Thursday, July 31, 2008

looking up, mnemonic, road map

Posted by PicasaNo reason for showing this chimney on the roof of the house opposite ours, except as a change. As a change from taking photographs of flower petals and insects, I raise the new camera, look upwards apply the zoom, and, hey presto, I have soared three storeys high. Also I like the 18th century, pineapple finial, which is one of several which rise from the cornice of the house.

As I have a poor memory, I rely more than most people on mnemonics. Some I enjoy more than others. My favourite, at the moment, is the one I use to distinguish between the french words pécher, to sin, and pêcher, to fish. The circumflex accent over the "e" in pêcher, I tell myself, is a hat worn by a fisherman, leaving no doubt about which word is which.

In Mount Pleasant, they are carefully removing the bricks round the boles of the plane trees which line the street. The roots have been pushing up the bricks making mounds, which may be considered dangerous. With the bricks gone, and the sand and soil, where they rested, open to the sky, there remains a delicate map composed of roots, which spread out like arterial roads from each of the trees, mimicking the spread of its branches.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

agapanthus 4, creme caramel, creative moment

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The art of creme caramel is to cook it slowly in the bain marie so that no holes appear in the custard when you turn it out.

Regular visitors to this blog are, I believe, the sort of people, who are at their happiest when they have made a picture, finished a story, an article, a picture, a poem, with which they are satisfied, and enjoy a sense of relief when they feel that there is nothing more that they can do to improve their work.. They will excuse therefore my reference to a passage in A La recherche du temps perdu, which describes that feeling.
The young Marcel has just declared his doubts that he has the ability ever to to develope the capacity to become a great writer. He and his family, while returning from a country walk are given a lift by Dr Piercepied, and Marcel is sent to sit beside the driver of the doctor's carriage. From this viewpoint, he becomes fascinated by the way the two steeples of the village of Martinville, bathed in the setting sun, constantly change their position as the carriage follows the windings of the road, and then a third steeple that of Vieuxq joins the frame. Inspired by what, he sees, he borrows some paper and a pencil from the Doctor and writes a description of what he is seeing. "I was so filled with happiness, " Proust writes, "I felt that it had so entirely relieved my mind of its obsession with the steeples and the mystery which lay behind them, that, as though I were a hen and has just laid an egg, I began to sing at the top of my voice."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

new life..., rust, buddleia

...breaks out.

From the train I note a field, rusty with the red spikes of dock.

Beside the railway, on waste land, it is the season for buddleia, which for some reason grows wild along the line, even out of cracks in walls. With flowering over, it is a scruffy plant unless tended by gardener with shears, and the dead flowers, shrivelled and hollow blooms, become an eyesore. But just now the the plant, in its wild state, is at its best, and on one patch of waste land, I catch sight of the long stems of flowers rising and falling, like purple fountains.
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Monday, July 28, 2008

deserted, remember, righteousness

Posted by Picasa View from the car park of Tunbridge Wells' deserted cinema. It opened as the Ritz (as the painted sign on the right shows) in 1934. Since then, though the sign has survived, it has been an Essoldo, a Cannon, an MGM and an ABC. It was closed when its owners opened a multi-screen cinema on the Tunbridge Wells industrial estate. Its last film was shown in October 2000.

I pass a bench in the park on which is inscribed "Rest and remember Harold Ingham". I don't rest on this occasion but I do remember Harold. He was very old and very thin, and used to walk, although he looked as though he needed one, without a stick. He was a retired travel agent (long retired when I first knew him) and had found an organisation called Friends of the Grove which looks after the interests of the little park, which I often mention here. Before I knew him better, I once asked him if he had been a journalist so concise and to the point was the Grove newsletter. which he wrote. I was never sure whether he took the question as the compliment which I intended it to be.

On the radio this morning I hear a quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes: "Be not righteous over much." I find myself agreeing with the sentiment to such an extent, that I go through the whole of Ecclesiastes in the King James version of the Bible. I am swept along by the marvelous rhythmic prose which everyone who speaks English is heir to. Familiar words return and echo in the mind. "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven..." the beginning of Chapter 3. "Cast thy bread upon the waters for thou shalt find it after many days.." Ch 11. "Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh...". Chapter 12. It makes the back of the neck tingle.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

hot air, mondegreen, voices

Behind the deserted cinema in the centre of Tunbridge Wells.

Some months ago a I referred to the word "mondegreen". It describes the mishearing of a phrase in such a way that it is understood with an alternative meaning. In a book called Mondegreens by J A Wines, which I find in a charity shop today, I read the definitive account of how the word was coined. The American writer, Sylvia Wright apparently invented it. As a child, she write, she was fond of the ballad The Bonny Earl of Murray, which she was convinced included the following stanza:
"Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands.
Oh where hae you been"
They have slain the Earl Amurray
And Lady Mondegreen".
A miss hearing of
"They have slain the Earl of Murray
and laid him on the green".
Most of the reported mondegreens in the book are a little disappointing. It is usually those that happen to us that seem funny. One exception is the mishearing of the hymn, which has resulted in hundreds of teddy bears being named Gladly as a result of a the mishearing of "Gladly the cross I'd bear".

A hot still day. The air is heavy and humid and the voices of people talking quietly carry across the grassy undulations of Calverley Ground.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

verbascum, harmful, marketing

This Verbascum thapsus seeded itself as it did last year and the year before in the vegetable garden - a garden escape. It turned up this time among the potatoes, where it is a most welcome escapee. Also running wild among the potatoes are my favourite nasturtiums.

The threat of legal action for almost any mishap arising from almost any commoditiy nowadays penetrates even the Womens Institute's Country Markets. The handsome Lobellia cardinalis with its scarlet flowers is unlikely to be mistaken for a vegetable, yet the Country market label warns: "harmful if eaten".

Since Morrisons closed its supermarket premises an easy walk from here, a small newsagent has jumped into the gap it left and become a convenience store. And very conveneint it is. This morning I complement the owner on the service it provides, as he loads a new set of shelves by the door with baskets of fruit and vegetables. "It looks good," I say. " If it looks good, people will buy it," he says cheerfully. The basket are not too large so that that the produce on display will be be sold before it becomes stale or tatty.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

agapanthus part 3, hare, cooks

Posted by Picasa Watch this space. In the next episode , the whole story!

I go to see my friend Anna who is staying in a rehabilitation centre near here. She sits by the window looking out on the lawns, where she tells me she saw a hare this morning. We talk, among other things, about Montaigne, who on his own admission writes only about himself, or at least of his own experience, and yet who seems to have been the least self-centred of men.

It occurs to me, in my morning reverie, that cooks have an instinctive capacity for remembering people's likes and dislikes. So that many years after hearing a preference or an aversion expressed someone, who, like me, enjoys cooking, will recall that a friend does not like cucumbers or marrows or that someone else has a passion for crème caramel, though he may have forgotten his opinions on films, books or sport.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

hedge, lotus, summer

A section of the hedge to which I refer from time to time in this blog.

On the platform of Tunbridge Wells station stits a man in the lotus position. He is talking into a mobile phone. He is wearing a tee shirt bearing the words " I got it on" and "Rootie Island". He is wearing shorts which, as they come below his knees, are not exactly short. He adjust the position of his feet and, without the aid of his hands , stands up still on talking into the phone.

Drifts of giant ragwort, yellow, and rose bay willow herb, pink, on the edge of the Common, are the colours of summer.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

summer..., hoist, request


The slow process of re-slating the roof of the house just round the corner proceeds and produces interesting sounds. The most spectacular is that of a hoist lifting material up to the the top of the scaffolding. It sounds like a wild animal in pain, or, as I have remarked of a similar hoist at work, thesound that issues from donkeys usually without any warning.

"What are you doing?" asks a guest.
"I'm making some notes."
"What sort of notes?"
"Notes for my blog."
"Can I be on your blog?"
Now, though you will probably never know it, you are.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

thistle..., beef, sleeping cat

Posted by Picasa...explodes.
In the language of the supermarket, the label "Slicing Beef", without other qualification, signifies tomatoes of above normal size.

Under the broad leaves of the green cauliflowers, called Romanesco, a cat lies curled up asleep in dappled shade. The reflected lights of the discarded DVDs, which I have hung above the patch to keep pigeons off, dance across its white and orange fur.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

alight, digital or analogue, mela

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In the heart of the nasturtium surely the sun is in residence.

On the radio I hear a presenter say: "'s coming up to 8 minutes past nine". And I feel certain that she is watching a clock with hands rather than a digital clock. And I think how much I prefer the former, where you can see and more easily visualize the flow of time, to the digital clock which, shows only one point in time, at a time.

As I go out of the house this afternoon, I hear drums and chanting. The sound grows louder as I cross the Grove, and I guess that something is happening in Calverley Ground, the larger of the two parks in the heart of Tunbridge Wells. It is a mela. And the sounds I am hearing are "Four by Four Bhangra and Dohl drummers from northern India - Traditional bhangra dancing ... fused with Hip Hop," says the programme. What is a mela? I didn't know, but I do now, having, I admit, had to resort to Google to find out. It is a sort of fair, a gathering of people, maybe for religious, maybe for cultural or commercial purposes. It is a word of Sanskrit origin and is used in the Indian subcontinent, but only relatively recently in the UK. The programme, which the sponsors handed out did not explain the word, leaving the dancers and bands, the stage, the amplifiers and numerous stalls selling food from distant corners of the world to speak for themselves. "Celebrating the diversity of Tunbridge Wells through music food and dance" says the programme, which concludes with Bloco Fogo Samba from Brazil.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

agapanthus, cricket, proseco

Posted by Picasa The next stage. A few days ago, this calyx was closed. Now it splits open to reveal its inner inflorescence, the individual flowers of which have yet to open. Today we counted 19 such flowering events happening or about to happen on the one plant.For the last two years it didn't flower at all, because I did not, as I should have done and now have done, feed it, and feed it generously.

On the Common, the sounds of cricket. In the distance, beyond some rough grass, on the other side of the perimeter fence, is the cricket ground where figures clad in white are scattered over the outfield and in position on the pitch. There is some lazy clapping, then a pause as the bowler sends down another ball. Then an explosive appeal, a chorus of howzats? - the loudest noise in the game of cricket. More clapping and someone says "well done!" The sun is shining. It is 4 oclock on a Saturday afternoon in July. In the pavillion, there will be the smell of tea brewing and stacks of sandwiches. All's well with the world, at least within a radius of about a quarter of a mile.

In the Pantiles outside the Italian deli, a glass of proseco in the first sunshine for days.

Friday, July 18, 2008

no no no, like a motor car, roofers

Posted by PicasaRules and the unruly -

Following Barrett Bonden's investigation into Proust's encounter with a car in A La recherche du temps perdu, I encounter this morning another reference to a car, brief but I think charming - a perfectly tuned simile. It occurs in Swann's Way when Marcel is required to visit his invalid, aunt Leonie: "I could hear her snoring gently. I was about to slip away when the noise of my entry must have broken into her sleep, and made it "change gear" (changé la vitesse), as they say of motor cars, for the music of her snores stopped for a second and began on a lower note."

The sight of roofers removing slates from the dodgy roof of a neighbouring house, and replacing the felt and battens, before refixing the slates, leads me to reflect that roofing is a noble profession, which supplies a basic human need. It must be fun, too, for the initiated, up there among the chimney pots.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

visiting, hedge, story


Sometimes you forget that hedges are no more than lines of trees or shrubs pruned back so that they spread sideways. An unpruned privet with its creamy flowers, which seldom appear on our hedge, makes the point, round the corner from where we live, a frothing pyramid.

A girl on the train talks about friends on her mobile phone and shares their story with the entire compartment. She leaves a lot of questions unanswered, however. "He's lovely... he really loves her. I don't know what the problem was. She even called the police. I mean she's a model. He's a lot shorter... I said you can do so much better..."
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

hosta, young, paint-balling

Posted by Picasa Think of hostas and you think of their sculptural leaves. Their flowers don't last long, but these, I think, deserve their 15 minutes.

When I look in for the paper, "It's not in yet, young man," says the newsagent to me, though I am several years his senior. I recall learning from a Spanish friend that in Spain it is in order to address a stranger, a waiter for example, as joven, provided that you are older than he is.

In Grosvenor precinct, two beefy young men and a young women are recruiting for paint- balling - a military game, played in designated areas of countryside, where you shoot the enemy with balls of paint instead of bullets. As I pass, we glance at one another with a marked lack of interest on either side.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

courgette, lollies, squirrel

Bud on the fruit.

In the street, I smell iced lolly. From behind a woman and her young son overtake me, one on either side of me . Both are biting into iced lollies as they race on.

The small face of a squirrel peeps over the edge of a rubbish bin on the edge of the Common. It has a cartoon quality. The squirrel scampers off. It stops now and then and looks back. Longingly, I wonder?
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Monday, July 14, 2008

trance, free, chance

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We saw this blackbird on a path in an apparent trance . When we spoke to it, it didn't react although we were no more than three or four meters distant. All that moved were its eyes. After I had taken a couple of photographs, however, it hopped into a shrubbery. I saw it again in the same spot soon after, whereupon it flew away. There are a number of young and inexperienced blackbirds around at the moment and I can only conclude that it was one of those.

Free must be the word most used in marketing goods at the point of sale. In Sainsbury's above the line of checkouts are six big placards on each of which in large capital letters is the word FREE. In smaller letters you read that what is free is a bottle of Coca Cola, if you buy another bottle of Coca Cola that is. It is interesting that a word meaning that there is no cost attached to an item should be so widely used to urge people to spend money on it. The desire for something for nothing seems inexhaustible.

Some sweet peas which I planted in the Spring, before the leaves of nearby trees were open, in what was then a fairly sunny place but is now a shady one, have not been a success. But there have been a few flowers and these, leaning towards the light, have woven their way among some fennel leaves, an unexpected and pleasant mingling.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

another bud, hypnosis, greetings and farewells

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Sometimes I think buds are preferable to flowers. This agapanthus will surely open in style, but there is something dramatic about the potential compared with its achievement.

In the chemist I see a display of "Hypnosis CDs". They offer a range of treatments remarkable in their variety:
Joyful Pregnancies
Develop You Self-Confidence
Overcome the Fear of Flying
Develop a Powerful Memory
Overcome Exam Nerves

In the supermarket this morning, an assistant at the deli-counter sends a customer on her way with: "Have a wonderful Sunday". At the bakery counter the young man in a bakers' cap and working jacket says to me. "I haven't seen you for some time. I've been away for two weeks. Ah, yeast, I said to myself!"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

wild, wine shield, aged

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These wild strawberries are a permanent feature of a shady slope in our small front garden. They came unbidden and are always welcome. The harvest is little more than a thimble full.

We are sitting with a glass of Sancerre rosé under an umbrella in the courtyard outside the bar of a favourite London hotel. It is raining. The waitress, when she brings another glass of wine, shields it with her hand. I think of G K Chesterton:
"...And Noah often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine."

As the bus in which I am sitting passes, I catch a glimpse of an elderly, white bearded man, leaning on a walking stick, outside the Help the Aged charity shop in Tonbridge High Street .

Thursday, July 10, 2008

wild...embrassade, to see the Queen

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Wild clematis if you like looking at it. Bindweed if your a gardener.

After more than 12 years away from the business scene, I note with interest how friends and acquaintences greet each other nowadays. At the Caterer & Hotelkeeper Awards dinner in London on Tuesday night, men and women , whereas a few years ago would have exchanged pecked kisses accompanied by the embarrassed "mew mew" sound, which has become an anglo-saxon attitude all of its own, have now developed a fulsome bear-hug greeting, accompanied often by tentative pats on the back. Men who might have been satisfied with a handshake now greet each with a similar hug, not unlike that practised by the gangsters in the Sopranos TV series.

A couple arrive on the London platform of Sevenoaks railway station. He is an army officer in dress uniform, (three pips on his shoulder). She is wearing a three-quarter length, mauve dress with a light flower pattern and white high heeled sandals. She holds a pale, violet hat in her hand. It being that time of year, they are almost certainly bound for one of the Queen's garden parties at Buckingham Palace. He poses, unsmiling, his hands behind his back. She snaps him with a compact camera and shows him the result on the screen. Now it's his turn to photograph her. I think to myself that she might well have spent days, probably weeks, thinking about what she would wear. While he has had only to shine his shoes and polish his brown leather belt. Though I expect it was she who pressed his uniform.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

packed..., finished, magazine

...and ready to go. Posted by Picasa

In the train a man is writing in an A4 note book. He is sitting uncomfortably, slightly aslant the table, his head a little on one side. He writes quickly, his flow interrupted only by stopping to insert some words in caps, or to circle a sentence. His handwriting, is small, even and slightly sloping. As the train draws in to Tonbridge, he closes his pen, smacks the top of it with a satisfied click, and puts his work into his brief case.

There is an on-line literary magazine, which I have been visiting for some time. I was introduced to it by Lucy Kempton of , who illustrated one of my poems, on it last year. That was before she took on my entire Handbook for Explorers sequence. She has since edited the latest theme - this time, water - on which qarrtsiluni invited contributions. It has high standards and it was a pleasure to find yesterday that it has published my poem Dry with which I had responded. One of the things I love about the magazine is its name. At first I have to admit, I had difficulties with it, until, that is, I got to know it better. It is an Inupiaq word (the language is spoken by Eskimos in northern Alaska and Canada) and means "Sitting together in the darkness and waiting for something to happen". Needless to say, there are now no more difficulties with the name for me, other than the recurring urge to roll it round my tongue and enjoy the mysterious image which it represents.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

broad beans, constraint, camera

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The flowers.

In recent years I have tried to write verse that rhymes. In doing so I found that looking for a rhyme often helped to develop the sense of what I was looking for and could produce something unexpected but true to the way I was thinking. At the back of my mind I felt that somewhere I had read something to that effect, but could not remember where. Now, in the early stages of rereading A la recherche du temps perdu, I realize that my source was Marcel himself. He is describing his mother's tact in asking a difficult question of the Prousts' neighbour, Swann, and how,when interrupted in her approach to Swann, she has to defer the words she has planned. "My mother, had to abandon her quest, but managed to extract from the restriction itself a further delicate thought, like poets whom the tyranny of rhyme forces into the discovery of their finest lines."

I have found the camera I was looking for. What I wanted to complement my Sony Cyber Shot, which goes everywhere with me, was a machine with a zoom lens, which would allow me to photograph birds and animals at a distance, and at the same time to come in very close to a flower or an insect only a centimeter or so away. I had come to realize that an SLR was not for me, as the macro and zoom facilities would have required separate lenses, and unless I went for one of the more expensive SLRs, I would not be able to view the subject on the screen, having to rely on the viewfinder. The answer I discovered thanks to a helpful photographic shop, which understood my needs perfectly, is the Olympus SP 570UZ.

Monday, July 07, 2008

tomato, wild, crane

Don't forget the flowers, humble though they may be.

The word "wild" seems to have a new connotation nowadays, as in "wild salmon" to distinguish it from farmed salmon. "Wild rocket", so described by supermarkets and seed merchants, is not really wild but a variety close to that which, one assumes, is found in the wild. Now I read in today's paper of "wild snails". Madeleine le Chartier, from Culey-le-Patrie in the hills of lower Normandy is quoted by the Indpendent newspaper as saying; "Wild snails, they are quite different. Ah the taste of wild snails!" Both "wild" and the French "sauvage", however, suggest to me something free and slightly dangerous and beyond our control.

In the train a man, says to another man, sitting opposite him, in facing window seats: "There's a big crane, out there". "What sort of crane? asks the other. "A mechanical crane," says his companion. Crane is not strictly speaking a homograph since the origin of the word for a mechanical crane is the same as for the bird, the machine being named after the bird. The same applies , I have noted, in other languages. For example grue in French and grua in Spanish
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Sunday, July 06, 2008

shadowed, agapanthus, Proust,

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Ivy and the shadow of ivy.

I count 18 buds on the potted agapanthus which produced no flowers at all last year. This year's prodigality is due to plentiful feeding, which in my ignorance, I failed to administer last year.

My fellow Proustian, Barrett Bonden is to blame. The search,which he initiated for the motor car in A la recherche du temps perdu, has lured me back into the immense, all-encompassing oeuvre for the third time. As I jumped about more or less at random seeking the car episode, I kept hooking on to passages that I wanted to read again. The number of these siren passages grew and before long I had resolved to read the entire work again from the beginning. Goodby Zola, now, for quite long time! I first read A la recherche in my thirties. I bought the 12 volumes of the original Scott Moncrieff translation one by one over a period of three or four years, and that was the time it took me to read the novel. I won't say I appreciated it to the full. It was something of a chore, but I felt proud of having acomplished it. The second time I read it more quickly, now in the Terence Kilmartin revision of the Scott Moncrieff original, more thoroughly and with much greater enjoyment. But, as my search for the motor car confirmed, there is still so much more to be discovered there, such richness of detail, such deep insights into relationships, such fineness of language reflecting so many shades of feeling, perception and character, that I have still only apprecated the surface of the novel. There is much more to be discovered. Since my second reading I have, as a result of a constant assault on French novels in the language of origin, come to enjoy the process so much that my third reading of Proust has to be in French. And I have to say, now that I have started, that many of my fears of those long, long sentences have proved groundless. Although I still hear, almost feel, as I slowly negotiate the majestic paragraphs, the languid and sinuous English rhythms of Scott Moncrieff, I am now ravished by the more delicate, searching and precise music of the master himself. I find it, although there are problems, reefs where I founder, to be, on the whole, easier to read in French and much more satisfying, if only because, having to concentrate harder, I feel myself grasping the sense better. And of course a translation however good it may be, becomes something other than the original, and usually something less.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

mustard, child-friendly, 2 minutes

Among the mixed salad leaves which I sow every year, there is always a variety of mustards. The flowers are too often overlooked.

While in the garden I hear, from the pavement on the far side of the hedge, a woman say loudly into a mobile phone: "...The house is not child-friendly...He's going to spend two weeks with a seven year year old. How in God's name..?" Because she is walking so fast, we are robbed of further details of what could be an intriguing story.

In a You Gov survey I am asked this question: "Have you READ a national daily newspaper within the last 12 months? The question is qualified by the words: " By READ we mean looked at for at least 2 minutes in any location".
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Friday, July 04, 2008

bud, story, art

Nasturtium about to open.

A youngish man with long hair and a guitar case in one hand passes me in the street. At first I think he must be on a mobile phone, but he is talking to himself, telling himself a story or perhaps composing the words of a song. "... and he had a really fit bird with him..." he says.

While I am trimming the long hedge, which borders our house, a man passes and says: "that looks good... a work of art". I am gratified but, having just watched Federer demolish Safin , I wonder whether that is an over statement. Then I think of Marcel Proust, and I decide reluctantly that it is.
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