Monday, April 30, 2012

orchid home crowds

Early purple orchid. Confined largely to the town I do not often have the chance to see  the wild flowers of hedgerow and woodland. This one gives me the same sense of the wild as  the rare sight of a fox or heron.

Heidi is home to day. Still uncomfortable after her operation but chipper. We walk out on  the pavement and brave oncoming pedestrians. She has my arm and one crutch. She mustn't bend over but has me and one of those  lever operated clamps on  the end of stick  with which  she she can pick up objects which she has dropped on to the floor.

On my way home I enter the concourse of Charing Cross Station to find it packed like a giant tin of biscuits.  There has been a "fatality" in the Chelsfield area. Chelsfield is a station on the way to Tunbridge Wells In front of the announcement board people are lined up side by side, their heads  angled backwards in the hope of  seeing a reference to  their trains. But nearly every panel has a cancelled sign. Suddenly over the  loudspeaker  comes a standard announcement: "Customers are reminded that skateboarding is not allowed." An ironic snicker runs through the crowd. If only there were room.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

dandy wild water

Dandy dandelion, the essence of dandyness.

Walking up  the long, wood-fringed drive to the place where Heidi is recovering from her operation is a delight. A shower seems to bestow greater clarity on the birdsong. There are bluebells - English bluebells as distinct from the larger, paler blowzier Spanish bluebells which are common where I live - among the trees, and, on the verge wood anemones, bugle, lesser celandine, primroses, violets in abundance, and a patch of orchids which I have identified as early purple. And dandelions of course, which should never be taken for granted.

Out comes the sun this afternoon after the rain. Water is still running in the gullies beside the paths in The Grove. It plops and gurgles into the grills of a drain. A sound like a mountain stream,  but far, too far from the moors and mountains, for which suddenly I find myself longing.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

open parrots reminders

Opening time on the horse chestnut tree.

All winter long the parrot tulips which I planted in  the Autumn have been gathering strength for the spring. But what spring? Gradually and reluctantly they have opened their scaly, green buds to find  only steady rain, at best showers. Their red petalsbvopen they seemed to be asking, how do we close again?

On the radio I hear an entry for a design competition. It is a scented walking stick. It is intended for dementia sufferers who apparently invariably lose weight because they forget to eat. The stick is designed to release food smells at prescribed times to make them hungry. It reminds me that the smell of food indeed sharpens the appetite.

Friday, April 27, 2012

portrait old boys tract

Abstract drawing in which I am become increasingly interested, is more difficult than one imagines. This isn't a drawing,  though it could be. It is a photograph of a pattern that has appears on one of the  panels beneath the parapet of the road bridge next to the station. The stanchions which form the panels are like frames and the space between them are blank canvases on which weather, graffiti and pollution interact to create their art.

In the bar of The Bloggers Retreat (usually empty) when I arrive, five old boys are sitting with pints of Kingfisher in front of them. They all wear the same tie with obliquely angled stripes between which there is some sort of insignia. They happen to be comparing their ties which though of  the same design appear to be of different vintages.  They, on the other hand, are of the same vintage. They are in their seventies, a vintage with which I can readily identify. For the most part they wear blazers and flannel trousers, though one is wearing a somewhat seedy suit - a suit which I surmise is not worn regularly. Lorenzo da Ponte for whom I am waiting arrives at more or less the same time as a sixth old boy. Though part of the reunion the newcomer is not wearing the same tie. Lorenzo, of the same vintage, is unimpressed by their dress which doesn't tally with his idea of establishment figures. Or are they just tidily  shabby in the way that English people like to be as they grow older?  We soon lose interest in them however. There is metal more attractive about which to talk.

In the train a woman sits opposite me. She has a  tablet computer with her to which she quickly refers before producing a copy of the British Medical Journal. It is a publication which I have never read.  Now I know why. As she leafs through it, my eye comes to rest on the front cover.  Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms, says the headline. There are other topics which rouse my curiosity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

beware gold courting

One of the more mysterious of road signs. What does it signify? "Danger low flying motorbikes" is one suggestion.

Sudden downpours drive me to take a taxi from the place where Heidi is recovering from her operation. The driver has a gold ring in his left ear. Before long he tells me that he comes from Kalgoorlie in West Australia.  He was a gold miner. To be precise he used to  drive a dump truck in a gold mine. He loved the work and misses it.  He has been living in England for four years, and is not a little homesick. What keeps you here? I ask. "My wife isn't quite ready for the move," he says.  "What do you miss most?"  "The thick layer of red dust you find on your car in the morning," he says.

The pigeons which have been sitting  calmly on the parapet of the house opposite  during the winter have suddenly realized that it is spring. Courting time has come and  today male vigorously pursues  female through rain and sun.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

blackbird fortunate demographics

Blackbird again. The secret is to stand very still and aim the camera slowly when the bird is close.
I can never resist a photograph. Is that the blackbird talking? Or me?

Drifts of conversation  tantalising glimpses of longer stories, from people  you pass in the street always intrigue. "Fortunately he's a very positive, cheerful person," says an elderly lady to another, "or I wouldn't still be with him."

The empty supermarket building next to the railway station is in business again. When the Morrison chain bought Safeway which used to own the site, they closed it down. Pressure from the Council and the town's member of parliament has persuaded Morrison's to reopen rather than leave the site the vacant eyesore which it has been for nearly 10 years.  The new store say the owners is specially designed to meet the requirements of Tunbridge Wells.  What does that mean? Posh and expensive one supposes.  As I walk back, I meet some neighbours. "Ah", they say  "it's good that they have taken note of the demographics."

Monday, April 23, 2012

snake rude sparrows

Urban snake with graffiti.

Is it rude for a visitor  to examine the titles of books on his hosts shelves? The question arises while discussing a passage in Lorenzo da Ponte's current  work in progress. A character asserts that it is rude. Where Da Ponte himself stands I am not quite sure. When I am a guest in someone's house I make a point of looking at the  book spines lined up on shelf, and would not dream of doing otherwise. It has never occurred to me to avert my eyes. If books are displayed surely they are there so that their titles may be scanned. If not they should be hidden in a cupboard.  Is it rude to look at pictures on the walls? To make judgements not asked for could in some circumstances I agree be rude. When people visit my house I am often disappointed if my bookshelves are ignored. Apart from reading them I like to talk about books, and books ignored could be a conversational opportunity lost. I suppose the builder who a few months ago while talking to me in my study remarked, "you've got a lot of books," might have  been accounted rude by some particularly when he went on to ask "How many have you read?" But not accounted rude by me.  It was a  natural question  from a natural man whom I hold in the highest respect.

Did I mention the sparrow tree? There is a holly tree in the garden of a house next door to The Grove. It is nearly always a-twitter with sparrows. Usually you can hear but not see them. This Spring however  they are a fluttering all round the tree as well as a-twittering.  Today they fly on to the branches of the oak next door and down on to the grass. Sparrows are supposed to be declining in numbers. Not so here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

pack slogans fruit

This pack caught my eye behind the wire marking the boundary of a tennis court. I'm not sure that I need to say any more. I like it uncommented on.

Slogans continually fascinate for their vacuity and loose grip on meaning.  I  imagine with a sort of schadenfreude the meetings at which they are agreed.   How about this for example. In anticipation of the coming Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections, the slogan on the Conservative leaflet, which comes through the door to day,  perhaps optimistically proclaims Towards Tomorrow. Labour's slogan doesn't beat about the bush: New Council Needed!  Turn the page over and just in case, they might lose ground, they have added A 21st Century Tunbridge Wells? Note the question mark.
With so many shops closing down I have become accustomed to the apocalyptic Everything Must Go. In moments of inattention it is easy for the mind to shift from the specific to the general when confronted by such slipshod use of the gerund. I leave you for the moment with Argos chain's offering: "Living for less".

For those who commented a couple of posts back on shoes hanging from trees and telephone wires I believe I reported here a year so so ago  no fewer than four trees in The Grove each of which hugged in its top branches a football. Meanwhile, on a less frivolous note, at the back of my mind I hear again the voice  (and who can forget it or the words) of Billie Holiday who first recorded Strange Fruit the protest song about lynching in 1939  " ...Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees... .

Saturday, April 21, 2012

gloves wisteria soundscape

Gloves look so alive. They are almost animate. These are my gardening gloves. They  long for the feel of earth between their fingers.

Outside the study window a fat pigeon sits among the leaves feeding on wisteria buds.

A moving review of a booked called The Great Annual Orchestra by Bernie Krausse is in Thursday's Independent. It concerns soundscape, "the concerto of the natural world". The reviewer, Michael McCarthy , speaks of his surprise when he became aware, on a spring day in the Norfolk Broads, "of a whole layer of aural existence of which I had been sublimely ignorant."  Two discoveries he says, stand out for him in the book. The first is that  every organism has a unique sound signature, however minute.  The second is that in nature's symphony everything fits together: organisms fit together to use unoccupied sound channels of time, loudness or frequency, so that they do not drown each other out in a cacophony (Krausse calls this 'niche discrimination'); instead they form a collective voice, "the acoustic harmony of the wild)".
 Much to think about now. I must away soon to Amazon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

shoes forget-me-nots lamb

Looking  up in Calverley Ground,  I see these shoes  suspended from the branches of what I will always in future think of as the shoe tree.

Forget-me-nots, (mystotis is the gardeners' name), grows everywhere in the vegetable garden. Is it presumption or are they bestowing an honour. Two plants have taken perilous root even on top of  the 6 ft high brick wall that borders the garden. Look what I can do, they say.

One word stays with me as I pass a couple in conversation. The word is "mint sauce", or is it two words? I do not like the old fashioned, vinagary mint sauce that used to be served with lamb. But I suddenly have an overwhelming appetite for roast leg of lamb, pink and spiked with garlic and with anchovies inserted into the flesh. And mint sauce. Yes but a modern one, sweetened and perhaps moderated with yogurt like an Indian mint sauce.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

purslane nuts steam

All through the winter this garden variety of purslane has flourished in a wide pot under our hedge where herbs seem to do so well.  It has a pretty leaf and white flowers.  Used as a salad its leaves have a gentle spicy flavour. Wild varieties are reputedly more astringent.  Cultivated purslane deserves to be used more often  nowadays as a salad as it used to be in the past.

I do not tire of watching squirrels.  This one is digging up a nut which it produces from the grass and begins to nibble, rotating it with its paws like a piece of wood on a lathe. After a while it stops aware of me watching. Understandably it doesn't like being watched while it is eating. I  continue to watch it though as it reburies the nut and scampers off. I was never certain whether it is true that squirrels bury nuts for future use. Now I know that they do.

After the rain the sun comes out. Steam rises from the canvas cover of a car parked by the roadside.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

horse chestnut pump dandelion

Floppy early  leaves and budding flowers of the horse chestnut.  A nasty bug is eating away at the trees in this part of the world. By midsummer the leaves become mottled and curl up brown at the edges. Some of the trees have been cut down. So far this  one survives. But the leafless outer branches are worrying.

To stop our larder flooding an automatic pump has been installed. After heavy rain last night and this morning, the water level in the sump sprang it into action, for the first time. The pump makes a noise like an angry telephone. It could be irritating but is music when  you consider the alternative chore of squeezing absorbent mats into a bucket on hands and knees. The water is sucked up through a narrow tube and disappears into the filaments of a cable no wider than an electric cable which leads to an outside drain.

As ever at this time of year I stop to admire  a mighty dandelion plant. It always grows in the same place - a stony area in front of a terrace house. Its leaves and flowers are twice the size of  most dandelions. It could almost  have been cultivated for a competition. Few people like dandelions regarding them as weeds but they have their uses as well as their fine if brash looks. Blanched the leaves make good salad. But beware their alternative use as a diuretic. The French name gives the game away. Piss en lit. I have always assumed that the derivation of our name for the plant which refers to the shape of the leaves is the French (again) dent de lion, lion's tooth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

still stepping curtains hip

Mr Crow again, another step forward.

Mid afternoon. Bright sunshine. I look up to see closed curtains behind an open sash window. The wind blows through the window swelling the curtain. There lurks a story.

Ring the hospital which Heidi enters this morning. The operation behind her she has a new hip. Her other hip was replaced four years ago. She sounds spry and content. I will see her  this evening

Monday, April 16, 2012

step cloud correction

You can have your goosestep, crowstep is  a wee bit less aggressive.

From the train cumulus and  cumulonimbus clouds mount above London volatile at the edges gilded with sunlight. Tattered lower-altitude clouds cross moving more quickly but not as quickly as the train I'm on.

In the playground a three year old corrects his mother. "Not 'I'm here,' I'm 'ere".

Sunday, April 15, 2012

shelter nibble no hands

Apart from the effects of weather on paintwork, plaster  and metal objects, graffiti can also sometimes have an almost hallucinatory effect on the eye. Hazard in the first case. In the second intention augmented by hazard. I have photographed this graffito in a wooden Groombridge bus shelter before as well as, quite recently, its neighbour on a panel in the same shelter. Time has mellowed it. Discovered by an archaeologist a millennium from now it would seem a miracle.

In The Grove this afternoon, I watch squirrels. Nibble, nibble nibble. Their little paws hold a nut to their mouth which, as they deftly rotate it, they chew at speed as though it is about to be snatched away.Their eyes seem fixed in concentration though it is likely that they are also on the look out for dogs or humans. It strikes me that there is something manic about them.  Some human beings behave like that when money is at stake.

Someone is walking behind me deep in conversation. He is on his own. He walks quickly, his arms swinging loosely by his side. Wires descending from his ears give the game away. He is on the phone. I look carefully but cannot see a microphone in the collar of his jacket.It must be somewhere.  A few years ago before mobile phones became common place he would be considered off his head. Even now their is something mad about his animation given the absence of a  visible object mechanical or living at which it could be directed.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

peeling stride automatic

Paint peeling.

From the train I watch a man stride purposefully across a large, otherwise empty field, bright green with new grass.

In a car park as the driver leaves his VW Passat drop head, its roof automatically rises and assembles itself motivated by separate by linked hydraulic operations. A pleasure to watch. Like a bird settling down and folding its wings at leisure.

Friday, April 13, 2012

eye shard ducklings

 Eye of a greyhound.

As the train  follows the curves  of the rails out of London Bridge towards Waterloo East I peer out  to see the progress of the shard-shaped steel and glass building know as the shard. The sharp point at the top pierces the grey, rain-laden sky. It is nearly complete. A crane still projects to the right just above its highest point to put finishing touches to the structure.

At the top end of the town opposite  the high point of The Common an expanse of grass separates The London Road from the row of houses which includes the restaurant called Thackaray's where the novelist once lived. On the grass two women are taking photographs of two ducklings, which run about in front of them and peck at the grass.  What are duckling doing in the middle of Tunbridge Wells? "They are mine", says one of the women. "I brought them to work with me today. I am just giving them an airing." She points to the larger of the two birds: "That one's an Aylesbury. I am not sure what the other one is."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

reflections hail evolution

Daffodils reflected in a stream.

A bank of purple cumulus appears over the garden this morning though the sun is still shining. There is a flash of lightening and a roll of thunder. Pearls glinting in the sun fall from the sky and lie on the ground before melting.

Time and weather can transform  inscriptions and artifacts so that something quite new often occurs originally unintended and now to be taken for granted. No better example of this kind of alchemy is to be found in  Victor Hugo's description of the  Parisian restaurant, frequented by rebellious students, called Corinth  in Les Miserables. The owner is a cook whose signature dish (to use a current term) is carpes farcies, stuffed carp. He calls the dish carpe au gras, fat carp, but cooks better than he can spell, so paints a sign which reads carpes ho gras. Time and rain take their toll.  "In the winter  heavy showers of rain take a fancy to efface the "s" which ends the first word and the letter "g" which begins the third. Hence a modest gastronomic announcement becomes 'carpe horas' " a variation of Horace's more profound Carpe Diem, seize the day. Seize the hour, meanwhile, Hugo points out,  has the added advantage of serving the original purpose of the notice, which contains the simple message, "Come into my restaurant."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

accuracy turquoise box

Got it wrong I think.
In the sunshine the black feathers of a magpie's tail glow with a turquoise sheen.
Hall's is not disposed to display books in French. Sabrina, the proprietor doesn't see the point of them. But staff and customers have prevailed. Beneath the central table, where newly arrived volumes are displayed, is a cardboard box. Readers of books in French are well advised to investigate. Today I find a Petit Larouse - a combined dictionary and encyclopedia, which no household where French is important should be without. I already have one, but having been driven  on one or two occasions recently  to carry it upstairs and then take it back  to its home downstairs, I am tempted to invest in another, one for upstairs, one for down. If invest is the word. Sabrina is as generous in disposing of her French stock as she is reluctant to conserve it.

Monday, April 09, 2012

redwood automoton peace

California redwood, sequoia, wellingtonia  call it what you like it is tree to make your heart beat faster. There are four in front of Groombridge Place. I seldom fail to stand beneath them and look up and up.
Framed by the first floor window of the Pilates Gyrotonic Centre above the car show room  in the London Road, the upright torso of a track suited woman rises and falls and her arms moves backward and forward, as though she is marching. It has the hypnotic effect of watching an automaton.

In Victor Hugo I come across the Latin proverb, Si vis pacem para bellum. If you wish for peace prepare for war. It is easier to call yourself a pacifist as I do now, than when I was younger and less accustomed to injustice.  But the idea that peace can only be achieved when supported by force, though horrible, retains a vestige of truth which it is hard to erase from the mind.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

fishing snarling looking

Fishing boats  and tackle on  Hastings  beach from  the  balcony of the new Jerwood art gallery. What goes on outside is sometimes as interesting as as the art inside.

It might have turned out to be what is euphemistically called an incident. Crossing the zebra in front of us is a squat man with a squat dog.  The dog is is pulling fiercely at its lead. The man is fiercely restraining the dog. Both have snarling faces. Seldom has the observation that dog and dog-owner  resemble one another seemed truer. Suddenly the man turns round and snarls, "what are you looking at?"  For a moment, though neither of us has said what we are both thinking, it seems that our minds have been read. Though again there is no where else to look other than in front of us. But simultaneously behind us a couple also crossing the road are making aloud the remark which is coming to our lips. Maybe all four us are being challenged. Fortunately the snarling dog pulls the snarling man on its way.

Sandrine's Skin and Laser Clinic in the High Street enquires via a poster outside its doors politely, "Are you looking for the real you?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

door gem climbing

Barn door well used, weather-worn but maintained,  a bit like the photographer.

My salad leaves should be ready in week or so. For the time being I buy some lettuce from the stall at the end of The Pantiles market. Little Gem.  "The best," says the farmer. "We grow 10 acres of icebergs. I wouldn't give you twopence for them. They're for  the supermarkets".

Boys are competing to climb a tree in The Grove. I watch with pleasure. Once we all climbed trees, boys and girls (though girls were called tomboys for so doing (no insult in my eyes). Nowadays health and safety rules the day, and in the air, catch hold of a branch pull themselves on to it, and from their clamber up through the branches. Nowadays you would expect them at least to be wearing helmets to preserve their skulls and pads to protect their little knees. At least somewhere a sense of reality and the joys attached to it prevails.

Friday, April 06, 2012

reflected architecture nest

Swans are hard to resist especially when reflected in the water where they swim.

"The need for good architecture," writes Alain de Botton in The Spectator "ultimately gets ignored because it isn't recognised for what it is: a mental health problem."

Talking about a nesting box in his garden, Bill says that this year it has been occupied by blue tits, which  have moved out, by bumble bees, which  have moved out and now by house sparrows which have thrown away the  lining material left by previous occupants before introducing their own. "They don't like other people's furniture."

Thursday, April 05, 2012

philosophy serenity pick

Graffiti in a bus shelter at Groombridge with an editorial deletion, not the photographer's.

On a corner of The High Street is an advertisement for Serenity Therapies qualified as "Beauty holistic therapies for men and women". This seems to me to encompass most of the treatments designed as a substitute for religion, healthy diet, fresh air and exercise. What interests me is the word "serenity" which describes something  desirable in its own right, even though it brings a whiff of superiority in its wake as in  the exclusive calm and tranquillity attributed to some European royalty in the title " His or Her Serene Highness". Willing to forgo the royal association I would like to be and to remain serene in the face of  present turmoil and disaffection.

 I have just acquired a garden tool which I have always sought but rarely been able to identify. It is a sort of hoe but with a short handle and a cutting implement angled inwards at 45 degrees. You attack the soil, be it hard and stony or dry and crumbly, with a chopping action which is greatly satisfying. Apart from weeding and preparing the ground, the sharp point of the blade is a very present help in setting out plants or refining a furrow for seeds.  I have seen this abroad but I can't remember where, whether in Europe or the Far  East. Maybe it is the sort of tool used for setting our rice plants in paddy fields.  From the Internet I learn that the particular tool that I have bought is called a Japanese pick.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

light nettle horse-chestnut

Sun, cloud and water at Groombridge Place.

In a parsley pot which has flourished throughout the winter thanks to its position under the hedge opposite the front door, is a young nettle. I have always liked nettles. As weeds they are less intrusive than many others and,  having shallow roots they are easy to eradicate should you want to. But their stings aside, they have many uses. They make a good soup; they attract butterflies; and stuffed into a watering can or bucket, covered in water and allowed to rot down, they make a good liquid fertiliser. A few survive in a corner of the vegetable garden and I try to keep them going.

 A bank of purple rain clouds stacks over The Grove this morning opposite the sun which beams out of a blue sky. In front of the cloud the infant leaves of a horse chestnut hang like green gloves in the sunlight.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

time patisserie fox

St Leonard's on Sea. Same view,  same benches, same sea as in previous years, different angle, different poster on railings, different people on benches. Another year passes.

A new French patisserie is to open tomorrow on the corner of London Road and The High Street. There is a notice on the window which says that it is closed to day for staff training, but though the window I can see immaculately iced cakes, tarts, croissants and the like and an Easter hare made out of sugar. Not the sort of thing that we are used to.  From what I know,  the production of such patisserie is an art and requires the most expensive ingredients and well paid staff. I am sure that the quality will live up to its looks but will local people be prepared for the high prices which can be expected. I hope that they will.

Foxes are probably almost as numerous as pigeons in these parts but are shyer and less in evidence. I like watching pigeons but foxes seem wilder, more free. So when I see one this morning as I open the gate that leads into the vegetable garden, it sends a shiver of excitement through me. Sadly I watch it vanish under a hedge.

Monday, April 02, 2012

sign clever dog clever cat

Inn sign  at the three Michelin star, The Fat Duck at Bray.

We are talking dogs at The Compasses. " I had a clever dog once," he says, " a cross, very clever.  If I wanted to go  to the working mens's club.,I'd say, ' we'er going now, get my hat' .  He'd fetch it right away. If he wanted a pee in the club, he 'd push the  door of  the gents and cock his leg over the urinal. He had to bark to be let out, mind because the door opened the other way."

I hear a voice as I approach the entrance to Calverley Ground. It is the tall old woman who takes her cat for a walk. She is talking to her cat. As I draw level, she says, "I was telling him he wouldn't be able to get down from that wall, but he has. And sure enough down comes the tabby from the wall to continue their walk.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

nibbles dad interest

Today's squirrel prefers to eat in the safety of a tree.

A young dad with a baby no more than a few days old enjoys a pint while his child sleeps in a sling  its head on his chest a few inches from his chin.

Over the years I have become used to the small talk of the check-out staff at Sainsbury's. I haven't seen today's middle aged lady for a few weeks. But I haven't forgotten her line of questioning. I am sure that the staff are trained to be friendly and to chat over over the till, and I often wonder at their resourcefulness. "Are you doing anything interesting over Easter?"  Now it's my turn. Where shall I begin?