Monday, December 31, 2007

fresh, porridge, unseasonable

"Will you be seeing in the New Year? I say to a neighbour. "I''ll be in bed by 9 0'clock," he says," so that I can be fresh for New Year's Day."

I like the sound of porridge bubbling as it simmers. It sounds as if it is talking to itself.

A yellow primula is, unseasonably, in flower.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

potatoes, buds, 400th birthday

Peru, I read to day, has suggested that 2008 should be the year of the potato. Who rules on these matters? Why not the year of the pomegranate?

Daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops are pushing their shoots up through the grass. Meanwhile I note the tight buds of magnolia.

John Milton was born almost 400 years ago in 1608.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

what day? resistable, sales

Amid this cluster of bank holidays, it is difficult to be sure of the day of the week.

In Hall's bookshop a hefty volume on car parks entitled The Architecture of Parking. Resistable.

The word "sales" is in almost every shop window, and in many, the bold words "50% off" surmounted in much smaller print by the shifty words "up to".

Friday, December 28, 2007

not recylcable, olive oil biscuits, rubber bands

On the label attached to a pack of onions (yes, the now mythologically renowned Roscoff onions, referred to here the other day) which I found in Sainsbury's, are the words: "sorry not yet recyclable", not once but twice. In the first instance, they apply to the bag, and in the second, to the label itself. The onions meanwhile have been recycled.

It is not often that a full address serves as a marketing device. The wrapper of each of the "hand-made, sweet, olive oil biscuits" which we eat today with our afternoon tea is an exception. The slightly transparent greaseproof paper, which wraps each biscuit (diameter about 12 cm) is printed in striking, bold characters with the words "Las legitimas y acreditos tortas de aceite de Ines Rosales, Calle Real 102, Castilleja de la Cuesta, ". They are, crisp, only slightly sweet and have a delicate anis flavour. Their journey from Seville to Tunbridge Wells, where I bought the biscuits, seems on this damp afternoon, to be a little miracle.

The streets round here are notable for a scattering of elastic bands. The explanation is that postmen divide their letters into packs according to street and delivery order. Each pack is held together by a pair of elastic band. As the bands are removed and the letters delivered, the bands are discarded on the pavement.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

fate, changing loads, age

On the pavement this morning, I see some playing-cards scattered on the pavement, some of them face up - a jack of diamonds, a nine of spades, a five of clubs. I think to myself that someone inclined towards fortune-telling and the like, would take the opportunity to seek here for signs of what the future has in store for him. Not I.

In the days before Christmas, you saw people in in the street with colourful, carefully wrapped packages on their way to friends. On Boxing Day, there were people with bags full of used Christmas wrapping paper on their way to discard it in bins: the digestive process of the consumer society. Today, people are carrying pristine bags with fashion shop labels on their way home from the sales. Indigestion.

From Wrinklies Wit and Wisdom, a book of quotes about age, which someone gave me for Christmas: "I've got things in my refrigerator that are older than you." The golfer, Lee Travino to the golfer, Tiger Woods.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas dinners, building, well fed

It is usually, and has been for some time, my job to cook Christmas dinner. I have always enjoyed it - the logistics, the timing, the feeling that I am doing something useful rather than hanging round. As I bring this one to a successful conclusion, I realize , though I can't be precise, that I must have myself been responsible for about 4o Christmas dinners. It has been goose, but it is usually turkey. Though I get the best of both world by roasting mine wrapped in muslin which has been thoroughly smeared with goose fat. What can you do with the remains of the bird? Soup, risotto, sandwiches( sharpened with a little lemon juice and mollified with chestnut stuffing), rissoles, and cold with a fresh and invigorating salad.

I see a squirrel it mouth full of leaves race up a tree to refurbish its drey. As it reaches its destination high in the tree, a single leaf flutters to the ground.

Do I imagine it, but are the pigeons, which waddle across the grass and the paths in the Grove fatter and more relaxed than usual, this spring-like, sunny Boxing Day?

Monday, December 24, 2007

family likenesses, baby boss, origins

Watching strangers in a queue, it is rewarding to spot family likenesses and to guess at relationships. A father (forty plus) and son (fourteen plus) in the bank queue this morning, have the same nose, the same eyes, the same expression round the mouth.

In the pub restaurant, a very small baby sits at the head of the table in a high chair, while a party of eight have lunch and exchange presents. Every now and then the child, aged perhaps 8 months, throws a parcel to the floor to assert his responsibilities as chairman.

Poem for Christmas and the New Year

The more you know, the less you understand,
Too close to recognise what you embrace
Or the paths that spread from your open hand
Like roots in search of nourishment and space.
The closer you look, the less you see
Of features that were there from the start.
Impossible to shake off even now -
Uncertainty for certain, the future free
Up to the edge of singularity.
You may be in two places at the same time,
And not know, in either, how to behave,
Particulate, blind anarchic, random,
As stories told of you and me and her and him
Merge in the crash of a breaking wave,
Ride up the shore, slap rocks, grind shingle,
Caress the wind-smoothed flanks of shifting sand
Where foamy fingers soak away, and gulls call
Victory over the salt-spiked wind.
You must keep going, though you won't know where,
Where you begin, or where, if ever, you will end,
Enthralled by the rhythm of this big affair,
Too long, too bright, too fast to grasp.
Moment after moment keep the first moments live,
Billions of fragments in your expanding mind
Fuel the questions which keep coming up.
And from the pupa, complete, past common
Sense or reason, you climb, immense, four wings
Intact, six legs, eyes, thorax, abdomen;
And antennae poised to unwind like springs.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

shadow, winding-up, glow

"In all literary matters, to delete in error is better than to include in error". From the Book of Shadows by Don Paterson.

In the supermarket even early in the day the aisles are blocked with people on the whole cheerfully stocking up. I hear only one woman showing signs of strain, as she says to her husband, "you're winding me up, you're winding me up,to which he replies, "I won't say another word."

There is no sun this afternoon, but the sky has a diaphanous glow and the trees look like shadows. There is a white light in which the starlings (just a few this year) flute and whistle.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

snapshots, bus, Christmas notes

From the train, we catch sight of sheep, snow-coloured in the mist, a fox loping across an otherwise empty field and a heron flapping lazily against the pale sky.

In Sevenoaks, where the wait for the bus, expected at hourly intervals, its arrival unpredictable, can be painful, we say, "let's try for the bus" And when we turn the corner, there it is standing by the stop.

Two observations on Christmas cards from old friends received this morning reflect the ageing process. The first:
" As my house is in the centre of the medieval grid, and within a few minutes, I have access to the cinema, doctor, chemist, theatre, market, cathedral, brewery and funeral director, all my needs are catered for."
The second:
"As people age, they get a bit reptilian, may be with fewer reflexes, the beady eye, the single quest for a sandy gulch or a sunny rock."

Friday, December 21, 2007

frost, surprise, out of season

It is still daylight, when I leave the house. But patches of frost have already begun to appear, where last night's had melted during the day. In the fast gathering twilight, by the time I am on my way home, the window of a car, covered in hard rime, is glistening in the lamplight. I pass my hand over the window's rough surface.

A packet of dried chestnuts has the mystifying warning: "May contain traces of peanuts".

Under the moon with a halo, a black bird sings for a moment forgetful of the cold and the season.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

wallnut oil, rime, never

Getting home yesterday after a visit to the dentist, I find that my friend, Tristan the blogger has made a brief visit and left a wonderful litre bottle of French wallnut oil, outstanding with warmed goat cheese and, as Tristan reminded me last time he presented us with such a bottle, with toasted wallnuts.

Looking closely at the rime on top of a wall, I see that it is composed of thousands of tiny spikelets piercing the cold air like mountain peaks.

"Never, never, never, never," says a young man to his girl friend, as they pass me in the street, "ever, ever!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

balloon man, 30 years on, guess who

Opposite the entrance to Victoria Place, a tall, beefy balloon-man, hangs on to a crowd of gas-filled balloons. The balloons are printed with images of Father Christmas, elves and fairies. They bob and swing in the wind. Will they carry the balloon-man off to fairy land? He is too big and too much a man of this world. He produces a cigarette and lights up. I look back to see if he and the balloons have gone up in flames, but hope and presume that the gas is not inflammable.

I walk past a house that I lived in 30 years ago. In the front garden are some shrubs, which I can remember planting there, almost certainly the last trace of my presence in the house.

A female figure approaches. A hat covers the top of her head, a scarf, against the cold, her mouth and nose. We greet each other, though all I have to identify her are her eyes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the end,crisp, name

In, I am afraid, a childish way, I have always been drawn to ambiguous notices. I like especially those, which have an unintended finality when taken out of context.. In a draper's shop called Roseby's in Mount Pleasant, a large, solitary notice announces: "Everything must go."

In the Oxfam charity shop, a jovial man in charge says to a customer who hands him a £10 note: "Nice and crisp! Did you just run it off?"

I stop for a coffee at a new coffee shop in the town called Ishmael. There is a long counter and quite a fuss is made about the different sorts of coffee and tea. There is coffee roaster in the window. No one else is at the counter when I ask for a coffee. "Give me your name," says the girl behind the counter, "and I'll call you when it's ready." A curious routine. "Dick", I say, "Moby Dick".

Monday, December 17, 2007

revision, better and better, treats,

My friend, the journalist who shelters behind the nom de plume of the fictional mariner, Barret Bonden, is right (see my post two days ago): "The reflex of a star" is much more powerful than the "image of a star". This was one of the real improvements ,which Wordsworth made in his revision of The Prelude. But are all revisions better than the original in work of art? Sometimes you lose freshness and simplicity. Here's an instance where Wordsworth did just that in The Prelude. His final version of the lines, which describe how, with his sister, he lay on the battlements of Brougham Castle

... Catching from tufts of grass and hare bell flowers
Their faintest whisper from the passing breeze,
Given out while mid day heat oppressed the plain.."

seems tired and unduly complex beside the original

...lay listening to the wild flowers and the grass
As they gave out their whispers to the wind.

It's not often that you hear the name of the French psychologist and best selling author (from the 1920s), Emil Coué nowadays. In my childhood, I remember my father regularly quoting the slogan behind Coué's system of optimistic auto suggesion: "Every day, in every way I get better and better." That was what you were supposed to tell yourself to speed your recovery from an illness or a spell of bad luck, or simply to keep on top of things. During Heidi's recovery from her hip operation, I find myself repeating the words to her. But it is a surprise when a neighbour, having enquired after the hip, and heard me say, she gets better every day, says "... every day, in every way." And adds "Coué!" I express surprise. "My housemaster made us repeat it when we were recovering from flu. We had to sit up in bed and beat our chests and say, 'every day, in everyway I get better and better'. He was a fanatic, a real fanatic!"

A woman walks briskly along the pavement holding a brightly wrapped present in her hand. She approaches a front door and knocks loudly. Her face is set in a grim rictus, one hopes because of the icy wind rather than because she feels she is performing a burdensome duty.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

live and dead, euphemism, matching

As I watch the Matthew Collings art programme, This is Civilisation on Channel 4,last night, it occurs to me that the birds that settle on outdoor sculptures add a special truth of their own to what the artists intended. You don't take the statues of Lord Nelson, Mark Quinn's Alison LapperPregnant, or the equestrian generals on surrounding plinths in Trafalgar Square, quite as seriously as you were intended to, when pigeons are sitting or crapping on their heads.

Is there really a need for a euphemism here? In Sainsbury's this morning, I am intrigued to see that what used to be called a staff restaurant is now a colleague restaurant.

Some lillies are brought to the house. They are of an unusual colour - yellow, with a hint of salmon, a touch of tangerine, streaks of orange. They are arranged in a vase in the hall next to Heidi's much admired painting of a woman smoking. With pleasure we note, that the colour of the flowers and of the woman's hair are a pefect match. The flowers were not, but might have been chosen (or even bred) to match.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Alright? cold, reflections

It seems to be quite common now, this form of greeting, simply: "Alright?" This afternoon in the newsagent: "Alright?"

At last cold, crisp weather, the sort we used to know at this time of year. I catch my breath condensing.

The windows of houses at the edge of the Grove are lit by the setting sun. And I recall that passage in Wordsworth's Prelude, where he remembers, how as a boy, he skated on the lake as night was falling
"...And in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows through the twilight blaz'd.."
And then, as it got darker,
"Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Inot a silent bay, or sportivley
Glanced sideways, leaving the tumultous throng,
To cut across the image of a star
That gleamed upon the ice...."

Friday, December 14, 2007

cream, kitsch, get him

Apologising for the increase in price of the pomegranates in his shop, the green grocer says: "They're the crème de la crème. From California !"

As daylight fades and the lights come on in the Grove and in the surrounding houses the whole scene takes on a gemütlich, almost a kitsch appearance like a Christmas card, or pantomime scenery.

Mr Crow is strutting about in the Grove. Along come a couple with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. The dog looks towards the bird. Its owners encourage it. "Get him!" they say and it rushes off. But Mr Crows only rises lazily in the air and flops down a few feet further on, and the terrier veers away as though scared of the imperturbable, black monster.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

steam, ivy feet, benches

The steam iron sighs in the room next door.

Ivy leaves fine, brown foot prints where its rootlets have been dragged off a stuccoed wall.

Two park benches are perched on top of the container used as a lock-up for the little JCB digger at work in the Grove. Have workmen put the benches there to keep them from vandals? Or are partying vandals themselves responsible for this surreal sight?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

gifts, nail pairing, tripping

In the Oxfam bookshop I come across a book on Essential Oils, which will make a good present for someone I know who likes using such things. As it is nearly Christmas, I look up two oils, which have a seasonal ring. Frankincense, I learn, is "a tonifying oil with anti-inflammatory and astringent qualities.... It imparts a calming and uplifting effect, while at the same time increasing energy". Myrrh is "strengthening and highly antiseptic... It is an excellent expectorant." The three wise men would have been wise enough to refrain from explaining the virtues of their gifts in the stable.

Above the station clock, and later, as I walk home, over the Grove, the new moon hangs like a nail-pairing in the translucent sky.

A notice in the station warns: "Please be aware of tripping hazards."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

just, anticipation, waiving

With a half-hour wait on a cold platform as an alternative, catching a train, just.

I usually bake bread every week. Too often, I use a "sponge" made with a liberal quantity of fresh yeast, and the bread ferments and then, formed into loaves, proves in a matter of three or four hours. The bread is good, but not nearly as good, as when, leavened by a mature "starter", the dough ferments more slowly. It can take 12 or more hours to ferment and the same amount of time again for the loaves to prove. The result is sour dough bread, so flavoursome that, when it is fresh, you want nothing with it. This morning, having left the loaves to prove overnight, I come down to the kitchen full of pleasurable anticipation to see how well it has risen. I bake the bread after breakfast and the house fills with the smell.

A beaming woman waives vigorously in my direction. I have no idea who she is and I admit to a sense of relief when I realize that the object of her attention is walking behind me, and I do not have to summon a name from my failing memory.

Monday, December 10, 2007

exhilaration, unfallen, relativity

Twice recently, this morning included, I have seen a car drive past with a dog sticking its head out of the front passenger window, its fur and ears flowing back, its eyes narrowed in the slip stream. I share the exhilaration which it must feel.

One bright red apple remains on a tree in the front garden of a neighbouring house. It is not attached to a branch but rests on the fork of two branches where it has fallen. Even the recent strong winds have not dislodged it.

When you watch a train move forward alongside the train on which you are sitting, and you think your train is moving, but it is not.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

onions, new word, Christmas jazz

Earlier this year I wrote about the special onions from Roscoff in Britanny, which I had bought in Sainsbury's. I was wondering whether they would turn up again, and sure enough there they were this morning. I was pleased because, as the label says, they are sweet, pink and juicy. My reference also, I believe I am right in saying, led Lucy Kempton, who lives near the place where the onions originate, and who happened to be researching the variety, to visit this site. That in turn led to the Compasses site where Lucy has illustrated my Handbook for Explorer poems with her photographs. Testimony to the power of blogging and to the power of the onion.

Twice in the last two day I have been puzzled by the word miniseries, which I pronounced in my mind with emphasis on the the second syllable. I had no idea what it meant except that it was something that you looked at. It was only to day that I realized that what the newspaper meant was mini-series, as in a sequence of television programmes.

In the Pantiles, a jazz band, its members dressed in Father Christmas outfits, plays Jingle Bells in the watery light. A giant on stilts staggers around in huge boots. He has the word "loony" on the back of his tee shirt.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

splash, wet feet, bore

An afternoon walk in the rain, amid splashing drops from the trees, gurgling drains and flowing gutters, awakens the senses.

A young man, whose otherwise bare feet are plunged into a pair of soggy trainers, crosses the road in the rain and gets into his van, which proclaims his profession as chimney sweep.

If I were going to be a bore I would want to be a hellebore. In particular I would choose to be hellborus niger or the Christmas rose with its dark leaves and fragile white blooms. As its name suggests, it flowers very early (or late, if your take it litterally) in the year. Why niger? Because of its black roots. These have been known for centuries as a cure for "mania, insanity and melancholy" The seventeenth century herbalist Gerard believed that a purgation of hellbore is "good for mad and furious men".

Friday, December 07, 2007

well, lifesize, understatement

At this time of year we receive Christmas cards from people whom we don't see very often with the added words: "Hope you are both well". It strikes me, as the years go by, that what they often mean to say is: "Hope your are still alive."

There is a junk shop in Crescent Road where two life size plastic gorillas stand among the furniture displayed. They may be life size, but do not seem to me to be life-like. Both animals have fierce snarls on their faces, their jaws wide open, their teeth bared. Gorillas, such as I have seen, generally have rather sad faces and are not given to ferocious expressions or behaviour.

I was sorry to see that the computer manufacturer, Evesham Electronics, has gone into liquidation. I still pass the empty shop, where its rather smart computers used to be on show. Bankrupt they may have become, but an obvious talent for understatement has to impress. "I'm sorry," says a notice in the window,"but due to an electrical problem this showroom will be closed."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

goden apples, sleepwalker, sadness

In the lamplight, some apples fallen under a tree which overhangs an alley, become golden apples. I have passed them often by daylight, green and not very interesting. But this afternoon I recall W. B. Yeats:
"...And pluck till times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun."

A small book of watercolours by the German artist Emil Nolde turns up in the Oxfam bookshop. Among the treasures inside is a picture called Nachtwandler. A man with long hair, moustaches, a blue nightshirt, bare feet, and one arm outstretched is profiled again a billowing fog-like brownish background; a streak of orange lights up the top right hand corner. It is one of those odd pictures which stay in your mind like a familiar tune.

I keep returning to a book called The Book of Shadows by the contemporary Scottish poet, Don Paterson. This is a book, not of poems but of epigrams and observations - pithy, rude sometimes sad and often funny. Opening it at random I come upon:
" The sadness of old shoes. Putting them on again, I suddenly remember all the old friends I haven't seen for ages; and why." Things are often sad in themselves. Who was it who spoke of "the sadness of things"?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

walkies, powder, freedom

A man is taking his dog for a walk on the grass in the Grove.He gets ready to clear up in its track. "Don't tread in it," he shouts. "You big lummox! You great nit!"

It is raining. The sun is shining. The sky is pale blue and elsewhere is covered in purple cloud. As I look down Mount Pleasant, I note a golden, powdery light over trees and rooftops.

Michael, a neighbour, whom I meet at the bus stop, declares that when the free national bus pass comes in next April, he will challenge other oldies to a see who can get first from Tunbridge Wells to Edinburgh travelling only by bus.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

cycle racks, chime, doves

Two new minimalist, bicycle shaped cycle racks have appeared in the centre of the town near the Opera House. They stand alone as elegant pieces of sculpture when not in use. They are inscribed with the words; "To celebrate the passage of the Tour de France through the Borough of Tunbridge Wells on 8 July 2007. The racks are identical with those presented, a couple of years ago, to the town by its German twin German town, Baden. They reside outside the town hall.

Once again the station clock is keeping the right time on all four faces. And it chimes on the hour, a quality which few knew the clock possessed.

The gentlest and softest grey is the grey of collared doves. There is a pair nearly always to be seen in the same corner of the Grove. They are smaller and more beautiful than most other members of the pigeon family. Until 50 years ago, apparently, this charming bird, which originates in south eastern Europe, was not seen in Britain. It is now widespread and should be welcomed wherever it goes.

Monday, December 03, 2007

tails, uniform, traffic

Two men at the counter of the cafe have items protruding form the back pocket of their jeans. One sports a blue cloth that looks a bit like a tail, the other has a folded sheet of paper that could be an instruction sheet.

In the Grove, a bounding dalmation barks at young community police woman. "It's the uniform", she says and removes her hat to reveal some pretty blond hair. Impressed, the dog decides to be friendly and wags its tail as she strokes its head.

In Calverley Park, I hear a car where there should be no cars. It is a brisk gust of wind raking the branches of a couple of tall larch trees planted close together near where I am walking.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

dank, Newfoundland, ship

"...Now that the fields are dank and ways are mire,
Where shall we sometimes meet, and by the fire
Help waste a sullen day ...?"
It's that sort of day and not necessarily the worse for it.

In the Grove, I meet Giles and his Newfoundland puppy. The animal, which I mentioned earlier when it was a newcomer, is, appropriately, called Seal because of her glossy back coat. It is now a very big puppy, (about the size of a small elephant) and playful.

With the wind behind me, my padded jacket seems to inflate, and I beat along like a sailing ship.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

music overheard, football, drinking in the rain

The far off tinkling of a piano greets me as I step out of the front door this morning. I reflect that distant music overheard is sometimes preferable to direct confrontation. As I walk down Mount Sion, the wind brings the sound of a saxaphone. It comes and goes, and because of the hillside and the buildings, it is difficult to determine the source of these sounds. Eventually I find it in the Pantiles where a trio is performing jazz to enliven the first of two Christmas markets which takes place to day.

In the Grove, I notice a collie lying flat, its nose to the ground - the sort of pose you see when collies are managing sheep. This afternoon, it is not sheep, but a football, which the collie is managing. A small boy kicks the ball and the dog pounces on it, caressing and holding it with his paw. The boy tries to kick it away while the dog hangs on to it. The boy eventually kicks it free and the dog pounces again. When the boy becomes tired of the game, the collie lies in front of the ball, its nose twitching.

The jolly grey haired lady whom I often see with her wine and cigarette outside the Grove Tavern is there again. There is a shower of rain, but she is not put off. Someone from the pub dries the seat so that even though it is raining she may sit on a dry place. Somehow I am reminded of a surreal Buster Keaton film called the Navigator, where Buster, in a diving suit goes down to repair the hull of a ship. While under the water, he opens a bag of tools, erects a "danger men at work" sign and begins the job. When he has finished, he fills a bucket, washes his hands, dries them on a cloth from a tool bag, wrings it out and prepares to return to the surface. It must be 50 years since I saw the film, so I may have not have all the details quite right. But Buster Keaton and my new friend are good companions in my mind.