Friday, June 30, 2006

sunflowers and carrots, foxglove, miseries

Slow germination during the cold spring led me to sow sunflowers where the carrots which I had sown did not at first appear. When the warm weather arrived there came the odd combination of sunflowers and carrots in the same row.

A lone white foxglove stands upright in a shrubbery like a stately model waiting to appear on the catwalk.

In the charity shop in the High Street I come across a modern edition of a book by James Beresford, an English rector who lived between 1764 -1840. It is called The Miseries of Human Life. It was a best seller in its time and went into numerous editions. It lists in painful detail the discomforts and irritations of daily life with elegance and humour, though there is no doubting the author's sincerity in detailing his annoyance with his many pet hates. One example taken at random: "To be seized with morbid and irrresistable sleepiness, while in conversation with persons who have every title to your respect." It occurs to me that this book is the complete opposite of the Three Beautiful Things formula, which gives rise to this web log, and is the foundation of Clare Grant's eponymous blog.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Parsley, serve and volley, lysimachia

The green, bitter smell of parsley brings reality to the dream-world of perfumes.

In the match between Rafael Nadal( seeded no 2) and Robert Kendrick (seeded 237) which goes to five sets, at Wimbledon today, it is a pleasure to see Kendrick running up to the net and volleying directly after serving - an unusual practice nowadays and a style of tennis which restores excitement to a game made tedious by rallies from the baseline.

At the WI market I identify the flower which shed it yellow petals on our black dining table on Tuesday. It is lysimachia vulgaris. Nobody will really care but it pleases me to have put a name to it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

sunbather, rain painting, yellow petals

A woman taxi driver is sunbathing in the narrow car park between platform No 1 and the taxi rank at Tunbridge Wells station. She has brought a sun-lounger and lies flat out on top of it. She wears a white blouse, a pair of three-quarter length trousers and sun glasses. Her white sandles are parked neatly beside the sun-lounger.

At Tate Britain, there is an exhibition of paintings by Howard Hodgkin. They are almost abstract, produced usually in swathes of bold colours, which often extend on to the frame. Sometimes bold, broad beams of dark colour seem to create a new, crude frame within the old one. Inside bright colours operate like light within a wood or tunnel. Outside the Tate, there is a long flower bed, which has been sown with various cereal crops, poppies and other wild flowers, now mostly gone to seed - an interestingly textured frame, surrounded by green, and the rest of the world. From a distance, you might be looking at a more restrained than usual Hodgkin painting.

On our black marble dining table there is a scattering of yellow petals, from a posy of garden flowers, which our guests brought for Heidi's birthday.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Blue, pink and blue, pale green

Delphiniums: the blue of a mediterranean sky.

Dwarf pink roses of an old variety surrounded by pale blue lavender.

The pale green of thinly sliced, peeled cucumber . They lie between slices of thinly cut bread for old fashioned cucumber sandwiches in celebration of Heidi's birthday.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Garden rubbish, "confusedness in words", rain noise

For many years there has been an arrangement whereby people who live near the Grove may leave garden rubbish in a specific place in the park, and the Council, which maintains the park, will remove the rubbish. All the gardens in the area are small and there is usually no scope for a bonfire. Now the Council wants to stop collecting the rubbish. It says it does not have a licence to perform the task. It is hard not to admire the persistance of local residents, who are still leaving their hedge clippings and weeds directly beneath the notice asking them to desist. To such a spirit of defiance do we owe our rights and freedoms from Magna Carta to the overthrow of Margaret Thatcher's poll tax.

Hurrah for the early 19th Century journalist and politician, William Cobbett, who wrote in A Grammar fo the English Language, "Confusedness in words can proceed from nothing but confusedness in the thoughts which give rise to them. These things may be of trifling importance when the actors move in private life, but when the happiness of millions of men is at stake, they are of an importance not easily to be described".

We tell children that "pitter patter" is the noise the rain makes. I'm not sure that it always does. But standing under the big oak at the corner of the Grove and listening to the summer rain falling on its branches, "pitter patter" is what I hear.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

policeman, lavender, drooping sedge

A policeman (one of the new community policeman) on a bicycle is rare sight, and one which brings on a twinge of nostalgia.

Lavender is on the point of flowering. The long stems bend upwards in bold curves, the buds straining towards the sun.

There is a dramatic looking ornamental grass, which has escaped from formal cultivation and grows near the valerian at the edge of the path, off Mount Sion, between back gardens (known as a twitten in these parts). Some research on google has revealed that it is Carex Pendula or drooping sedge. Stephen Dalton of the Natural History Photographic Agency, describes it vividly as follows: "The pollen bursts forth from pendulous inflorescences as they sway in the wind."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

People you know, to market, fennel

Watching someone you know when he doesn't know you're watching. Does he behave differently to the way he normally behaves when you are together?

I remember, (I don't know why she comes into my mind) my daughter Pippa, aged about three, getting on for forty years ago, quite alone and unaware of my presence, rolling a cylindrical laundry basket round the room, and chanting: "to market, to market to buy a fat pig, joggity jog, jiggity jig; to market to market to buy a fat hog, jigitty jig, jiggity jog."

Florence fennel at the farmers market with its feathery leaves projecting from the ivory bulb like a head of green hair.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Philadelphus, getting to sleep, abutilon

There is a philadelphus or mock orange half way up Mount Sion. Its white blossoms cover it like snow, and its scent floats up and down the hill and into Berkeley Road, better than any artificial perfume.

It is very rare that I can't get to sleep. My method of overcoming wakefulness is to go over in my mind routes that I used to travel to work, especially the one that criss-crossed the countryside between Tunbridge Wells and Sutton in Surrey, avoiding the M25 and most major roads. It used to take an hour door to door; it takes five minutes to send me off, even though I am supposedly at the wheel.

It is the time of year when abutilon begins to flower. We have a white one; its bell-shaped blooms belong to summer.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

mums and babes, "enjoy", fuschia

Three exuberant, young mothers , side by side, sweep past in the middle of Berkeley Road : each pushes a pram and in each pram is a small baby- a flotilla of motherhood.

On the terrace at Sankey's the helpful waitress says "enjoy", as she serves our lunch, an invitation, which a few years ago you would not have heard outside New York.

The fuschia in our garden is of the variety which grows wild in the hedgerows of Cornwall and the west of Ireland. This one in particular has been with me for at least 30 years, having accompanied me to this house from the last one, when it inhabited a pot. In the old days it used to die down every winter. For the last few years it has not only survived but has defied attempts to eradicate it. It must now be about 12 ft high. To me it is greatly to be preferred to the garish varieties bred for colour-mad gardeners, and I no longer begrudge it the space it occupies.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

three beautiful things, early conkers, wind in the daisies

It is just over a year since I came across Clare Grant's web log, Three Beautiful Things (she has just completed her second year), and nearly a year since I took up her idea in my own. What appeals to me about this approach to log keeping, is its positive nature. There is no whingeing. You record only the things which, in the course of a day, have interested or amused you, and given you pleasure in one form or another.

For me it has become a sort of diary, but a diary, which ignores the routines and preoccupations of daily life - the subject of most diaries, and concentrates instead on a world of minutiae, which is generally ignored. It is also a way of sending post cards to new and old friends, but daily ones, to which, if they want, they can reply immediately, by making a comment. (And the more of those the better from old friends and newcomers). Above all it is about looking around you, and seeing wonderful things, which often become more wonderful the closer you look.

Why three things? One would bestow undue importance; two would imply contrast and invite comparison; three, on the other hand, reflects the variety and contrast, of which the world is made up.

It's mid-summer day when normally you would not pay attention to the young horse-chestnut, which is already sporting green conker cases. They are only the size of marbles but are complete with perfectly formed spikes.

Yesterday's wind is still blowing. I look down at the short grass in the Grove and watch the daisies, no more than a centemeter or two above ground level, quivering.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Grizzly man, creeping jenny, summer wind

A film, Grizzly Man about a man who spends every summer for 13 years with grizzly bears in a remote part of Alaska holds us transfixed. He sets up a camera and films the bears from close up, despite the danger. So there are no actors unless you count him. In the end he and his girl friend are killed and eaten by a bear (not filmed). A hundred hours of film are edited and augmented with interviews, by the director, Werner Herzog. The result is a study of a man, more than a little barmy, who is obsessed with these giant, savage animals, as much as it is a record of the bears.

I go out of the front door to look for something beautiful to mention here, and there by the front door are the first yellow flowers of creeping jenny, the ground-cover plant, which brings colour to a shady bed at this time of year. It has pretty pointed petals.

This afternoon, a warm wind is blowing, swinging the branches of trees, and bending shrubs to its will - a benign summer wind.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Chervil, moustaches, risotto

Chervil is used a great deal in French cooking. It looks like a very delicate flat leaf parsley and has a slightly similar flavour but with more than a hint of anise. A proper omellete aux fines herbes must include chervil among the herbs. I have grown it from seed this year and enjoy watching it develop in the flower pots where I have planted out the seedlings, and think as I do of light, perfumed omelletes.

A childish habit I have to confess to, and which I still get a kick out of, is drawing moustaches on photographs of politicians in the papers. I keep a special 6b pencil for the purpose.

Risotto is the most satisfying dish to cook. You stand over the pan and watch, almost feel, the rice (usually aborio or carnaloni. but sometimes violone nana from the Po Valley), absorb the hot broth, which is gradually ladled into it, and swell as you gently stir. Last night it was a seafood risotto. The broth was produced with the help of a cod's head, and the sea food consisted of tiger prawns and pieces of monk fish, gently sauteed and embellished with a little cream, the resulting sauce flavoured with Noilly Prat.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Gift of silence, crown, idols

Mary Wesley only started writing novels after the age of 70. Her recent biography is being reviewed at the moment. Her son , Toby Eady, says of her: "Her greatest beauty was her gift of silence: you did not have to talk with her. When she spoke you heard and when she was silent, you listened."

The last of the magnificent, almost white poppies in our garden has shed its petals. But it still retains its stamens, which curl up like the edges of a crown from the ovary with its clearly marked placentas radiating from the centre, which also recalls the structure of a crown.

Quote of day. Flaubert again, and no apologies. "To denigrate those we love, always removes them a little from us. One should not touch idols: the gilding sticks to you hands."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Gorrila, overheard, great ideas

Fun and games in the Pantiles: A balloon sculptor twists the thin, inflated balloons into toys for children, and the children shout for more. There is a town crier, a percussion band, and someone in a gorilla suit, accompanied by a woman with a cowboy hat and a gun, who is supposed to be the gorilla's keeper.

Sometimes you hear snatches of conversation as people walk past our hedge. This time it a teenage girl talking to a f riend She has a strident voice: "You get prgnant and die," she says.

Quote of the day. Flaubert again. "Great ideas, like pine trees, grow in the shade and at the edge of precipices."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

shop talk, white peony, scent of rosemary

In the the train, a man and a woman on their way to a meeting are talking or rather gossiping shop. The woman has an ear for this particular lingo. Distracted from my sudoku, I make the following notes of the phrases he and she employ:
Nature of the beast
Not in the real world
Nine years she used to be there. Didn't get a party, a gift or anything.
An addictive victim
Like a rabbit in the headlight
Took a pension for a job he was never qualified to do.
They're milking the charity for everything
He charges for the car then he charges for the train ... the greediest little tike I've ever met.
He loves cleaning windows
She's too busy to see me before the end of August.

A neglected flower-bed beside an untidy house has a gorgeous white peony, with several fluffy flowerheads rising out of the weeds.

This evening I trim back the rosemary. It releases a spicy scent on my hand, which makes me think of a Mediterranean hillside.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

After the rain, cigarette sadness, mathematician

The sound of this morning's heavy shower comes in through our open bedroom window like the rumbling of a heavy duty lorry idling its engine. In the warm sunshine afterwards you can smell oils and resins released into the air by vegetation, and every object is outlined with unfamilar clarity.

Outside the Kent and Sussex Hospital there is a sad scattering of cigarette butts, testimony to a new sort of outcast.

On the gate of a house in Castle Road in Tunbridge Wells, just below Church Road, a new plaque has appeared, which records that Thomas Bayes lived there from 1724 - 1761. Who was Thomas Bayes? He was a non-conformist minister and a mathematician, who only recently was recognised for his work on statisitical theory, in particular with a theory dealing with probability - the origin of much market research and opinion poll techniques, still in use today.

Monday, June 12, 2006

more tables in the pantiles, portrait of a couple, valarian

My favourite place to sit in Tunbridge Wells is outside the Italian delicatessen and snack bar, Gastronomia in the Pantiles. Last year when the weather was warm there was intense competition for outdoor tables. This year the owner, Giuseppi, has invested in several more tables and some smart black sunshades.

I watch a middle aged couple at a table. A glass of white and a glass of red wine is bought to them: the white for the woman, the red for the man. Was it predictable that it should be that way round?

Valerian is a medicinal herb, which was used by Arab physicians as long ago as the 10th Century. It is also highly decorative, producing magnificent pyramid-shaped, pink inflorescences, and requires no special cultivation. In front of a neigbouring house, it grows, this summer, without any human involvement from the intersection of a wall and a crude concrete forecourt, as though it was something that belonged in the Chelsea Flower Show.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Grilling sausages, leaden balls, mother squirrel

Grilling sausages in the garden, a celebration of summer.

When, some years ago I read Juian Barnes novel, Flaubert's Parrot, I noted these words of Flaubert: "I am, when I write a book, like a man who plays the piano, with leaden balls on each of his fingers." It was something I could understand.Today, reading Flaubert's correspondence, I come across them at source in a letter to his mistress, Louise Colbert. The remark was made when he was 30 and engaged in writing Madame Bovary. Coming across it again, I felt I had completed a circle.

A picture has been stuck in my mind since last week when I saw, on the BBC's Springwatch programme, a mother squirrel teaching her young to jump. One refused to follow her from the roof where their nest was. First she jumped her self to show how it was done. Then she tried to push the infant. Then she left it to whinge on its own. Finally she returned and, picking it up between her paws, and with some difficulty, carried it across the gulf.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Lost and found, islands of grass, kitten on the wall

How good it is to find something which you have given up for lost! My notebook, which I lost last week, has turned up in my daughter's car. I am glad, because although I had reconciled myself to doing without it, it had several useful but indecipherable to anyone else, notes on our Munich visit in April, and a drawing or two.

In the Grove, there are two sort of islands - islands of shadow, and islands of long grass, uncut to allow drifts of daffodils leaves to subside with dignity.

At the base of the yellow brick wall of a car park building, someone has painted or stenciled a life size black and white kitten. There is not other sign of graffiti.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Old MacDonald, Chinon, truffles

Sitting in the garden, I hear on the pavement on the other side of the hedge an approaching song. It is a young woman singing Old MacDonald had a farm, accompanied by the screams of an increasingly irate baby. "Ee aye, ee aye O," sings the mother. "Ea eea, eah, eah", screams the child. Down the road they go, the child slowly dominating proceedings, but the mother battling on unpeturbed, with rather a pretty voice. "Old MacDonald had a farm, with a quack, quack
here, and a quack quack there ..."

In this hot weather, what better than a glass of Chinon, the light red wine from the Loire, which can be served chilled and goes with food or without it!

I see that you can buy (from a firm calledTruffles UK) oak and hazel seedlings impregnated with the fungal spores of truffles. But you have to wait 1o years for the trees to grow and the fungus to develop. And then the truffles are the inferior summer truffles (tuber incinatum) and not the black truffles (tuber melanosporum), which I once saw hunted in Perigord with the help of a pig. Nor yet the white truffles of Alba which have a faint smell of garlic, and like the black truffles, require a a lottery win to purchase even a few shavings.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Poppy shadows, cheese omelate, bean plants

A white poppy rises towards the sky at the end of a long stem. The sun behind it outlines the shadow of the furthermost tissue thin petals on the nearest.

A cheese omelate, light and folded over a creamy filling of melted cheddar, is a lovesome thing.

The bean plants, which I set out yesterday, were standing up this morning straight and business-like.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Shade, starlings, herrings

Reading in the shade.

Starlings foraging in the grass like chickens do.

Sweet pickled herrings, which have been marinated in olive oil, with a salad made from Jersey Royal potatoes flavoured with chopped dill.

Monday, June 05, 2006

sleeping cat, floral litter, shades of green

The black and orange cat who comes to the vegetable garden is asleep when I arrive this morning. She lies with her head in the shade and her body in the sun, and her forepaws resting on the the lowest bar of the fence. I am there for at least two hours and in all this time she doesn't move, though she does open her eyes once to have a look at me.

On the the newly cut grass the white petals of poppies and the red petals of roses make a litter which is more or less acceptable.

In the sunshine you notice the bright green where the sun falls on the grass and the dark green in the shade. Within the tree the outer leaves catch the sun the inner leaves grow darker and become verdurous glooms. "Verde que te quiero verde".

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Unexpected picnic, dialogue, keeping cool

An unexpected picnic with daughter Pippa and grandchildren at Pesnhurst Place, where an obstacle course playground absorbs the children's boundless energy.

There is children's entertainment on the theme of Pinochio on a grass stage in the Penshurst Garden: Actor (To the audience): Do you know who I am?
Grandchild: You're an idiot (idiot is this four-year old's favourite word, his embarassed mother says).
Actor: The critics are here. We've got a critic from the Guardian.

I lose my notebook, and succeed in not getting upset about it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wild life, footsteps, church bells

The grassy verges along our roads, according to figures quoted in The Week, total 65,000 acres (the size of the Isle of Wight). They have become a haven for wild life including: voles, kestrels and orchids.

Sitting in our little garden, you hear footsteps but cannot see the owners of the feet that make them. There is a certain sort of measured footstep, not lingering, not hurried, which is pleasure to hear.

You used to hear church bells too often to be worthy of comment. Now their sound drifting over the roof tops of Tunbidge Wells on a warm Saturday afternoon, deserves to be noted.

Friday, June 02, 2006

old house, bellowing truck, grass

A pleasing sight: an old house, its roof tiles and brickwork the colour of old claret, settled into a cluster of trees which, like it, always seem to have been there.

A builders' truck bellows like a monster as it reverses.

I am thinking about grass: meadow grass that has not been cut, and whose tiny unpetalled, florets are polinated by the wind, and seem to move in waves like the sea; cereals, which has provided food for men and animals since the beginning of time; ornamental grasses; and the hundreds of other grasses, which ornament the earth, including bamboo, which is of course a grass.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

just in case, cheers, elder

Outside London Bridge, a roof is protected from burglars and graffiti writers by some rolls of barbed wire. A sign just behind it reads: Warning Barbed Wire.

Some people signing off on the phone say "cheers, bye." I realize that when I used the phone a lot, I picked up the habit, and used to wonder why. Cheers, alone was enough wasn't it, I used to think. But now I'm not so sure. Cheers, anyway.

Like flying saucers elder flowers hover over headgerows, and over solitary elder trees. Time for elder-flower cordial. I remember meeting an old admiral once, who used to make it and used it to flavour gin.