Sunday, July 31, 2011

cat, present, tourists

Posted by Picasa The cat's shadow steps gingerly on the cat's paws.

In the house of some friends, they show me, a Victorian print of figures in a mountain landscape. They remind me that it was a wedding present which I gave them - it must be more than 30 years ago. Do I remember it. At first I do not, but on the bus going home, I recall  finding it in a shop in Sevenoaks and liking it enough to regret for a moment giving it away. Such reminders of time past prompt as this one does floods of thoughts and memories. Between now and then the interim seems infinitely expandable.

In The Pantiles this afternoon tourists move ponderously like sailing ships in a calm. They shift their weight from hip to hip as they advance if they advance at all. It is a way of walking which I perfectly understand because, much as I dislike it, I sometimes in idle moments, catch myself at it.

Kites or swallows, sums up the last question I put to Lucy Kempton  in our Compasses dialogue (see side panel). She has now posted her response, with a lovely poem contemplating the nature of kite -flying, messages on the pieces of paper which form a kite's tail, and the contrasting freedom of swallows. It is a complex poem and deserves reading and rereading. The question I must answer: Would I nod and dance at the end of the string or follow the free and perilous trajectory of the swallow's wing? Not as easy to answer as it  may sound. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

wagtail, whispers, stuffed

Posted by Picasa On the brick pavement a pied wagtail steps out.

Down here in our little garden the air is still. So still it is a surprise to hear the leaves of the lime tree overhead laden with winged seeds, now dried to creamy yellow colour, whispering to themselves;  and to see the branches move slowly as though nodding in agreement with one another.

Olives stuffed with blanched garlic cloves are something relatively new, and pleasing with a glass of beer or glass of chilled fino sherry. I once saw olives stoned and stuffed with  red pepper in a factory in Spain. What surprised me was that the peppers were cooked and pressed into a  carpet-like strip, which was then cut into thinner strips, themselves fed into the olives and cut again by machine to fit the fruit. The garlic cloves  in this case are whole and probably fitted into  the olives by hand.

Friday, July 29, 2011

mushroom, sandwiches, disco

Posted by Picasa This afternoon in The Grove, a squirrel is eating a mushroom with frantic enthusiasm. While I am taking the photograph a man pauses behind me. "I have never seen that before," he says.  Neither have I. Is it, I wonder, an hallucinogenic mushroom? Am I an hallucination? Are you dear blog-reader, an hallucination?

We are lunching outside a Chinese restaurant in Sevenoaks.  Inside there sits an elderly Chinese gentleman. It is dark in the restaurant in contrast to the sunny exterior. The light glints on his glasses. From the pub opposite a young man brings a plate of very English-looking sandwiches into the restaurant and presents them to the man, whom I take to be the owner.

We are talking about islands. "I've been to the Isle of Man," says our friend Geoff. "But I didn't mean to go there." How did that happen? "I was drinking in the pub called The Vine in Liverpool and someone said there was a disco round the corner. So I went to look for it. I heard some music and went in search of it. Then I must have fallen asleep. I was drunk. When I woke up I was in the Isle of Man. I had walked on to the ferry thinking it was a disco.  Someone had stolen my wallet. I had no money to get home. I was about 18 I suppose. It took me a week to earn some money for the fare home".

Thursday, July 28, 2011

mud, safety,hair

Posted by Picasa Discoveries in the mud beside The Thames.

At the dentist the hygienist offers me a pair of goggles. "Against the light," she says. "Health and safety,you know!"

Behind me in the train, a 13-year old girl argues skillfully but without results with her mother about her newly dyed hair. "It's dark, dark purple," she says. "Would you rather it was light purple?" "You've very pretty hair as it is," says her Mother. "I'm not going anywhere with you like that."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

heads, gravlax, emeralds

Posted by Picasa Heads above the parapet.

I first encountered gravlax in Sweden in the seventies, when as far I know it was not found in England. Literally "buried fish" or "buried salmon", the dish used to be made by burying the fish, dressed in a mixture of salt, sugar, pepper and dill, in the cold ground. Nowadays the filleted fish is cured or pickled by strewing the fillets, skin-side down, with the traditional ingredients, making a sandwich of  them, wrapping it in foil and placing the parcel in the fridge under weights, which draw the liquid from the flesh. After three days you slice it like smoked salmon, but it is more delicate and in my view more delicious. It is often served with a light mustard sauce.  Dill is often hard to find in this country so this year I have grown it in large quantities. Hence a supper of gravlax tonight.

Inside the young broad bean pods the beans nestle like emeralds in a bed of white velvet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

seed, thrush, cat

Posted by Picasa Early seed gusted down from one of  the trees in Calverley Ground.

In the vegetable garden this morning there is flapping of wings as I go through the door in  the wall. It is not the usual pigeon, but a fledgling thrush scuttling along the ground in the manner of a four-footed mammal rather than a bird. I follow it as it hides behind an apple tree.  It runs about down there for some minutes. It seems uncertain about its potential to fly, but in the end, instinct overcomes, inertia, and it manages, miracle of miracles to launch itself into the air. My heart misses a beat  as disappears into the leaves of nearby trees.

This afternoon in the garden as I cut the grass I sense a pair of eyes watching me. They belong to the Siamese cat which lives in the terrace two doors away.  It is crouching on a brick path where overhanging herbs and ferns provide camouflage, It has a bell round its neck to warn birds of its presence. So  it has to keep very still while it stalks me. For a moment,  I know what it's like to be a bird.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

telephone, voice, mats

Posted by Picasa Telephone time.

There is a little woman who works in the shop where we are buying some pillow cases.  She is dainty as a fairy. We met her at Christmas  and now, again, she comes to our help with an answer to a query. Kindness is her trade mark and her voice  sounds like a flute. She enjoys her job.She enjoys being kind to be people; and asks for no reward other than the satisfaction of being truly helpful.

A recent cold has increased the number of tissues consumed. I have now found another use for the long, fish-shaped lid though  which, once the box is opened, you  pull out the tissues one by one. I still draw an eyes, a mouth and some scales, but use the resulting fish as a mat for tea cups as well as for book marks. I haven't yet got round to it, but these lids suitably suspended would also make good mobiles.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

mud, comptitition, refrain

Posted by PicasaIn the mud beside Thames treasures and mysteries abound.

In the garden of some bird loving neighbours there hangs a bird-feeder loaded with peanuts. This morning there came to a wee mouse, a wood mouse, says Pam; and, at the same time, tackling the feeder from the other side, a sparrow. No camera to hand, the photograph has to stay in the mind.

Has my Epson strains to copy a photograph, it repeats the same word. "Rambo," it says, "Rambo, Rambo..." Could it not be Rimbaud, the poet rather than the angry maverick soldier? No such: luck the emphasis is distinctly on the first rather than the second syllable. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

copying, irritated, lovely

Posted by PicasaI look down from the bridge between the embankment and Charing Cross Station to watch this pavement artist copying on to a canvas stretched across the paving stones below.

Female voice of passer-by on the pavement on the other side of our hedge:  "Michael was almost irritated by me..."
Male voice responds without commitment or emphasis: "Was he?"

On the threshold of a toy shop in an arcade, some battery-driven soft toys roll about on the floor. "They're lovely, aren't they," says an elderly woman to her elderly husband. They advance on the toys, he with his walking stick; she gazing like a child.  The toys croak and bark as appropriate to their species. "Oink, oink", says frog. "Oink, oink..." over and over and over again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

tenderness, PT, monsoon

Posted by Picasa Tenderness by the Thames.

In the distance on The Common, I see a group of people doing PT, specifically the exercise which we used to call astride jumping. PT or whatever it is called nowadays is usually far from my thoughts, but the sight of a group of people throwing their hands up and leaping into the air at the same time induces some mild nostalgia. It always used to make me feel rather silly, but rather silly is state from which I am rarely far removed nowadays.

The taxi driver and I discuss the variability of the weather during the short drive across the town. "It's warm; it's cold," he says; "it's windy; it's wet; it's monsoon."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

flying, melncholy, yew

Posted by PicasaFlags, aircraft and seagulls all are said to fly which says a lot for the verb "to fly".

By  chance while looking up the plant called Fumitory, one variety of which grows out of walls in profusion in these parts,  I come upon  the delightfully named Melancholy Thistle. Its  botanical name is cirsium helenoides, or according to Geoffrey Grigson's The Englishman's Flora, Cirsium heterophyllum.  It grows largely in the north of Britain.  It is slender and unarmed being free of prickles. "It looks pretty, if a little sad in the mountains," writes Grigson "...At first the single flower heads drop and hang; and the mountain wind turns the Fish Belly leaves, which reveal their under-surface of white."  Fish Belly is a local name for the plant. "Did this melancholy look suggest that here was a plant good against melancholy?" asks Grigson, and quotes Culpepper in response: "The Decoction of the Thistle Wine being drunk expels superfluous Melancholy out of the body, and makes a man as merry as a cricket." If while in Scotland or the north of England I ever saw this plant, how I wish now that I had paid closer attention to it.

As I cut the hedge this afternoon I note with approval how a gap in the privet is being filled by the slower growing leaves of a yew. Is this part of the process by which hedges declare their age according to the number of  different types of tree found in a given stretch. A yew hedge is, how shall I put it, a wee bit posher than privet. Or so I have always thought.  I wonder how the two will get on in time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

jetsam, broad beans, cleaning

Posted by PicasaBeside The Thames.

This year's broad beans took ages to set, but now that they have I realise that they have been conspicuously successful. I planted the seedlings in an unusually richly composted bed which may account for their strength and height. The are now nearly six foot, twice as high as usual. I have not, as in previous years, cut off the top growing-points to deter black fly which are supposed to be drawn to the tender leaves, and  still there are no black fly.  I have staked the outside of  the four long rows and held them upright with garden string, which make the sturdy plants look a little like strange animals eager to escape from a pen. And there  are  plump and promising pods protruding in all directions.

As it has rained most of the day I have with the help of Windows Clean Up been purging my computer's hard disk of surplus programs. It is a bit like sorting out the contents of old drawers and tidying up  shelves. I lean back in my chair with  a sigh of accomplishment.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

silver, tastes, age

Posted by Picasa This photograph of a leaf pressed into the tarmac has not been tweaked. It is one of  this year's leaves which has I imagine reacted to some sort of chemical oil or petrol or a mixture one or the other with water. It appeals to me because it looks as though it has been fashioned by metal working  tools - and instance of nature reaching towards art.

In Sainsbury's a young man, aged 8 or thereabouts, shouts "Mum, can I get some pickled onions." He reaches up to ample display of pickles. "No, I said, no", says his Mother. Why is it that people's preferences, their likes and dislikes, always intrigue me, regardless of whether I share them? Others I  know have found pickled onions addictive. For myself, I can take them or leave them. I have some sympathy for the boy though. Onions are a relatively innocent vice.

When rain falls outside the window I sometimes reach for Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks as a source of good cheer and wit. With the book opened at random on a day when more than on most I seem to feel my age, he quotes Jonathan Swift, who as usual seldom disappoints with:"No wise man ever wished to be younger."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

buddleia, morris dancers, weeds

Posted by Picasa Buddleia, cloud and telephone wires.

As we climb Mount Sion in the rain we hear a clanging and a tinkling. It is a group of morris dancers coming down strung out on the pavement, presumably on their way to perform outside a pub in The Pantiles. I turn to inspect their nayy blue cloaks and the bells attached to their gaiters. The weather and the forecast bodes ill for them.

I find a pretty book in Hall's Bookshop published in 1906. It is called Simply Weeds. Its author, R Lloyd Praeger. It begins with the sentence, "When there were no men there were no weeds."

Friday, July 15, 2011

collage, lads, bees

Posted by PicasaNature, or at least a combination of wind and rain and a perhaps a man tearing off something fixed to it made this collage on a metal door with an absence of thought or planning.

On the terrace at Sankey's four lads with pints in front of them demolish baguettes and stack of chips with infectious enthusiasm, while Mrs P and share a plate of whitebait with the modest restraint of the elderly.

Bees are scarce this year. I watch them rather as individuals, entering a nasturtium and backing out, moving over the spikelets of lavender which swing  when they have concluded their ministrations and moved on to others.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

bridge, lover, passing

Posted by Picasa Frieze on the Millennium Bridge.

Love is good. The word "lover" is good too. Even when applied to inanimate objects the word is pleasing as in "book lover".  And the thoughts that go with it. Today a letter arrives in a smart envelope addressed simply to "Pizza Lover". That's not me. I like pizzas, especially the one I bake myself, but love them? I am not so sure. Inside the envelope is a leaflet advertising "Domino's Pizza Tunbridge Wells Mega Week.  Classic Pizza, Any Size. £7.99 Collection, £9.99 Delivered." I am not so sure. I am not so sure at all.

Am I alone in failing to recognise people who wave to me as they pass in their cars. People whom I am obviously supposed to  know. The only one thing to do is wave back, but when I do, I feel a bit of fraud. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

fledging, hello, crows

Posted by PicasaIn a neighbour's garden.

I have used the same words myself and wondered a little at them: "Hello, there!" a local shopkeeper greets me. I used to say it when I had forgotten a person's name, so that "there" became a substitute for John or Jim. It is also I suppose a little friendlier than a crude "hello."

The two crows who at this time of year I so often see in The Grove, are back. They peck at the newly cut grass. Invariably there are just two crows, no more. I used to call them Mr and Mrs Crow and saw them as proprietors of the little park. But the time has come to say goodbye to such anthropomorphic rubbish. What is more they are probably different birds.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

foraging, animals, animated

Posted by Picasa  Garden visitor.

Thought for the day. When we begin to think of ourselves as the animals, which we are, it is easier, though no less excusable, to explain some of  the grotesque and cruel practices of the human race.

In The Grove I watch fascinated as one of the brown plastic bags intended for the removal of dog shit by dog owners, as it lies on the grass, inflates and delflates in the breeze, like a lung.

Monday, July 11, 2011

tortoise 2, chair, broad beans

Posted by Picasa  In response to Anon's request, that tortoise before Mrs P transferred him to the lawn whence we assume he took up  his abode in a shrubbery.

In London's Design Museum I sit in a chair designed by Heatherwick Studio.  It is made of rotational plastic moulding and looks like a sculpture  consisting of two inverted cones welded together with a base rather like a blunt spinning top. Its rippled surface resembles a seashell. At first you don't see it as a chair, but when you tip to one side its function is immediately apparent. You sit comfortably as though in a shell and can rock sideways without falling over, though at first its stability is in doubt.

Broad beans are suddenly plentiful in the garden. Only a few days ago the flowers seem to wither and the  beans not  to appear. I put the absence of germination down to a dearth of bees, but bees or no bees, there are  now beans for lunch prepared as the Spanish do with Serrano ham and a little cream.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

fence, tortoise, surprise

Posted by PicasaMural.

I meet a tortoise trying to climb a set of three steps to reach a garden path. When it sees me it pulls it head into its carapace. And then when there is no assault puts it out again. "Have you lost a tortoise? " I say to a woman who is passing. "Can't say I have," she says  stopping to have a look. "That brings back memories," she says. "We had a tortoise. For some reason it was called Bacon...." Well, I'll have to leave you I'm afraid," she says, and walks on. Mrs Plutarch, driven by a fit of common sense,  picks up the creature and  puts it on the grass beside the path at the top of the steps.

A bird flies across the sky above the hedge. I expect a pigeon, but it is a seagull. I prefer seagulls. Yes, I much prefer seagulls.

Friday, July 08, 2011

gate, nordic walking, waterwalking

Posted by PicasaNot into this garden, Maude.

A notice about Nordic walking -  " it uses 90 per cent of your body's muscles. Taster session, only £5.00)"  - is headed "Kentish Nordic Walking". It refers I imagine to that form of exercise where you walk with the help of two long sticks, rather like ski poles. It sounds a bit of an anomaly among the fruit orchards and woodlands of Kent. Then you remember Hengist and Horsa. In the fifth century AD they are said to have led the first band of Teutonic invaders of England. They landed in Ebbsfleet on the Isle of Thanet after sailing from Jutland  to help King Vortigern  against  attacks from the Picts and the Scots. The brothers were rewarded with the gift of Thanet, only later to turn against Vortigern. But they were defeated at Alyesford where Horsa met his death, Hengist however survived and is said to have conquered Kent.  Ebbsfleet is now the main Eurostar terminal

On my way to the vegetable garden I have to pass the swimming pool. This is invariably covered with plastic to keep in the heat and keep out the leaves. Today I see a pigeon walk across the smooth expanse of blue. "Pigeon walks on water" I say to myself, who always fancied himself as a headline writer.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

grass, good time, squeaks

Posted by PicasaSome form of meadow grass I think. Everything about grass is lovely, not least the technical language used to distinguish one grass from another. Look at this description of Eragrostis minor, Love Grass. Or read it alound and listen to it. "An annual; the stems 5-30 cm long, branching at the base and somewhat geniculate, The leaves are hairy; the ligule is a tuft of long hairs. The violet-tinged panicle is large and open, with spreading branches, The spikelets are compressed, with five to twenty florets. Glumes ovate, considerably shorter than the spikelet. The lemma is ovate with three prominent nerves, falling with the seed at maturity; the palea is persistent." (Click photo for full view).

Girl sitting on bench in a plaintive voice: "I was having a good time. I'm sorry. It's like ...." I hear no more as I walk past, but there is a story there, a glimpse of a life, I think to myself.

Yesterday I hear an urgent and competitive squeaking coming from a tree near The Grove. Today, in The Grove there  are the same noises, and an explanation. Three of four young magpies hop about on the grass, asking, almost as a reflex, to be fed.  They fly between the ground and the lower branches of trees, but reluctantly. Newly fledged, they have not yet learned to chatter like grown up magpies.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

parallel, lime, owl

Posted by Picasa Parallel universe: curb in the sky.

Lime flower petals  are all over the place; they rush by in the wind;  they curl up on pavements and in gutters like shreds of pale tobacco. The winged seeds, still green for the most part, remain on the trees, waiting to fly when the sap loses its grip.

"What's an owl in Russian?" says a young woman to the child with whom she is walking.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

3bt, divided, mustard

Posted by PicasaAs we pass their  house I look up to see, Clare Law ( formerly Grant),  who pioneered the formula of daily describing three beautiful things,  and Nick Law and Alec Law who, by and by, joined her , themselves to become, I think as I click my camera, three beautiful things.

A car driven by a young man with  long hair streaming in the wind, emerges from a side road, music exploding all around him. One half of me rebels at the din and the other half applauds his carefree, youthful bravado.

A visitor introduces us to the taste of papaya seeds. Like mustard, not unpleasant, and especially good for you apparently.

Monday, July 04, 2011

hydrangea, feet, noises

Posted by Picasa Today's hydrangea.

In the front window of a house, a pair of feet crossed and resting on the sill appear to be looking out on the street - ten toes curious to see what's happening.

 I enjoyed The Crow's comments on my post yesterday about what one might  call voluntary, involuntary noises. The sort of noises that people make when they are exerting themselves and feel the need to build up and release energy.Setting aside the screams and grunts of tennis players, there is a sort of pleasure to be gained from groaning. It is something that I have noticed in myself and in some of my contemporaries - a groan when aging limbs are stretched in the process of rising from a low chair, or contracted when sitting down after unusual exertion. Robert Graves captures it in his poem Welsh Incident when a narrator describes a creature emerging from the sea. In reply to the question what sort of noise did it make?  "A musical noise, a noise of scuffling?" No,  says the narrator, "but a very loud respectable noise/ Like groaning to oneself in chapel close before the seconds psalm".