Monday, 22 August 2016

Struck by moonlight...

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gazed at the moon hanging above the mountain in Wales. Below it, over to the East, is the sea and on a night like this it will be crashing on the rocks at the beach, scurrying up the pebbles and tumbling them to roll with that slightly hollow sound they make as they are swished backwards and forwards by the crashing waves. Of course I can’t see or hear them from here, but I know that it’s happening just as I know that a fox has come down to the beach to watch a seal roll in the moonlight.

As usual after a spell of hot weather it is raining and the wind has got up. My tiny roof room is rocked by the gusts of wind and the rain thumps on the glass of the windows asking to be let in to whip and soak the curtains. Behind the glass the fields are black despite the moon and the sheep huddle in corners under the hedges. I can’t see them either, but I know they are there just as I know that the hares are leaping in the field as they catch raindrops in their wide open pink mouths.

The chimney stack looks so lonely made stark by the moon. It’s a lonely night, so it fits in well, and I can hear the plings as the raindrops fall on the new tin roof of our neighbours new shed. They must have put it up while we weren’t here and it sits invisible in their garden below. I can’t see the shed any more than I can see the fox or the seals, the sheep or the hares, but I know it is there just as I know that on a night such as this the villagers from long ago go about their business on the lane beneath my window.

Yes tonight, just as on so many nights, I am struck by the moonlight and my head turns. Reality and imagination become one as I drift on the wind – one minute a leaf tossed and scattered, the next an owl seeking a vole for my dinner. I become part of the landscape as I drift, a raindrop running down my window watching me as I doze under the covers, a gust of wind as I whip around the chimney stack and am blown away to the mountain, then on to the moon.

This place always does this to me. It makes me open, that is why I came here and I wonder what it will be like when I leave? Will the hares still leap and the seals still roll? Will I still tumble and toss on the wind and find myself in every drop of scattered rain that smashes against that window? Will I join the villagers in the lane stoically going about their business?

Will I?

Thursday, 18 August 2016

A new reality...

I don’t know what you think, sometimes I don’t even know what I think; that’s the thing isn’t it? Presented with all the evidence it should be easy to make your mind up, but what if new evidence presents itself which makes you reconsider?

Thank god I’m not in prison for a murder that I didn’t/did commit. Years of proclaiming innocence with nobody believing me until new evidence presents itself?

Think of all those wasted years.

Of course most of us aren’t in prison but we often go along proclaiming that we are perfectly content and then, quite suddenly sometimes, new evidence presents itself and that bubble is suddenly popped. Often it’s a relationship thing (I’ve had that one more than once), or it could be a job that we thought we enjoyed that crumbles to dust under ‘new management’. Maybe it’s a hero that turns out to be not so heroic after all (can you tell what it is yet?) or just a belief that is proven to be false - and all of a sudden the world is round and not flat or vice versa.

It’s all about evidence, the clearing of that smoke that has got in your eyes, the hushed up conspiracy that is suddenly whistle blown, the certainty that is not only made uncertain but turns out to be a lie and becomes dust. Nothing is for certain – well maybe death and taxes, certainly taxes.

I thought I wanted to live in a certain world where I knew what to expect next. A nice ordered place that I could control and make ‘in my own image’ or at least modify it so that I could find it vaguely tolerable. As I get older I realise that is not the way things work. I am going to be presented with new evidence all of the time and that evidence is going to change what I think and do and believe. I’m not living in a certain world, it is showing me new aspects of itself all the time and rather than me trying to bend the world to suit what I want I’m going to have to go with it, because that is the new reality.

Did I commit that murder?

A new reality every day? Kind of exciting isn’t it.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Grasshopper hunt...

I had decided to have a day off from the blog today. Well, there isn’t much happening and the garden seems to have reached that stage where it has decided to become static before it tumbles into luxuriant madness and gasps its way out of existence for another year.

The birds aren’t around either which, according to an article I read recently, is perfectly normal as there’s plenty of rich pickings away from the garden bird tables in the countryside. I like the idea of the robins and finches packing a suitcase and going off on holiday for a few weeks. They’ll be back when things get tough again, but it the meantime enjoy your vacation.

Today is very still. It’s that stillness of a warm Sunday afternoon where there’s no sunshine and whilst it is warm and dry enough to barbecue nobody does. I don’t know where everybody has gone, but it’s very quiet - nobody is cutting their lawn or hammering or using a drill perhaps that's why I heard this little chap. It took me three goes to get him; he's a quick mover I tell you.

Sunday afternoons in the market town where I grew up were a little like that. Nothing happening, the streets still, shops all closed apart from Annie Saunders who was always open although she didn’t really have anything to sell. If it had been an American town the tumbleweed would have tumbled down the empty high street and disappeared into the distance.

Sunday afternoon was a time to take long walks; just to get out of the house and away from the shouting. I used to walk for hours sometimes; down to the rec along to the old railway crossing and then along the line even though you weren’t meant to. Sometimes I could walk for hours without seeing another person.

Back then the railway line was a mass of summer cow parsley and grasses. There were thousands of butterflies in the air and hordes of grasshoppers chirping in the grass. They were like jewels glinting in the sunshine; bright greens and yellows, deep browns and ochres and some almost on the verge of blue and tinged with red.

Chirrupzzz… Chirrupzz…. Chirrupzz…

Sometimes I’d take a jam jar with a paper lid and see how many I could catch. They were quick little critters, but once you actually saw one clinging to a blade of grass you could sometimes bring your cupped hands down like lightening and catch them. Again and again I’d swoop, usually missing as the grasshopper hopped, but sometimes getting lucky and feeling the hard carapace of the little creature between my hands. Carefully I’d drop it into the jar then swiftly replace the lid and secure it again with a red elastic band. Often I’d catch four or five, occasionally more, but I’d always set them free when I’d finished with my hunt before going back home to the shouting.

It’s a long time ago now, but I still look for grasshoppers when I hear them in the grass hoping to catch a glimpse of one. I rarely do, but I know they are there and that's why I was so surprised to find my grasshopper today. Don't worry I've set him free in the long grass out back.

Chirrupzzz… Chirrupzz…. Chirrupzz…

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Prosecco phenomenomenom

It used to be Babycham, these days it’s Prosecco. 

Yes, it’s National Prosecco Day, although you may want to pour a glass with your left hand whilst eating a fillet mignon at the bowling alley after holding a garage sale; because it’s all of those days too.

Prosecco; just how did it suddenly become the ‘must have’ drink with the ladies? It seems to be everywhere and packs of drunken women clutching empty Prosecco bottles roam the streets of most towns on a Saturday night. Yes, it’s refreshing in an uncomplex and simple way; one of those drinks whose enjoyability is more about in its simplicity than flavour; all bubbles and zing and a bit of a laugh. But then the tears start, the mascara begins to run, the high heels come off and the Prosecco blues begin.
‘I reallly love you mate’, ‘it’s all his fault’, ‘he doesn’t understand me’, ‘what’s my name?’ used to be the territory of drunken males on a Saturday night. But now it’s the litany of women from eighteen to eighty, out on the razz and out of their minds on prosecco. Why do they do it?
Prosecco; it’s not even that good. Basically, it’s an average Italian sparkling white wine, generally dry, made from Glera grapes and before 2009 a wine producer could make wine outside of the Prosecco region, using the Prosecco grape, and put Prosecco on the label. It’s certainly not as good as Champagne or even a reasonable Cava. But in 2009 it was upgraded to DOCG (Definitely Open to Crying Girls) because the producers from that region wanted to eliminate other winemakers from using the name. So now, if a producer makes sparkling wine from the Glera grape, but it doesn’t fit the DOCG specification, they can’t label it Prosecco.
Of course the main reason for its popularity is that the bubbles tickle the noses of the ladies at a quarter of the price of champagne. It also mixes well to make anything from a Bellini to a very complex cocktail and the simple flavour works with pretty much all food as well – chips, pizza, curry, breakfast cereal, low fat yoghurt - so it has a universal appeal in a way that most wines can’t compete with because they actually taste of something. Yes, it’s really just grape fizzy pop with added alcohol for people in bras who don’t really like wine but can manage fruit flavoured ciders.
Strangely its rise to almost universal approval is not as a result of huge, costly advertising and marketing campaigns. The girls have spread it through word of mouth and by posting millions of pictures of them smashed out of their minds through swigging it on social media sites. Interesting side effects of the Prosecco phenomena are that evidence suggests that Prosecco is the cause for the rise in births over the last six years, has led to an eighty percent drop in lager and lime sales, and is responsible for bottle banks always being full.

The only other drink that comes close to it with the ladies is gin. 

But that is another sad and sodden story.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Above the clouds...

It looks like the skies are going to be overcast tonight so not much chance of seeing any shooting stars. Yet again I’ll miss the Perseids meteor shower at its peak and this year the normal 50 to 75 meteors per hour is set to double according to NASA.

Of course they will still be there shooting away high above the clouds, the Earth will still cross the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle; it’s just that I won’t see it.

There is so much going on that I don’t see. I know that there are bats flying around at night, but I don’t see them. The sea teems with fish which I never even glimpse from the shore. There are creatures in the ground wiggling and burrowing away that are outside of my vision. In fact most of what is going on in this world escapes my attention although it is happening every minute of the day all around me.

I consider myself to be a fairly observant person; maybe I don’t observe the right things – if you were to walk past me I might not recognise you – but I see more than most. Most of what I see I’m interested in and those things that don’t interest me are sometimes invisible to me. I guess we are all the same more or less; noticing things of our particular interests and ignoring or simply not seeing the things that bore us. Take football as an example. I don’t see it even when I’m watching it, but stand me in front of a painting and I’ll see every colour and brush stroke, notice where the artist got a little lazy and fudged, sometimes I can even see what the artist was feeling as he or she painted.

We all live in different worlds, all of the time based upon what interests us and what and where we are at the time. If you are with the right person they may be able to give you a glimpse of what they see; I’ve certainly known a few people over the years who are very good at this. Teachers, writers, painters, musicians, these are the people who do it particularly well for me; but I’m sure that footballers, accountants, scientists have the same effect on others.

We are all looking for those shooting stars in our daily lives. The things that excite us, grab our attention and get our hearts beating a little faster and our minds ticking over more quickly. We keep looking even if they are behind the clouds. The clouds have to clear some time.

Oh well, I expect I’ll still sit out for a while tonight hoping that I catch a falling star. 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Cliff Garden...

Have I said enough about the Minack? Well I don’t think there are really enough words to explain how this place can grab you and fill you with such a sense of magic. So you’ll forgive me if I say just a little more.

I’ve talked about the theatre with the mighty Atlantic below, but I don’t think that I’ve said much about the gardens and there's plenty to say. The gardens at The Minack are like no outdoor garden I have ever seen before.

When I first visited about thirty years ago I don’t really remember seeing the gardens, certainly not as they are today. Rowena Cade landscaped the cliffs below Minack House to create the theatre, but the gardens at the Minack have been created by two local gardeners, Niall and Jill Milligan. It’s not on the scale of The Lost Gardens of Heligan and it isn’t quite the Eden project, but it comes all in for the price of admittance which with a performance was only a fiver. I’d have happily paid that for the quirky gardens on their own.

They’ve transformed the cliffside into an incredible coastal garden featuring an eclectic array of plants from around the world. It’s all rocks and plants, the best rock garden I’ve ever seen, lush but at the same time almost arid - at least on a sunny warm day. It's an oasis on the cliffs. Of course the Gulf Stream is at its warmest below and the sun does shine in Cornwall, but even so it’s an incredible achievement what with the salt spray, gales, damp and foggy winters and the occasional baking summer.

It’s a full garden, just the way I like it. Crammed with rare plants that you are more likely to see in the Canary Islands, South Africa, Mexico or the Andes and not the UK - even if it is Cornwall. There are aloes, silver trees, bird of paradise plants, cacti, my favourites the aeoniums and they all seem to be thriving. There’s hardly an inch to spare and at the very top of the theatre, as you go in, the upper gardens are home to echiums, lampranthus, a wonderful selection of irises and of course masses of massive broad leaved agapanthus which seem to be everywhere in Cornwall. I could have spent all day wandering around the top gardens but the beer was calling and we had some maidens to meet.

I left determined that one day I would try to grow some of the plants I’d seen, particularly the tree aeoniums which were everywhere, some of them two or three feet high and every colour from purple blacks to pale blue sea greens. They were selling them at the shop and I so wish that I’d bought one, but I didn’t. I was worried that our climate back home wouldn’t suit it and then I would have felt like a murderer. It would be a sin to take such a beautiful thing away from its home to languish and die.

Okay, that’s if for the Minack. I shall never mention it here again I promise (crosses his fingers behind his back).

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Mr Shouty shouts 'STOP'...

It’s a strange world and there are lots of strange people in it. I expect that there are some who are convinced that they are Mr Shouty even when I’ve gone to great lengths to tell the world that Mr Shouty is a purely fictitious character invented by me and bears no resemblance to anyone living or dead. Just why anybody would claim to be Mr Shouty is beyond me. Let’s face it the fictitious Mr Shouty is a nasty, bullying, angry, not very bright, idiot of a fictitious man and not really somebody for anyone to relate to at all. As I said, there are lots of strange people in the real world, but Mr Shouty isn’t one of them. He’s not real, not living in the real world and he’s a fiction.


Mr Shouty wants it to STOP. He’s not really sure what IT is or why it should STOP, but that’s what he wants and he’s dealing with it in his usual way by SHOUTING. Of course it would be better for him to think about things and see if he couldn’t make IT STOP without shouting. But he doesn’t work like that. The tiny cogs in his tarnished mind click away building up his anger until he simply has to SHOUT AND SHOUT AND SHOUT. The fact that people no longer listen to him and those few that do only listen out of a false sense of loyalty, fear, or because they simply enjoy seeing him so shouty just hasn’t occurred to him. Those cogs really do move exceedingly slowly.


Of course he’s only shouting at himself. That’s what he’s been doing all of his fictitious life. He might blame others for the nasty shouty character that he is, bu­­t really he is of his own making, he just won’t accept the responsibility because nothing must ever be Mr Shouty’s fault must it? That’s his problem. He can’t accept or even consider that he might be wrong so he SHOUTS and SHOUTS and SHOUTS until people give in and agree that he is right. It’s never, ever anything to do with him. It’s always someone else even though it almost always isn’t.



Yes, for once you are right Mr Shouty*. They are all against you and I wonder why? Perhaps you should take a long look in your fictitious mirror and listen to the shouted words that come out of your fictitious mouth. You might be surprised to see how thoroughly unpleasant you actually are. Maybe you’ll see and hear what others see and hear when they look and listen to you. All of this is down to you and your anger you see. You can’t spend a lifetime, even a fictitious one, taking your own failure out on others and expecting them put up with you. Eventually they all see past your forced and faked outward appearance and see you for what you are inside. Even fictitious people living in a fictitious world aren’t that stupid and you let yourself slip so often. Perhaps it is you who should stop.

Anyway, thank God you aren’t real and that I just made you up.

*Anyone thinking that they are Mr Shouty or that this character bears any resemblance to anybody living or dead is deluded.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Garden fear...

Of course going on holiday has its drawbacks. Whilst away you are not in your own bed (obviously), the strange bathroom taps are always confusing, the remote on the telly is different and hard to fathom, and the cooker never cooks like the one at home.

On top of all of this horrible difference I find myself wondering about the gas knobs and did I remember to put seed out for the birds and what about the fish? Yes, there are far too many things that are different or can go wrong with going away. But above all of these minor worries of gas explosion or fish death - and of deeply grave concern - is the garden.

Now as some of you may have realised I have gardening OCD. This means that my tiny little yard needs to be pristine and in top form for me to be comfortable with it at all times over the growing season. Sadly I need my holidays to expand my view of the world. My miniature garden is lovely but I need to look at something that might take me into a place more expansive which leads me away from my yard, and of course this brings on that terrible affliction that is known as 'Garden Fear'.

'Garden Fear' or 'Metum Hortus', to use its Latin name, is for us gardeners not to be scoffed at. It's not like a fear of spiders, flying, snakes, or other such silly things. It's terrible and binds many gardeners to their homes for years without a break from their tomatoes and lobelia. Not me though, I am a gardening chancer (yes, throw caution to the winds and live a little is my motto) so when I go away I forget all about my garden and trust to fate. Scrub that. When I go away I spend all my time worrying about my petunias and chives and place all of the responsibility for watering and maintenance on my daughter Holly.

Annoyingly I go away with a clear picture of exactly how each of the plants in my garden look and ideally when I get back I would like to see them in the same condition. Before I leave I carefully examine each of them and tell them not to worry because Holly is going to take care of you. Of course I am deluded. For one thing I don’t expect my plants to develop whilst I am away and secondly, I forget how as a 22 year old I didn’t give a toss about gardens. Drink, going out, having fun and sex were my main priorities and not lobelia – or is that lobelias plural?

Anyway, as I get older I find my obsessions taking me over and I can't really rest. Of course I like to call it focus, although my wife likes to call it: ‘Your silly habitual routines and stupid fixations’. She’s right of course. If I can’t poo at my regular time I worry and if I’m not near a radio when there's less than ten minutes to go before ‘The Archers’ begins I break into a cold sweat. This means that when I'm away I find myself checking the weather at home and if it's going to be warm praying for rain. I even find myself phoning Holly simply to ask if the plants are okay and quizzing her about specific ones. On returning home it's my first port of call and I immediately start watering and dead heading whilst tutting at how this has done and that has done.

To be fair Holly did a pretty good job. Not too many plants actually died whilst I was away and the only real casualty was my much loved and coddled hanging basket strawberry plant plus a few bits that only I would have noticed. Not a hundred percent, but a great deal better than the alternative which would probably have been garden Armageddon. I often find myself wanting a bigger garden to garden in. A space where I could have terracing and private areas screened from each other to create secret landscapes that I could drift through, one to the other, on a warm summer's evening. But who would do the watering when I was away? The thought of it makes me shudder.

Maybe I need a watering system.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Cornish best...

So what was my Cornish best, apart from the beer that is? Not that I want to give the impression that I did nothing on holiday but drink beer – I drank plenty of wine and cider too. I even had the odd piratanical rum. Arrrrrrrrr!

So let's start with the journey down to Cornwall which took twelve hours over the Friday and Saturday because we went Tamar Bridge way and stopped on the Friday night at a Travelodge in Torquay. Faulty Towers was full and I'd like to say the Travelodge was Lenny Henry's fault but he's sold his soul to The Premier Inn Group instead. Besides I bloody booked it and you can't go to Cornwall and not cross the Tamar Bridge can you? Yes you bloody can, there were almost two hour queues at the Bridge.

To be honest the cottage in Cornwall was nice, but I wouldn't book it again. When I booked it I didn't realise it was so close to the owner's place and you felt overlooked at times. Hard for a fully tattooed naturalist like me to relax. The other thing - which many might think a small potato - was that there was no table and chairs in the place and I really don't like eating off a tray on my lap. The cottage would fit one but it would mean rethinking the furniture which was too big for the space. A full report has been sent to the owners entitled 'Feedback' and signed 'Grumpy old git from up north where it's grim but we do eat at tables'.

Much of our time was spent driving to wonderful little coves, looking for a parking space, and then driving away again without stopping. Cornwall has become a big and very full car park interspersed with massive supermarket superstores at every roundabout. They are all there and often within yards of each other - Tesco, Morrison's, Sainsbury, Waitrose, even Lidl. Not good for a man of my age who can't pass a supermarket without mysteriously being drawn in 'just to see what they've got'. As if I didn't already know that supermarkets sell lots of red wine and sausages of every description.

Now, and in retrospect, I wish I had followed my heart and not my wife's ravings and pre-planned the whole week out in tiny detail. If I'd done my research we could have had a perfectly organised and structured week instead of - and I quote - 'Just getting up when we feel like it and seeing what happens'. Well, when you do that nothing happens because you leave too late in the mornings and spend all of your time looking for parking spaces and a nice little pub to get some seafood for lunch which you never find so go hungry.

There were lots of good things though. I had some great pasties and we actually did manage to  happen across a couple of fantastic inns that served beautiful fish and shellfish. I tried lots of Cornish ales and bought gallons of flat cider in overpriced plastic containers with names like ‘Worzelwart’ and ‘Cornish Cudgel’. It tasted great in the sample glass, but not so good when you had a pint of it out of the plastic. I wonder if the cider in the sample glass was really Strongbow?  By the way I made those names up so don’t go looking for it online.

I also went back to some of the haunts of my surf dude teens to hang five and catch a big one (yes, I carved myself a body board out of stone back then) - St Michael's Mount, The North Coast, Falmouth. I wore my blonde wig and a very tight 'Strange Fish' vest that rearranged my fat into a bumpy series of blow up rings - so I think that I got away with it despite not having a board.

I touched the petrified maidens in a stone circle and got in touch with my mystic self. Many would say that most maidens would be petrified of me, but these seemed not to mind the touching. But then they were made of stone. I also stumbled across a few Celtic crosses and generally soaked in the legend that is Cornwall - mainly in pubs drinking fine Cornish ales and wondering where all the pirates were.

Anyway, on the final Friday I realised a long held ambition and went to The Minack Theatre to watch a very nice storytelling of The Tempest. It was what the Cornwall trip was set up for really - at least it was for me. The sun shone, the Atlantic backdrop was deep blue, the open air theatre just magic, and the cheap bubbles I brought along nicely cheap and bubbly. A perfect morning really. I couldn't have wished for more. I even found myself smiling, laughing and joining in. I don't know if you know about the Minack, lots of people don't, but if you get the chance then check it out. It is one of those places.

On the final day, which was really that Friday because (despite having the rights to the cottage until noon on Saturday) we had to leave early to drive home and avoid being on the road after dark, the usual happened. As we drove along that evening 
we found the beach that we should have found the first Sunday we were there. Why does that always seem to happen? Just as you are about to leave you happen into somewhere you could have spent a lot more time enjoying just when you only have a few hours to enjoy yourselves left. On this occasion it was Praa sands which didn't even appear on my map. Saturday was spent in the car on the M5/M6 for eight hours travelling home and wondering where the time had gone so quickly. 

So all in all I score my holiday 8/10 and really only knocked down by the two really wet and foggy days (Monday and Tuesday) and the parking (oh, and that table and chairs thing). Cornwall is as nice as ever, adding to my quandary about what to do with the rest of this life of mine. Now I'm home I still have to deal with all the shit that I had to deal with before I went away and I still feel the need for a massive change without the energy or the courage to make it.

And with that I'm off for a beer.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The other side of the field...

Have you ever stumbled across a place where you knew something was going on but you had no idea what? It’s happened to me on a couple of occasions and I have to tell you that, dependent on the situation, it is bothersome to say the very least.

Once, in Barbados, we stumbled across a couple of ‘tour guides’ forcibly ‘touring’ a couple of tourists. It ended okay, but only just. Another time at a house party in my twenties I was on a stairway when an oppressive doom surrounded me. I left and I’m glad that I did considering what happened after I’d left. At a healing well in Wales I was persuaded by a voice in my head to bathe my right knee in the water, it had been bothering me for weeks but stopped aching within twenty-four hours and it lasted for a year or so.

Some things are about the people, others about the place, and when people and place get together over many, many years it can make for a powerful atmosphere.

Back to the Merry Maidens and the trail I found leading to the darkest edges of the field. Of course I followed it and came across a stone structure buried into the wall and surrounded by bushes right at the very back of the field. A faint trail, made by the feet of other seekers, led me to the stones which were obviously arranged by the hand of man and not nature. In the rowan and may bushes to one side the branches were tied white ribbons of bandage the purpose of which I can only guess. It was a deeply powerful place – I could just feel it.

I was a bit confused as suddenly the sunny day seemed to go a bit gloomy and I realised that I was in one of those places that you only come to because you must and not because you want to. A place on the edge of the wild, a place waiting to grab you and draw you in. Not evil exactly, but I felt no good there either. If asked I would have to say that I felt a need around me, not my need but the stone’s. A sacrificial place.

Nervously I snapped a couple of pictures and retraced my steps intending to use the photos to research the structure later on the internet. I couldn’t find a thing about it and when I examined the pictures I found a column of light in one of them on the right which I hadn’t seen when I was standing there. It might have been a flare from the sun, but it was overcast when I took that picture.
I still don’t know what those carefully arranged stones are or why they have no mention. As for the column of light, well I could conjecture but I would only be letting my imagination run free and darkly wild. All I can say is that I was pleased to get back to the merry maidens and the joy that surrounds them, that dark corner gave me the creeps.

For every light there must be a dark. For each joy a sorrow. It’s about balance and I think I may have found the sorrow place to balance the Merry Maidens. As a friend of mine reminded me: ‘There are many fallacies but also many truths bound up in allegorical tales.’

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The B3315...

Up the road from the Minack is a small hill where a long, long time ago eighteen, or arguably nineteen, maidens decided to dance to the tune of two pipers. 

Everything would have probably been okay except it was Sunday and as a punishment the dancers were turned to stone as were the pipers as they fled the scene of the crime.

Of course all this happened before our Christian God was invented and this circle of stones has been in the landscape for thousands of years, But it’s always a good idea to tell your parishioners that making merry is a blasphemy and perhaps that’s why the stones are called the Merry Maidens.

I didn’t set out with a visit in mind, but rather came across them by the side of the B3315, a road literally littered with burial mounds, Celtic crosses and other reminders of a past long forgotten and I wonder if the road is there as a result of these monuments and not a need to get from one town to another. It certainly seems to take in a lot of monumental history with something old and stony almost around every bend.

The stone circle is reached by crossing an almost equally ancient stone stile and then walking a few hundred yards through a sweet smelling meadow up a slight incline. It's a brooding place as all of these places are. They stand at the top of the hill, each one carefully positioned, not as big as Stonehenge or Avebury, but a perfect circle dominating the landscape as only these old things can.

When I am near these old stone temples I can feel the energy even if it is just a single standing stone. There’s the same stillness and reverence I sometimes feel in an old church except, whilst a church is a dusty place to whisper and fear, these circles seem to exude energy and joy. It’s almost as if they sing to me and I can feel the tingle of power when I touch them. Of course it could be my imagination or the couple of pints of beer I’ve usually drunk over lunch, but I don’t think so and I sometimes get the urge to run around waving my arms and whooping at the sky.

Maybe it’s the stones that make me want to go crazy - all that joyous energy and fertility.

Perhaps there is something in the legend of the Merry Maidens after all.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Minack miracle...

I don’t have a bucket list, but I do have one or two things I want to do before it’s too late. At the top of that list was to sit in the sunshine on a warm dry day and watch a little Shakespeare at the open-air Minack Theatre in Cornwall. I’ve been there a couple of times over the years, but never to watch a performance. 

Today that all changed.

I booked the tickets for the one man show ‘A Tempest in a Teacup’ months ago. The review said that it was a storytelling performance of the tempest for adults and children and at a fiver a ticket for an hour long show seemed just about right.

For once the gods smiled on us. We awoke to a beautiful morning and set off to the Minack picking up some chilled bubbles on the way and passing standing stone circles and Celtic crosses as we slipped deeper and deeper into the real Cornwall. The hour long journey only took an hour for once, so we arrived with plenty of time to pick our seats in the grassy amphitheatre.

The plants clinging to the rocks were amazing and we found some great seats at the top of the semi-circular stepped theatre. We even remembered our cushions. What a great place, what a great day, what a great and unbelievable view, and what a great feeling to finally be here at last. As I sipped my prosecco and ate my croissant I felt elated. I had actually done it. I was here.

The performance by John Brolly was brilliant. A storytelling of the play with hat changing, funny voice changes, impromptu comments, humour, cup and saucer props, and audience participation. Shakespeare would have loved it, the kids certainly did and I loved it too. It made me feel like a child at the panto again, but at the same time I got the full Tempest story (one I didn’t really know before) in a little under an hour with the Atlantic ocean as a backdrop.

The time flew and it was all over too soon. But I am so happy that I did it and that the sun shone just like it did in my daydream of my day at the Minack. That daydream has now been made real and I’d really love to do it again one day. Perhaps I might if I’m lucky, but if I don’t the memory will stay with me for ever.

If you get down Land's End way then visit the Minack. If you can get to see some theatre even better. This place was built almost single handed by a woman on a mission, bringing the sand for her concrete up from the beach below. What an achievement and what a gift to us all.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Saint Michael and the Devil...

I met the Devil today. Oh well, I’ve met him before. There he was running along by the side of the car grinning at me through his fingers. I don’t know why he does that but he does. It must be a satanic thing.

We’d shook him off by the time we got to Marizion and St Michael’s Mount. Perhaps that was why the Devil pulled back, St Michael is the chief opponent of the Devil and I’m sure he must have been around there somewhere.

We’ve been in Cornwall for almost a week now and I’ve learnt a few things about the place since the last time I visited twenty years or so ago.

Here are my top 10 learnings to date:

1. There is no parking in Cornwall.
2. 10 Cornish miles are the equivalent to 30 miles anywhere else.
3. There is no parking in Cornwall.
4. Wherever you are going in Cornwall you will end up somewhere else.
5. Where there is parking it isn’t where you want to be so be ready for a long walk to get to where you want to be.
6. There is plenty of parking in Supermarkets, but they are not where you want to be.
7. There are more supermarkets in Cornwall than anywhere else on the planet.
8. No through roads in Cornwall never have a turning point at the end of them.
9. There is no parking in Cornwall.
10. The pasties are delicious but they are often unavailable because the huge family in front of you just bought the lot.

Yes, I think it would be fair to say that those ten reasons alone explains why the Devil seems to particularly like Cornwall. He’s up to his Devil’s work putting swear words into my mouth and making me shake my fist at old ladies and children. I haven’t grown horns yet but I can feel them budding and the tail is coming along nicely.

Yes, I'm having a devil of a time.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


I can't see a starfish without feeling that excitement that every child has when he or she finds a good rock pool. A good rock pool is a tiny world and you never know what you might find. Turn a stone and there could be a crab. Sweep the seaweed on the rocks with your net and fish dart here and there and the chase is on. See that whelk shell? Oh look it's moving with the hermit inside it.

Once in Wales I caught a baby mackerel in a pool, bright blue and shiny, I've caught dabs occasionally and once a horrible prickly fish that pouted and spat at me. Shrimps are easy to net and I've often made a sandwich of the bigger ones - cooked of course.

But it's the oddities that are so exciting. I was amazed once to find a pipe fish in my net - a kind of long thin seahorse . I've sometimes found beautiful green anemones with long seeking tentacles. And I'll never forget the time I caught a tiny octopus in my bucket.

But it's the star fish that hold me spellbound. Thin ones, spiny ones, big ones, small ones, orange, yellow, red, brown, ochre, each and every one brings a smile to my face and suddenly I'm a small boy again, barefoot on the beach with the sun on my back.

I'm older now but when I found these in a rock pool in Cornwall the old wonder was still there.

Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are?

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Obligatory Cornish fishing boat picture...

I was lucky to get this. The mists and rain lifted for just long enough for me to see the fishing boats at Cadgwith Cove. 

It was a long walk down and an even longer walk back up after a lunch of various types of fish caught this morning in these very boats and cooked at the local pub.

It’s ironic really. We are in one of the most scenic and dramatic parts of the country and most of the time all we can see is a grey haze. St Michael’s mount was a grey blob on a grey canvas, The Lizard a grey streak somewhere in the grey distance, and Goonhilly just a flat grey nothing in a flat grey field.

I’d like to say that I’m rising above it, making the best of things, not letting it stop me doing what I want, and that I’m still having a great time. Sadly, if I told you that I’d be lying and I try very hard to always tell the truth, or at least the truth as I see it. I don’t like liars or lies. If you can’t tell the truth at least admit to being a liar and don’t pretend to be something else.

The greyness of this weather is like lies. Lies have no real colour and what little they might have is soon sucked out of them by the constant repetition of the lie by the liar. Eventually even the liar believes the lies and then that greyness sucks them in too. Just take a look at the lairs you know and you’ll see what I mean. They are made almost invisible against the background of their lies as people see right through them.

Oh well, I guess this is the ideal weather for smugglers.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Big 'F' day...

Some days you just have to label under ‘F’ for fail and today has been one of those days.

Of course the fact that it was raining when we got up this morning didn’t help. But being ever the optimist I imagined that it would soon pass over and give way, if not to some sunshine, to at least a cessation of the pissing down rain. It didn’t, it continued to get worse, but by then we were in the car and on our way to St Ives.

Remember that old nursery rhyme riddle?

As I was going to St Ives I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats, each cat had seven kits: Kits, cats, sacks, and wives. How many were there going to St Ives?

Well on this occasion just two, me and my wife, and as we drove along squabbling about the best route it occurred to me that just what was that man thinking of with his seven wives? Surely one wife is more than enough? At least it is for me. Particularly on a day labelled ‘F’ for fail. God the moaning and nagging must have been unbearable, and the mewling and meowing of the kits and cats would have driven me to drink.

After a few false starts we eventually arrived in St Ives. Well when I say ‘in’ we were actually ‘in’ a queue of traffic waiting to get ‘in’. After crawling three miles into the centre and realising that the ‘town’ car park was actually a mile away high on a hill, we gave up looking for a car parking space in the middle of town. Still, St Ives looked very nice, pretty much as I remembered it more or less - apart from the parking. The glimpses I got of it as I drove out and up the hill were great, so once we’d parked up and taken the bus back into the centre of town all would be fine. It might even stop raining.

I was already looking forward to a nice fishy lunch by the sea.

We arrived at the car park to find it full. The overspill, a muddy field criss-crossed with deep muddy ruts, was also full. The queues for the bus stretched back down the hill and disappeared around the corner. So after an hour of following other waiting cars around the car park we gave up and eventually managed to get out of the gridlocked car park and escape.

As we drove away that big ‘F’ got bigger and the rain began to fall even harder.

We did manage a reasonable lunch and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc down the road in Haile, but it wasn’t quite the same and the rain continued to bucket down so we went back to our cottage defeated.


Parking, what a curse. Perhaps that’s why that poor man with the seven wives was hightailing it out of St Ives with the cats and kits and sacks. Maybe he just gave up too. I hope that he had plenty of beer to drown his disappointment – I do.