Monday, November 30, 2009

chard, everything, alright

Posted by PicasaThe variety of chard called Bright Lights lives up to its name, especially when the sun is low in the sky.
In the train I am sitting opposite a young woman busy writing cards on the table between us. Her book, closed on the table, is a paperback called Eat, Pray, Love and subtitled "One woman's search for everything". It is by, one, Elizabeth Gilbert and has according to another line on the cover, " sold over six million copies".
A postman whom I haven't seen before hands me a parcel when I answer the door. "Are you alright" he says. Depending on the tone of voice, this locution could have a number of different meanings. In transcribing it, I leave out a question mark, because clearly it doesn't require an answer. Rather it signifies a cheerful "good morning!". But with another intonation it could mean: "Is there something wrong with you?" Or, as when relatively recently a railway employee used the same expression to me when he saw me taking photographs at the end of the station platform, it clearly meant, "what mischief are you up to?"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

alright, critic, repeats

Posted by Picasa"There's rainbow," Heidi calls to me when I am downstairs in the kitchen. " a double rainbow". I run upstairs and there it is, only a single one by now, but bright enough to win Noah's approval, and to make me grab my camera. I think of what used to be a favourite line of soap opera script writers, "everything's gonna be alright," because that's what rainbows are about.
In Watersone's bookshop, two teenage girls are standing in front of a shelf of English classics. One knows her onions and tells the other what's what. "That's Emily, she says, " And that's Charlotte..." Passing on from the Bronte's she responds to her companion: "P. G Wodehouse? No it isn't. It' not heavy at all. There's always a jealous lover somewhere. They always get married at the end of the book."
On Hungerford footbridge, I watch different people stop to take a photograph, all from more or less the same spot, of St Paul's Cathedral. I
imagine a pile of photograph as high as St Paul's itself assembled from all over the world. I suppose it's the same wherever there is an important object to view, that people want to take a little bit of it away for themselves. In this respect digital cameras give instant satisfaction.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

loosestrife, grandad, papers

Posted by PicasaPurple loosestrife after summer's strife becomes a grey tangle, hard and dry.
On the train to London two little girls run between the seats towards a grey head facing away from them. "We thought you were our grandad, " says one, as she comes level with him. "He's some body's grandad," says the girls' mother apologetically, and one presumes speculatively.
A Londoner by birth and proximity, even if I haven't always read them, I have always been aware of the City's evening papers. Once there were three, and I can still hear the news vendors shout from street corners: "News, Star and Standard...". The Star was the first to fold. Then it was The Evening News. The Evening Standard still survives, but since my last visit to London, it has become a free paper, having shed its price of 50p in an attempt paradoxically to become solvent. The new owner, a former Russian diplomat, bought the loss-making tabloid for £1.00. The principle is that if you increase the circulation and cut some overheads, greater advertising revenue, will compensate for the loss of revenue from sales, and be enough to begin to make a profit. As a purveyor of information on culture, restaurants and entertainment in London, and helped by its website, perhaps it will now win through. Meanwhile it is good this evening to hear the news vendor outside Charing Cross still calling although his cry has changed to "Free newspaper...Free newspaper."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

disintegration, book, seeds

Posted by Picasa Today's leaf and a flattened wad of chewing gum masquerading as the moon.
One of these days I will have an electronic reader and I look forward to the convenience and comfort which it will provide. But today, as I start again to survey my shelves for a book, which I read only recently and which now eludes me, I find myself reflecting that there are certain books, which , as far as I am concerned, will always be impossible to replace. There are books that I wouldn't swap for a wilderness of e-readers. This feeling has little to do with the nature of books in general but rather with the relationship built up over the years with specific books. And it is not the content to which I refer; it is rather the familiar signs of usage on a cover or on a page; a coffee stain perhaps; a forgotten bookmark; a marginal note; a dedication; a deteriorating spine; an elusive smell of mustiness or soap. I think of books which have travelled with me to different parts of the world and in time, travelledwith me through 70 years and more. I take one or two down from the shelf. Here is my Oxford University Press The English Poems of John Milton, still holding together although it has sat in countless numbers of my pockets - so much to value in such a small space and yet with a clear, readable type. Countless books would, I know, fit into the same space on an e-reader, but that worn, navy blue cover has been faithful to me and I to it since my schooldays. Another loyal companion is the Penguin Book of Spanish Verse (Price 5/=), which has been repaired with sellotape and whose yellowing pages now recall the aire amarillo of the time before sunset in southern Spain, and the phrase itself, which I must first have come across within its covers. And here is The Faber Book of Comic Verse, which I have read over and over again for it reservoir of wit and fantasy, nonsense and its few shreds of sublime wisdom, which are close to nonsense but go far beyond it. I still fail to find the book I am looking for, but I find a lot else to think about.
My Autumn digging is now almost complete, and all the beds dug and weeded for the frost, when it comes, to work over. And today, arrives the seed catalogue just at the right time. With the almost empty beds fresh in my mind, I begin to see myself sowing them, and the tidy rows of emergent seedlings that will follow. If Winter comes...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

garden, cravat, secure

Posted by PicasaOn a dead branch is this unexpected garden.
From a note in Balzac's strange novel Le Peau de Chagrin, I learn that the word "cravate" which means a necktie in French, and in English, well....a cravat, comes from the word croate and refers to the ornamental garment, which has been "since the 17th century a part of the uniform of Croatian soldiers." The narrator in the novel refers to some young men as "cravatées à déspérer toute la Croatie"
All night the wind buffets our house, rattling the windows, and rakes the branches of the lime tree opposite. In the morning I raise the blinds to see if the world has changed, but everything is in its place.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

window, doves, enchanter

Posted by PicasaDressing up.
There are nearly always ring doves in the area of The Grove behind Christchurch. Last year there were two, now there are four. This is I suppose their territory. The soft grey of these birds is as gentle as a misty morning.
The wind is behind me as I cross The Grove this afternoon. If I were a ship I would be scudding before it. In front of me the leaves race as though "from an enchanter fleeing".
Oh, and Qartsilluni has just published my poem on the theme "Words of power", which I submitted back in September. It is odd but satisfying to me, if to nobody else, to hear my voice droning from the speaker. I can't help feeling as we used to say "chuffed".

Monday, November 23, 2009

dry, starlings, marching

Posted by Picasa Today's leaf.
Starlings are back in the Grove. I hear, rather than see them as they gather in one of the trees. What is the collective noun for starlings? In a book which I had as a child there was a list of collective nouns, among them "murmuration" for starlings. Seeking to confirm this, I find the word in the The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. But there, it only signifies "murmuring", and its usage appears to be confined to "late Middle English". No mention of starlings. But my childhood reference and memory are vindicated by Chambers, which calls it a "doubtful word for a flock of starlings". All the same, murmuring is rather an understatement for the noise the birds make when they gather - a sound higher pitched and more raucous than what normally passes for a murmur.
There is a tall, elderly man of upright bearing who wears an overcoat and a tweed cap. In the summer I have seen him in an old, military beret worn in the army style pulled down over one ear. He is to be found, most afternoons at the entrance to Calverley Precinct, across the road from the hideous Millennium Clock. Here he performs a slow and meditative march, to and fro across the width of the Precinct, his eyes straight before him. He walks so that his heels, hit the ground first, a little before the rest of his foot. It is a sort of slow march but not ostentatious. He is performing for himself and not an audience, in the parade ground of his mind.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

umbrella, dandruff, organised

Posted by PicasaTriangles.
A new farm produce shop in the High Street is being stocked ready to open next week. In the doorway a man is cutting a plank of wood with a power saw. Pale dust rises in a cloud. A girl moving cartons through the door says: "Hey, you're covering me in dandruff". A notice in the window explains that the staff will be new to the equipment (which includes a juicer behind the bar) and to the products, and asks for the forbearance of customers.
Another BBC weather forecast phrase to enjoy this morning refers to "organised bands of showers". If I am not mistaken I have in the past heard a forecaster speak of "showers marching across from the West."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

print, haiku, goodbye

Posted by PicasaSometimes leaves are so forcefully pressed on to the tarmac by passing traffic that they seem to be printed on its surface.
There can be no better recommendation as far as I am concerned for the new president of Europe than his reputed espousal of the Japanese poetic form known as haiku, and now enthusiastically taken up by some western poets. A haiku (usually set out in three lines of five seven and five syllables, respectively) may, one would like to think, turn out to be an inspiration to other politicians, because of its brevity certainly; but above all because the form requires careful and balanced thinking, sensitivity and a respect for silence. For a haiku should be conceived in silence, end in silence and incorporate a hint of silence in the hiatus, which develops between an initial image and a second concluding image, with its slight jump from one logical impulse to another.
On the way up Mount Pleasant, I meet a neighbour, who has just left her husband, now getting on in years, up a ladder pruning some shrubs. It begins to rain. "He will be pleased that it's raining, " she says, " so that he can pack up and go in doors." "Doesn't he enjoy gardening ?" I say. "He's not been too well, recently," she observes; " I said goodbye to him before leaving, in case I never see him again."

Friday, November 20, 2009

bricks, smoke, faux amis

Posted by Picasa Fitting in.
Over the trees at the top of The Common, low clouds drift across a strip of blue sky as though someone is puffing away at a cigarette up there.
More thoughts on false friends in translation. Like Barrett Bonden, who commented on them here the other day, I dwell very much on the fringe of the German language, and though I understand a little of it, I do not venture to express myself in it. As for false friends in English and German, they work both ways. It seems to me that the English word "when" can be a problem for German speakers because the German word "wenn" often signifies "if", while the implications of "if" and "when" in English are often a few shades apart. Alternative German words for "if" falls, and for "when" wann, apparently solve the problem.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

market, groaning, faux ami

Posted by PicasaEconomics.
The gate between the vegetable garden and the path through the flower garden, which I must take to tend my vegetables, is held open by a hook which engages with an eye in the wall. When the gate is open, as it is to day in the blustery wind, it makes a noise half way between a creak and a groan, which appeals to me because it is the sort of noise, which I sometimes make to myself when I sit down after unaccustomed exertion.
There is a display in the cutler's shop in the High Street of a range of knives, described as " hand made gentleman's pocket knives". They are sold under the brand name Taylors Eye Witness and much is made of their Sheffield steel blades. Much attention is given to the handles which are of stag horn, ram horn, buffalo horn and most expensive pearl. Where else in Tunbridge Wells would a gentleman go for his knives?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

sky, puffed-up, tart

Posted by Picasa Today's leaf and a little sky behind the bars of a drain cover.
The wind swells under the cover of a motor cycle and billows around beneath it giving the impression of a rider and pillion passenger leaning into now one bend, now the next.
In preparation is a tarte des Demoiselles Tatin, to give it its full name. It's an upside down apple tart, in more prosaic terms. Having covered a shallow, buttered pan containing apples and sugar with puff pastry, you caramelise the apples with the pan on top of the stove and when they are beginning to turn brown under the pastry, put the pan in a hot oven until the pastry is cooked, crisp and golden. You turn the pan over onto a plate and you have your tart with the pastry underneath and the caramelised apples on top.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

leaves, i'n't? treasure

Posted by Picasa Savoy cabbages at the Pantiles Farmers' Market.
This morning I reflect as I wake up on the phrase "i'n't?", used in street slang, at the end of a sentence to elicit agreement or to reaffirm its truth. It is rather more general in meaning than "isn't it?" from which it is derived because it applies across a wider range of contexts. So that it becomes one of those adverbs or adverbial phrases which, in numerous languages, help to emphasis a statement, without adding to its meaning. Invariably it is in the form of question, but the question is rhetorical. In English, posh people used to end a sentence with "what?" to signify something similar. "Eh?" is another such word, though not very polite: "Don't say "eh" we were told as children. The French, of course have, "hein?" and "n'est ce pas?" which serve a similar purpose . And there is always "non?" and "no? " in other romance languages. The German "nein?" is probably more usual an expression nowadays than "nicht wahr? which is favoured by phrase books.The Spanish say "verdad?" and the Italians vero? for "isn't that right?" in a similar way. One day a hundred years from now perhaps a wider spectrum of people will conclude their sentences with "i'n't?" if only to show that we should never be didactic about language.
Gardens are full of treasure much of it buried. That goes for potatoes and other root vegetables, and also for lost implements. Today as I clear yet another bed of nasturtiums and lift some dahlias for the winter, I find a perfectly good trowel a few centimetres beneath the soil, its handle imitating an intractable root.

Monday, November 16, 2009

collapsed, happy, sigh

Posted by PicasaCasualty of a wet and windy day.
Maria, at the Sainsbury delicatessen counter, tells me that she is giving Spanish lessons in Tunbridge Wells. "I can die happy," she says. "Why?" " I needed a challenge," she says; "It was always my ambition to teach Spanish in England". She enjoys her grocery work too. She greets everyone with a smile as she bustles in pursuit of hams and cheeses and bids farewell to her customers on Sunday mornings, when I usually see her, with: " Have a lovely rest of the weekend," Today she says "I am happy. I am very, very happy." Somehow, you believe it. Somehow, it is infectious.
On a pathway in Calverley Ground, a young woman, a cigarette in one hand, a shopping bag in the other, sighs to herself as she passes: "Oh dear!".

Sunday, November 15, 2009

bench, suitcases, identity crisis

Posted by PicasaComposition under a bench.
In a short story set in the 70s, John Updike describes Aeroflot air hostesses as " hefty as packed suitcases".
On the BBC Shipping Forecast, surely among the corporations better programmes, I hear, with pleasure, of gales in sea area, Dogger " losing their identity".

Saturday, November 14, 2009

colour, pot, numbers

Posted by PicasaToday's leaf.
The wind gets inside a small, plastic flower pot that has blown on to the road. The pot dances and jumps, wobbles and trips, stops and stares and gapes at whatever is in front of it, as though shocked by what it sees. The wind blows into the pot, shoves it here and there, puffs through it and emerges from the little drainage holes in the base. It is a living pot leading a carefree life dictated by unforeseen and unknowable forces.
From our bedroom window this morning I watch the remaining leaves on the tulip tree flutter in front of the cloud-creamy light of the sun. They flash in their fixed positions like numbers on a screen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

mahonia, wolf, ears

Posted by PicasaThere isn't much that is wild in these parts. There are no wild woods or heathland, unless you include The Common, which incorporates a cricket field, is studiously maintained and divided by hard-top paths and one or two narrow roads, and so is urban rather than rural. For natural history, there are apart from The Common, the parks ( The Grove and Calverley Ground), where there are garden birds to watch and a few wild flowers. But seldom is there anything to set the heart racing. To make up for the scarcity of wildness, there are a number of exotic shrubs cultivated in the front gardens, which I pass daily, and which are not found in the wild. Where else would you see, in such profusion plants, which originate in the Himalayas, China, and other even more distant parts of the world? I snap this mahonia the other day when it is in flower and at the same time shows off its berries, ripe and unripe There are three different colours apart from reddish the leaves.
The book which I have just finished has left me stunned and amazed. The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands is an account of the author's 11 years which he sharedwith a wolf while teaching in an American university, and later living inIreland and in France. Rather than a mere account of the mechanics of his relationship, it is a profound reflexion on the nature of existence, on love, death and the elusive and mysterious state of happiness; on what it is to be human and on what it is not to be human. So much is there to think about in it, that it is one of the very few books which I found not only difficult to put down, but wanted to start reading again immediately after reading the last sentence.
In The Grove, the wind blows out the leaves still attached to a horse chestnut so that they resemble the ears of a spaniel running at full tilt.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

mosaic, seeds, dialogue

Posted by PicasaLeaves spread by the wind and flattened by the rain and footsteps on to the wet tarmac.
I clear the riot of nasturtiums, many of them still in flower, from the vegetable beds where they self-sow every year and I dig the ground over ready for vegetable crops in the Spring. I know full well that among the lettuces or peas that I will be cultivating next year, the nasturtiums (they are the climbing variety) will sprout and clamber everywhere, over the fence and over anything that stands upright. At first I will hoe the seedlings out, but in time as the other vegetables are harvested, the nasturtiums will have the beds and the fence to themselves. Their scarlet, orange and yellow flowers and round green leaves will lie like a rich, variegated blanket over the garden. Now, as I bury the little caper-like seeds by the score,(they are like capers because the nasturtium is a close relative of the caper and its seeds may be substituted for them in cooking), I think that perhaps they should become the main crop in these beds, and I a nasturtium farmer.
My third beautiful thing to day is a response from Lucy Kempton in Compasses to the question, "just what have you been doing with yourself?" And so the dialogue proceeds, encouraged by the time and the weather that ticks and blows through cyber space. Should the dialogue continue? There seems to be no doubt in either of our minds, that it should, though we agree that it should be allowed its own pace, quickening and slowing as the poems and our inclinations or other preoccupations dictate.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

leaf, Waverley, bones

Posted by PicasaEvery year I photograph single leaves like this several times because they are to my mind so photogenic. At first I would say to myself : "The same photograph: shame on you. It's as bad as repeating the same story to the same people." But then I say: "It's a different leaf (though probably not a different variety of leaf), a different day, a different year". Perhaps I should accumulate photographs of single leaves photographed in different years and print them in a long beautiful line.
A woman comes into Hall's bookshop and says to the young man in charge: "I don't know if you would be interested. I have some books I want to sell. A complete set of the Waverly Novels. " "Are they in leather?" asks the young man.
"I can't remember. They're hardback I think".
"We've just put a complete, leather bound set up there," the young man says, pointing to the shelf.
"Oh there not nearly as nice as that."
"Well you can bring them in, and if the owner doesn't want them, they can always go to the charity shop a few doors down".
Poor old Walter Scott. Who reads him now? It always surprises me to learn how much admired he was by Nineteenth century French novelists, Balzac and Dumas in particular, both of whom are still widely read.
Outside the kitchen shop in the Pantiles, two spaniels, one on a red lead, the other on a blue lead, are tethered to a lamp post, linked by the leads, which have been tied together. To keep them occupied they have been given a bone each at which they gnaw in a desultory fashion. The would rather their owner returned. The bones are recognisable as the "postman's ankles" regularly displayed at the butchers in Chapel Place.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

pipes, umbrella, comfort

Posted by PicasaGoing down.
Within the railings that enclose the side of King Charles the Martyr is a deceased umbrella. Its spokes protrude in all direction from its shattered web of black nylon.
As I walk briskly through the damp air - it is dripping rather than raining - I can detect no beautiful thing for the moment to post when I get home. But home now, sitting at my desk, I feel warm and comforted as I sip my tea. Beside me is the screen, to which I can transfer these impressions, a further source of comfort.

Monday, November 09, 2009

leaf, draft, convolvulus

Posted by PicasaToday's leaf.
This morning I realize that the post which I crafted yesterday afternoon is still in draft form, allowing me to publish it with no more effort than a deft click. So this one, in making up for the absence of yesterday's, will be the second one today.
Against the fence in the vegetable, I strip away some of the self-sown nasturtiums that drift over beds where they are not restrained. Weeds have begun to take over and, in clearing the ground for Autumn digging, I enjoy ferreting out the sinuous white roots of convolvulus (or bind weed), the smallest piece of which would become a sturdy climbing plant given the chance. These roots, like long white worms, have a special container to collect them like catch in a fisherman's bucket, as I can't trust them not take over the compost heap if they end up there. Despite their intrusive and pervasive habit, I think that convolvulus is the weed I can most easily forgive because of its immaculate bell shaped flowers.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Calverley Ground, doodah, humans

Posted by PicasaAutumn in Calverley Ground.
I like the words used instead of other words, which people momentarily can't remember, don't want to or never could remember. Thingummy is one which becomes thingamajig or thingamabob when subjected to colloquial variations. All three are in Chambers Dictionary with several spelling alternatives. Also in Chambers is doodah, which I heard to day and set me off on this vacuous trail. "Did you remember my, m' doodah," says one woman to another as they emerge from a car with shopping bags?" The "'m" suggests that she doesn't at the moment have the word she is looking for in her head.
At last I am beginning to read a birthday present from September, The Philosopher and the Wolf by a philosophy professor called Mark Rowlands. The author spent 11 years living with a wolf, which accompanied him to his lectures. Most of the time when he was lecturing the wolf called Brennin slept during the lectures but occasionally became bored and began to howl. The book is about humans as well as wolves and the distance between the two. "Humans are the animals that believe the stories they tell about themselves," Rowlands writes. I can't wait to get back to the book.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

beagle, notes, balloons

Posted by PicasaAt the bar.
Such inspiration as I find comes to me in the early hours of the morning, when I am half asleep, almost dreaming. By the time I am fully awake I have usually forgotten the subject of my thoughts as I have of my dreams. Unless that is I get to a piece of paper and a pen in time to make some notes. Thinking of the theme of a projected poem this morning I manage to reach my notebook in time. I write:
Dragon fly. Power.
Elephants trek across sand in search of water. Thirst.
Happy, happy, happy, happ ee e...
Perhaps it will make the poem I was looking for. Perhaps it will do as it is. Perhaps it will vanish from memory.
In the Pantiles this morning Father Christmas and some attendants from Hoopers, the local department store, arrive with balloons. The balloons are gas-filled and ride high above the little procession. Some of the balloons are black and some, mustard yellow. Soon people attending the Farmers Market and others, sitting outside cafes are holding black and yellow trophies aloft. One balloon, a black one, breaks loose and floats up into the sky. I look away and when I look back it has vanished. All day in Tunbridge Wells you see children with Hoopers' balloons bobbing above their heads.

Friday, November 06, 2009

puddle, blanket, early

Posted by PicasaLooking up and dItalicown.
In a book entitled Batty Bloomers and Boycott listing eponymous words, the compiler Rosie Boycott claims that one, Thomas Blanket spun the first blankets around 1340 and sold them in his Bristol shop. If this is supposed to explain the origin of the word, it runs counter to The Oxford English Dictionary and Chambers Dictionary both of which, prosaically, attribute it to the old or medieval French, blankete or blanquete. I know the origin that I prefer, Thomas Blanket.
Out early for an 8 am appointment at The Kent and Sussex Hospital. At this hour, everything looks different and you see different things, birds, people, dogs. All in a different light. All following distinctive early morning routines. They move at a different pace, better defined, more urgent.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

brush, quick, crows

Posted by PicasaStreet sweeper.
I always admire the speed and efficiency of the Pleasant Cafe a few doors down from the station entrance in Mount Pleasant. I order a pot of tea and a sandwich. It takes literally a minute. They unwrap the sandwich made with fresh bread that morning , cut it into four quarters and put it on to a plate. A metal tea pot with tea bag goes under the tap of a hot water boiler ready with instant boiling water, and plate, pot, mug, and small jug of milk are popped on to a tray which is handed to me over the counter. Yes, all in no more than a minute.
Above a roof top in the morning sun two crows glide on the breeze. Their wing tips almost touch.