Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nelson, pomegranate explodes, nicked tea

It is some time since I last walked across Trafalgar Square. Last time, I remember, Nelson's column was enclosed by scaffolding and boarded up with a huge mural suggesting that it was under the sea. Today (or rather yesterday), I look up to see that the admiral has been scrubbed clean. Instead of the black statue that used to stare down Whitehall, there is one of pristine white as it must have been when new.

On my way into Tate Britain to see the Holbein exhibition, I notice what looks like a still life on a wall by itself. It resembles a picture by the Spanish painter, Sanchez Cotàn, who lived from 1560 - 1627. Cotàn was famous for small very simple still lifes where vegetables and sometime fruit are arranged in an inset in a wall, with some items suspended by pieces of string. In this instance the picture could, for a moment, have been mistaken for Cotàn's Still Life with Cabbage, Quince, Melon and Cucumber. Only there is a vegetable marrow instead of the cucumber and, instead of the quince, a pomegranate. The big surprise comes when, after you have been looking at the picture for a minute, the pomegranate, which has been hanging from a piece of string, explodes scattering its seeds, while the broken husk swings slowly to and fro. It is not a picture at all but a video, a contemporary work by Ori Gersht. It's worth a visit to Tate Britain just to see this surprising artifact.

I buy a cup of tea at the cafe in the corner of Charing Cross station and find myself a chair at a round table where two other people are sitting. I look down to sort out something in my case, and then look up to see that the tea, as yet un-sipped, has vanished. I return to the counter to find that the assistant, a girl with a high pitched voice like a bird, has cleared it away. "You've taken my tea," I said. "Why didn't you stop me?" she said. Not a beautiful thing, but a decidedly curious one,

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

red chrysanthemums,blogger in person, golden fruit

A vase of deep red chrysanthemums is in the living room. The tall stems have dark green leaves and almost spherical flowers of the deepest, carmine. The darkness of the red is relieved towards the middle of each flower by a few petals tipped with yellow and a few streaks of orange below each tip. Looked at closely, they resemble slow and gentle flames.

A blogger, who takes wonderful and amusing photographs and is a visitor to this blog from time to time, comes to see us in person today. As a fan of the emotional blackmailers handbook myself, I note that two dimensions suddenly become three, and hints of a personality displayed in scraps, suddenly fill out and become real. And yet there are few surprises; you know so much about the person, you are meeting already. Very rewarding.

The golden fruit of japonica in a front garden. They resemble quinces but are more evenly shaped. You can make jelly with them, as with quinces.

Monday, November 27, 2006

new oaks, dappled things, layers of cloud

The little park near our house, was granted to the people who live in the streets surrounding it, by the Duke of Buckingham 1n 1703. It is called the Grove and the deed, of which he was the chief signatory, makes special mention of "the trees there growing preserved for shade and not any of them to be cutt downe nor any building to be there erected." Three hundred years later, despite the storm of 1978, which felled many trees, and the introduction of a children's playground, it is still a place where trees rule. There is a continuing policy of replanting and the appearance, in the last few days, of a little cluster of three, new oak saplings is a reassuring sign that the Duke's wishes are being heeded three hundred years after his gift.

I wake this morning with Gerard Manley Hopkins' Pied Beauty on my mind:
"... for skies of couple colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh fire-coal chestnut falls; finches wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow and plough;
And all trades, their gear, tackle and trim."

The other morning there were two layers of cloud. Low down and fast moving, a billow of dark grey smokey stuff; behind it and much higher, a bright stack of silvery, gold-lined cumulous standing out from patch of blue.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

thinking, clematis, kernals

Waking thought: If you think big, the universe will become bigger. If you think small, there will be more room for it to become even smaller. If you go on thinking one way or the other, you will eventually bump into yourself coming the other way.

Clematis seeds can be as spectacular as the flowers. Wild clematis, spreading like a blanket over headgerows and thickets, is also known as Old Man's Beard. Some cultivated varieties are similarly extravagant when they go to seed. Their drooping, hairy seeds make me think of the shaggy coat of old English sheepdogs, when it falls over their eyes.

Toasted pine kernals, slightly sweet and nutty, are good mixed with rice, or in a salad dressing. I always add some to the dough when I am baking bread, together with sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Dancing trees

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

golden wing, rustle of leaves, Mr Crow

With the sun low in the sky, the underneath of starlings wings become golden as they wheel into sun beams.

There is an oak in the Grove which still retains a lot of its leaves despite last night's wind. When you stand beneath it, you hear a continuous "hush... hush...hush" as though it is soothing a child to sleep.

Mr Crow sits on his favourite tree, his black feathers glinting in the sun. Some starlings, who also like this tree, seem embarrased by his presence, and move off in batches.

Friday, November 24, 2006

best time, voices, big bottles

My best time of day is first thing in the morning when I take a cup of tea back to bed and read my book, looking up every now and then to watch the sun come up behind the tulip tree.

In the post office there are a number of recorded voices. Behind me, I hear a talking photographic booth: "If you are happy with the photo," it says, in a perky woman's voice, "press the green button...Here we go. We are now printing your order. Please wait". Ahead of me, two voices announce the number of the cashiers as they become free. The voices are recorded by a man and woman. The male cashiers operate the recording of the male voice, and the women, the female voice.

There come into my head the names of giant bottles of Champagne; just in case I should ever want one. A nebuchdnezzar contains the equivalent of 20 bottles; a melchior, 24.
Nebuchdezzar ll was a Babylonian king, who built the hanging gardens of Babylon. It was he who went mad and ate grass. Melchior - there had to be a seasonal connectiion somewhere - was one of the Three Wise Men. He brought the infant Jesus a gift of frankinsence.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

how long to burn up? cheese omelate, aspen

According to a big poster which arrived with the newspaper this morning, the sun will enter a "giant red phase"in around 4 billion years. This means that its outer layers will expand and boil away most of the earth's atmosphere.

A cheese omelate made with grated cheddar cheese and two eggs. Grate about 2oz of cheese with a fine grater. Beat the eggs and beat in half the cheese. Heat a little butter in a frying pan until it is just on the point of smoking but not burning. Add the egg and cheese mixture and shake, until it covers the base of the pan. Shake the pan. Then tip the pan to one side so that the uncooked egg meets the surface of the pan. Then tip it to the other side, so that another layer of egg cooks. All the time keep the pan just off, or on and off, the heat so that the base of the omelate does not become leathery. Add the remainder of the cheese to the centre of the omelate , which should still be slightly liquid. Shake, and as the cheese melts, flip one side of the omelate over and let it rest, folded over in the pan, for a few seconds. Then serve on to a hot plate.The whole operation should last a little over a minute. The omelate should be light and soft and the outside should be barely coloured.

Today, I came across the French word for Aspen, the variety of poplar, which has those wonderful trembling leaves. It is, evocatively, tremble.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

time to get up, clip-on bird, crayon box

At this time of year, I watch the light enter the bedroom from the side of the blinds and the furniture gradually take on familiar shapes. When you can see the time on the alarm clock, you know that it is time to get up.

A clip-on plastic bird arrives in a parcel of marzipan chocolates from Germany. I clip it on to the handle of the carriage clock in the hall, where it sits looking pleased with itself. No twitchers please.

I am addicted to crayons, particularly the aquarelle variety, which act like water-colours when wetted. Mine are in a wooden box, which bear the inscription Fundacio Antoni Tapies - the art gallery in Barcelona dedicated to the Catalan artist of that name; and that is where I bought them, several years ago. Today I use them to doodle Christmas card designs.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

That time of year, Satie, cold room

It is not only the season that reminds me this morning of Shakepeare's sonnet No 73. Someone is to perform it and other sonnets to music. This one begins with the familar words of which one doesn't tire:
"That time of year thou may'st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Against those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined chapels, where late the sweet birds sang.

Eric Satie's piano music has been a favourite for a long time. It's the sort of idle, melancholy
sound with a fleeting addictive tune, that you can keep going while doing something else. I read to day that Satie himself described some of his pieces as "furniture music", which you don't have to listen intently to. He was an eccentric man with an engaging sense of humour. Apart from the strange titles - Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes, Trois Morceaux enForme de Poire - which he gave to his pieces, Satie provided instructions on how certain passages should be played. These include:
"In the morning on an empty stomach"
"With a lot of difficulty".

One of the houses overlooking the Grove nearly always has the curtains behind its numerous windows closed. Today, two are open. The sun beams in. In one of the rooms, sits an elderly man. He is wearing an overcoat and a tweed hat.

Monday, November 20, 2006

where? bicycle rack, foregiveness

A young woman shouts into her mobile: "I'm in Liverpool train station". She is on the concourse of Charing Cross in London.

For the first time I notice a bicycle rack outside the town hall. It consists of two minimalist bicycle shapes constructed out of aluminium tube. Each has two spokeless wheels, a saddle, a crossbar and a steering column. . You leave your bicycle between them.

Under "foregiveness" in his commonplace book, An Uncertain World, W. H Auden includes the following:
Priest: Do you forgive your enemies?
Spaniard: I have no enemies. I have shot them all.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

500th entry, moving photo, separate leaves

This is the 500th Best of Now entry. The idea, which I took in June 2004 from Clare Grant's Three Beautiful Things (still going strong and in its third year), I interpret in this way. It is to take note of what is going on around you, and to bear in mind that you want to record only what gives pleasure - what, in one sense or another - is beautiful. There should be as little interference as possible from received ideas, aesthetic clap trap and political drivel. Above all because you are looking for things, which amuse and delight, you can afford to be positive without being sentimental or stupidly optimistic about the world. Having three things to note means that you can contrast and balance your choice, and so reflect the richness of daily life. It is not hard to note three beautiful things, but knowing that you have to look out for them brings each day into a sharp focus. It becomes a habit, which is a beautiful thing in itself.

A photograph, which I have taken of a pomegranite, when I upload it onto the computer screen, swims around like a fish before settling into a permanent place. I wonder if I am suffering a dizzy spell, until I realize that I have used the video facility on my camera without meaning to ( I have not used it before) and the swimming fruit was the result of my moving the camera to find the most suitable angle.

The separate leaves, which still cling to branches, shiver and shake and jerk about in the breeze, as though they are in a hurry to be free.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

people-watching, 3-d image, old gloves

Sitting in the sun in the Pantiles, drinking coffee in the midst of the farmers' market, and people-watching.

I read in a newspaper supplement about a gadget, which projects a 3-d image in the air like a ghost. It throws the image, from a DVD or computer, onto a microscopically thin screen of "modified air" - made from a mist of minute droplets of water. Its called Heliodisplay and is said to cost in excess of £12,000. Blow on the image and it will disperse and re-form.

The dead leaves of a horse-chestnut hang from the branches of a tree like old gloves.

Friday, November 17, 2006

colours of fruit, nests, wind sounds

The colours of exotic fruit are as good if not better than the taste. With the garnet of pomegranate seeds, contrast the bright green flesh of kiwi fruit; and with the kiwi's fine dark brown (almost black) seeds, match the prussian blue, almost black of blueberries. A finely sliced, ripe mango has an orange glow.

Nests which have been hidden through the summer are now revealed among the branches of trees.

I stand still and listen to the sounds of the wind. It rustles dry leaves; it strums the telephone wires; it drums on wheelie bins; it rattles loose windows and doors; it whistles through apertures; it hums in the air round my head; it vibrates to the distant tune of aeroplanes; it murmurs as I move on; in houses, even, it whispers. It is alive.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

butterfly-leaves, porridge, neanderthal

What a strange, prolonged autumn! There are fewer leaves on the lime tree, and they are now more thinly distributed. But this morning, the remainder are still clinging to the branches, bright yellow in the morning light, and, as these sparse remnants flutter in the breeze, remind me of butterflies.

In recent years I have grown fond of porridge. I enjoy stirring the rolled oat flakes into water as it comes to the boil, and watching the gruel bubble and quiver as it thickens.

There are few beautiful things in the papers, but I liked today's story about neanderthal man, homo neanderthalenis.It seems that these cousins of ours were still around 38,000 years ago. The question is: did they interbreed with homo sapiens during the millenia, when they shared the same habitatat? And has modern man inherited any neanderthal DNA? It reminded me of the book by William Golding called The Inheritors, which pictures the two cultures side by side, and leaves no doubt that the peaceful, vegetarian creatures, which Golding contrasted with the nasty, beligerent homo sapiens, were a great deal nicer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Trains, flying leaves, favourite lines

I recently finished reading Emil Zola's La Bête Humaine. It is a dark book about betrayal and murder. But there are marvellous descriptions of steam trains thundering past a level-crossing keeper's cottage where some of the action takes place, and in the cabin of the locomotive where the driver and the mechanic struggle to control the engine for which the are responsible. The book seems to vibrate with the jolting train, the express between Paris and Le Havre, and you are left stunned by its swift passage, as you are by the remorseless progress of the story, from murder to murder.

Leaves fly horizontally past our bedroom window this morning like birds.

I wake with my favourite lines in English poetry in the forefront of my mind:
"At last he rose and twitched his mantle blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new."
But I am not going anywhere.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wallnuts, wrong husband, schoolboy joke

They are selling wet wallnuts at a nearby greengrocer, ie wallnuts which haven't been artificially dried. They crack open easily.The wrinkled nut comes whole out of the shell, and, with its two halves loosely linked, looks rather like a brain. The nut has a thin brown skin under which the colour is a milky white. The taste is a mixture of creams and tannins; a faint, fading bitterness.

I am leaning over a box of books in the Oxfam bookshop, when a stange woman taps me on the shoulder: "Are you ready, Darling?" she asks. I look up. "I'm sorry," she says, "I thought you were my husband".

This one was new to me. "A French cat and an English cat set out to swim the Channel. The French cat was called Un Deux Trois, the English cat, One Two Three.
Which cat made it? The English cat because the Un Deux Trois quat' cinque".

Monday, November 13, 2006

green town, moving animals, abutilon

Tunbridge Wells, where I live, is rated, I see, as one of the UK's greenest towns. It comes third after Norwich and Peterborough.

Transhumance means the seasonal movement of livestock. I like the word because it evokes the way civilisations create regular patterns of life, which affect, and become part of, geography and history. I came accross the word in today's paper, where there was an account of farmers driving a flock of sheep through the centre of Madrid to protest against the erosion of ancient routes and grazing rights, some of which go back 800 years.

The white abutilon in the garden has been in flower since July and its white cup-shaped flowers with yellow centres have never looked better than today.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

No leaf fall, leap, timber smell

Because the leaves are not falling even in mid-November and the sun is now low in the sky, it is strange and beautiful to catch the light streaming through the yellow leaves from just above the roof tops, when normally at this time of year the branches would be bare.

Proverb for the rash: Leap and then look for somewhere comfortable to land.

Passing a van from which two men are unloading newly sawn timber to refurbish a shop I remember the smell of carpentry and timber yards and think that it is one of the best smells in the world.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pearl gray, flapper, Mr Crow

This morning the sky is pearl gray, shining like pearls do, where the sun begins to pierce the cloud layer.

A man walks out of the sun; he flaps his coat outwards like wings. Is he saying to himself: "Look, I'm flying"?

Mr Crow sits on the top most branch of a tree, now bare of leaves. He owns the park. He is black, with shiny feathers; he is slow and purposeful in flight. Down he comes, lands heavily, bounces; with a clumsy waddle he proceeds to peck at the leaf strewn grass for lunch.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Starlings, historic facts, charity bound

Small swarms of starlings are beginning to take over the Grove. They did last winter and their numbers grew. Now they appear again on the trees like animated fruit. They sit on the branches and flute and twitter as the leaves fall, before taking off and wheeling over the park in small groups.

Hegel is often quoted, among others by Karl Marx, for this, and its worth repeating: "All great historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

In the High Street, a small procession of people each carrying two bulging plastic sacks; they disappear into the Mind charity shop.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pink woman, new hillside, two-headed pigeon

As I walk up Grove Hill Road, a woman in an invalid buggy rides past me on the pavement; she is dressed in pink with a white hat, and we exchange smiles. She looks pleasingly cheerful as people in buggies often do.

When I look due south out of the window this morning I spot, beyond the trees, what looks like a massive dark hillside which seems to have grown up overnight. It is a bank of early morning cloud standing out against the brightening sky. A few minutes later it has shrunk to a mere stain.

On a chimney stack I spot a two-headed pigeon. It is two pigeons in profile, beak to tail.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Quinces, pumpkin face, weather

A quince tree laden with fruit, glimpsed from the train outside Tonbridge station makes me want to leap out of the train and raid it.

Entering London I see from the train a large flat roof used as a terrace. Beside a glass door are a table and two chairs. On the table is a scooped out pumpkin with eyes and gaping mouth, left over from Halloween. Nothing else.

Today it rains and doesn't rain. A grayness and damp prevails. It is not cold nor yet warm. The pavement has a sticky sheen.It is the sort of weather, which, if you were stuck in the middle of the Sahara Desert on in a steaming jungle, would make you think nostalgically of England

Monday, November 06, 2006

Squirrels, cappucino, horses

A squirrel sits on a branch and makes a noise a bit like a duck would make if somone were trying to strangle it. I've noticed this before. This is the noise, which squirrels often make, but why? Nothing seems to be challenging it. It justs sits there and squawks. There are lots of squirrels in the Grove, pehaps too many. Maybe they are suffering from over-crowding.

Words come into my head when I wake up for no good reason. This morning it was theFrench word for the hood-shaped, nasturtium, capucine. It is derived, I imagine from the capucin, which refers to the religious order founded by St Francis, or from capuchon, which means cloak with a hood, or from both since the friars wear hooded garments. Cappucino, the italian word for espresso coffee covered with frothy milk, has a similar origin, though in this case the root is supposed to relate to the colour of the coffee when lightened by the milk.

Behind me in the street I hear the following exchange between two men:
"How did you get on with the horses?"
"Useless. Two seconds and two, nowhere."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

sunshine and smoke

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smell of ironing, crunching an apple, seagull

The smell of freshly ironed clothes especially when the clothes have been drying in the sunshine.

Crunching an apple, not any apple, but an apple such as you pick yourself or buy from the farmers market that has been left to ripen on the tree and to develop its full flavour, without being allowed to go soft and sandy. The juice should spurt when you bite it, and it should taste sweet and sour at the same time.

A solitary seagull circles the Grove barely moving its wings.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Wall, smoke, leaves and generations

Patterns left by wear and tear, and weather on walls have always fascinated me. I photograph a wall beside a car park through which I often pass. The peeling layers of render shows the shape, and a hint of the colour of bricks, and different textures according to their condition. In places, the plaster has broken off completely, and leaves a shape like the head and neck of a prehistoric animal, its jaws wide open; or like a map of an island.

Someone has made a bonfire in one of the garden near the Grove. You notice the smell first, acrid but pleasing, and then see , as the smoke disperses, that the afternoon sun, low in the sky, shining through the branches of an oak, has created the sort of beams you might see on a misty morning in the country.

Under the turkey oak in the corner of the Grove, three generations play with the dry, fallen leaves. The children, a boy and girl, shuffle joyfuly through them; their parents and their grand parents (or so one would guess) pick up the leaves and throw them in the air and over each other.

Friday, November 03, 2006


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Frost, butterfly, squirrel

Frost on the lawn, , a silvery carpet through which the grass just shows.

In the vegetable garden, a tortoiseshell butterfly flits in the sun among the nasturtiums which are beginning to sag after last night's chill.

A squirrel scampers across patches of sun and shade in the Grove so that, as it runs, its long silvery grey body, relecting the light, seems to flash on and off like a Christmas decoration

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Teddy back, sun behind tree, chill in the air

For several years the huge teddy bear standing by the first floor window of the house called Windy Bottom on the corner of the Grove, has looked down on passers by, as they have looked up to see him. Recently however he had been absent from his watch. Now he's back with a notice which reads: "Thank you for your lovely cards. LoveU."

In the morning the sun rising behind the tulip tree opposite our bedroom window makes the trunk and branches glow as though they are radiating an inner light.

Today, at last, the weather is doing what it ought to do. The chill in the air makes you feel normal again.


According to most estimates the universe is 13.8 million years old. I left out the 3. Apologies to the universe and to anyone or anything else involved.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

how old did you say? soap and cigarettes, spotlight

Sometimes, I like to remind myself that the universe is supposed to be 13.8 billion years old. It puts things in perspective.

An elderly gent in Halls Bookshop is talking about World War 2. "When German soldiers were taken prisoner", he says, "they asked for soap. The English asked for cigarettes."

A group of people in the Grove stand talking in a shaft of sunlight, which picks them out, the sun being low in the sky, like a spotlight on a stage.