Wednesday, January 31, 2007

vapour trails, pine kernals, sitting in the sun

I watch a plane leave a vapour trail in the clear blue sky. There are two white tracks which gradually break up and form strips of cloud before vanishing, long after the plane has gone.

Almost the best part of the weekly bread bake, is adding pine kernals and pumpkin seeds to the strong white flour and rye dough. The seeds add a nutty, slightly aromatic flavour to the bread. The seeds, which end up on the outside of the loaf, are toasted during baking and especially delicious.

There are several people, apart from us, sitting in the Pantiles enjoying the January sun.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

bye bye, falling strawberries, humming truck

As I approach the Grove, I hear a little girl saying "bye bye". She waves as she follows her mother out of the park. Who or what is she saying goodbye to? As I come level with the corner, I see that it is a cat, which sits on the grass, and looks bored, though possibly relieved to be left on its own.

A group of noisy, elderly women on an outing invade Smiths, the Greengrocers, where you help yourself to the produce and pay at a checkout desk. One lady with a pronounced Welsh accent and a note of hysteria in her voice stands over a stack of strawberries. "Where's the man? she shouts as she hangs on to the stack of boxes. "Where's the man? The strawberries are falling!"

I like the little, electric tractors called Workhorses, which they use in maintaining the Grove.They are satisfyingly compact with a spacious hopper and move with a quiet, purposeful hum.

Monday, January 29, 2007

child peacock, old couple, Mr Crow

I hear a peacock in the street. It turns out, to my disappointment, to be a very small baby.

An old couple walk past the cafe where I am sitting. He wears a flat cap; she, her white hair short and clinging to the curve of her skull. The both have red, zip jackets. They are a little unsteady on their feet and hold hands.

The crow, which has been pecking at the grass, flies into a tree and begins to makes its cawing noise. It stretches it neck forward and moves its head up and down with the effort. It is violent and unrelenting, But its enemy, if there is one, cannot be seen. Some squirrels and a magpie on the grass beneath the tree, take no notice.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

flying, yorkshire terriers, tulip tree

In Sainsbury's a little girl takes advantage of a temporary open space in front of the fish counter, and slides on her wheeled shoes, while, at the same time, tossing a toy glider into the air.

A husband and wife sit at a table outside a cafe in the Pantiles. A Yorkshire terrier sits on each of their laps.

I cannot see the lower part of the tulip tree, which greets me every morning when I raise the blind of our bedroom window. This afternoon I cross the road and peep over the wall to remind myself of its size and scope. At first it appears to be three trees, but its apparent that three hefty trunks rise from the same rootstock. A few years ago the tree was in a bad way, and some agile tree-surgeons spent a morning pruning it heavily. For a while its amputated branches were not a pretty sight, but now they seem to have recovered, and, and at this time of year, you can see that the bare branches are flourishing. One of the tree surgeons said at the time that it would not survive without the surgery.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

connubial calm, new word wanted, mist

Two doves sit side by side on a branch of the lime tree, a picture of connubial calm.

The other day I was seduced by the French word patatras, which caught my eye when I was looking for a completely different word. It refers to the sound made by the impact of a falling object. An English translation could be crash, but it lacks the onomatopeoic element. Imagine someone dropping a tray of china and cutlery on a staircase. Patatras suggests the reverbaration, as bits and pieces tumble and settle. Crash does not. I spotted patatras only by happy chance. Serendipity, you might say. But I am looking for a more specific word for such chance encounters in a dictionary. Any ideas?

Mist clears slowly this morning. From the Grove, I look, in the gaps between the houses of adjacent streets , at the trees on the Common. They are no more than grey shadows, their branches like scratches on a dusty window.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Better than bad, not waving but cleaning, pale sun

Saga magazine has, it seems, invented someone called Joe Tynam, who apparently has a blog called Now is the Time. So it seems that we have a lot in common, apart from similar names. I am getting to know Tynam and enjoy some of his observations. Here's Tynams latest: "I do not think of anyone as totally bad, but do believe that some people are a lot better than others".

I am watching a squirrel, who is watching me, when out of the corner of my eye, I see someone wave from a window. But what I take to be a wave turns out to be a hand cleaning the inside of the window with a cloth. The squirrel and I resume our mutual appraisal.

A layer of cloud this afternoon veils the sun, so that you can look it without the accustomed glare. It could be the moon, but it is too bright for that, and you know that it sits in the sky, where the sun usually is at this time of day and time of year. It looks like a round peppermint that has been reduced to a thin disc.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

shoe story, snowdrops, stepping-stones

In a blog,, Sara has the brilliant idea of photographing her feet and several pairs of footwear in separate pictures. The result is an unusual but fascinating self-portrait. Today I go back to it for a second look, and note a pair of black slippers identical with a pair I have had for some years.

In the WI Market, there are bunches of snowdrops. Each is complete with roots and balls of earth, and is contained in a small plastic bag. I carry the snowdrops home through the snow.

The melting snow has left a series puddles on the narrow paths in the Grove. The low sun catches these and turns them into a series of mirrors, gleaming stepping-stones along the uneven tarmac.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

snow on wire, cheerful man, yes dear.

A centimeter or so of snow lies on the telephone wire outside the bedroom window. At eye-level it looks like a narrow ridge of mountains.

A cheerful man appears to be greeting people in the street, but he is not looking at anyone in particular. You cannot hear what he says, if he says anything. But he smiles, raises one arm in the air , makes a thumbs-up sign, or spreads both his arms in a gesture of welcome. People think he is addressing them, and then look away when they realize he isn't, disappointed or perhaps relieved.

Says Mr Crow: "this is my grove of trees;
I strut here to peck my lunch from the soft ground.
It is mine and, Mrs Crow, you are my Eve".
"Yes, dear," says she.
"But when I fly with my black, heavy wings,
Up to that tree, Mrs Crow, and look beyond,
I see the world, and that too, is mine".
"Yes dear", says she.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

recognition, new word, news

Spotting someone you know in the distance whom you recognise not by their features but by their posture and gait.

"Kweedle" is the winner of a comptetion for a new word in the BBC 4 programme Word of Mouth. It means to lean back in a chair and rock backwards and forwards. It was submitted to the progamme by Kathy Desmond.

In a cafe I see a man reading his stars in a tabloid newspaper, while sucking on a cigarette. He folds the paper and offers it to me. As I am about to leave I say "no thanks." "Nothing special," he says with a smile.

Monday, January 22, 2007

larger and smaller, snow, happy

The Google website offers a Buddhist thought for the day. One recent thought appeals: " One side will make you smaller; the other side will make you larger". The source is Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland.

Today, the cold rain suddenly turns to large flakes of snow floating in the wind outside the window. Indoors, I see on TV Andy Murray narrowly lose to Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in sweltering Melbourne.

Another felicitous phrase from Fortunata y Jacinta by Perez Galdos: "The news made her happy as a couple of castanets."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

veggie hopes, smile day, wallnut oil

Overheard in Sainsbury's:
He: Maybe they'll have vegetarian sausages or something.
She: The don't make vegeterian sausages.

Tomorrow, January 21, is reckoned,by those who know that sort of thing, to the most miserable day of the year. National-Be-Miserable Day? But it's reassuring to think that it's not compulsory.

A guest brings a litre bottle of wonderful wallnut oil. It comes from Huilerie J Le Blanc of Iguerande in the upper the Loire Valley. For a start, it inspires a salad with warm goat-cheese and a few wallnut halves to be liberally dressed with it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hi there, wrong address, crow

A man in a red dressing gown looks out of his ground floor window on to Mt Sion. He is talking to a telephone. As I pass , I hear his say"Hi there" into it.

I am reading Fortunata and Jacinta, a long sprawling novel about life in Madrid, by the 19th century, Spanish novelist, Perez Galdos. While it is not notable for its narrative drive it has some good moments. I particularly enjoy the observation by the do-gooder Guilermina to her playboy nephew, ..." and besides, it's bad for you to be always travelling around like a letter with the wrong address on it".

Crow on top branch
Opens his beak, says ca-argh.
A black hole is born.

Friday, January 19, 2007

rules, butterfly again, paths

To my collection of notices, which I am calling "signs for the times", I take pleasure in adding this, copied down as printed, from outside the loos in my favourite pub in Tunbridge Wells:

These Toilets are single
occupancy only

If two or more people are found using
them, they will be asked to leave the

Gentlemen if you must use the ladies
Loo please respect them by improving
your aim and leaving the seats down
when finished

Every few days this January, I see a butterfly, not, I am sure, the same one, but surely worthy of note. This one seemed in a hurry as it fluttered up Sutherland Road.

I like the mysterious way rough footpaths wind their way up the steep slopes of the Common, from where it comes down to the main road, and lose themselves in the tangle of trees and undergrowth on the way up.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tree in pavement

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black and white, wind power, french french

If I took a colour photograph from our bedroom window this morning, it would appear to be a black and white photograph. Even the evergreen leaves in the distance behind the tulip tree appear to be grey.

A big wind today.It is enjoyable to walk through it, swaying and steadying oneself, as though drunk.

The French dictionary, which I picked up the other day at Hall's bookshop, is proving to be an unexpected pleasure when reading in bed. It has almost entirely taken the place of the Cassell's French English dictionary, which I have been using continuously for the last four or five years. Reading defintions in French rather than going from French to English, is a little slower, but enhances the constant sense of discovery, which is part of the pleasure I get from reading in French. It is Le Robert micro poche. Micro it may be but it manages to include anlalogies, synonyms and antonyms in its defintions, while remaining comfortable to handle.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

flickering sun, snowdrops, puddles

After this morning's rain the sun comes out and, low in the sky, comes through the leaves of the bay tree outside the window and flickers, almost like candlelight, on the oak table top.

Snowdrops appear in the Grove.

A good day for puddles: they seem to be windows into another world, a sepia world, which tremble at the least disturbance.This afternoon I photograph reflections of a beech hedge, and the excommunicated branches of trees.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Deserted, hortensia, walking in the rain

In the deserted Grove this afternoon, only Mr and Mrs Crow strut on the grass, and over there a magpie drops in, while the trees are fruited with whistling starlings, heartened by the soft rain.

Hortensia or Hortense seems to be quite a common girls name in France. But, unlike other names of flowers -Lilly or Iris for example - it has not been adopted in England. And not surprisingly: who would want to be called Hydrangea, which is the English translation of hortensia?

Walking in the rain is always a pleasure especially when wearing a waterproof jacket and a broad-brimmed leather hat, and when the rain is a gentle mizzling rain, as it is this afternoon.

Monday, January 15, 2007

postman wit, window reflects, thin ice

"Just in time," I say as I hand a letter to the postman who is collecting the mail from the letter box. "I thought I was one short," he says.

The glass of the bay windows of the Pizza Express in the High Street, formerly the National Westminster Bank, has been replaced by reflective glass. It is convex on the outside, and mirrors people looking in, but allows patrons inside to look out, their view unimpeded. From outside you have to press your face against the glass to see shadowy figures inside.

From the York Courant, 15 January 1748 : "It is estimated that no less than a dozen persons have lost their lives in this last week, by inadvisedly skating upon this ice, which broke and drowned them: whereof five expired at one time, within sight of some fifty spectators in St James's Park."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

squirrel on the roof, seagull flock, twins on bikes

A squirrel appears on a roof, climbs the chimney stack and peeps down the chimney, as might you or I.

I've seen a number of seagulls recently over Tunbridge Wells, but usually in pairs or on their own. This afternoon a small flock- eight or nine - wheel over Mount Sion while, above them, a small private plane banks in the sun, becoming part of a fleeting aeronautic composition.

Two small boys, obviously twins, are learning to ride new bicycles. They are helped by their parents, each of whom hangs on to the saddle of one of them. The boys have identical orange bikes, and both wear crash helmets.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

old friend,winter butterfly, mustard

I bump into a former neighbour who comes home for a cup of tea and stays for a bottle of wine.

A brown butterly flutters past me in Sutherland Road. It is January 13th.

In Sankey's bar there is a collection of old advertisement signs. One reads: Eat Coleman's mustard with our prime beef, mutton etc and enjoy them more." Another: "Lyle Superior Quality Lemonade Ginger Beer". Reflections of a simpler age.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

light, padding, follow the van

The sun, low in the sky, comes off the wet tarmac, this afternoon, with a blinding light.

A group of clouds for a few minutes pack the sky like the padding of an eiderdown.

Reading an account of the cockney music hall singer, Marie Lloyd in The Victorians by A N Wilson. I note for the first time the significance of her famous song:

"My old man said follow the van
And don't dilly dally on the way.
Off went the cart with me home packed in it,
I followed on with my old cock linnet - but
I dillied, I dallied, I dallied and I dillied,
Lost me way and don't know where to roam
Who's going to put up the old iron bedstead
If I can't find my way home.

It is, Wilson points out, about "being evicted, piling ones few pathetic belongings on to a cart and getting drunk", a humorous but sad comment on the poverty in the slums at the end of the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

sunshine, idea, shark in window

After two or three days of unremitting rain, the sunshine this afternoon is a pleasure which you cannot take for granted.

The assistant at the chemist remarks that she is glad to settle back to normality after Christmas. "Sometimes, I think, " she says, "why not have Christmas every two years?"

I see a shark swimming in a shop window and quickly realize that it is a shark on a giant televison screen.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

camellia, wind, fruit and veg

A pink camellia is already in flower in a neighbouring street.

The wind whirls through the branches above the Grove like invisible traffic.

The newagent in Grove Hill Road hasn't been slow to take advantage of the closure of the Morrison's supermarket by the station. Since before Christmas it has been displaying fruit and vegetable outside the double-fronted shop. Today in the rain, the oranges, onions, melons, and sprouts on stalks present a cheering sight.

Monday, January 08, 2007

olives, dark matter, pyracantha

After finishing Les Soleil des Scorta by Laurent Gaudé, there remains in my head this lyrical account of olives: "'They are made of gold,' said his uncle, 'Those who say that we are poor, have never eaten a crust of bread, dipped into our oil. It is like taking a bite from our hillsides . It smells of stone and of sun. It is beautiful, thick, unctuous, our olive oil. It is the blood of our land.'"

The best bit of news today is the announcement, by Dr Richard Massey of the California Institute of Technology, of the first three dimensional map of dark matter - the invisible material that makes up at least 80% of the universe. "A filamentary web of dark matter is threaded through the entire universe," he explains, " and acts as a scaffolding within which the ordinary matter - including stars, galaxies and planet, are built."

The seeds of pyracantha are bright in the rain this afternoon and seem to be lit from within.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

theory, sunday smells, pink onions

Heidi remembers meeting her grandfather when he was rather the worse for wear, trying with difficulty to get his front door key into the lock, and saying: "Theoretically I'm already in bed".

In the blustery wind this afternoon, a whiff of Sunday-lunch.

Some small, firm, slightly pink, slightly sweet onions from Brittany called Rosé de Roscoff.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

floating, wisdom, small game

Christmas is over, but above the concourse of Charring Cross Station, a gas-filled balloon in the shape of Father Christmas, bobs against the netting stretched below the roof to keep pigeons away. The string, to which a child's hand must recently have clung, hangs forlorn below the balloon.

Small boy: I want to get on that train.
Mother: We don't know where it's going.
Small boy: I do.

My sister-in-law, who lives in Norwich, says she saw a notice outside a fish and game merchant, which announced: "Whole raw tigers for Christmas".

Thursday, January 04, 2007

high point, time saved, smoked salmon

There is a plaque in the Grove, which reminds visitors that the little tree-crowded park was once a high point in the surrounding countryside, " a highly visible landmark". Then, as now, it consisted of a group of trees. But the trees were "well established" then - no longer so since the storm of 1987. And you realise that the Grove's visibility from afar, too, has been limited by encroaching streets of houses, while the view from the park is now obstructed by rooftops. Happily the trees, replanted after the storm, are growing taller, and the Grove is taking on its former shape of a leafy copse.

A mistake in my sudoku is not worth trying to correct and finish, so I listen to some Bach and read Montaigne on pedantry, instead.

A smoked salmon sandwich made with fresh rye bread, cream cheese, a squeeze of lemon and a dusting of paprika.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

kite, bear friend, abandoned

In the Grove, Caroline on her last day with us, flies what is claimed to be the smallest kite in the world; it measures about three inches by two inches and has two tails; caught by the gusty wind, it soars up into the sunshine.

Giles, who owns the house, with a window, where a life sized bear ( recently featured here) looks down on to the Grove, greets me from the neighbouring window. "Can I be in your blog too?" he says.

Normal service is resumed. Guests have departed. Shoppers carry ordinary plastic bags, now that the conjoined feasts of Christmas and the Sales are over. The decorations in the High Street hang desolately in the damp air, and a discarded Christmas tree lies across the waste bin at the entrance to Chapel Place. A charming melancholy presides.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

tourists, time, cheese

Two tourists pass us going up as we go down Mt Sion. I know they are tourists because one of them holds in his hand a familiar, buff coloured leaflet. The leaflet describes the buildings (once boarding houses and brothels) that were built in Mount Sion in the early days of Tunbridge Wells. The spa town of today was developed from rough heathland, in the 17th Century, on account of the supposedly health-giving spring discovered there. The tourists stop in front of one of the houses listed on their route, and proceed up hill with an enlightened look on their faces.

I read a newspaper article about time by the philosopher, Julian Baggini. He expounds on Immanuel Kant's belief that: "the best way to view time and space is not to see them as features of reality that the mind tries to comprehend, but as features of the mind, which are used to comprehend reality."

In the Pantiles, two women hand Caroline a camera and ask her to take a photograph of them. They pose and one says to the other "say cheese", and they say "cheese" in chorus.

Monday, January 01, 2007

hungry ghosts, slowing down, chillis

Caroline talks about the hungry ghost realm in bhuddist belief - one of the six realms of rebirth. Here desires are never satisfied. The hungry ghosts cannot eat as their throats are as narrow as pins, but their stomachs are as large as drums.

The pleasure of doing things deliberately and slowly.

On the doorstep of a ground floor flat is a withered chilli plant. Bright red chillis hang from it, waiting, you imagine, to be incorporated into a spicy stir-fry or a curry.