Thursday, 25 August 2016

Down to Earth Diet

Following Nigel’s angina earlier this year our diet has shifted again.
We have to avoid salt, trans-fats and saturated fats even more ardently than before.
Plus Carenza gave up meat (though not fish) at the start of the year.
Perran is vegan (which, as I keep forgetting, includes a ban on honey).
Pascoe has given up meat and can’t eat milk products. 
I, like Carenza, am a simple pescetarian.
Obviously, family catering has become a little complex.
My simple solution is to serve up garden soil. 
Much wholesome food (chocolate, marmite, gravy) is brown, and so is soil.
If served slightly damp, soil can be moulded into any shape so diners can sculpt a replica of the food they would most like to be eating.

Only snag – check carefully for earthworms before serving  - goodness knows whether they are high or low in cholesterol.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


I have discovered a way to feel immoral without actually technically doing anything wrong. 

1                     Go camping in Cornwall.
2                     Have a great time.  Talk loudly and heartily about fresh air and sleeping well.
3                     Check the weather forecast.
4                      Discover that torrential rain is forecast for just when you will be taking down your tent next morning.
5                     Go very quiet as you imagine driving all the way back to Hertfordshire with a car full of wet stuff and spending the following day drying it out.
6                     * Bottle out and book Saltash Travelodge
7                     Take the tent down a day early.

* The immoral bit.
This is the second time I have done something similar and each time I have felt guilty about following my head rather than my heart and deserting the campsite early.
That evening, Carenza and I walked into Saltash to admire Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s amazing rail bridge across the Tamar.  I said to Carenza, “It’s not raining yet.  Maybe I made a mistake, bottling out early.”
But the following morning, as we toured the grounds of Cotehele House in the pouring rain, I knew that even though I may have lost the moral high ground, at least I had been right to pack up early.
If only I had been equally decisive about the journey home.

I had misgivings about leaving  Cornwall at lunch time on a High Season Friday, but did it anyway and spent eight hours crawling along in heavy traffic.  Perhaps Divine Justice was punishing me for my flaky attitude to camping.

Monday, 22 August 2016


We camped at Bay View Farm.
It did exactly what it said on the can.   The only thing between our tent and the sea was a paddock with two Shire Horses clopping placidly about. 
My Granddad bred Shire horses and our family name means horse or horseman in Cornish.  The presence of the horses was comforting.
In the morning, I was awoken by wild geese – I don’t mean that they’d broken into our tent - but I could hear their calls from two fields away.
Why on earth then did we leave this rural idyll and walk across the cliffs to the nearby town of Looe?
Because Looe is a cultural centre for Cornish bad behaviour of the historical type.
Think pirates and smugglers. (Professions with which my family has absolutely no connection, of course!)
Neither Carenza nor I had been there before and we were impressed by the prettiness of the place, but as we stepped onto the main street we were nearly trampled by the crowds. 
We didn’t see any pirates or smugglers, but we did see a family who were so desperate to gobble their pasties that instead of walking 200 yards to the sea front, they had merely sat down on the narrow pavement just outside the bakers and tucked in right there.

High Season in Cornwall does strange things to people.

Despite its name, Looe was in some ways disappointing.

Sunday, 21 August 2016


Carenza and I were leaving Mum and Dad and moving on again.
There is a Norman Castle from which, for a while, Cornwall was ruled.  Beneath it, an ancient town where government moved later.
The castle is Restormel, the town Lostwithiel.
We planned to park at Lostwithiel and walk to the ruins of Restormel.
But we hadn’t taken into account the wet-morning high-season traffic, which was vile.  It was lunch time by the time we got to Lostwithiel and we had to “invent” a parking space at the far end of the car park.  The single public toilet was so popular that a queue stretched across the street.
Sometimes I wish I still lived in Cornwall – sometimes not.
As we strode out into the countryside, things got better.  At Restormel Castle, we discovered that the Black Prince had once been the first Duke of Cornwall and had resided there. 
It was hard for us to visualise the former grandeur of the castle.  But it might have been even harder for the Black Prince to imagine the castle as it is today – a tourist attraction.  Alongside us, several Asian women were exploring, their peach and pink headscarves and salwar kameez providing welcome colour as they walked the grey-brown battlements.
Back in Lostwithiel, the crowds had abated and we drifted round several of the antiques shops.  Lostwithiel had once been an administrative centre – the tin that was mined was assayed here for tax purposes.  But the fate of Lostwithiel seems symbolic of the rest of Cornwall, forced to live off its past for the tourist market.
The part of me that was a tourist adored Lostwithiel: the part of me that is Cornish hopes for a better economic future.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Old Haunts

I’m not good with routines.  I tend to seek novelty. 
But my parents, with whom Carenza and I are staying are quite the reverse. 
Today was to be dedicated to them and what they wanted to do, so the only question I had to ask was,
“Remind me, what time does Trelissick open?”
We have worn a groove around the paths of this NT garden and have admired it at every time of year. 
I would like to say I know every inch of it, but my parents have a particular, unvarying route they prefer, so acres remain unexplored.
Although some things have changed – Mum can no longer manage the long flight of steps so we no longer see the penny tree – a dead trunk into which my children would slot coins. 
But the high point of our walk remains an old hut with pine cones decorating its interior and a breath-taking view of the estuary.  I can’t remember the first time I came here, but an old photo proves I once breast-fed Carenza here. I send the boys a Whatsapp photo of us here again.  No caption – all of them will know exactly where we are.
On the floor hops the robin, as ever, hoping for crumbs.  What is amazing is that down the generations of robins, no ancestral memory has developed that the Hobbas always intend to bring bird food, but always forget!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Old Times’ Sake

Carenza and I are exploring Cornwall together.
We’re focusing on bits that I don’t know so well, but of course, Cornwall is also where I grew up and have returned to countless times. 
At this point, we’re staying with my parents.
Yesterday, we spent the morning with them, the afternoon with my brother, but today, I wanted to revisit the beach which I remember calling “perfect” – the one where I took my small children whenever I could. 
Carenza couldn’t remember Porthcurnick Beach, near Portscatho.  My friend Fiona had warned me that it had now been ‘discovered’ - the tiny shack which used to sell paper cups of tea had become a gourmet café.  It would be hard to grab a space in the car park.
It was true: as Carenza and I approached along the cliff, the beach was tessellated with colourful windbreaks, and a slew of people lounged at the café. 
But there were fertile rock pools at the West of the beach, and drifts of tiny shells at the East.  Carenza and I each found a pink cowry and solemnly made a gift of it to one another. 
But we didn’t linger – as the incoming tide herded holiday-makers up the beach, it congealed into people jam.
Then in the evening, Jennie, who has been one of my best friends for over forty years, had invited us to a barbecue.  As vegetarians, Carenza and I are used to being about as welcome at a barbecue as an unexpected item in the bagging area.  So we took along halloumi and cherry tomatoes, to make kebabs.  But it turned out that it wasn’t that kind of barbecue – Jennie had purchased an astonishing rack from Argentina and was roasting huge sections of beast.  It wasn’t a problem though – her salads were to-die-for.  And her friends were charming.

Call it anecdotal, but it seems that going back to old haunts can be disappointing, going back to old friends, never.

Thursday, 18 August 2016


For this part of my Cornish trip with Carenza, we are staying with my parents.
Our priority is to get along to St Clements for a walk along the estuary.  Oaks hang over the path and graze the water.  Herons and egrets stalk the great muddy banks.
This walk is such a well-rehearsed tradition in my family that it has accumulated rules  and expectations.
It has also been a way to mark my parents’ ageing.
Once upon a time, we might walk all the way to Tresillian, and Dad would tease us kids that there were crocodiles in the reeds.
Nowadays, a successful trip is defined by reaching the Pond which is about a third of the way along.  Getting to the bench at the far end of the pond would be a triumph if we were ever to make it.
And the other prize is for my parents to defy cataracts and short sight by spotting the kingfisher.
How do we do today?
We reach the Pond with grit, determination and walking sticks.
But the kingfishers….
There’s one there alright. 
But can my parents see it?
They peer through binoculars.
“To the left of the dead tree,” says Carenza.
“To the left of the dead tree and up a bit,” I add.
My parents are motionless – they can’t see it, but know that I’ll be disappointed too if they say so.
Eventually they say – “Let’s go for a sit on the bench.”
And there we are, finally at the bench which Mum and Dad find it so hard to walk to now, watching the water broken by the ripples of grey mullet.
I guess this will have to be enough, that we reached the bench.
Rested, Mum and Dad rise to return.
And there, on the Pond, is a whole noisy family of young kingfishers, peeping, fluttering about, diving for fish.
This time, it’s hard for Mum and Dad to miss the gleam of the blue wings, the chestnut of their breast. 
Each of them has a clear view of a kingfisher.
Let me consult the time-honoured criteria again.

Yes, it has been a perfect walk.