Tuesday, September 30, 2008

closed, gum, morals

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Two windows in a Spanish street behind which memories must lurk.
On the pavement, what I take for a broken fragment of seashell turns out to be a flattened piece of chewing gum bearing the ridged imprint of the sole of a shoe.

A snatched piece of conversation as a couple pass me in the street. "If she wants to do it for social reasons, she's doing for the wrong reasons", says the man. There is a disturbing didactic note in his voice which makes me sympathise with her, whoever she might be.

Monday, September 29, 2008

rare bird, dog and man, bees and I

Posted by Picasa A sparrow in fact. You are told that these birds, once so common in London that they earned the sobriquet "cockney sparrers", have now vanished or almost vanished from London. Perhaps they have emigrated to Spain, where they seem to enjoy the sun and the crumbs as much as other migrants, permanent or temporary, such as ourselves.

Back home, a man on a pair of steps is painting the front window of a terrace house. In the window, sits a tall, black dog on a window seat. The dog, its ears pricked, watches every movement of the man's feet and of his hand and paintbrush.

This morning as I gather nasturtiums to put in a vase, I realize that the bees, which are still plentiful, are looking for the same newly opened flowers as I am, I, because they will stay fresh longer and they, because the newer blooms will have more pollen than those which are beginning to fade.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

same door, no connection, tea

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Only after up-loading the photograph from my camera did I notice the anchor built into this door knocker. I spotted the knocker on the same door as yesterday's key-hole.

One of my last notes before saying goodbye to Sitges for this year is why the wireless laptop on the reception desk was not connecting: "It always happens when it rains," a receptionist explains. This reminds me of the famous excuse for the disruption of rail services by a light fall of very fine snow, issued by British Rail before the railways were denationalised: "It was the wrong sort of snow", said BR. How dull life would be if everything worked perfectly all the time under a cloudless blue sky!

On the doorstep of a house, currently undergoing refurbishment, which gives straight on to the street, sit two workmen. Each of them is holding a mug of tea. Somehow, I know that I am home.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

door, swallows, exotica

Posted by Picasa There is a street of old houses in Sitges, where there are intriguing doors with old locks and hinges and windows with rusting rejas (those bars on ground floor windows behind which unmarried girls used to sit when being wooed by prospective suitors). It is hard to resist photographing the detail and a pleasure now to see the results.

When we were here in June, the sky round the roofs of the old town swarmed with swifts. Now they have flown south across the Mediterranean. In their place, just for one day, come swallows, unlike the swifts, silent, they swoop and flutter past the balcony and over the swimming pool. But they are only with us for a day. On the following day they have departed also.

The owner of the Costa Dorada, our favourite restaurant, sits outside every day at a table by the entrance. There is a sense of tranquil continuity about the place, which is reflected in the good food and happy, courteous staff. He is 78. He has run the restaurant for 40 years and the chef, who is married to his daughter, has been in his job for more than 20 years. At this time of year, the old man arrives with an armful of exotic flowers from his garden. He is very proud of them and often arranges them in vases, distributed on the tables outside the restaurant, himself. Sometimes, after returning to his seat, he finds that he is not satisfied with his handiwork, and gets up to rearrange a vase or exchange it with one on another table. One plant, which attracts our attention has a strange cup-like structure like a white shell, reminiscent of the "boxes", which cricketers wear to protect their genitals. Inside, the single stamen of the flower adds a note of verisimilitude to this comparison. "It comes from Africa", he says. At my request, he writes down its name in my notebook: Filodendrum Costilla de Adan Mano de Tigre. So far, I have been unable to find a reference to it or to a more English version of its name.

Friday, September 26, 2008

prickles, snail, umbrella

Sea view with prickly pear.

Under the overhanging edge of the swimming pool, a sizeable snail, just above water level, creeps along the blue tiles. When I first see it, it is about two meters from the corner of the pool. When I look the next day, I see that it has negotiated the corner and is proceeding on its slow and perilous errand.

On the beach in the rain, two people with umbrellas jump two and fro over one of the channels made by the rivers of rainwater, which flood through the ducts under the promenade, on their way to the sea.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

dates, splashes, bells

We are home now, but the holiday images linger. From one of the bars facing the sea, I can still, helped by the photograph, lean back and look up at the saw-like leaves and fruit of a date palm.

After swimming in the sea as the raindrops fall all around me, I find myself a few hours later swimming in the hotel pool, which as usual we have to ourselves. From the edge, I watch the rain making circles in the water below me. Then, in the water myself, I see the drops from the banana palm, which leans over, fall heavily beside me. Each drop sends up a momentary fountain, which rises and subsides in a flash. Very different are the lighter rain drops which fall more rapidly in the centre of the pool. They shoot up like needles of ice, brief and sprightly.

On the eve of the fiesta of the patron saint of Sitges, Santa Tecla, the church bells ring with a wild abandon. Though, when we look up at the bell tower of the church, and see just one bell of many swinging with a poised deliberation, we realize that the intensity of the din comes from the number of the bells rather than from an apparent frenzy on the part of the ringers. We watch the bell ride slowly through almost 180 deg. Its clapper holds on until the cup reaches the appropriate angle and swings across in its own time and strikes the cup on the opposite side. We can just distinguish its individual sound from those of the other bells. Then slowly the bell begins to swing again, the clapper moving its own time.
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Monday, September 22, 2008

surfing, no sun.. but, litterary connections

Yesterday, a brisk wind is good for wind surfing. For me, who, now too old, would like nothing better, it has to be a vicarious sport. I watch it, expertly performed with sail, and at greater speed, more spectacularly, with a kite, a single curved wing. Then another kite appears. When the two kite surfers draw level, the two kites join up against the sky, for a few moments, to form the letter "m".

The sea is calm today. No one is on the beach. It is raining. We swim in the rain.

Some months ago I was talking on the telephone to an old friend of Heidi´s, a recently retired Professor of Dramatic Studies at the University of Berlin. In the same conversation, he asks me how to get hold of the Letters of Virginia Woolf, and later he enthuses about Any Human Heart, the novel by William Boyd. I failed to ask him why he wanted the Woolf letters. Today, as I read, with great enjoyment, Any Human Heart, I find a specific reference to the letters. I have the answer. The connexion is made.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

holiday, mop, horses,sheep or doves

On holiday, some of the things I like at home I positively enjoy being without: BBC News, East Enders, TV in general (we never switch on the set in our hotel room); the Archers; the vegetable garden, the weather forecast, the Grove, the local pub, Sainsbury´s, even Marcel Proust, whom I reluctantly left behind on my bedside table. This blog, however, which thanks to the laptop for visitors´use on the reception desk of the hotel, is something which I can enjoy equally at home and on holiday.

Looking down from the balcony of our room on to the balcony of a neighbouring flat, I see just an old fashioned, wooly mop dancing outside the door on the clay tiles, where, before withdrawing, it leaves a shiny damp island.

It is a windy day and out at sea there are occasional splashes of white against the blue, what we call white horses, and the French moutons, sheep. What do the Spanish call them? My dictionary says palomas, doves. I ask at the reception desk for confirmation, but neither of the women there at the moment is familiar with the term. For the time being, I must hope that it is still in use, because it is a pleasing metaphor. One wonders, meanwhile, if national characteristics are revealed by the different ways of describing the same thing.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

bat and ball, cocktail, deception

On the wet sand, a couple of men are playing a game with bats a little larger than ping pong bats and a rubber ball about the size of a ping pong ball. It is a game which nobody wins. You just keep the ball in the air, to and fro, to and fro. Plip plop, plip plop, it goes on for hours; the players reach up and stretch forward, keep their eye on the ball all the time, with only an occasional miss. In the 10 years, during which we have been coming here, there has always been someone playing this game, just as there has always been someone walking from one end of the beach to the other, back and forth without remission.

As a rule I don´t like cocktails but for a birthday drink Heidi treats me to something called a Mojito. It is a sea-green, rum-based drink, flavoured with a bouquet of fresh mint leaves and tinkling with lumps of ice, through which you push your plastic straw. It is not sweet. I find the mint immensely seductive.

I notice, when swimming, that rowing boats and dinghies, seen from the level of the waves seem much closer than when they are viewed from the beach, a few meters a way. I think to myself that this is because, from the water level, you see the boats outlined agains the sky, while from a higher position on the beach, there is the moving background of waves, which makes them seem smaller.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

rocking, half human, nom de plume

Beyond the breakers, I ride the swell and allow it to rock me gently as the sun bounces off the water.

A scruffy dog, which belongs to one of the waiters at our favourite restaurant, hungry for attention, has a half human look in its eye.

Having left Proust at home, I begin my holiday-reading with a short novel called 24 for 3 by Jennie Walker. It is about a woman who knows nothing about cricket. She finds herself floating between her husband, who likes to explain the game to her and her lover who enjoys making a mystery of it. She, in the role of narrator, meanwhile, likes to make a metaphor of it. Half way through the story, the theme seems to me to be a good idea and amusing. But I smell a rat. There is something wrong with the narrator´s tone and point of view. Would a woman really talk about sex as she does. Then on the penultimate page I read that Jennie Walker "is the pen name of Charles Boyle ... who lives in London with his wife and two sons". O my prophetic soul!
I decide that the the best thing about the book is the final page headed: A note on the type. "The text of this book, " it says, " is set in Berling, a modern face designed by K E Forsberg between 1951-58. Inspite of its youth it does carry the characteristics of an old face; the serifs are inclined and blunt, and the g has a straight ear." I think to myself that the type face is almost the best thing in the book, and the last sentence of the description of the type face, the very best thing.


The sound of a string quartet greets us as we climb the white walled narrow street from the Playa San Sebastian to the old town. We turn a corner and there, in front of one of the old buildings above the sea, is a group of musicians. They are playing, rather well, something familiar by Beethoven. You don´t expect it, and it is all the more moving because of the surprise

At one of the tables in the Bar Port Alegre is a baby in a push chair. The hood of the pushchair is raised and frames the baby´s face. Its mother is feeding it from a jar of baby food. The baby is interested in its food but it is also interested in everything else that is going on. When there is a noise behind the push chair it leans out to look behind the hood like a tractor driving reversing. But it doesn´t forget to turn round with its mouth open to receive the next mouthful.

This morning, on the newly swept beach, despite the absence of the jetsam, recently removed, is one seagull. It gives the impression of being in charge.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

cotton wool, fishing, crisis

From the aeroplane, I watch clouds, like little balls of cotton wool packed close together, drive into the valleys, and pile up the slopes of bare, snowless mountains.

This evening just one man on the beach is looking after two fishing rods leaning over the edge of the sea. The rods are supported in the sand by means of narrow tubes which hold them firm. There is a full moon. The light reflected off the steel rods shines silver against the dark sea, like the scales of the fish which the rods are set to catch.

In the newspapers and in people´s conversation, the word everywhere is la crisis. Here the crisis is two-fold, the banking crisis, which is shared with the rest of the world, and the building crisis. The building crisis is local. The Spanish have embarked on building programmes too extensive for demand and for people´s capacity to buy what is already built or in the process of being built. Incomplete blocks of flats are a common sight and above the building sites, the cranes are still and silent. For visitors, there is a consoling sense of solidarity. The news at home and in the USA being what it is, we are all pursued by the same spectre.

Monday, September 15, 2008

arachnid, packing,unseasonal

Posted by Picasa I confess to be being an arachnophobe. This is the second spider which I have photographed recently. Perhaps taking photographs of the creatures is a form of cure. I doubt it, though. The second shot of this one shows it eating a trapped hover fly. I'm glad to say that upon my return to the scene a few minutes later, both the spider and its lunch had disappeared, perhaps down the throat of bird.

A smaller more manageable wheeled suit case means fewer things to take on holiday. As long as I have room for the books, I can squeeze tee-shirts and the like in between. Once, some time ago, on a three-day business trip to Sweden, I left my carefully packed suitcase outside the front door at home, only to discover its absence when I arrived at the airport. A small -shoulder bag, a shirt, a razor, a toothbrush and airport novel, did the trick. "Where's your luggage?" asked my host in astonishment, as I swung my shoulder bag nonchalantly in reply, and I have always loved the idea of travelling light since, though I have not always succeeded.

An unseasonal montana rubens alba clematis peeps out from the top of the the bay tree reminding us of the topsy-turvy times in which we live.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

hibiscus, to look at, out of season

Posted by Picasa The hibiscus started life in a pot, but in a flower bed, it has matured into a substantial shrub, just now coming into flower.

A birthday present, which I permit myself to open in advance as we are going away, looks like a book. Not another book to read I say to myself and think of Proust - a long way to go yet - and a stack of holiday reading. Through the cellophane I read On Reading. A book about reading when there is so much to read! Then, relief! It is a book of photographs of people reading. The photographs are by Andre Kertesz and it was first published 34 years ago. The collection is widely celebrated, which explains why some of the photographs in it are familiar to me. They are restful to contemplate and stimulating at the same time.

In the High Street I look up. On adjacent chimney pots sits a white dove and a wood pigeon. I am about to photograph them, when they take off. The reason for their departure is a crow, which lands on one of the chimney pots. I photograph the crow instead.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

bride...content, rocking

Posted by Picasa...in the window.

A man who has been sharing some fish and chips with his wife on a bench in the Grove has a look of satisfaction on his face as he deposits the greasy wrapping in a litter bin.

A young woman in jeans is pushing a pram with a child in it; another child runs by her side. On the back of her belt are the words: "Jesus Rocks".

Friday, September 12, 2008

opening, pain, grass

Every year the nasturtiums self-seed in one of the vegetable beds in the kitchen garden. By September, they are a riot. They take over an apple tree, a fence, potatoes, a bed of dahlias, some rose bushes, sundry salads and even invade the greenhouse.

In the dentist's waiting room, an elderly man at the reception desk observes to the receptionist as he settles his bill: "It's not physical pain; it's financial."

Looking out from a platform of the railway station, I note the gutter of a house supporting a dense line of grass like a long, thin lawn.
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

the famous sunflower, hub, mime

Posted by PicasaOnce there was a sunflower, high up on top of a tall, thin stalk. The stalk was, very tall and thin, because the sun had not shone this year, as it promised to do every year. And the plant had consequently stretched and stretched up into the sky to see if it could find where the sun was hiding. The sunflower's petals drooped in despair and its brown face could not raise a smile. But, because the sun had broken its promise, everyone, not just the sunflower, was unhappy. People looked up at the sunflower and said: "You may not be the sun himself but you do look a bit alike, you and the sun!" "Do we?" said the sunflower, flattered. "I may be a poor substitute," it said, "but I will, as a look-alike, try to offer a little warmth and friendliness in the sun's place. And the sunflower swelled and spread out its petals. And, though it was not springtime, the birds began to sing, possibly in anticipation of a feast of seeds. And bees flew up to it and harvested the golden pollen from the flower's stamens, which stood up like landing lights on an airfield.
Although barely audible to human ears, the din of all this was considerable, like a symphony orchestra tuning up. Spiders and earwigs heard it. Hover flies and butterflies and field mice heard it. Even foxes slipping though the long, wet grass heard it. The sun, too, heard it, and came through the clouds to see what the fuss was about. "Oh my, oh my," said the sun, "That's a famous sunflower! And concentrating all its heat, burnt off the clouds, which left behind a blue and translucent sky. It was a perfect background for a famous sunflower. And the sunflower's petals began to sway in a slow and graceful dance, as though someone was playing the flute.

I have more devices which require USB connection on my computer than I have USBs. The tangle of wires behind the computer is something, which, like my own entrails, I prefer not to think about. A USB hub, which provides four USB connections from one on the computer seemed to be the answer. But the one which I bought a year or more ago never worked and I didn't know why. Until today, that is, when I learn that it needs to be powered. The neat powered hub (Sitecom 4 port) which I now have connected, works well (where have I seen that phrase?) and I can plug in a memory stick, and two cameras, without ungainly and uncomfortable contortions, which do not befit a man of my years.

Some of the things, which you note, when looking for beautiful things every day, are often strange and surreal. Today I see from the bedroom window a small cloud of smoke suspended in the air beside the wall of the house opposite, which is at right angles to my field of vision. Next I see a head and then a hand holding a cigarette, all in profile. Head, hand, cigarette and smoke seem to be engaged in some kind of mime, attempting to define perhaps what life is about.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

barred from entry, neighbour, book mark

Posted by Picasa The other day the door way to the greenhouse (the door is open at this time of year) was occupied by a spider's web. I left it alone at first, but on the following day, as I had to gain entry, I had no alternative but to destroy it, its architect and owner occupier having abandoned it for a while. Today the web is restored in the same place and the spider is back at its centre.. She has, presumably, learnt a lesson from the story about Robert de Bruce, King of Scotland, who was inspired by the persistence of a spider struggling to climb a web in the mouth of the cave where he was hiding from the English, to come back and fight again.

Stepping aside in the street to allow an elderly lady to pass, Heidi and I were rewarded when she turned back and introduced herself as a neighbour. Today we meet her again and she reminds us of our earlier meeting. And they say that Tunbridge Wells people are stand-offish.

Book marks are one of life's great comforts. I have invented one which folds over the top of a page and consequently doesn't fall out of the book. Unlike the variety that clips on to the page it leaves no ugly mark. But, in my view, there is no better book mark than the ribbon, glued at the top to the spine of the book, which hangs down over the page. The Bibliotheque de la Pleiade edition of A la recherche du temps perdu, which I am reading with increasing enjoyment, has two such ribbons. One, I use to mark my slow progress; and the other, to open at the appropriate page of the notes and textual variations addendum, which is usually worth while, when, thanks to the ribbon, access is easy.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Going down, acorns, what's it doing?

Posted by Picasa I thought to myself that the outer bark of silver birch, from a distance often looks like an old manuscript. As I come in close, there is this ant hurrying down the trunk. Others are climbing up the trunk.

The ground under the trees in the Grove is scattered with new acorns. They snuggle into their, furry cups and shine with an emerald green colour that makes you think of spring.

A small boy steps out of a front door and extends his hand. He feeling for rain. You don't hear his mother's voice from inside the house, but you know what she is saying: "It's not!" he says.

Monday, September 08, 2008

borlotti 2, warm hands, spider

The borlotti beans have swollen and the white embryo seeds become speckled like eggs. The blotches on the green skins look like clouds at sunset.Posted by Picasa

Outside a pub is a notice which says "wave hands here for heat". I wave my hands beneath it, believing that it will work like those hand dryers in public lavatories, which blow warm air downwards on your wet hands. Nothing happens until I feel heat from above my head, and look up to see a radiant heater on the wall. A box for cigarette ends confirms that this is a facility for smokers driven out of doors by the law.

Stretching across the open door of the greenhouse this morning is a large web, beautifully woven and symmetrical. At its centre, is an important looking spider.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

looking up, yeast, particles

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Chimney and finials.

At Sainsbury's bread counter, the assistant says in reply to my request for 50 grams of yeast, "I'll have to go round the back". He returns with a large parcel, which he opens. Inside is another smaller parcel. He opens this one and slices off my 50 grams of fresh, brewers yeast, rather like grey, crumbly Plasticine. What a lot of yeast!

On September 10 they are going to open and switch on the Hadron Collider on (or more specifically beneath) the borders of France and Switzerland and initiate what has been described as the biggest scientific experiment ever. Essentially, a tube 27 km long, the collider aims to recreate conditions a trillionth of a second after the big bang which kicked off the universe - galaxies, dark matter, black holes, suns, planets, you and me - 13.7 billion years ago, apparently from virtually nothing.
To ask the question what precisely went bang, is to ask a silly question, unless of course the collider experiment will tell us. Maybe it will reveal that 13.7 billion years ago, some over curious civilisation built a hadron collider on an obscure planet in an obscure galaxy to see what would happen ....
The idea is to accelerate particles called hadrons towards each other at speeds close to the speed of light, and see what happens when they collide. People in the know say that there is only a minuscule chance that the resulting impact will create another big bang of the same dimensions as the first, and replace the old universe, ourselves included, with new one, ourselves excluded. Nothing is too far fetched. we know so little.
There is something fascinating as well as chilling about the thought. Bang. Goodbye Shakespeare, Confucius, Socrates, Goethe, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Manchester United, in no particular order. Goodbye elephants, fruit flies, gorillas, whales, butterflies, nasty two-legged primates with over sized brains. Bang. A minuscule chance is a minuscule chance. So, on a purely personal basis, I am relieved to read that although the collider will be switched on this week, the hadrons will all be moving in the same direction. Not until next month, it seems, will the collisions start. By which time we ( some of us) will have our holiday behind us.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

note, whistle, discarding

These lime seeds flutter down on to our hedge and garden all the time now. Having tried to describe their aerodynamic structure in words, I get some pleasure from drawing one, a little shrivelled though it is, in my notebook.

A steam train whistle comes to us on the wind. It originates with the single track line between Tunbridge Wells and Groombridge which was restored several years ago by a group of enthusiasts who run trains at weekends and on public holidays.

I meet a neighbour with a box full of old baby clothes. He is on his way to Oxfam. We talk about the pleasure of discarding things for there is no longer a use.
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Friday, September 05, 2008

summer..., old paint, memory

Posted by Picasa ...images.

After drenching rain, sunlight reflected off the wet road and pavement catches, in its brightness, a hint of steam.

A coat of old paint shows through a second coat like a memory.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

sun.., sounds, email

...or a symbol of the sun.

In the train, there is a patchwork quilt of background noises, the ringing tones of mobiles - tinkling, chiming, growling, tinny classical and pop themes, suggesting a frantic population desperately trying and failing to communicate. Notes for a symphony for the 21st century.

An email from an old friend whom I last saw 15 years ago, evokes the time that has passed in the interim, a perspective, a sharpening of awareness.
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

composition, restless, right

Weed and lampost.

From the train I see two people walking across a field in bright sunshine. They are in the middle of the field and the grass is green. Wouldn't it be good to be one those people, I think to myself! And at the same time I wonder whether one of them, seeing the train pass, might think to himself, how good it would be to be on that train speeding towards London. There comes into my mind an occasion 60 years ago when I was walking along the cliff path between Poole and Weymouth in Dorset. Far down below, on an otherwise deserted beach, someone was about to enter the water. And, while I was pleased to be where I was, I found that I also wanted to be below on that lovely beach. Fortunately, contemplative disciplines and the lethergy of advancing years help to banish such restless desires.

I think to myself, today, that I am so often mistaken in my judgements, that I have reason to be surprised, as well as pleased, when one of them turns out to have been correct.
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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

landscape, raindrops, sunflowers

Blocked but fertile, this drain provides neat, miniature beds for what chooses to grow between its grills.

This morning, heavy raindrops outside the window prompt the not unpleasurable task of clearing my desk of superfluous paper, and a vision, never entirely to be achieved, of pristine simplicity- just one book, a pen and a virgin writing pad.

Sunflowers - dark brown, pale yellow, bronze and orange - despite today's absence of sun, when cut and brought in from the vegetable garden, bring imaginary sunshine into the house on a grey day.
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Monday, September 01, 2008

evening...puff-puff, twirling


A woman runs past me, plastic water bottle in hand, like a steam engine, carrying its own supply of motive power.

From the lime tree opposite the seeds twirl down. Groups of three seeds are suspended from single blade-like bracts, curved like some of the kites you now see. When there is no wind they motor straight downwards, and when there is a wind they fly forward like helicopters.

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