Monday, January 31, 2011

picture, light, creative

Posted by Picasa Mount Pleasant is the street which leads down from  the Civic Centre and the main shopping area of Tunbridge Wells to the station. It is itself a busy road the prospect of which is damaged by the site of the former cinema and the shops which flanked it. The cinema has now been derelict for about 10 years and the shops for not quite as long. At first the shops like the cinema itself were simply boarded up, but before long graffiti and broken glass in competition with encroaching weeds and other invasions meant that the frontage of the cinema (on the corner of Mount Pleasant) and the shops on either side, had to be separated from passers by. Hence this blue hoarding, which decorated with photographs of the town in former days, is now in position at ground floor level. This "window" in the hoarding strikes me as resembling a picture. If it were a picture, it would be called Nature Takes Over. On the other side of the hoarding the pavement is properly maintained and life goes by as usual.

In The Grove the sun, low in  the afternoon sky, shines through a street lamp which becomes dazzlingly bright,  much,  much brighter than ever the usually dim yellow bulb would allow. Seen from the other side all there is to note is a  pale, rather dirty pane of glass.

There is  a small fashion shop in Grosvenor Road. In the window this morning a notice reads: "Due to our creative team we are closed today..."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

crossing, epithets, angle

Posted by Picasa I recently  posted a photograph of the crow which now appears sometimes in Grosvenor Road. He kindly turned on  that occasion to face the camera. Here he is considering, as would you or I, how best to cross the street.

Inspired by these examples I am making a collection of epithets applied, by those engaged in persuading us to buy more things, to particular products. For a start:
 plump and refreshing - blueberries.
 tropically sweet - pineapple.
 tangy and crisp - can't remember. But does it matter?

The sun this afternoon to picks out details of  furniture inside the rooms of  the houses which it penetrates through the windows. A discrete form of burglary. The details are remarkable for their gentle highlights - a lampshade here, there the back of a chair. For some reason I think of Vermeer.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

new year, 2000, far and wide

Posted by Picasa The last of the Christmas/New Year cards arrived well into 2011. It comes from our friend the Catalan artist Artur Duch. His take on the three kinds still makes laugh a little. It will go into my scrap book.

I failed to mention about a week ago that I had posted my 2000th blog about a week ago, which is I suppose something to celebrate, while what I should be celebrating is  still having so many amusing  and delightful things about which to blog.

Today is enlivened by a visit from my son, Toby, who divides his time nowadays between Sheffield and Paris. We enjoy the contrast through his anecdotes and the sense of energy which living in two place communicates to the more sedentary souls.

Friday, January 28, 2011

ladders, wrong, ok

Posted by PicasaTwo ladders and the shadow of a ladder.

"I didn't mean to call you up," says a very precise woman's voice when I answer the telephone this morning. There is that curious hiatus which sometimes occurs when a wrong number is called. It is prompted perhaps by a sort of curiosity, about whom is talking to whom, and even a fleeting desire to begin a conversation. Having recently dialled a wrong number myself, I am more than usually sympathetic. "I'm calling the Halifax Bank," says the voice. Unfortunately that piece of information leaves me with no openings. The Halifax Bank is something ,which  even if I had an identity crisis, I would still know for certain that I am not. So I have to concede that the number she is calling is the wrong number. Two voices return to the ocean of sound on which they float.

"The blood tests are fine, all the tests and the x-ray is OK. You can go home," says the A&E registrar at the Kent and Sussex Hospital. That is the good part of my four hour visit to the hospital. The bad part  is for Heidi who discovers  me keeled over on the floor yesterday morning and rings for the ambulance. I have had  no worrying symptoms apart from a sudden feeling of nausea following a streaming cold yesterday, and could only have been unconscious for a minute or two. The unexpected is at least interesting. The A& E department could not  be more efficient or kinder, and, although I have no book with me, I don't have time  to be bored. Another good part is the visit, just before we leave, from the hospital chaplain, a  gentle lady, who realizing that spiritual sustenance, is of little help just now, brings us a cup of tea. "I double up on these duties", she says. " And adds, gripping my wrist, "don't lose your faith.".

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

squirrel, sparrows, thought

Posted by PicasaToday's squirrel

As I sit by the window, outside in the misty rain sparrows chirrup in the hedge.

I am in Sutherland Road which leads from The Grove to Grosevenor Road. Suddenly I am struck by the odd, I suppose existential, thought that it is quite an extraordinary thing to be here on this day and at this moment. Whoosh, I think.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

repeat, connections, books

Posted by Picasa Whenever I walk up Mount Pleasant and pause by the traffic lights opposite the abandoned cinema, I often consider  taking, and sometimes do take, a repeat photograph of the pigeons, which now inhabit the upper storeys of the building. The broken glass of the windows presents not only a way in for the pigeons but a frame in which to profile them. I sometimes think that  I and the pigeons are probably the only creatures who will not welcome the demolition on the building when eventually it occurs.

As I make make my way through Sarah Bakewell's new  biography of  Montaigne, I find myself drawn into a web of strange connections. The book is called How to Live and sub-titled "A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer". The attempts are  summarised in chapter headings which draw on the essayist's observations, often quirky, often surprising and sometimes contradictory.. The answers draw on Montaigne's stoical and sceptical philosophy. They range from "Don't worry about death" to "Be convivial: live with others"; from "Be ordinary and imperfect" to "Wake from the sleep of habit";  from "Keep a private room behind the shop" to "Question everything";  from Do something no one has done before" to "Live temperately".
The connections which I have found are curious and may be revealing. When I chose Plutarch as a pseudonym and model for Now's the Time, I had not seriously begun to read Montaigne and I did not realize that Plutarch was his favourite writer and in some respects model. The more I read Montaigne now  the more I find in him attitudes which I have consciously or unconsciously seen evolve in myself. Before I started to read Montaigne I read nearly everything written by Flaubert, including much of his correspondence. It is Flaubert who writes of Montaigne: "Don't read him as children do, for amusement, nor as  the ambitious do, to be instructed. No, read him in order to live." I think that it was because of Flaubert that I began to read Montaigne. It is no coincidence that Sarah Bakewell's book begins with the reflection that much of the confessional habit found in 21st century blogging can be traced back to Montaigne's introspective style.

In Hall's bookshop I come across a big stack of  the little Penguin Classics which fit neatly into an envelope. I have taken to sending them to people instead of cards. Two titles chosen at random  testify to their variety: Boule de suif by Guy de Maupassant, perhaps the greatest of all short stories, and some recipes by Elizabeth David, the most distinguished of food writers, called I'll be with you in the squeezing of a lemon. At 30p each they cost less than the average post card but by and large are better value. I buy an armful, which I take home ready to bestow as tokens  of esteem or affection upon those I love.

Monday, January 24, 2011

sunset, danger, teeth

Posted by PicasaThe Grove at sunset.

In Hall's book a large American in the company of two women observes: "This is a dangerous place to bring me."

The other day I write to a friend that the tips of snowdrops are just beginning to appear. They are I say like little teeth. Just now I pop outside the front door to check whether they still stand up to the simile. I am not so sure. The buds have surfaces and now hang a little like the blossoms which they will become.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

puddle 2, bassett hound, apprentice

Posted by PicasaThe texture of a puddle where a drain is blocked in The Grove. Branches are reflected in the water beneath which the leaves lie as though embalmed.

In Mount Pleasant, I pass a basset hound, its nose to the ground. Its long ears trail on the pavement every time its head goes down. I find myself wondering  if the  fringes of its ears become worn and tattered like the bottom of my trousers sometimes when I forget to hitch them up.

In the hairdressers, I see a girl apprentice combing a long, auburn wig. The wig sits on a plastic head which has been set up  for practice on a chair in front of a mirror. I remark on this to my hairdresser friend Chris.  He tells me that when he was learning the trade, he once arranged a similar head, complete with a wig on his bed, where it lay on his pillow. He still remembers his grandmother's alarm on encountering the head when she came upon it unexpectedly.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

puddle, lucky, phones

Posted by PicasaOak tree in a puddle in the corner of The Grove where a drain has overflowed.

Chris who cuts what remains of my hair tells me that his Christmas dinner was almost eaten it its entirety by his dog, a whippet/collie cross. The dog leaped upon the loin of venison when backs were turned and the joint was waiting to go in the oven. We got there just in time. He ate only a inch of so  into it, about as much as we would probably have given him any way. "We heard some gulping noises," Chris says.  What bliss for the dog though!  For a few brief moments he must have thought: "this explains the fuss about Christmas."

In the shop a telephone rings. Still not used to my Blackberry. I clasp my hands to my pocket. "Is that mine" ? I say not with out a surge of hope because scarcely anyone has my mobile number. It turns out that it isn't mine. "These days phones seem to ring everywhere," says the shopkeeper. And he's right. I think of a universe where swarms of smart phones, having taken over Earth,  have started to explore interstellar space, ringing among the galaxies, as they go.

Friday, January 21, 2011

wall, photographer, hands full

Posted by Picasa"...and let him have plaster, or some loam, or some rough-cast about him to signify wall, and let him hold his fingers thus, and through that cranny shall Pyramus and Thisbe whisper..."

"May I take a photograph of you?" a young man, his pretty girlfriend by his side,  asks me as I walk through The Grove this morning. I have no objection and feel rather pleased that it is not I who is taking a photograph for a change. When I am out and about I seem to take one every few minutes. "What is the purpose of your photograph?" I ask as he unmasks his Nikon. "It is for a school project," he says while I compose myself as best I can. I nearly ask if I can take one of him, taking one of me. But I realize that it is not the sort of photograph I want to take. It surprises me that he asks me no questions. Not that I want to answer any. An encounter pleasant enough but easy to forget.

I pass a girl in Sutherland Road with a mobile phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. She frowns as she manages to tap into the mobile while she walks past and balance her coffee at the same time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

twilight, pie, crow

Posted by PicasaTwilight in the Grove where, at this time of year,  the few street lamps seem to hang from the bare branches of the trees, or else, like this one, reach up to touch them.

On a pub menu the words "pie of the week" reminds  me of an Australian colleague whom I haven't seen for many years. He told me about a local delicacy in Adelaide from where he came. This  is  a "pie floater" , a pie floating in a dish of gravy. I have never tried one but I sometimes think about it, as I do today.

From the train I see a large empty field and right in the middle of it a solitary crow, regal and self-sufficient and somehow noble.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

marmalade 3, mask, hope

Posted by Picasa In response to world wide demand here is the first jar of marmalade to be opened from this year's batch.

As I enter the alley which runs behind Mount Pleasant, a motor cyclist in a black helmet with a black visor which seems to incorporate smoked goggles, cruises past me, his engine idling. I am struck by the image of a mask with no vent for the eyes to see through. A blind motor cyclist!

It is after 4.30pm as I walk home. It is still daylight, the sky pink and eggshell blue. There is hope yet in this dark season.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

crow, help, frisby

Posted by Picasa The crow who usually holds court in The Grove is absent this morning. Instead I meet him on the curb in Grosevenor Road, waiting to cross.

Among the "lifestyle solutions" in a catalogue in the post to day is a pair spiked rubber devices to slip over your shoes which "help prevent broken bones, serious strains, pulled muscles and bruised pride."  There is also: a flexible workstation  for your laptop to cover your knees and keep your lap cool; an electronic cigarette , which looks and tastes like a real one and smoke which is "just water vapour".;  a grip to fit underneath rugs to stop them slipping; a device to extend a tight waist band by up to two inches; thermal socks  designed to prevent astronauts form the "cold of deep space"; your own private  portable urinal ... "for men and women";  a keyring which flashes and bleeps when you whistle; a spray to keep foxes away; and a puzzle roll made from clinging acrylic felt to allow jigsaws to be rolled up before completion without disturbing loose and fitted pieces.

A tall girl with blond hair and a blue jacket walks towards me in Calverley Ground. She is carrying a plastic lid or disk like a Frisbee.  It looks as though it has tooth marks on it, which give a hint of its purpose. She is accompanied by an athletic black dog of indeterminate breed. She throws the disk, which the dog bounds after and catches in mid air.

Monday, January 17, 2011

waiting, noises, labelling

Posted by PicasaFeet functional and neat wait on the brick pavement.

The early morning sound of a car passing  provides information about the weather. The hiss  of tyres on the tarmac forewarns that it has rained. In a couple of hours, when we will have had breakfast, the spring will have risen in the larder.

The marmalade is made. Yesterday I cooked the whole oranges. This morning, after draining the larder of water, and baking the loaves which were proving overnight, I slice the peel into  fine strips, add  the orange and sugar to the water and  bring the water to  a fierce boil.  The worst part of the procedure is checking to see if the setting point is reached. It always seems to take longer than it should. The best part is however applying the labels to the jars. I write out the name in full five times "Seville Orange Marmalade January 2011.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

reading 2, marmalade, bag

Posted by Picasa Another tablet drawing on the subject of reading from the archives.

The smell of marmalade cooking is almost better than the finished product. It is sometime since I have made any, but I  relish the process now taking place. To my mind there is no better method than the whole orange system recommended by Jane Grigson. You cook the  fruit in water for about one and a half hours until the skin pierces easily. Keeping the water ready for the next stage, you chop the cooked fruit as fine as your taste calls for.  To retain the pectin, you then put the pips in a muslin bag, which you tie to the side of the saucepan. And finally boil the marmalade until setting point is reached and it is ready for bottling.

A shopping bag woven of some glittery material has moved across The Grove in the last few days, as though taking a leisurely tour. First it was on top of a rubbish bin near the Sutherland Road entrance to the park. A day or so later it was hanging from high up in the branches of a tree, where doubtless some energetic young person had hurled it. Today it has descended and rests on top of the rubbish bin next to the Belgrove entrance 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

reading, clothes, monkfish

Posted by PicasaSome years ago I experimented, I thought unsuccesfully, with drawing on the computer screen. I used an early version of Paintshop I think, or one of those electronic pad devices. Trawling through the files this turned up. I am still not proud of; but not entirely ashamed of it either.

Clothes interest me and I am not ashamed to say that I enjoy them. And as, as I do this morning,  I pass the shop in Chapel Place which specializes in tweed jackets and waterproofs, boots and hats and all the paraphernalia of country culture, I feel,  a passing fancy for a garment, on account of its texture, its colour or its cut. I put it quickly out of my mind however with the thought that clothes often turn out to be, rather than providers of warmth and modesty, and a shield against prying eyes, a compensation for the inadequacy of our flesh.

"What's he doing?" says the small boy to his dad at the fishmonger's stall in The Pantiles Farmers' Market. "Mr Fishman is cutting off the head of the monk fish," says his father, "to make it look prettier."

Friday, January 14, 2011

late, arch, diversion

Posted by PicasaLate smoker.

A blackbird sits on the garden gate under the arch which I have shaped in the hedge opposite the front door. I think to myself, the arch took three years to grow, but we have provided a shelter, which has exceeded my original largely aesthetic objective.

Water has begun to rise in our basement a few hours after it has rained heavily. It is at present confined to the concrete floor of the larder in one corner of the kitchen, where it does no serious damage. The  question is where precisely does it come from? Meanwhile we take it in turns to sponge up the flow with absorbent cloths. After a while the flow ceases presumably as soon as the water table has lowered, and we can return to normality. In between mopping up duty, I occupy my mind with potential uses for the water? A well? A source of hydroelectric power, a foot bath or a swimming pool?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

smoking, East Enders, dripping

Posted by PicasaSmoking hand.

There have been a number of  complaints about the story line in the soap opera called East Enders set in the East End of London. Some readers objected to the episode in which a new born baby died in in its cot. What most upset them was that the distraught mother succeeded in substituting her child for a neighbour's child born at more or less the same time.  Strong stuff, but an old story if you refer to the account in Kings 1 Chap 3 of the two harlots in similar circumstances, who came before King Solomon, each claiming that the living child was hers. Remember how the king commanded a sword to be brought.
"And the king said, divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other. The spake the  woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it; she is the mother thereof. But the other said, let it by be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. Then the king answered and said, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.

Not raining today, rather dripping. The sort of English day  of which you might dream in the middle of a dessert.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

shopping, gulls,kudju

Posted by PicasaHands shopping at the market.

Above the rooftops I hear the cry of gulls, a sound that it is hard to separate from the sea. But seagulls venture inland more than  they used to, it seems. Here in Tunbridge Wells, it is the tip on the North Farm Industrial Estate, which seems to attract them rather than the sea and the fish in the sea or on the quayside.

What a wonderful thing is the blogosphere. This morning I read about  kudju in a comment on Barratt Bonden's blog Best of Now. What is kudju? It is an invasive weed imported into the USA from Japan. It has become rampant in the south eastern states, where it has earned a reputation as something difficult to eliminate. I would not perhaps have bothered to google the word, if it were not for the opening lines of a poem about the weed, quoted in Julia's comment. The poem is by Beth Anne-Fenelly  of whom I had read nothing before. Bur I am pleased to have remedied the omission. I have now read (or heard  the author read) the poem. I can't get the   image of the opening lines out of my head. So here it is again: "Kudju sallies into the gully like a man pulling up a chair where a woman was happily dining alone." No doubt about its presumptuous qualities.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

work, peeping, power

Posted by PicasaHands at work.

"Cold isn't it?"
"And  damp!"
"But the daffodils are peeping through". And indeed the first green shoots of the bulbs are emerging above the grass in The Grove.

There is a tree growing  out of the pavement close to a house near The Grove and to the wall by the front door. Its trunk is at least 9 inches in diameter. It is powerful tree because the wall is rising from the horizontal like a cat arching its back and is beginning to collapse at the corner where the trunk touches it. The brick pavement meanwhile has been forced upwards by the tree's roots to a form an uneven pyramid. Whoever lives in the house must be a lover of trees or someone who cares little for the house's foundations. Such power in the roots!

Monday, January 10, 2011

thinking, beautiful, bible

Posted by PicasaHand clasped in thought.

Today's beautiful thing is the baby of Clare Grant, now Clare Law, whom I meet with his parents in The Grove.  His name is Alexander, which has already been abbreviated to Alec. He is two weeks old.  I am no connoisseur of babies, but this one looks good to me, small and sleeping peacefully tucked up in his pram, snug as a bug in a rug, as the cold wind whistles around us. Clare devised the three beautiful things formula, which has now been  copied all over the world. It is good to note that the new person in her life has not impeded the production of daily posts on her blog, even though the majority of them are  now understandably baby oriented.

When you turn on the radio at the moment you invariably seem  to hear someone reading from the King James version of the Bible. It is to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of its  publication. Along side the works of Shakespeare,  the King James Bible  is  woven into the English language and among its greatest treasures. As far as I am concerned the more of these readings the better, and the longer they are the better. There can be few things more beautiful than rhythms of the wonderful words and phrases and the memories, tracking back to childhood, which they evoke. To say nothing of the stories and images so deeply imprinted in our imaginations.

My answer to Lucy Kempton's question "what do you see in the flames?" has now been posted on Compasses.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

legs, round, reflection

Posted by PicasaPart of a display of socks in Hoopers department store.

There is a black cat with a distinctive round face which lives in Sutherland Road. On a wall this afternoon it  blissfully curves its back into a semi-circle, while three people stroke it and pay court to it. They too, the courtiers, also have distinctive round faces.

I have noted this before at the present time of year. The wall of a house  at the entrancde to The Grove shows the reflection of a window facing it onto which the sun is shining directly. What I had not observed was that the reflection, despite the right angles of the window, has assumed a figure of eight shape with a cross in the middle caused by the cross bars of the window frame. On close examination I realize that the presence of  curtains behind the window glass has given curves to the reflected pattern, hence the figure of eight.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

booted, subversive, transparent

Posted by PicasaBoots and leg warmers which help me to identify Heidi without raising my eyes far from the ground.

Although I do not smoke, I do not endorse those whose puritanical hatred of the habit, exceeds the bounds of civility and moderation. Political correctness has always reeked of incorrectness to me, whose idea of freedom   may sometimes appear quite close to the subversive. So at any rate I feel this morning when I see a young man instructing a young woman in the art of inhaling. "Put in in your mouth", he says as she takes a cigarette, "and breathe in while you're doing it." It could of course have been marijuana, but the circumstances in the middle of a path in Calverley Ground, suggested tobacco. Either way I admit to a sneaking feeling of support  for such acts of rebellion.

Through the attic window of a house, I see from the road,  a skylight, and through the skylight, the sky. Two views for the price of one.

Friday, January 07, 2011

shoal, scrapbook, curls

Posted by PicasaThere is a tab at the top of boxes of tissues which you have to remove in order to gain access.  The resulting oval shaped gap allows the tissue to be pulled out one by one.  Much thought has gone into the design of these boxes. As with most packaging, I am convinced that such care and skill call, if not for appreciation, at least for some sort of recycling. Catarhh and other ailments have meant a more intensive use of tissues than usual  in the last few weeks. As a result I have the beginning of a shoal of fish. Here is one of the fish completed with the help of crayons.

My favourite magazine is The National Geographic. I savour the moment, which I sometimes postpone until I am in the right frame of mind, to open a new one; and to absorb in the most receptive spirit, the photographs and even the articles which I  only sometimes get round to reading. But what to do with the accumulation of back numbers? I am trying to wean myself of hoarding, and National Geographics are immensely hoardable and  seem to have a life of their, growing in stacks on shelves and in cupboards. Today I find a solution, brutal but satisfying. I go through back numbers with a pair of scissors and select photographs for my scrap book. The philosophy behind the scrap book is variety and randomness, and a remaining problem is what to select from the embarras de richesse which the magazine offers?  Too many animals, too much nature, and the book would lose it raison d'etre.  So only the most startling  and splendid  pictures must therefore succumb to my scissors. Today a whooper swan spreading its angel wings, standing on tip toe with its beak open, perhaps, in protest,  wins the accolade - an image to treasure. It remains to be seen, what it will find itself pasted next to in my book.

It begins to rain as I walk home through The Grove. "Ah my hair will  be curly. I don't want curly hair," says a woman to the man  with whom she is walking, as they hurriedly overtake me. She has an accent which emphasises her irritation. Her straight blond hair is shoulder length.  At the end of a lead is a white Pomeranian.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

encounter, green, recognition

Posted by Picasa Hands meet on a pub table.

My favourite green tea is called Genmaicha. It is flavoured with roasted grains of rice, which give it a toasty aftertaste, not far removed from the finish of some Champagnes, notably Bollinger. I don't have the opportunity to drink much Bollinger nowadays, but Genmaicha is a surprisingly successful substitute, with the added advantage that it clears the brain rather than fills it with delusions. There is a quality of refinement and simplicity about green tea, and I have found that the leaves, when reused, make as good, if not a finer, and  more comforting,  a drink. 

People tend to look much the same to me nowadays. My eyesight is still passable, but there is a tendency to homogeneity in their clothes and accessories, their voices and their gait. So when two young women in  anoraks approach me in Calverely Place with the words: "Hullo, how are you?" with emphasis on the "you", I am fooled into believing that they are acquaintances. "Hullo," I say trying to stress, because it declares my true state of uncertainty, the first rather than the second syllable of the word. Then I  realize that in fact I don't know them. Leaflets are flashed: "I'm Cherrie. We're from the Church of Jesus Christ". I am too old to be converted or even to discuss the possibility. They must be no strangers to rejection,  but I feel, as I take my leave, that I am saying goodbye to something disarmingly innocent, in a world which is far from innocent.