Sunday, February 28, 2010

savings, dance, salad

Among the classifications into which this series of photographs is falling is literature.

In Sainsbury's this morning my trolley confronts the trolley of a lively, elderly woman who is coming towards me. There is that awkward to and fro movement, where both parties, eager to move out of the way, move in the same direction. We exchange lame smiles. "The dance of the trolleys," she says.

Today, a salad of Roquefort cheese, chicory and pear with a vinaigrette sauce sweetened with honey.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

bull, reader, simple

It occurs to me, as I take more of these photographs of ephemerae and detritus, that they succeed best when they have suffered from weather and rough treatment. Many, like, this can, begin life as products, which depend for their success on the way in which they are designed as part of a marketing process. A can of Red Bull would have an intrinsic interest in its own right straight off a supermarket shelf. But opened, the drink consumed and the can squashed by a heel or angry fist and thrown into the gutter, it becomes something else altogether. It is worth clicking the picture to see the logo of two bulls in the process of head butting.

A woman in a black coat with a blue scarf thrown round her neck, is reading, as she walk across The Grove. She is carrying a Hall's Bookshop plastic bag. She barely raises her eyes from the page, as she negotiates the paths which cross the park. Her feet seem to know where she is going.

"I keep it simple, watch the ball and play it on merit." Whether you play or follow cricket or not, that quote in today's paper from Sachin Tedulkar, the greatest batsman in the world, strikes me as good example to follow in general.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

waving, seeds, ferret

Not drowning but waving. On my word, this was not deliberate. I was holding up the camera to avoid my reflection and show the plastic bag floating on its own in the puddle. I like the way that the texture of the tarmac, on which the water has collected, looks like stars. The plastic bag, meanwhile, makes me think of the rubbish patches, mid-Atlantic and mid-Pacific, where ocean currents have collected acres of plastic in vast drifts. A recent estimate suggests that its density is in the order of 200,000 pieces of debris per square km.

Not so long ago, when the pavements were sheets of ice and the snow lay thick about us, I feared that I might run out of bread flour. The farm shop in The High Street was out of the type of flour that we normally use. Instead I ventured into new territory and bought something called Six Seed Bread Flour. It turns out to have been a serendipitous choice. I use it now in conjunction with my rye-based sour dough starter and ferment the dough for 24 hours. The result is a dark, nutty bread with an enduring substance, yet possessing a light crumb and crackling crust. Like all sour dough bread it doesn't easily go stale. The seeds, by the way, are linseed, poppy, millet, cracked wheat, sunflower and sesame.

Ahead of me, in The Grove a long, thin creature runs across the path. It could be a ferret or snake. I watch it as it reaches the adjacent bank where it perform a small leap as though it is settling in to a hole or capturing prey. But close to, it turns out eventually to be a strip of black plastic, which for a few seconds had forged a fruitful relationship with the wind. As I look at it, my finger caresses the camera in my pocket. But no, it has lost the brief life it had, and become no more than a wretched fragment, not even worthy of an ephemera photograph. It had its moment, though, I say to myself.
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

water, conniption, pedometer

Ephemera 4. Highland Spring is the brand name of some bottled, spring water from Scotland. It appears boldly here on a used crown cork abandoned in a flower bed in Tunbridge Wells.

"Yes, the hair was a conniption that framed the fierce soul". I had to look up the meaning of "conniption". I owe the search to Holly Anderson, a poet, who uses it in a poem recently published in the web magazine ,qaartsiluni. At first I take it for a line in a longer poem, until I realize that it is one of a sequence of haiku called On Suzanne. The haiku, taken together, form a powerful elegy for the eponymous Suzanne. The seventeen syllables of each haiku are set out in single sentences each arranged as a single line. The haiku follow the prescription of Alan Ginsberg, who called this version of the Japanese form, "American sentences". I am grateful to Holly Anderson and qaartsiluni for the information on the American sentences form of haiku, for a touching and memorable composite poem, which I shall return to for pleasure and enlightenment, and for a new word. According to Chambers Dictionary conniption means a fit of rage or hysteria. Its origin is described as N American slang.

In pursuit of ephemerae, I stop on  in The High Street to examine what looks like a small, blue plastic box on the pavement. A passing woman dives into my gaze and picks it up. It incorporates a window and a button of some kind, but parts of it are missing. The word pedometer catches the woman's eye. "Pedo-meter" she says emphasising  the first syllable. "What's that?". I tell her, and she puts it on a ledge outside the shop.  Suddenly it is no longer a piece of discarded ephemera, but an object with possibly some residual value, and therefore of no interest in my present search.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

abuse, ski-cross, pun

Squashed into the tarmac is this piece of ephemera, testament to the sadness of the age we live in. Is there a hint of something beautiful there, somewhere? I
hope so.

"Come and look at this," says Heidi, who was introduced to skiing when she moved to Munich at the age of 20, and loves the sport as I love tennis and cricket. And there, apparently for the first time in the Olympics is the extraordinary sport of  ski cross Four competitors race down a steeply sloping course, of the sort intended for snowboarding. As they reach the humps in the course, perilously close to one another, they fly through the air with immense speed and power, like characters in one of those balletic Chinese martial arts extravaganzas. Thrilling to watch, even to think about.

Puns I know are frowned on and I admit to frowning on the email circulars, which well-meaning acquaintances circulate from time But one pun, which I do enjoy in a recent email, concerns Sir Cumference, the roundest knight of the round table, whose weight is attributable to too much pi.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ephemera 3, wall, sleep

A self-imposed rule is not to move any of the objects photographed in this series of ephemerae. I compose a picture based on what catches my eye. The plastic fork is there before I arrive and will remain, as long as the picture endures, straddling the grill, an oak leaf for companion.

In the process of building the dialogue of poems, which Lucy and I are maintaining on our Compasses blog, we share access to a document where we can consider at length each other's work before it is published. While commenting on Lucy's latest answer (still in draft), this morning, I am surprised and pleased to note that my words are being acknowledged as I type them. We are on the document site at the same time, a virtual tête à tête. It is a strange feeling, and I confess to becoming a little bashful at such an unexpected need for spontaneity.  Above all it is the absence of a real presence that is a little disturbring.
What strikes me about the experience, a few minutes later, is how it chimes with the book I am reading at the moment - the first of the 20-book sequence of novels by Zola under the general label of Rougon-Maquart. In The Fortunes of Rougon, there is a charming variation on the Pyramus and Thisbe story. Here, a boy and girl meet regularly by the side of a well, which is the common property of neighbouring houses. The garden, where the well is sited, is divided by a high wall , which bestrides the well and, at the same time, allows access from either side. The young people, though hidden from each other by the wall, see their reflections in the water and when they speak to each other their voices are distorted by an echo and seem to be dissociated from their reflected images, as though their words are not entirely their own. I don't know about Lucy but, glad as I always am to hear from her, and glad as I am on this occasion, it is a relief to return to the email that I am about to send her. Holes in walls, real or ethereal, are no substitute for a proper talk, face to face.

The BBC South East headquarters is on the corner of a small enclosed precinct of shops called Great Hall opposite Tunbridge Wells Station. I am walking though the hall when, as I pass them, I see two men talking and hear one say in an unnaturally emphatic voice: " I don't sleep comfortably". I pass by quickly but just have time to note that the other man is holding a microphone in front of the first. What is the interview about? I am curious but not curious enough to return through the doors of Great Hall to eavesdrop, and worse to be seen to be eavesdropping. Upbringing can be the curse of the ambitious chronicler.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

ephemerae1, fox, roll

First ephemera in a series of photographs of ephemerae . When I was doing chimneys I was in danger of being a Johnie head-in-air. Now my eyes tend to be fixed just a few feet in front of me.

As I watch the final quarter of an hour of The Virtual Revolution on BBC 2 - an account of the effect of the Internet on our lives. There stays with me, in particular, the distinction made by sociologists between two types of person labeled hedgehogs and foxes. Foxes dodge quickly between objects of interest; hedgehogs tend to pursue one idea at a time. Research into Internet behaviour, perhaps not surprisingly, shows that younger age groups, brought up with computers at their fingertips, are more fox-like, while older people veer toward hedgehoggery. This is not the first time that the hedgehog and the fox distinction has been used to make a point. When I read War and Peace for the second time, I followed it up with a study of the novel by Isaiah Berlin. In it, Berlin invokes the proverb of the fox, who knows a lot of little things and the hedgehog who knows one big thing, in describing Tolstoy's point of view in the novel. His conclusion, in the context of War and Peace, is that Tolstoy was a hedgehog who thought that he was a fox. When it comes to the Internet, we are invited to ask ourselves whether we are hedgehogs or foxes. At first, I think that I am a hedgehog, but I now suspect that I am fox, who thinks that he is a hedgehog. Meanwhile, whether you are a hedgehog or a fox, you can't help being amazed, as Aleks Krotoski, presenter of The Virtual Revolution reminds us, that The Internet as been going for only 20 years! We are fortunate to be living at the beginning of so dramatic a transformation of awareness and knowledge.

In The Grove I see coming towards me a man, clutching in front of him a cylinder, half his height, which resembles a huge roll of lavatory paper. When I get closer, I see that it is a roll of bubble wrap. As I watch him disappearing into Mount Sion, I imagine him going home, unrolling his bubble wrap and indulging in an  orgy of popping the plastic bubbles, surely one of the greatest and least celebrated of pleasures and indulgences.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

story, ephemera, pint

Shoe on a ledge. Even if I had wanted to I could not have arranged this. It was on the other side of a deep well between it and the street. There must always be a story behind a shoe, particularly a single shoe.

I once talked to a woman at a party, who told me that she collected ephemerae - bus tickets, labels, wrappers and the like. "As time passes", she said, ""they become more and more interesting". The idea appealed to me but I never followed her example. Only this afternoon, I spot the opportunity to make up for lost time. As I walk behind the car park between Grosvenor Road and Calverley Ground, where there are usually, flattened leaves to photograph, if not grills, vents and drain pipes, I notice that the pavement is littered with ephemerae. Littered is the word, because these ephemerae are litter. And one normally looks away from litter. But why look away? I spend the next few minutes on a spree, snapping cigarette packets, sweet wrappings, chewing gum, beer cans, fag ends. What a collection already, with which to puzzle a social historian 100 years from now!

A pint of bitter at lunch time usually makes me sleepy in the afternoon. If I sit down to read, it often means that I will drop off to sleep. So what! I say to myself. It's worth it. It occurs to me that the sensible thing to do is put my feet up and have a proper ziz. But there is too much to do.
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

sweeper, opera, blackbirds


The Tunbridge Wells Opera House, with its central green copper dome and two adjacent cupolas of like material, is one of the town's most conspicuous landmarks. Despite its name it has only very rarely seen the performance of an opera. When I first came to know it, it served as a bingo hall. Now it is a J D Wedderspoon pub. Outside its ornate entrance, this afternoon, is a grey haired man in a white sweater. "I love you", he days in the raised voice which people adopt for mobile phones. "Love you. "Pause."Love you. Bye. Love you." He closes his phone and retires through the grand doorway. There is a smile of satisfaction on his face indicating that he can now enjoy another drink with his mates, relatively guilt-free. The performance, I think to myself, is very little short of operatic.

In one corner of The Grove there are invariably blackbirds. Today I count eight of them. They are mostly males, but there are at least three females. Roll on the Spring.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

snake-pit, gamble, cakes

Cables weaving and burrowing beneath the pavement seem  also to be looking for a purpose.

For many years now I have visited the dentist in Sevenoaks. When I had a car, there was no problem. Without a car, the train seemed the best way of getting there. But this meant a walk from Sevenoaks station up the steep hill to the the town, or a taxi. There is a bus service from Tunbridge Wells to Sevenoaks, and  but some years ago it demonstrated its unreliabilty in dramatic fashion. First, the bus did not turn up and when it did an hour later, it broke down, and turned a 50 minute journey into one which lasted three and half hours. No way of travelling if you have an appointment. The bus does, however, stop outside the dentist. Recently we have formed the habit of taking the bus on the way home, a journey made all the more pleasant by the free bus-pass given to oldies like us. Yesterday, I thought that it would be worth the gamble of taking the bus in both directions. The 402 is scheduled to leave Tunbridge Wells railway station on the hour. I think to myself that if it is late, I can still fall back on the train.  The bus is late. If I am to take the train, I must buy a ticket and be on the platform by five past to be sure of not missing it. I do not want to be defeated and at 11.05, I decide to stick it out. By 11.10 I am wondering whether the next train plus a telephone call to warn of lateness will save me the embarrasment of missing my appoinment with Tim, the dentist, who I have know for about 15 years and would not want for the world want to upset. At 11.11, the bus arrives. There are no traffic jams and no breakdowns. The driver puts his foot down to make up time.  He drops me in Sevenoaks High Street at 11.50. There is time to do a couple of chores before the dentist. And when I turn up there I feel like Phileas Fog arriving at the Reform Club in London to collect his £20,000 wager for travelling round the world in 80 days.

Outside a restaurant in the Pantiles is notice "serving coffee and a selection of cakes". It strikes me at first that selection is entirely superflous, but on further thought realize that the word implies care and thoughtfullness. The cakes are not any old cakes.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

wayside, gossip, book

By the way, I pass this pied cat. How neatly it folds it tail over its paw! If it were a human, it would have been taught the habit by its mother as humans are taught good manners.

In the doctors' surgery a man grumbles about the health service. He is a gossip. He has a gossip's rolling eye. He speaks of another surgery, another doctor. He used to hand out viagra to any one who wanted it. He's in prison, he says as the present doctor opens his door and calls him in. When he comes out he walks over to us and says in a conspiratorial whisper," I'll finish my story. He got drunk, he makes a quaffing gesture,"and ploughed into a lot of cars. He's in prison now. It's a true story. He was a nice bloke, though."

From the top deck of a bus, I see on the roof of a bus shelter a small book. It is tattered and sodden. the wind nags at its leaves and turns them over. I can't quite see what book it is. As the bus moves on, the mystery ferments in my mind. Six hours later, it still does.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

waterfall, chiming, bath

Vents and exits 10. Water descends among the butresses from a central gutter on the roof of  King Charles the Martyr.

I am not one of those who affect not to care what time it is.There are two chiming clocks in the house, which I like to see and hear working. I am glad when, as they do this morning,  they both chime at once, and at the same time as the BBC time signal. Though, I have to admit that it is unusual.

A handsome, heavy duty wok, which proved too heavy for its original purpose, has been in the garden now for almost year. In the summer, it overflowed with dark red  nasturtiums. Empty through the winter except for rain water, which has collected there, it is appropriated to day, as a bird bath and drinking fountain, by a visiting black bird.
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

drain, wash, jacket

Vents and exits 9 . The trickle.

In the health food shop is a bottle with the label, "Fruit and Vegetable Wash". There are many instances nowadays of fruit and vegetables, particularly exotics like avocado and aloe vera, employed in soaps and shampoos, that I am persuaded to ask its purpose. "It's for washing fruit and vegetables", says the health lady and reads the legend "Removes earth, soil and other contaminants." In a tone of voice modulated to avoid sarcasm I suggest that water might be a useful alternative. We have a good laugh.

A brown corduroy jacket, new at Christmas, appeals to me so much that I have taken to wearing it every day, even if I am forgetful enough when I am cooking. Now Heidi enforces its transport to the cleaners. She thinks that I have abandoned the now regulation sweater for something old fashioned and formal. But that isn't the attraction at all. The attraction is pockets. Jackets have pockets and I like pockets. I need pockets. Pockets to take care of camera, notebook, ball pen, pencil, spectacles, tissues, keys with screwdriver, spanner and penknife attachment to key ring. Women have handbags. Men have jackets.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

works, crisps, garlic

The brick pavements of Tunbridge Wells are often up for mysterious reasons known only to spades and wheelbarrows and the odd mallet.

In the Farmers ' Market, they sell packets of apple crisps. To produce these, apples are thinly sliced like potato crisps, but instead of being fried in oil, they are dried in special drums with wire shelves which allow hot air to circulate, until the the slices curl and turn golden brown. Nothing is added; only surplus water drawn off.

The idea of toasted goat cheese has always appealed. So has garlic slowly roasted so that you can squeeze the creamy contents out of the cloves. On the TV, I see the cook, Nigel Slater prepare slices of toast on which creamy garlic is spread. Slices of goat cheese are placed on top and grilled. I follow suite. The house has a sweet garlic smell, but the snack makes a worth while lunch today, even if the perfume still hangs about.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ceres, pink, golf ball

The building beneath this cornice and statue of the corn goddess, Ceres, which borders the Pantiles no long trades in corn But on a sunny day, beneath a blue sky, it rewards an upward glance.

In the Farmers Market in Civic Way, there is a stall which sells only potatoes of unusual varieties. I enquire about some, with a dark red skin, labelled Highland Burgundy. Are they good for mashing? "Yes," says the potato grower, " they have a slightly pink colour when mashed. You could make your mash in pink heart shapes for Valentine's day. St Valentine's day, now almost behind us, this is the last time this year that I will report on the odd behaviour which it inspires.

In the middle of an expanse of grass in Calverley Ground, I spot a golf ball masquerading as a mushroom. There is not a golfer in sight, nor anyone practising with clubs. I pick it up, and run my hand over its indented surface. I am a little surprised by its lightness and touched by its whiteness. I toss it in the air. I wonder if I should rub it to see if it contains a genie; or kiss it to see if it turns into a princess. I throw it in the air and catch it. Then, despite its mysterious potential, the precise nature of which still eludes me, I grow impatient and toss it away, for someone more deserving and more in need of a golf ball, to find.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

climbing, heart, shopping

Posted by Picasa A mobile climbing wall set up on the corner of Frant Road and Warwick Road is offering the chance of a sponsored charity venture.

A new  fantasy incentive, in the window of Peter Speaight, the butcher in Caple Place, consists of a raw ox-heart centre stage bearing the almost predicatble words, Valentine Heart.

Outside a dress shop in Mount Pleasant is a woman holding two Highland Terriers on leads. She is attracted to some clothes displayed in the window, the dogs, meawhile, are equally, if not more, fascinated by their reflections in the glass.

Friday, February 12, 2010

winter, crackle, don't know

The Grove in winter.

In the icy wind, dead leaves dry and curled with the cold run wildly along the paths, as though they are on a half forgotten errand.

I seldom fill in questionnaires. And when I do, I am increasingly persuaded to tick the Don't Know boxes, where an opinion is required. The fact is that often I simply do not have the information required to form an opinion. I don't know who to believe. It is a beautiful thing sometimes to admit to ignorance when everyone about you appears to know the answers. I see today that 25% of British adults don't believe that the climate is changing. According to the same set of statistics,75% do. That leaves 0% who don't know. The sample clearly excludes me.
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

grey, brushing, grit

Silver birch on a grey day.

From round the corner in Berkeley Road, I can hear Paul, the gardener from opposite, brushing up leaves with a stiff bristled broom. Even if I didn't know what day it was, this sound would be announcing that it was Thursday, because Thursday is Paul's day to work there. The sound is of someone repeating the word "hush" at regular intervals. Hush, hush. As I approach our front gate, I hear an echo, an answering hush. It is the sound of Heidi sweeping the leaves from our front path.
On the sloping pavement of The High Street, a Council worker scattered grit from a shovel as he walked past us. This was yesterday. Snow was expected. But it didn't snow in Tunbridge Wells. It still hasn't. The magic grit has prevented it from falling. No one evidently forgets how a few weeks ago the Council was caught napping. No grit on the pavement or on the road. A pile of snow. Today the grit crunches awkwardly under foot on the ice-free pavement.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

grafitti, valentine, depressed

Graffiti scratched on glass at Sevenoaks bus station.

Valentine's Day used to be a chaste affair. People would send each other tokens anonymously. The recipients were expected to guess the source. Now couples seduced by advertisements, stare glumly at one another across restaurant tables. In the window of the Oxfam charity shop in Mount Pleasant, there is a display relating to February 14, which demonstrates that anonymity has been replaced by a sort of carnal leer. Apart from a giant heart-shaped cushion covered in red fabric, there is a copy of The Concise Kama Sutra, and another book called Pornography for Women, on the cover of which is the supposedly unlikely sight of a man hoovering a room.

Outside a neighbour's house V is seeing off her friend, B. B, who has just obtained a disabled badge to put on her car, proudly proclaims that she has been able to park for the last three hours on a single yellow line. Her car starts on the fourth application of the starter and the car, vibrates and moves unsteadily off. "She was a bit depressed yesterday, V tells me. So I invited her to lunch. It had been just one thing after another. The cat bit her husband on the hand. He had to go to hospital. But when they said they wanted to operate, he discharged himself. He didn't want an infection from the hospital" . Not knowing how to respond, I say, "I expect you cheered her up."
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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

anticipation, New Year, imported

In the Winter sun.

At the cross roads at the top of Mount Pleasant is a notice which reads: "Chinese New Year Parade. 13 February. Expect delays 5 - 6 pm". A first for Tunbridge Wells?

Insignificant snow flakes have been blowing about the town like frenzied insects. But none has settled. Outside the town it must be different. As I walk up Mount Pleasant I see a pile of snow in the gutter that must have been shed recently by a car from the surrounding country. Walking down the hill a little later I watch as a deep wedge of snow slides off the roof of a black Mini-Cooper, which is just about to drive off. I remember how during World War 2, there was a joke or an urban myth or both, where some soldiers walking in The Strand in London were identified as Russian because of the snow on their boots.
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Monday, February 08, 2010

outlet, pullover, tools


Vents and exits 8.

When I take off a sweater or tee shirt, I pull it from the top and tug at the sleeves, easing it up over my head so that it comes off out side out and and inside in. I have noticed that others cross their hands and pull from either side of the lower hem, and then over their heads, so that the garment finishes inside out. I ask myself, today, whether this is a technique which women rather than men use, or am I an eccentric undresser. Come to think of it, I don't think I have seen a man perform the crossed arm manoeuvre.

Interviewed on a TV programme Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon says: "We change out tools and our tools change us." As I type this blog, I think to myself, he has a point.
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Sunday, February 07, 2010

drain, suit, tropics

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Vents and exits 7.

Somebody has left a dinner jacket (tux) and a pair of evening trousers on a
hanger hooked to the door of the Mind charity shop, which is closed, it being Sunday. What looks like cigar ash is smeared on the right shoulder of the jacket. But it should brush off if anybody is interested in using it right away.

Crossing Little Mount Sion, I meet D and A. D is 80 and is recovering well from a recent heart by-pass operation. He has felt the cold, he says, since he came out of hospital, but then it has been cold. They have just been out to lunch, they say. They switched off the heating to economise while they were out, which Denzil regrets. "Never mind," says A, "We'll switch it on again, when we get in. And in five minutes it will be as hot as the tropics.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

chicken, hoover, Monty

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Fast food and architecture.

As I walk down Mount Sion I pass a man staggering up the hill. He is hugging a vaccuum cleaner. He must have been to the specialist shop on the corner of London Road and The High Street. You have to live here to be able to make such deductions.

A couple walk past the dress shop on the narrow pavement by the pedestrian crossing in the Frant Road. The man hurries on because the pavement is crowded. "Monty..." says his wife, "...Monty..." but he hurries on. "Monty," she calls this time successfully, and Monty turns back to join his wife, as together they block the pavement to consider an item of clothing in which he has, at best, a vicarious interest.

Friday, February 05, 2010

outlook, tips, untidiness

Vents and exits 6.
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Vents and exits 6

After snow and icy winds and grey rainy days, a splash of sunshine illuminates the minute, red buds of a maple in The Grove. Buds? You have to look twice, but they are buds.

Through the basement window of a house, which I pass every day, I note a scene of domestic untidiness which appeals to my worst nature. The truth is that I am fundamentally an untidy person but one who has reformed to the point that he often overdoes tidiness, knowing where untidiness can lead. Through the basement window I see stacks of papers, books, upended furniture, electronic gear. Not a square centimetre of floor space is free. Both a nightmare and a fantasy world. I have an old friend who lives like that. She is afraid to put anything away in a drawer or cupboard in case she forgets where it is, and wanders among her possessions, scattered but on view, like a lost child in fairyland, always in search of something.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

extractor, abandoned,reprimand

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Vents and exits 6.

Today I finished reading Romain Gary's autobiographical account of his youth and early manhood. Half way through he describes how a girlfriend descends on him and his mother to demand that he marry her. Her reason?
'"He made me read Proust, Tolstoy and Dostoievsky," declared the unfortunate girl, with a look to break your heart. "What will become of me?
'She was right. I had made her swallow the whole of Proust, blow by blow,and for her that was as if she had already made her wedding dress. God forgive me. I had even made her learn by heart passages from Thus Spake Zarathustra. She was not properly speaking pregnant, but I had, all the same, put her in an interesting condition."

Outside Hall's bookshop I pick up a book called Austerlitz. I want to see if it is a copy of the novel of that name by W. Sebald, or a history of the the Battle of Austerlitz. I note that it is the latter and replace the book where I found it, horizontally on top of a row of books displayed upright on the open shelves. I half notice ,though,as I put it back, that the title is facing in the wrong direction. "Good afternoon," says the lady on today's rota in the shop. She has popped out for a smoke. "I respond with a comment on the improved weather. She laughs as though I am being too optimistic. "Well," I say defensively, "It's better than it has been. "I was only laughing", she says because this is the third time today that I have turned this book round the right way".