Tuesday, May 31, 2011

lunch, water, rubbish

Posted by Picasa The crow whom I call Mr Crow with  his lunch in The Grove.

As I attend to the pleasant task of constructing wigwams from bamboo poles for beans to climb over, I listen to the pleasant and satisfying sound of water scattered by the nozzle of a hose. I have fixed the hose into the handle of a spade which is angled to spray water  over the potatoes. For the moment I can think of no better company, except perhaps that of a blackbird which seems to be as pleased with the hose as I am.

The noise of the hydraulic devices which lift and empty wheelie bins into the rubbish collecting vehicle would tell me if I did not already know it, that it is Tuesday. It is a mixture of an anguished cry and a baritone bellow. Perhaps the sort of noise that might emerge from something huge and prehistoric. Would a dinosaur, I wonder, confronted by one of these machines, want to mate with it?

Monday, May 30, 2011

friends, deserted, butterfly

Posted by PicasaThese people are to be found on the fascia of Somerset House in London. I am not sure who they are or what they are up to, but one hopes, since they are permanently adjacent, that they are friends.

The garden next to the vegetable garden, where I have been spending a lot of  time in the last couple of weeks, is now deserted. Last year when the house was still occupied by a very old man it was merely neglected, kept just respectable. I rather like it as it is. The white flowers of bindweed clamber over shrubs that used to be cared for, and long grass rises from the paths once regularly mown. Dandelions flourish. Birds have their way there. I watch a young female thrush, making a meal of a cherry which has fallen into a bed of rampant leaves.The cherry must have been dropped by another bird, because the fruit have long her been stripped from the tree, long before it had ripened.. The thrush allows me to photograph her as she nibbles the cherry, dropping  and retrieving it from time to time, although I am no more  than four or five feet away.

Someone at The Compasses shows us a a Common blue butterfly which has settled on his hand. He allows me to photograph it. He draws attention to its dark colouration. It is almost purple. But he is certain that it is a Common blue. Not so common nowadays though. No butterflies are, at least round here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

valerian, bag, accepting

Posted by PicasaValerianella grows in profusion round here. It may once have been introduced as a garden variety but it has found itself  at home in the corners of walls and in cracks in concrete where  it thrives. What I didn't know  and only learn to day is that it is related to Valerianella locusta, lamb's lettuce or corn salad, which the French call mรขche. It is very different in appearance, lamb's lettuce having small leaves and even smaller flowers, but the reference in my flower book is born out by Petit Larouse.

As I approach Sainsbury's a transparent plastic bag is caught by the wind inflated and floats up in the air. It has is strange and half alive like the bag filmed by the young man in the film American Beauty. It's transparency gives it a sprite-like quality so that from moment to moment you doubt its existence.

"You'll have to tell him he'll have to accept him for who he is..." the words of a passer by disappear in the wind. They are all the more intriguing  for being incomplete.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

wild, plant-sitting, tarragon

Posted by PicasaA wild rose. My rose book has numerous similar varieties, too many for me to allow me easily to  identify this one, which appears in the front garden of a house in Grosvenor Road. Many, despite being described as wild, are like this one, cultivated. On the whole I think prefer these simple flowers to confectioned damasks, flroribundas,  rugosas and  hybrid teas. A rose is really more than just a rose.

A hydrangea and an agapanthus both in pots have joined the other plants in our garden while some neighbours are on holiday. We have become plant-sitters. Or put another way their plants have become boarders.

In the Farmers' Market today I find French tarragon. "Finer than Russian tarragon," I say to the plants man."  "I grew some Russian tarragon once," he says and nobody wanted it." I have some Russian tarragon which grew from seed, and which lacks the flavour of the French variety. They are similar to look at and have similar Latin names. The Russian is called Artemesia dracunculoides, and the French Artemesia dracunculus. The Russian is hardier and more resilient.  There is a good recipe for roast chicken stuffed between the skin and the breast with a mixture of French tarragon and parsley amalgamated with creme fraiche and butter.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Posted by PicasaOne of the Chinese artist, Ai Wai Wai's zodiac sculptures in the courtyard of Somerset House.

I take two plaice from the freezer and leave them to defrost in the kitchen. They are the last of batch of six which we bought from the Farmers' Market in the Pantiles at a good price. As they warm up, their skin, white, underside down on a dish, begins to shine and to reveal the upper pattern of orange spots on a browny gray background, at its most seductive.  It is this view that is designed to deceive overhead predators by its resemblance to the floor of the sea above which the fish swim. Like all understated colours this camouflage becomes more attractive the more you think about it.

Tufts of leaves have blown down from the trees in The Grove and lie scattered over the grass as though giant vandals have wondered among the trees striking  wantonly at the branches with poles.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

clematis, dry, space

Posted by Picasa In a neighbour's garden a newly opened white clematis like fine linen on display.

There have been several showers today, the first after a month of drought. I run out in the rain to see what it is doing for the garden. Under larger plants and shrubs, the soil is still dry, a few inches of powdery dust.

Most morning BBC Radio 4 keeps me company as I go about my chores. At 7.50 there is a slot called Thought for the Day, where people of different religions produce a homily or two. Only one regular contributor offends me, a woman who seems to be very sure that she is right all the time about everything. Her voice  has a confident stridency which persuades me that the best thing to do is switch off  the radio. I think to myself in the silence that follows: too much radio; too little space for calm contemplation. My thought for the day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

watching, short, swifts

Posted by Picasa Something moved.

"Short back and sides," says a neighbour passing as I supervise some fine touches being applied to the hedge by the hedge cutter. He said the same things last year and I dare say the year before.  And I hope he will say it again next year.

Sitting in the garden I hear the swifts shrieking before I see them in the space between the top of the hedge and the rooftops. They swoop and slice the air with their swept back wings. They are my favourite birds. I love them for their wildness and their  speed and precision, the sharpness of their turns,  their agility and deftness in avoiding collision. Summer is here. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

flying, sticks, still life

Two things flying over London.

Somebody threw away the pea sticks which I had carefully collected. There is nothing better than small branches pruned or fallen from trees for garden peas to climb over.  Fortunately rough winds have shaken the darling buds of May, and sticks blown down from various trees are scattered beneath them. The Lord taketh away and the Lord giveth. I wander about like a medieval peasant gathering the bounty. The pea plants are waiting in the greenhouse. I have given up planting the seeds where they will eventually grow. Too often the seeds have been eaten by mice, or so I am told.

I sit in  the sun and listen to the wind. Above me the branches of the lime tree swing in the wind as through trying to work loose. The bracts of the winged seeds ( I suppose the tree's fruit) are already in evidence. Their cream-colour contrasts with the fresh green of the leaves. In the wind the leaves and bracts tremble in constant movement. In a space between them I can just see the white breast of a pigeon.  The pigeon amid all this movement is quite still.

Monday, May 23, 2011

platform, thrushes, green

Waiting for the train.

While working in the vegetable garden I hear a noise behind me. A sort of chattering disturbs the peace. I turn to see two male thrushes fighting on a patch of grass. They fly up in the air and land and fly up again, confronting one another, all a flutter. Hormones I suppose.

Sitting in the sun I extract a bag of Moroccan mint tea from the steaming mug in front of me. I note the bright green of the re-hydrated mint inside the mesh before discarding the bag. Verde que te quiero verde., as Garcia Lorca chorused. Green, how much I want you, green. But there again tea made with fresh mint leaves is still better than the dried stuff.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

lunch, auntie, trees

Posted by PicasaBlackbird on telephone wire with lunch for offspring carefully chopped for easy transport.

 Solicitous, middle-aged man to the woman with whom he is drinking coffee outside the Italian delicatessen, Arte Bianca. She is trim and slightly his senior.  "I was somewhat embarrassed when I introduced you as my auntie last night. I hope you didn't mind." "No, I'm getting older."

Through the gap  where The High Street bends to join The London Road, you can see, from the corner of Mount Sion, the tree clothed Common on the other side of London Road.  It rises steeply, branches swaying and leaves shimmering in the breeze. The trees which   follow the upward slope of The Common  tower above the four storey building which houses a car showroom. The constant movement of the leaves makes the building at present enmeshed in scaffolding appear lifeless and redundant.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

cormorant, scoffing, bag

Posted by PicasaFrom Hungerford Bridge between the South Bank and Waterloo Station  I spot a cormorant.

Today in The Pantiles it is the first day of a food festival which seems to have merged with the regular Pantiles Farmers' Market. The sun combined with fruit and vegetables and cooking smells brings the people out to play. Groups stand around with paper plates and plastic forks and spoons scoffing. Or sit on the wall, drinks in hand. Dogs look hungrily up at them. The restaurant tables are packed with people who seem to be overflowing in their chairs, abundant, indulgent, conspicuous.

In the convenience store a man buys a can of beer. "May I have a bag?" he says. "I'll have to start charging  you for it," says the shopkeeper.  it seems the customer is a regular offender.  The shopkeeper hands over a small plastic bag, in its folded state no bigger than a pocket handkerchief. "There," says the customer, "I'll give you 5p, the same as Marks & Spencer."  He walks off leaving the 5p on the counter. Offended the shopkeeper ignores the coin, until as though tidying up,  he picks it up and does with it what shopkeepers do with coins.

Friday, May 20, 2011

now and then, poppy, fruit

Posted by Picasa Dandelion bud and flower.

In our garden, a white poppy opens in the sun and almost at the same time as the petals unfurl, three... four bees arrive to take advantage of its opulence.

On the counter in Hall's bookshop a wicker tray of various fruits presents a vivid contrast to the faded understatement of second hand books on shelves and tables. People, including myself, cannot withhold their curiosity. "An eccentric customer left it," says the young man in charge, "he said 'help yourself'' so help yourself". "I'd love a tomato," says an elderly lady, may I take one?"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

bud, watering, sawdust

Posted by Picasa Promise.

I hold the hose over the broad beans, lettuces, and newly sown seeds and hope that the water is reaching down through the dust. But a scratch with the hoe shows that it  remains on the surface like rain on a mackintosh. To make sure that it gets through I count to 40 as I hold the hose above a batch of six  plants. It is tedious standing there, but I try to imagine new roots welcoming the water, and the dust turning soft and muddy.

There is a variety of rowan tree which has similar flowers to the more common red berried variety but berries of a cream colour.  There is such a tree on the corner of Belgrove. Its flowers are shedding their pollen at  the moment. Drifts of it lie on the brick pavement like sawdust.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

peeling, sawdust, elder

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Paint peeling does not necessarily appeal, but think of the frame as a careful composition and it may capture your imagination.

From the train I see a field of buttercups, and I think of The Field of the Cloth of Gold, the young Henry V111 and the French king Francois 1 attempting unsuccessfully to settle their differences, with a show-off party. I remember a photograph which I took of my children when they were little more than babies sitting among buttercups. Sad to say the bright yellow in the photograph eventually faded to a drab ochre.

It is now the  season of elder flowers. Their white saucer shaped inflorescence's fly over hedgerows and hover at the edge of woods and walls. In The Englishman's Flora,  Geoffrey Grigson writes: "The Elder grows like a weed, it does not live to a great age, its young stems are not strong, it stinks yet produces  sweet smelling flowers, and sweet, if cloying elderberries. It makes effective medicine and poor timber, it is neither bush nor tree, neither bad nor entirely good." He goes on to report that elder must not be burnt. If you put it on the fire, you will see the Devil sitting on the chimney pot, or else the Devil will come down the chimney. If you dislike most elderberry and elder-flower recipes, Grigson says, try elder-flower pancakes from Austria - circlets of blossom  held by the stem, dipped in batter, fried and eaten with sugar. They are, he says, "fragrant as pods of vanilla".

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

shadows, shard, animation

Shadow of the photographer with bollard.

In recent train journeys to London I look forward to seeing the progress of the building called The Shard between London Bridge and Waterloo East stations. Every day the glass and steel building rises higher around the central concrete core which must contain the lift shaft. The building when finished will be shaped like a glass shard curving up against the skyline.

From the luggage rack in the train to Tunbridge Wells the sleeve of a jacket hangs down and the strap of a suitcase behind it. There is a button on the sleeve which is done up and the cuff gapes open so that it looks like a mouth. The sleeves seems to be animated, nodding up and down as if it is in perpetual agreement with something.Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 16, 2011

architecture, Tunbridge Wells, gulls

Shadow of architecture on tarmac in Little Mount Sion  where the road widens opposite the TOC H hall.

They serve coffee at the local food shop called Pigwidgeon & Pye on the corner of Mount Pleasant Road. If you sit outside, it is a pleasant place to watch people and traffic at the cross roads, but far enough away not to be stifled by fumes. It is a terrible name to remember and get your tongue round, but it  works perhaps for that very reason.  If people say "that shop at the top of the town with a funny name",  often enough someone will come to write it down and pronounce it properly. As the local Tunbridge Wells blogger, Ankeblog says the coffee isn't too bad either.
The blog, the work of a devoted Twellian called Christopher Cassidy has according to the local paper been reporting on the finer points of Tunbridge Wells for six years. He has recently reviewed the coffee shops in the town and, as I sit in front of my Americano and croissant, I reflect that what is missing about coffee shops here, and indeed in the country as a whole, is being able to sit down at a table, order your coffee from a waiter and pay before you leave. That is the custom in all the European countries that I have visited. Here you have to pay first and, in some cases, collect your coffee and take it to the table. Is this because the public is mistrusted?   Do they think we'll drink our coffee and do a runner? Or do staff costs prohibit service? I like to ask myself such questions sometimes, remembering my days as a journalist, when I could ask it print with a hint of acidity if not outright  indignation. Perhaps Anke could campaign on behalf of honest Twellians for a coffee shop with service.

A few days ago I thought I heard the cry of seagulls above the voices of children playing in The Grove. Seagulls visit the town, I am almost certain, because of the attractions of the tip in the North Farm Estate. But I could have been mistaken that time I thought. Not this morning when I am woken by an unmistakable squalling such as you hear usually by the sea particularly when a fishing boat is around. Am I dreaming ? I ask myself. Or am I waking up with sea outside the window? No such luck. But it is the sort of wild sound that I like to hear.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

timer, robin, repetition

Dandelion clock with bluebells.

A robin is making a huge din in a cherry tree. I watch its throat rippling in time with the trills. As I step back to photograph it, I think of how often robins have flown  down to exploit me while I turn the soil, and here am I exploiting the little bird's brave and vocal defence of its territory.

Of course I repeat myself in this blog. Every year I find myself noting the same buds and flowers birds and animals. Every year though there is, I hope, a variation in what I see and in the way I describe or comment on it. Sometimes it is a fallen leaf from a tree which takes my fancy on  the pavement, perhaps the same patch of pavement. But I have an idea that there will still be differences in the way it lies; and if not in its posture then in mine.  "I grow old, I grow old, I wear the bottom of my trousers rolled" but rolled differently and may be  they are different trousers.Then there is the opportunity, not yet taken to have rows and rows of the same photograph lined up, like an Andy Warhol series of prints. The seasons repeat themselves and birds singing the same notes learn the same songs from their parents.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

pigeons, seeds, window

Two scruffy pigeons on a rusty parapet.

Pink and green winged seeds are clearly visible on a maple where they hang like bunches of keys; and we are not yet half way through May.

In a window a grey-haired woman looks out on the world. In her hand a mug from which she takes a sip.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

corner, release, allium

In the corner of a farmyard.

After a month of enforced idleness there is a welcome release of energy when  today I resume familiar chores in the garden, especially  hoeing, weeding and earthing up between the potato rows, a usually tedious job.

The star-shaped florets of alliums (ornamental members of the onion and garlic family) are opening slowly, and beginning to contribute to the purple globes of the flower heads which are promised. I planted the bulbs in the Autumn which, at the other end of the long winter seems, now seems to be in the remote past. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

rose, blueberry, office

Sunlight through rose petals.

 I feel a strange spherical object in the pocket of my dressing gown. It turns out to be a blueberry. How does it get there? I am in the the habit of preparing our breakfast fruit, before taking cups of tea upstairs, first thing in the morning. The blueberry must have jumped off the kitchen work surface into my pocket.

On the platform a working girl is talking into a mobile telephone. It is clear that she is offering public relations advice. After a while she concludes her conversation and walks down the platform while she makes a new call. "I took an executive decision," she  is saying. "I've written the cards..." The world is her office.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

horse, sympathy, frogs

Horse chestnuts have already flowered and shed their blossom. But here's a memorial to the early spring.

Words come into fashion and like fashion their use fades. One of the words,  that I hope will quickly fade is  empathy. What's wrong with sympathy? Empathy seems to me to be little more than an overstatement of sympathy. It is sympathy pressed home and screwed tight. It is  intrusive, invasive. presumptive. Sympathy is what I want when in need of support. It  is politer  than empathy and keeps its distance. So if so inclined please think sympathy rather than empathy.

Every now and then I enjoy the catalogues which come through the post and which allow a vicarious enjoyment of items for which I have no need and  not the least desire to possess.  Top of today's list is a solar-powered frog. "At nightfall it emits a warm, gentle glow that lasts for up to 8 hours... It is made with a Tiffany-effect construction and like their real-life counterparts, they'll happily withstand the weather all the year round." I would order one today, but for our garden gnomes, who would find such a new arrival unacceptable and undoubtedly have a right of veto.
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Monday, May 09, 2011

alkanet, noise, tranparency

One of my flower books describes alkanet, an introduced perennial, as rare. It isn't rare round here. It seems to grow almost everywhere, sending its roots deep into the soil. Despite its lovely blue flowers it can be unwelcome in the flower and vegetable garden. The plant is native on the west coast of France and in the Iberian peninsula.

From within the lime tree opposite our house this afternoon comes an angry scream repeated with increasing intensity. All sorts of noises come from the tree - the flapping of pigeon wings, the song of blackbirds and starlings, and various tits, but this is the voice of one of the ubiquitous grey squirrels which inhabit the neighbourhood.

The deep red rose which I think may be called Copenhagen, has enormous blooms this year, perhaps in some way linked to  the cold winter and early spring. This afternoon I watch the sun light illuminate the flowers from behind. The  transparent, back lit  petals seem  to be  alive.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

petal, scone, white

The parrot tulips are finished. But the  fallen petals  make even better subjects for photographs.(Click for whole picture).

Outside a cafe a man with a ruddy complexion and a white beard  sits in front of a cup of tea. He is visibly enjoying a scone, his jaws moving rhythmically as he watches passers-by.

A white wisteria climbs the red brick wall of a house near The Grove. Because I always think of wisteria as blue, this variety has a special appeal.  It is  a surprise. Though it looks well established, I don't remember seeing it before The tresses hang from the branches with a special elegance. I think of the white garden at Sissinghurst  Castle where flowers and leaves are all white and silver against a background of green.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

heron, bowling, ice cream

Posted by PicasaI have seen this heron before on the lake opposite Groombridge Place. Today, aiming my camera a little ahead of its flight path, I capture its graceful progress over the water.

There is an open day at The Grove Bowling Club. I have never played bowls, but I enjoy learning the bowling action. You keep  the bowl low so that it touches the ground just ahead of where you dispatch it. Allowing for the bias to left or right, the object is for your bowl to stop as close as possible to the jack. The gentle action and follow-through in the line of your arm, and aiming, allowing of course for the bias, to left or right, is deeply satisfying.

Heidi treats me to an ice cream from Juliet's in the High Street. We sit on a bench with a cornet each, like a couple of children, and watch shoppers go past.

Friday, May 06, 2011

philosophy, punishment, swinging

Posted by PicasaNoted in a Groombridge bus shelter.

If you want to punish someone tell him how you are when he asks.

A woman bars my path without warning as she turns to look at a shop window. "I swung the wrong way," she says with a laugh.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

conversation, labrador, scary

Sandals and trainers.

 In a field on the far side of a stream a youthful  black Labrador looks game to come across  and join us. "Keep out of the water Brian, " shouts it owner. "He thinks you've got a dog," says the owner  to us. Simultaneously I think to myself: Funny name for a dog. Couldn't be very bright if he can't see or smell that we have no dog. Rather insulting if Brian only wants to cross the stream in pursuit of an imaginary dog, rather than  simply to make our acquaintance. 

A photograph of a praying mantis takes up the whole of the double page spread in today's Independent. If this were a still from a science fiction horror movie it could  not be more scary: the heart shaped head; little lidless;  probing pair of antennae,  front legs waving in the air, middle pair of legs emerging from its round, green abdomen and back legs stretched out behind. Imagine a planet where insects were the dominant and most intelligent race.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

roof top, garlic, solitary

Posted by PicasaRoof top parade (click for full view).

In Groombridge to day, beside the path opposite Grombridge Place, I note the white flowers, Allium leaves and distinctive smell of ramsons or wild garlic; and later in quite a different habitat in the corner of a farmyard,   the different white flowers and broad nettle-like leaves of Jack by -the hedge, also known as hedge garlic or garlic mustard.  It is not a member the genus Allium, but if you rub the leaves together they smell of garlic. According to ancient herbals it can be used in salads and has been recommended served boiled with mutton.

From the bus I see in the middle of a cricket field a solitary crow. It strikes me that almost every time I pass the spot there is a crow there. Or perhaps there is often one there and I do not think about it when one is absent. But I have long noticed the way a crow seems to take sole possession of a field, when seen from a passing bus or train, as though it is its landlord on the look out for intruders.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

colloquy, police, ice

Under the table.

In Chapel place two youthful  community policemen, stop to caress a cat, which winds itself round their legs.

On a bench in the sun a young woman sits with a chocolate icecream on a stick. She hold the ice in front of her to stop the drips falling on her clothes. She might also be admiring it or presenting it as an offering. For a moment as I pass I think that I might take it from her.

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