Saturday, July 31, 2010

home, circles, man

Posted by Picasa Yes, I have photographed this window, and possibly even one of these pigeons twice before. For some reason I am often persuaded to stop beside the traffic lights at the top of Mount Pleasant and look up at the hulk of the abandoned cinema opposite the town hall in the heart of Tunbridge Wells (the site is still for sale by the way - anyone interested?) The attraction: broken windows, gaping shutters, fragments of former  human occupation, unofficial vegetation, signs of an extinguished fire, and of course pigeons, scruffy, bohemian pigeons camping out, you feel, in the wreck of a former pleasure palace.

At this time of year when schools have broken up for the summer holiday, teenagers gather in small circles in The Grove and Calverely Ground like petals in a corolla. I think of the Spanish word tertulia to describe an informal gathering of friends, when I see them, and it occurs to me that there can be few better things to do when young or old than sit in a circle and talk. I like the Irish expression, "the crack" which refers to conversation, fun and gossip. Hence "cracksome", jolly, amusing.

In The Pantiles I count  a party of nine woman sitting with drinks outside The Ragged Trousers, and one man. Dr Livingstone, I presume ...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

ladybird, swinger, outdoors

Posted by Picasa Lots of aphids around this year and to enjoy them lots of ladybirds. This one is posing on the leaf of a runner bean plant.

As he passes beneath it, a lanky youth jumps and reaches up to cling for a moment to the cantilevered frame which supports the traffic lights in Frant Road. Is he doing it to impress his mates or just from exuberance and joie de vivre? He swings for a moment like a gymnast. The lamps sway above the traffic before he drops to the ground.

In The Ragged Trousers a dog sniffs my trousers leg and nuzzles me. "He likes you, " says the owner, a burly young man with a pint at the bar. "He's come all the way from Australia," he says. "He's an Australian sheep dog." "I've been in the garden all day, " I say: " He must smell the vegetation on me." "Yes," he says. "The big outdoors. He likes the big outdoors." The dog, as if  to prove it, is now pulling at the leash towards the door. "My favourite dogs are red setters," says the young man. "Now if this was a red setter, he'd be stretched out at my feet sound a asleep!"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

looking up 3, sex, vowels

Posted by PicasaOpen window: an inevitable magnate for curiosity.

As we sit with friends supping in the garden there is a recurrent flapping in the wisteria opposite. The sexual life of pigeons is something of a mystery, but what ever it is, it is far from discrete. On the roof above the wisteria a rejected male stands by. "Yesterday", says, Heidi, "the two males were fighting for at least 10 minutes, going at it hammer and tongs, feathers flying."

In the Italian delicatessen I ask the young man what is in the expensive looking bottle of grappa displayed in a polished wooden stand, on the shelf above his head. It seems to contain three or four fine flakes of red and something intriguingly frail and transparent. "It is a sheep," he says.
"A sheep?" Yes, a sheep". I look closely an realize that it is a glass model of a schooner and the streaks or red are pennants on its masts. "A ship," I say. "Yes,  a sheep."

Monday, July 26, 2010

bee, far, dry

Posted by Picasa Spot the bee.

Out of a garden gate comes a little girl at full tilt pushing a doll's pram. "Get out of my way," she says to Heidi who is walking up the hill on the pavement. "She'll go far," says Heidi to her parents who emerge behind her. Laughs and benign smiles all round. Benign? Perhaps.

The dusty end of summer. The leaves, today,  though still green, are drier than a few weeks ago. Their whispering in the restless wind is more interesting than it was, more interested.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

pigeons, children's party, reader

Posted by PicasaOn the stack. How pigeons behave.

In The Grove there is a children's party. They run everywhere, play with balls, race each other, roll on the ground, have picnics. The noise could be mistaken for the cries of seabirds nesting, The next morning there are stacks of plastic bags, containing empty bottles, wrappings, boxes, uneaten food. One the grass is a solitary lemon. By noon the bags have been collected. Relative silence and tidiness are restored.

I have noticed him before, our paper boy, standing on the garden path reading the paper which he is about to deliver.  This morning his trolley is outside the front gate. I do not want to disturb him, so I do not seek to  anticipate him at the door. Instead I go downstairs to the kitchen, where I put the kettle on. Only when tea is made and the tray prepared does he part company with the paper. As I carry the tray upstairs, I see the paper come though the letter box.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Squirrel, plants, hamburgers

Posted by Picasa A lot of these live in The Grove. Not everyone likes them. "Tree rats," they say. But they are wild or almost wild and I  would miss seeing them scamper up and down the trees, and posing like this, as though for the cover of  children's story book

As I walk up Mount Pleasant on my way to the Farmers' Market, this morning, I pass people coming down the hill loaded with shopping. Sprays of carrot leaves,and the leaves of other vegetables and flowering plants, peer out of  the plastic bags which they are holding. It is almost as though they are purveyors of  mobile gardens. A| mobile garden is something I have yet to see, except perhaps on a houseboat or canal barge. A project worth investigating.

One the path in front of some one's front door is a barbecue. On the barbecue, I see as I pass, two hamburgers gently grilling. They are already cooked on one side. A fragrant smoke floats above them. The smell of caramelised meat follows me up the road. Such must have been  the smell that reached the gods on Mount Olympus. A hunger for the impossible and unattainable assails me for a long moment as I make my way home.

Friday, July 23, 2010

blue, control, grandma

Posted by Picasa"Blue, darkly, deeply beautifully blue".
 Robert Southey.
"Do I stoop? I pluck a posy.
Do I stand and stare? All's blue."
 Robert Browning.
"In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whispering and the champagne and the stars".
F Scott Fitzgerald.

My first watch had to be wound up every day. It had a faint tick, not enough to keep me awake at night. I must have been  12 or 13 when it was given to me as a present. I had it for a long time and finally parted company with it when I left it at a repair shop and for some reason never picked it up. I sometimes pass the shop in The Strand in London and wonder what happened to it. In those days, the thought of a watch with a battery was beyond most people's imagination. My present watch is a Swatch. It keeps almost perfect time. I only have to adjust it in honour of British Summer Time and when travelling from one time zone to another. And it has a battery. Yesterday, after almost two years, the battery runs out. In the jeweller's the woman who replaces the battery agrees with me that she feels the need to wear a watch. "It makes me feel I've got a little bit of control," she says.

In The National Geographic Magazine, there is an article about the Afar Desert in Ethiopia, where, at a place called Aramis, a skeleton was found of a female hominid  of the species Ardipithecus ramidus.
It is 4.4 million years old.  Her skull cradled in a pair of modern hands, is  on the front cover of the magazine, while the assembled bones of her hand are displayed, life size, in a full page photograph. The skeleton, though still removed from Homo sapiens, is remarkable, apparently, because it traces human ancestry yet another stage  back into the past. To me, who sometimes imagines himself, clambering down from a tree and looking at the mountains, Ardi, as she is called is human enough, and I find myself saying, not without a hint of sadness: "Hullo, Granny!"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

up 2, two, second

Posted by PicasaLooking up, 2.  Evening on the aerial.

Just at the moment I am reading two books, each  by an old friend. One, a novel, is on tape, the other  an autobiography, is bound between hard covers. Let it never be thought that I am departing from my long held belief, that at my stage of life, one should read only for pleasure. Both books, in their quite different ways, are written with skill and elegance. Both have a strong narrative pull, and I am much enjoying the experience.  It is too early to form a judgement about them, if judgement is required, but  to read the completed  work of someone I know well, is something new - so different from the editing  of articles and works in progress, which my job used to require.

Forgive a second example of the work of Louis D'Antin Van Rooten. I have to read it several times aloud before I make the Mother Goose connection:
Raseuse arrête, valet de Tsar bat loups
Joues gare et suite, un sot voyou.
The explanatory footnote to this unlikely scenario begins: "This is a description of an incident at the Russian Imperial court. A valet beats of some wolves, while the lady barber is asked to stop shaving the Tsar. The last three words chide the stupid oaf of a valet for interrupting so delicate an operation (haemophilia was a courge of the Imperial family)".

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

up, reptiles, phonetics

Posted by Picasa Looking up.

Outside a garden centre a notice offers: Bedding plants, flower pots, reptiles.

An unexpected present arrives through the post. It is a slim book called Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames. "Words of the Hours: Root and Branch" might be a translation. It describes itself as "Discovered, Edited and Annotated by Luis D'Antin Van Rooten". It takes me a few minutes to recognise what it is - an exercise in phonetics in the distorting mirror of translation.
Pretending to be a collection of witty, if obscure, eighteenth century poetic fragments from the time of Napoleon III,  it is, you realize, when  when you try to read the verses aloud in correct French that  they sound like the Rhymes of Mother Goose in English. What makes this even funnier is that the English words which come through  more or less homophonically, sound as though they are spoken with a heavy French accent. So ""Mots d'  Heures" becomes Mother and so on.. The annotations are presented as though  they are serious comments on the French poems. Hence, linked to Et qui rit des curés d'Oc..."we read the footnote, "Oc or Languedoc, ancient region of France ... Its monks and curates were, it seems, a singularly humble and holy group. This little poem is a graceful tribute to their virtues." The next line De Meuse raines, houp! de cloques.  Get it?  Raines, by the way, is an old French word for frog. I'm still laughing as I decipher more of the rhymes. The book, with its straight-faced foreword, was published in 1966.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

dogs, icecream, scrofulous

Posted by PicasaPreparing for the dog show at Matfield Village fete.

It is some time since I  have reread Robert Browning's poem Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister. The words are those of a mean and envious monk as he spies on a colleague, with a fondness for gardening.  if you don't know it, it begins,
"Gr- g-r there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flower pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!"
And continues with some speculations about what harm could befall the unfortunate brother if he were led into  temptation and mortal sin. Here the jealous monk refers to,
" scrofulous French novel!
On grey paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
Hand and foot in Belial's gripe:
If I double down its pages
At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
Ope a sieve and slip it in't?"
The phrase "scrofulous French novel" is what brings this poem to mind. Today Heidi and I are lying side by side reading, as it happens, two, depending on your definition, possibly scrofulous  French novels - she, La Cousine Bette, one of Balzac's steamiest, and I, La Curée, probably the steamiest of Zola's  often steamy Rougon Maquart sequence. Nowadays Beliel doesn't come into it. But when these books were written, (to say nothing of Madame Bovary, censored for a while, even in France) we now understand how well brought up Victorian young ladies, who presumably learnt French at early age, were expected to steer clear of contemporary literature from across the Channel.

Mother to small child, "No, I'm going home. I'm tired and fed up". And what is the request? I don't hear it, but the clue is the ice cream van, which stands by the entrance to The Grove. Though stationary, its engine is turning at full revs, pumping fumes into the air. But how else do you keep ice cream cold on such a hot day? Parents and children block the pavement in an untidy queue. They don't care about the fumes.  Instead, their tongues, in anticipation,  caress the cold, firm pyramids of sugar and cream, encased in dry, crisp cornets, the slabs of hard cream, encased  in chocolate, and decorated with hundreds and thousands, the drinks on a stick. Transitory bliss.

Monday, July 19, 2010

friend, replacement, insects

In a friend's house, a friendly cat, met for the first time, makes an impression. Most cats are, at best, stand-offish until they are sure of your status and background. Not this one which, at one point, stands up on its hind legs to ask you to pick it up. At 14, it is too old to jump into your lap.

Not to say that I avoid it altogether, but nowadays I try not to drink alcohol as a reflex. But what to drink instead when others are sipping glasses of wine, or  beer? My favourite substitute is chilled tomato juice, seasoned with Tabasco, Lee and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and celery salt. With Vodka added, it is, of course, a Bloody Mary. Without, I am told, it becomes a Virgin Mary.

 In the vegetable garden, I listen for buzzing and look for bees and butterflies and other insects. After the broad beans failed to set this year, as a result, I suspect, of the scarcity of six-legged winged creatures that look for pollen, insects have never seemed more important, as garden companions. The problem is that an old apple tree in the next door garden, died and toppled over last year, and that  garden  which  is itself  neglected, has, for convenience,  been crudely shorn of long grass and flowering weeds that might attract insects. The elder tree in the corner of the vegetable garden another draw for bees was cut down in the Spring. It's up to me, I suppose to plant more, herbs and perfumed flowers among the vegetable.  If no one arrives to polinate them, I fear that the runner beans and climbing French beans, now coming into flower, may go the same way as the broad beans.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

ripe, Velcro, old

Posted by Picasa "Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe,  cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy:
If so be, you ask me where
They do grow? I answer, there,
Where my Julia's lips do smile..."
Words by Herrick. Cherries from Matfield village fete.

Various items of apparel nowadays employ Velcro as a fastener. It was invented by Swiss engineer called De Mestral who was inspired, after a walk in the country, to investigate the way burrs stick to clothing. His invention basically consists of a two layers of material one of which is covered with tiny hooks and the other with tiny loops. When the two are pressed together they form a tight bond, which can be easily separated with a pleasing ripping sound, and joined together again with equal security.  For some time I have had in my cupboard a strip of adhesive tape with Velcro, sticky on one side, Velcro on the other. I can't remember what I bought it for, but I kept it in case it came in useful, and today,  so it does. A plastic shelf in the door of the fridge,  has come loose, because the parts which fastens it to the door have worn and snapped. The adhesive  backing  of the Velcro tape fixes firmly to the shelf and equally to the side of the door where shelf and door used to interlock. The Velcro patches now do the job  of holding the shelf  firmly in place, and the shelf can still be removed for cleaning. A| victory for technology on the one hand and old fashioned improvisation on the other.

Old fart to a former love.
Now, I am old and grey and full of sleep,
But wake up to say something amazing.
And you? You are slumped all of a heap.
Or turned out in the meadow, grazing.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

glorious, reptiles, choice

Posted by PicasaThis morning's morning glory, which climbs up the fuscia bush, is worth getting out of bed for.

A sign outside a garden centre offers, bedding plants, flower pots and ... reptiles.

On a tee shirt the words "love me or leave me", invite speculation, if not philosophical investigation.

Friday, July 16, 2010

lime, weather, chewing gum

Posted by PicasaMid-summer seeds ripening for  Autumn flight.

A buffeting wind all day  pulls tufts of leaves from the trees in The Grove and throws them  untidily on the grass. It is a disturbing, invisible presence. But thrilling, too. Naughty.  It creeps up behind you, puffs in your face. Boo.

There are often surprises on the counter in the health shop in The High Street. Today it is Mayan Rain Forest chewing gum. Spearmint. And Organic. Of course. "I haven't tried it" says the health food lady, whose pale and transparent skin suggests a diet  almost exclusively of what she purveys; and whose jaw line suggests that she has masticated nothing  more challenging than a chickpea. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

shadow, mint, blackfly

Posted by Picasa The photographer's shadow.

Tea made with the leaves of fresh mint seems to me to as pure and delicate drink as you could wish for. It is, I believe, a middle eastern custom. I first tried it in aTurkish restaurant some time ago, and wondered then at its simplicity.  But I didn't pursue the idea any further.Today (day before yesterday in fact) when Mr and Mrs Barrett Bonden arrive on a visit, I offer them as it is mid-afternoon, a cup of tea. Mrs Bonden says a glass of water, is all she would like at the moment, but Mr Bonden, enquires after  peppermint tea. "No peppermint tea," but say on the moment's inspiration, "but how about mint tea, made with fresh mint?" Nothing, as it turns out could be simpler. In the garden I cut a handful of mint and, rinse it and put it in a warmed pot. Into the pot go the leaves, followed by boiling water. Three minutes to infuse and the pale green "tea" is ready. It smell like a herb garden and its taste, gentle and unpresumptious, lingers like a thought.

A phobia overcome. I have always hated blackfly, nasty squidgy aphids, which are especially attracted to broad beans. In the past they have always spoilt the beans for me and I have discarded those which have been affected. But this year, because for some reason, perhaps a shortage of bees in the locality, the bean flowers are not pollinated, with the result that I have the worst crop that I can remember in about 40 years of growing them. The few pods which have appeared are covered in fly. Wearing my gardening gloves, I do what every sensible gardener has always done, I wipe the fly off, and for good measure, wash the pods under the hose. No sign of the blackfly remains and the beans are not affected  by the little bastards, which are only interested in  the sap in the outside of the pods.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

lavender, spider, rain

Posted by Picasa White lavender, among the blue, is worth a walk to the sunken garden in the centre of Calverley Ground.

In the twitten, where the door of a flat, gives on to the path, I notice on my way to the wheelie-bin, a bowl of fruit on the step. On my way back, a girl appears at the door apologising for the presence of the bowl. "There's a spider inside," she says. An arachnophobe myself, I sympathise. She sets about removing the fruit, hoping that the spider will have escaped the bowl. But no such luck, there it sits, now that the tangerines and apples are out of the way, in sole possession.. "I must get rid of it", she says. Her boyfriend appears behind her. "I'll move it," he says asserting his masculinity  but without so much as a gesture to confirm any intention to evict the creature. Tentatively, she tips the bowl, and away scuttles the spider. I tell her of a wheeze of my Dad's. "He used to roll up a news paper to form a cone. The end of the cone is closed, but the open end,  is a dark  and safe hole into which the spider is encouraged to run. With the spider inside, the device may be be shaken in order to release the spider in a suitable place". She grasps the idea quickly and with evident pleasure. "I'll remember that, " she says, and adds for good measure, "have a nice day."

When it has rained at night and the sun shines in the morning and the earth is soaked and the thirst of plants has been slaked, the world seems a better place.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Posted by PicasaNasturtium time again. The photographer is captured in a trapped raindrop.

Pigeons nest in the wisteria above the front door of the house opposite, where the flowers have long been replaced by leaves.   In the  wisteria above our front door, a pigeon takes time off every now and then in a temporary nest.  It has become used to flying across the road for its break from domestic duties, but does not always expect to find us in residence. Today, for some reason, it flies under the arch of privet above our gate, and almost collides with me. I retreat not wishing to intrude in a routine where I play no part, except that of remote observer.

In this morning'sshower I set out  some cavalo nero (Italian kale), plants. The shower is not heavy enough to penetrate the layer of dust which the soil has become since the heatwave of the last few days. I help the new plants along with  canfulls of water. The thought of the water and the new roots meeting is  somehow pleasing and reassuring.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

shelter, tohu -bohu, foam

Posted by PicasaCat sheltering and defending its territory under a car.

Tohu-bohu is a French word which I have come across two or three times recently. It means confusion and disorder and according to Robert is derived from the Hebrew word for chaos. I have never heard it pronounced by a French person but, judging by the phonetic description  in the dictionary, it  probably sounds like "toyboy"  pronounced by someone with very constricted vowels. Rabelais wrote of the Isles of Tohu and Bohu. Heidi tells me that there is a German word Tohuwabohu with the same meaning. But I cannot find any word in English signifying chaos with a similar derivation. "Topsy-turvy", seems to have a different origin.

When flowers appear on the privet hedge it means that it's time to trim it again. In one sense it is a shame  because the white panicles are lovely to behold, like flecks of foam on a green sea.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

story, Archers, new

Posted by PicasaThe mermaid lay back on the rocks to sun herself. Her  green hair trailed behind her spread out on the sand.  All of a sudden, in the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a young man with a camera. With a cry, she glided back into the water and swam  down and away  beneath the waves with long, graceful strokes. The young man hurried to his computer to upload the photograph.  But all that appeared on the screen were her bright, green tresses. As he looked at them,  he tried  again to see in his mind the glittering tail and silver breasts, which he had glimpsed just for a second, before she vanished into the water, and he swore that he could hear her singing: "Beware, beware the mermaid's snare,  let no snapper come near me, down in  the dark, the clever sea".

"You don't listen to the Archers,"" says, with evident disapproval, Marianna, a Danish woman who has lived in England since she was 19. When she married her English Husband,he advised her to listen to the Archers in order to understand the English. "I tried," she says, "and I couldn't bear it. "So I have had to understand the English without their help."

What good or beautiful thing  can come from dropping your compact camera, case and all, into the loo? Not much except a new camera, with a better zoom and a Leica lense. Not all beautiful things are as as expensive as this piece of carelessness. But the flag must be kept flying.

Friday, July 09, 2010

seaside, astilbe, symbols

Posted by PicasaI do like to be beside the seaside,
I do like to be beside the sea.

The astilbe, which I planted the other day with its cream coloured, feathery panicles, is called astilbe Deutschland, a fact which I forgot to mention when I referred to it a few days ago. The name comes back to me the day after Germany is defeated by Spain in the World Cup semi-finals, and I notice that  this fine and healthy plant is looking sorry for itself; its leaves drooping, it is leaning sideways as though  it is tired of hanging around. It might  be the match result of course  but more likely, as a  plant recently transferred from pot to bed, it needs water. So water it gets by the can full  whereupon it is quickly restored to its perky self. It could still have been the football, though.

Wallace Stevens comes up in conversation when my brother Ken visits us yesterday. He's difficult to understand, he says, and so he is. He is described as a symbolist and that to some extent explains the obscurity. The images make their own sense in a world of their own and move forward within their own logic.  At one level it is hard to grasp,
"...Let be be the finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream."
But at another level the poem from which these lines come,  makes its own considered sense. It is the same with an earlier symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé . His poem Brise Marine begins:
"La chair est triste hélas! et j'ai lu tous les livres.
Fuir! là- bas fuir! Je sense que des oiseaux sont ivres
D'être parmi lécume inconnue et les cieux".
Which literally translated is:
"The flesh is sad, alas! I have read all the books.
To escape! To escape far away. I feel that the birds are drunk
To be amid unknown foam and the skies".
I have known both these poems for many years and would find it hard to explain what they mean. But I only know that I love them for their images as well as their sound and the way the lead my thoughts.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

pebbles, quenched, opinion

Posted by Picasa I have always liked pebbles, even under my bare feet when I go down to swim. Perhaps it is because,  I learnt to  swim on a shingle beach in Devon. Today I still like the smooth, sea-moulded touch of pebbles like these on the beach at St Leonards. Each has its own story, and they rub together like old friends.

The man who I keep seeing at his computer in a neighbouring window, this morning is taking a sip from a mug.  While he surveys the screen  (just as I wonder what people are reading I wonder what they are writing) I sense his thirst being quenched, but his pursuit of words, ideas, thoughts, answers, seems to continue.

All that is left of a poem that I have been working on  is in my notebook:
... easy to give up and drown
in the sea of received opinion,
lulled by the singing of whales
and the benevolence of dolphins...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

shoes, whispering, basil

Posted by Picasa Breakwater at St Leonards.

As I sit for a few minutes in Calverley Ground, I hear, beneath the voices of young people with a ball in the middle distance, the persistent hiss of a lawn sprayer and watch the device, connected to a yellow, snake-like hose,  throw up an arc of individual spouts, the whole slowly rising and falling like a fan to distribute water over neighbouring flower beds. The contrast between human voices and the whispering of the water is marked and suggests the presence of two distinct worlds, parallel and not quite touching.

Today I transplant basil seedlings from  crowded pots where the young plants forms lawns of bubbly leaves, to larger pots, four or five to a pot. The aromatic leaves release their pungent scent to accompany me in this dignified and pleasant task.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

sand, soap, glory

Posted by PicasaWet sand at St Leonards. Yes, Lucy (re your comment yesterday), you may have the impression that we are flitting from place to place in the South of England. In fact we have been, but at a slower rate than the mixture of photographs and notes in my notebook suggest. It strikes me today that the notes, and photographs in the camera memory are running into one another, blurring definitions like water colours on  wet paper.

Asking myself and dealing with similar questions about why blog and why this blog in particular, I come to the conclusion that I am involved in some kind of soap opera. I seem to be writing it and living it at the same time. A soap opera of the soul... the soul? Well, you know what I mean.

Blue, morning glories are climbing up the rampant fuscia by the side of the house. This morning, in the early sunshine, there are four blooms to admire in all their glory. By now they have shrunk to little twists of dried tissue. Tomorrow  a fresh installment of exotica.

Monday, July 05, 2010

transparency, change, bridge

Posted by Picasa Looking into the widow of an abandoned hotel  building and out through another window where a gull sits on a roof, in Sandown, Isle of Wight.

While waiting for play to begin in yesterday's Wimbledon  Men's Singles final, the BBC interviews two former contestants - Bjorn Borg and  John McEnroe - and then shows the match, 30 years ago almost to the day, when Bjorg took the  title from McEnroe. What stays in the memory is the contrast - not only between the two middle aged men  now in front of the camera, and the agile youths flying to and fro across the court in the film, but the contrast in style - long hair  then so much in evidence. Now, well, they look like somebody's uncles on holiday.

Outside the Crab and Lobster Inn in Bembridge, I ask the man  called Trevor with whom we are sharing a table, how many stairs to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge? He doesn't know. I tell him, 1, 337 stairs. How high is the bridge above the water? I ask. He doesn't know. I tell him, the length of one and a half football pitches. I happen to have this information just now, because I am looking over his shoulder at the back of a man at a neighbouring table, who is wearing a tee shirt upon which these and other facts about Sydney Harbour Bridge are  inscribed.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

rocks, alright, strangers

Posted by PicasaTextures and patterns in  rocks on the Isle of Wight.

I must be acting suspiciously while waiting for my neighbour,  Peter, who gives me a lift to Sainsbury's on Sundays. I have parked my loaded trolley by the door and peer along the lines of busy checkout points to see if I can spot him. "Are you alright, sir?" asks a security guard, which is another way of saying, "What mischief are you up to, then? My camera is in my pocket, and I  am considering a photograph of the scene. Perhaps it had better stay there.

On Radio 4 I hear a travel writer called Anthony Sattin talking about his new book which is called Winter on the Nile. It traces the journey on the river in November 1849 of two very different Victorians, both of who happened to be passengers on the same boat. One was the 29 year old Florence Nightingale, yet to achieve fame as the "Lady with the Lamp" in the Crimea War. Now she was travelling with family friends to recover from a broken engagement The other was Gustave Flaubert, a year or so younger, and yet to shock the literary world with his novel, Madame Bovary. Both Nightingale and Flaubert wrote diaries and wrote letters about the trip, which the author draws on. In Flaubert's diary there is a reference to his meeting an English family among the 70 or so passengers. So Flaubert met Florence Nightingale in Egypt, a useless or, who knows,  perhaps a useful fact.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

pigeon, horsetail, beautiful

Posted by Picasa When you sit in our garden in the evening, if you  raise your eyes you can usually see a pigeon, its breast already slightly pink, made rosier by the setting sun.

The very sight of horsetail (Equisetum arvense), used to chill me to the bone when it showed its  feathery, aerial shoots above ground on an allotment which I once ran. It was established before I arrived and remained defiantly in charge when I left. It is the most persistent of weeds, worse than ground-elder, far worse than buttercups. Its roots and creeping underground stems grow several feet deep; and the smallest fragments of them generate new plants. Yet seen from the train today, drifts of it by the railway line have the texture of brushed silk and catch the light like emerald green cushions.

In the Oxfam Bookshop, which is on my regular beat, I find Clare Grant, inventor of  the Three Beautiful Things approach to blog-writing. She is encouraging people to note beautiful things on bookmarks, which she is handing out for the purpose. She did something similar in the Public Library a few months ago, and should make a habit of it.  She points  to  a shelf where her choice of books  from the shop's basement store are displayed at her request. They include the six volume Penguin edition of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. "I think that he  is the right author for three beautiful things  He would understand them, " she says. She has read How Proust Can Change your Life by Alain de Botton, which is also displayed at her request, and will one day, she says, read Marcel himself.