Sunday, March 09, 2014

Close up, frailty and tomatoes


Cheerfulness is my chief object in life even when it seems to be a fleeting virtue. I find myself hoping that people will make allowances for its present frailty.

My grand daughter Giselle tells me that when she was in Thailand she was at first offended that people she met repeated the words "tomato, tomato" when they met her. It was only  when they explained that it was in fact a compliment based on her pink complexion, one doubtless encouraged by her initial reaction to their remarks, that prompted the comment.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Story, sunshine and fiction

Every window has a story.

After a bad day Toby and Pippa cheer me up with helpful proposals. This morning I feel better, more cheerful and look forward to day's visitors. The fact that the first thing which I am doing today is bring this up to date is surely a good sign. There are indications of sunshine outside the window.

Neighbour Pam brings me a meal and sits  me down in front of the television with cushions and blankets. I am set up in unaccustomed comfort to watch the new series called 37 Days about the build up to World War 1. It strikes me as ordering and explaining the facts better than the pages of history I have just  been reading. Two more episodes to go. Well acted and well written, it might only be criticised  for its degree of simplification. It  could equally be praised as an example of fiction approaching the truth more precisely that than history itself.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Stories, tests and pies

Another Sitges door with stories to tell from the Archives.

Dr Warr the rheumatic, specialist tell me and son, Toby and friend Milo who form a support team for my medical appointment, that the test which have had over the past few weeks show nothing to worry too much about. I feel better already but more test are needed.  I leave still weak but optimistic. 

As I am still losing weight  and am shown to be slightly anaemic I  am advised to eat food which over the years I am to supposed to avoid. Bacon sandwiches, steak and chips, pork pies. Here I come.

Another Sitges from the archives.

Dr Warr the rheumatic specialist tells me tha

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Door, study and danger

Door in Sitges from the archives.

The room where I spend most of my time at the moment I call my study. For a good many reasons I discourage people from referring to it as a office. The function of every office which I used is quite different.

Perhaps because moving around is a problem for me at the moment I am increasingly  attracted by the current sport - called I think parcour -  of clambering over buildings and leaping the spaces between edges and projections. It looks very dangerous but has a nonchalant elegance about it which I find compelling.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fresh peel, achievement and tools


Managing  to get myself out of bed and breakfasted in time to get to Pembury Hospital for am echo cardiogram at 8.45. It may seem a small achievement but it  is something I am dreading because the mornings are so difficult  and time consuming. Thank you Milo for being outside the front door in time for a lift to the hospital.

A projecting floor board with loose nails has been threatening to trip me. With a box of well manged tools some counter sunk screws and the  ingenious use of  a piece of slate, son-in-law Dom levels it off neatly leaving a smooth path from my  desk to the hall. Here is a man who loves and understands tools. I am full of admiration.  If I am dependent on such acts of skill and kindness I couldn't be dependent on nicer people

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Singer, tamarind and daphne

Waiting to sing.

Mackerel and coconut curry. An ingredient which I have not used until now is tamarind paste. I had not associated mackerel with India, but it substitutes well I suspect for an equivalent in Indian waters. Thank you Anjum Ansand for another new experience.

A spray of daphne placed on fireplace in front of a mirror keeps catching my eye. It looks Japanese, a pleasing sight, all day.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cat story 2, resolution and parsley sauce


Cat story phase two from the archives.

Today's resolution is to see if tomorrow  I can take photographs of the objects I spend my day idly staring at in a perpetual state of lethargy.

Lunch with neighbours Milo and Virginia. My fellow guest is their friend Biddy who has just undergone in close succession  two hip operations to say nothing of other unspecified illnesses.  A crocks' gathering.  We flatter one another: How well you're looking! We keep ourselves cheerful with small talk and managing to laugh. The art of small talk at such times is not to be easily dismissed. Parsley sauce with boiled ham and lovely new potatoes. I had forgotten the pleasure of a well seasoned, old fashioned parsley sauce.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In the beginning, anaemia and pomegranate

The beginning of a story about a cat.

Doc rings to say that my haemoglobin count is low. I that why, I ask him,  I spend so much time staring in front of me without doing anything else? Yes, he says. He says he will ring later to say whether I should still increase the new medication, which may be causing the anaemia

A large  pomegranate greets me this morning. I roll it about on the table to loosen the pods within. I peel it as carefully as possible  to reveal the structure of the pods, which I begin carefully to pull apart allowing the pips to separate easily and the pith to be discarded. This seems to me to be the sum of the wisdom which I have accumulated over the years from my own experience with pomegranates and the advice of others.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wagtail, turmeric and The Sound of Music

Pied wagtail investigates.

For the lentils I prepare today for daughter Pippa I find some fresh turmeric which I chop up small and use instead of the powdered stuff recommended. The house is infused with a its invigorating scent.

I have never seen The Sound of Music. And I don't think I want to.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sandwich, singing and bag

I too have a weakness for sandwiches.

Full marks to France for its performance of La Marseillaise before the Rugby match against Wales.The team knew the words too. But almost predictably Wales was  hard to beat as a choir.

In the newspaper an advertisement for an all leather  "manbag".  We used to call it what the illustration reveals to be a satchel. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Art, cold water and freedom

Art re-made.

A woman's voice on the radio touched with laughter reminds me of cold water flowing over smooth stones.

Free is a mighty word. Protesters in Independence Square in Kiev speak of being free. The leaflet on my doormat offers a free pizza if, for a mid-week delivery, I spend more than £100.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hats, late and dream

Hat stand at farmers' market from archives.

I arrive an hour late for appointment with GP. He is forgiving, takes me my blood and promises to ring me on Monday to tell me if I can take more of the new pills which are going to cure me.

For once I remember one of my dreams . I am awake enough to make some notes. I a walking along a road in a strange city. Which one I try to guess? I pause by a narrow street almost vertical. At the bottom is a miserable dirty river. Beside the street is a table, on the table a magazine. The wind flips the leaves of the magazine. From where I stand I look for a dome. Perhaps this will suggest the name of the city. No dome. Instead in the distance is a tower. The tower reminds me of  Seville Cathedral. Perhaps that is where I am. For some reason I  an worrying about the table with the magazine and the wind constantly turning over the pages.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Drinking, pathos and lentils

Spanish drinking water - one of many street covers from the archives.

Help. I must begin to talk to normally for a moment.  I hear myself answer the telephone in a pathetic "feeling sorry for myself voice".  Outside the window a song thrush is celebrating a bright end to a wet day. I listen and learn.

Cooking again for brother, Ken I experiment with something new as far as |I am concerned with lentils, Channa Dahl. Until now  lentils for me have been confined  to small orange seeds which quickly make a  mush familiar from Indian restaurants and Puy lentils, the hard green pulses used largely I think in European cookery, quite different and with a taste of their own. Channa dahl comes I think from the Punjab. They are large, yellow and require to be cooked for at least an hour. The wait is rewarding. You simmer the lentils with coriander, turmeric and garam masala. This breaks down into  "a thick lentilly mass with the individual pulses still discernible" I quote from Anjum Anand whose book Indian Food Made Easy, I have been using And from which I have learnt much. To this mass is added at the last moment, cardamom pods, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, mustard seeds, desiccated coconut and chilies quickly fried at the last moment. We agree this is the most successful vegetarian venture yet. The photograph of the dish in the book looks good. It tastes better.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Walking, flying and sources of power

The curious act of walking.

Outside my window a silver car on trailer sails by it wheels just touching the top of the hedge.

The two bracket clocks in the house chime at almost the same time. Satisfying, but you have to question the need for them. I have lost count of the clocks in the house which monitor the time on radios, computers, telephones and TVs  and which are remotely regulated. Is clockwork still needed? Perhaps it is. Imagine the absence of batteries and other sources of electric power.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mud, simplicity and triumph

More jetsam on Thames mud

For vegetarian brother Ken a simple dish of lentils and spinach spiced with turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic and garam masala. He says it isn't simple because he follows and detects the different flavours. I am flattered. But it is simple.

After Ken leaves I immerse myself for the once again since since the harsh times begin  in Schubert's String Quintet. While it is playing I it get dark. As it gets dark I note a flash of lightening followed by a roll of thunder. With what triumph the last movement raises the spirit!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jetsam, ivory and kindness

Jetsam on Thames mud.

 I wake sometimes worrying about the declining population of elephants. The papers are full of the threat to their survival which originates entirely it seems from the burgeoning  demand from China's middle class for items carved from ivory. International law forbids the slaughter of elephants and the sale of their tusks, but rampant greed appears to be winning the battle. Campaigning too even when it is led by the British Royal Family is losing out. We are witnessing a crime against a rich  and magical  inheritance.  Yet I couldn't help noticing in the paper with great sadness an emotional call by Prince William for the destruction of the entire collection of antique ivory in the Royal collection. Old ivory is sensibly excluded from the ban on the sale of tusks. To destroy meticulous and beautifully executed works of art would be another crime.

In the Pembury Hospital coffee shop an ambulance driver noting my problem in getting up from the table where I am siting next to hers, proffers help. "There you are young man," she says.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chimney perch, roast and denouement

Chimney perch

Sunday roast with Milo and Virginia and family. Sun shines on on us as we sit and talk at dining table. A bonus for tradition.

Find myself looking forward to The Archers where a true soap episode is imminent. How will the awful Helen react when she learns that her lover is as bad as we have always known him to be?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Structure, texture, football and culinary heritage

Composition: structure and texture.

Two football  players  Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney remain in my memory from my childhood when the game was much loved and widely respected, not least by me, in a way completely different from today. Both men received knighthoods, unusual in those days. Above all they brought skill and standards of excellence to their sport without the taint of riches. They are worthy heroes. News of Tom Finney's death at the age of 91 strikes an astonishing contrast with the culture of football today. Finney was a plumber and continued to run his business  while he excelled on the field. He always played for the same club Preston North End. Compare that with the record of a modern footballer. Yet he is acknowledged as one of the greatest players of all time. Old men may lament that things ain't what they used to be. And sometime old men are are right.

Thinking back on the recipes which my Mother cooked for us as children, a stained and battered cookbook comes to my mind this morning. It is by a food writer now forgotten called Elizabeth Craig. Its faded cover was mauve and I can just now  picture it in the kitchen drawer where it was kept. From this book came the puddings and stews and pies which I remember form the years of World War 2 and the post war years. My Mother loved this food, which she was introduced to at school in England, where she arrived as a small child. She was good at producing it though it contrasted with the Middle Eastern and oriental  recipes passed on to her by her own Mother. As I think about that forgotten  book this morning it testifies to the curiously mingled culinary heritage which  I have at my disposal and is now being pursued and augmented with new influences by my children.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gold, kindness, better

Gold from the archives.

Seldom have  I been more grateful for a small kindness that seemed to be a huge one. Foolish enough to leave off a painkiller this morning. I have to call on the help of neighbour Pammie. The cup of tea and sandwich she makes for me is a life saver.

Although the GP is  away today he rings me, kindly and helpful as ever to tweak the painkiller. A better end to a bad day.

Gold from the archives.

Seldom have I been more grateful for a small kindness. After being foolish enough to leave off  a painkiller this morning I had to depend on my neighbor Pammie to make me a cupo

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dry, transformation, The Archers

Summer thirst. No water shortage now.

Just recently the word confit referring in French cookery to the preservation in fat by a process of slow cooking of such meats as goose and duck, seems to have spread to  the slow cooking  of root vegetable such as potato and turnip. I have seen no recipes but having heard the method referred to, have tried it myself and found it rather good. Today turnips - a dull vegetable I always thought - poached in duck fat and anointed with a touch of honey and a little lemon juice. A remarkable transformation.

After more than 20 years I have given up watching East Enders. The quality of writing and acting has deteriorated. I'm still loyal to The Archers though  and unlikely, after 40 years or so, to stop following the ups and downs of the inhabitants of Ambridge. Though I refrain from serious  criticism of soap operas, I have the impression that the Archers is improving. If asked about my addiction I say that the majority of Archers' characters are rather unpleasant and not without the sour edge of truth. I find myself half believing that they exist.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Watching, roast cod and taking care

Watching the sea.

For Ken I prepare a Punjabi style roast fish in a spicy yogurt sauce. Ken brings two juicy cod fillets. A  paste is made of fresh ginger, mustard seed, poppy seed, yogurt, powdered coriander and chopped coriander leaves. I roast  the cod with a layer of the paste on each fillet, which is topped by pieces of ghee. A little lemon juice to finish off. Fluffy  rice to keep it company.

"Take care" is what people say to each other in troubled times such as these when rivers burst their banks, the coast crumbles under huge waves and vast areas of farmland becomes lakes. It's not the sort of thing I normally say, but today I catch myself with the phrase on my lips.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shelter, indignation and confit


So much indignation on the radio, on TV. Energy wasted!

Toby stays the night. I roast a duckling. Instead of cooking the bird whole, I follow my new routine. I joint the duck, and having pricked the pieces all over brown and crisp them, The breast which requires little cooking and should be served pink I reserve and set aside. The legs and wings can now be cooked very slowly in the fat as for a confit. Additional fat can be used to confit turnips or other root vegetables. Although I have used this method for  game birds and for chicken it seems to me that applied to a duck in can scarcely be bettered.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Frieze, waves and calm

Frieze. More from bridge people archive.

All night  the wind blows through  the branches of the lime tree. Sounds of waves breaking. Wake to  hear only the the alarm call of a blackbird flitting by outside the  window. The wind has dropped.

A calm atmosphere prevails at the The Three Chimneys - a pub where the food is invariably simple and well cooked. Whence the tranquillity? Although it is Sunday and all tables are occupied, people converse quietly and -  how could one possibly know? - seem to be talking sense. This goes for regular drinkers and people having lunch. Then you realise. No music or sound system of any kind. Sometimes it is only when it is absent that you notice the ugly and the superfluous.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Bridge people, fish and chips and

Bridge people from the archive. It is is Blackfriars over The Thames.

Chores interrupt Pippa and Dom's visit. So instead of going to the pub we decide to sample the produce of the Down Town Fish Bar opposite the Compasses. It deserves  its good reputation. Generous pieces of cod firm to the touch in crisp batter and chips which stay hot and crisp. Because we feel that fish and chips is picnic food, we decide to sit round the dining room table and eat it straight off the grease-proof paper. No washing up! Disgraceful.

All night  the rains beats against the windows. I picture the weather map now almost a permanent feature of  BBC forecasts. Circles of arrows dancing across the Atlantic like whirling dervishes  on their way  to swallow our frail island and its inhabitants.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Silver 3, cricket and tact

Third in the series of  Silver photographs which, with a recent interruption I have fished from the archives.

Good news that the new chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella is a cricket lover. Though it is not a game widely know in the country of Microsoft's birth, he learnt, he says, as much about management from playing cricket in  Hyderderbad, India, the country of his own birth. If only cricket remained the sport it used to be, a byword for honesty and fair play. It does remain a team game where individual skill, tactics and strategy are balanced against endurance and concentration. Not everyone understands its complexity. Nor the stately progress of a test match, or the rough and easy game of village cricket.  But  sour political attitudes are being allowed to creep in to the conduct of the game.  And new and  brasher forms of the game are changing its image. Is it pure fantasy to wonder if the association with Microsoft, loose as it is, might in some mystical way begin to set things straight.

On my way home in the rain from a neighbor  I stop by the hedge as a blackbird lands a few feet from my head. We remain still he and I. He, unwilling to move as the raindrops fall about his bright eye fixed on me. And I, from a sense of tact and respect. I am glad to say that it is I who leaves first . 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Passing heads, paper and sliced bread

From my desk I watch through the raindrop-splattered window a head bob past over the hedge and now a jaunty umbrella.  No one passed slowly every one is hurrying with urgent purpose.

For a while I was quite pleased with the thought that I had been able to track down in Shakespeare's plays the two uses of the phrase "burning daylight" meaning to be in a hurry, with the help of a hefty and charming book called Shakespeare's Words. I bet you could have googled  it, says a friend. We try. He is right. But I love the book no less and given the need I shall use the book before Google in future. Provided of course that it  is to hand. Problem of  loyalty already.

On a whim I buy a packet of white,sliced bread. No such object has entered the house for as long as I can  remember. What is my purpose? I think it must be to reproduce the sort of sandwich or slice of buttered toast found in high street cafes, which I have never found unpalatable. At home I make myself a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich. My teeth sink into mush. They meet no resistance. This simply will not do. Yet thousands of people would be disappointed to find their bread of a different texture. Food for thought.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Consultants, marmalade and communications

Computer problems continue. Christo is still  working on the Sony which he takes home to attend to overnight. That leaves me with the iPad. Thank you Steve Jobs.

While the computer consultant is at work,  I go round the corner to advise on marmalade production. Peter and Pammie are new to marmalade making. I suggest that they adopt the method where the oranges are cooked whole and cut into strips of preferred size afterwards. Pips and pith are placed in a muslin bag while cooking is in progress to ensure that pectin is transmitted.  When all is done including the troublesome business of establishing the setting point, I watch with a mounting sense of achievement as the jars are filled and stay with my neighbours long enough to establish that the amber jam one settled in jars is neither liquid nor of a toffee-like texture, but has become rather a glowing and trembly jelly in which the strips of golden skin are suspended. The marmalade consultant returns to find the computer consultant has been less successful.

Almost two weeks after seeing a specialist at the hospital, a definite course of action has not as promised arrived by post. A relief then to see  my GP, Doctor Koshal, who explains clearly and sympathetically what he has been able to glean ( he has learnt even less than I from the consultant) about the progress of my cure. I feel better already on the strength of his intelligence and communications skills alone.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Three thousand posts, alarm and taste reconstruction

With surprise I see that  I will today have completed 3001 posts on this blog. Statistics is not my best subject but I suppose I should feel some satisfaction.  I am not complacent.  Dumb persistence in wanting to chalk up something on the board to justify my existence is the best I can claim for motivation.

I still totter about the house. So, perhaps just for the time being, something called a personal alarm now hangs about  my neck. If I fall over and can't rise to my feet I press a button in the middle of the pendant,  people will rush to my help and voices will promise me relief, probably the most powerful incentive that I could possibly have to remain upright.

Apart from the alarm installation, this  morning is spent  reconstructing a taste sensation. My daughter Pippa and I prepare a dish from my childhood, a favourite of my Grandmother's. It consists of chicken cooked  in a sweet and sour sauce composed of masses of  grated onion, garlic, chili, ginger, coriander, cardamom, tomato, cinnamon, sharpened with  wine vinegar. The taste,  intriguing and complex as memory itself, comes wonderfully alive  when we sample it with a bowl of rice  over lunch. I have promised  Proustian words  associated  with it for Pippa's new family recipe blog.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

washing up, shopping and daylight

 I prepare a dish of Bengali style aubergines for my brother Ken who is a vegetarian. The vegetable is spiced with cumin, chili, turmeric and the like and served in a yogurt sauce. We eat it with a fluffy basmati rice. I ask him if he is bored while I am preparing  it. He appears to be perfectly happy to watch and chat, and lends a hand from time time. The best part of the exercise  for me is after the meal when following my instructions he washes up and puts everything away in its place. So that humouring my present tidiness bug he leaves the kitchen is spotless.

Shopping this morning with Peter and Pammie. Strange how well the supermarket trolley doubles as a   Zimmer frame. Not that I need a Zimmer frame, but given my aches and pains which still persist, it serves a dual purpose. Shopping remains a pleasure for me as I plan a meal for visitors tomorrow. I think it was Jane Grigson who said that 80 percent of the skill of cooking lies in the choice and acquisition of the right  ingredients.

We are talking about Shakespeare. Ken says he remembers reading that while many phrases used by the Bard have become part of English idiom, a lot that might have succeeded have slipped through the net. He gives as  an example,  "we burn daylight", signifying "we're wasting time." We reflect on how up to date the words sound today.  Where does Shakespeare use them? With the help of a book called Shakespeare's Words, we trace the phrase, which appears twice in the plays, to The Merry Wives of Windsor and to Romeo and Juliet.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Therapy, sport and Minnesota

Problems with uploading (or is it downloading) photographs. So no more archive or even new stuff until next week. But beautiful things are still around, even  if they are not illustrated. Today Christo Skelton, who  sorts out computer problems not only sets my lap top on the right course, but, with his company,  provides  therapy for me as well as for my machine.

Watching sport on TV is for me rather like drinking. It is best done in company. In recent years rugby though not a game I played myself as I did once football, has appealed to me much more than football. Normally I would not spend an afternoon watching either rugby or football. But this afternoon watching Italy put up bold fight against Wales  in company was a stirring experience. And a pleasure totally unexpected.

Reading about the human  brain in a detailed article in National Geographic is scary. Using an organ to learn about its own  mysteries and intricacies is too much for my frame of mind at the moment. I give up and turn to a lengthy article by the wonderful Garrison Keillor about  his family in  Minnesota.  I remember years ago being  entirely captivated by his book on  the deliciously named fictional  Minnesotan town of Lake Wobegon,where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all  the children are above average". Keillor started his career as a broadcaster on Minnesota Public Radio. I know know nothing about Minnesota, not even precisely where in it is. But it strikes me as  representing the America I  would love if I loved America (and well I might love it if it were like this). In Keillor's prose meanwhile I can hear the slow, spare accents of a people who are not in hurry and are not going to hurry for anyone.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Silver archive, stories and Weisswurst

Silver 2

A book of "post-its" by my bed. Four a clock in the morning.  It is ideas time. Resolution. I will   revive my story blog One Fine Day. No reflection on  RR who despite his misgivings is producing  much admired short stories of  great accomplishment,  which  are invariably limited to a specific number of words. A discipline which I understand but don't agree with.  My  stories will be of any length from one word to as many words as there are cells in the human brain. I like the idea that our lives are driven by stories, other people's stories and stories we make up. I am about to delete the unfinished story in One Fine Day. The new series will follow soon. How long will the stories be? Wait and see.

Through the post from Germany two tins of Weisswurst. The delicate sausage normally eaten only before midday in its country of origin. You eat with a sweet, seedy mustard.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Silver, nostalgia and calm


My brother Ken and I compose from a memory a dish from our childhood It is  middle eastern in origin, spicy but mild.  It consists of  freshly scrambled eggs, cubes of potato, onion and mint stirred up together. Our taste buds tell us that we are on the right lines. Lunch becomes an excursion into nostalgia. Mint we decide is the most significant ingredient in determining the remembered flavour.

This morning I oversleep. Not  good idea. I am woken by the telephone. It takes me a long time to recover. But I do recover by sitting still and calm in my study and examining the spines of my books. Why is this so satisfying? Perhaps it because tranches of the books' contents comes to me in soothing waves.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Side by side, spirit and sponge

Waking for a few minutes in the small hours, I begin to think about words like "soul" and  "spiritual"  and why I am generally reluctant to use them in general discourse.. The reason is that I am not entirely sure of what they mean. Often I have a good idea but there is something loose and amorphous there which worries me. I am, I realise a materialist, requiring the reassurance of  verifiable structures. Others I know use such terms freely and as a rule I have no problem in understanding what they want to convey. Just recently I have had occasion to examine myself on matters which others might call spiritual. I want to ask myself advice, to understand certain facts about my motivation for certain behaviour in the past. Where do I go for such information? After some thought I conclude that my mind contains a reservoir of knowledge, accumulated and inherited for me to search and analyse. Soul, perhaps, a source of spirituality? Having come to that conclusion, I fall asleep. Do I  re-awake the wiser?

My daughter and her husband take me to a country pub for lunch. A wood stove burns. The food though simple is perfectly cooked. Two couples in the room where we sit are talking quietly. We too talk quietly.  The place seems effortless to help conversation along. Sausages, mashed potatoes (one of the most difficult dishes to prepare properly) and generous garnish of kale brings on a feeling of well being which falls over my shoulders like a cloak. I share a dish  sticky toffee pudding consisting of the lightest and most delicate of sponges.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tube, dance and pie

Into the tube.

Sometimes, just sometimes in my life, I have enjoyed dancing. Not ballroom dancing. Jive, rhythmic, free of all constraint except a rhythm which opens the door and allows you into a world where nature takes over and disconnects you from the regulation of routine and daily life. You become part of something beyond  and outside yourself. Watching dancing associated with religions and rituals where the object is to escape the self, I can understand its purpose. Ballet music sometimes has the same effect. I remember listening to Stravinsky's Right of Spring for the first time, sitting on a window ledge in the school library. Far from being in a position to do so, I sometimes feel like responding to those sharp, wild rhythms with improvised movements, stamping and twirling across the room. To lose  myself in the action  and discover  something new about or beyond myself. If only I knew how.

The comfort of a fish pie, composed of smoked haddock, salmon and a few luxurious scallops. Whereas the the rest of the fish is cooked a little in advance, the scallops are added at the last minute with a creamy sauce beneath the crust of mashed potatoes. The scallops cook just enough while the crust is browning.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Puddle, leather and hail

Reflections and detritus  in a puddle.

The smell of leather in an old shoe shop (fourth generation of owners, they proclaim) is quite different from the smell of modern shoe shops where many of the wares are made of plastic. I am accompanying my neighbour Peter who tries on a pair of shoes which seem to fit him and appeal to him in other ways, until he asks whether the shoes can be be repaired.The young woman assistant thinks not so we leave the the shop without a purchase. The shoes with rubber soles and leather uppers seemed just the ticket to me.  I like shoes. It strikes me that this pair should see him out without the need for repair, but of course I must not say so.

The wind rises outside the house. What sounds like a bucket full of hail clatters against the window. Almost simultaneously the Radio weather forecast speaks of tornadoes in the South of England

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dereliction, beyond mood music and found

Another shot  of the cinema soon to disappear from the centre of Tunbridge Wells.

Roderick Robinson's blog Tone Deaf in original form was intended as I recall  for people like me who like music but do not think they  know enough about it or how it works. Tone Deaf has since changed direction, though from time to time it ventures in its traditional direction. Just recently various comments have drifted into  Now'the Time which have revived the musical theme. It is an occasional theme.  And it  comes  into my head this morning when I begin to think about how music particularly classical or as Robbie began to call it  posh music, may be be defined by epithets such as sad, melancholy, triumphant, happy so that  it becomes mood music to match the feelings of the listener. Most opera is of course mood music.  The music which  prompts the thought however is something different.   It is great music which transcends such limitations. Yes I am back to the late quartets of Beethoven, Schubert's string quarter recently discussed and much of J S Bach. where mood or programme doesn't come into it. Instead to my tentative way of thinking the music enters a place of sublime independence and abstraction. Mood words just don't fit, and you can listen over and over again to  a particular piece  and perhaps in a spiritual sense feed off its constant  repetition.

For days I am looking for a book on my shelves. I know where it should be. But it doesn't seem to be there. I tell brother Ken about this mysterious loss. He looks  eagle-eyed at the spot where it should be.  And there it is. I realise where I have gone wrong. I have been imagining the missing book in a different format, similar to  the format of its neighbour. In fact it is smaller and squarer. My idle mind has not taken the trouble to look more closely. I am glad to have found the book but... Oh dear!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Opportunities, normality and enjoyment.

They are still talking about demolishing the old cinema at the top of Mount Pleasant.  It will be March or April they now say. And, they say, the town will be infested by rats looking for a new home.  Meanwhile I for one will be a little sorry. Such sites offer endless photo opportunities at least for people like me who are attracted to broken  glass, rust, mould  and disintegrating structures.

In the Compasses this afternoon where my brother Ken and I indulge our selves with something called pan fried cod and cassoulet, the sun streams in touching veneers and stained glass. Seeing the profiles of four people seated, shadow-like, behind a glass  partition  I kick myself for leaving my compact camera at home. Normally I would have the camera in my pocket. Must get back to normal.

What people say: "Enjoy the rest of the afternoon, "  says the barman. Enjoyment is I suppose everything that matters.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pipes, pumping and song

Pipes and steam.

You can't help being impressed by our new hospital. Yesterday not just the building but the system is working well. You have the impression of being gently pumped from station to station.  Touch screen electronic check-in identifies you and tells you to wait in reception until your name appears on a screen. This directs   you (in my case) to Outpatients 1. Here you are greeted and taken  to an interview room. Even more gently you are conveyed to phlebotomy and thence to x-ray. You emerge if not cured feeling on the whole that you have been cared for by people who enjoy caring for you.

The other morning it was a robin that woke me just outside the bedroom window. This morning no robin but an even  noisier song thrush is blasting away loud enough to put alarm clock manufacturers out of business. A few years ago I worried that I no longer seemed to hear the morning chorus.  Was it my hearing?  This year perhaps my hearing is coming back. Or is it that the birds are singing louder? Certainly prompted by warm weather they are anticipating Spring earlier than they are supposed to.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Conversation, orchestra and X-ray

Maggie Hambling's memorial to Oscar Wilde opposite Charing Cross Station in London. From my archive. It is is inscribed with the quotation  from Lady Windermere's Fan, " We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars." Not my favourite piece of public sculpture. But a good opportunity for street photography.

The You Tube Symphony Orchestra  which draws on musicians from all over the world is new to me. I encountered it looking for a link to Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. I thought that this piece of music sub-titled Variations and Fugue on a theme of Purcell might be a useful contribution to the discussion initiated here by Stella, which I am  incidentally greatly enjoying and learning from. I wonder if E would like in  particular this rendering of a  stirring piece of music. The piece, takes the listener and the viewer through the whole spectrum of orchestral instruments.  It may not be the best performance ever, but you can watch and listen.  And it is not too long.

In the hospital today where they are still probing my Polymyalgia Rheumatica I comment on the brand new Siemens X-ray machine. What did it cost? About the same as a three-bedroom house in Tunbridge Wells, I am told.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Sainsbury, song and frugality

Car park

It still seems to be dark. Yet what is this? A robin singing full throatedly  outside the bedroom window. I look at the clock. 6.45. What a wonderful, resonant alarm clock! As I write this  11 hours later  another bird is seeing down the sun. A song thrush probably . Or a black bird but it is not close enough for me to be sure. Early for either birds to be singing in January.

Although frequently guilty of extravagance and self-indulgence,  I wake up thinking about frugality. In world so full of pain and greed, I am attracted to a frugal way of life. Making things last. Cooking with left overs.  Avoiding waste at all cost. Perhaps a wartime childhood prepared me for it. But this is how I like it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Escape, other people's music and novelty



I plod round Sainsbury's my trolley in front of me like a Zimmer frame. As I don't have a shopping list, I walk down every aisle picking what I fancy. An interesting reversal of the normal procedure.  But if you follow this routine  you find  yourself in the middle of a parade of others doing the same thing. A woman with  emergent cables  is overflowing with a steady stream of pop music. I try to adjust my pace to avoid contact but it doesn't always work. Other people's gratuitous music! A topic for discussion if not the urge to escape.

The sun has been shining all day. For the first time for weeks I am on my own. Not a bad thing. Papers and reading matter  to be sorted and discarded. Music too spurred on by recent conversations is rearranged and made more accessible.  Above all  I must keep moving. So I walk in The Grove stopping in patches of sunshine to contemplate what ever is in front of me. Nothing is anything like  back to normal. Certainly not. Rather a question of settling to something new, quite different and challenging.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Stars in the gutter, classical music and tea

Another wrapper from the archives.

To answer Stella's question about classical music, I must first admit to being largely unmusical.  I am tone deaf. But this does not mean that I don't like classical music. My appreciation goes back to school days, when Beethoven,, Mozart, Wagner even, were on the menu prompted as much by fellow pupils as by teachers. Pop music didn't exist then, so perhaps I was lucky. American musicals such as Oklahoma and Annie Get Your Gun were easy to leave behind. You do not, I  found, have to be musical to enjoy great symphonies and choral works. A school friend took me to the Albert Hall to hear Bach's St Matthews Passion. Although chamber music was a regular item at school concerts, it was Robbie who later introduced me in a proper way  to Beethoven's late quartets. I am still being prompted  and reminded by friends. The Schubert Quintet is a recent instance. I don't know where precisely my love of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto came from it it has always been a favourite.  I could go on. In later life I have had little difficulty in enjoying The Beatles but was never able to love The Rolling Stones. Joni Mitchel is a favourite, Leonard Cohen too,  but I find that I tire easily of much music that is easy to listen to. Great pieces of classical music for me however bear endless repetition.

Jeremy Irons reading  of Eliot's The Four Quartets on the radio this afternoon in a brown monotonous voice sends me to sleep. It takes a strong cup of PG tips to wake me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Spring, emptiness and Schubert

If winter comes...

Today I find myself sitting for several minutes doing nothing. An unusual activity for me. I have become accustomed to keep my mind or my hands or both occupied during most of the waking day.The dreamlike state in which I find myself is not unpleasant. My head  is empty. Is this what people who meditate aim for?

Finding myself alone and at peace for the first time for a few days, something which I have been intending to do for some time, I insert a CD of Schubert's String Quintet in in C Major into  the CD player and listen to it undisturbed.  The disk was  a present from Robbie and VR when Heidi's condition was beginning to deteriorate. It was then a very present help in time of trouble. Even more so today and what a joy and pleasure to listen to such  a great performance.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

discards, thankyou, the funeral

Some time ago I published a series of photographs of items of litter in the gutter and in odd corners of the street. I took no trouble to move or rearrange them. I snapped them as I saw them. I was pleased with the images at the time. Sometimes, even more so now.

Thank you Robbie for your impression  of the funeral. (See yesterday's Tone Deaf post)  It achieves something I cannot even attempt. Something dispassionate in it view yet strongly felt and managed. There is very little I can manage in that way at the moment. Your long drive here and back seems to have been an ordeal. I can only say it means a great deal to me to have old and dear friends present at such a time. Hugs are in fashion and long may they remain so. Yours especially.

During the funeral my mind is like a strip of countryside newly flooded and strewn with wreckage. With  my children on one side and Heidi's  on the other, I sit back while the waters gurgle and flow over my head. Every now and then a comforting hand  grips my arm. From the front row I can  see nothing of  fellow mourners. I do have a good view of Jan Comly, the funeral celebrant (a term new to me). The coffin, new and rather brash,  garnished with lilies refuses to mean much to me. I have said goodbye to Heidi and I am still saying goodbye to her. And will continue to for a long time to say goodbye to her. . But the coffin, well it is just a box. She ain't there as far as I am concerned.   I like the way though  that from time to time Jan turns towards the coffin to address Heidi directly.  Heidi daughters, Jenny and Caroline, stand  side by side  at the lectern to give their tributes. They speak  beautifully and with an accuracy which is deeply  moving.. The girls each capture something different in their Mother's looks and in the rhythms and tenor of her voice.

 Clever the way the chapel is designed to allow the congregation to leave by a side door, so that the place  may be free for the next funeral. Funerals are pumped through the chapel  at the rate of one every half hour, but you wouldn't know it. The chief mourners depart first, into a  courtyard where a fountain plays into a pond. So we are  in a position to greet the others as they follow us out.  Hugs, a few surprises, faces you don't expect,  fresh and moving and conventional words mingle into a  chorus and choreography new to most of us. The  architectural arrangements add up to good logistics and sensitive, too, to the demands of people unaccustomed to the rituals of farewell and grief. I read back what I have just written, and wonder if there is any truth in it. It is hard to adjust to living on a new planet.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Adustment, suits and healing

A time for rainbows.  The sun shines on the day of Heidi's funeral. We say goodbye to her with dignity and cheerfulness.  We want the service to reflect her sense of fun and enjoyment of life as portrayed in her pictures,  and we seem to have succeeded.  People come back to the house where her paintings are sympathetically  lit by the winter sun. In the curious way the mind works I keep finding myself wanting to tell her all about the service and to compare notes. It will take time to adjust.

"I like your suit says my 20 year old grand-daughter". I realise that she had never seen me in a suit.  "I used wear one every day," I say,"when I went to the office."  It is 21 years since I stopped attending an office on a regular basis. Next I find myself explaining what an office is. Times they are a-changing.

Whose is that familiar face which I see outside the chapel while waiting to enter? It dawns on me that it is our GP, Nick Benson, who retired  a year so so ago. "I saw the notice in the paper," he says. "So I thought I'd come."  He looked after  Heidi and me for  several decades  so I suppose I should not be surprised. We always got on well  but  we sometimes  wondered about  the  extent of his dedication to the world of healing.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Rust, tranquility and superficiality

Rust spreads on a railing, a disturbing efflorescence.

On the radio I catch  the word "calm". Calm is what I like. And tranquil. I remember arriving at a small  hotel in Granada, Spain, without any money.  Two hungry teenage girls and a wife were putting a brave face on a venture which had started out as a light hearted picnic in the mountains. An abandoned car and a punctured tyre  to which I clung as a talisman  added to a  prevailing dreamlike quality. It was the weekend. Banks and consulates were closed or unreachable. "Sea tranquilo",  keep calm, said the kindly hotelier. "Tranquilo! And tranquil I became. The disaster soon became an adventure, a story to be repeated from time to time. And tranquillity something I have since been able to return to more easily  helped by the voice of the gentle hotelier which I  can still hear now.

Watching people in the doctors surgery I see people I think I once knew , but it is not their features I recognise.  It is the way their hair is cut and the sort of glasses they are wearing. Superficial likenesses. Something tells me that I should look more closely

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Puddle, phalarope and lamb sausages.

Not drowning but waving. Plastic bag in puddle from the archive.

In the early hours of the morning I learn from the radio that the red necked phalalrope, a bird smaller than a starling, has been shown can fly from Scotland across the Pacific to the coast of Peru.
Such facts are soothing.

In Sainsbury's this morning  minced lamb. Tonight little sausages made with the lamb, coriander, pine kernels and coriander.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Spring, surprise, delight and haircut

Urban spring.

I'm floored, deeply touched, bewildered, utterly delighted, knocked backwards and forwards and backwards again. A long, hand written letter from the dearest of friends arrives this morning and with it a present of sublime beauty and utility. Not only is the letter hand-written but every word is immediately legible to my weary eyes.The letter itself is rich in allusions all of which must and will be answered. Now to get my hand-writing back to scratch and my thoughts in order. Something truly beautiful has happened to day.

Haircut today for an important occasion next week. Heidi always reminded me about  cutting my hair which she objected to if it stood up like a cross mad professor's. Today I have to remind myself. A cruel taxi driver with a Glaswegian accent,  meanwhile, ticks me off for keeping him waiting while he is waiting to pick me up for the hairdresser. Seven minutes, he says. No more than five I think. But I am not going to argue. Good for a laugh if nothing else.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bridge, fishmonger and heliotrope

Under the bridge. Thames bridges have much to offer pictorially apart from the obvious.

In the sunshine a walk to the fishmonger is a step towards normality.  Clams for a spaghetti a la vongole and Mackerel for tomorrow.   Swinging my arms and moving my hips  may seem to be insignificant gestures  but are harbingers of an unaccustomed freedom. Yesterday I was complaining to the GP about my condition. Today I am doing something about it.

We are taken to a country pub for a drive and lunch. "Heliotrope," says Pam, supplying the name  me of the pink  flower on the verge. Winter heliotrope. A garden escape which explains why a number of wild flower books don't feature it, though it is  now fairly common on roadsides in the south of England. It flowers from January to March. I like the name. So exotic sounding for  a Sussex lane.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Shoe, bereavement and warped

One of my favourites from the archive. Not the first time that I have posted it here, but I make no apologies. The shoe which for several months remained on a ledge behind a shoe shop, has  long been removed. I am glad that the photograph survives.

Bereavement is a word  which, together with all the paraphernalia of death, I used when ever possible,  to steer clear of. Confronted with the fact and the word I now accept it for what it is. We had two telephone lines Heidi and I because so many of her regular calls were overseas to her daughters and friends. Now that the time has come to close her BritishTelecom account, her daughters tell me that BT was able to assist her with the help of its "bereavement arm".

For the last few weeks the rain beating on to our front door, which faces south west into the prevailing wind, has warped the wooden frame. The lock wants to do one thing, the frame another. PMR has left my  arm muscles ineffective The result when, on my own today  for the first time, and I go for a walk I cannot  on my return manage to open the door. Happily the gardener opposite is on hand to manoeuvre the offending aperture. It's good to be indoors.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Evening, cellophone and better

Evening in The Grove.

A beautiful thing would be the elimination from modern life of cellophane paper. It is hard to open DVDs and the like wrapped in it; it makes an insidious noise and fragments into untidy shards. Perhaps there are cellophane lovers in the world. I am not one of them.

Aches all day from the polymyalgia rheumatic which persists in a less insidious form. These are are alleviated by massage from Heidi's daughter Caroline and 15 minutes exposure to ultra violet rays. Better already. Better is a lovely word.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Fence, tidiness and tangerine clouds

On the fence.

Present circumstances is prompting the tidiness bug which has invaded me. Before I start cooking the kitchen must be clean and everything in its place. The floor must be clear of crumbs. The problem remains that bending is still a problem as I hobble about the house and for some reason remember my aged grandmother whom  I  now realise was of a like mind.

A tangerine sky when I raise the blind the other morning. The wind blows white and orange clouds past the window.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Bark, forensics and human voices


A letter from an old friend. On the back of the  envelope she has written, "Discovered un-posted".
The address, as has is usual with her letters,  is a remote variation of my true address. The Royal Mail's forensic skills are extraordinary. And I am glad of it because Liz's letters are as entertaining as ever.

 I am trying to reach someone at my bank who can answer a simple question. Recorded voices ask me to key in numbers, be patient, choose from a range of options remote from my needs.  I feel, to paraphrase T S Eliot, that I "have lingered in the chambers of the sea,
by sad girls with seaweed red and brown,
till human voices wake me and I drown."

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Pause, weather and korma

Pause for a nibble. A close up from last Summer's archive.

As we proceed with chores here at home, whirlwind after whirlwind swirls in from the Atlantic full of rain and fuelled by endless cyclones, devastate coastal regions, flood people houses.  Nightmare pictures from low-lying towns fill TV screens, ride on front pages. At night the rain clatters against our windows and rifles the branches of the lime tree opposite. It crashes and curses. The wind whimpers.  Domestic circumstances and weather conditions seem to  work together to stifle attempts at keeping cheerful.

Korma is the name given to pale, creamy,  spicy, dishes in India.  Yogurt and coconut milk supply the creaminess.  Tonight, as part of my  spicy exploration campaign, is korma night. I have been thinking about appropriate ingredients for most of the day. I am glad to say that Jenny and Caroline share my  enthusiasm.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Glass, kindness and someone else

Still in the archives, this time a fragment of bottle glass catches my eye in the pavement. I am not sure what an uncut emerald looks like but I fear this is not one.

When there is a choice between  love and   kindness, (offering or receiving them, I mean), when there is a choice,  kindness seems preferable. Love has alternative meanings  and the context has to signify which one is intended. The  word "love"  can fill the heart with something close to terror as well as with warmth and desire. Divine love and human love have different motives and conclusions. Different stories attend them.  Kindness on the other hand is neither complex nor ambiguous. It is often spontaneous and instinctive.  It is utterly human, a  distinctive quality  of humanity of which humanity should  be proud. In the early hours of the morning it is kindness I pursue.

As an exercise I try to imagine what  it is like to be someone else. From the inside.  Someone I may dislike or despise. Someone utterly evil perhaps. To understand, then,  the feelings, urges, aspirations and hopes of an  alien and unsympathetic personality   What sense of  justice rules his actions or moral force drives them? It is hard work.  I have only just began, but I can see that it is going to be hard work