their apparent lack of coherence. Fellow blogger, Barrett Bonden, in a different discussion with me describes Stevens' approach perceptively in this way: "Each step is hugely inventive" he says, "In fact its so complex that I get the feeling that the pieces have been lying around for ages, and his sole act of creation has been to bring them together. The poem to some extent has preexisted." The poem to which The Crow drew my attention is Thirteen way of looking at a blackbird. Each of the ways, described in thirteen brief stanzas, is mysterious and yet solid and composed of simple images; and, as Barrett might agree, seems to belong to some system of belief or culture that has always been there.
Stanza 2 for example is:
I was of three minds
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
Stanza nine is:
When the blackbird flew out of sight
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
Stanza 12 has the condensed quality of a haiku.
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
In the Grove this morning, it is warm; it is raining and not raining. The air smells of the oils and resins which buds release as they open.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
A superior being, able to fly and swim.
The prospect of preparing a meal this evening. Hard boiled quail eggs arranged in croustades, garnished with lumpfish roe. Roast leg of lamb, and cous-cous. Brie, Roquefort and Cabra cheese.Creme caramel served with blueberries.
In the health food shop, a notice above a tray of chocolate bars reads: "Conscious Chocolate. Dark chocolate is the new superfood, healing you in a delicious way".
Friday, April 10, 2009
Resting in the Grove.
There is one side of our garden dominated by a bay tray, which is dry and shady. It has taken some time to find the sort of plants - mostly those used to a woodland habitat - which will grow there. Just now one of the most successful of these, Solomon's Seal, Poligonatum in the gardening books, is just now sending up its long, narrow spikes, which will unfold to become handsome lanceolate leaves. It grows almost fast enough to see it move. Soon it will put out its pendulous clusters of tubular white flowers. A stately plant.
In the Grove they have been cutting the grass. Apart from the scent, the sight of the swathes of cut grass swirling across the open spaces, is another local sign of Spring.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Time for dandelions to look the sun in the face.
Silver spotted skipper, Dingy skipper,
Scotch Argos, Ringlet, Gatekeeper. Brimstone, Purple hairstreak, Orange tip, Duke of Burgundy, Grayling. These are a selection of the 58 commonly occurring British butterfly species. All are shown on a wall chart, issued today by the Independent newspaper. Commonly occurring ? Let's hope so. Round here, we see very few butterflies nowadays and, because of their scarcity, it is sometimes difficult to recognise them when you do, or put names to them. For want of the real thing, I shall enjoy studying the chart, and hope to see coloured wings staggering over the flower beds.
When the sun comes out, groups of young, and some older people, spread themselves on the grass in the Grove. Scattered under the trees, among the daffodils, they themselves resemble a variety of flower, opening their petals to the warmth.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Where the pruners have been the sap is still rising.
The antithesis of the way Marcel is described looking at pictures in A La Recherches du temps perdu, is found a little further at the very dinner dinner party, the start of which was delayed because he became absorbed in a group of paintings belonging to his host.
' " Ah the Hague! What a gallery! " cried M. de Guermantes,' (he who had conducted Marcel to the paintings, and left him to contemplate them on his own). 'I said to him that he had doubtless admired Vermeer's 'View of Delft'. But the Duke was less erudite than arrogant. Accordingly he contented himself with replying in a self-complacent tone, as was his habit whenever anyone spoke to him of a picture in a gallery, or in the Salon, which he did not remember having seen: "If it's to be seen, I saw it." '
Now Compasses is truly relaunched. I've answered Lucy's question; Lucy has answered mine and asked me another question: "Are you smiling?" The motor is ticking over.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
I find this abandoned roller near the cricket field on the Common and think it needs to be remembered. It must have been new once.
A dog called Sophie Tucker fell from her owners' yacht, off the coast of Queensland, swam through shark invested seas until she came to a desert island, and survived there for 4 months. I hear the story on BBC Radio 4 this morning. An Australian cattle dog with short hair and tough disposition, she was well quipped for the ordeal. Apparently she lived off goats, which ran wild on the island and crabs. She was mistaken by her eventual rescuers for a wild dog, but when reintroduced to her owners, recognised them immediately and settled quickly back into her old domestic routine.
Pigeons, I notice, squeak as they fly past me in the Grove, as though their wings need a drop of oil.