Monday, May 31, 2010

window 4, swifts, code

Posted by Picasa  Facing the sea at St Leonards-on-Sea.

Swifts transcend other birds not  in their speed and agility alone. The more you learn about them the more they amaze. I have known for a long time that they sleep on the wing at 10,000ft; that they land on their frail and barely existent legs only very rarely remaining airborne for years on end. They build their nests with fragments, (feathers, straw, for example), gathered from the air. Even bus tickets have been observed in nest construction and once a live butterfly. Although a swift weighs little more than a hen's egg, it covers, on average 500 miles a day at an average speed of 25mph. I am addicted to their wild cries and shrieks as they pursue their insect prey.  This information comes from an article in the RSPB magazine by Derek Niemann, which a neighbour knowing my love of swifts, drops through my letter box.

Outside The Grove Tavern,  a fellow drinker asks the tall and elegant Eve; "Have you ever tried Marijuana?" "No", she says. "Have you tried acid?" "No." "Cocaine?" No. Why are you asking me these things?" Curiosity, I expect or mischief, but I must walk on, tempted as I am to eavesdrop.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

woodruff, Latin, brass

Posted by PicasaThe star shaped flowers and star shaped whorls of woodruff have been a feature of our garden since we  introduced this woodland plant  under the hedge about 25 years ago. In Germany it is is known as Waldmeister, the Master of the Wood and is used in traditional punch known as Mai Bowle. You can make a tisane with it, which is reputed to "lift the spirit" or  leave it among your linen to impart a smell of new hay and keep moths away. 

Outside Hall's book shop two young women browse the 50p display. "I like the Romans," says one. " We did it at school. Hadrian's Wall and that."

A dreaded, amplified rock music festival  is promised in The Pantiles, but when I walk through it this morning, there on the bandstand is Edenbridge Brass Band. Blessed sound! And all generated without the help of amplifiers. Bill, who is  usually at The Compasses, is sitting outside The Swan with a pint. We agree on the pleasure of brass bands. "And there are lots of youngsters playing," he says and indeed there are - evidence that we may still retain a degree of sanity in the years to come. "The amplifiers come this afternoon, " says Bill, "but I'll be gone by then." 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

sweet, shampoo, pick-up

Posted by PicasaThe Crow (see comments) got to the post, before I had written anything. It is Sweet Cicely or Mirrhis odorata. I have had it in the garden for as long as I can remember. It is described as a "sweetening herb" and useful therefore to diabetics. It is recommended for  sweetening purposes, for adding to gooseberry pie, for example. The crushed seeds were used for polishing furniture and produced a high gloss as well as an agreeable scent.  My herb book says  the flower heads should be cut off as soon as they appear, because they drain goodness from the leaves. But, as I don't use the leaves, I never cut off the flower heads. Would you?

In the Health Food Shop a woman is loading up her basket with cartons of pure, natural and  health-giving products. She has the pale and unhealthy look of  most health food enthusiasts. "Have you a shampoo that you can recommend?" she demands of the assistant. " I tried one with mango," she continues, "it smells like ... well... sick."

Hall's book shop has a high window with shelves, the top of which can only be reached from the balcony on the first floor. Just at the moment, there is a seasonal display of gardening books.  A man who is helping in the shop comes downstairs and grabs one of those devices with  a lever operated claw used by the infirm to pick things up without bending down. It is in the corner where umbrellas, walkingsticks and other objects, which have been discarded or forgotten by customers, reside.  " I can't quite reach the Gertrude Jekyll in the top of the window," he says.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

view, planning, carpets

Posted by PicasaBeside the sea side 3. Chimneys  made for seagulls.

Some people plan gardens from scratch, others let the design grow like, well, like a garden. I belong unashamedly to the hap hazard school. Try this, try that, see what happens. Something happens. It works. It doesn't work. So try something else. Today a permanent, earthenware barbecue, which serves as an oven as well as a grill, is to be  delivered.  It is of traditional Burmese design, beautifully simple, less imposing  and less presumptuous than those domed metal jobs.  It is to replace a stack of bricks on which improvised or sometimes disposable barbecues  are placed . Somehow it never realized the barbecue dream which has haunted me for  years.  But what to do with the loose bricks? They are fine, flat pavers left over from the little terrace where we sit. I could stack them up somewhere out of the way. But wait a moment. Under the hedge to the left of the entrance is a section of hedge under which nothing grows because of the hedge roots. It is an ugly bare strip aching for something to cover it. The bricks, placed side by side, fit the space perfectly. And better they support flower pots. And, of flower pots, full now with flowers and grasses, we have too many on the other side of the entrance. Instantly there is a new dimension to the garden, which, without the incoming barbecue, would never have been thought of.

In The High Street is an oriental  carpet shop, which I pass nearly every day. Stacks of carpets cover the floor and others carpets hang from the walls. Today the door is open, and as I pass, a woolly, cottony, thready smell emerges, not musty but almost musty, the smell of woven carpet.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

blue, ritual, haircut

Posted by PicasaEvery year I am tempted to photograph the alkanet which returns to flower in our garden. It can be an untidy plant if you are a tidy gardener, but I love the intense blue of the flowers, darker than forget-me-nots.

It is cold and overcast this morning, but yesterday's newly sown seeds need to be watered. I water the dry, powdery surface of the soil, and I think that perhaps I am  practising an old forgotten ritual to make it rain. The air grows heavy as though in response, but the impulse to rain passes. As I write it still hasn't rained.

I see coming towards me a woman whom I think I recognise and know quite well. She is with her children. But she looks different, blonder and her hair has an unaccustomed neatness. She is talking to the children. Is she who I think she is? Then I remember that someone told me the other day that her husband owns a hairdressing salon. The change in her appearance is explained by the association.  My confidence is restored and, as we pass exchange greetings. From beneath the new chevelure   emerges a smile which I can instantly relate to.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

benches, mood, appetite

Posted by PicasaBeside the seaside 2.

Because I like cooking, I suppose, I tend quite automatically  to take note of people's likes and dislikes. Today I  learn that not everyone likes eggs. As  I buy some quail eggs in the farm shop, the assistant remarks to me: " I  have to be in the mood for eggs. I have never eaten quail eggs."

Outside The Compasses, we are talking about wanting to eat less when  one is older. We compare notes about the huge appetites of young people including ourselves when we were young. "My Dad was a long distance lorry  driver," says Bill. "Sometimes, he would telephone to say  he had broken down. He would have to spend the night in the cab. He wouldn't be needing dinner. That was alight for me: there were two dinners in the oven and I had them both."

Monday, May 24, 2010

budding, starlings, office

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The early bud of a climbing rose, packed with energy, contains in its folded petals echoes of the big bang.

Starlings are plentiful this year, particularly, this afternoon, in the lime tree opposite our house. The din is tangible. It is a tree loaded with telephones.

In Hall's bookshop Peter announces to a colleague that he is going to his private office. I am the only customer, and he says to me, by way of explanation: "There is a lavatory upstairs. Customers are always asking if we have one, and want to use it, so we have a code. You, by the way, are always welcome to it." I say that I have lived in Tunbridge Wells for 25 years and feel that I have earned my spurs, or whatever it is that you have to earn to be offered, unsolicited, the use of a loo in one of the South East of England's most renowned bookshops.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

blue bell, Cousine Bette, twitter

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Bluebells we all know. |To note a bluebell on its own is a less common experience for you tend to think of them in drifts. But a blue bell, just one delicate flower selected from a raceme of eleven or twelve bells drooping from a stem which lean over and bend under their weight. That is something we consider less often.

My reading of La Cousine Bette is coming to an end. The English translation to, which I refer from time to time and which as I mentioned here before is by the poet Kathleen Raine, has been in my possession for at least 50 years. On the telephone to day, I tell Anna, who is Kathleen Raine's daughter, what a good translation it is, and how interesting it is for me to have an insight into the process of translation, through the work of someone, whom I used to know. She says that she remembers her mother translating Balzac. She says that she also translated Les Illusions Perdues. Then she adds " they still send me small cheques from America by way of royalties for her translations," and adds, "but they are so small that the Bank won't accept them".

Twitter often has a bad press. But Dave Bonta, co-founder of the literary magazine qarrtsiluni, demonstrates every day how well the twitter form works as a medium for poetry. Every morning he steps on to his porch and records what he sees in a haiku-like statement of fewer than 140 syllables. His daily observations are to be found on They succeed in imparting a sense of place, of the seasons,and of nature, alive and in action. At the same time, he invents or adapts a form which fits in with the needs and constraints of our fast moving digital age. Here is an example: "A dandelion-seed parachute drifting past the porch shudders, hit by a raindrop. The streambank grass ripples where a chipmunk runs." That was two days ago. He has been posting regularly since November 2007

Saturday, May 22, 2010

parrot, curiosity, lazy

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A close up of parrot tulip petals explains the name.

Sitting on a terrace, I watch a man with a pint of beer in front of him take a book from a plastic bag. He puts the book in front of him and takes a sip of beer. He picks up the book and reads the back cover. He opens the book from the front and reads the text opposite the fly leaf. It is a paper back. I suspect that it is a Penguin Classic. There is a picture on the front cover. But the title? I can't quite read it. He turns to the first page. It is yellow with with age. I strain my eyes and try again to learn the title of the book, but he reads on ignorant of my curiosity. It is a condition from which I suffer, to know what people are reading. I still don't know and now will never know what the man is reading. I see him now reading peacefully, sipping his beer. I have to be content with this picture, and suddenly I think that I am.

In The Grove, I pass a woman who is sitting at the top of a gentle slope. As I approach, an energetic Jack Russell brings her a ball and drops it beside her hand. Without looking up from her book, she picks up the ball and throws it as far as she can, which, because of her almost prone postion, is not very far. The dog pursues the ball with an energy and address which her slap-happy throw does not deserve. Back comes the dog and the process is repeated.

Friday, May 21, 2010

seaside, labels, mist

Posted by PicasaBeside the seaside.

Out of a  restaurant  a crowd of  people pour forth, like foam from a bottle of sparkling wine. Each of them is labelled with  a name tag so that,  though strangers, having stared at each other's chests,  each can address another by name. The scene evokes distant memories of my time as a journalist on the fringes of business when it fell to me from time to time to time to attend conferences and meetings. When I think back, anonymity still remains a luxury.

 Glimpsed from the train, drifts of bluebells float above woodland floors like a layer of blue mist.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

breakwater, zapper, dandelion clocks

Posted by Picasa   A breakwater marches into the sea at St Leonards-on-Sea.

An irritating habit which should only be practiced in private is switching from TV station to TV station at in a random search for something of interest.  I don't like it when other people do it. I don't even like it when I do it.  But what's this? The French apparently have a single word for to surf or hop channels: zapper.  All I need is an opportunity to use it.

In the section of The Grove where they do not cut the grass, a crowd dandelion clocks float like buoys in a green sea.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

balcony, balls, galaxies

Posted by PicasaBalcony and window in St Leonards-on-sea.

 Beside a bench in The Grove is a transparent, plastic bag full of balls - tennis balls, rubber balls of different colours and styles, a football and a miniature rugby ball with a dent in it. Profusion breeds respect and speaks of generosity of spirit, a broad and brave view of life.

Galaxies of daisies flow across the grassy slopes of Calverely Ground. Tread on them and you tread in deep space.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

shelter, fibre optics, renaissance

Graffiti in a bus shelter in Groombridge.

A day of tribulation followed by one of rewards  for perseverance.. Virgin  Media come to connect our television, telephone and internet to  their cable system. Fibre optics I think. As usual we have to learn new procedures. Suddenly from only being able to receive a few  TV stations  (we live in corner of the town, and overshadowed by a tree, which prevents analogue signals from relevant transmitters reaching us) we have a vast choice including about five which we want  but couldn't reach before. We also have the opportunity to access BBC iPlayer on the TV, which means we can catch up on BBC programmes we miss. There are snags with using the DVD player. But that is overcome to day. Worst of all the signal from the router does not appear to be picked up by the desktop upstairs. An afternoon of fruitless tweaking leaves me  tired and irascible. But  today all is resolved. Someone on the end of the Virgin helpline helps me track down the ghost of the  program  of a former provider that haunt the computer like a malign spirit not allowing the new program  to take over. So , usually happens in these case, seem to have vanished and technology is again charge.

Frost, in the last three weeks or so, has attacked the new potato leaves. In recent years, frost in the Spring is so rare a thing, that we not recognise the source of the damage at first. It's too early for blight, but having planted so many potatoes  this year, we view the withered, blackened leaves with horror. It is a scene of desolation and disaster.  Fortunlately  I have earthed up the rows protecting most of the tender  shoots; and today in the warm spell,  which has arrived at last, and helped by showers, there are signs of new shoots. Grounds for hope.

Monday, May 17, 2010

reflections, memories, cheerfulness

Reflections in the lake at Groombridge Place.

Maria, who comes from Valencia, greets me as warmly as ever at the Sainsbury's delicatessen counter where she is on duty every Sunday. In reply to her enquiries, I tell her that we are being visited by my grandchildren today. "My best memories are with my grandparents, " she says. "My parents had to go to work. I remember the summer with my grandparents. Good times. Good times".
And while she is talking, she is cutting and weighing cheese and dispensing olives.

The Crow picked up my reference the other day to an old acquaintance, who cheerfully remarked when I asked after his health: "I'm still here". What appealed to her, I think, and appeals to me too, is his cheerfulness in the face of frailty and old age. Thinking about her reaction this morning, another recent conversation strikes a sad note in my memory. Towards the end of last year, a neighbour, whom I did not know very well, died at an absurdly young age. Almost the last time I talked to her was when she and I and Heidi sat outside the pub in the Autumn sunshine.. She was a thespian and our conversation turned to Shakespeare. Perhaps not surprisingly in the circumstances, she spoke of her love for Prospero's speech in The Tempest where he reflects on his age and impending retirement from the practice of magic on his enchanted island. . She did not quote it. And I was about to begin: "Be cheerful, sir. Our revels now are ended ..." But as I recalled the concluding words "... and our little life is rounded with a sleep," it seemed to be rather near the knuckle. But cheerful she was, and sometimes I think, perhaps the words spoken out aloud would have been helpful rather than harmful. I shall never know, but do not forget and her brave and cheerful demeanour.
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

camelids, education, shower

Two llamas (or if not llamas other members of the  South American camelid tribe) in a barn near Groombridge on the Kent/Sussex border.

A recent conversation with Barratt Bonden on the subject, I think, of communication, conversation, understanding, something of that sort,  led me to retrieve something I wrote down more than 20 years ago and which seems to me  to be relevant. He  says that the quotation  is worth wider exposure. On re-reading it, it strikes me as even more important than I thought it was when I first came across it. It could be a guide for teachers and pupils, for employers and employees, for politicians and  even for lovers who want to know one another better. So here goes. It is the Victorian poet and educationalist W. Johnson Cory describing the aims of a great school. "You go to school," he writes, "not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible at any given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and for mental soberness."

It has been dry for the last few days as well as cold. In the vegetable garden, I have been hoeing between the rows of  new seedlings. The surface of the soil has been dry and dusty. So when, this afternoon, it clouds over and begins to rain, I am truly pleased. I walk through the gentle rain drops and delight in the thought of  the water soaking through to help germination and growth.

Friday, May 14, 2010

stall, presumption, colours

At the burger stall at the Farmers' Market. The smell of meat and onions caramelising on the hot plate is what sells burgers.  Though a regular at the Market, I have never tried one of  these because I have refined and reduced my diet, since the days when I liked that kind of thing, but I can see the attraction as well as smell it.

Outside The Ragged Trousers in the Pantiles, we are sitting with a drink and  sharing a bowl  of whitebait, when there is a kerfuffle at the next table. A presumptuous pigeon has flown off the pavement and landed on the grey head of a woman, who is just about to take a sip from her cup of coffee. To my embarrassment I laugh long and loud. I can't help myself. She, poor woman looks startled, before seeing the joke. "It was sitting on my foot," she said. Her husband  is not amused. "Shoo," says a waitress to the pigeon, which flutters off, but not far. There is a lack of conviction in the waitress's voice and accompanying gesture It could well be that she is frightened of pigeons. And who wouldn't be?

Half way up (or down) Mount Sion is a strip of grass in front of a house where, as I have mentioned a few days ago, bluebells grow, in the open without the shade that bluebells usually prefer. Now joining them are a few bright buttercups, an unusual combination. Blue and yellow look good together. This blue and this yellow in particular.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 13, 2010

nibbling, bags, progressive

Today's squirrel in The Grove.

Apart from the bed in the vegetable garden, formerly devoted to a bonfire site, now given over almost entirely to potatoes, I have by way of experiment, planted potatoes in bags. You place some compost in the bottom of a bag, put four or five seed potatoes on the compost and, as the potatoes begin to sprout, add more compost, and then more again, as the shoots appear. The first of the four bags planted in this way is now full of compost and, I hope, of embryo potatoes. For the time being, I must content myself with the burst of green potato leaves, which emerges from the top of the bag like a shock of wild locks.

In the High Street, I meet Derek an elderly man whom I used to see regularly walking in The Grove and in Hall's bookshop. I have not seen him for some time, and, as one does, with people of our age, fall to speculating about his health. So we greet each other warmly. He is on the arm of his tall and cheerful wife, and wears as ever, a deerstalker. In reply to my "How are you? he says with a smile: "Well I'm here", and adds: "Unfortunately, getting old is progressive".
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

window 2, parrots, no tablecloths

Another mysterious window belongs, it seems to a room, not in everyday use. There are bricks stacked at the sides instead of hanging curtains; and dead centre something like an oil dispenser. The attraction of windows are the mysteries within, of which they offer only a  tantalising glimpse.

Flower stall holders, at this time of year, often have "parrots" for sale, by which term they mean parrot tulips. More respectable florists will use the term in full. Parrot tulips according to Anna Pavord's comprehensive account of the flower and its history are cultivars, which arose as sports or mutations, "from perfectly well behaved tulips such as Clara Butt. The idea of a well behaved tulip is appealing and Parrots have a tendency to behaviour which you might call flighty. We have two example in view at the moment. One is a display of bulbs (planted in the Autumn) in a clay dish on the garden table and viewed through the sitting room window. They, in common with all Parrots, have tattered, crested petals. They are green and pink  The buds not yet unfolded,  in justification of the name, resemble the beaks of parrots.  The second lot of Parrots   seem to burst out of  a vase in front of  the window. They are wide open, red with yellow throats and black stamens. If flowers could make noises these would be squawking. 

As I reflect  on restaurants visited recently, it occurs to me that those without tablecloths are often the most reliable.  And in straightened times, the best value too. I will say no more about The Curry Club in the Strand, also known as the Bloggers Retreat, about which Barrett Bonden and I and others, have blogged with varying degrees of enthusiasm . Another  example is Pasta Pasta on the seafront  at St Leonards-on-Sea, where Heidi and I sat in the sunshine  a few days ago, and ate deep fried twists of bread dough, called fricatelli  dipped in a spicy tomato sauce, and drank a cherry flavoured rosato wine from Verona.Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

window, white, cold

Who or what is behind the window?

Posted by PicasaThis morning, on my way through to the vegetable garden, I note white blossom to left and  right. There are two white clematis, a choisya spreading its fragrance, a cherry still in flower, lilies-of the valley; a bride dressing for her wedding would not be out of place.

A third of the way through May and the cold wind from the north intensifies.  The sun goes in and it is even colder. "It's going to snow tonight," says a doom-monger with relish. People walk about in hoods, their hands in their pockets. "It's the Government's fault," says Peter at Hall's bookshop. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

moving, fighting, living

On the move from sun to sun.

In the Grove ahead of me I see two male blackbirds challenging one another. Driven to desperation they fly up into the air to confront each other, their bodies upright, their wings going like mad. One bird apparently wins because  as his opponent flies off,  he returns  alone to his territory; and - it's the same old story -joins a female  who has been pecking away at the grass, flattered no doubt, or taking the whole thing for granted.

"Living salad" is how Sainsbury's  describe the plastic cartons they sell in which salad leaves are planted and have grown to a state, where they are ready to harvest with  help of a pair of scissors.  I can imagine the factory greenhouses where lines and lines of these pocket gardens are sown, nurtured  and labelled. If Sainsbury's can do it, so can I. In cartons, conveniently pierce with holes in the base, which originally contained strawberries and other soft fruit, (and which I saved in case they came in useful), I put a little compost and a scattering of seed, and today for the first time, I can harvest my own, home grown. living salad.
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Sunday, May 09, 2010

gossip, chorizo, ashamed

 "You won't believe it. I just saw Jumilla, walking through  a gate, off on an adventure! Walking mind you!"

In Sainsbury's, Maria, the  friendly Spanish woman on the delicatessen counter, offers me a slice of chorizo made from superior Iberico pigs, on a piece of grease proof paper placed on the counter. I can still taste its rich, spiciness now, six hours later.

Taking up BB's theme of things one is secretly ashamed of (see yesterday's comments), I could write a book about them. But  one that comes immediately to mind is the way I tingle all over at the sound of The Marseillaise. Perhaps it is because when at school we had to learn it off by heart and sing it to French Ambassador who was visiting the school. Or perhaps because it is a rousing tune, and I like it. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 08, 2010

pigeon, wild flowers, Dam Busters

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Portrait of a pigeon pacing on a wall.

From the train I watch for wild flowers and spot, growing on the same siding close by one another, ragwort and herb Robert. |A surge of yellow and a sprinkle of purple. A feeling passes, something close to joy.

In a Mind charity shop I overhear a woman telling another about her wedding. "And we finished up with the Dam Busters march..."    she says, concluding, slightly apologetically, "because we like it."

Friday, May 07, 2010

goose2, stamps, found

...And so, one fine day,  Jumilla, the goose of Groombridge, set out  on an adventure....

In the Strand, on my way to lunch with Barrett Bonden, I pass Stanley Gibbons. I think to myself, it must be nearly 70 years since I first heard of Stanley Gibbons and its famous catalogue of postage stamps. Schoolboys such as I huddled over the big orange annual to identify the stamps in their collections. And above all to price them. Their value, according to Stanley Gibbons, used and unused, assumed vast importance in our eyes, not that we were speculating, but somehow the prices quoted and charged by the shop, which seemed in those days to have infinite resources, gave added substance to the little squares of coloured paper, which we stuck into albums, with the help of lightly gummed "hinges", designed not to damage the stamps, while at the same time allowing you to show them off to your friends. "That one's worth 10 shillings", one would say. While another would boast of a "complete sets" of a single issue. How strange that craze seems to day, but then how similar to later and current enthusiasms for Proust and blogging and curry and Champagne! As I pass the shop, I peer in wondering whether I might spot a line of heavy orange books on a shelf, but no such luck. And it crosses my mind that when I started collecting postage stamps, they had been going for barely 100 years. Not surprising that you could list all or most of the existing stamps in a single catalogue. Nowadays, there wouldt be far too many for a single book.

Frequently I lose an everyday possession like a pen or note pad and having looked everywhere for it, give it up for lost, with a sad shrug of impatience. Then the lost object turns up and the reunion is not far short of joyous. The Parker ballpoint, which I lost a few weeks ago must, I thought, by now be in someone else's possession, having been discovered in  the street or on a bus seat. I wished the new owner luck in whatever enterprise it would be employed in whether writing shopping lists or sonnets, love letters or protests to the newspaper. Then putting my hand in the pocket of a jacket  which I had not worn for some time, I detect the shape but not the substance of a pen.  It has slipped through a minute hole in the line of the pocket. After some athletic fiddling in the lining, I manage to extract the pen. For a moment it is like that scene which recurs in movies when boy having met girl, loses girl and meets girl again. Ascendant harmonies led by violins and trumpets.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

goose, Jumilla, episode

Portrait of a goose.

In the window of Oddbins wine merchant in MountPleasant, is a bottle labelled Jumilla. It prompts  memories. I first drank the wine of Jumilla more than 50 years ago. I was teaching English in Murcia, then a city firmly rooted the past. It was then  a dignified, solid place with a cathedral in the Plateresqe form of  Rococo. When I lived  there, to the puzzlement of farmers from  surrounding  villages, traffic lights were errected for the first time. Four traffic policemen were needed to explain how the system worked. Hortas or market gardens, watered by an irrigation system, which owed its origins to the Moorish occupation of the country supplied a rich selection of Mediterranean vegetables. In the evening I would go to the same restaurant and drink the  full bodied local wine. I can still hear my friend Antonio Marin raise his glass : "el vino de Jumilla!" he would say with pride. The wine invariably came straight from nearby bodegas, and would very rarely if ever find its way into a bottle, certainly  not one with a posh label, like the one in  the Oddbins window. "Arriba el campo!" Antonio would toast, "Long live the countryside", in  deliberate contrast to the radio's nightly proclamation " Viva Franco! Arriba Espana! ". It was Antonio's only form of  protest against a regime, which he hated.

In The Curry Club, aka The Bloggers' Retreat, a woman sitting at the table next  to Barrett Bonden and me, and about to leave, interrupts an item on our agenda. It concerns episodes in novel which,  because they stand on their own, could run the risk of disturbing the flow. "You're right" she says, agreeing with one of us, "the author should feel free to do what he thinks right and not be led by rules. "  She needs little encouragement to produce a copy of her recently published book; and to show us a cutting from a local newspaper, where it is reviewed in an article  "as one of the 50 best novels about Hackney".
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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

reflection, itch, turf

Reflections of the sun in the lake at Groombridge surrounded by branches and the texture of clouds.

Last night, afflicted by an itch in the middle of my back, I take my mind off the problem by trying to remember and spell the French for "itch", with which I have always had difficulty - démangeason. It half comes to me, as I drop off to sleep. In the morning Le Petit Robert confirms my recollection and provides a nice instance of its use by Zola: Cette démangeason de parler qui vide parfois le coeur des gens solitaires, "that irrepressible urge to talk, which sometimes empties the hearts of people who live alone". An observation, which almost makes the original irrepressible urge to scratch worth while.

The curved strip of garden, which bends round our house, following the right-angle bend of the road, consists of a strip of grass, a flower bed and an 8ft hedge which separates us from the pavement. The grass which is too small to be called a lawn and too wide to be called a path, shows signs of wear and tear at this time of year. Worst are the patches under some shrubs where the bed bends round the corner. Some grass seed, which I found at home, left over from a previous year, has failed to germinate. Should I buy some more? Then at Homebase, I spot a roll of turf, a couple of meters long by half a meter wide. It works perfectly to patch the worn grass. What pleases me as much as the instance piece of lawn is the cost. The turf was £3.99. A packet of grass seed on the other hand would have cost £6.00.
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Monday, May 03, 2010

nibbles, Moby Dick, noodles

Lunch in the Grove.

To add to the books-not-finished discussion, I think to myself today: How many times have I started Moby Dick? And how many times have I failed to finish it? I know the first chapter well enough. But Captain Ahab and that damned whale...!

Outside the Chinese take-away in London Road, I see a transparent plastic bag of straw being unloaded from a van. Not straw, I think; rather long, white worms. Then I realize , with some relief, that what is in the bag is neither worms nor straw, but noodles. Pasta, they say was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo. But some have cast doubt on this theory and advanced the belief that Chinese noodles and Italian pasta evolved separately. And why not?
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