Friday, November 30, 2012

eyesore birds late

Locked, bolted ,excluded, done. Part of the wooden wall erected outside the abandoned cinema in the centre of Tunbridge Wells. Now generally known as The Eyesore. More photos to come.

Glyn greets me as we pass in the street. "Been walking round the Tunbridge Wells "lakes", he says. "See much wild life?"
"I told myself I could see 40 species of birds during the two hours it took me. And I counted precisely 40 species. Par for the course."

Last winter they severely pruned a sprightly  maple in The Grove.  Though it looked as good as dead, later than  other trees it sprouted a halo of leaves round the stumps of lopped branches. Now that Winter is setting in, it still has its leaves, some of them green, others turning yellow and red, long after the other trees have shed theirs.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

searcher universe safe water

Explorer 2.

As so often happens my eye is caught on the supermarket news stand  by the cover of New Scientist. " Before the Big Bang", reads the cover line, "Three reasons why the Universe can't have existed for ever". Why I wonder do I care so much more about this topic than whether or not women should be allowed to become Church of England bishops?

Whenever I see the miniature Penguin Classics and similar mini-book series I always hasten to buy the titles which I think of as suitable to send to certain  friends to supplement Christmas cards. Apart from everything else they fit tidily with a card into most envelopes.There are few which are not suitable so I usually splash out. Today in The Oxfam Bookshop the substantial collection  is not priced. Instead  donations are invited to the Safe Water for Schools charity. Proceeds go to schools all over the world, I am told, wherever  there is a desperate need for fresh water.  Though this is apparently not obvious because one of the shop's  recent customers was anxious to know whether donations would go to a school local to Tunbridge Wells.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

mist welcome pine apples

Mist in Calverely Park.

Although my other half is now a restrained smoker a pre-lunch drink requires a cigarette. At our favourite London restaurant on a raw day, smoking outside one one of the line of tables on the pavement might be a torment rather than a pleasure. But vertical heaters with dancing flames in glass cylinders, cushions and blankets to cover our knees provided the ultimate hospitality. Yes, I know. The heaters do nothing to limit climate change. But neither do cars and we don't possess one.

Pineapples are wonderful fruit. In the 18th Century they were grown in England in hot houses at great expense and became status symbols. The carved pineapple finials on country houses of the period are witness to their popularity. Today they are supposed to be good for you. Their benefits include the treatment of coughs and colds attributable to the enzyme bromelian which is reputed to break up mucous. Such  health claims have to be treated with suspicion. How much are you supposed to eat before beneficial effects are noticeable? Does it matter? Their mixture of sweet and sour and crisp, juicy texture are rewards enough for removing the scaly shell.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

exploration prank overheard

The way through the wood.

A bad side of me enjoys pranks. Harmless ones I hope. Today it crosses my mind that it would be fun, assuming great wealth,  to go into the poshest of restaurants and order a bottle of Krug or Dom Perignon Champagne, specifying the vintage and adding at the last moment the instruction: "Please make sure that it is hot. But on no account allow it to boil."

Overheard on the train "Edinburgh is like a beautiful woman with a bad temper."

Monday, November 26, 2012

panorama football pruning

The Grove in autumn.

I have known for a long time that one of the medieval kings of England banned the playing of football. But I couldn't remember who precisely and why.  Although I once played the game myself, I can understand how easily it comes into disrepute. But banning it always seemed a bit extreme. Today I  am reminded, while reading Simon Jenkins History of England, that the monarch in question was Edward III. Why did he presume to suppress the beautiful game? Because he banned all sport so that people could concentrate on archery and in particular the longbow, the most lethal weapon invented by man, some say, until the arrival of the Gatling gun. It explains the defeat by small English armies  of much larger French armies at Crecy and later at Agincourt. It is said that arrows released from the longbow could pierce armour at a range of 200 yards.

All morning a tree surgeon with an electric saw operates on the upper branches of the noble tulip tree opposite our bedroom  window.  The sight of the lopped branches is a sad one, but better than no tree at all.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

leaves siren clematis

Acer. Hard to resist against the sky.

Sunday morning outside the Compasses. The sound of a police siren from the direction of The High Street. For a moment I think of my first time in New York.

The white, curled seed-head of a clematis blows along the road. For a moment I think of  film I have seen of tumble weed in the American mid-west.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

demolition skating water

Sad to see an old house taken apart. Dust hangs in the air.  Beams and the remnants of light fitting hang about like memories.

A skating rink more elaborate than last year presides in Calverley Grounds. There is something vaguely medieval about the white onion domes of the temporary building adjoining the rink. Pop music drifts among the trees. Blue lights illuminate  leaves giving a wintry hue.  Kiosks are open offering refreshments. The park normally rather quiet and dull has a festive air. It compensates today for the greyness of the rest of the town. People seem quite happy this morning to be skating in the rain.

Tunbridge Wells has no river. But today water gurgles in gutters and drains, drips from branches and overflows, and rises in the cellars of people's houses.

Friday, November 23, 2012

trail found names

And never the twain shall meet.

Having lost my mobile I thought it would be a good idea to ring the number from my land line. From inside a lacquered box  where I keep important bibs and bobs just a few feet away from me came its familiar ring. And I thought I had looked for it in the box too.

I speculate about people whom I have never met and who have the same name. I know that there is at least one other person with my name. He is a young cousin. And I am happy to share it with him.  But recently thanks to the Internet  I spotted another  quite unknown to me. It seems to me that you get used to your name and to find that it also belongs to another is like coming across someone wearing a favourite item of your clothing. "Hey", you want to say, "that's mine!"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

emoticons Millennium clock gliding

Only a couple of inches in diameter this cross section of what I take to be a cable emerges from the base of a wall. The photo refers to yesterday's post,  where  I reflected that the infant's early recollection of human features seems to have become part of a general aesthetic. It occurred to me that emoticons neatly fit the theory.

 In response Roderick Robinson commented on emoticons  which he sometimes finds difficult to read. So do I. For the most part I regard them with suspicion. Depending on how they are treated they run the risk of becoming ready-made statements and supplanting the need to find the words for which they stand. I have a similar suspicion of captioned greetings cards which replace the need for original words and sentiments.

On the other hand emoticons have their uses and their virtues. "Why shouldn't we speak  in praise of emoticons?" writes Sam Leith in the November issue of Prospect magazine.  "... for a start they introduce a pictorial element into the written language: something western languages have not had since the days  of illuminated manuscripts..."  From his article I learn that it is 30 years since Scott Fahlman, professor  in the computer science department of Carnegie Mellon University in the US,  when he proposed that humerous posts on his departmental message board be marked with a sideways smiley face to make it clear that they were intended as jokes.
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The grotesque Millennium clock opposite Victoria Place in the centre of Tunbridge Wells is not working. You might say that the only purpose it serves is to tell the time. As a monument it can only  be described as a disaster.  You never hear a good word said about it; it deserves only opprobrium. As I pass it to day I think to myself  how wonderful if someone came quietly in the middle of the night, took it apart and buried the pieces. (:-  just in case anyone takes the suggestion seriously.

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A gusty day. Dead leaves whirl in circles in a sort of dance without rhythm. Above the roof tops a solitary seagull glides, tilting its wings this way and that  above the town.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

romanesco regression Tatin

Just one romananesco. With some luck and some knowledge and experience all the plants which I set out in the vegetable garden  in the summer would have produced heads like this one. So far the majority have sprouted separate stems and effectively gone to seed. Why this one behaves as it should  have done I do not know because all the plants received equal treatment. I suppose relative failure makes this something to be proud of. A bit like cauliflower and a bit like calabrese but better than both, this is a vegetable which it is worth persisting with.

One of the first sights that greet babies are faces bending over them and making gurgling noises. It strikes me that the human face, reduced to two dots a vertical line and a horizontal line, becomes for ever a recognisable symbol. So in examining patterns on walls or on rock surfaces, we look unconsciously for a human dimension. For this reason if a painter wants to produced a truly abstract picture he has to steer clear of the pattern. On the other hand the emoticon which hasn't been around very long is almost entirely dependent on it. Today I take a photograph of the cross section of a sealed gas pipe. As soon as I look at the photo I see a  rather sinister human face.

Yesterday, visitors. A tarte Tatin  - an upside down apple tarte is turned out in their honour. It is a most pleasing dish to produce. You caramelise (with lots of sugar and butter)  some apple halves  in a pan and when they have lost some of their moisture, cover the pan with a circle of short-crust pastry and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes. The pastry rises up to form a shallow dome which is going to be the base of the tart. When it is crisp and golden brown you put a plate over the pan and turn the pan over. The tart emerges with the mounds of apple glowing a rich gold. You must of course remember when cooking the apple halves to place them in the pan with the cut side facing upwards.

Monday, November 19, 2012

poseur phatic don't ask

A cat poses on a wall inviting paparazzi. Cats with round faces have lived in this road for years. Though they are of different colours I am convinced that they must be related. Not all of them have orange eyes.

 Fast talking mavens know the emotional values which underlie phatic forms of communication. In one article today I come across two words which I have to look up in the dictionary. Hence this sentence which I put together so that I can make use of them both. Maven is sometimes spelt mavin.

As I pass a neighbour I remind myself not ask how he is in case he tells me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

seeds short cut light

Seed head of Clematis orientalis of which I showed the bell-shaped yellow flowers the other say.

The 100-year old retired dentist who lives nearby greets us from his mobility scooter. The basket on the steering column is full of plastic bags. "Going shopping?"  "No," he says, with a laugh. I'm taking these round to the back of the house. It's easier than going through."  His modern terrace house is on two levels. There is a garage and back door which you reach through a rear courtyard.  As we get older such  techniques of navigation begin to be familiar.

Aiming my camera contre jour I am pleasantly surprised by the flexibility of digital over film. Or at least so it seems to me who makes no claims to be a proper photographer.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

escape dodgy Poe

Today's squirrel contemplates escape by the usual route.

In Mount Sion a man in shirt sleeves looks up at the sky and says "dodgy!" as he passes me hurrying up the hill.

Edgar Alan Poe's death-obsessed poetry does not seems  to have  achieved the same ranking in American literature as his stories. The Raven with its Gothic imagery and haunting refrain "Nevermore" has been widely mocked. But in France where he was translated by Baudelaire, he was greatly admired by poets like Verlaine, Malarmé and Valéry. And Malarmé wrote a passionate sonnet for the occasion when a monument to Poe was unveiled in Baltimore in 1876. It sets out to defend Poe against the indifference of his fellow countryman. It begins with the lines (apparently frequently quoted) "eternity transforms such as he, the Poet with a naked sword, who awakens his contemporaries shocked not to have recognised  death's  triumph in that strange voice..." At the memorial service the poem was read in translation. I wonder who translated it because having attempted the first sentence I can confirm that it could not have been easy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

reading moonlight seniors


Listening to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata I recall  that it is the only thing that I remember my Mother playing on the piano. Yet she was a Licentiate of the The Royal Academy of Music. The absence of a piano at a critical time of her life may have accounted for this neglect, but when the piano was restored she very rarely played. A sad waste which I see repeated in others who  have learnt to play an instrument and then neglect it. Perhaps because I having no such skill, to ignore one seems to me all the more surprising.

Labels can be disturbing. In the window of The Oxfam Bookshop in Chapel Place a book called Gardening for Seniors catches my eye. A pair of old hands on the cover appear to be severing a runner bean from the stem.  How senior does one have to be to qualify to read the book.  Would I be presumptuous to ask to examine it?  And risk being told, off you go sonny, come back in another 10 years.  In my dreams.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

clematis trofie ready

Clematis orientalis. Another subject that occurs annually in Autumn when the flowers appear along side the seed heads climbing over a fence in Berkeley Road.

Trofie is one of the many shapes in which pasta is made. It is only recently as far as I know that it has been available in shops in this country. It consists of thin, twisted threads of pasta like
pieces of cord an inch or so in length. Cooked the pieces look a bit like worms.  Sauces like pesto are recommended to accompany it. I have found another use for it. You leave the pasta to get cold and fry them until they become crisp and golden. Much better than potato crisps and, as I found the other day when I served them with pheasant, an interesting substitute for game chips.

As I wander about with my camera at the ready, I speculate about  unexpected photo opportunities. Squirrels there are in plenty, blackbirds and  cats and pigeons and crows, but who knows? One day a spaceship may appear over a roof top. Or an angel  might land beside me with a whoosh of wings and a cantata.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

spider puppy beech

"The spider's touch  how exquisitely fine
Feels at each thread and tells along the line." Pope

A red setter puppy bounds up to me. "Now he's going to follow you," says the owner. I say, I wouldn't really mind. "He 's going to be a huge dog. He's 13 weeks old." The owner says. And the two walk on, he talking gently to it  introducing the pup to the world.

In The Grove the leaves on a large copper beech shimmer and whisper to themselves. The other trees are silent seeming to listen respectfully.

Monday, November 12, 2012

relationships lunch thick and thin

Having few pretensions to being a photographer I use the camera  almost daily to make pictures which reflect my surroundings as best I can. Recently it has occurred to me that my pictures are largely in narrow focus examining the shape and the texture of objects rather than  their context and relationships in a broader, panoramic  field. Hence this picture of the up and down platforms on Tunbridge Wells Station.

Definition of a good lunch when guests arrive before 1 o'clock and leave at 5 o'clock, and both hosts and guests believe that it is only 4 o'clock when they leave.

Market research based on a sample of four people  in the Italian deli called Arte Bianca reveals that men like thick slices of ham and women thin.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

stall checking out listening

 Textures and patterns. A market stall in the Pantiles from behind.

Self-checkouts at supermarkets are a new challenge. Everything is monitored. Most outcomes are considered. You put your bag on a shelf to one side of the machine. The screen in front of you tells you what to do. It scans bar codes and  weighs on the platform in front of the screen. Where there is no bar code your choose from a range of  illustrated product headings which lead to others within a group until by  process of elimination you arrive at what you are buying. The screen registers every purchase whereupon you transfer the product to your bag. If you pay by credit card the card reader has its own screen and takes you through the process. It even offers cash back. For wimps there is a "call the attendant" tab on the screen, which I am afraid I have used once or twice. So far no machine has invited me to "have a nice rest of the day".

Listening to music most of the time now I  contrast certain pieces, catchy and evocative, which you quickly tire of, with complex and profound ones which you do not tire of listening to, discovering more the more you listen. With the former I find that writing or even even drawing or painting is a perfectly acceptable occupation while the music is playing. But with the former it is best concentrate on the music with no distractions. A bit obvious perhaps but that is where, a student of the Tone Deaf School, I stand with music at the moment.

Friday, November 09, 2012

sky story music

Front door in the sky.

Is there a borderline between poems and short stories? To put the  possibility I am posting a poem which I wrote a few months ago in One Fine Day. It seems to me that  it has some of the narrative elements of a story combined with the intense concentration of language and images which you look for in a poem. It is called The Black Butterfly 1988. See

Music is back on the agenda in my life, but  as my memory, never much to boast of,  is rapidly disintegrating, I now resort to a music notebook in which I write details of what I like, performances, performers and, sometimes if I can find the words, why I like them

Thursday, November 08, 2012

spider Janecek romanesco

Spider and hydrangea.

Lorenzo da Ponte now  writing under his real name Roderick Robinson still onTone Deaf  remains  a music guru. I'm grateful to day for his directing me to Janacek's string quartets. While I am listening to them for the first time this morning, Sam who visits once a week to clean the house, says: "That music makes me think of the background to silent films." . I am quite glad of  remark. It reminds me of  a talk by the late, great music critic Anthony Hopkins. To help listeners begin to appreciate Stockhausen, he  made  up a science fiction story and used the music as a background to an account of a space ship about to land on an alien planet. Not that Janacek that I mean to compare Janacek to Stockhousen.

Romanesco, a sort of green cauliflower, is quite a common vegetable nowadays. This year not for the first time I tried to grow it. Instead of forming firm, tight heads, however, it sprouts in all directions like  unhappy broccoli. Except tday for one plant. Today to my amazement I spot a proper conical romanesco head among the leaves. What I would like to know is why this plant rather than the others is  behaving  as it should. But it pleases me all the more.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

landing demolition music

Coming in to land.

They are beginning to knock down the deserted house next to the vegetable garden. An end to peace as I dig the beds before winter sets in, and to the view of the deserted garden attached to it and the wild life it contained. The windows of the house are being knocked out by workmen masked against the clouds of plaster that rise as they attack  old walls with picks and sledge hammers. A JCB waves its trunk in the air. One of the workmen asks me who lived in the house. And I tell him about Roy Douglas, aged 103 (or is it 104), who  now lives with carers. The house used to belong to him and he must have lived there for nearly 100 years. He was a musician and a friend of Vaughan Williams. In the old days he used to come across to talk to me when I was working.

For the last few months my music problems have been solved. No more dependence on  CDs or tapes. It is all digital, drawn from iTunes, and amplified by a Bose Bluetooth speaker. Not for the hi fi enthusiast perhaps but surprisingly good, accessible and good enough for me. And music is back in my life.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

hiding skating holly

Sun hiding behind the branches of a silver birch and a thin layer of cloud.

One of the gardeners working in Calverley Grounds tells about the excavations taking place. There is going to be a skating rink installed again this year, though of a more stable variety than last year's ramshackle structure, one hopes. Cable is being laid under the grass and lights hung ready in the trees.  We hope that it will look better than last year. Little harm in the prospect of people skating on a sheet of ice over the Christmas holiday.Good for family outings even though they will doubtless be expensive. An expensive measure for the Council at any rate.  "It's only our money," says the gardener.

 I congratulate some  people whose house adjoins The Grove on the contents of the holly tree which hangs over their garden. It  is as ever alive with sparrows and pleasure to walk past. "The Council has agreed to reduce its height by 15 per cent," they tell me. "I hope the sparrows don't mind," I say aware of the declining number of the birds in London, but I sense that the extra light afforded by pruning, is of more importance than the welfare of sparrows.

Monday, November 05, 2012

window-shopping forbidden likes

The need for a change of scene.

My smoking is confined to about a dozen Havana cigars a year. And I know how terribly bad smoking is for our well-being. But sometimes I wonder whether the laws on the sale of cigarettes are a bit extreme. The latest rules do not allow the display of cigarettes on shelves behind the counter in supermarkets. In Sainsbury's sliding doors hide the foul things from greedy eyes. If you want to buy some the assistant draws back the door and selects your purchase before quickly closing it again. Standing behind a cigarette buyer  in the queue today I can't help seeing the rows of packets lined up on display when  for a moment the door is opened. Reader, my frame is shaken with a hideous trembling. I break out in a cold sweat.  Is it excitement or horror? You must judge for yourself.

My friend who used to  call himself Lorenzo da Ponte and now goes under the name of Roderick Robinson (based on a little known, eponymous 18th Century novel?) delivers a blog called Tone Deaf, which in its original form directly addressed most of  my problems with music.  He has now strayed from his original path into more open country.  And I don't blame him but I miss the original scenery. I like music. My tastes are catholic, perhaps too catholic. And because I have no confidence in them I am reluctant to talk about what I like or to make recommendations, as I would in matters of literature, painting or sculpture. Today I resolve  that from now on I will indulge myself with what I like to listen to and neglect anything which has an "ought" or a "should" linked to it. So I lean against the radiator and listen to Pomp and Circumstance No 1 followed by Pomp and Circumstance No 4.and quite involuntarily waive my arms around like a conductor. Next for want of contrast  I switch to the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Take Five.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

patterns papaya orientation

 Patterns  from a variety of sources decorate a section of pavement.

Instead of the usual prescribed small talk the check-out girl at Sainsbury's points to  one of  those large papayas  now available, and says: " What do you do with that?" I tell her and add that that slices of the fruit  are good with a squeeze of lime juice. She looks approving at other  purchases as she checks them out and says, "I must come round to your house for lunch."

In Calverley Grounds half the leaves of a beech are stripped from the branches while the other half remain. I should be able to deduce the points of the compass from this I think to myself. And sure enough, when I consult the compass on my key-ring, as I suspected it is from the branches facing south west, the direction of the prevailing wind, that  the leaves have been stripped.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

painting exercise value

If I had intended to produce this abstract image on a canvass  I would have been pleased with it. As it is I am glad to have photographed a splash of paint which seems to have occurred on a wall largely by chance.

In The Grove a woman in a blue track suit stands by a bench and performs vigorous exercises swinging her outstretched arms round her body and up and down.

On the radio I hear someone droning on about value for money. What a detestable phrase! I used think that the word "value" sufficed. But this morning I think about value for other things. Value for happiness. Value for quality. Value for love. Value for thought.

Friday, November 02, 2012

benches candles idea

 Benches waiting for bottoms in Calverley Grounds.

Sometimes there is something to be said for the ersatz. In restaurants nowadays you see imitations  those squat little candles which used to be called night-lights. They are made of opaque white plastic and contain a battery and, encased in a flame shaped strip of transparent plastic, a bulb. They even flicker. Behind a shade you wouldn't know the difference.

In a  disputatious and argumentative world a calm mind which can remain open without being flooded is an asset. Hats off to Aristotle who said: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it."

 As a prank Bill Parchment is offered some cakes laced with cannabis on the day of his retirement. Read about the consequences in Story 15 in One Fine Day.