Sunday, April 30, 2006

Pretzels, the owl that never was, dandelion diversion

A good year for dandelions

Pretzels are taken for granted for people who live in Munich, but for visitors, these freshly made twists of glazed and salted bread are a special pleasure. You eat them as an accompaniment to most meat and fish dishes. They go particularly well with the delicate Weiswurst, white sausages, served warm in a bowl of the water in which they have been cooked. I recall, with particular pleasure, the pretzels served with hot, barbecued, whole smoked mackerel at the Chinese tower in the Englischegarten.

A walk in the woods behind Nymphenburg Schloss was a special pleasure because of the ducks and wild flowers, but we didn't see the owl, which was supposed to inhabit a particular tree by an arched bridge over a canal. The absent owl became like a character in a fairy story upon whom a spell had been placed, or who had placed a spell on you.

Back in Tunbridge Wells, when I remark to my friend Peter, who is driving back from the supermarket, that it is a good year for dandelions, he turns right into Major York's Road instead of keeping straight on home. "I want to show you something", he says. In Rustall, he reverses ; and there on the grass verge where the daffodils have just faded is a mass of dandelions, dense and golden, such as I have never seen before , a carpet which bareley allows the new grass to show through.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Lake Starnberg, calm, mystical and clear.

Reflecting on reflections

Watching a gentle swell from a garden at the edge of a lake.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Horse-chestnut leaves, duck, greeting

Both here, and in Munich where spring seems to be arriving at the same time as ours, you can almost see the buds of horse-chestnuts opening as though they are gloves into which fingers are being wriggled.

From the balcony at the rear of our flat, you can hear, as the sun sets, the sound of water-birds saying goodnight in the Englischegarten.

The universal greeting "Greuss Got", used everywhere in Bavaria, (but not elsewhere in Germany) by everyone and at all times of day and night, is a pleasing custom to which you quickly become accustomed.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dandelion salad, sea-gull woman, wood anenomes and cowslips

A salad of blanched dandelion (Loevenzahn) leaves by at the Zum Haering restaurant at Tutzing on lake Starneberg. Loevenzahn, like dent-de-lion, hence the English dandelion, means lions teeth and refers to the indentations of the leaves.

A woman friend, with whom we are dining, attacks the head of the fish, which she has been eating with repetitive, prods of her fork, neglecting the help of a knife, and devours every morsel of the content. Her face is lit by the fierce, sensual pleasure of a bird enjoying its prey.

Wood anenomes are, at this time, the dominant spring flower in the woods, road-sides and parks of Munich. The white, star-shaped flowers are ubiquitous, and are sometimes joined by the blue, which I have seen cultivated but never wild in England. I note, with pleasure, because they are now so rare in England, plenty of cowslips growing alongside the anenomes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chewable toothbrush, suprised by Elgar, wild garlic

In Stanstead airport gents, I resist the invitation to brush my teeth with a "chewable toothbrush". The sign above the dispenser says; "Chew and dispose. Cleans teeth. Freshens breath". You get two for £1.

I enter a Munich taxi with Caroline Bush. The driver has the radio on. We continue talking and over our conversation, I am surprised and a little moved to hear the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. The driver is amused by the coincidence. "Elgar," he says.

In several of the restaurants where we eat, I notice that wild garlic is on the menu. As in this country, but I think for rather longer in Germany, the early leaves of the wild flower, which we also call ramsons, has been in fashion with chefs. In Germany it is known as Baerlauch (I wish I knew how to do umlouts and accents on this system). I taste a smooth green, slightly spicey soup modulated by cream and stock.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Although I hope to have access to a computer on one or two occasions, there will intervals in transmission for the next few day, which I will be spending in Munich. Be good.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Nest-building, potato planting, timing

It seems to me that in this house we might be said to live in close intimacy with blackbirds. At this time of year, they declare their territory ouside the bedroom window from the first light; and for the last few years , they have nested in the wisteria above the front door or in the bay tree just to the right of it. All day long we hear their, urgent, staccato warning cry. This morning, as I raise the blind, I see a male and a female blackbird on the wall of the house opposite. The female has a sheaf of grass in her beak, the male perches opposite her. After a while, the female flies across the road and lands on our hedge. The male waits, as it were on guard, covering her movements with alert turns and tilts of his head. She waits for a while on the hedge, before making for the bay tree, while the male takes her place on the hedge. The various stages of progress towards the nesting place are marked by lengthy pauses. The last I see of them is the female diving into the depth of the bay, and the male sitting on the outer edge of one of its branches. Their progress towards the nesting place seems to be marked by a desire not to draw attention to it, as though they want to deceive onlookers about their destination - a tactic which we noticed last year when the birds were feeding their young.

Planting properly chitted potatoes, as tradition decrees, during the Easter weekend.

The feeling of satisfaction at having done your gardening in the morning when it is dry, and missed the rain in the afternoon.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Candles, woodruff, matt-forming, warmth

There a quite a few magnolia trees near us. They are currently sporting tall, upright buds which look like candles - more like candles than the horse-chestnuts, which come later and whose flowers are usually compared to candles.

A good many years ago we planted sweet woodruff under the hedge which fronts the house on two sides. The intention was that it should spread the full length of the hedge and create a long carpet of tiny, white flowers in late Spring. There are still a few gaps, so I was glad to see a plant in a pot at the WI market, which will help to fill them. If you dry the leaves, they smell of new-mown hay, and may be added to summer drinks.

The promised sunshine comes late today, not until the afternoon; but when it does, after some showers, it is warm; and warm is really appreciated, after the chill winds and the snow of a few days ago. In the Grove, buds are opening and children appear in the playgound, as though drawn out by the same, unaccustomed heat.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bug walk, words, live music

There is an illustrated plan of Calverley Grounds at the entrance to the park. I watch a tiny beatle walk very slowly over a patch of grass on the map, on it way to the shelter of some trees.

There are 988,968 words in the English language according to Global Language Monitor, a San diego based linguistic consultancy. As new words are added regularly, there will soon be more than a million.

The following groups are listed in Sankey's restaurant in its Live Music Line Up for St George's Day:

The Quiet one
Big Red 1
Matt The Gadd
Defenders of the Planet Earth

Twelve hours of live music are promised.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Starch, hiding cat, bamboo tail

A film of starch detaches itself from the side of the non-stick pan, which sits in the sink after porridge has been cooked in it. The pan is half full of water and the delicate, tissue-paper thin moulding will soon disintegrate, but somehow you feel that it deserves better.

The pretty marmalade cat finds a temporary house for itself under the frame of nylon fleece, which I have erected over the purple sprouting brocolli against maurading pigeons. The cat pokes its head through a hole in the fleece. The creature, like other pretty cats I have known, seems to have cultivated an infuriating cuteness, which demands foregiveness for any crime it may commit or have committed.

In front of a house in Berkely Road is a clump of thin bamboos. One of the stripey stalks, bent over as a result of yesterday's snow, waves to and fro just above the ground. It looks like the very long, thin tail of a dragon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Umbrella procession, being right, Jafacain

In the rain this afternoon, an extended flock of golf umbrellas proceeds up Mount Sion. Beneath the umbrellas are smartly dressed men and women wearing those badges which are pinned on at conferences or official occasions. Some of the men wear dress uniform. On the umbrellas is printed a reference to this year's 400th anniversary of the foundation of Tunbridge Wells.

A book called The Art of Always Being Right by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer attracts my attention in Halls book shop. "You don't need that," says the woman assistant, "you're a man." I buy it all the same.

According to the papers, cockney and other inner city dialects are giving way to an Afro-Carribean dialect called Jafaican. Creps means training shoes; Yoot, child/children; Jamming, hanging around; Nuff, really, very; Sick, good. It strikes me as interesting that in one paper an interviewee indicated that a slang word, which is now considered old fashioned is wicked, to mean good, fantastic.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Diamonds, sudoku, hyacinths

Snow is a rarity here nowadays. So it is a pleasure to see the result of a heavy fall last night. Glinting in the sun, a line of snow on the telphone wire outside the bedroom window soon melts, leaving huge drops like diamond earings.

In the Independent I read that a classic sudoku grid contains 5,472,730,538 unique combinations of numbers. Apparently sales of pencils have increased by 700 per cent since the sudoku boom.

Though it has turned to slush or streams of water every where else, the snow has not yet melted in the triangular flower bed outside the public library. It is pierced by the undaunted, blue flower heads of hyacinths.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Stuffed olives, French poppy, bamboo poles

Big green queen olives stuffed with feta cheese are a beautiful thing.

The French word for poppy is coquelicot, a lovely word.

At Homebase I find buy a dozen 8ft bamboo poles, which will replace those, which have been bent and broken by the weight of beans and sweetpeas.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Out of Africa, invisible feet, bare branches

At the farmers market, I bump into Clare Grant, the inventer of the "three beautiful things" approach to web logging. Over a cup of coffee, she gives me a brief account of her 12-week African odyssey and some of the beautiful and less than beautiful things that happened during it.

In a the window of an outfitters in Mount Pleasant, a headless lay figure is equipped with a man's jacket, some blue jeans and a pair of sandles, but the sandles are arranged beneath the jeans without benefit of feet. Or the feet are invisible.

The branches of trees are still bare, and their shadows distinct. I realize that the shape of the branches, so intriguing to look at and to draw, will soon disappear, to give way to the swarming canopies of summer.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Repairs complete, parsley, Provence

A door has been re-hinged and re-hung, a rotting frame replaced and window frames painted. A smell of new paint hangs in the house, and we have the house to ourselves.

Last year's parsley, the herb, which moderates the taste of fish and meat with its verdant, vegetable scent and bitter charm, is in leaf again, and cutting a large bunch for the kitchen, is today's greatest pleasure. I smell the parsley (the flat leaf variety, which I usually grow) as I write the word.

After reading Marcel Pagnol's Childhood Memories, I watch again on DVD the two films which he made in the Provencal countryside or his childhood - Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. I enjoy them all the more because the scenary and the rural life depicted is what I have just left in the pages of the four books, which the Memories comprise.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Words repeated, human resource, chorus

An old French cookery book La Veritable Cuisine de Famille by Tante Marie, which I unearthed yesterday, contains the following modest apology at the foot of the introduction: " With the aim of complete clarity in our recipes, we have not been afraid to repeat a word several times in the same sentence. Our readers will foregive the absence of style in a work which makes no claim to it".

"Human resources", is a management term which I have never liked and only partially understood. Until today that is, when the blackbird and the robin come as usual to join me while I am digging. As usual, they wait one (the robin) almost at my feet and the other (the blackbird) on the fence, until I turn over a clod, which reveals a live creature for them to eat, and down one of them swoops. It occurs to me that I am working for them, and that what I am to them can best be described as a human resource.

As distinct from last year, the black birds and other birds outside our window wake me early in the morning just now. I missed this chorus last year and wondered if the birds had deserted that side of the house, and now remember that the fault was probably mine as I had an ear infection, and had become temporarily deaf.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Reversing, more signs of spring, last year's spuds

A dustbin truck, one of those, which chews up the refuse from mechanically tipped wheelie-bins, bears down on me as it reverse from Little Mount Sion into Berkeley Road. A recorded voice tries to gain my attention over the noise of the engine. As I dodge out of the way, I realize it is saying: "Danger: reversing vehicle."

At this time of the year anticipated flowers appears on the triangular flower-bed or shrubbery known locally as "the village green", in the form of the yellow, star-shaped lesser celandine, and the bright green petal-like bracts, surrounding the small green flowers of euphorbia.

Digging over last year's potato patch, I collect a bowl full of small King Edwards, which I missed when lifting them last year.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Squirrels, periwinkle, door back on hinges

In the Grove, there are squirrels everywhere, perhaps too many. They run about or balance on branches making noises - half quack, half squawk.

Periwinkles are in flower; blue on the "village green", the rarer, white in our garden.

The door to a cubbyhole, where tools are kept, is back on its hinges after leaning, in a collapsed state, against the surrounding wall.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Circuit, no curtains, piano player

Most days I follow a similar circuit to the High Street, through the Grove, along Berkeley Road, down Mount Sion. Everything seems to be the same and yet the more I pay attention the more I notice changes - buds opening, detritus accumulating, the sky ever changing, the sunlight falling at a different angle. The more I keep this log, the more changes I see. Today the tip of a magnolia bud puts forth a tiny pink tongue.

A woman is playing a piano, her back to the window, into which I glance as I pass by. I catch the sway of her body as her hands cross the keys.

The curtains, which cover the top of the bay window in our bedroom has been taken down, to reveal the whole frame. I enjoy seeing so much more of the sky, of the tulip tree and the house opposite, as I sip my morning tea.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Captains, surreal picture, humps

There's a sign in Sainsbury's above a desk at the end of a shopping aisle. "Today's checkout captain, " it says. "Let's have one other gaudy night: call to me my sad captains; fill our bowls once more; let's mock the midnight bell."

At the end of the row of checkouts in Sainsbury's, is a picture-window. Looking on to a corner of waste land on which grows some bedraggled trees, it frames a surreal picture. Distributed among the branches of the trees, hang several transparent, plastic bags. Behind the trees, is a steep bank and a wall on top of that. In the background is a tower crane, its horizontal mast extended and waiting for something to happen. A watery sun beams into the window causing the reflections of people in the store to hover in the glass.

Half way down the terrace where we live, opposite the entrance to another road, there is a sign with arrows pointing in either direction. Above one arrow are the words: humps 300 yards; above the other, humps 600 yards. You know what it means. But you wonder what it could mean.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Spring visitors

Today I see George W Bush and Condoleezza Rice perched on a tree in the Grove discussing what appears to be a calendar.