Thursday, May 31, 2012

friends Sissinghurst daughter

Old friends pause for a breather.

My daughter Pippa drives me to see the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle. "It will be busy," I say. There shouldn't be many people there," she says optimistically. She turns out to have been right. The gardens are closed on Thursdays, which we had forgotten. But without the usual crowds in the car park, the charabancs and the queues, it is a far more agreeable place. We walk round the outskirts of the empty gardens and peep over the hedge. There are cows munching long grass in the meadow. Somehow the walk proves  better experience than what I had expected. The  famous white garden  and the rest which we seen year after year can wait for another day.

At a neighbouring table in a pub I hear an elderly woman asking her companions if they know Yeats' poem A Prayer for my Daughter. They don't but I do. And I love it and in particular the lines
" ...May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a strangers' eye distraught
Or hers before a looking glass....
I forget for a moment that I am having lunch with my own daughter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

dauntless biscuits swifts

Service cover in street.

From a book called Etymologicon  - A Circular stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language  by  Mark Forsyth which a friend sends me through the post I learn among other entertaining facts that the origin of the word biscuit comes from the French bis cuit,  twice cooked.

At this time of year the same post comes to mind. Swifts: I hear them before I see them. The expanse of sky bordered by roof top, chimneys and finials and the burgeoning leaves of the lime tree is not large enough to capture them at first. But then what a pleasure to spot them  as they swoop and  wheel against the blue!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

caged romanesco last page

Caged dandelions.

The vegetable that look like a  green cauliflower  is called romanesco. It appears to be a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. It is a favourite in the Plutarch family, liked as much for the generosity of its flavour as for its unexpected colour when compared with its palid brassica  cousin. I tried to grow it a few years back, but pigeons nibbled the leaves and the "flowers" turned out to be no more than meagre spikes like  inferior broccoli. I am encouraged to try again by a stall holder at the Farmers Market. "Needs lots of water," she says. So I try again. Today I set out the plants which I grew from seed. I water them in thoroughly soaking the holes I have made before putting in the seedlings. The morning is still clear and sunny. Perhaps this evening the promised rain will come and conclude my work settling the roots deep in the soil.

I am on the last page of my current notebook. Although I  refrain from dating entries - foolish because the book becomes useless as a record - I do know that this one began on June 28 2011. As I look back over the pages I wonder at some enigmatic observations which must have meant something at the time made them. "Lime in bag:  compulsive honesty" intrigues. As does "Fence. Heads glide above it." For some reason I like "man walks across field with purposeful stride," if only because in my mind he is still crossing the field. Though in reality he is almost certainly somewhere else.

Monday, May 28, 2012

moss nails grass

Moss on top of a wall.

Outside a beauty clinic a girl holds up her hands and appears to be waving.  Is she praying?  Or begging? A faint smile perhaps of embarrassment floats by her lips. Then I notice her finger nails. They are bright yellow. She is drying them after they have been lacquered.

Outside the terraced house of Pat the dentist, the verge has grown. I  stop to admire buttercups and daisies, dandelions and alkanite, not usually in evidence among the close cropped grass. |Along comes Pat  on his mobility scooter. I recall that this year he celebrates his 100th birthday. "It's about time they cut the grass," he says.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

blue duck blackbird head dress

Another in my series of  water colour doodles.

All afternoon a blackbirds sits in the cool of the lime tree overhead and repeats the insistent and complex sentences of its song. Close too it is almost deafening.

Outside The Compasses a young woman has her sunglasses pushed up above her forehead and over her hair  so that thetwin lenses resemble some form of head gear, a hat or what is called (though now scorned and out of fashion) a fascinator.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

lost böhnenkraut waterfall

Villiers Street on the left. Behind, you Embankment Gardens.

A packet of seeds from Germany suffice for a tray of seedlings. Planted out today  they  make two fine rows. And there are still some left over to put in pots under the hedge where we grow  most of our herbs for daily use.  Böhnenkraut? It took me some time to discover that in English it is summer savory (winter savory, a perrenial  is easier to grow but less aromatic). And what do you use it for?  According to Heidi greengrocers in Germany throw in a bunch whenever you buy fresh beans. Hence the title which means litterally  'bean  cabbage'. My herb book  maintains that among its medicinal properties is use as an aphrodisiac.

Not the first time  I have mentioned it here. On the corner of Grove Avenue just coming into bloom is a waterfall of white wisteria. The tips of the inflorescences are still a modest green, but the white blossom predominates adding to the effect of a cool and busy cataract flowing down the side of a house.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ben fragments opening

Time through the wheel.

Fragments is the current theme for the cyber arts magazine, qarrtsiluni.   Unfinished images, half concluded thoughts, rough-hewn and unpolished are what's wanted. As advised I repair to the pile of notebooks at the side of my desk. Assailed by illegible and illiterate scribbles, I start to wonder. How deep to scratch?

Two days of hot weather after weeks of rain and cold. Flowers and leaves open up like school children let out of class.  You hear the din as the plants unfold.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

saxaphone pelargonium baby-talk

Sometimes you can hear music without seeing it and sometimes   hear what you see in a picture without sound. The saxophone echoes in the tunnel and the sound floats around for ever like the zither in  The Third Man.

Herb Robert us not I think for eating (CC, L de P and L). I can understand Lucy's amusement at the plant's human name. I too knew a Robert, not a person whose memory I  want or need to dwell on. But to progress from a member of the geranium family, like herb Robert, to a pelergonium.  (cultivated pelergonium's - the brightly coloured plants which are found in tubs and window boxes -  are often  wrongly described as geraniums by gardeners.)  The  root of the pelergonium  which I see advertised in the window of the health food shop in The High Street is however for consumption " A traditional herbal medicinal product used to relieve symptoms of  the upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold, " it says. Some hope.  According to Geoffrey Grigson, by the way the name, herb Robert probably relates to St Robert of Salzburg. Just in  case someone asks.

"Oh my god!", says a child aged three or so. "You shouldn't say that," says its mother. Good for her I think. " Everybody says it. What does it mean?" insists the child. Good question.

Monday, May 21, 2012

sparrow nasturtium herb Robert

This sparrow and I played hide and seek for a while before I managed to snap it.

In recent years I have bought dark red nasturtium plants from The Farmers' Market . The orange ones which climb all over the place, seed themselves in the vegetable garden every year. This year a packet of seed sown in the green house produces all the dark red plants I need and more.  They are of compact habit and intended for pots. Today I transplant a few of them to see if they will withstand the still cold weather. If they succumb there are more in reserve.

Lucy wrote the other day of herb Robert, a charming and very common wild flower, a member of the geranium family.  It has popped up in the garden this year nestling under the well established and almost indestructible fuchsia (the wild, small flowered variety which grows on the coasts of Cornwall, Wales and Ireland). Though technically growing as a weed, I think I shall look after my herb Robert for a while. Interesting to note it is growing out of a pavement crack down the road, but  because it is in full sun, the red flowers have blanched to a pale pink, and it looks none too happy. It is better off in woodland shade. Geoffrey Grigson, in his The Englishman's Flora, quotes the herbalist Gerard: "'Herbe Robert groweth upon old wals, as well as those made of bricke and stone, as those of mudde and earth: it groweth likewise among rubbish... '". Grigson says of it that : "it lives with man much as the robin flips into his garden and to his back door."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

weathered tour pregnant

Another piece of chance paintwork weathered into something different that seems worth taking note of.

Approaching The Grove is a skein of about a dozen people led by a younger man in a suit.  Rain jackets and rucksacks seem  to be the order of dress. The men and women have an old, ragged quality. Not exactly lively. The young man is conducting  a tour of area of Tunbridge Wells which we call The Village.  He points to a chimney pot  or finial with his umbrella and makes an observation. Pairs of eyes are raised and lowered. A sense of apathy prevails as the group proceeds untidily towards the park. I am in two minds about tagging on, never confident that I know enough about where I live. But fear that I might fall asleep on my feet.

Heidi and I are sitting outside The Compasses when we are joined for a few minutes by a neighbour who is pregnant. She sits down for a few minutes and talks about her expected baby knowing, as one does nowadays, that it is a boy, though it has not yet seen the light of day.  As she talk about its kicking tendencies, she strokes her tummy as though comforting the child within.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

crow rare whistles

Crow in profile proclaims his presence.

I have always been puzzled about the derivation of the term "hot dog".  In the food market in The Pantiles a stall advertises "rare breed hot dogs". Rare breed meat from unusual, fine tasting and often uneconomic breeds of pig, cow, sheep,  are commonly available at farmers markets nowadays.  But  rare breed dogs?  I know.  But I can't help it.

A neighbour brings us asparagus as a present. "Instead of flowers," she says. As she prepares to leave I notice that she has a whistle on her key ring. I too have one, which came as it happens from a Christmas cracker. For a moment I think she has picked up my keys by mistake. "Snap," I say when I realise. "It belonged to my Mother," she says. We both put our whistles to our lips and trill in unison like two strange birds.

Friday, May 18, 2012

abstract paper Plats du Jour

A splodge of  black paint perhaps and the remains of  a notice stuck on top of it, both imposed  on the grey metal box which is the home of telephone links or such like. For me another abstract painting executed partly by people and partly by wind and rain.

Mount Sion is fairly steep and the walk up more exacting in recent years, so when I reach the bottom of the road and realise that I have left my notebook and pen at home, a sense of panic ensues. This blog which is a sort of minute by minute chronicle of the day, and other preoccupations require me to write down almost all the time the fleeting things I see and the thoughts which come into my head, before they fly out again. No alternative then, other than going back up the hill, but to buy the cheapest pad and ball pen I can find in the convenience store on the corner of Chapel Place.  Once these are in my pocket I feel that I can walk on blithe and ready for almost anything.

Through the post comes a post card from an old friend. It depicts the cover of one of my favourite cookery books - Plat du Jour or Foreign Food by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd. Illustrations by David Gentleman. A classic of its kind.  It is subtitled A Penguin Handbook and bears the price 3/6 or17.5 p in today's money.  It was published in 1958. Good to hear from a friend and to be remembered with a postcard, especially this one. It will go into my scrapbook. In a minute or two I will go down and search the cookery  shelves for the original Penguin which I have long treasured.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

dandelion kindness appearance

Three ages of dandelion.

Opening a door for someone and allowing them to pass ahead of you, is courteous and kind. Good manners  in comparison carries a whiff of compulsion. Kindness is what matters as in so many other things. But to return to my recent post (and to the comments of M-L, CC and Lucy) I remember while attending s summer course at The Slade School of Art in London some 20 years ago, allowing a woman to go ahead of me through a doorway and being berated by her for my male condescension or some such  rubbish. In contrast when I was being shown round a hotel in Hong Kong by a public relations woman she always insisted on my going ahead of her. When I explained that I was accustomed to allowing women to go  first, she responded (she happened to be Japanese) that in her country the rules of precedence were the other way round, and she found it as hard to depart from her upbringing as I did from mine. Yes, kindness should always be our guide.

Often I find it hard to recognise a woman who has changed the colour or shape of her hair. It only shows that I do not look close enough at people's faces. Men less commonly make radical changes to their appearance. Today however I note an exception. An Italian restaurant owner who has been around  here some time greets me as we pass in the street. At first I am not sure who he is. Then by a process of deconstruction followed by reconstruction, I recall behind the heavily bearded face  that smiles at me, a clean-shaven countenance ornamented by a  cultivated wisp of woven hair protruding like some kind of horn from beneath his lower lip. Two quite different personalities flagged at different times in one person.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

arms twins parsley

Arms in a shop window waiting to be fitted to a mannequin.

Marching side by side down the main drag in The Grove are two mums pushing two pairs of twins each pair in its own double push chair.

Parsley is slow to germinate. Gone are the days when I used to sow the seed directly into the ground. Seed trays in the green house are the answer. Setting out the seedlings is so much easier than pricking them out and sorting them from the weeds which inevitably intrude. Only problem is  that slow germination has resulted in the myth that the seeds go down to the Devil seven times before germinating. This was used as an argument never to transplant parsley. No devilish interference last year when I succeeded for the first time in successfully growing a parsley pot which flourished like a young forest. I inserted the seedlings  in the holes in the side  of the earthenware pot and filled the pot with layers of compost. The result was a plentiful supply of the herb even into last winter. The Devil permitting I'll do it again this year.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

female buttercups thankyou

Female blackbirds unlike the males have no orange beaks. They are altogether more modest, tend to shyness and retire whenever someone appears with a camera. I am lucky to catch this one  on a fine day in The Grove.

Buttercups are foe to gardeners having  a creeping root system which creeps underground. Even the smallest piece of root will grow in time, making them difficult to eradicate from flowerbeds. But on a spring day you can't object to them dancing in a field or  grassy corner. Today they are especially exuberant  by the roadside in Mount Sion mingling boldly with a scattering of bluebells.

Somewhere I read that women no longer like you to open a door and let them go through first. When young I was told that this was de rigeur and I have never lost the habit. Today I reach the doorway of a shop which I am about to leave almost at the same time as a young woman. I make way for her and open the door. "Oh," she says. Surprised or insulted, I can't tell; but she does add, "Thank you."

Monday, May 14, 2012

view starlings sprouting

Looking up from Platform 1 Tunbridge Wells railway station.

As usual  this year starlings are nesting in the capital of the  decorative pillar which is set into the wall of the house across the street. The parents fly to and fro in response to a noise like a telephone with a faulty bell. You can imagine without seeing them  the gaping maws of the nestlings.

The first batch of garden peas which I planted out a few weeks ago are coming into flower. They have survived  the pigeons  under the netting which I spread over seedlings.  Last year the pigeons made a meal of the lot. There is room, plenty of room for more plants. This time I have set out some purple sprouting broccoli, another pigeon favourite. The peas should be ready to harvest in a few weeks, the broccoli in as many months.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

late sun gold

Trains are delayed at Charing Cross as people are hoping to get home after a day's work.

At least it isn't raining. The sun comes out and disappears behind clouds. When it shines we hurry out of the front door to catch it.

Two details in a recent account (in an article in The Daily Mail by Wensely Clarkson) of the aftermath of the  Brink's-Mat robbery at Heathrow in 1983 are engaging. First one of the robbers left his council house in South London after what seemed a reasonable interval and moved into a mansion in Kent. He also bought two rottweilers and named them Brink's and Mat. Second gold bars were discovered in the garage of Kenneth Noye who undertook to smelt the stolen gold.  Police noted that  Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey was primed  to play when anyone walked into Noye's lounge. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

clock alarm Lear

Dandelion time.

As I pass the car park which backs on to Calverley Ground a fire alarm is ringing. I look in to see what is up. There is no smoke, no flames, no smell of burning, no scurrying people, no fire engine, no fireman in sight. Cars are lined up peaceful like cows which have just been milked. Apart from the hectic ringing all is calm.

On the Google web site today a picture surmounts the familiar logo. It depicts an owl and a pussycat and a beautiful pea green boat.  It is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edward Lear.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Shard goat curiousity

The Shard at London Bridge on its way to completion.

Scattered on the grass beneath the goat willow opposite my vegetable garden the white, woolly catkins look like sheep seen from an aeroplane or a hilltop.

In The London Road opposite The Common I stand for a minute to look at the newly budded trees and undergrowth. I am thinking about the time when  The Common was open space and used for grazing, and how quickly nature takes over when a specific function is abandoned. "What are you looking at?" says a little old lady who has appeared at my elbow. I have never seen her before.  "Everything," I say.  "I thought you were looking at something interesting," she says. "It's all interesting to me," I say.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

locked legal white

Not much is left of this bike chained to the railings on Waterloo Bridge. Lorenzo da Ponte and I pause for a moment beside its remains on our way from the Bloggers' Retreat to the Kings Arms in Roupell Street.

In the chemist's a Bank of Scotland five pound note is queried by an assistant. "It's legal tender," says the customer, a middle aged woman who proclaims herself Scottish.  "We're still part of your country." Or perhaps not. "What nationality are you?" she tries again. "Russian. "Then you wouldn't know. There are some famous writers on the note. Walter Scott and Robert Burns".

White bluebells are popping up all over the place among the blue this wet spring. I remember them from childhood. They seemed then and still seem a contradiction in terms.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

portrait comrade crunch

Portrait of a woman in a pub window.

Although I have War and Peace on my Kindle I feel the need for it in book form as well, something more substantial than the text alone.  On the grounds that they would not stand up to another reading, I disposed of  the three volumes my scruffy Everyman edition when I acquired the Kindle. Hall's Bookshop as usual comes up with a replacement in the shape of the three volume Oxford World Classics edition.  It is  neat and manageable with a type-face large enough  for comfort. But the best thing about it is the inscription on the fly-leaf. "From the Comrades of Leatherhead Branch C.P as a token of appreciation for the excellent work done in this district, for the best cause in life, "The liberation of mankind," Ronald Mihalgo Sec. Some of my youth was spent in Leatherhead, a quiet town in Surrey. I remember no communists.

It is hard to tire or to cease to be amazed at the elasticity of the English language especially when commerce comes into the frame. Two instances of what might be called extreme promotion greet me to day. Outside the Royal Tunbridge Wells Skin and Laser Clinic I read "Market leaders in Anti-Ageing & Facial Aesthetics." While above the entrance of the recently re-opened Morrisons supermarket opposite the station a sign proclaims "The Great British Price Crunch. We're Crunching for Britain."

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

gate straight dispute

Part of the apparatus of a heavy duty gate now abandoned. I suspect that it is part of locking device rather than a pin.

From afar I can identify our neighbour P by his gait. On the far side of The Grove I see him walking home in a straight line. Home is where he wants to be.  He looks neither to left nor right. He shows no interest in his surroundings. His eyes are perhaps fixed on something inside his head.

A furore on the grass.  A pigeon and a crow are in dispute. Over what I cannot see. Both birds suddenly fly  a few feet  up in the air, and face each other furiously flapping.

Monday, May 07, 2012

shadows magpie applause

The back of a road sign shows the hard shadows of leaves.

First thing this morning I see a magpie alight on a tv aerial. It perches there for a minute while the aerial sways. It has a twig in its beak. With a push and a flap it takes off and flies over our house. The aerial is still untenanted but  it is still swaying.

In the  vegetable garden I  hoe the onions which Lucy sent me from Brittany. A green spike is beginning to emerge from each set so that I can see where to take the hoe, but I must go carefully. As I reach the end of a row, there is a sudden burst of applause. Or so it seems. In fact it is a pigeon leaving the tree behind me  and noisily flapping its wings as pigeons do.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

outlook control mushrooms

World view.

Some mechanics from the car work shop in Mount Sion have got  hold of some remote controlled  racing model cars which they are playing with in the street. Makes a  change from servicing  full size motor cars. Even more of a change, there is a motor bike in the collection which they race along the road. When it comes to the sleeping policeman hump it doesn't slow down but performs a somersault, lands on its wheels and continues on its way.

In some of the flowerbeds in The Grove mushrooms are beginning to appear.  They are growing out of what may well be used mushroom compost. Or perhaps the stuff called forest loam employed  to  keep weeds down in shrubberies. The mushrooms bring to mind my late Mother-in-Law who proudly used to point out tomato plants growing in her flower border. "They are from the compost we buy from the sewage farm", she would say, "passed through the human gut".

Saturday, May 05, 2012

candles sewage silliness

First candles on the horse chestnut.

When I have finished reading Victor Hugo's massive novel Les Miserables which will be fairly soon, I shall read War and Peace  for the the third time. Hugo like Tolstoy interrupts his narrative with dissertations on various topics which touch on the story but cannot be said to be essential to it. In Tolstoy's case he confines his observations to a number or chapters reflecting on  the nature of historical events, specifically relating to Napoleon's invasion of Russia and ultimate defeat. Hugo ranges far wider. There is a detailed account of the Battle of Waterloo, an account of closed orders of nuns and monks, and while a barricade in Paris  is being overwhelmed by the French army during one the many uprisings which the city saw in the 19th century, a lengthy meditation on the sewage system beneath Paris, and by extension beneath other cities and, coincidentally, on what Hugo considers the immense and unnecessary wastage of human manure disposed of via rivers into the sea. How much better he says quoting primitive civilisations  to use it as fertiliser. He reflects also on the levelling and unifying nature of human waste. "The sewer," he writes, "is the conscience of the town. All come together there and confront one another."

Though not intentionally I confess to doing and saying silly things much of the time. It therefore gives me pleasure to read Wittgenstein's observation that "If people did not sometimes do silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done."

Friday, May 04, 2012

old hibernating momente

One of my favourite if somewhat self-aware road signs.

An elderly lady  whom I know by sight and I pass in the street. The sky is grey and a chill winds edges between the houses. "We should be hibernating," she says.

Today I realise that the two items in this post  so far are age related. No apologies. Here's a  third. I don't mind being old, or should I say older. Moments are better appreciated.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

sun defintion mist

Solitary dandelion sketched by the sun as a likeness of the sun.

Our television doesn't have high definition. How high  ideally should definition be? This afternoon looking at a screen through the window of a TV store, I see an oyster wobbling at one end of a snooker cue. It is a player's  focused eye  horrifyingly  in close-up. It makes me glad that at home we still do not have HD, and it makes me ask the question again: How close do you want to  be to something  so well defined that is practically the real  thing? I do not want, if I can help it, to be a few inches away from a snooker player's eye.
Pursuing recent comments on the difference between rain and showers I am drawn to  another term during this damp spring - drizzle. Even finer than drizzle is mist. Today as I walk though the town there is something between drizzle and mist. It is pleasant enough and leaves the skin soft.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

dance Jacobs ramsons

Dancing in and dancing out. In the tube station at Waterloo.

Glimpsed from the train, in a field, a flock of Jacob's sheep distinguished by the white fleece with splodges of brown. The wool if undyed  and knitted apparently produces piebald garments.

When I used to walk in the country round here, at this time of year I would frequently see and sometimes smell ramsons or wild garlic. White flowers are produced from the broad,  spiky leaves common to most members of the allium family. The plant likes damp woodland. Never before have I seen it in The Grove.  I can scarcely believe it. True it is in a shady corner of the park, but could it be? I stroll over and squeeze the star shaped flowers. No doubt about it, my fingers smell of garlic. And come to think of it, three hours later they still do. I have always thought of it as a wild flower, but notice with interest  that it appears nowadays on menus in posh restaurants and I have even seen it in bundles in posh greengrocers

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

help oak showers

In Waterloo station.
Though some may disagree and perhaps feel insulted, it is hard not to see ourselves in monkeys and to see the human tragedy in their tragedy.

The big oak in the corner of The Grove is in bud. The buds, young leaves and catkins are yellow. Soon the leaves will darken to a brownish green. It might be a different tree.

Weather forecasters tend to speak of rain and showers as though they are different phenomena. But they are not. When  it showers it is showering rain. The last few days I suppose the distinction has been made by the weather itself. Steady, persistent rain from a solid grey sky lasting for hours, on the one hand. On the other mounting clouds in a blue sky. Down comes the rain. Then it stops and the sun comes out. Everything steams. That's a shower, my sort of shower. In the last few days we have had rain and showers. Good growing weather.