Tuesday, August 31, 2010

v, reflection, repeat

Posted by Picasa When I was a very small child, someone, I can't remember who, said, you draw birds flying like this, and made v signs with a pencil on a piece of paper. As I grew older I came to distrust the simplicity of this advice. Now, looking at  this photograph, I think that  maybe it isn't wrong after all.

A man sits on a bench on the station platform. He sits on a bench toying with a mobile phone. As it moves in his hand the dial catches the sun and its reflection dances on the brick wall behind him. A new and strange form of communication.

In St Leonards today we sit at the same table outside the same restaurant as on two or three occasions earlier this year, and I take the same photographs, of people sitting on benches on the other side of the road, looking towards the sea. The same? Not at all. They are different people, in different attitudes; and it is later in the year. The sun is in a different place in the sky. And Heidi and I are weeks, months older.

Monday, August 30, 2010

composition, blogging, surprise

Posted by PicasaMessages like this seem  to attract because of their multiple meanings and insinuating ambiguities.

"How's the blog?" asks |A ndre at the Video shop. "Still going," I say. "Don't you find it hard, finding something to say everyday?" "It isn't hard when you think that most days there is something of interest. Even if you don't see or hear it. It's maybe something I have read," I say. But then I admit to myself that on some days  I have to look or listen extra hard or think quite deeply to find a thought or memory.

This morning after the rain, the air is bright, the sun is out. A surprise, then, to see a gibbous moon pale in the blue sky.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

sunset, coins, prunes

Posted by PicasaLooking over the hedge in a westerly direction in the evening is easy and can be spectacular.
For people who save coins in bottles and piggy banks etc there is a machine in Sainsbury's ,which counts the  coins you feed into it. A screen shows how much you have and  issues you with a voucher to that value. The sound of the money being counted in side the machine - a frantic jingling -is the sound of hoarding speeded up. It conjures fairy stories about misers  reckoning their wealth.
I read about prunes soaked in tea, and remember being told that it is a good idea. I think that I may try it  soon, perhaps tomorrow, using spicy, Indian chai tea, with its cinnamon breath.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

ladybird, trouble, notebook

Posted by PicasaLadybird on  a sunflower bud. Lots of ladybirds this year, some of which have appeared here, and lots of sunflowers, too. Un embarras de richesse.

If you do that , you'll end up getting in trouble with the police," says a grandmother to a little girl. The little girl is walking by her mother who is pushing a pram with a baby in it. "Do you want that," says her grandmother. "No," says the little girl. As I walk away, I turn round to see the grandmother bend down to put her arms round the child.

Yesterday sees the last page of the notebook which I opened in January of this year. The new one opens today. I see that it is number 10 in the stack of  similar books on the table beside my desk. When I look back I find that  annotations have become neater and more ordered. And there are now fewer drawings. Still missing are dates. Very rarely is there any indication of when  notes were taken or drawings made. Almost useless if I am trying to trace anything! I didn't want and don't want a diary. But clearly I should resolve to include more dates. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

market, runner, pesto

Posted by PicasaPeople and tomatoes at the Farmers' Market in Civic Way.

As I approach the bend in Mount Sion, I hear the clap, clap, clap of a runner coming towards me. Not knowing what to expect, for fear of collision,  I keep close to the hedge, which obscures my view. As I round the corner, I see that it is a man in shorts and trainers running in the road. A little strangely, he is carrying an open umbrella, which shields him from, what is only a light shower. Clap, clap clap the runner procedes on his way, his umbrella  held above his head like a standard.

Tonight pesto. This morning, I cut bunches of basil in the greenhouse. The scent rises around me and accompanies me home, across the road. I look forward to stripping the leaves from the stem and,  with a pestle, pounding them  together with pine kernels, garlic, grated Parmesan and Pecorino, mixed with olive oil in the larger of our two mortars. I could use a food processor but  that would mean sacrificing  another prolonged whiff of aromatic leaves.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Posted by PicasaPigeons in the air above The High Street.

A former neighbour greets me in The Grove.  His young family must be growing up. They moved about 10 years ago to the opposite end of Tunbridge Wells. He himself looks older and leaner. "Just brought my eldest down to his old stomping ground." "He's not feeling nostalgic," I say. "Not really. Just a distant memory."

Summer pudding - a compote of soft,seasonal fruits melded with slices of bread and moulded  in a pudding basin in the fridge - used not to attract me when I was younger. Now it does. Last night at a meal with a neighbour, it glistens with juices  on the plate on to which it is has been turned, and overwhelms the taste buds with an explosion of berry flavours. "Berry flavours", is the sort of thing people say about wine. This is better than wine.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

pig-bin, generations, Micmacs

As I walked up a hill I see this wheelie-bin part of which reminds me of a pig. If I were scultpting a pig, this is how  I would do it.

The family photographs album, which I am collating, I realize today, spans five generations.  Within  that span, the youngest descendent of my paternal Grandfather has 15 other relations from whom he is directly descended. This pattern holds true for everyone, everywhere, of course,  where incest has not intervened, but it constantly surprises me  how quickly  ancestors, starting with two grandfathers and two grandmothers, pile up. Most family trees, ignore the universality of genes and the involvement of women, who make an equal contribution to the gene pool, yet often, as far as the tree is concerned, lose their identity with motherhood.  They  tend to focus instead on one male ancestor and his wife and spread downwards into the present, picking their way along one particular line.  But try looking up and back from where you are, into  the foliage of the tree (and what the foliage hides),  and a different picture emerges. Names, which are not recorded, and lines of inheritance which are not acknowldeged, begin to emerge. It is into these dark corners that historians  and biographers should seek to cast a light.

A  French film called Micmacs appeals to me because its story is built round a gang of social drop outs who, using  all sorts of discarded products, create new, fascinating and useful machines. The fact that their creations are used to bring down some wicked arms dealers adds to the fun. But the message that every piece of so called rubbish has at least one additional use is one in which I share a firm belief. The films is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet who also made Amelie.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

sunflowers, glory, peach

Posted by PicasaBronze as well as yellow sunflowers have flourished this year despite attacks on the stems of the yellow ones  when they were about 2 inches high by a mysterious bird or other creature, which nipped them neatly in half, without any apparent attempt  or desire to to eat them. The bronze seedlings, the marauder left alone, but I had to defend the yellow ones with sticks and string and even garden tools, which I built into a pyramid above them. Just four survive but  the flowers have made up in size for their lack of numbers.

At this morning's morning glory count, I note no fewer than 14 flowers from the two plants which are  now sending their shoots all over the fuchsia. In  a larger garden, this would go unnoticed, but here detail is what matters.

Giuseppe's restaurant and delicatessen in The Pantiles had some flat, white peaches for sale the other day, which I meant to, but forgot to buy. When I go back today, there are peaches of  a more ordinary kind on display, but the flat ones seem all to have been sold. As I leave with two of the more usual peaches, I am greeted by Giuseppe. "Have you got some of the flat peaches,"  he says. I tell him that I have been unable to find any, where upon he rummages around and discovers a remaining flat peach. "Here, " he says and pushes into into my shoulder bag.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Posted by Picasa  Astilbes, with their feathery panicles, are my favourite plants this year. Some weeks ago I planted one called called Deutschland, which drooped after Germany was beaten in the World Cup. This astilbe lacked a label so I don't know what variety it is, but photographed  in close up, it is delicious to behold. A beautiful things however you look at it.

In the breeze under the trees in The Grove, it strikes me today, as it has before, that different types of tree must make different noises as their leaves sway and rustle.  Again, at different times of year, as the leaves become drier and crisper, their sound must vary too. But my ear is too leaden to note such distinctions.

After the rain last night, everything is sodden, and foliage is beaten down. But as the sun  comes out, the plants perk up, and so do I. In the vegetable garden the French beans, which up till a  couple of days ago had shown no sign of fruiting, are suddenly adorned with little threads of green among (there are two varieties) the white and purple flowers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

discovery, scents, petunias

Posted by PicasaThere are usually pigeons in The Grove, and there is usually something to interest them.

In Calverley Ground this afternoon, there is a fine rain, like warm spray. It carries scents and none more powerful than the  scent of lavender, in what used to be the rose garden. As I walk along the path beside the deserted bowling green, I look down on the lavender bed, where the flowers, though starting to fade, are still in bloom. The scent rises up like a miracle looking for approval.

About three weeks ago I bought  two pots of root-bound petunias The flowers had drooped and looked as though they had had their day,  but I had a feeling that they might survive. I don't much like petunias, but these were the right kind with small, dark red flowers, just what was needed for a shady corner. And I was right. Today we note how they are flourishing, the plants strong and the flowers and buds prolific. They will enrich the view from the dining room window, until the Autumn.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

visitors, beautiful, unlikely

Posted by PicasaSquash flower with visitors - a gaudy feature of late summer.

There is an Italian delicatessen at the bottom of Mount Sion - a little corner of Italy in Tunbridge Wells. "You are beautiful," says the young man to a  blonde who enters the shop. "What did you say?" she says, not quite sure whether she heard him correctly (outside the shop, this is still England after all). "You are beautiful," he says. "Thank you," she says.

Sometimes I am struck by an irrational thought of vast and imponderable extravagance. I am sure that I am not alone in wondering how someone who knew no English and clearly even now cannot express himself freely in the language, can hope to manage the England football team, successfully, or can be expected to. Now, I think to myself, they have to look no further than the author of this blog to find a replacement .... But then again ...? 

Friday, August 20, 2010

tree, squash, companionship

Posted by PicasaThinking about a tree. The outline of the tree repeats, as so often happens, the profile of a single leaf.

In the vegetable garden, a squash plant of creeping habit, rather like a vegetable python, is ascending  a pear tree, and embryo squashes are beginning to hang among the pears.

Mobility scooters must be one of the few consolations for not being able to get about easily. Old ladies, in particular, seem to relish  driving them. Perhaps it is because, just when indisposition calls on them to sacrifice their independence, they find themselves in charge again. This afternoon in Calverley Precinct, two old ladies steer their scooters among the shoppers, side by side, gossiping as they go.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

sunflower, recognition, barlotto

Posted by PicasaThe surface of one of the bronze sunflowers, which are now opening in the vegetable garden, with visitor.

An elderly couple who, after some time we are beginning to chat to when we bump into them, greet us outside The Black Pig where we and they have had lunch. We introduce ourselves properly. They are Dorothy and Henry. It's helpful to know. " I  always recognise you because of your hair," says Dorothy to Heidi. "And you, because of your hat,"  she  says to me. I recall that the first time we met, she told me that her husband referred to me as "the Frenchman", because I used to wear a beret at the time.

A sort of risotto, made with pearl barley instead of  rice, is not unknown to restaurant chefs. The technique of allowing the barley slowly  to absorb hot broth, mirrors that used with rice and broth in risotto.  I have been making version of this dish for some time, using chicken as a main ingredient. In recent years, I have added leeks and prunes to the ingredients. The result  is a variation not only on risotto but on the Scottish,  cock-a-leeky. The latter is made by boiling a chicken with leeks, barley and prunes. You use the stock as soup, which is served as a first course, followed by the chicken as a second course. My dish combines the ingredient  of cock-a-leeky with the cooking method of risotto. It is on the menu to night by special request.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

cats, family album, leeks

Posted by PicasaWayside cats curled up in sympathetic union.

While assembling photographs into a Picasa family album, I upload a photograph of my grandmother, which arrives initially at the bottom of the window, where the most recent photographs of her descendants are ranged  less or less in sequence of age. To bring her to her rightful place at the top of the window, I click and drag her picture in the desired direction, and realize that in the process I am leading her through an assembly of her offspring and their offspring and their respective partners - a strange journey through time if not for me, certainly for her.

A packet of baby leeks, acquired from the supermarket this afternoon, bears the legend: "Subtle and sweet".

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

window, fashion, imagination

Posted by PicasaThe mystery of  open windows, which I can seldom resist photographing. Another in the series.

 Elderly woman to younger woman, outside Collins & Sons jewellers in The High Street: "I'm told that emeralds are out of fashion."

Little girl to mother: "...And me and Julia will be able to walk our imaginary dogs."

Monday, August 16, 2010

free, weekend, beech

Posted by Picasa|A breezy day at St Leonards.

 I Overlook this in my notebook from last Friday. The gift of prophecy is  often something to do with being prepared. In the building society, I am greeted by a familiar face. I say to myself I know what she is going to say, and lo, she says it, as she hands my pass book back to me: "Are you doing anything nice for the weekend?" And I say to her as I always say: "I do something nice every weekend. And every weekday as well."

In The Grove is a copper beech with a canopy, which is almost perfect in its symmetry. I walk past it this afternoon, especially to look at it again. Round its trunk the canopy has cast a shadow which has imprinted itself permanently in a circle of brown or grass and bare earth, now scattered with mast.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

portrait, understanding, gazpacho

Posted by PicasaWayside cat.
Why do you suppose,
Cats always pose,
And curl their paws
And have no flaws?

In Theodore Zeldin's amusing and sometimes profound book, The French, I read "You only understand a person when you know how far you can go without offending him."

Gazpacho today. A chilled summer soup from Andalusia. |Almost, but not quite liquidized so that the texture is a little crunch : tomato, cucumber, onion, red pepper, olive oil, wine vinegar, a little garlic, salt and pepper. An ingredient which I have recently  found adds something extra is sweet pickled cucumber.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

territory 2, reductions, chai

Posted by PicasaAnother scene from the territorial dispute posted a few days ago. Here fast food packaging enters the scene. (Please click to see whole picture).

There's a sale in almost every shop. "Oh no!" says the man outside the show shop displaying women's boots, shoes and handbags, in Mount Pleasant. He is addressing two women  who accompany him. "Further reductions! We should have waited!"

Outside Ishmael's tea and coffee shop, I drink chai - black tea with spices in a glass cup. Jenny has the same with milk. She pours the milk onto the tea. The milk floats for a moment on the tea. Then the tea rises and mixes with it. It stains the milk and  churns into it. For a moment, it looks like a stormy sunset with swirling clouds.

Friday, August 13, 2010

textures, bees, wolf

Posted by Picasa During another visit to St Leonards, looking up.

Heidi's daughter Caroline is importing transparent soap from Crete. It is made from olive oil and local perfumes, such as lavender and pine and  odd fragment of petals and leaves encased in it like flies in amber.  She sells the soap and various creams and lotions, sometimes, at a market in the centre of Munich where she lives. When she displayed the soap on her stand recently, she says,  bees came attracted by the perfume, to find the flowers from which they had been distilled.

Ahead of me in Mount Pleasant is a man with a wolf-like dog in a harness to which a leash is attached. It is a powerful creature with big paws and a determined gait. Down the road, coming towards me and the "wolf" is Giles with his Newfoundland, Seal, a gentle animal, slow and rather lugubrious by nature. Seal pulls away to avoid the "wolf" with a marked reluctance to say hullo, while the "wolf",  having shown only a mild interest,  pads eagerly up the hill, its owner in tow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

territory, geese, photos

Territorial dispute at St Leonards.

Geese flying overhead wake me as it is getting light at about 5.30 this morning. The call of the wild. Sleepy as I am, I would jump out of bed if I thought that I would be able to see them  through the window in the restricted patch of sky above the tulip tree and the roofs of neighbouring houses.  Or I would  run down stairs and out of the door, if there would be time before they fly on. As it is, I lie and listened to the their fading cries and imagine the V formation of their flight against the brightening sky.

Having made a compilation of photographs for our forthcoming family gathering, I realize how remiss I have been in keeping  my  family photographs  in drawers and boxes without a name or place or date on the back. Aunts, I do not know which aunts, in contrast, annotated who, when and where in the carefully maintained albums of snaps to which I have been referring. I feel disproportionally grateful.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

benchers, whitebait, basil

Posted by PicasaBench sitters in The Pantiles.

"Whitebait," says a customers ordering at the pub on on the green at Groombridge. He is wearing khaki Bermuda shorts and, fashionably unshaven, displays a heavy black growth of stubble. "...and some garlic mayonnaise." "We only have mayonnaise," says the lady who has been at the pub for the last 20 years at least and smiles about once a year. "You have mayonnaise; you must have garlic," says the customers. "Couldn't you put the two together?" "They're very busy in the kitchen," says the hostess. Then: "I'll make some," says the cheerful girl who now  also looks after the bar. "Marvelous," says the customer, "you're lovely!"

The prospect of a frittata made with yellow zucchini and freshly cut basil draws me down to the kitchen.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Posted by PicasaOur garden. Looking the other way.

Waiting at platform 1 for the London Train,  I hear an announcement that there has been a platform alteration. The Charing Cross train will leave from platform 2. An elderly man complains as we cross the bridge: "they never get it right. At least I don't have to this every day." We compare notes about commuting. "Coming back from London in  the heat was the worst," he says, "in the old slam door trains. I'm too old for this," he says. "At least being old means that you don't have to commute," I say. We settle down at different points on platform 2 to wait for the London train. When  in a minute or two, I hear the announcement that there has been another platform change and that the London train will after all leave from platform 1,   with other bewildered passengers, I make my way back over the bridge,  and look in vain for my new friend, but he is nowhere in sight. I find myself hoping that he is not preparing to throw himself under the train as a final statement of protest.

Train journey usually have something to offer if you look or listen closely enough. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to learn bout your fellow travellers. Today as I find myself sitting next to an accountant reading an accountancy magazine and opposite a comatose young man with a thin exhausted face and two studs in his left ear, one at the top and one on the lobe, I am ready to be disappointed. Until, that is, the young man pulls off his sweater, dragging up at the same time to reveal his bare torso underneath. When he quickly draws down his tee shirt, I note with interest that it bears the slogan "Rethink going bare in public". Having adjusted his dress he produces a name tag which he pins to his tee shirt. It gives his name followed by his job description: "make-up artist". Next to his name is the logo HN, which is shortly to be explained. Before long, he is on his mobile: "Thank you for your text," he says, "it was sweet of you. I don't like not being on holiday. When did I get to Hastings? ... And when did I leave? ... What is today's date?  I like where I am working, but things are dead at Harvey Nichols" (HN explained) "I had a nightmare. I was on a boat. All of a sudden the boat was sinking. You know I can't swim. I kept trying to keep afloat (sighs). "I can't wait to go on holiday again. I hope you don't mind coming to the Philippines.  You know I have friends and family there..."

Monday, August 09, 2010

garden, perspective, solo

Posted by PicasaA corner of our little garden.

Much of today has been spent going through old family photographs. For the benefit of Kim, my son, Toby's partner, who is coordinating  my and other people's contributions, I have compiled a web album, which begins with my grandparents and concludes with my grandchildren. It is a span of more than 100 years and, though small in comparison with some archives, it still presents thought-provoking contrasts of style, expectations and yesterday's and today's world,  which will be celebrated next month when all the offspring  are due to  gather for a family party.

Outside a shoe shop in Mount Pleasant, a fleeting fragment of dialogue intrigues. A slender girl, a cigarette in a hand, snarls into her mobile phone: "Now? I'm on my own outside. I'm not with anyone."

Sunday, August 08, 2010

looking up, mouse, bag

The oak at the corner of The Grove is always worth looking up and into for its strength and general oakiness. It is of a variety that has very big, long leaves. I used to think that it was a Turkey oak, but now I am not so sure.

Of all the electronic bits and pieces that, depending on how you regard technology, nowadays, litter or adorn our lives, the mouse is by far the most charming. It is easy to use and immediately useful, but above all it has a name which, if does not describe its function, is disarming and has no link to the dark tangled world of technology. Although my laptop does not absolutely require a mouse, it is very nice to have one. Mine is a laser mouse and sheds a pretty red light wherever it goes. Its attraction is increased because it is wire-less and goes where it pleases or, at least,  I want it to unhindered. The other day, however, it took its freedom too far, and did a runner. I searched for it far and wide, in the drawers of my desk, behind books, inside books, in files, even in the wastepaper basket. In the end I gave up, knowing, because even I am not so naive as to think that it could really have grown legs and scarpered, that it must be somewhere. Then today, while on a routine check for things that have fallen off my desk, I find the creature peering at me from behind the leg of the desk where it had evidently been hiding.  Could it be that, in the world of technology, inanimate objects are gradually evolving aspects of animation, which are unscheduled and unknown to science?

There is a  grocers in Grosvenor Road, where nearly all the products are labelled in Polish or perhaps another central European language. It is a good place to buy sausages, preserved herrings, sauerkraut and that sort of thing, if you like that sort of thing. While I am buying some  herrings this morning, the girl behind the counter, whose first language is think,  Bulgarian, says to me as she she struggles with a new plastic bag, "the thing is to open the bag!". "You need a university degree to open those", I say sympathetically. "Or very sticky fingers," she says.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Posted by Picasa
An open window high in the flank of - once again - the deserted cinema.

On our way pack from The Pantiles Farmer's Market, we have a coffee as usual outside Arte Bianca in Chapel Place. A few drops of rain  greeted us in the Pantiles, but now as we sit down, the sun comes out. "We were right to be optimistic, not to bring an umbrella", says Heidi.

Just now, short of third beautiful thing to note for the day,  I go into the garden and, in the afternoon light, admire the big, star-shaped flowers of nicotiana ( dazzling white in contrast with the purple clouds massing to the south), and realize that they will do; and, as their scent rises in the warm air, that they will do very well indeed.

Friday, August 06, 2010

bud, bird, bush

Posted by PicasaSoon the sunflowers which I always grow for cutting will be in flower. Just now the structure of a bud promises little of the flame-like, seed-hearted corolla, which will shortly take its place.

As I stand in the garden this morning with my back to the sun, the shadow of a bird flits across the path in front of me. I look up to see the bird itself but it has flow on.

The fuchsia in our garden must now be 10 ft tall. This particular bush has had several incarnations. It goes back to the last house I lived in 25 years ago. In those days it was a small plant, which died down each winter and revived in the summer. Now it seems to live though the winter, for the most part undiminished, hence its height. On one occasion it blew over in a gale and lay on its side, its roots exposed. On another, the frost attacked it, and I cut it right back to a couple of feet high, but despite such onslaughts, it is back in business this summer, its red flowers hanging like hundreds of earrings, and climbing into its branches, the additional ornament of bight blue morning glories.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

haircut, butterfly, accordian

Posted by PicasaChris works on my remaining hair.

While waiting outside Lloyd's Bank, I watch a cabbage white butterfly's erratic flight over the roof of the abandoned cinema. It must be five storeys high. What is it doing there? Then I notice that a couple of tattered buddleias,  otherwise known as butterfly plants, are growing precariously in the angle between the upper part of the brick wall  and the concrete perimeter of the flat  roof, which mounts  behind the cinema's facade. There goes the butterfly staggering into the blue.

 In Grosvenor Precinct a man in a baseball cap sits on a bench with a piano accordion. He plays it not very well, but the sound is gentle and unintrusive - there is no amplifier to overwhelm the ears. The tune is slow and sentimental, vaguely Viennese,  a little sentimental. As he spreads and narrows his arms  and expands and squeezes the box, the passers by seem to be moving in time to the music.