Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Click on the link below to link to a rich variety of free e-cards from Liverpool City Museums. I sent myself the one of lego characters jumping on Tracy Emin's bed as a taster. Who said the Turner Prize couldn't be fun?


Friday, 14 November 2008


Whenever I get blase (snooty even) about Cornwall and the Cornish, a short sweet visit to dear Redruth puts me straight again. I know that Redruth was chosen as the place to try out curfews on under sixteens (presumably because a significant number of under-sixteens in the town were being a bloody nuisance all over the place). I know the town is in terminal decline and has been so throughout the boom-years of the last decade (now, of course, we are all in terminal decline). But for all of that, for all its faults, it's a friendly, honest, direct kind of place, with hearts of gold. A poor-looking woman in Jim's Cash and Carry pitying those 'up-country' who are worse off than she, or about to be in the coming recession. ( 'About to lose their homes and all.') Kind, unfailingly patient ticket clerk (or should that now be Customer Service Rep?) at the railway station, determined to get me the best price deals on tickets to London, Newton Abbott, Crewe - to the moon, maybe, if I'd asked her. The best fish and chips ANYWHERE at Morrish's (better, even, than in the North - yes, BETTER!). The carpark that is more than 100% cheaper per hour than in upmarket Truro (which might as well be the moon as far as Redruth is concerned). The charity shops turning over some very good, pure wool coats for under a fiver.

I think it's because I feel close to my father there. He went to school in Redruth, when it still had a grammar school whose headmaster felt it his God-given duty to plead with parents to keep their boys out of the mines by letting them stay into the Sixth Form, after which 'there were many scholarships available to bright boys to study at the University' (my father got one to Imperial College, London). In those days, after the War, the town was probably far less grim than it is now, because it would still, then, have been a town with hope. The tin mines were open still, after all. There was still a kind of (if limited) future in farming and fishing.

And there were no signs in Cornish anywhere (I have that on my father's authority - although, since he's been dead these last ten years, he can't corroborate it). They didn't need signs in Cornish, no more, really, than they do now. Redruth people have that air of always knowing who they are - and were.

Friday, 7 November 2008


Large amounts of my time out this week have been spent watching 'Brideshead Revisited' through the ITV website, courtesy of the Silverlight software downloaded onto the Macbook by my daughter during her half term holiday. What a joy to escape from the tedious reality TV and so-called 'edgy' (as in the unoriginal and puerile Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross variety) shows of the mainstream present into a golden age of past glories. 'Drowing in honey', as Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) puts it in episode 2.

When I first watched Brideshead on TV, it was during its first airing in 1981, when I was myself an undergraduate in London, though with plenty of friends (and consequent week ends) up amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford and the slightly more puritanical cloisters of Cambridge (always the more radical of the two). That fey, floppy hair and languid manner of the 'boys' irritated me then, and still does now, although I now see the series (and indeed the novel) less as a nostalgia trip about toffs than as an excellent narrative study about the disintegration of a character-type and his place in a changing world, represented by Sebastian Flyte, a deserving BAFTA-winning role for Anthony Andrews. (What has he done since? Has he ended up like Flyte through playing Flyte?). Brideshead, though slightly fading round the edges, is a sumptuous production, redolent of Eighties excess, although, curiously, it was almost stymied by the strikes of 1979, which interfered with its shooting. There are, of course, too many undeserving 'haves' in it, and too many hapless, forleock-tugging 'have-nots'; but to get fixated on a Marxist-socialist reading of the drama is to miss the point - not to mention the fun. Anyway, at my age (middle age...), I'd far rather watch old re-runs of intelligent dramas like this - even less intelligent, but hardly less entertaining ones, such as Upstairs Downstairs (which makes the class divide into family viewing) than the disjointed programmes we get today in which narrative continuity seems a forgotten art.

In The Telegraph last Saturday, Charles Moore challenged the BBC's latest mess-up (the Brand-Ross-Sachs-Sachs's granddaughter affair) by refusing to pay his TV licence until Jonathan Ross is sacked, rather than simply penalised to the tune of a million quidsworth of licence-payers' money during his period of suspension. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I am seriously thinking of not renewing my TV set when the switch to digital goes through in Cornwall next year. Why pay to watch broadcasts of crap-TV (I put it in lumpen and vulgar terms because it IS lumpen and vulgar..) when quality 'old' TV is freely available via the internet? Looking forward now to a week end of Jewel in the Crown, Cracker, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, to name but a few, not to mention the eight episodes or so of Brideshead still to go. Just the thing on a November evening with nothing much going on outside here either!

Saturday, 1 November 2008


Great to see a new website for tree-lovers:


In a world of greedy hedge-funders, French revisionists, and crazy Cornish nationalists, not to mention the revolting capers of over the hill presenters like Jonathan Ross and unspeakable Russell Brand (words fail me on that one), it's marvellous to see the trees again, instead of all this pesky dead wood. 


Saturday, 25 October 2008


October 25th is the feast of St Crispin and the anniversary of the great Battle of Agincourt at which Henry V's English longbowmen routed the French, against very unfavourable odds.

But the French didn't like it, and so today, on this anniversary, a number of (not very rigorous) French academics are holding a revisionist seminar somewhere across the Channel in an attempt to demonstrate that the English didn't win the battle fair and square but cheated somehow by having a larger army than was believed up till now and by resorting not just to dirty tricks but to actual war crimes - against the French losers. 

Bad losers, the French. I remember some debate several years ago when they objected to Waterloo Station as an insult to French people arriving off the boat train (no such trouble with the new Eurostar terminal at neutral St Pancras - so that one was sorted). And I remember my friend's French husband berating me at his home in the Marne (so much for Gallic hospitality) with a tale about Winston Churchill - in person, so it looked like from the rant,  scuttling the French fleet in World War II. The fact that this was to prevent the Nazis getting hold of extra warships after walking, virtually unresisted, into France in 1940, seems to have been the sort of minor 'detail' that French fascist of our times, Jean-Marie Le Pen  (another bad loser and revisionist) calls the Holocaust. I can't understand these hordes of (non French-speaking) English people moving to France,  as though to some Gallic Arcadia. The great de Gaulle, remember, didn't want the British in the Common Market, a particularly petulant gesture of ingratitude after we housed him in London throughout the war and gave credence to his empty title as leader of the 'Free French', though he was as happy to get into bed with the Germans in the 1960s as the Vichy collaborators were in the 1940s (just read Irene Nemirovsky's 'Suite Francaise' on the antics of the French during the war, and you'll get what I mean).  I've lived in France twice, one time in Brittany, which is a sort of French Cornwall, and once in Paris. There won't be a third time. As The Sun once put it, in the red-top's inimitable style: HOP OFF YOU FROGS!

I shared Laurence Olivier's (as Henry V) patriotic sentiments about England, driving up to Sussex and back last week in the autumn sunshine through villages that were probably around at the time of Agincourt and which may even have recruited archers for the battle. Ours is a lovely, gentle country and needs make no meek and mild apology to the French, much less kow-tow to them in the name of some fondly imagined 'superiority' of culture, lifestyle, language, and cuisine. The French only need to maintain this superior supposition because they are losers. And bad losers at that. Enough said. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


The local BBC news channel today reported a story (see link below) about Year 3 children in Cornwall being given a book of stories in the Cornish language, the idea being to keep the language alive in the minds of the young.

The problem is, the Cornish language died out nearly three hundred years ago. What's left of it today is a sort of resurrection - I say sort of because for a thing to be resurrected it has to be made to live again, in the same guise and in the same context as it lived before, which isn't the case with Cornish. It's become a linguistic experiment, like that other great white hope of internationalist linguistics, Esperanto; and Cornish too is embroiled in 'nationalist' politics. But what it isn't, and can't ever be again, is a living language, widely and fluently spoken in a natural and unaffected fashion down the generations, without a three hundred year 'break'; and it seems to me to be  a stupid and rather irresponsible waste of the local education and literature budgets (and a waste of trees) to publish and dole out storybooks in Cornish to children here, some of whom may have difficulty enough with reading and expressing themselves in English! English, on the other hand,  is very much a living language, and we should all celebrate it (including the Cornish, who are English really) for its marvellous richness and diversity. That said, I have nothing at all against storybooks in Welsh or Irish or Breton or Hungarian or any other living 'minority' language that has proved its credentials over the years and more than holds its own. Nor have I anything against long dead 'spoken' languages like Latin and Classical Greek, because they have an immensely rich literature which has been the bedrock of civilizing thought and soundly deserved their place in the school curriculum - although nobody, except scholars labelled 'elitist', complains about their being kicked off it. Not so, sadly, with Cornish, which is probably why it died out in the first place: because nobody wrote anything of note in it,  and the only people who spoke it quickly learned that it was more effective to use English for any kind of advancement in the world. This, rightly or wrongly, is still the case today. 

But somebody here is evidently making something out of the venture - even if it is only something close to the hearts of certain types of Cornishmen: a golden sop (or should that be a golden pasty) to nationalist (and dreadfully insular) pride, to be paraded about with the Cornish tartan at the annual Bard-fest known as the Gorseth, another falsely resurrected 'tradition' at which slightly crazed people in Druidic robes congratulate each other on their ability to make speeches in Kernewek for all of half an hour.  I think most Year 3 children here would easily dispense with them, and with their funny language.

It almost - almost - makes Gunter Von Hagens's dismal ventures look as though they have some point to them. (See previous post VON HAGENS AT THE 02 CENTRE)  And they're dead too!



Gunter von Hagens is again exhibiting his grotesque 'plasticinations' of human body parts in time for Halloween.  The nerdy (his own description) son of an SS cook (that's Hitler's SS, not our dear Social Services), Von Hagens was deported from an East German political prison on the grounds that he was mad. Ever since, he's been making a slow killing from body parts, some sourced, it is said, from political prisons elsewhere (notoriously China and Russia).  His exhibitions are the human equivalent of Damien Hearst's pickled cow series which, as everyone knows, are now worth millions. Only a decadent (dying) culture obsessed with 'material' (the goods), in all its forms, could value a human skull encrusted with diamonds as a piece of high 'art'. Von Hagens's work is as soullness and dull as Hearst's, and as degrading to the human spirit as that other fast-growing mass-media genre, pornography, in which bodies are over exposed to the point of ---well, what is the point exactly? Saturation point was reached a long time ago. As The Telegraph writer puts it:

'While Von Hagens has democratised death, he's also done something rather more daunting to it. As you look at his exhibits, it's not only the soluble fats that have been removed. He's also sucked all the emotional resonance out of them. Far from seeming poignant, or even human, these people just look like animatronic models from a bad sci-fi movie, with wisps of flesh adhering to them like bits of old biltong.'


Apparently, there are people queuing up to have the soluble fat sucked out of them (dead or alive). Plasticination is just liposuction by another name that doesn't, presumably, smell  quite as sweet. I can see no earthly use in it - except perhaps one: could  plasticination be the right solution for Gary Glitter? 

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


Cobblers, it seems, are doing well out of the current credit crunch. This is no bad thing, I think, it being no bad thing generally to exercise a little thrift and learn to live with what you have, inspired by the grace and wisdom (as Aeschylus wrote) to live by what you need.

But it may be bad news, weather-wise, if you are thinking, as I am now, and with increasing urgency, of moving away from the Celtic fringe. I'm a city girl, really. Liverpool spawned me and London formed me. I saw my grandma die in Cornwall, and my good, if batty, neighbour, who was only 63 when she kissed off, to be found, a day later, by me and another neighbour. I don't want to die here, like Rosemary, or like my grandma (who would have been 103 on 5 October), old and alone, after  a lifetime's travelling. 'I don't regret a thing, dear,' grandma would say. 'I've been in every capital in Europe.' What a stoic she was. How I admired her. But she wasn't loved, I think. She was admired, yes, but not loved. Maybe she was too formidable a woman to be truly loved. She was what you'd call a doughty dame.

Anyway, this morning, as I set off for Truro, which is a lovely, lovely city, and I love it to bits,  I ran the gauntlet of that antithesis of doughty dames: those fishwife-Clampetts (Baby and Ma) on the other side of my Japanese cedar. Baby was standing by the open 'conservatory' doors, blowing fag smoke outside. She wore a shocking pink towelling bathrobe, Ma squatting inside in a complementary beige number. Both muttered something at me, possibly because I looked so shocked.  It is breast-cancer awareness month, I know, but I doubt that Baby Clampett's deshabille showed any awareness whatsoever. (Terminal slatternliess is what that showed - and they had the cheek to call me 'a dirty woman' (you!)).  That's one niggling-nagging problem with this place. It's not the place: it's never ever been the place (I love the place). It is a certain mentality, common, perhaps to many rural/insular communities. Insular. Inward-looking, mistrustful of outsiders. And mean-minded - so mean-minded -  to the core. When I lived in London, the only violence I ever saw, in many years, was a 'domestic' argument on a Tube platform one night (at Charing Cross, I think). No one intervened, of course, the convention in the Underground being strictly no eye contact, ever. But then, shortly after landing in St Ives (as many incomers to Cornwall do - even one like me with a grandma in Truro still living at the time), I witnessed horrific, visceral, mean-minded violence, the whole town turning on on one another as soon as the summer visitors ('emmets') went home and the autumn set in.  Why? Were they bored like the Clampetts, terminally dull and shifty? Those days, I was ashamed to be an 'emmet' and flourished my Cornish credentials (thin and only on my late father's side anyway) as often as I could.  But not any more. I'm an emmet and proud of it. I'd rather be a sodding emmet than a Cornish Clampett. I'd rather say I was quarter Welsh (which I am) and quarter Yorkshire. Anyday.

Monday, 29 September 2008


Heard a rumour today that Gary Glitter is planning a move to Cornwall, to Falmouth, in fact: Budock Terrace. What a truly ghastly admission to have to make in your sellers' pack for prospective buyers.  (Problem neighbours? -  Well, just one, a third-rate ex pop star with convictions for child abuse and rape in Britain and Vietnam...)

Gary Glitter, Gary Glitter. Oh man, it takes me back to a time when I was allowed to stay up and watch Top of the Pops, and even in those days, even when I was eight or nine, I still thought he was crap. 'D'you wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang...' (Stomp. Cue wide, beseeching eyes, like some sick Pied Piper.)  I wish to God he'd fallen off those platform boots and broken his neck, or poisoned himself by inhaling too much hairspray; but the sun, alas, shines on good and evil alike. Glitter made record sales out of the pocket money of kids like me. And went on to even worse exploitation, the very worst of all abuse: abuse and rape of children.

Some say (he himself would say it for certain) he has done his time. But he did his time before, and time in prison taught him nothing. Secure in his royalty payments,  he hot-tailed it to Vietnam to exploit and abuse more children there. And now, perhaps, he is fetching up in Falmouth (as he will have to fetch up somewhere), to live around the corner from a primary school and art school, Falmouth being very nuch (and unusually for Cornwall these days) a town of the young.

Segue to previous post: yes, indeed, friends, I may be better off in Mayfair!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


In London all last week, securing a base while my daughter is at school in Sussex. It was worth the turning, and I realise now how much I have missed the city during my self-imposed exile on the Celtic fringe, what an insufferably precious poet here calls 'a near-island on the edge of England...where the wild landscape and the rich culture combine to create a uniquely inspiring environment. ' Maybe so for her (gush, gush) but it was edgy London, not the edge of England, that gave me the energy to write. It's an energy I can't cope with now for longer than a week at a time; and, fifteen years ago, it nearly burned me up; but it is an energy I need, like the odd sugar rush, or the high dose steroids that kept me buzzing all night during my chemotherapy. 

Nevertheless, some aspects of London - or, rather, what the City (with a Capitalist C) stands for, are still all too alive and waiting to send me scuttling back to the fringe in a fluster of moral unease. The greed of the City still stands proud amongst the beautiful buildings (like the glorious Gherkin) that have sprung up in the decade since I left. And what the City stands for - boom and bust, sky-high profit and crushing losses, was highlighted last week with the Lehman Brothers demise sending shockwaves through the heart of London markets, emptying the champagne bars as the pubs of Fleet Street were emptied twenty years ago with the death of the old print unions and the bloodletting that went therewith. But some still saw a curious profit to be made from the Lehman crash. At Canary Wharf, the morning after, like pickpockets on the aftermath of some great battle, representatives from the Teacher Training Agency set out their stalls in a bid to lure the fired bankers with the promise of a rewarding new career in education. Is education thus devalued  then - a last chance saloon for chancers in striped suits who can never see their way again to making a million in bonuses? Oh doh re mi...

At least the arts are still alive and kicking up in London. Saw a fantastic lunchtime concert at The Wigmore Hall. Jim Molyneux, BBC Young Musician of the Year, hitting the drums and playing some beautiful, haunting pieces on the maremba, an instrument that I have never heard in the flesh before, and what a captivating instrument it is. Rejuvenated by this experience, and by the ever-enthralling Wallace Collection close by, I am now looking forward to lunchtime concerts to come, and to walking those Soho streets again, mostly purged now of sleaze and sex (except for Rupert Street) but chock-full of characters and plots. I know my limits though: unlike Dick Whittington, I will never make Lord Mayor (has there ever been a Lady Mayor of London?); and I could never write a poem about the place as cheesy as Wordsworth's 'On Westminster Bridge'.  Dr Johnson had it exactly, and succinctly, right about London when he said that he who tires of the city tires of life. And I'm not tired yet.

So am I now a resident of Cornwall with a base in Mayfair, or a resident of Mayfair with a home in Cornwall? Chicken or egg?

Thursday, 4 September 2008



6th September – PINCUSHION by Anne Morgellyn.

The latest in a series of psychological thrillers that chart the adventures of Louise Moon and her precarious love affair with brilliant but unconventional pathologist, Chas Androssoff.

Performance artist August Stockyard, attention-seeking heir to a media and property empire, dies in typically theatrical fashion, after making the bequest of adjoining houses to his pregnant girlfriend, Cressida, and to his former comrade-in-arms, Louise Moon.

But was August's demise simple suicide or was it the result of a kinky sex game that went wrong? Had he cleverly planned to shame his distant father and take revenge on his ruthless uncle, the obese and grasping millionaire who now had his eye on Louise?

Or was it a game from the grave, pitting Cressida and Louisa in a fight to the death as reluctant and mismatched neighbours?

Excerpt: http://www.bewrite.net/bookshop/excerpts/pincushion.htm
About the Author: http://www.bewrite.net/authors/anne_morgellyn.htm

All BeWrite Books are available from: BeWrite Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Angus & Robertson and other online booksellers and to order from high street bookshops.

Print ISBN: 978-1-905202-82-9
eBook ISBN: 978-1-905202-83-6
Price: £6.99
Pages: 188

Thursday, 14 August 2008


I could not resist this commentary by the MD of our local choral society. On their summer performance of Elgar's love-it-or-hate it magnum opus, 'The Dream of Geronitus', he writes:

"Let's get the depressing  bit out of the way, and not to beat about the bush. Up in the west gallery the Bridgeman Singers detracted from the overall performance, and indeed spoilt it in places. In 2000, this chamber choir provided the semi-chorus for us with true intonation and reliable rhythms, staying with the main body of performers steadfastly and contributing an atmosphere of magic and confidence, but I am at a loss to fathom out what has happened since then; I had taken them as 'read' and feel let down, as do many others. After living and breathing 'Gerontius' for the last year or so, it is depressing beyond description to have an otherwise splendid performance marred by such slipshod singing, which has absolutely no place anywhere near us. I invited them, so I am to blame, but on the day there was simply nothing that I could do to improve matters which were essentially beyond my control, what a shame.

"But on to better things, the vast huge majority of the performance...was magnificent. We had a magnificent orchestra, led by the indefatigable Malcolm Latchen, who did sterling work beyond the call of everyday professional musical life; cobbling this work together on such minimal rehearsal time is quite a strain on everyone...When thinking about the finances of such a large orchestra as this, it is worth bearing in mind that each individual player (most of whom make their living from music) was paid less than half the hourly rate of a supply teacher, or not a lot more than a heating engineer or plumber will charge for a call out fee with the first half an hours (sic) work, or half the hourly rate that we paid to our decorator recently..."

"...The great C major chorus on 'Praise to the Holiest' worked a treat, one needs to go into more detail than that - it was lovely. The Angel's Farewell was a little disappointing, due to the inexperience of the lady soloist (despite her lovely voice) and the happenings in the west gallery, but it did have sensitive and shapely areas, including the very end, and it is worth noting that it took a long time before someone broke the silence by applauding - which is what I wanted..."

Thursday, 10 July 2008


It is Beatles Day today in Liverpool (great city of my birth and misspent youth). To commemorate this, the BBC website is offering a picture tour of John Lennon's home, 'Mendips', in Menlove Avenue, where he lived with his Auntie Mimi. The pictures are odd, to say the least; and even to an untrained eye like mine (and I am the world's worst photographer), there is evidence of a certain cack-handedness.

Anyway, the link below takes you straight to John's John.


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Tuesday, 8 July 2008


Balancing the absurd short-sightedness of women like my neighbour next-door-but-one (overheard today shouting over the fence at the deaf nonogenarian next door: 'The tree (that is the millenium oak referred to in previous posting) will soon be down dear. Off with its head...Only eight weeks to go...'), is the spectacular altruism of Rotarian and ex-Royal Navy search and rescue diver Tom Henderson, founder of Shelterbox. Back in 1999, when he was watching reports of a natural disaster on the TV, Tom saw aid workers dropping bread and other items for survivors, who were obliged to scramble and hustle to get provisions. Realising that these people had lost pretty much everything - their homes, their livelihoods, in many cases, their loved ones, he felt it a was a loss too far to see them forgoing their dignity as well. To help restore that dignity, he founded Shelterbox as a Rotary Club project, based in Helston, Cornwall, not realising at the time that this would become one of the world's leading humanitarian relief organisations.  The boxes in question, each costing around £490, contain a tent (shelter), essential tools and cooking equipment, etc to sustain an extended family of up to ten people for up to six months. 

I wandered around the vast warehouse used by the charity at the fantastically named Water-Ma-Trout industrial estate. One of our party (a teacher, too) asked if the eponymous boxes could not be more 'environmentally friendly'. With gentle patience, our guide explained that the plastic containers had a vital use as water reservoirs for the recipients, once the contents had been unpacked and the shelter pitched. The idea was that they filled the box with water, threw in the water purification tablets (which cannot, for some unfathomable reason, clear US customs because they are classified as 'a food'!) and - survived. Clearly, the eco-friendly cardboard box would not serve such a vital aim. Clearly, and sadly, the eco option is often one that only cosseted westerners can afford to contemplate. When choice is limited to dying of thirst or staying alive, the plastic box comes into the fore.


Go there!

Sunday, 6 July 2008


Back from two cracking week ends, the first at Dartington Hall, Totnes, where I had the unexpected pleasure of watching a performance of Shakespeare's 'King John' in the garden - rarely performed these days, although this excellent production by The Playgoers group begged the question why; the second in Bristol, where it finally became clear to me why so many media and literary types left London for the city in the 1980s (the splendours of Georgian Clifton, the vibrancy of the St Paul's Carnival, etc, etc, etc). Then I opened my mail.

It seems yet another new (and unwelcome) neighbour (a witch-like woman with a sinister black cat) has logged a planning application to fell one of the ancient oaks behind our bungalows and radically reduce another by 3 metres, which, translated, means more than twelve feet off the whole circumference of the canopy. The trees, around which the gardens of these humble properties, built in 1967, had to be accommodated (not, note, the other way around - even in those years of planning horrors that were the Nineteen Sixties), have been in situ for hundreds of years. They are home to squadrons of birds and squirrels, and other forms of wildlife clearly depend on their eco system. They are, moreover, in the public domain, sited on a strip of land maintained by council operatives who mow the verges, and thus, it seems to me, are not in the ownership of anyone, least of all the flowing grey-haired witch with cat, who moved in less than a year ago; but she likes to parade about in a tiny turquoise bikini (not a good look for a woman in her fifties - even though her figure is still good), and objects to the shade they cast on her garden. They cast even more shade on my immediate neighbour, a widow of 93, who has tolerated the oaken canopy above her house for twenty three years. They even cast partial shade over mine - but I like it! Shade isn't dangerous; it's just shade; and it appalls me to think that some individual can breeze into an area and lobby to have an ancient tree - an English oak, for God's sake,  the symbol of our nation (rudely annexed by the Conservative Party - but that's another rant) cut down because she doesn't like the view. There is a principle I remember from my law school days: caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Why choose a property that abutts two wonderful, ancient oaks if you don't like their shade? I'm afraid the sinister answer points to the fact that certain witch-like individuals (and there are too many around these days - too many certainly alive and kicking in Truro) believe that their right to stamp whatever ghastly imprint they can make on an area (like a fouling cat) overrides the rest of the long-term community's rights to enjoy two wonderful old trees. 

I bet if they'd been yew, or any other of those witchy trees, the troll would have let them be.

Anyway, I have taken  a deep breath, resorted to cool legal arguments and logged my objections. Three years ago, my arguments (for conservation and the preservation of an important local visual amenity) saved a bank of ancient birches from being decimated by a proposed new build of flats and garages, which was thrown out at appeal. The Planning Inspector then upheld the principle that community needs overrode those of selfish, short-sighted individuals. I have cited that one in my fight for the oaks - because it will be a fight: I sense that witchy-woman is brazen. But reason, sound argument, and bloody-minded common sense will, I trust, prevail.

Meanwhile, if I could string her from  a high branch of the highest oak with her revolting pussy (yeah, dreadful pun, I know), doused with tar and covered with all the feathers of all the songbirds her evil cat has murdered, I would. I would pelt her with garlic bulbs until she capitulated. Would that I only could!


Sunday, 22 June 2008


Here's the link to my piece on the MB4 site - for writers by writers:


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Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Distinguished poet and novelist, Don (DM) Thomas, a dear friend of mine whom I admire immensely for his intellectual generosity, honesty (and proper Cornish hospitality) has this note on his website:

'A writer's life is largely a solitary one; therefore I like communicating with my readers. Let me know how you feel about anything of mine you have read, and I will respond. I'll try to answer any questions you may have concerning the book or poem. I would also welcome your views.'

This seems like opening the floodgates to me; but Don's instincts are absolutely right here, for what is writing if not open communication - and an open invitation to communicate?

His links are: 


Sunday, 15 June 2008

Fathers' Day

I've titled this Fathers', as opposed to Father's, day, because I have always thought of it as a plural sort of celebration; and, anyway, my father is dead, so he can't, strictly speaking, have a father's day anymore. But I have been thinking of him, especially after reading some very moving tributes to their fathers from, respectively, Kathy Lette, Richard Branson, and Gordon Brown in The Telegraph yesterday. Kathy Lette wrote about her 'undemonstrative' father, who showed his love in practical ways, like servicing her car for her. I used to criticise my father too for a certain emotional coldness; but now I see that that was absolutely not the case at all. My father once drove down to Cornwall with a gas cooker in the boot of his car for Cara, his first grandchild, and me. He stayed overnight, and I cooked him a huge fried breakfast, for which he was very grateful, before he drove back to Cheshire again (I don't quite know what the hurry was there - but he had to get back). He used to stop over and see me quite often when I lived in London and he was down on business. One night, as he was escorting me back to Primrose Hill on the Tube, he took my hand and commented how small and fragile my hands were. And, when I wrote to say I was giving up my law studies to write, he wrote back to say that he had always thought I would become a writer. He also wrote that he too might have had the energy once to follow his dream, but, as one (he) got older, responsibilites and the lull of a 'settled life' took over. When my grandma (his mother) died, and I was clearing her house in Truro for him, I found a long long letter from my father to his parents when he made a long business trip to Japan in the 1960s. I wish I had kept it since it recorded his vivid impressions of that very alien culture; but I still have the brilliantly painted kimono he brought me, and a shabby porcelain-faced geisha doll which sits on top of my piano. My mother recently commented that Pa had hated his business trips to the USA, but I remember his postcard to me from San Franscisco, where he had driven - alone - from Georgetown, Washington DC, through the Carolinas and westwards through New Mexico (Albaquerque) in a hired car: this shy, stooping man asking for sandwiches and gas in his quiet British accent. 'I am sitting on Fisherman's Wharf,' he wrote, 'before the biggest ice cream I have ever seen.' That did not sound like a man who did not value his trips abroad. That was a man who had tasted freedom. 

Before he died, he had visited Greece for the first time where he chose an icon of St Anne for me. I had fixed it here, in my new house, which he generously helped me to buy, and where I had lived for only three weeks before the call came at six pm one evening that my father was dead. Just like that. A light going out. An absolutely random thing. But I was angry with him for a long time for exiting the stage like that. I had things to say to him still. Once, I said to him: 'When God made you, Pa, he broke the mould,' which made him gurgle with pleasure. But there were things I didn't say, also. Far too many unsaid things.  Like how much I loved him.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

A Word about Mole

I should explain (a month or so after the event) what Mole is doing on this blog (see previous posting, 'Mole at Large'). Mole, aged thirteen and a half, has accompanied Cara and me on every trip we have made in Europe and the USA since 1997. That's not bad going for a knitted toy I bought for two pounds at a Truro Cathedral sale in December 1994, the month before Cara was born.  Mole has been thrown on the ground in the Parc de Versailles, where the three-year old Cara thought it funny to task my retired French step-parent's patience (a retired army colonel as well) by getting him to stoop in the dust and retrieve the little varmint. Mole has sampled Hungarian champagne in Budapest, courtesy of The Gellert Hotel on my 43rd birthday, and Guinness in the Isaac Butt pub in Dublin. Mole has slept in a gay men's guesthouse in Boston, Mass, (where I broke the shower - I have a tendency to break people's showers) and in the superdeluxe 5 star Hotel Real in Santander, a haunt of the Spanish royal family.

That's enough about Mole - for now.  I should wash his blue suit, I guess. We have darned him several times; but he still doesn't look any better!

When words fail, music speaks

In Redruth again this week to observe a music therapist in session: a humbling experience. Six children, all with cerebral palsy, some with few words in their repertoire, some none at all. Robin began by touring the room with an African percussion instrument, spending a moment by each child while he 'put the music into them'. They all responded on some level: one boy, who could not articulate a sound, by stretching out his arms. The silent little girl sitting next to me began to cry as the session drew to a close - an eloquent response indeed. It made me think - again - of music as the most universal of human exchanges. Words are territorial, fancy parcels of received meaning. But everyone understands music - perhaps it is innate. Robin told me of a child he works with who was born 'without eyes'. But she can dream. The way she articulates her dreams is by pursing her lips and singing in a high pitched, wonderful way - like a dolphin, maybe, or a whale: an otherworldly sound. We none of us know what we are until life challenges us in some way. We none of us know what we might become.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Off the Boil in Paris

Just back from a tenth anniversary trip to Paris, the tenth anniversary, that is, since I first took my daughter to the self-styled 'City of Light'. Actually, there are several cities that call themselves that, including Springfield, Massachussetts, which, far from being light-filled, must be one of the most benighted cities I have ever set foot in...But I digress.

Paris to me now is more familiar (and therefore infinitely less exotic) than Prescot, the uninspiring Lancashire town where I was born but haven't set foot in for nearly forty years. I suppose, once you start becoming jaded with and cynical about Paris, you are sliding dangerously into a state where you are royally pissed off with life in general. I'm not quite there yet . For instance, I don't feel like that about London. But London has an energy, a buzz, a sense of moving forward. Paris seems stuck in a time-warp, which, I suppose, is part of its eternal charm. It is beautiful, yes. Who could sit on the quais on the Isle Saint-Louis on a balmy April afternoon and begrudge the overwhelming beauty of Paris? But for me, this time, the real beauty was in the unexpected and unfamiliar sight of the Canal Saint-Martin, a newly boho-ed (or Bo-Bobo-ed, as the French say - an amalgamation of bon chic bon genre (posh) and boho (bohemian) gentrification. Walking a few blocks east from the seedy Boulevard de Strasbourg, where we were staying (conveniently close to the Gare du Nord), we came across a newly landscaped city park bearing the sign, 'Paris respire'. And this was certainly the case, with the evening sunshine playing on the cleaned-up waters of the canal, beside which young people, purposeful and energised, were sitting and drinking. If I lived in Paris again (and I have lived there three times in my current limited lifetime), I would seek out a base near the Canal Saint-Martin in what used to be the horribly un-chic tenth district. My daughter, of course (bless her), is still captivated by the sights of the fourth, fifth, seventh and first - Notre Dame and the Pyramid du Louvre and the blocks around the Jardin de Luxembourg and University. The joy for me, this time, was seeing Paris through her eyes, my own having lost the rose-tinted specs. I hope she gets to live there too one day. Everyone should have a shot at living in Paris, even if it's only for a month, even the month of August when they surely must place a restriction on the number of tourists entering the museums. It is still only April, and still we would have queued at least an hour for tickets to clock the Impressionist jewels in the Musee d'Orsay. When I first visited Paris, some forty years ago (God!), the big tourist groups crowding out the Mona Lisa were mostly Americans and Japanese; now they are Eastern Europeans, Russians and Poles and Romanians, all having their shot at Paris. And best of luck to them, too.

The only real downer was the lack of hot water in the hotel on the evening we arrived. But were offered a free breakfast (not much of a compensation, given the bread and jam nature of the French petit dejeuner), and the water was hot again the following evening. I made do with boiling water in my trusty travel kettle (a must in France - in fact, France is the only country it gets to visit these days) and splashing my muckiest bits, my irritation with the antiquarian plumbing and the rubber ham and croissant quickly dispelling as soon as we were out on the boulevard where there was an utterly surprising and captivating number of wig shops. (Why? For the Afro-French ladies living in the district? For the filles de joie of Saint-Denis? ) Sod the hot water - we were in Paris.

BAD Boys in Sofia

From Terry Webb, a cautionary tale about getting lost, locked out, and legless in the Bulgarian capital. This makes travelling abroad with Saga (for which the BAD boys - all officially 'retired' - should qualify) look like a trip to the garden centre. It also gives Stanley and the rest of the Barmy Army on their eternal cricketing junkets a very fair run for their money!

"The apartment was splendid. A generous size with all that
could be wished including a bar, DVD player, satellite TV and splendid views to
the snow covered mountains.. Very warm and comfortable on the fourth floor
of a block built in about 1920. The lift proclaimed: “I am 73 years old.
Please treat me with respect.”
We did our shopping in the little local store just across the
road. No one spoke English but mime worked quite well until we ran out
of toilet paper. To avoid an international incident, at this point, Brian
did resort to providing an (unused) sample. The couple who ran the store
were most helpful. The request for tea produced an armful of speciality teas
from which to choose.
On the first day we did what we normally do. Set out to find the
Tourist information office which was listed in our guide. We spent all
day from 10.00 am ‘till 6.00 pm but failed. The map we were given showed
the English translation of the street names. The street' signs were in
Bulgarian Cyrillic text. Even the locals could not show us where we were on our
map. Asking at up market hotels where we were fairly sure there would be
English speakers failed to help with all saying that there was no tourist
information office in Sofia. Even when we showed them a picture in our
guide! However the efforts were rewarded by our working up a ravenous
We resorted to sampling the local beers. The evening
passed pleasantly enough visiting the local bars. Back at the ranch we watched a
DVD of Blot on the Landscape which I had brought with me. It ran for almost
an hour before breaking down. Still, this allowed us extra drinking
time for which we must be grateful.
We woke up to the fabulous views from our windows gradually disappearing.
Scaffolding was being erected around the building. By lunch
time the view had disappeared completely as the typical sheeting with
pictures, common on the continent, was hung all around. However, this
saved us having to draw the curtains for the remainder of our stay.
The following day we resolved not to be beaten and set off
once again on a mission… to find the T. I. office. Yet another day of
failure. Resorted to bars and beer to raise our spirits. A good meal at the
Irish bar. Good to feel at home for an hour or so !
Day three. Off to find … yes.. the T I office. Determined not to
be bested. This time with the benefit of transport on the trams and
buses as we had at last managed to find out how and where to buy tickets.
Also we decide to try to arrange a train or bus trip to Plodiv, the second city
of Bulgaria. By lunch time we had still not found the T I but we knew we
were very close. Gerry and Brain decided that the impressive building nearby
would house someone important - English speaking and intelligent. Ten
minutes later they returned having been held at gun point, X-rayed, frisked
and searched. The impressive building turned out to be the National Courts
of Justice ! However as predicted there was intelligent life there and
they directed them to small office half hidden by scaffolding and the
ubiquitous sheeting with pictures and … success the tourist information office!
It wasn't worth the three-day search. They were of little
use to us but very keen to give us enough guide books to fill a coffin.
Clearly they had had not customers for a month and had to reach
targets, which they did in just ten minutes with us. Amazingly they even
objected to us taking photographs of the office to prove that it did exist. We took
one anyway.
Flushed with success, we decided to push the boat out and eat
in “The Russian” restaurant that evening. However we upset the head waiter
by refusing his suggestion that we should start the meal with a vodka AT £20 a shot!
“But is the Russian tradition," he insisted.” Not aT £20 a shot we explained politely.
The meal turned out to be less than memorable after that rejection, with noticeably poor attention from the
waiter, who then proceeded to remove one glass of wine from our bottle,
“because it was next to the cork”, and placed it on a table across the
room. Brian succeeded in retrieving it, without getting caught, so we had
the full bottle in the end and free entertainment (Cossack dancers). A good value experience, in the end.
Next day we set out to find the main rail and bus station which we
had been told shared the same site. We took the tram no12 as instructed
and found ourselves about ten miles from the city in a rubbish ridden
derelict factory site having missed the correct stop. It was good to see the
other side of Sofia.
We retraced our steps and arrived at the main train and bus station
turned out to be a massive new build but empty. The result of European
cash without the local infrastructure to man or service it. The old stations
nearby were still in use. Confronted with twenty queues all headed by
indecipherable place names we headed for the “Information Desk” only to
be greeted by No English! No English” Nearby two American students with
back packs were similarly bemused. “We have travelled all over the world and
nowhere has it been so difficult to find our way around” they said.
We were relieved that that it was not just us. - We were beginning to think that we should not
be let out on our own. We gave up on getting to Plodiv which would not
have been very exciting anyway and decided to book a taxi to take us to the
mountains and a ski resort on Sunday our last day and something really
exciting to look forward to.
The following day we did touristy things like looking at the
national centre for culture, which turned out to be an indoor market,
and some churches . We also found a real ale pub with its own brewery.
Things were really beginning to shape up!
That evening on the way out the lights on our staircase had
failed so I went back for a torch. There were very loud knocking sounds coming
from the lift, but it was 73 years old, so we were not unduly concerned. On
the first landing there was a head of a young lady at about floor level in
the lift and she seemed to be quite friendly and was shouting greetings in
Bulgarian and waving us goodbye. On the next landing were some feet at
about ceiling level, so we discretely averted our gaze. Most impressive
just how friendly some of the Bulgarians seemed to be.
A good hour was spent trying to find bar listed in the guide
book as having nine different beers on tap. But it was packed smoky when we got there, and both Brian
and myself decided to give it a miss and return home without Gerry, who was determined to stick it out.
On our return, we found that we had both sets of keys and
Gerry was left with none, but given that there was a door entry phone at
street level did not concern ourselves unduly until around 11.30, when there was a knocking
on our door. An angry Gerry had been out side in the street for over an
hour. The door entry phone was not working as it was on the same
circuit as the stairway lights! He had rung my mobile but it was in a jacket
pocket in my wardrobe. Brian’s was, as usual, switched off to save the battery.
Next day a Saturday, I gave my keys to Gerry as if anyone was
going to stay out it would be him. I reported this to Brian as we left
the apartment. Gerry locked up and followed us to the street. On his
arrival he reported that he could not double lock the door. However, as Gerry had
not used the keys before we decided not to trudge back uo four floors to
check as we knew the door was self locking.
We arrived back at the flat at about 7.30 that evening and
found that we were unable to get into the flat. The keys which Gerry had did
not seem to work. I asked Brian for his keys to try. But he had not brought
them with him ! Only one thing to do in these circumstances. Have a beer! No
Passports. Very little cash. No flight tickets for the return early on
Monday morning and just a Sunday to sort things out. While Gerry and
Brian checked out the beer I walked to the office of the rental company only,
not unexpectedly, as it was Saturday evening, closed. Plan A, B, C, D and
E were discussed and all rejected as they all involved a considerable
degree of discomfort. We decided to place ourselves in the hands of anyone who
a) spoke English and b)was sympathetic to three grumpy old men. Not
something we felt too confident of finding. Most unusually, we were wrong ! Our
saviour came in the form of a restaurateur we stumbled upon in just 5
minutes only yards from the bar.
We found ourselves in pleasant hotel 2 miles from the centre
and had a splendid meal (I think) and plenty of beer and
wine. Much phoning back to Hazel at back at HQ and with her very able (what
would we have done without her?), help made arrangements for a locksmith to
meet us on the following day. (How sensible of Brian to save his
phone batteries for emergencies.)
Sunday arrived and so did the locksmith only an hour or so
after the promised time; and he took just two hours to get in. Brian had left
the other set of keys in the door. This is a common problem in Bulgaria we
were told. So not our fault after all.
This delay resulted in the planned trip to the mountains by
taxi being aborted. However it was very hot and sunny, so it would not have
been a good day for a long taxi ride. Also the ski resort would have
probably been crowded!

Monday, 31 March 2008

Earth Magic

Got a magical Lady Day (25 March) card from Amber S
by Penwith-based artist, Sarah Vivian. It certainly
conjures the spirit of West Cornwall, being the image
of a standing stone that is, well, more than just a stone.
From certain angles, it's a shape-shifter, a sprite
(or Piskey, since we're in Penwith) with a
honey-coloured face. Cleverly done. It reminds me of
Turner's Colossus, although the images and style are
very different: it's all about perception - now you
see it, now you don't. Is it a giant in the sky, or is
it clouds? Is it a sprite in the grass, or just a hunk
of Cornish granite? But granite radiates. The land
down in Penwith crackles with a most peculiar energy.
Most peculiar.

The following link to Sarah Vivian's website with
details of the exhibition she is holding jointly with
Japanese painter of 'a fey other world' (in Amber's
words), Izumio Mori. I shall check them out. It will
be good to drive down to Morvah in early April, when
the sea wind is sharp and the light clear. My old
friend, Jackie Blackthorn, who lost her life to cancer
some fourteen years ago now, used to say she could
hear the ghosts of the Old Ones at night sometimes in
the ancient Celtic fields above Penwith. Maybe she is
with them now.


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Friday, 28 March 2008

Good Friday with the Barmy Army

This was sent to me by my friend, Stan, 'the ever fresh 71 year old travelling marvel' with terminal wanderlust. It says a lot about the blokeish world of
cricket (and Rosie O'Grady's not so pukka pies):

"Matthew Hoggard opened the batting for the Barmy Army
against a Hawke Bay eleven in Nelson Park yesterday
and was bowled first ball by a well flighted off
spinner. The pavilion appeared to be the only place
selling beer in town, Good Friday meaning most places
remained closed for the day. However, if it's a beer
or three you want, Mr Guy is your man. You can sign
yourself in at the Retired Serviceman's Association
and then pints are available for only 4 dollars. You
all stand up when the bugle sounds at 6 pm to remember
the fallen comrades and then you get on with the
party. There's no point missing out just because it's
Good Friday, after all Friday is Women's Darts Night
and when the ladies came out with their arrows
sharpened, us lads scattered from the snooker tables
pretty quickly to the safety of the restaurant area.

There was even a band, though I'm certain the
Musician's Union might offer a different explanation
for the sound that was produced after 8 O'Clock.
Personally I reckon they were English chancers seeking
Political Asylum on the basis that they would be shot
if they ever returned to Blighty producing such a
terrible noise. Still they got Stan, the ever fresh 71
year old travelling marvel, shoes off and on the dance
floor, to rock around the clock and shake rattle and
roll. It was a strange way to spend the evening before
such a crucial Test Match for Michael Vaughan's
Endland side.

As the supporters took their seats in beautiful
sunshine before the toss, further stories emerged
about the Good Friday drinking regulations. Apparently
pubs were allowed to open in the evening, but you
could only buy a drink if you also paid for something
to eat. Hence at Rosie O'Grady's people were going up
to the bar and ordering three pints and a pie. By
10.30 pm there were so many piles of uneaten pies that
there was no space to put your glass down."

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Mole at Large

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Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday

Making the Good Friday visit to my grandparents' grave at Kenwyn, Truro, it occurred to me how much an inscription on a stone can tell about the relationship of the one buried beneath it to the ones who put it there - in perpetuity.

My grandparents are buried on a gently sloping hillside, with an idyllic view of Easter lambs and golden daffodils in the Cornish valley below. In the row below theirs is a grave whose inscription always moves me to tears. ('You're not crying, are you?' my daughter asked, as the March wind reddened my cheeks.) It's for Gisela, born 1923, in Westphalen, Germany, and reads: Bis uns wiedersehen, mein Schatz. If someone put that on my headstone, I'd be resting happy.

The nuns in the communal grave at the top of the slope have the formal but beautiful requiem, 'Lux eterna luceat eis'. A little further up are two 'beloved children'. And how said this one is, for Alan died, aged 7, in 1963, his sister Lynn, aged 12, in 1978. I thought about their parents, getting over Alan's death and trying for another child, a daughter this time, who arrived some three years later, only to be taken from them before she reached the age my daughter is now. Then there are the 'reunited' couples and the man who drowned while bathing at Perran Porth (sic) in 1812.

Then come the 'of aboves'. My grandma one of these: 'Also Edith, Wife of the Above'. There are some infants from the mid 1800s, too young, I guess, for their parents to have risked a bond with them, who are brothers and sisters 'of the above'. It reminded me of orphaned Pip, from 'Great Expectations', explaining to the convict, Magwich, that his mother is 'also Georgiana', an unknown quantity buried in a windswept grave on Romney Marsh. Commissioning the tag 'of the above' on someone's headstone is testament either to the inscriber's gross failure of imagination - or to something much worse: a coldness far more morbid than the remains on which it stands. Please God don't let me be 'of an above'. Let me be 'reunited' or 'beloved', or, best of all, 'Mein Schatz'. With light perpetual shining on me.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Ponsanooth Publishing

Ponsanooth is a Cornish place name, meaning 'The Bridge of the Goose'. It's also the name of a new self-publishing house set up by Amber Smithwhite in a bright, blithe spirit of Celtic generosity. Amber bought ten numbers from ISBN (the minimum they will release) and gave the first one to a poet friend, Marianne Barber, whose collection, 'Strands' is out now under the Ponsanooth imprint. The remaining numbers will be used by Amber herself and by two other unpublished women writers, aged 50 plus, with Cornish connections. The books will be novels and novellas 'and not necessarily more poetry' (I like that).

Astrologer, Liz Hipkins, writes that Ponsanooth is a perfect name for a publishing house because:

'A bridge connects things and allows safe passage.'

'The goose is a totem to aid communication of the written word.'

'Goose stimulates the imagination and facilitates the process of writing.' (I like the idea of a goose - commonly used to signify dullness - being thought of as a muse.)

'The (goose) quill was once a standard writing implement.'

'Goose is the...symbol of fertility. The V formation of geese in flight symbolises an opening to new possibilities; its arrowhead shape new direction and an openness to new ideas.'

'It's crystal is quartz - a receiver and transmitter.'


Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Ultimate Networker

I'm off to Paris again soon, but yet again, I won't be there on Sunday, which is the day Jim Haynes invites anyone and everyone to dinner.

An American living in Paris since the time of the flower people (see www.jim-haynes.com), Jim keeps open house to like-minded souls on Sunday evenings almost every Sunday of the year (there's a modest charge for food and wine). That's a lot of Sundays, Jim, and a lot of guests have passed through the doors of that atelier. The last time I was there (which was before my daughter was born), I met two French actors, who tracked me to Cornwall, forcing me to pretend I was my 'mother in law' when I answered the phone. I don't like people dropping in unannounced, unless they are very old and very intimate friends, and these comedians were neither.

This makes me, I suppose, the world's worst networker. I have never been any good at it which, for a writer, or anyone working in the media, or any other profession, I guess, for that matter, is pretty disastrous. I remember standing like a lost soul at The London Film Festival premiere, to which I was first invited as an award-winning writer in 1989. The man I went with promptly abandoned me to talk to a famous Italian director; completely lacking in gumption, I hadn't the nerve to push out on my own into the sea of cocktail dresses and tuxes and network to save my life. Curious, really, since I had no problem asking people questions wearing my journalist's or teacher's hat. I just have a problem selling myself. There has always seemed to me to be something indecent in self promotion; I'm afraid of implying that I (not my skills) am for sale. I guess that's just a sort of self-defeating pride.

I was at an informal Society of Authors lunch today in a lovely hotel in Falmouth with misty moody views across the harbour (which, incidentally, is the third largest natural harbour in the world). I usually avoid writers' gatherings like the plague, since writers are the very worst - and most aggressive - sort of networkers (because the stakes are so low, because they have nothing to lose); but I went along at the invitation of a very old friend, who had sent me a copy of his book (It's A Dog's Life, by Noel Stuart - well worth getting hold of, too). No one networked. Everybody chatted and got along well; and, this being England, there was none of the smoking you get in Paris where delicious food is all too often ruined by the toxic atmosphere.

Cut back to Jim Haynes.

The atmosphere there is (or was) toxic enough to give you emphysema. But Jim's parties, networking meccas though they may be, are one of those experiences one comes across in life that are worth seeking out and trying - if only the once. Jim Haynes brings strangers (and strange folk) together in his own time and space -and it is very much a living space. He risks far more of himself, blase though he may be about it all now, than do the Facebookers and other instant internet companions. You open your laptop and no one sees who you are (unless, of course, you've got your webcam wired). But opening your front door, like Jim does, to let the world in, you have to show your bona fides. You have to open your mouth an show your heart.

Cheers, Jim. Maybe next time...

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Lion Aunts

It's Mothers' Day tomorrow, but the person I would like to celebrate is my Aunt Valerie. She is not by anybody's standards a high achiever. She isn't beautiful or clever or well educated. She lives, in fact, in the house she grew up in, left in trust to me and my heartless brothers. She has worked as a lollipop lady at a local Catholic primary school since retiring from work as a secretary in a cable factory some fifteen years ago. At the age of 71 she has just ordered a new Ford Ka, apologising to me on the phone this morning for doing so. She had a vintage Mini, bought new about twenty five years ago, and with only about 40K miles on the clock (she only drives to the local town - a distance of two miles, or to the local park, even closer), but was ripped off by the garage man who told her it would be too expensive to repair the radiator, browbeating her into leaving the car with him gratis, as 'recompense' for the costs of scrapping it (I bet...). Why should she not have a brand new car? Why shouldn't she?

And I also celebrate Valerie's mother, my Nana Betty, who inspired in me a love of singing. She sang in musicals, put on by a Mrs Lyon (Mrs Lyon's Shows), and I used to sing the best tunes in the car on the way to North Wales, numbers from Carousel and Show Boat and South Pacific and Oklahoma. Oh, and Desert Song. Betty was crippled when she was a child after slipping on soapsuds on the kitchen flags and injuring her arm. Because there was no National Health Service in those days, the bone was never set properly, leaving her with a bump on the forearm and a jutting out elbow joint. I always thought this was just cosmetic, and her preference for three quarter length sleeve blouses an attempt to disguise the disfigurement. It was only when she died that I found out she hadn't been able to move the arm at all - even though she always seemed to be doing things with it. She was always doing for somebody. Aunt Valerie will get a lift with her neighbour tomorrow to put flowers on Betty's grave. Betty wanted to be buried with her beloved mother - a tiny matriarch, known as 'Mick'; but Mick had nine other children and there was no room in the grave for Betty's body, so her ashes were put there instead.

And finally, I celebrate my awesome Grandma Edith, born in 1905. She got herself an education at a time when women weren't expected to be educated. She went to business school and spoke French and German and ended up as personal assistant to a Bradford wool millionaire, attending tennis parties and tea dances at his mansion in the 1920s. She was captain of Cornwall Ladies' Golf team although she always said her sport was tennis. When she was widowed and blind and deaf (she went deaf at 27, though never let it inhibit her), she took her friend's advice and stoically confided in the fire. 'I've been in every capital in Europe,' she told me. 'I can't complain. And I've always been lucky, dear, always lucky.' I celebrate her for being formidable. For Having a Go. I wished that she and Betty had been living when I was diagnosed because I know that they would have been there for me, unconditionally. I think they were there, really. They still are.

To Lion Aunts and Grandmas everywhereI salute you.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Redruth 2

In Redruth again, killing time before my singing lesson. A man in a van drew up alongside me in the carpark and handed me his parking ticket, still with an hour to run. Got two pairs of shoes for £20 (one pair originally £60) in yet another shop that is closing down. Truro is bleeding Redruth dry, but still those hearts of gold, as my friend DM Thomas calls Redruthers, keep on pumping.

It could not be more different to Budapest, where I was killing time last week before returning to Cornwall for what seems like interminable hospital treatment (someone here has been on it for six years, according to my oncologist...). And yet, and yet....In Lehel Ter market in Budapest District XIII (unlucky for some), people were selling the same kind of perfectly edible but, shall we say, aesthetically challenged veg as in the fruit shop in Redruth. Some of the Budapest carrots and turnips had been cut open lengthways - to show that they were good inside, my daughter said. Lehel Ter market is to the main market (Vasarcsarnok) on Szabasag (Freedom) Bridge) as Redruth is to Truro: a poor relation with a heart of gold - though Lehel Ter is extremely well patronised by locals with string bags. It's a sort of poor man's Pompidou Centre, modernist, with colourful struts, etc, but instead of peddling art or tourist tat, it sells useful things and Hungarian condiments - paprika and pickles and sour cream. The restored market arcade in Redruth is empty, maybe because the locals there find wool and dolls' houses less useful than knobbly carrots. They certainly saw off the sixty pound shoe shop. I suppose Pool Market (a sprawl of a covered market near the last working mine in Cornwall) is Redruth's Lehel Ter - its District Thirteen. Budapest is getting more expensive, now that Hungary is in the EU and seeking to join the Euro. Redruth wouldn't get in, of course, especially now that shoe shop has gone. Redruth is fast becoming what Budapest always refused to be: Eastern European. Shto dyelat? the Russians would say? What is to be done?

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Liverpool City of Culture

Made a pilgrimage to Liverpool on New Year's eve, the day before the town took the title of European City of Culture. It deserves the honour because it is a mighty place of culture, even now, with the port long in decline and the docks and Beatles long given over to theme parks. At the Museum at the (regenerated) Albert Dock, I was moved to tears by some of the memories people had posted up in the window: ' the salty tang at the Pier Head, the mud flats...' 'Sailing out into Liverpool Bay to all the distant corners of the Empire....' The sculptor, Antony Gormley, had written of 'the absolute, brutal honesty of the people and the magnificent buildings.'

It is a stupendous waterfront, not just because of the iconic architecture, but because of what it symbolises in terms of coming and going. It has an almost tangible spiritual reach across the ocean to other ports like New York and Boston - and Dublin, of course. In fact, Dublin and Boston (Mass) reminded me so much of Liverpool, I could almost smell it. But Liverpool is unique, both within the UK and outside it. Someone termed it 'the capital of itself.' Yes, it can be irritatingly self-regarding and sentimental (can't we all - and look at London and New York for that. Look at Paris!); but its honesty and rawness override that mawkishness. Going to school there in the 1970s, when it was in near terminal decline, I thought the place and the people unspeakably romantic, and I too remember sailing out of the port on The Uganda (later requisitioned as a troop ship in the Falklands War). We didn't have streamers or a band playing then on the quay, but it was still a sight for sore eyes.

Years later, I had a romantic experience in Liverpool, kissed by a TV cameraman at the top of Bold Street after we had spent some of our per diem expenses at a Chinese restaurant before returning to the Adelphi. We kissed all the way back to the hotel, cheered by locals telling him to,' go at it, big man.' Then we stopped. It was just the spur of the moment. One of those things. We were making a film about the regeneration of the city post the anti-Thatcher riots of the 1980s, when the old Rialto cinema was burnt to the ground near Upper Parliament Street and Liverpool almost became a socialist republic. At least it stood up for itself. At least it shouted. Those few days I spent there filming showed me how far I had really travelled away from it ('which part of America are you from then?' asked a man I interviewed on the ferry), and how absolutely removed it was from London.

I could just about see the fireworks from my mother's hilltop window in Cheshire, but I wish I had been in the thick of the celebrations in Liverpool itself, fifteen miles away, along the Mersey. I thought it wasn't my party any more, but in a way, I suppose it was because Liverpool formed me more than any other city I have lived in (and I have lived in some great ones - London, Paris, Alexandria). It taught me to stick my head above the parapet, reach out to other worlds. And sail away.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Diary of a Nobody

This glorious book, by George and Weedon Grossmith, which I've just re-read under the comfort blanket sheltering me from my annual Heavy Cold, should give heart and inspiration to all new year bloggers and chroniclers, wherever they may be.


'Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see - because I do not happen to be a 'Somebody' - why my diary should not be interesting. My only regret is that I did not commence it when I was a youth.

The Laurels,
Brickfield Terrace,

The name Pooter is much more apposite than 'blogger'. The World Wide Web could have been created with Pooter in mind - a global network of pooters.

Happy pootering!