Friday, April 30, 2010

gull, alcoves, icecream

Waiting on the edge.

On the lower promenade at St Leonards-on-Sea, benches are set into alcoves, sheltered by the overhang of the upper promenade. Each alcove has its bench and, this afternoon, almost every bench has a person to itself, who is receiving the sun as though in some sort of communion with it. A woman with red hair sits upright, her back straight, her legs crossed. Further along, an old man with a white moustache and a lined, ruddy face, also reads a book. He leans slightly forward, his knees parted. Still further along the line of alcoves, a black woman sits beside a scooter. The scooter suggests the presence of a child, not immediately apparent. And sure enough, a child comes running.

In Calverley Ground, a group of teenagers, sprawled in a circle on the grass, are eating ice cream. A scoop of ice cream falls out of its cornet. "George!" As George tries to rescue it, "you can't eat that!" He picks up the ice cream and persists in removing bits of grass and grit. "For fuck's sake, George!"
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

forward, war, domestic

A prospect of lambs.

Paul, the gardener stops to talk about pests. I mention the pigeons which have now got used to the CDs hung up to scare them. After a year, they take for granted the presence of glancing lights scampering silently across the beds in the vegetable garden. The young pea plants are evenly nibbled at the edges of their sweet leaves, while the CDs hang ineffectively by. "It's like war," says Paul, "against intruders." Not for the likes of me, weapons of mass destruction. I must be content with a net of string round the peas in the hope that a few plants will survive.

From the pavement behind the hedge, a harsh voice reaches me. It is a woman scolding on a mobile phone. "No, they don't do things like that. It's going to rain this afternoon. That's why they hang wet washing all over the place". The voice disappears down the road. I find myself worrying not so much about the fate of the washing, as whether it will rain this afternoon. And what particularly are the arrangements for hanging out the washing? A vignette of domestic life retains a mystery.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

graffito, anenome, fox

I think the swastika is going in the right place in this unusual piece of graffiti (part hazard, part deliberate) ,which I see on the side of one of those boxes where telecom engineers access the tangle of landlines which they look after.

From the train we see a wood, its floor densely covered with white flowers. "Buschwinderöschen" says Heidi and "wood anemomies", say I, simultaneously . She spells out the word for me: " ...röschen" is the diminutive form of rosen, so little roses follow buschwind.

Beside the line in the afternoon sun trots a fox. How thin foxes are -a feature of their wildness! We are, by contrast, used to fat dogs! And fat cats!
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Monday, April 26, 2010

magnolia 2, deterrent, dandelions

Spring fresco.

In Oxfam I buy some slug deterrent. "It really works, " says the old lady, who is serving. " I hope so," I say because, presuming on its green credentials, it is far from cheap. Maybe I sound mildly irritated at the implication that it might not work, because she adds: "Last year somebody sold me some anti-squirrel stuff, which didn't work at all." "The squirrels liked it, then," I say. "Yes," she says, " I think they did.

In neglected gardens the dandelions are in flower. So thickly ranked are the plants, and so large are the blooms, the first of the season (none has yet gone to seed, so there are no clocks for the wind to puff at), that they might have been cultivated, grown for rabbits, or to be blanched for salad.
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

daisies, posting, The Common

Since I have stopped photographing cast-off packaging and faded labels emerging from puddles, I have found wayside seductions, rather more attractive to my camera.

Because the first stage of my daily posting routine is a draft,  having completed the draft, I sometimes forget to publish it. Yesterday,  I realize that I have forgotten to publish the previous day's, and find that I have two drafts to post. An idle employee would doubtless have saved one for today, but I am self-employed in this venture. There is no one's time to steal except my own,  and so, perhaps foolishly, I publish two posts at the same time.

As I walk down Mount Sion, the steep slope of The Common  faces me glowing in the afternoon sun.  The  buildings of Mount Sion frame it as it rises above the narrow valley, where the London Road steers its way northwards, following the curve of The common. Round the banks of trees ahead of me hangs a green haze of buds, a series of halos; while, in the distance, on the ridge at the crest of The Common, a few bare trees, not yet visibly in bud, spread out against the sky, their branches mimicking the veins of the leaves, which are yet to appear. It is a lot to take in.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Grove, surface, japonica


A relatively new friend visits. How little we knew of her when we first met her two or three years ago! How much now: of her life, her family, her background, her ups and down, her  rather frenzied existence! It is surprising how, on the surface, people may seem bland and ordinary, just names and faces, only to surprise us with undreamed of complications. Take almost anyone you pass in the street or sit next to on a bus or train, and  you only have to scratch the surface to reveal layers of complexity and interest.

A hedge of japonica towers 10ft - 12 ft high between the front gardens of two adjoining houses. Come Autumn the quince-like fruit will replace the scarlet flowers and begin to tumble to the ground beneath it.
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magnolia, 80, Eyjafjallajokull

What more is there to say? This magnolia is just round the corner from where we live. Sometimes its early blooms are spoilt by rough winds or late frosts. But this year it opens in its glory, an exotic tree, which has found a home in these parts.

The other day, referring to a neighbour, I found myself saying, "he's 82, you know!" and I realize that age, which is important when you are very young - I remember being four and a half and letting no one forget it - has suddenly come to matter again.

It cast mountainous clouds of ash into the air, kept aircraft out of the sky and stranded travellers all over the world. Yet I doubt if many people know how to spell it, let alone pronounce it. Eyjafjallajökull, unless it causes further problems, will now probably fade from our memories;, unlike, it occurs to me, Popocatepetl, another volcano, this time in Mexico, which has a prettier name, and remains in the memory thanks to a poem by W.J. Turner. The poem begins:
"When I was 13 or so,
I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Took me by the hand ..."
and continues,
"...I stood where Popocatapetl
In the sunlight gleams."
Inspired by what seems to be the same number of syllables in the name, it occurs to me write a parody, replacing the names of Mexican volcanoes with Icelandic ones, but I cannot (apologies to Icelandic speakers) find a vestige of romance in the names, and Turner's poem is, after all, called Romance.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

rare, Lamborghini, La Cousine Bette

Growing wild in a neighbour's garden, a double lesser celandine. How rare it is, I do not know. But another neighbour recognises it as an oddity. It has the same leaves, as the ordinary lesser celandine, and the petals are of the same shape, but there are many more of them and they come in several tiers. A Google search doesn't cast any light on its rarity or on its existence elsewhere. But happening upon it provides a sense of excitement and discovery. Perhaps it is quite ordinary, but all the same ...

Parked in the High Street is a white Lamborghini with smoked glass windows. It is low slung and squat, streamlined like a fish. So low is it that other cars parked in line with it, even little Fiats and Volkeswagens, tower above it. Its number plate - 1DLV - almost certainly comprises its owners initials. Far from being envious by disposition, I am always glad to see such sample of excellence in design and engineering on public display and in use - on spotting the yellow and black parking notice on the windscreen, I have to admit, that a hint of schadenfreude sneaks in to my mind.

Since I was at school I have owned a copy of Cousin Bette by Balzac. But it is one of those books - my copy is a hard back which retains its pretty blue cover, and bears the price of the 6 shillings I must have paid for it. But although I tried on several occasions, I didn't succeed in getting beyond the first chapter. Now that I am several chapters into La Cousine Bette as it is called in French, I realize that the fault is attention deficit disorder on my part rather than prolixity on Balzac's. When I open Cousin Bette for the first time for 50 years, I notice that the edition is translated by the poet, Kathleen Raine, who happened to be the parent of a university friend of mine. An unexpected connection. Meanwhile, I have mixed feeling about having missed out for so long on one the greatest of French, nineteenth century novels. But I am glad to be reading it now for the first time, and in French, which I would not have thought myself capable of in my idle teenage years,
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

crowd, toes, harmonica

An eager crowd of pipes newly uprooted beside some roadworks.

Under the portico, outside the front door of a house in Mount Sion, sits a bare foot man.. He is leaning backwards, almost lying down. Between the pillars at the top of the steps, his toes protrude, white and inquisitive.

An elderly man in a purple shirt stands on his own in the middle of The Grove. He is playing a harmonica to himself. The sound barely reaches the path where I am standing. It drifts across to me in the wind, plaintive and lonely.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

choice, voices, tourists

At the Farmers' market in The Pantiles.

To announce Spring, today, the voices of children in the street and in The Grove compete with the song of birds.

There are usually a few tourists in Tunbridge Wells. You can tell them from far off. They have a particular gait. They walk slowly their weight wandering from side to side, as though they are not sure where they are going, or why.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

leaf, hand, beauty

Today's leaf has leathery sheen, a memory of Autumn

Outside The Compasses, all I can see of the small baby under the hood of the push chair is a tiny hand, relaxed, fingers slightly curled like fresh petals. The mother leans over to check that all is well. It is sleeping and oblivious to clouds of volcanic dust overhead and political debates on the TV.

In The Grove, just a few daffodils remain. An old lady shows another old lady a bunch that she has collected. They admire the flowers. "A little beauty in your life," says one to the other.
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

light, weather, draught

Let there be light.

With the 10th birthday of Tate Modern coming up next month I am reminded, by a photograph in The Financial Times of the extraordinary, moving and mysterious installation in the Tate's vast, 10 storey-tall Turbine Hall by Olafur Eliasson called The Weather. It consisted of a glowing, sun-like disk surrounded by a permanent mist, high above the hall, which it completely dominated. I went to see it back in 2003, when it was a prime attraction. The photograph shows the shadowy figures of visitors to the Tate, lying on the ground and looking up at the huge "sun" or simply profiled against its orange light. It could have been sinister, but its light, suggestive of a midnight sun, was hopeful rather than apocalyptic. It seems astonishing that Tate Modern should only have been in existence as an art gallery for 10 years, when you consider how important a part of London and British culture it has become.

The fish stand at the Farmers Market in the Pantiles is busy this morning. Two fishmongers are competing to use a single filleting board. They dodge and weave behind the stall. "There's not a enough room for a draught," says the senior of the fishmongers.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

forsythia, soldiers, climbers

Suddenly the forsythia outside the church at
Groombridge Place bursts into flower.

Sometimes you read words written a long time ago, which surprise you by their freshness and truth. Balzac's short novel Le Colonel Chabert tells the story of a soldier, left for dead on the battlefield. He survives, undergoes many hardship and after 10 years returns to Paris in poor health and in poverty to find that his wife has married again and has two children with her new husband. She has much to lose by recognising that her first husband is still alive, and he, much to gain by reestablishing his identity. He tells his story to a lawyer whom he hopes will take up his case. Half way through his account, "'Where was I,' said the colonel with all the simplicity of a child or of a soldier, for there is often something of the child in the true soldier; and almost always something of the soldier in the child...'" When I think of the soldiers I have known and read about in history and in the present day, and the child that I was, it strikes me that Balzac got it right, even though it is almost 200 years since he made the observation.

For some time there has been a red and a white, climbing rose on either side of the bay window that looks into our little garden. The red rose climbed up the wall and was quickly out of reach if you wanted to cut a flower or to dead head. The white rose, less exuberant in habit, kept to a rather dark corner between the window and the hedge. It is only recently that I have realized how easy it is to train climbing roses, and have come to see how foolish it is to ignore the benefits of training them. Today, with the help of a stake, some eyes screwed into the wall and some strong twine, I lead the red and the white rose under the window so that they meet in the middle of the bay. For sure, "Sumer is icumen in..."
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

looking, faded, bare

Looking in. Looking out.

The first drift of daffodils to flower in The Grove has already faded. "Fair daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon." But, still, their departure presages summer which, this year, seems to have been missing a long time. Thanks for the thought, though, Robert Herrick.

Outside Cafe Nero sits a grey haired man in sunglasses, a blue shirt and shorts. He is bare foot. Beside him, also enjoying the sun, are two large, hairy dogs. He is reading a big book which rests on his knee. He might be on a beach rather than bang in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, with busy shoppers hurrying past.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

fragment, light, hemp

In a fragment of mirror, I snap myself, in a sea of raindrops.

As I enter Calverley Ground, the sun comes out as though it had switched on automatically to greet me. To my right, a camellia explodes in a cloud of white petals.

My Tilley winter hat is going to be put away until next year's cold weather. To replace it, I have acquired a summer hat from the same idiosyncratic, Canadian firm. This one is made from hemp, described as "naturally resistant to UV light, mould and mildew, and to salt water. "Hemp, " says the accompanying leaflet, " breathes better than cotton." The hat is guaranteed for life, insured against loss (if you lose it the manufacturers will replace it), floats and possesses a secret pocket in the crown.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

goose, shout, savory

Posted by Picasa  Goose at Groombridge.

A notice in the door of shop where all the windows are covered while work is in progress reads: "Please shout. We may be uspstairs." For some reason, these two sentence go round in my head, as though they are a refrain or line in one of those repetative verse forms like villanelle or sestina. Another poem on the stocks, then.

All last summer I nurtured a herb called summer savory, spicy and aromtic. But I didn't know what to do  with it.  Meanwhile, for years Heidi had been telling me about a herb known to her in Germany as Bohnenkraut. She said,  that in Germany, as the name suggests, it is always cooked with beans.  It must be around in England, I told her; but we couldn't work out its English name. Now, this Spring, a seed packet arrives from Germany with Bohnnenkraut on the label. And in brackets after the name, the word savory. This year, with the first crop of runner or French beans, savory will be in attendance, that's a promise.

trumpet, catkins, breathing

Of the moment, a white daffodil explores the air.

You think of the bark of the silver birch and of its long tresses of leaves but forget to notice the catkins like fine caterpillars, not showy, but as delicate as you would expect from the most delicate of trees.

Plastic bags animated by the wind continue to fascinate (remember the video in Sam Mendes' film American Beauty). Today, I watch a Morrison's bag lying on its side, its handles spread out like the straps of a petticoat. A gentle breeze sweeps into the bag like air in a pair of lungs. The bag seems to breath in and breath out.
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

contrast, ok, buds

Spring and Autumn.

"OK, Nan?" says a young man to his grandmother, seeking approval of the lunch he has stood her."I enjoyed the pickled onions," says Nan, who you suspect enjoyed little else of the pub lunch. "I'm not a fan of pickled onions," says the young man. He indicates his plate, where, in contrast to his grandmother's debris-strewn plate, nothing remains apart from a butter pat wrapper and a couple of pickled onions. I think to myself: go on Nan reach across and take those onions! But she is too well bred.

Suddenly you notice a tree, which yesterday was completely bare, to day covered in a green mist of opening leaves. What is so gratifying is that all the buds, all over the tree, have opened all at the same time. Obvious. Only to be expected. But today the tree seems amazingly powerful, a cause for celebration, a rite of Spring.
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

contentment, manners, dare-devil

A warm day for a change where shade counts.

Outside The Crown at Groombridge, a party of friends are served with their chosen dishes - burgers and chips for the most part. One man has yet to have his lunch served. He goes into the pub to refill his glass. "You guys, go ahead," he says. "No, we've got  good manners," a woman's voice calls after him. Is there a hint of self-mockery in the tone of her voice? Or are manners being mocked in general? Or taken seriously, even?

In The Grove I watch a squirrel leap from the end of one frail branch to another on a neighbouring tree. The branch it has left swings as he leaves it and the branch where it just manages a foothold sways  in sympathy under its weight. People don't like grey squirrels, I sometimes think because they are grey and not red. They call them "tree rats" .Whatever you may think of them, they are fun to watch. This one is a dare-devil of his kind.
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Friday, April 09, 2010

10,000, shouting, ink blot

Every year at this time we go to Groombridge Place to see the daffodils. "Ten thousand saw I at a glance", but somehow less romantic, less wild, and more organised than the poet witnessed.

I pass a man walking towards me seemingly powered by an MP3 player. Wires emerge from his ears. He is shouting or singing at the top of his voice, you can't be sure. Then again, is he marching, rather than walking? You can't be sure.

As a preliminary to writing a special birthday letter, I check my fountain pen. Out comes a spurt of ink which makes a lovely blot on a piece of paper placed there to catch it. What a fascinating thing is an ink blot! The frayed, fractal pattern of its edges opens doors to speculation and, at the same time, evokes the memory of Hermann Roscharche, who has us reveal hidden aspects of our personalities according to the way we interpret its shape. More to speculate about.  I see the profile of a laughing man in a wig.
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

celandine, apples, modesty

Posted by Picasa Having told a story about it, I note that  the lesser celandine is much in evidence this year. It is a good year for lesser celandine. There was a time when I would have mistaken them for butter buttercups. But buttercups have spikey leaves and their roots creep underground. Lesser ceandine have the charming habit of closing their petals when it rains or when it is get dark.

As I walk through the garage on my way to the vegetable garden ,I pass the gardener. He is cutting an apple in half with a saw. It strikes me as a remarkable tool to apply to an apple, but he is a man whose eccentricity I have learnt to respect. So I bid him good morning and walk on. A couple of hours later, he is about his work on  a border when I return through the garage. But what is this on the  drive? Four neat apple halves scattered on the gravel. Overcome by curiousity, I retrace my  steps through the garage. "They're for the blackbirds," he says. They love  'em. I was going to eat them myself, but I thought, why not?"

Outside the The Crown at Groombridge, a couple are talking about their inspection of the graveyard next to the church opposite the pub. They were looking for  the tombestone of a woman they had known. "We couldn't find it," says the man. We thought, they've moved it." They haven't moved it," says his wife. " It is simply insignificant, just as she would have liked."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

broken, 6.55, showers

As the spirit leaves it, the bottle scatters the shards of an illusion.

Odd how I nearly always seem to open my eyes at the same time in the morning. This is regardless of the amount of light in the room. It has something to do, I suspect, with a timing device in my head. For several years, waking time (or rather eye-opening time, for I am usually awake before doing anything about it), showed on my bedside clock as 7.20. In the last few weeks it has changed to 6.55. I rather like this moment of full consciousness, containing as it does springs of anticipation and hope.

There is a bath and shower shop called Ripple in the modern building at the end of The Pantiles. As I pass it this afternoon I see a notice in the window which proclaims "April Shower Sale".
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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

bag, tidy, lesser celandine

The bag's teeth help when it's new; after use, prints remain of something greasy.

An hour to kill, something to listen to on the radio, I sort out a drawer where bits of paper - expired lottery tickets, business cards with names that no longer ring a bell, instructions for devices now defunct or replaced, labels and tags and post-it notes - have accumulated. I throw them in the wastepaper basket and look with pleasure at the clean tidy space which I have created, ready to fill with more ephemera.

Of early spring flowers, my favourite is the lesser celandine. It's late this year. Gilbert White noted its appearance on February 21st in the Hampshire village of Selbourne, which he made famous with his account of its natural history; and a year later the Hertfordshire botanist, John Hopkinson gave the same dates for the years between 1876 and 1876, according to Richard Maybey's Flora Britannica. The flower, with its heart-shaped leaves and pointed yellow petals, apart from announcing Spring, serves as a good ground-cover in shrubberies and woodland gardens, and does not inhibit the establishment of plants which flower later. The triangle of land known as "The Village Green" in Berkeley Road round the corner from where we live, was always alive with lesser celandine at this time of year, and it saddened me a couple of years ago when well meaning gardeners scrubbed them out, leaving bare earth. It will take some time for the flowers, as I hope they will, to reestablish themselves, if the already invasive weeds do not get their first.
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Monday, April 05, 2010

list, enthusiasms, beans

In the gutter a curious list suggests unusual interests.

Julie and Julia in which Meryl Streep plays the American food writer Julia Child's appeals to me because its subject combines two of my great interests - cooking and blogging. The Julie in question is a young American woman who sets out to cook her way through every recipe in Julia Child's massive Mastering the Art of French Cooking, gives herself a year in which to perform this feat and keeps herself up to the mark by recording her progress on a blog. The process of blogging, the appreciation of comments and the process of boning a duck a described with equal accuracy. And, as the film's action switches from 1950s France to the age of blogging, you learn how two remarkable women tackled two seemingly impossible challenges. Anyone who likes neither blogging nor cooking would probably not share my interest in this film. But for me it is a beautiful thing.

After a long period in the cold earth, my first sowing of broad beans has begun to show little green shoots. Nothing is more dispiriting than to sow seeds which fail to germinate.
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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Oscar, buns, Debbie Reynolds

This tomb-like memorial to Oscar Wilde by Maggie Hambling is just opposite Charing Cross station. Oscar's recumbent position is explained by the quotation from Lady Windermere's Fan inscribed on the far side: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Hot cross buns for breakfast. But they didn't come easily. I have to search for some normal buns made with ordinary white flour through a mass of buns made with whole meal flour and, driven by a frenzied need on the parts of supermarkets for novelty, even chocolate hot cross buns. Hot may be, but cross understandably, sums up the attitude of a woman engaged in the same search. "Who wants these?" she asks.

A poster of Debbie Reynolds, who played opposite Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, is the last thing you expect to see in The Grove. But there she is on the notice board by the entrance to the little park. The poster announces her forthcoming appearance at The Assembly Hall. "Alive and fabulous" is the slogan that introduced her one-woman show. Some of us get older. Some just dance their way to Tunbbridge Wells.
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