Tuesday, June 30, 2009

lettuce, pigeon, flagstone

Posted by Picasa In the lettuce heart
lakes flood and the deep waters
shuffle their slow feet.

This morning on the fence a pigeon perches. It leans forward; looks to right and left; looks down; tilts its head from side to side. What appeals is the parallel with a certain sort of person, fossicking or on the scrounge.

A phrase from Proust which I come across today seems to sum up the adjective "proustian": ... a flagstone almost endowed with thought, un pavé presque pensant...

Monday, June 29, 2009

tennis ball, shadows, hose

Posted by PicasaDecomposing tennis ball found in the compost.

I walk across the hard edged shadows of some railings, and in the intense midsummer sun, notice the geometrical shapes of the rooftops and chimneys of the terrace cottages in Warwick Road, also projected as shadows on the cobbles.

For the last few years, I have had access to a hose close to the vegetable garden. In the hot weather, given the quick-draining soil, I am very glad of it. Patience is important. Because it is so easy to stand and spray, I can, misled by the pressure of the water, sometimes fail to give the plants the soaking they need. Too superficial a watering and the roots instead of going down where there are useful nutrients can keep to the surface where they are likely to dry out again too quickly. To ensure that I stand long enough with the hose, I count slowly to 50 when standing over each group of plants, and test the depth of the soaking with the hoe. Fifty does it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

wall lettuce, tastes, birthday

Posted by PicasaThis plant which grows out of walls and cracks in paving and rocky places is known as wall lettuce. Its latin name is mycelis muralis. It often has purple stems and handsome, serrated leaves with triangular end lobes. It doesn't rate a mention in every wild flower book, which is surprising because it stately habit deserves attention. According to Roger Phillips' Wild Flowers of Britain, you can eat its leaves as a salad.

"Its luscious, vegetal aromas are suggestive of lemon peel, lemon verbena, tomato leaf ... The flavour develops in the mouth, progressing from a velvety start through to an explosion of green impressions underpinned by an elegant bitterness and a cheeky, piquant finish". Tasting notes, yes. But if you said that they concerned wine, you would be wrong. In fact, it is olive oil, which is being described; to be precise, an oil pressed from the Abequina variety of olive. These notes among others are taken from a magazine called Spaingourmetour, which contains lavish photographs of Spanish food, drink and countryside, apart from some succulent prose.

Heidi's birthday takes us to the Tunbridge Wells Bar and Grill to sample her favourite king prawns cooked in batter in the tempura style, and a bottle of pinot grigio tinted a pale pink, which earns it the name "blush", a description originally used to describe pink wines in California.Our French waiter says that today is also his birthday.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

clover, rescued, found

Posted by Picasa Clover appears on the short-cut grass outside the town hall like a table cloth. Soon the bees came to enjoy it, and so do I with my camera.

The other day in the Grove I see some boys swinging an oak sapling, which had come loose from it stakes, to and fro. I urge them to desist, which they reluctantly do. For some days since, the un-staked tree, leaning over to one side, has worried me, but today I see that two stout new stakes have been provided and the sapling is standing up straight again.

A Parker ball pen of which I am fond because I like the feel of it and I have got used to its streamlined look, has gone missing. Did I drop it or leave it on a table in a bar? Then, in the pouch-like pocket in front of the blue and white striped apron which I use when cooking, I feel the familiar shape of the pen, and there it is. The sun comes out and shines on an old friend whose company I depend upon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

ruebarb,changing names, sower

Posted by Picasa Seeds of ruebarb (like their leaves now red spotted with green) have a sculptured quality, helped here, in their coppered splendour, by the finest threads of spider silk.

Years ago I had an account with a building society called Hastings and Thanet. The paying-in book would be returned to me inscribed in longhand. Later, Hastings and Thanet was taken over by Cheltenham and Gloucester and changed its name accordingly. Now I learn that Cheltenham and Gloucester, which has for some time belonged to Lloyds Bank is to close its branches in the Autumn. For the time being the name remains the same, but I will have to walk further up the hill and attend the nearest branch of Lloyds for transactions. There was a time when banks and a building societies were very different creatures. Sic transit...

A neighbour complains about another neighbour, who is in fact a friend of hers, that he scattered a packet of poppy seeds over her front garden. I didn't want them there" she says, being of an orderly turn of mind. But now that the scarlet poppies are flowering above and in the midst of her lavender hedge, she would have to be mean of spirit not be glad of his profligacy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

group, returning, building society

Posted by Picasa At the Farmers' Market in the Pantiles, people watching can often be as interesting as bird watching.

Going back to a place where you used to live in the company of someone who never lived there and didn't know you when you did, can be difficult. Memories anchored only by your own life in the distant past need too much explanation to avoid being boring. Often they will seem trivial and their significance hard to explain even to oneself. How to tell Heidi with whom I travel to Forest Row on the bus yesterday, that when we lived there before World War 2, the fishmonger on the corner opposite the church was called Mrs Halibut (of course she wasn't but my memory insists that she was), or about the white bluebells among the blue ones in the wood next to the house where we lived, or the road where the house still is, which used to be unmade and full of puddles in wet weather where I paddled in my wellies, or the woman whom we met on a walk through the heather called me "ducky", a familiar endearment in those days, but new and fascinating to a five-year old?
The village is not a pretty village, though I dare say it was prettier in 1939 than it is now. Worst of all, the most conspicuous pub, with its beams, low roof and faded red brick, has a menu too long to trust, and I begin to fear that my nostalgia has prompted us to leave the bus at an unsuitable village for lunch. But a chance encounter with a woman smoking at a table outside a sad pizzeria directs us to the unpretentious Swan, where the food matches the interest of the menu and there is a table half in the sun and half in the shade, where we can sit and watch the world turn about us, and I can restore the present to its proper place.

A man in shirt sleeves and dark grey trousers crosses the Grove walking fast considering how warm it is. He is holding his jacket (the other half of his suit, one supposes) at the neck so that it hangs down away from his body as though suspended from a hook, rather than over his arm as people usually carry a coat or jacket. He could be an actor, I think to myself, making a point about a garment, which he may not like, or which is too precious to crease.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

closed, swifts, dance

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This poppy closed for the rain, its petals serving as an elegant umbrella.

Swifts are, according the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, scarce in England this year. I have seen and heard a few in Tunbridge Wells, and, today, spotted two or three, above the church in Forest Row. Not enough of these magical birds, which appeal so much to the imagination. They spend most of their lives in the air where they sleep, mate and feed. They come down to earth to nest only when raising their young, and can spend as long as two years aloft without landing.

Old people dancing is the subject of the TV programme Imagine last night. It is follows the rehearsals of the Company of Elders, a dance company, whose members are aged between 60 and 85, and who perform internationally. Even, if you do not, as I do , fall into that age group, you are going to be surprised at the grace of their performance. In one respect age and experience help them project the emotions which the music and choreography demand. "The more you mature, the more you have something to say," says Simone Scotto, the company's rehearsal director, and as you watch the withered faced come to life and the stiff bodies relax in their tender routine, you understand that what they are doing is more than worthy self-indulgence.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

fallen,nest, precision

Posted by Picasa On the path to the front door this petal seemed worth snapping.

Pigeons are nesting in the wisteria above the front door. In the past blackbirds have occupied the position and on one memorable occasion fledged during the mens' final of Wimbledon. We came to realize there were visitors only yesterday when we noticed twigs and feathers on the front doorstep, carelessly dropped in the process of building.

Another quote from Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium: "I am convinced that writing prose should not be any different from writing poetry. In both cases it is a question of looking for the unique expression, one that is concise, concentrated and memorable". This may be begging some questions, but it refocuses the question about the difference between poetry and prose.

Monday, June 22, 2009

poppy, white, broad bean

Posted by Picasa Today's poppy with a bud just about to open. In the bud, as fine as tissue paper but flexible in a way that paper cannot be, are the folded petals and stamens, carpels and ovary, the present and the future, in a miracle of packaging.

There was a time, when I was young, when suddenly everyone wanted brown chicken eggs. White eggs for no good reason, except perhaps in parallel with the dieticians' love affair with brown bread, were out. Now, nearly all eggs seem to be brown. One can only assume that chickens are bred to produce, as far as possible and regardless of any reason directly connected with healthy eating, only brown eggs. Two white eggs which come into the house are, therefore, a source of surprise and pleasure, miracles of survival, evidence of an aesthetic rebellion, of nature and common sense fighting back.

This afternoon I examine the broadbeans. The pods have begun to show where the flowers have withered and fallen. I detach one, a few millemeters long. There is no sign of beans in it. I take a contemplative bite. As one might expect, it tastes fresh and green with a characteristic bitterness hinting at the seeds to come in their little grey jackets. But the pod is sweet and succulent. You could make a remarkable, though prodigal, salad with several of them, newly cut rocket leaves and, following a current fashion, baby peas just out of the pod, and a few, curling pea tendrils.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

waiting, prayer, jay

Posted by Picasa Outside the convenience store.

A notice in front of the church in the High Street asks: "Have you any concerns which you would like to pray for? " And responds: " Please post your prayer requests here and we will pray for you."

In the vegetable garden I catch sight of a jay among the fruit trees, a rare sight round here, and a pleasing one for me.

I have just posted a reply to Lucy's questions, What do you fear? What do you hope for? on our Compasses site.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

bud, dissatisified, friendship

Posted by Picasa The bud of a poppy. Is the promise of the bud more satisfactory than the flower? It has more weight, more substance though it will turn fewer heads.

In the video hire store, Andre and I talk about Woody Allen, whose film Vicky Christina Barcelona has just been released as a DVD. Andre is an Allen fan. "He won't make any more really great films, like those he used to make. Every year there was a masterpiece," he says. "His problem is that that he wants to be some one other than himself." He wants to be Ingmar Bergman, we agree. It's so often the case with artists and musicians. Like Sir Arthur Sullivan who, not content with the Savoy operas, wanted to be Verdi, we say.

Friendship. In the magazine called The Week. there is a photograph of Sophie, a Springer spaniel and Bramble, a young eagle owl. The two have been inseparable since Bramble was brought into a bird of prey centre in Liskard, Cornwall, as a chick. The bird triggered the maternal instinct of the three year old Sophie, who began to clean it. Now the owl, old enough to live outside, still flies into the house every day, sitting still while Sophie licks her. The photograph shows the spaniel and the owl side by side, staring into the camera, with serious expressions on their faces, as though they know that they are special. And they are. I find the story, like all stories of unusual friendships, very moving.

Friday, June 19, 2009

rose, stone, safe

Posted by Picasa Today's rose, a little over the top, could be made of sugar, must be the sort of thing that Dorothy Parker had in mind when she wrote :
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose".

I have two knives, which I use in the garden, for cutting lettuces and other vegetable, pricking out seedlings, pruning and the like. Just recently I notice how blunt they are becoming, and after searching around for that most delightful of tools, a whetstone, and finding one that I have mislaid, I have the pleasure of restoring a fine edge to the blades. Slow steady movements, first on the coarse side of the stone, then on the smooth side, to the job nicely. I blow away the pattern of dust which has collected on the surface of the stone. It is rather like completing a sudoku to sharpen the mind.

In a bar, they want to take your credit card while you run up a tab. Objections to this practice, which can be open to abuse, are overcome by a simple "safe" arrangement, where your card is locked into a draw beside the cash machine and only released, upon delivery of a key, which you take to your table, and return to reclaim your card when you are ready to pay your bill. Neat, but dubiously reassuring if you worry about such things.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

ranunculus, conciseness, crow

Posted by Picasa Perhaps the Latin name for the genus, ranunculus, will make this buttercup more acceptable to those who dislike it as a weed of creeping habit. Although I admit to digging it out of flower and vegetable beds, I cannot stop myself loving the flower.

There are some authors,- Jorge Luis Borges - is one of them, who I always want to have close to me. Another is Italo Calvino, whom I came to recently on the recommendation of my son, Toby. Six Memos for the Millennium is currently holding me transfixed. It consists of five of the six Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he was due to have delivered in America when he died in 1985. The titles of the lectures are in themselves so intriguing that I find myself thinking about them, even before returning to read them - Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility and Multiplicity. This afternoon I find myself copying down several passages, of which I will quote this one because the idea has always appealed to me:
"Conciseness is only one aspect of the subject I want to deal with, and I will confine myself to telling you that I dream of immense cosmologies, sagas and epics all reduced to the dimension of an epigram. In the even more congested times that await us, literature must aim at the maximum concentration of poetry and thought."
A few paragraphs furhter on he writes: "I would like to edit a collection of tales consisting of one one sentence only. So far I haven't found any to match the one by the Guatamalan writer Augusto Monterreso: "Cuando despertó, el dinosauro todavía estaba alli." (When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there."

Twice today I have a close encounter with a crow. The first is when I am on my way to the vegetable garden. I hear a flapping and a floundering in the shrubs by the path. Is it an animal or a human being in trouble? Or a monster of some sort? After a full minute, the big crow, flaps slowly out of the bushes and lazily flies across the garden to the wall on the opposite side. The second encounter is in the road round the corner from where we live. Another crow, but more likely the same one, flops on to the fence of the front garden which we are passing. It watches us with an interest not dissimilar from that which we are showing in it. I unstrap my camera, but too late! When I look up, camewra at the ready, it is gone.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Posted by PicasaCloud ballet.

On the close cropped grass outside the Public Library, flocks of clover are in flower. Bees have spotted them and as I watch they assault the flower heads, fumbling each floret as if it was a long lost love. One bee doesn't even bother to fly to the next flower but crawls the few centimeters and greedily climbs its short stem.

The President of the Republic of Nasturtia has asked me to convey his and his people's thanks to The Crow for composing a national anthem for their country (See comments). He wishes to extend an invitation to her to attend the first performance of the anthem in Nasturtia City later this summer. The President says thatthe anthem is a beautiful thing and deserves posting here, and so I post it with special pleasure, especially as the President intends to bestow upon the Crow on the occasion of the anthem's performance, the Order of the Orange Flower, the highest decoration in the history of Nasturtia.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

art, bay tree, new world

Posted by Picasa Selling art in the Pantiles.

They come this morning to cut down the bay tree in front of the study window. It is with mixed feeling that I see it go. There is now daylight in two rooms, which had been in perpetual gloom. The solid wall of bay leaves that I used to see when I looked up from my desk is replaced by a view of sky and hedge and of the corner of what is reputed to be the oldest house in Tunbridge Wells. But I can't help remembering, with a pang, the sickly plant in pot that I brought with me when we moved here. It hadn't occurred to me then that it would grow so tall and wide, or I would certainly have planted it elsewhere.

I see through an open window, a room with a connecting door open, and through the door another window, and through that window, an unexpected view, almost an imaginary view of another world.

Monday, June 15, 2009

flag, enjoy, dripping

Posted by PicasaThe national flag of Nasturtia.

"Enjoy the rest of your Monday," says a BBC presenter this morning, which makes me wonder whether, for the majority of working people, there is anything to enjoy about Monday.

It is no longer raining but drops are falling from the branches of trees in the Grove with a pleasing popping sound, which is made all the more enjoyable when the sun comes out.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

rooftop, humming, edge

Posted by Picasa The movement of pigeons' feet is usually entertaining if watched carefully.

Three cyclists, one after the other, free wheel down Mount Sion, their bicycles humming on a continuous note like insects.

Tidiness and wildness do not, as a rule, go together in a garden. It seems to me that part of the art of gardening is to contain the one within the other. I reflect on this as, not entirely characteristically, I make a neat edge between an area of brickwork and the newly cut grass, and step back to admire the effect - too much like a public park or formal garden, I think to myself, but feel a sense of satisfaction nevertheless.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

conversation, cards, bee

Posted by PicasaConversation in the Grove where it is always afternoon. "Summer afternoon ... summer afternoon," wrote Henry James, "the two most beautiful words in the English language

Cards arranged upright on a table facing inwards, glimpsed through a window, betoken a birthday. I don't know who lives there, but many happy returns all the same.

As I make my through the Farmers Market, a bag containing a dahlia with dark purple leaves and a salvia with bright red flowers in either hand, a woman says to me " you're going to be a busy bee". I think to myself that if I were indeed a bee, her remark would be as true and even more appropriate.

Friday, June 12, 2009

iris, gambler, anniversery

Posted by Picasa Looking into an iris, the complexity of the pattern multiplied exactly as a feature of the species is a source of wonder.

Outside the Ragged Trousers in the Pantiles a man asks if he can borrow a pen. "I'm just going to back a horse," he says by way of explanation. At the next table, he sets to, marking a racing list in a paper spread out before him. He has a mobile phone and is in the process of calling his bookmaker. When five minutes later, we are about leave, I approach him to retrieve my pen. I put my hand forward in a gesture to indicate the pen, which he is holding in one hand, and not wanting to disturb his phone call, I don't say anything. Not expecting me and obviously preoccupied, he extends his free hand and absentmindedly shakes mine. Eventually he catches on, and returns the pen. I am still wondering whether the pen helped him back at least one winner.

Today, I realize to my surprise that I have been writing this blog for precisely four years. That adds up to 1440 posts and to an average of 360 posts a year. It was always my intention to post three observations every day, following the example of Clare Grant, whose Three Beautiful Things, now in existence for just over five years, has proved a lasting inspiration. Looking for subjects, which are curious, interesting and beautiful every day, continues to be a pleasure and to be a formula, which assists in the maintenance of my sanity if not complete happiness. Apart from the personal satisfaction, which it brings me , the blog has made me a number of friends across the world, who seem to share my appreciation of the charm of small things, the richness and variety of nature and even the intricacies and pleasures of technology. I wouldn't be without it. Or them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

contrasts, weed, lovely

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Clouds and bamboo behind the Black Pig look exotic, more like Thailand than Tunbridge Wells.

Ground elder is an irritating weed, but when the earth is soft, as it is today after the rain, it is satisfying to ease its winding roots with a fork, to disentangle them from the clinging soil, and extract them in their entirety from the herb bed, and the bed where I grow roses for cutting.

The sun brings out the best in us. The waitress at the Ragged Trousers wants to spread good will but runs short of polite farewells. As we leave, she beams: "Have a lovely rest of the day!"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

toad-flax, cormorant, rain-watching

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A few days ago I mentioned ivy leaved toad flax, a pretty trailing plant that grows wild on walls and in odd corners, I didn't have an adequate photo at the time. Here is one to make up for the omission.

Story-telling must be an art as old as cave painting. The Panchatantra also known as the Fables of Bidpai seem to be drawn from among the oldest stories in human culture, and were first written down in sanskrit. I come across them today under the title Kalila and Dimna in a pretty book, where they are retold by Ramsay Wood. At Hall's Bookshop they tell me that this is a publisher's remainder, but how it comes to remain unsold, I find hard to understand. The book is subtitled Fables of Friendship and Betrayal, which like the stories themselves, are as old as human nature. Some of the stories are very short. Here, as a sample, is a short one picked at random:
The Cormorant and the Star
There was once a cormorant which caught sight of a star's reflection on a gentle sea. Thinking this slowly wavering patch of light was a fish, he dived underwater and tried to catch it. Of course the cormorant failed, yet stubbornly he continued to dive again and again, believing that by effort he must eventually succeed. In the end he grew so angry and frustrated that he swore never again to dive after a fish.
From then onwards, even though he suffered extreme hunger on a meagre diet of small crabs, shrimps and shells found along the shore, the cormorant refused to dive after any fish, for he assumed it was as impossible to catch as the star on the water.

While in the vegetable garden a heavy shower comes down suddenly. I retire to the greenhouse, and stand in the dry while the raindrops beat against the glass and splash up from the paving outside. With special pleasure, I note the elder at the bottom of the garden, bow down under the weight of the rain on its cream-coloured, foaming corymbs.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

station, cheering up, sandwort

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By the railway station.

While in Hall's bookshop I am greeted by a neighbour reputed to be a serious bibliophile."We've just come in here to cheer ourselves up," he says. I look round to see if his wife is with him. She is sitting down and looking into the distance. Her expression suggests that bookshops are not places likely to make her cheerful.

In the long grass in the Grove are masses of tiny, white star-like flowers which I am tempted to call bedstraw, but which, I suspect, are fine-leaved sandwort, though only one of my books lists it as such.

Monday, June 08, 2009

roller, pea-eater, pop

Posted by PicasaI feel increasing sympathy for old, neglected things like this garden roller in a friend's garden. This is a structural detail.

Just after reading Lucy's comment here on Molly (her spaniel), who eats mangoes, I am talking to my friend Chris whose dog nicks garden peas of the plants and munches them pods and all. Apparently it also manages to cull raspberries straight from the bushes.

Today a young man with a plastic water bottle overtakes me. The bottle goes pop as he grips it to take a swig. I look round surprised. "Sorry, " he says and smiles.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

poppy time, persiflage, dancers

Posted by Picasa No compromises here.

Persiflage is too good a word to leave to the French language alone, whence it has migrated into English. Banter or mockery doesn't match up to it. But English, sad to say, doesn't have an equivalent verb to persifler or a noun, the equivalent of perfileur or persifleuse, for someone who practices persiflage.

Morris dancers troop through Chapel Place on their way to perform in the Pantiles. They wear round black hats with yellow ribbons falling falling down their back; white stockings and gaiters. Bells seem to be suspended all over their persons. They tinkle like tea trolleys. For some reason they always make me laugh even when they are not performing.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

chives, scream, mango

Posted by PicasaChives. Onions without tears.

From the motor repair shop on the corner, a mechanical spanner, screams like an animal as I pass.

Of all fruit, mangos are the fruitiest and most aromatic; and of all mangos, I think to myself as I prepare one for breakfast, the Alfonso is the fruitiest and most aromatic.