Thursday, January 31, 2008

great tit, ball, wind and rain

This morning and on recent mornings I am woken at around 6.30 by a great tit outside our window. It has a two-note ditty, which I confirm this afternoon with the help of some bird recordings on CD introduced by Geoff Sample. As I play the CD, the house is full of bird song for a few minutes.

What is this rolling over the crest of the road in Little Mount Sion? A blue plastic ball about the size of a tennis ball. It seems to have no owner but rolls along, up on the pavement and back on to the tarmac as though it has a life of its own but little or no purpose.

There is no one about in the Grove. The rain is slanting down and the wind is roaring in the branches of the trees. In different corners Mr and Mrs Crow, unpeturbed, are pecking interesting things out of the soft earth. Raindrops rest for a moment and slide off the feathers of their folded wings.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

chicken tale, walking stick, "how not to"

A roast chicken goes a long way between two people. This week, we share one breast and both wings for the first meal. The legs, served with some left over gravy from meal one, flavoured with chili and lemon, were accompanied by spiced spinach and tomato. On day three (today), the menu is cold chicken with green bean and pine kernel salad. The carcass will make a good stock for a simple mushroom risotto, tomorrow.

Heidi, almost recovered from her hip operation, now requires a walking stick only to boost her confidence when she goes out. Today, with her on one arm, I take possession of the stick - I have secretly rather envied it as an accessory - which confuses the neighbours.

This afternoon, in John Richardson's biograpahy of Picasso, I come across an anecdote, which, because I have always thought bad art as interesting as good art, especially appeals. In 1917 the artist was working on the ballet Parade in cooperation with Diaghilev, the dancer Leonid Massine and Jean Cocteau. While at a party in Massine's apartment in Rome, Diaghilev noticed that Picasso was intrigued by an 18th century portrait above the fire place. "Why are you so fascinated by that picture?" Diaghelev asked. "I'm studying it carefully," Picasso replied, "in order to learn how not to paint".

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

sliding doors, cooking, wild strawberry

I had not thought much about them, but prompted by the book I am reading L'Elégance du Hérisson, a quirky, new novel by Muriel Barbery, I declare myself a supporter of the principle. As one of the characters puts it, conventional doors "..transform rooms most untidily. We bump into them when they are open and introduce clumsy gaps with poor proportions. When you think about it, there is nothing uglier than an open door. The sliding door creates no obstacle. When it is open, two rooms communicate with out offence. And when it is closed it restores its integrity to each of them."

To have sliding doors, of course, you need, I suppose, to build a new house, a bit of a dampener where I am concerned.

Outside the Compasses, where I am enjoying a pint and, Heidi a Pinot Grigio, a man of our generation joins us for a smoke. The conversation turns to cooking. "I'd rather spend an hour cooking a meal, " he says, " than buying that ready made ....", he pauses, "shit," says Heidi. "I was going to use that word says our friend, " but it seemed ungentlemanly." "Never mind, " says Heidi, " I'm a foreigner and I can get away with it."

One or two wild strawberry plants have always grown in a sloping bed next to our front door. Today, January 29, I notice that one them is bearing an almost ripe fruit.

Monday, January 28, 2008

bowls, trimmed, "just me"

Someone I know, who enjoys turning wood and has all the appropriate equipment, in response to a question about the progress of his hobby, says he's not doing so much of it at the moment because: "I've run out of friends, to whom I can give bowls".

My crayon drawing of a chicken is finished. I wasn't entirely happy with the composition when I realized that a few centimeters trimmed off one side and off the bottom of the picture would make a difference. It has. It is as if the bird has moved forward and is ready to step out of the page on which it is drawn.

From an account in our local paper of the selection of the new Conservative parliamentary candidate for Maidstone and Weald.
"She explained why she had the edge over other candidates: "I'm just me at the end of the day..."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

unseasonal, watching ham, Dr Karg

Marja-lina's reaction to daffodils on the warm and sheltered slopes of Calverley Park here in Tunbridge Wells, is not surprising. Daffodils used not flower here until April, or March at the earliest. Today I note crocuses and primula in flower, and, in some of my pots in the open, chervil and chives, not to mention thyme and oregano, where normally they would be dormant. The fuchsia, which I have always had with me since I have in this house, used to die down in the winter, and now towers to nearly three meters if allowed to go unchecked. Sometimes I long for ice and snow, and, in particular, those cold, crisp winter days when trees and hedgerows were covered in rime, and ice formed on puddles and ponds, and muddy fields were hard as concrete.

In Waitrose, at the delicatessen counter, I watch an old couple watching with close attention as thick slices of cooked ham are sliced to their requirement.

I may already have mentioned Dr Karg's crispbread. It seems now to be a regular feature of supermarket shelves and has the unusual virtue of being nutritious, containing nothing that is bad for you, while it is delicious on its own or with cheese and the like. It is made, says the label, with premium wheat, and is rich in fibre. There are no added fats or oils, no preservatives and no additives. There are various styles.My favourite incorporates Emmenthal cheese, pumpkin seed, linseed, and sesame seeds.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

warmth, repetition, bad weather

On the south facing slopes of Calverley Park, daffodils are already in flower, and, through the cold wind, I can just feel the winter sun.

"She keeps telling me the same thing," Heidi says of a friend. "That's what we do, " I say, "tell each other the same things. " Yes, says Heidi, but we know we do."

Speaking of recessions - "moments of truth, which human nature needs after the lies that always go with a boom," Charles Moore writes in the Spectator: "The best way to deal with bad weather is to go out in it."

Friday, January 25, 2008

two hands, raffia, blue and yellow

In a basement window, all that you can see is a pair of hands at work on a laptop screen and keyboard.

Like a head of flaxen hair, a large bunch of raffia tied at the top and spreading out below, hangs above the counter in the flowershop. Assistants use it to tie bunches and bouquets, pulling out strands as they need them.

The sparse flowers of winter jasmine and periwinkle, the one yellow, the other a heart stopping blue, enliven a bleak mid-winter shrubbery.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

word on the mind, striding, beans

Sometime I wake with a word on my mind. Why it is there or how it gets there I seldom know. Today it is saugrenu, a French word meaning preposterous or ludicrous. Petit Larousse informs me that it is derived from the Latin words for salt and grain.

My shadow in the bright afternoon sunshine strides beside me on the wall of a terrace of houses, Suddenly it vanishes as though it has gone indoors.

I have been visiting the website of David Bonta, a poet and photographer. I read: "...The end justifies the beans and everyone drinks until they see two of everyone..." and laugh with pleasure.He is co-editor of the web magazine which publishes poems, prose and photographs

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

swearwords, chicken, eyes

Swearwords, particularly those invoking the deity, directly or euphemistically, go quickly out of fashion. This thought is provoked when I come across the strange and delightful French word saperlipopette, now out of date and used only humorously. It is apparently related to sacristi, sapristi and saprelotto, all of which mean, as does saperlipopette, "for God's sake", "good grief" or "good heavens". My dictionary suggests "gadzooks" or "gad" for saperlipopette, which, I suppose, emphasises its antiquity as well as its reluctance to invoke the name of the lord in vain.

A visitor has asked me to make a new version of a crayon drawing of a chicken, which I did some years ago. "Only smaller, " she said. Reluctant to make a boring copy, I take care not to look at the original. The result is that, in the new picture, now taking shape, the chicken has adopted a different position, its beak closer to the ground, its tail higher in the air.

Looking for things to post in the focus of a blog like this one, I find, requires a special kind of attention. Marcel Proust puts his finger on it: "The real magic lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

killed, Rolls Royce,out of place

In Waterstone's bookshop, a manager or sales rep is summarising to an assistant the contents of books which are about to be delivered. The synopses come with the rapidity of a machine gun: "It's a biography. She was living in Florence", I hear "...She was killed by her husband.... It's got a nice cover."

"A Rolls Royce of a Burger," announces a poster outside a restaurant.

In the queue to buy a paper, I see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. I am about to greet her but can't remember who she is. It is only when I stop for a cup of tea at my favourite cafe that I notice an absentee, the proprietor. It is she whom I have just failed to put a name to in the newsagent.

Monday, January 21, 2008

doodle, Blue Monday, hat

Into the middle of a small doodle on the pad on my desk, I stick a grape stalk. A little of the flesh from the grape adheres to the paper so that the stalk sticks up in the air. The doodle becomes three dimensional. I trace with a pencil the shadow cast by the stalk. The tracing and the shadow form a single line. I move the pad and the shadow moves away from its original position, but the tracing remains in the same place. The doodle becomes four dimensional.

Today, I read, is Blue Monday. Psychologists have apparently calculated that it is the day of the year when depression reaches a peak among the population. So far, I have, myself, managed to feel chipper enough.

A hat called a Tilley is given to me as a present. It is known as the Great Canadian Winter Hat. It is soft and warm yet shaped a bit like a trilby. It has ear flaps that you can pull down in the event of a polar wind, a "tuck-away forehead warmer", a secret pocket (which I haven't yet found), is guaranteed not to wear out and it comes insured agains loss.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

as you would hope, snowdrops, trojans

A packet of carrots in the supermarket is labelled: "Carrots. Crunchy and Juicy".

Clumps of snow drops which we bought from the WI Market last Spring and planted, leaves and all, are already in flower in a shady flower bed - a far more successful venture than previous attempts to plant the bulbs in the Autumn.

The computer doctor reminded me last week about insidious Trojans that get inside your computer and do all sorts of mischief. The use of the word strikes me as a sensible metaphor. But today, in the gents, in the Compasses pub, I find it less easy to understand why the condoms on sale in a slot machine are also called Trojans.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

food, balloon, pink

Some visitors describe a meal at the restaurant called the Fat Duck in Bray. They had spent five hours consuming the tasting menu, which included such, now famous dishes, as snail porridge, eggs-and-bacon ice cream, and a sea food dish, where you are given ear phones, so that you can listen to the sounds of the sea while you consume it. I ask if they found that the food overwhelmed the conversation overthe meal? Did they talk about other things? Around 50%, they said, was devoted to talking about the food and 50% to the other subjects.

Two grandparents with a red balloon fuss over a small child in the High Street. The child whines and whinges. "You're having a balloon tied to you Henry", says the grandfather in a wheedling voice.

Outside a store at the top of Mount Pleasant, a new cycle shop has, this morning, hired someone to help draw attention to its folding bikes. A man wearing a pink trilby, a fake fur coat over a shiny pink suite, and white leather shoes is doing his best to help, but most passers-by seem more interested in his flamboyant outfit than in the bikes.

Friday, January 18, 2008

raindrops, helmet, lichen

Crystal raindrops line up under the arms and back rests of park benches, under the bars of gates, and the branches of shrubs and trees; each is a temporary hemisphere reflecting the world, or half of it. I think about raindrops as I walk across the Grove without coming to any conclusion, and they hang there in my thoughts waiting for gravity to call them down.

Outside a restaurant on table, like a piece of sculpture, is a motorcyclist's helmet. No sign of the owner. I pause for a second to contemplate it. Then I spot the owner tending his machine a little further on, on the pavement. "Hullo, mate," he says.

On the shining black trunk of a tree in the persistent drizzle, the strange flower-like shapes of lichen spread like circular green stains.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

ham, song, small matters

A childish inability to leave a pun by the roadside, produces some odd midnight thoughts. The French for a sandwich man (one of those who walk the streets with wooden panels displaying advertisments to the front and back) is, I discover, un homme sandwich, which to an English ear sounds like what the French call a sandwich au jambon.

Birdsong trills and prickles in my ears as I walk through the Grove this afternoon in a wind which scatters loose raindrops.

Satisfaction comes from the smallest events. While in the High Street, I find an unposted letter in my pocket. Must remember to post it on my way home, I tell myself; and then discover that I am standing next to a letter box.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

reflections, ballet, corny,

Reflection in puddles, move and change, as I walk past, become different pictures.

A hand holding a squeegee performs a ballet on the inside of a shop window, dragging soapy water over the glass in broad sweeps and swirls.

In the chemist, one of the two assistants, in greeting me after a day of solid rain, says: " How are you? Or, I suppose I should ask, are you keeping your head above water." "That's corny," says her companion, "that's corny!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

will do, contractility, umbrellas

"Ye'er, will do, says a girl into her mobile. The emphasis is on "do". There is no compliance in her voice to reflect the nature of the words, only aggression. I still haven't go used to people talking on mobiles in the street, and to the decibel-level required.

I thought that "contractility" might raise an eyebrow. It is in the Oxford Dictionary. The quote comes from a poem by the American, Marianne Moore, which I tend to remember when thinking about style, and in this case about the 30-word observation:

To a snail
If "compression is the first grace of style",
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
That is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, "a method of conclusions";
"a knowledge of principles",
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

Proper rain today: no pussy-foooting showers, heavy rain and wind. Witness to the violence of the weather, in two successive litter bins there are the sad remains of collapsed umbrellas. In one, the umbrella is blue and green, in the second, a brilliant red. In both bins, broken ribs stick up, askew like the legs of butterflies, the nylon coverings crushed and folded over, once proud hemispheres, now useless and bound for landfill.

Monday, January 14, 2008

something else, potential, 30 words

A big, white dog seems to be standing up on the rear seat of a parked car, which faces towards the sun. It's another case of seeing something which turns out to be something else altogether - a sort of living metaphor. The dog, as I get closer, turns out to be the reflection of a fluffy cloud in the car's windscreen.

The display area of a shop formerly devoted to the sale of carpets, is now given over to running and peddling machines, and the like, stacks of them. I grow dizzy at the thought of all the potential energy concentrated in their future use.

Clare ( started it, and Lucy has taken up the 30-word description.. It is harder, I believe, than writing 300 words. But "contractility is a virtue as modesty is a virtue".

doctor's visit, coated fish, puffed up

When I was a child, and even when my children were children, the doctor used to visit on his rounds for relatively minor ailments. He would apply his stethoscope, listen to your chest and back, look down your throat ( say "say ah") and into your ears and scribble a prescription to be taken to the chemist. Doctors don't seem to visit you at home anymore, not at least in this parish, but computer experts do. My computer was not too well over the last couple of days, hence the absence of posts and the strange feeling of helplessness that came over me because I had as it were lost my voice. So it was a relief when the geek arrives with his silver box and mysterious vocabulary and an even greater relief now that things seem to have got back to normal.

In the supermarket, a notice indicates "Coated Fish".

A motorcycle at the entrance to the Grove is covered by some kind of plastic cloak to keep it dry. As I pass it, it comes to life inflated by gusts of wind, as though someone under the wrap is driving it, bent low of the handlebars, and swaying witht he machine as it takes imaginary bends at imaginary speess.

Friday, January 11, 2008

twilight, gold, Jane Austen

The iridescent yellow jackets worn by traffic wardens and the like are features of the urban streetscape.

Across the road from the cafe where I am sitting one of the windows of the jewellers is festooned wilth gold chains which stand out from a purple back cloth.

I think to myself that I admire the novels of Jane Austen first for their style and the wit with which she feeds it, second for the unsentimental moral backgound of the novels, third for the sharpness and irony of her dialogue, and last for the plots of the novels. Now that tv adaptations and films of the novels everywhere reduce them to banal melodramas, I think that I shall take great pleasure in reading at least one again soon, let us say Emma.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

orange, wobbly sheep, fluttering

Lucy's thoughts on the colour orange yesterday prompted me to misquote Andrew Marvell's poem Bermudas. For some reason the correct lines came into my head in the middle of the night. They are:
"He hangs in shades the orange bright
Like golden lamps in a green night".
When I checked the text I re-encountered the couplet which follows:
"And does in the Pomgranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus show's."
Pomegranates again! And then this morning on Radio 4 I hear Sarah McGuire (I hope I have spelt the surname correctly) read her poem The Pomegranates of Kandahar.

In the high wind that greets me this morning I notice in the back of a parked car one of those animals with wobbly heads. This one is a black sheep with a woolly cap. Its head is moving and I realize that the movement must be caused by the force of the wind alone, which is shaking the car.

In the high wind that greets me this morning, I notice on the rear shelf of a parked car one of those animals with wobbly heads. This one is a black sheep with a woolly cap. Its head is moving, and I realize that the movement must be caused by the force of the wind, which is shaking the car.

Outside a frosted window, I see what looks like a winged insect fluttering against the glass. It is a dead leaf caught up in s spider's web.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

cold, commission, bash the pomegranate

There is nothing much you can do about a cold other than say "go away!"

Someone comes to the house and takes a liking to a blue and red picture of a chicken which I made with crayons and watercolours some years ago. She commissions me to do a similar one for her.

I read somewhere that a you can ease the task of peeling a pomegranate by bashing it all over. This loosens the seeds and makes them easier to remove when you cut the fruit open.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

tangerine, who or what? spinnach

Tangerines ,(at least mandarines, satsumas and clementines), are plentiful in the shops, and on a fine morning like yesterday, the sky, just after sunrise, glows with a tangerine colour.

What is that ahead? A tent or a push chair, or something erected by workmen to keep people from falling into a hole. As I get nearer I see that it is a young man sitting on a bench. He has a rucksack on his back, which he as not removed and which forces him to sit forward at a sharp angle. He wears a hooded jacket and the hood is up. The jacket has a pale blue background and is decorated with diamond shapes and dollar signs. He wears blue trainers, which match the jacket.

Spinnach cooked with tomatoes and a delicate and carefully prescribed blend of Indian spices - cummin seeds, chilli powder, corriander powder, guram masala and turmeric - accompany grilled chicken breasts, which have been marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and coated with sesame seeds.

Monday, January 07, 2008

seeds only, helmet, upside down

A recipe involving two pomegranates in the Independent this weekend specifies "seeds only".

A lot of thought and care goes into the packaging of commercial products. A shame to let it go to waste. I am often tempted to put it aside for another purpose. And sometimes I do and forget about it. For instance, photographs, taken at Christmas, show me wearing a strange piece of head gear. I had forgotten that I had wanted to find a use for the silver, outer packaging of the Christmas pudding. I had smoothed it out and shaped it to my skull, with flaps over my ears, a better titfer than paper-crowns out of crackers.

An upside down enameled bath outside a house in Belview strikes me as interesting in the same way as Rachel Whitread's reversed-out, moulded sculptures, which show objects from an unusual point of view. The bath has two diamond shaped holes for the taps; and the overflow - a caterpillar-like metal tube - connects an aperture, beneath these, to the protruding stump of the escape pipe beneath the plug hole.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

frost, winter smells, trees gather

Frost on the rear window of Peter's car lies close to the glass like layers of silver leaves. It seems an affront to scrape them away.

After this morning's frost and brightness, which lasted until lunchtime, a cold drizzle sets in. The air smells good, the thin mist is seasoned with wood smoke.

In the Grove, there is a spot where people have taken to dumping their discarded Christmas trees. It used to be an unofficial dump for garden waste, but the Council put a stop to that last year. The Christmas tree-dumpers have persisted however. A congregation of different shapes and sizes has now gathered, one,upright in its plastic pot still fit for an angel and baubles, a sad silver ribbon remaining, others lying higgledy-piggledy on their sides. One small tree has survived from a previous year, where it took root after someone had planted it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

scent, the Grove, childhood

One of the entrances to the Grove is a short brick path fronted by five houses on either side. As you go through it, at this time of year, you are struck by an astonishing perfume. It reaches you long before you identify its source, an evergreen shrub with small white flowers and dark blue or black berries. The Botanical Garden by Roger Phillips and Martin Rix, tells me that it is found in woods and forests in the Himalayas from Afganistan to Central China. It is called Sarcoccoa and belongs to the same family as the English box, but as the scent proclaims it is by origin a truly exotic plant.

Clare Grant, whose Three Beautiful Things blog, prompted numerous immitators (this site is but one of them) has had another good idea. She has launched a new blog in which she describes, in 30 words, an aspect of a daily walk. As it happens, the walk is in the vicinity of the Grove, the little park which I refer to quite often here. As we are neighbours, our walks cross each other like routes on a chart. It has a special appeal to me: in particular I like the discipline of limiting descriptions to just 30 words. Caption writers often have a similar requirement, and it is not too far removed from the restriction in which, people who write 17-syllable haiku, find a special kind of inspiration. Congratulations Clare. The necessary tightness of your descriptions creates a poetry of its own. "To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower."

Small landmarks and simple games play a big part in the life of children. One little girl in the Grove says to another as they push their scooters down the main drag: "Shall we go to that tree because the boy isn't there any more". Off the they go. The tree is one that grows at an acute angle, so that its trunk is almost parallel with the ground. The next time I look, the boy seems to have returned, but to hell with it they are there first this time.

Friday, January 04, 2008

flying, refrain, Chinese tea

In a recent poem posted on her site , Tall Girl wrote of having dreamed that she had "flown majestically downstairs". When he was very young, my bother Michael, claimed to have flown downstairs. We were living at the time in a house called Windwhistle in Sidmouth, Devon and he must have been four at the time. Grownups said that he had been dreaming, but he believed that he had achieved this feat. I have never dreamt of flying downstairs, but I did share Michael's belief that I could fly, vertically and standing to attention. Hence this poem, which I wrote two or three years ago:

The art of flying
is not to know how
To do it, or when or whether to or why.
Ascent is calm, vertical, slow,
Feet are together, arms to the side,
Mind empty, cool, ready
For all or nothing,For sunlight or cloud
Or silver lines of rain,
Careless of where you float,
As up you go, tidy as a chess piece,
Dignity intact, demeanour modest.
Flapping is out
Of the question, buzzing is too.
There'll be no business for you to do.
No bottom line, no plan or bold design or swoops or plunges.
Steady it is.
Discretion is the guide.
And should some person catch your eye
As you float past a chandelier
Or steeple, try
To ignore his stare,
As though for him to stand,
Feet on the ground, eyes strained upwards,
Neck at forty-five degrees,
Is what is truly odd.
Let him suppose you
An angel on the way to God
Or a raptor, which hovers above
To spot, its prey in the long grass.
Do not, then, enlighten him.
If you have flown, you should forget
That you have flown.
It is enough that you
Should be the better for it,
Having seen further than most
And felt the wind under your feet.

This Christmas we had a present of Chinese teas in long, sealed, brown paper packets. The names are intriguing - Narcissus Gold Oolong, Flowering Green, Gunpowder Pearls and Gold Tip Pueth. So far we have embarked on the Pueth. You feel you have to compose yourself for the experience and empty your mind in order to appreciate the gentle aroma and faintly bitter taste. It is far removed from your average English cup of tea. Is it my cup of tea.? It think it may grow to be.

I had to buy a new printer because the ink cartridges for the old one had come to cost more than a new machine of equivalent specifications.The new one makes a noise, which I interpret as Rambo, rambo... Rambo...Rambo... as it operates. Or in a more intellectual mode Rimbaud...Rimbaud...Rimbaud..."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

scarce snow, hiding, how many?

Snow used to be expected every winter when I was young. It would settle and remain on the ground, rooftops and tree branches for days, sometimes weeks. Not any longer. Now it is a luxury. One wonders at its prettiness as it it falls and begins to cover the ground. Sad to say this morning's snow has already melted.

A woman with a fur cape over her head stands with her back to the trunk of a tree. Is she just watching the snow flakes drifting down? Apart from ourselves, there seems to be no one else in the Grove at the moment. Then a small figure appears and runs across the grass. The woman is playing hide and seek with her son.

There are a lot of blackbirds about this year. Today I count six in a space no bigger that one half of a tennis court.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

late breakfast, light, burglars

On New Year's day, I spot a group of five young people round a table outside a restaurant in the Pantiles. They are tucking into enormous plates of eggs, bacon, tomato, baked beans, sausage, the lot - a full English, they call it. It is a mild, damp afternoon. The time is 3.30pm.

A patch of gorse illuminates scrub and brambles on a slope of the Common.

At the top of the slip road leading to the Tunbridge bypass, a mysterious police notice announces "Burglary Initiative. Burglars Beware."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

wet leaves, pied wagtails, remote

The smell of wet leaves on the Common like that of truffles and mushrooms, though neither truffles nor mushrooms are in evidence.

We see the new year in with Champagne and neigbours, one of whom brings Heidi a piece of coal. We switch on the television just to see the fireworks over the Thames, with Big Ben in the foreground, the display focussed on the London Wheel. We then fall to talking about pied wagtails - why I cannot remember - and how they roost in large numbers at this time of year in the trees in the Calverley shopping precinct. They are my favourite birds. I love their swooping flight.

The joy of power: the satisfied look on the face of a driver who, with the help of a remote control on his key-ring, unlocks the door of his car, while still several meters away from it.