Thursday, September 30, 2004

Figs, hovering and grapes.

1. We walked up the gorge behind the beach to see how far it went. After half an hour of pushing aside bushes covered in unfamiliar berries and trees decorated with flowers that looked like bog brushes and smelt of bleach, we came across a fig tree covered in ripe fruit. We ate a sun-warm windfall and then threw sticks up to knock down a couple more.

2. A tiny sage grows among the shattered limestone. Hummingbird hawk moths bob like boats at anchor, their tongues deep in the tiny mauve flowers and their wings a blur. When the flower is empty, they move on so fast you can’t see where they’ve gone.

3. In a shingly cove, one hour’s walk and one hour’s boat ride from civilisation, two middle-aged men share some grapes. The older man wallows in the water while the younger man washes the bunches in the sea. The older man holds out his hand and is given a sprig. They spit the pips into the water, not saying much.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Herbs, bathing and in the sand.

1. In the hills, away from the moisture-bearing sea winds, the vegetation changes to low prickly bushes that are all elbows and knees. Leaves tend to be small and sometimes slightly sticky. Everything smells wonderful – partly the heat and partly to discourage grazers. One minute you brush against rosemary, the next against cistus and then against something sagey.

2. We drove across the mountains, zigzagging round hairpin bends and then along narrow, unshaded roads to a flat, sandy bay. It was our first properly hot day and we changed into our bathers and swam to cool off.

3. Sea holly pokes out of the sand. It doesn’t look like holly much, apart from the spikiness of its leaves. It’s an annual growing not much higher than a wine bottle and it has bluish, chalky leaves. I believe it’s a sort of eryngium. We also saw sea daffodils growing directly in the sand. They crouch right down and their lily-like trumpets seem too big for their height.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Morning coats, fluttering and caerulean.

1. Crickets. Their sober grey coats are perfectly camouflaged against the limestoney soil. When you step near them, they fly up in a surprising direction, showing off their electric blue waistcoats. We also found a mole cricket dressed in baggy brown velvet. He is rather large – as long as my thumb – and he doesn’t jump, preferring to burrow.

2. I like fig trees – apart from the amusingly-shaped leaves and the figs, there is also the smell. But this particular tree offered something else. Its splitting fruit was a feast for ginormous butterflies. Their plain-chocolate-brown wings were the width of my two palms and were decorated with a flashing purple and white pattern. They were so numerous that the tree rustled with their wingbeats.

3. The colour of the sea. I grew up playing on a muddy shore lapped by soupy brown waves. I thought pictures of blue water were all lies until I first visited the Mediterranean. The sea is so blue that I wonder how it can make white foam and I am mesmerised by the waves.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Sweet winds, exotic groceries and stones.

The beautiful things for the next five days come from Sardinia.

1. Each place in the Mediterranean smells different. Coming off the plane, we snuff nosefuls of Sardinian air, guessing the scents. The first one I recognise is cistus, mossy and medicinal but warm and sweet. We grow this crinkly, papery, shocking pink rock rose in the garden. If you put your nose right up close to the tiny leaves on a really hot, still English summer day, you can smell it. We were given its resin, labdanum, to sniff at an incence workshop I went to recently. It is harvested using goats. They drive flock through the bushes and then comb the resin out of their coats.

2. Foreign supermarkets. We raced round looking for familiar food in unfamiliar packaging: 'They've got Nutella in JUGS!' Treaty foods like grapes and Parma ham were very cheap, while breakfast cereals were rather expensive. And other things were just scary: 'Can we get some frozen octopus?' 'Time to leave...'

3. We scrambled down to a white beach in a rocky cove. On a rock just out to sea, someone had made three neat stacks of rounded pebbles.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Treasure, old lady and mandorla

1. Finding a forgotten bar of chocolate in my daypack.

2. A late Gertrude Jekyll rose, still scented and still packed with perfect petals despite heavy rain and cold nights.

3. Walking round my parents' garden, we found a patch of almond smell. But where it came from, we couldn't tell.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Early, naughty dogs and sleepy.

1. The nights are drawing in and my walk to work feels very much like an early morning.

2. Naughty dogs frollicking on the cricket pitch. There are three of them, and the lady with them threw a ball on a cord. She baby talked at them and fussed them like anything.

3. I am going down with a cold, so I feel quite justified in having a short kip before supper, and then another one after supper. When I wake up, all warm and soft, it's time to start thinking about going to bed.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Bits of paper, hammers and belle helene.

1. Scraptorium - this blog is a collection of witty collages by someone who has made this artform a way of life.

2. Downstairs from our office is a jewellery maker. Sometimes you can hear them tapping away with little hammers. Their security is really tight, with alarms and buzzy doors and we hardly ever see them. I imagine that they might be goblins or svart elves who have moved with the times.

3. Tinned pears in chocolate sauce.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Tall trees, 20:20 and pudding.

1. As I turn to go downstairs each morning, I look out of a window on the landing that faces an enormous bricky church. Its 40ft chimney stack has a little green birch tree growing on it.

2. I got my glasses corrected and everything is clearer and more colourful. It's like being on drugs.

3. Eating tiramisu really, really slowly.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Grey, all done and warm bones.

1. Walking into a shop and finding the exact pair of trousers that I have been wanting for almost two years in the exact size I need. They are slightly flared cords the colour of rain clouds.

2. I was all lined up to write a quiz for work - this is a particularly fiddly task that takes far longer than it should - but when I got into the system, I found I'd already done it last week.

3. Until I got under a hot shower, I didn't realise how cold and stiff I was. It was lovely to feel warmth creeping back into my bones.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Washing day, veggies and just passing.

1. The smell of clean laundry coming from a hotel basement.

2. I picked up this week's organic vegetable box. It was a bit like a Christmas stocking because the contents is selected for you. I'm planning my week's menus around locally-grown chard, fennel, leeks, potatoes, orange pepper, carrots and green squash.

3. Walking past a friend's house, I see her at the window but she doesn't see me because she is reading a letter. Her boyfriend comes up behind her, notices me and they call me in for a cup of tea.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Family, ice & lemon and homecoming.

1. The whole family sitting round the table for breakfast.

2. When your father offers you a gin and tonic before lunch. It's the ultimate symbol of adulthood.

3. Finally having room for my childhood books. Welcome home Mary Poppins, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna and the rest of the gang.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Purse, damp and cookies.

1. My new purse. It's a grown-up wallet-type one with separate compartments for notes, coins and cards. It's also pink with a cat and a ball of wool on it.

2. I went to a Flat-owners' Association meeting and Fenella served cookies fresh from the oven so they were squishy and full of melty chocolate chips.

3. Walking across The Common in the rain.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Harbour, swing and quiet.

These beautiful things come from a work outing - a day sailing on a colleague's yacht. We went round the harbour at Bosham because the Solent was too rough that day. Peter inherited his yacht from a gentleman adventurer called Dr Wellard - the healthcare publishing company I work for is named in his honour.

1. Clinking rigging on moored yachts.

2. On Peter's yacht, the stove sits in a cradle so that it is always horizontal, whatever the angle of sailing.

3. When the engine is off you can hear water lapping and wind filling the sail.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Reunion, winter wardrobe and vin blanc.

1. I went a different way to work. It took me past my old street and I was pleased to see that the Pigeon Lady was still in action. She had left a pile of bread ends in an angle between two walls. It made me think of the other people I used to pass on my way to work - the tall man with a very very short girlfriend. And the dangerous wheelchair man. I would over-take him at the end of my street and then he would over-take me at high speed on the way down Mt Pleasant. He would come up behind me silently - possibly because he had broken the sound barrier. Thank goodness he always wears a reflective vest.

2. My new skirt - it's reddish brown with ochre chevrons slashed in it across the hips - very slimming. It's knee length, so quite respectable for work. And it's warm, so it's practical, too.

3. Being surprised by a taste of blackberries in white wine.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Doggy, chickens and shadow.

1. Puppies with big feet.

2. A news story about Jane Howorth who rescues battery hens from 'retirement' and re-homes them so they can spend their remaining days as pets in happy, grassy places. 'Chickens are like little dogs with feathers,' she says. Visit the Retirement Home for Battery Hens and see if there is anything you can do to help.

3. The shadow of a squirly cast-iron gate.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Grandeur, oil and manners.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us1. Tunbridge Wells is full of Decimus Burton houses. They are built of mellow yellow sandstone and are both grand and elegant. When you walk up to one, you feel you are visiting someone important.

2. Putting olive oil on boiled potatoes.

3. In George R R Martin's book A Clash of Kings he mentions a society of assassins called The Sorrowful Ones. As they kill you, they whisper 'I am so sorry.'

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

High seas, strange vegetables and rescue.

1. The weatherman mentioned that the blustery weather we're having is the tail-end of the American and Caribbean hurricanes.

2. White tomato. It's quite mild and tastes faintly of parsley.

3. I got stranded after a meeting in a village outside town so Paul V came and rescued me.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Deshabille, conversion and workshop.

1. Doing my paperwork in bed with a breakfast tray and a pot of coffee.

2. I bought a basket of plums from the farmers' market yesterday. They weren't very good. Some were green and hard. Some were bruised and swollen. So I converted them into plum and cinnamon slices - using Delia's recipe from How to Cook Part II and they are now yum.

3. Eight of us spent a cheery afternoon at Ross' flat drinking wine, sniffing rare resins and mushing unguents and wood into incense.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Sleeping alone, key and memory.

1. Getting up and knowing that tonight I will not be sharing a narrow top bunk with fleas.

2. Putting my key in the lock of my own front door after a week away.

3. I love the silence of my flat after a week living in close quarters with the gang. But if I am still for a moment, I can hear their voices and laughter clear as anything.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Kites, make-do and fungus.

1. Red Kites wheeling and whistling overhead as we ate our lunch. Jerry said that they used to be common in Medieval London, scavenging rubbish from the gutters. I love the idea of birds of prey swooping down and seizing bins.

2. At Watlington the church doesn't have a steeple. So they cut one into the chalk hill above the village, and if you stand in the right place it rises above the church tower as a good steeple should.

3. An enormous rubbery fungus the colour of not quite ripe apricots. It was hidden among the roots of a beech tree and grew upwards in petal-like layers - it reminded me rather of a giant rose that wasn't quite open. The rims curled over slightly.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Legs, travelling light and spindle.

1. Beech woods. Beech trees (Fagus sylvaticus) grow very stright and if they were people, I always think they would have beautiful legs. They look as if they are wearing silvery pale silk stockings. The cheery green leaves dim the light in a way that is particularly pleasing on a hot day. I'm told the trees somehow poison the soil so nothing grows on the forest floor, except blue bells (hyacinthoides non-scripta) in spring. The rest of the year the ground is a beautiful crunchy red-brown.

2. The teeny-tiny youth hostel at Bradenham. It has fiendishly complicated opening hours. Just the way a youth hostel should be - I bet the door is locked at 11pm sharp and anyone trying to sneak into the other dorm for a little flagrante delicto is tarred and feathered and run out town on a rail. No really, I'm sure it's a lovely place to stay. The village is like a calendar come real.

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3. A spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) with berries on it. We found one in the woods below Pulpit Hill, but there were no berries. This one, growing out of a hedge by a stile, was covered in three-cornered silk-pink berries. In a while, they will burst open to reveal seeds the colour of 1970s orange squash. The last time I saw a spindle tree in full glory I was being taken for a walk in my pram. It was such an extraordinary sight that I have never forgotten it. Picture from Antiquariaat Jan Meemelink flower books & prints.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Automaton, fairy tale and between two roses.

1. At Waddesdon Manor the collection includes a mechanical elephant as tall as a small child. It swings its trunk and rolls its eyes when wound up. The story is that when the Shah of Persia came to visit he sulked in his room because he was told he was not going to meet the Prince of Wales. But Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild winkled him out by promising to wind up the elephant after dinner.

2. A series of bright - almost garish scenes from Sleeping Beauty by a Russian artist. They were a gift from one of the Rothschilds to his wife. The characters are all friends of the couple, including the man himself as the prince and his sister-in-law as the princess.

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3. Another piece of Waddesdonia (above). Garrick between Comedy and Tragedy by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Garrick was an upwardly mobile theatre owner. He was the son of an impoverished soldier but when he died 50,000 people came to view his coffin. Poor man - Comedy looks a right little minx who will bring him nothing but trouble, while Tragedy looks as if she's tearing him off a strip for leaving his newspaper lying all over the kitchen table.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

As above, sky sheep and bitter bind.

1. Learning from Bo Mi that South Korea has both sarcasm and a National Trust.

2. Bella the sheep dog. She is obsessed with things in the sky and snaps at flies and watches birds. She is nine months old and belongs to Matt, the warden at the Bradenham Estate.

3. Shiny scarlet bryony berries hanging in swags over fences and hedges

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Leaves, defensible and unusual colours

1. The smell of drying leaves. It's sharp and green and makes me think of satisfying work.

2. We climbed Pulpit Hill. The summit was once an iron age fort. Banks and ditches are all that remain. Ranks of pine trees crowd in on three sides, and giant beech trees shade what must once have been an important centre for a large area. Our historian, Richard, said that these forts were used for storing food rather than for defence. The place feels as if it is waiting for people to come back and use it again.

3. A cream coloured ladybird with orange-brown freckles.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Jousting, lumberjack and inland sea.

1. After breakfast I slipped out into the woods behind basecamp. Sunlight slanted through the beech trees and the air was cool. In the distance I heard deer crashing horns.

2. Jerry the National Trust warden taught us how to fell scrubby trees by using a bow saw - 'A two minute job'. My first was an ash as thick as my forearm. It took longer than two minutes and left my arms aching, but the creee-crash as the tree came down felt like a real achievement.
3. A small girl lying along a branch six feet off the ground at Coombe Hill. 'It's nice to see people enjoying themselves,' commented Jerry. The chalk hilltop has an almost panoramic view over fields and towns - from Waddesdon Manor on one side to Didcote Power Station on the other. On a day as fine and hot as this people use it rather like a beach, enjoying the sun and hoping to catch a breath of wind.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Arrival, tick tock and chocolate.

1. I am three days late. I keep walking into things and bursting into tears. My clothes are tight and my fingers are numb. Every so often my belly gives a little twinge, just to remind me. When I finally start bleeding, I am so pleased I dance around the flat.

2. When train journeys go like clockwork.

3. We didn't know each other at lunchtime, but now the twelve of us are sitting round a long table playing a very silly game involving a die and a bar of chocolate.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Westies, purple and de-mob happy.

1. Two West Highland terriers putting their noses through a gate and believing they were putting the fear of God (or perhaps dog?) into passers-by.

2. A buddleja bush squeezing a few more blossoms out in the last weeks of summer.

3. Coming out of work and knowing that I'm off on holiday.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Dogs, infants and music.

1. A neat little greyhound with a cheeky curl in its tail.

2. A baby with a huge head, big round eyes and her bottom lip sucked under her top lip leaning right forward in her pushchair and concentrating really hard on something.

3. At sunset we went to the fieldy bit of Dunorlan Park, as far from houses as you can be, with four drums, two tin whistles, a guitar and a mandolin. We bickered about what to play. We disagreed about the version of the tune. We tried starting with the drums and we tried starting with the tune. But suddenly, as the stars came out, the sounds fell into place and we played together.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

BBs, cyclamen and world domination.

1. Picking blackberries in the sunshine.

2. Dolly mixture pink cyclamen growing out of the dry leaves under a hawthorn tree on The Common.

3. Reading that Notdonnareed at American Mom has been trying Three Beautiful Things.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Path, radio and DIY

1. Looking back up the long straight path on to The Common.

2. The Little World of Don Camillo on Radio 4.

3. Finally getting around to fixing my phone cable to the wall.