Wednesday, February 29, 2012

great high date

Posted by Picasa While gardening at this time of year I frequently hear the two-tone peeping of a great tit. I usually look but cannot see it even though the leaves are not yet out. Then today I spot the bird and manage to snap it among the willow buds.

It took me a long  time to recognise a high five, the greeting or gesture of triumph, common originally on the streets of The USA, where one person raises an open hand and another raises his or hers in response to make contact with a clap of palms in mid air.  It has been going for years, even Britain. It is a sort of joyous handshake substitute but in my view much better. People of my generation don't do it. Pity. I have long wanted to find someone of my age or thereabouts who understands the procedure.  Perhaps I should place an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph.

February 29. It is leap year when women are suppose to propose to men. Nowadays I suppose the more like termly would be proposition. But they do that anyway regardless of the date by all accounts. Today I learn  that the French word for leap year is anneé bissextile, while today's date would be described as journeé bissextile. I thought that sex might come into it somewhere.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ready heron levels

Posted by Picasa Ready for spring. The vegetable garden awaits seeds and plants.

On my way to attend to the vegetable beds I disturb a heron. It is exploring the pond in the corner below the rockery. It takes off and slowly wings its way down the lawn, its legs dragging out behind it. As it spreads its wings the walled garden and the lawn, which the walls encompass, suddenly seem less imposing than usual.

In The Grove this morning, I hear the murmur of traffic in The High Street below and above in the tops of the trees the chatter of birds. The sap is rising.

Monday, February 27, 2012

portrait blind-call wit

Posted by Picasa Portrait of a passing snauzer

A new variety of blind-call  on the telephone today.  There is nothing by a long silence followed by a woman's voice concluding the call. All I hear is the word "goodbye". It could be sinsister except that the voice still has that hopeful confidence implying that in the long run it hopes that I will pay for something.

When I first read Jay McInernerny's novel Brightness Falls about the success-fuelled conoscenti in 90s New York I don't think I fully realised, as I do now reading it for the second time, how witty it is. One of the characters Victor Pop  is a novelist who has written one succesful novel and constantly postponed the second one because he is too busy promoting the image of himeslf as the great American writer. "Semi-colons aside," his publisher Russell Calloway thinks not without irony, "He is a master of the question mark."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

crow young saleable

Posted by PicasaCrow has a particular light in his eye this morning.

"May I take one of these, young man," says a rather threatening pale and rather fat man, as I am filling in my lottery form. He is I realise being friendly as he looks for the particular y form that he wants. "Young man" can  I suppose  be a flattering form of  address if you are no longer young, but that  can be alternative interpretations. In Spanish I am told that  to address a stranger as joven  is perfectly in order provided the person you are talking to is older than you.

A man is blaring jargon into his telephone. "A saleable product in itself. It is not flash. I thought 'good on you.'" he says.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

seagulls self-cleaning fart

Posted by Picasa Seagulls on an aerial.

We talk to a woman with a dog. "That's a Spitz," says Heidi who knows her breeds. It is  dazzling white in the sunshine. "You keep it very well," says Heidi. "Yes," says the woman, who is tall and blond with a Slavic accent. "It is a self-cleaning dog; you just let it get wet and when it is dry it is white again."

A  side window of the ground floor flat next door was broken last night.  Did you have burglars? we ask.  "No, it was someone drunk as a fart ."  That's Friday night for you.

Friday, February 24, 2012

steeple light-bulbs curtains

Posted by PicasaThe steeple of St Peter's Church in Bayham Road looks as though it grows out of the park called Calverley Ground . In fact several roads lined with houses intervene between it and the borders of the park. The church was designed by local architects H and H and E Cronk and built in  the 1870s.  For a long time I wondered as I walked through the park to which church the steeple belonged. Now that I know it gives me pleasure to share the knowledge, though doubtless it will of interest to very few other people.

Outside a lighting emporium in Camden Road is a notice reproducing the front page account in local paper about the proprietor's battle in favour of the old fashioned energy consuming light bulbs, now about to be outlawed. "I will go to prison rather than stop selling them," he says. "Most people care more about their eyesight than  the environment," he says. As far as I am concerned a  reaction in favour of anything against political correctness kicks in. "Good luck to you", I say as I buy my innocent table lamp bulb. I don't know if we have any of the old brighter argon filled bulbs left at home; and I am not sure, selfish old me, that if I did, our planet would begin to melt on account of them.

Sitting on the terrace behind Sankey's I look up at a number of windows above the restaurant with clumsily drawn curtains and sagging blinds. Perhaps staff live there. There is something mysterious and rather sleazy about the prospect. The thought of unmade beds and abandoned beer cans, half eaten sandwiches and empty ashtrays. A world away and yet ... O so near.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

aerial forecast great tit

Posted by Picasa Today's crow on the mast.

Sunny all day today as forecast. Yesterday it was bright in the morning with rain forecast for early afternoon. In the afternoon I am sitting by the window reading when the  rain begins to tap against the glass and the drops to trickle down. On time I think.  I amcoming  round to believing the forecasters.

In the garden today I hear the two-tone call of a great tit. I pull out my camera. I must careful. A couple of years ago I aimed my  camera at the sound of a great tit and the photograph which I took turned out to be of blue tit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

song hole pushchair

Posted by Picasa Today's blackbird looks almost two dimensional in the winter light. This afternoon for the first time this year I hear  such a blackbird sing if not this one.

In the shrubbery of the house opposite a big tunnel has appeared. I peer in like Alice, but cannot see beyond a bend. A fox has been at work. The sense of something wild so close is always exciting when you live in a town, where nature generally suppressed.

A couple of our acquaintance approach us with a push chair. It is the sort of push chair that might be used in a sci-fi movie. It seems to be composed of a number of spheres connected by tubes. On the steering bar is a fur muff to keep the hands of the driver warm. "Our daughter-in-law loves this sort of thing", they say. "But we don't know how to make all the gadgets work". A wind blows round the hood and all sorts of  brakes are erected in front of the hole where a baby resides. "It turns into a high chair in  restaurants," they add. We are so interested in the device that as we move on we realise that we have omitted to look inside, to admire and make appropriate noises about the child.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

pose doll art

Posted by Picasa Today's squirrel. Alive and thinking what to do next.

On the armrest of a bench  in The Grove stands a doll with a life-like baby face, a pink dress and tiny stockinged feet. It is quite alone, forgotten, sad and disturbing.

In the street I pass a neighbour hauling some sort of trolley. "All the way back from my art class," she says  indicating a big plastic bag strapped to the frame. "Oils," I say for want of anything else to say.  "It's so heavy," she says.

Monday, February 20, 2012

sunlight ultimate fish

Posted by Picasa Sunlight and shadow on the half landing of the staircase in  our house where there is plenty of light through the day.

In the new Tunbridge Wells Hospital which some have compared favourably with an airport building a Costa Coffee shop provides a welcoming focus at the back of the light and spacious lobby. For a hospital where there is always a nagging worry about outcomes, the choice of menu promotion boldly advertised provides food for thought:  "The Ultimate Bacon Breakfast Roll" .

It is 20 years since I retired from active journalism and editing. Yet faithful to the last, some PR agencies still have me on their mailing lists. Such loyalty is rare. Though I am unlikely to attend or draw attention to its annual revival at the end of June, I like to know that Pembrokeshire Fish Week is still alive.  "...New this year," I am informed, "is the chance to learn about Indian Fish cookery from acclaimed Kerala born cookery star Anand George, founder of Cardiff's New Purple Poppadom". I wish I lived nearer Cardiff because whenever I have tasted Kerala food I have never failed to be impressed.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

beware nipples schnauzer

Posted by PicasaThis time the instructions are, Warning Guard Dogs. Apart from a wild look in the eye this one seems to be short of the teeth which would if they were shown would give more credibility to the warning.

 To reach the counter at the sub post office, also a newsagent and convenience store,  the queue has to file past the magazine-display shelves. Examining the titles my eye strays to the uppermost shelf where the magazines called "men's magazines" are on show. Without exception these publications have naked women on the covers. Not completely naked though. Every breast  is covered  at its extremity with a  tiny star, which leads me to be believe that a censor somewhere in the long chain of  wholesalers, retailers and moral arbiters which govern newsagent displays has decided that there is something dangerously erotic about nipples, though not about the flesh which supports them. The logic of the stars eludes me, but thinking about the management meetings and resulting minutes (the dialogue above all) ,which must have ensued to produce them helps pass the time while waiting to post my parcel.

Outside The Compasses Heidi calls "Schnauzie, Schnauzie.." to a medium sized Schnauzer tethered to a chair inside the sheltered area. The dog, which is longing for entertainment jumps up and runs towards her forgetting that there is a long lead extending behind it, which after a certain point can extend no further. Such is the impulse of its charge and its evident boredom, that yapping with excitement, it drags the chair behind it, knocking over other chairs in its wake and rushes upon us, despite its owners entreaties. "Is it a puppy?" asks Heidi. " No. She's six,"says her owner. "I wish I were," says Heidi.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

heads instructions railings

Posted by Picasa These two heads are recorded for their expressions which I find familiar in these parts. They are carved on the jams of a window on the south side of  Decimus Burton's Holy Trinity Church in Tunbridge Wells. The church for want of worshippers has become The Trinity Arts Centre.

DuchessOmnium's comment on my last post touches on a subject which has long fascinated me. Instruction on notices have a special appeal. I know just what she means about dogs being carried on  escalators. So many question are raised. My own example goes back to my youth when I travelled regularly on the  London buses which you boarded via an open platform at the rear. A notice showed pictures of the two sorts of bus stop - an unmodified bus stop and a request stop. The magisterial text reads: "At the sign shown on the left all buses stop. At the sign shown on the right the bus will only stop if  you hail the driver. Do not get on or off a bus when it is standing at traffic lights".  Apart from the use of the word "hale", with its  medieval ring, there is the concept, almost imperial in its reach, of "all". I loved both the precision of the words and the way they still retain an unintended ambiguity. Perhaps an element of poetry. And never, never will a bus fail to stop at such a stop  no matter where it comes from  or where  it is going. There was a book around at the time by the poet and critic, William Empson called Seven Types of Ambiguity. At least one types of ambiguity seemed to me at the time and still does to be well illustrated here.

Railings to persuade pedestrians to cross at the traffic lights by the roundabout at the junction of Frant Road and The London Road are intended to herd them towards the lights and the zebra crossing. Today a young man lightly vaults the railings and dodges the traffic to cross the road. My heart lifts at his disregard for rules and restraints. Never mind what nanny says. I wish I were still agile enough to ignore obstacles which take the fun out of life.

Friday, February 17, 2012

conflict boots staring

Posted by Picasa Quite a fan of pictograms like this one which  accompanies the slogan "Keep dogs on leads", but I am puzzled by the brisk pace of the dog walker and the dog's static position. The question I ask myself is, how long before the man treads on the dog? Such an outcome seems inevitable in view of the dog's apparent interest in something remote and  its obvious reluctance to move forward.

It has been weeks since I have ventured into the kitchen garden. A rise in the temperature, pigeons cooing and a gauzy quality in the sky drives me to pull out my garden boots, put away last November in a plastic bag and caked with mud. The mud has dried and is easy to scrape off with a knife.With the mud goes all the stuffiness  the indoor-iness of winter. I breathe deeply and dig the last section of the last vegetable bed to be turned over, fill the wheel barrow with several  loads of compost and dump them on the soil to be spread and dug in.  The exercise is good. Birds are stirring.

In the opticians rows and rows of glasses arranged side by side on shelves stare out, cold and expressionless. They see nothing. They are hungry for eyes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

frontage pudding visitor

Posted by Picasa The Down Town Fish Bar occupies  centre of the area of Tunbridge Wells which we call  The Village.  It is the last of a number of shops which in days gone by served local people in the Mount Sion area with groceries, meat, bread, dairy and other products. You can trace where the shops were by the frontages of  buildings now converted for domestic use, eight or perhaps nine of them. In those days  some people lived here who rarely travelled further than The High Street, which runs on a parallel course, at the foot of  Mount Sion, with the London Road and The Common, all within five minutes walk.
Visitors yesterday were the occasion of a Sussex Pond Pudding.  It is an old fashioned suet pudding in the centre of which sits a lemon, amply pricked to allow the juice to escape, and padded with lumps of butter and demerera sugar. The pudding cooks, suspended in a basin in simmering water, for about three hours; the suet crust forms;  inside, the butter, sugar and lemon juice make a rich, sweet and sour sauce which intermingles  succulently with the suet paste. It oozes forth like delectable larva when the pudding is cut open.
Now and then suspect visitors comment on this blog. It is clear that their sole purpose is to  draw attention to their trade or inclinations. Most are ignored or deleted,  but I must spare a word for Manoj Singal whose company is Meenakshi Polymer Pvt Ltd of New Delhi. I am not sure why he.  yesterday, visited a post of mine which goes back to March 2007. But I am nevertheless grateful for his attention and encouragement.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

landscape smoke St Valentine

Posted by Picasa Landscape with figures 2.

All day smoke has been rising from The Common where they have been burning brushwood. The smell floats over the town, and brings Peter out of Hall's Bookshop to see if anything is on fire in the upper storeys  of the shop where workman are repairing the roof.

In honour of St Valentine the Oxfam bookshop in Chapel Place displays appropriate books in the  window, or ones which are apparently appropriate.  Included is the Virago Book of Love and Loss which could be regarded with irony by lovers and their supposedly benign patron..

Monday, February 13, 2012

persistance refills surprise

Posted by Picasa Pushing through the snow leaves look bright and new and even greener than usual.

Recently I came across d a Waterman roller ball pen that had fallen into disuse because I couldn't find a shop in Tunbridge Wells which sold refills. It is beautifully weighted, solid and made made to endure. But  it is useless until it occurs to me that the Internet will provide a solution. I live beside it but sometimes forget its utility. A moment on Google and up come a number of sites which sell Waterman pens. The next day  a parcel of refills arrives. I feel  that I have a beautiful new pen, but better than that, a pen that isn't new but which I can use again.

Today a big and wonderful surprise. Lucy Kempton some years ago illustrated with her photographs  a series of 50 sonnets  which I had written called Handbook for Explorers. The result lies dormant in our Compasses blog and is hard to follow. The  last-in, last out blog form, which means that anything  in a series and of lasting value must be consumed backwards, doesn't help.  And it is not easy to see on screen how well the photographs complement the text. The surprise? By special delivery today comes a parcel containing a book of the sonnets and photographs which Lucy  has  put together and edited on, where it has just been published. She gave no hint that she was thus engaged. So I feel like a child is supposed to feel on his birthday or at Christmas - overwhelmed by  a delight he experiences less and less as he gets older when he cannot easily be filled with amazement or joy at the unexpected.  So much becomes predictable or malevolent or both; so little  astonishes with kindness and invention.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

doodle Les Miserables pancetta

Posted by Picasa Figures in a landscape. One of  my series of postcard-sized, water colour doodles.

I see that they are to make a film of the musical, Les Miserables, which seems to have a permanent place on the West End stage. Meanwhile I read the original novel by Victor Hugo. Has it been forgotten, I wonder? A pity. I can barely put it down. Though I can see how it came to be made into a musical.

I buy some pancetta from the Italian delicatessen at the bottom of the hill.  I ask for some of it sliced thin like bacon and for one thick slice to use in stews and the like."You have given me an idea," says the proprietor, "I'm going to have some for breakfast tomorrow". He adds: You  can always find a use for pancetta. It adds flavour to everything".

Saturday, February 11, 2012

beech flying tomatoes

Posted by Picasa Beech hedge with pigeon.
Birds, we rather take for granted, but anything man-made that flies is always fascinating for me at least. If it's a paper dart or jumbo jet, a kite or a toy glider, I always stop to watch with a sort of longing that I sometimes reserve for being younger than I am at the moment. In Calverley Ground a small boy standing on a slope is throwing a toy glider into the air with little success. His father seems to do no better. There is little or no wind. Then as I watch the glider, thrown by the boy, seems to find a thermal or something like it and soars upwards before dropping its nose just enough to make a three point landing on  a flat piece of  ice covered ground, its equilibrium retained as its slides forward before stopping.  The boy whoops with pleasure and so do I but under my breath.
Muffled in a scarf and woolly hat Geoff greets me in The Grove. I walk across the frozen snow to meet him. I ask after his health. He responds briefly. |And adds " my tomatoes are so high." He gestures with finger and thumb which part by about three centimetres. It is such details of daily life which I enjoy when talking  to Geoff. Even though my tomato seeds have not yet arrived. "I used seeds saved from last year," he says. But there is no reprimand or even triumph in his voice.

Friday, February 10, 2012

clouds memories shouts

Posted by PicasaSky scape in the afternoon looking south from Calverley Ground.

I have learnt much and am still learning in retrospect from Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman,  the psychologist and Nobel Laureate in Economics. He distinguishes at one point between  the "experiencing self"  which reacts to pleasure and pain without analysis or detachment as it happens and the "remembering self, which reacts to it after the event in a very different way and with different results. "Memories," he writes, " are all we keep from our experience of living and the only perspective that we can adopt as we think about our lives is that of the remembering self." Maybe it is obvious to say that Proust would have understood that.

In the Pantiles this afternoon I hear some men shouting. As I draw closer to them I realise that they are not so much shouting as having a conversation. Young men nowadays seem to have the need to shout, perhaps to assert their masculinity. In the same way some young women, seem  have the urge to scream at the least opportunity, perhaps to assert their femininity.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

contrast powerless rose

Posted by PicasaBlackbird in the snow.

If we thought too much about all the bad things that happen  life would be unbearable. Yet how heartless we would be if we pretended that all was right with the world. I feel some sympathy for Tu Fu who wrote:
   "A line of cranes in flight is silent:
   A pack of wolves baying over their prey breaks the quiet.
   I cannot sleep because I am concerned about wars,
   Because I am powerless to amend the world."

In flower outside the front door where the remains of the snow has iced over a solitary red rose.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

visitor lobscouse bus

Posted by PicasaOne of the seagulls which has taken to visiting a corner of The Grove. It is occupying an aerial normally the preserve of blackbirds, pigeons and of course one of the two crows to whom the little park belongs.

The weather being cold and the wind sharp, Heidi suggests lobscouse, or, as she would call it, labscouse. She was born in a town near Hamburg, where this sailors' dish is (nowadays, essentially mashed potatoes with corned beef and fried onion, not unlike the American hash). It is  as well known in Hamburg as it is in Liverpool whence the native accent derives the term Scouse. In Heidi's tradition it is served with a fried egg on top. My fascination is with the connection which the dish establishes between a great seafaring town in the north of Germany and one in the north of England. Then it  features in the novels of Partick O'Brian, which trace the fortunes of the English sea captain Jack Aubrey and his half Irish, half Catalan friend the ships' surgeon and spy Stephen Maturin, during the Napoleonic Wars. 
The Lobscouse in The Far Side of the World is a little different from the modern version in Liverpool, Hamburg or Tunbridge Wells, but its ancestry is well attested: "'It is one of the oldest of the forecastle dishes, and eats very savoury when it is well made'. This was a rich man's lobscouse... the potatoes and pounded biscuit that ordinarily made up the bulk of the dish could scarcely be detected at all, being quite overpowered by the fat meat, fried onions and powerful spices."
Though she makes no other criticism an otherwise appreciative Heidi does remark of my attempt: "In Hamburg there would be more meat and less mashed potato."

We fear that the bus to Sevenoaks where we have to go for a dental appointment will be delayed because of the cold weather. But not at all, it is waiting for us at the stop 10 minutes before it is due to depart. "There's no traffic," says the young woman driver. I have to keep stopping to catch up the timetable." She has been  driving buses for four and a half years", she says while we wait in the warmth for the bus to start. We are so far the only passengers.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

snowdrops twins wobbly

Posted by PicasaAfter the snow, snowdrops. A montage of last years photographs made while this years open in the remains of the snow.

As we walk down Grosvenor Road  two fresh  young mums advance up the hill towards us. Each is behind a pushchair designed for twins and in each pushchair sits a set of twins. A formidable flotilla.

One of two elderly ladies says to the other as they board the bus not without a little palaver, "I've got a wobbly leg and you've got a wobbly arm." Wobbly times.

Monday, February 06, 2012

berries shovel caterpillar

Posted by Picasa Berries with consumer.

The snow which greeted  us yesterday morning is fast disappearing but not before I have the opportunity to clear the path to the front door with the new snow shovel. I thought, with the warm January, that I might not have an excuse to use the shovel. But I am glad to say that it proves a satisfactory investment, a better tool for the purpose than the garden spade which is all had in last winter's heavy snow.

This afternoon snow is still lying on the grass in The Grove. The remains of snowmen are all over the place, and one unvanquished,  stands about seven foot tall with a carrot for a nose and coals for eyes and waistcoat buttons. Beside him is a line of giant snowballs side by side." A snowman factory", I suggest; but a more imaginative onlooker beside mesays, " a snow caterpillar!"

Sunday, February 05, 2012

doodle life smart

Posted by Picasa Two more or less circular areas of water colour paint on a postcard-sized rectangle of  white water colour board, rather poorly photographed so that the lower part of the card appears darker than the upper part. You could say that all this was done on purpose. In fact very little of it was. Perhaps better than something planned.

The first thing that I see this morning in the snow-covered Grove is the presiding crow. He is sitting on a branch, black as a black hole. When he is waddling  on the grass full of self-importance, he is at his least elegant, but today in a white-etched world, he is sleek; he is smart;  he is the black ace of hearts. He opens his mouth and says: "Kaargh!"

When I was at school it was in the context of a poem by Kathleen Raine that I first encountered these words attributed to an ealdorman in the account by the eighth century historian of England, The Venerable Bede. The refer to the conversion of Eadwine King of Northumberland. Today, as I re-read Kathleen's poems I come across the words again at the head of her series of poems entitled Northumbrian Sequence. "
 "So seems the life of  man. O King, as a sparrow's flight through the hall when you are sitting at meat in winter-tide, the fire on the hearth, the icy rainstorm without.
  The sparrow flies in at one door and tarries for a moment in the light and heat of the hearth fire, then flies forth into the darkness whence it came."
I found the words moving at the time and even more so, sixty years later, on this icy Winter afternoon.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

chance hunter-gatherers

Posted by Picasa Doodle of a fish  in water colours. One of my series of doodles some of which are representational and others abstract.

In Sainbury's to day it occurs to me  that I and my fellow shoppers are hunter gathers. We exercise our skills in spotting what we want among the varieties of goods on the shelves, in  loading and navigating our trolleys though the aisles crowded with other hunters and some stackers who replenish the shelves, and in packing our kill on the conveyor at the check out. Nature was never so challenging. Oh for those good days on the plain and in the forest!

"You are alive in inverse proportion to the density of clichés in your writing". This aphorism from Nassim  Nicholas Taleb's wonderful book of aphorisms called The Bed of Procustes is among my favourites.