Thursday, May 31, 2007



Please note that the link I was trying to establish for Lucy Kempton's log is as follows: I have tried to correct it but something is awry.

Just for the record, the correction has now been made and a typo in the poem adjusted.

panama, rosé, grief

In a shop window, I spy one of those old fashioned, panama hats, which you can fold up and put in your pocket. It has a crease across the crown, to make it easier

Some bottles of rosé from the Languedoc, in anticipation of guests and fine weather. It is very pale, what, in California, they call a "blush" wine.

Something I read in Lucy Kempton's blog, has stayed with me. She wrote of a conversation with her husband, Tom, in which he he referred to the modern, western world as being in "a continual state of low-level grief." It's hard not to recognise that state. It was a similar line of thought, which led me to a poem a year or so ago:

How to be cheerful

Adjust with care, the instructions in the handbook say,
For misalignments and breakdowns can occur,
Where balanced wheels are expected to engage and play.

Where the seesaw race begins, the dim, obsessive chime,
The winding up and unwinding of the spring.

Within the escapement's clutch, the seagulls scream
Notes of survival and the constancy of loss.

Yet yeasts ferment and prompt in the memory
How the Grosse Fugue's galloping colloquy goes
Further than sense can go, where laughter's the lingo:
Swifter than intelligence, deeper than instinct,
You won't know sad from glad then, or need to know.

Pick up this theme: even if our revels all aren't ended,
A silent smile will open like an estuary,
Spread wide its waters, where oysters have long bred
And wading birds among the reeds can taste the sea.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

peonies, growing drops, passion

A bunch of tight-budded, red peonies, the flowers emerging from dark green, spikey leaves.

In the garden today, plants are laden with ripe rain-drops.

PASSIONATE SALES PEOPLE SOUGHT, says a notice in the window of a new funiture shop in the High Street.

Coming in to land

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

settling up, cat arrangement, dog-walking

On the roof of the multi-story car park is a sign, outlined against the sky, where white clouds pass. It reads: PAY HERE.

Picture. A cat, mostly white, with a large marmalade patch, sits prettily on a front doostep. Next to it is an empty milk bottle.

In the Grove, I meet Giles whose house overlooks the corner of the little park. He is with his small son and his dog. The dog has two leads attached to it. Giles is holding one. The little boy hangs on to the other. "One last sniff," says Giles to the child and the dog. "We're learning how to walk dogs," he says to me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

fennel, old age, shadows

In the rain, the feathery fonds of fennel.

My friend Tristan points out a poem in the New Yorker by W. S Merwin, called Unknown Age, which makes me think that poems written in old age, or about it, deserve special attention. By coincidence I come across, just now, in an anthology of poems about dance, a poem,which also touches on age. It is by the Japanese Zen monk Ryokan:
Chanting our own poems,
Making our own verses,
Playing with a cloth ball,
Together in the fields -
Two people with one heart.

The breeze is fresh,
The moon so bright -
Let's dance until dawn
As a farewell to my old age.

Though it is a day of thick, heavy cloud, there is a wild brightenss in the light, which allows the trees to cast shadows despite the absence of sun.

Raindrops on acer

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

sausages, surface tension, chives,

"Do want any sausages, love?" says a woman in the supermarket, as she draws level with me, her trolley before her. Never having seen her before, I don't know how to reply. Then the question is explained by a man, who must be her husband, overtaking me on the other side. He doesn't want any, but I thought, maybe I do.

In the rain I look down on the leaves of a miniature, red acer, where beaded rain drops are dispersed. Somewhat paled, the colour of the leaves comes through the drops, while patches of light are reflected off their convex surfaces.

I cut chives and chop the fine stems as a garnish for boiled potatoes to go with this evening's grilled plaice.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

orange cat, snaggle-teeth, black violas

As I approach the Grove, I spot an orange cat on the look out by the gate. It fixes me with an unrelenting stare. What is behind that stare? Aggression, suspicion..? Or the need for affection? I draw level with the cat; it emits a single miaow, and rolls over on it back. Having made this obeisance, it gets to its feet and winds itself round my legs, in a slow and sinuous dance.

In the paper: a photograph of an alligator. It is surprising that such a powerful, remorselessly aggressive creature, should, by virtue of its snaggle teeth, appear to be both terrifying and comically benign.

In the market: the black (well, very nearly black) viola seedlings, which I buy every year, and plant in a wide, clay pot outside the front door.

Friday, May 25, 2007

plimsolls, WG, party?

A pair of shoes advertised in a catalogue are referred to as plimsolls. That's what we all had at school for running and gym. Plimsolls, canvas shoes with rubber soles! That was a long time ago, before trainers, and the cult that goes with them. Welcome back plimsolls.

In a shop window, two books on W G Grace display his bearded face on the cover. The greatest cricketer of all time, they used to say. But no one expained why he was. Even when I was young there were few people around who had seen him play. I wonder if was as good as they made him out to be. A hero for some, but to me there is something shifty and calculating about the eyes beneath the horizontally striped cap. Perhaps, he is thinking about the outfield and how to steer the ball between cover point and mid on. But, as I examine the photographs, I begin to suspect that there is something more sinister going on in the old boy's mind. How refreshing if there were!

As we sit in the garden a voice or voices come up the road and over the hedge? What is the language? How many people? Is it a party? A riot? Spanish I say. I go and look. I am right. It is one Spanish girl sitting on a doorstep on a mobile phone.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

wild, bee on iris, blanket

Next to the vegetable garden is a garden left, for the last few months, to its own devices. It is a marriage of wildness and tranquility. Rolling, clambering sheets of wild clematis - bindweed, gardeners call it, and you can understand why they hate it, because of its indefatigable root system, but what noble beauty they miss in the flowers - have spread their bold, white trumpets, quick-off-the-mark leaves and tendrils over what was once a rubbish heap. Here and there, where vegetables grew, a parsnip is in flower. There are docks, dandelions, nettles and sow-thistles, and grass flourishing everywhere and already in seed. Forget-me-nots, too, though I remember that the owner, some years ago, had taken a dislike to these pretty self-seeders, and banished them from his garden.

A bee enters the corolla of a deep blue iris. It crawls over the fine, variegated pattern at the entrance and pushes its way past a petal, arranged horizontally like a flap; in towards the pollen, and down the flower's dark throat it goes, where the striated pattern of black and yellow, now all round it, confirms the way. A few second later it emerges, slowly backwards, flies off, circles and then comes back to the same spot for more.

A woman spreads a blanket in the Grove. In her hands, it billows outwards and settles neatly on the ground, confirms its boundaries. She smooths out her territory and places her crawling baby in the middle of it. Her collie-type dog lies , its front paws forward, and watches approvingly.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Linnaeus, hedge, lossy

Thanks to Carl Linnaeus, who was born 300 years ago today, there is a simple system by which, whatever language we speak or culture we belong to, we have, in common, short, descriptions of the 10,000 bird species, 400,000 plant species and one million species of insect in the world.

Relaxing while the hedge grows is something I find exceptionally hard. I meant to devote the weekend to trimming it, but having been laid low by a bug, and having asked someone else to take on the job, the prospect of being relieved of it is quickly becoming a delight.

From an unusual version of Hamlet:
How looked he, then, the noble King, my father,
When you espied him on the battlement?

Lossy. One moment, there. One moment, not,
Like to the welkin, his very shape awash.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

mustard, cistus, lossy again

Picking and tasting the first mixed leaves of oriental mustard in this morning's sun.

Bees are supposed to be scarce this year. Not in our garden. They are drawn to the white flowers of the cistus, never before as generous.

"Lossy, the moon in the silvery mist,
Lossy the maid alone by the lake.
Lossy the shadows that rise from the sedge,
Lossy the knight, the long night awake."

John Keats? Did he have a computer?

Monday, May 21, 2007

better, polish, lossy

It is a pleasing thing to be seeing things straight again after being struck down by a bug. Colour and shape come back to the world.

Seen through the window, the trunk of the bay tree, shines like polished ebony.

I have completley fallen for the adjective "lossy" which Clare Grant posted by way of a comment here yesterday. I can't it get it out of my head. I love it. I shall use it at every opportunity. Thanks again Clare. A beautiful thing.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

bee, mist, new word

Through the window I see a bee blown off-course by a gust of wind. You don't often see bees in the wind.

First thing, in the supermarket they are displaying fresh meat on the butchers counter. A mist caused by condensation wafts round the joints and steaks.

A new word: I copy a photograph on to a file on the computer and a window informs me that "this photo cannot be rotated losslessly.

Friday, May 18, 2007

crisps, what is it? climbers

In Cafe Nero, they display packets of potato crisps,where you queue to get you coffee. A notice has the unusual message: "Please do not squash the crisps".

One row of seeds which I forgot to label is sprouting today. The only way to tell what it is, is to nibble one of the leaves, which are just beginning to form. Parsley. It is notoriously slow to germinate, which helps to explain, why I forgot what it was. There is an old country belief that the seeds go down to hell seven times before sprouting, which accounts for the superstition that you should not transplant parsley. I invariably do.

In one of the farmers markets I noticed some climbing nasturtiums clambering up four stakes in a pot. Nasturtiums grow in the vegetable garden like weeds spreading every year and taking the place over, if I am not careful. Today I bring four of plants home and arrange them round a wigwam in a flower bed

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Joey, glooms, contrast

There is a resident dog, part Jack Russell, to judge by his appearance and his independence of character, at Sankey's bar and restaurant. His name is Joey. Adam, his owner says he frequently crosses the town unaccompanied, when he feels inclined. He chases rabbits on the Common or goes shopping. "The other day," Adam says, "he went to Tesco on his own. I found him waiting outside".

A heavy, overcast afternoon, warm and humid. Where there are trees, I am reminded of John Keat's phrase "verdurous glooms".

Through some iron railings emerge the pink and white flowers of dicentra or love-lies-a -bleeding.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

slow walking, mysotis, swifts

I don't walk fast mostly because there is so much to see. I saunter. I like that word, saunter, which is close in meaning, I think, to the French flâner. Another good word which describes something I like doing.

The scattered petals of forget-me-not (mysotis) make a mosaic of bright blue fragments on the path.

As we sit ont he terrace outside Sankey's I hear, before I see the summer's first swifts. Their sharp cries, as they wheel and swoop in the air, is alway a thrilling sound, a link to the wildness in all of us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

leeks, green, blackbird

I like leeks. I like growing leeks. They are easy to grow. You just make a hole with a dibber and drop in the leek seedling straight from the seed-tray or seed-bed. You fill the hole with water and leave it. Leeks come to mind today because of a word I came across in a French dictionary. The word is poireauter, which comes from, poireau the French word for leek. Poireauter, means to hang around, which is, one supposes, what leeks do until you are ready to lift them. I have never heard the expression used, but according to the dictionary you can also say faire le poireau to mean hang around. I look forward to using it myself next time I am in France, but who knows, perhaps the usage is obscure, and no one will know what I am talking about.

Verde que te quiero verde! The green of moss, the green of verdigris, the green of pistachio nuts.

A blackbird sits on a tv aerial and sings his heart out.

Monday, May 14, 2007

bamboo, box for notes, pigeons

A clump of bamboo in the Grove waves and nods in the wind. Sometimes it looks like an animal sniffing the air.

A red laquered, Chinese box is just what I wanted to store the notes, mostly on yellow post-its, which I write to myself, several times a day. Eventually I will decide what to do with them. But for the time being it will keep them tidy, make them feel cared for.

There are nearly always children in the playground on the slides and swings. But today, in the wake of a heavy shower, there are only pigeons pecking at the grass.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tour baby, notices, puddle

One of the partners who run the restaurant called Ragged Trouser in the Pantiles is a guitarist. He has just returned from a tour of the USA with his rock group, which is called Todd. He is tall and thin, and usually wears a flat tweed cap. Describing the tour he says: "We did not make a lot of money, but we had a good time," and stroking his stomach, to indicate a degree of drinking and eating, " I've come back with a bit of a 'tour baby'".

I have always been fascinated by notices. There is one fixed to the shopping trolley ,which I am using in Sainsbury's this morning. It says: "The trolley will stop suddenly beyond the red line." There seems to be a metaphysical significance there, which extends beyond the matter in hand. I used to love the notice on London buses, when I was a young man. It said: "At the sign shown on the right all buses stop. At the sign on the left buses will only stop if you hail the driver."

There is an occasional puddle in two of the paving stones, which our friend Dave laid last year to replace some ugly, concrete squares. It drains away in less than an hour, so it doesn't worry us too much. And it serves a useful purpose. If you want to know how hard it is raining, or if it is still raining at all, you can tell by the number and intensity of the splashes on the surface.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

wake-up word, cook, raddish

Often I wake up with a word in my head, without knowing where it comes from or why it is there. Today the word is "Rumpelstiltskin". He is of course the dwarf, in the fairy tale who helps a miller's daughter weave straw into gold, in return for which she promises to give the dwarf her first child, when she becomes, as surely she does, queen. In time she marries the king and has a child. When she is reminded of her promise, she tries to persuade the dwarf to excuse her handing over the child. He relents, but only on the understanding that she must guess his name within three days. The princess sends a mesenger far and wide to find out the dwarf's name. He has no luck. But on the third day the messenger comes upon a cottage in a wood, and there, through the window, he sees the little man dancing round his fire and singing:
Tomorrow I bake, tomorrow I brew,
Today for one
Tomorrow for two
Little knows my royal dame
Rumpelstiltskin is my name.
The messenger tells the queen, and she says to the dwarf: "Is your name by any chance Rumpelstiltskin?"

At the back door of Carluccio's restaurant in Mount Pleasant, I see a stately cook, clad in a white smock down to her ankles. She wears a circular white hat. From her pocket she produces a mobile phone into which she begins to speak, like a princess.

Bunches of fresh white raddish in the Farmer's Market give promise of munching bliss.

Friday, May 11, 2007

peonies, composition, not wanted

The buds of the peony, not the most modest of flowers, are about to open, and manage to look demure, as though to disguise the shock of their imminent maturity.

Under the canopy of a young copper beech, a blackbird forages in the grass among daisies and dandelions. No photograph is needed: a picture is composed in the mind.

Among the things to rejoice in not wanting: a cyberman mask and voice-changer from Dr Who, in the window of the BBC shop in Mount Pleasant. On the other hand ...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

ceonothus, resin, hops

A ceonothus, a shrub, which I have always liked since I saw it growing wild in California, rises over a wall like a cloud of blue smoke.

There is something haunting about the smell of resin, and its taste, if you are eccentric enough to enjoy the white wines of Greece and Cyprus, where a little resin is added to the must. Its use as an ingredient of wine goes back to the Romans, who coated the inside of porous amphorae, to preserve the wine better. That reason for resinated wine eventually became irrelevant when wooden casks were introduced, but it seems to have survived because people had grown accustomed to it.
Thoughts of resin come to me today because of a passage in the wonderful, but sadly neglected part-novel, part-memoir, Years of Childhood, by the Russian writer Sergei Aksakov, published in 1858. Like the other two book in the trilogy, which covers life in Russia spanning the end of the the eighteenth and the and the beginning of the nineteenth century, it is full of beautiful things. This is just one:
"Then I begged successfully for little bits or drops of the fir resin which was everywhere on the walls and window-frames, melting and dropping and making little streams, cooling and drying as it went, and hanging in the air like icicles, with a shape exactly like the common icicles of winter. I was very fond of the smell of resin, which was sometimes used to fumigate our nursery. I smelt the sweet transparent blobs of resin, admired them and played with them; they melted on my hands and made my long fingers sticky..."

In the Pantiles a man with a carrying voice is guiding a group of tourists, who seem unimpressed with what he is saying, or perhaps do not know enough English to understand him. He points to the frieze above the Corn exchange. "Those represent hops," he says. "Hops are used to flavour beer." I keep hearing those words in my head as I move away. For no reason I can think of, I still hear them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

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pink, trained, gentleness

Under the horse chestnuts, the largely white, individual petals from the "candles" are stained with the sort of pink, you associate with sweeties and party frocks.

At the edge of the curb, an over zealous spaniel, its front paws stretched out, lies, rather than sits down, at its owner's word, before crossing the road.

A gentle rain today, so gentle you don't get wet, a sweet rain.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Laburnam, rhubarb, wind

When I was a child I used to climb into a laburnam tree in my grandparent's garden. Now, as I do today, when I look at the yellow tresses among the pale green leaves, I can see and feel the black trunk where you could sit comfortably and watch grown ups below.

If you don't like eating rhubarb, and refrain from cutting down the flowering stems, you can enjoy looking at the big leaves and majestic, cream-coloured inflorescences.

A rough and busy wind has torn off horse chestnut blossoms and sprays of leaves in the Grove.

Monday, May 07, 2007

definitions, flowers and fruit, visitors

As part of my pleasure in reading French, I have recently started to translate favourite passages, which seem relevant to my way of thinking just now. Two passages have come together. One is from the novel Gros Câlin about a man who lived in Paris with a python. The other is the first two verses of the poem on the art of poetry by Paul Verlaine. Both, in an odd way, seem to make the same point, though I didn't realize it when I started on the exercise.
The novel is told in the first person, by the protagonist, a young man, who seems quite lost and out of touch with other people, but whose eccentricty has a consistent and often surprising logic of its own.
He says at one point: "I often use expressions of which I am cautious about recognising the meaning, because there, at least, some possibilites remain. It is a part of my philosophy. I always look into the background of expressions, because there, at least, you can believe that something different is intended".

Verlain's poem opens:
Music before everything:
In its empire, prefer what is irregular,
Hazy, primed to melt in air
Where all is free and weighs nothing.

In choice of words avoid the hard and clear
And hold nothing more dear
Than the grey song of shades
Where well-defined and vague concur.

I note more flowers and fruit on trees, usually defined by their leaves. Lime tree flowers are now in bud, each flower attached, one might almost say welded, by its stem to the leaf-like wing, on which, in time, it will be ferried in the autumn wind. Then there is the maple fruit, with its twin, green, pink-tinted blades, more heavy duty and propeller-like than the delicate fruit of the ornamental acer (also of the maple family) that I photographed the other day.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

hanging clematis, coming and going, sweet cicely

A clematis montana rubens has clambered up into some trees in a back garden. A long stem has fallen from the branches. It hangs down, two or three meters without flowers, then at the bottom, a wreath of the little pink flowers, sways gently in the breeze.

I pass a stately, elderly couple on my way into town. They have loose clothing and a guide book and both wear straw hats. They look relaxed as they walk towards the Grove obeying instructions in the book. On my way back through Calverley Park, I see them again, walking in the opposite direction. I find myself hoping that they have not been disappointed and that they will tell someone in a post card or on the telephone how much they have enjoyed Tunbridge Wells.

In someone's front garden I spot a sweet cicely plant. For as long as I can remember this early flowering herb, with its fern-like leaves and flowers in close, white umbels, has grown in my own garden, where years ago I planted it long ago. It smells of aniseed. Its leaves are said to be slightly sweet, and may be used as a substitute for sugar. It is pleasing to see it in another garden, a bit like coming across an old friend, unexpectedly at a party.

Acer fruit

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

petition, acer, asparagus

A British bulldog looks on while a photograph of Winston Churchill presides over a stall where passers-by are invited to sign a petition against the introduction of identity cards. Winston Churchill, we are reminded, abolished identity cards, which were introduced during the World War 2, when the war was over.

There is a dark red acer near the entrance to Calverley Grounds. I note little green, winged fruit, less than two centimeters from tip to tip, among the feathery, palmate leaves. They comprise the winged seeds common to members of the maple family, which spin through the air later in the year. These pretty fruit, for that is what they are, are beautifully designed. There are two wings, pink at the upper edges and green where they join the thin brown stem. At the junction there a small swelling where, through the transparent membrane, you can see the single, as yet, unripe seed.

In the Farmers' Market there is an asparagus stall - bundles of stems in three degrees of thickness, starting with the thin sprue, freshly cut with the promise of fine, green flavours, their slightly purple heads waiting for melted butter. A photographer, who is patrolling the market, his camera at the ready, has a bunch sticking out of the pocket of his jacket.

Friday, May 04, 2007

extremes, viridian, hoop and squirrel

Under a tree, a group of young people sprawl deep in conversation. One wears a dark grey, hooded top with the the words "extreme music for extreme people"printed on the back.

I look for a colour word for the dark, blueish green of the feathers just above the tail of magpies. you normally think of magpies as merely black and white, but they deserve a closer look. Viridian, I think, where it meets winsor blue on the palette. Unpopular, thuggish birds, magpies; but their arrogance impresses.

In the Grove I hear a squirrel quacking ( I can't think of a better word, though a duck might object to the association) in a holly tree. It sits there quacking but I can't see a reason for the din. Then I notice a child's white hoop hanging among the branches. I have heard squirrels make this noise before, and I am sure that it is nothing to do with the hoop. But the image remains; a squirrel and a white hoop in a holly tree.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

new words, composition, prolific rose

The gardener across the road enquires after my heath. "They don't call them operations any more," he says. "They call them 'procedures'".

Have you noticed how animals, people, objects arrange themselves in fields as you pass in the train? Three crows in a diagonal line; or one crow who thinks he's god; a group of cows all pointing the same way in one corner, the rest of the field empty; a pod of sheep; one man and a dog like a yo-yo running off and coming back.

Last autumn, being a little incapacitated, I crudely amputated the shoots of a climbing rose rather that tying them to the wall as I should have done. Now my brutality is rewarded by more deep crimson, heavily scented roses than ever before. And you can almost see the branches making up for lost time, as they push towards the sky.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Holly blue, clothes dance, guess who

A holly blue butterfly hovers round the hedge in out garden. The book, which I use to identify it says that the adults drink "honeydew, sap and juices of carrion".

From the platform of Sevenoaks station, I watch one of those circular, rotating clothes airers, which you unfold and erect in gardens. Partly hidden by shrubs, the clothes which are drying on it, in the stiff wind, resemble people engaged in an endless circular dance. Round and round they go, crowding and pushing one another as in the hokey-cokey.

In the train today a group of young people play a guess-who game. Each has a label stuck on his or her forehead with the name of a person or thing, and has to ask the others question to find out what identity they have been given - a jolly train.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

leaves, catkins, brakes

It strikes me as I watch the countryside from the train that trees in leaf, uplifting as they are, have their downside. They hide the secret places of their trunks and branches as well as the fuller view of fields, hedgerows and hillsides, which you have from the train in winter.

In the corner of the Grove, the the big oak is shedding its long catkins, they fly in the breeze more or less vertical, and form little piles and drifts on the paths.

The melancholy sound of heavy duty brakes comes up from the London road as a lorry approaches the roundabout, the terrestrial equivalent of a whale.