Friday, 23 December 2016

Planes, trains and automobiles

Last Sunday evening, hundreds of candles glimmered as our church held its annual service of nine lessons and carols. 
The readings recreate the wonder of the Christmas Story and everybody joins in to belt out the much-loved carols.
Folks wear Christmas jumpers and Bill gives it some wellie on the organ.
It is one of the landmarks of our Christmas.
Putting up Christmas lights, Cornish style.

We are trying not to be dictatorial parents, but we had spotted the fact that all the offspring might possibly be back for the carol service, and we were allowing a little flame of hope to kindle…
Pascoe was joining us from London, Carenza was coming back from Will’s and Perran was getting a lift from Bristol.
During the day, we got updates from each of them and it began to remind me of a cheesy American film, about people getting home for Thanksgiving/Christmas.
In the end, Pascoe was with us in good time, Carenza slipped into the seat we had saved at the very last moment.  But Perran was still en route – his lift wasn’t ready to set off until quite late.  Plus there was something about a DJ forcing him and his friends to go out clubbing until 6 that morning.    Didn’t quite follow that story.  Don’t think I was meant to.

However, even though we didn’t quite all get to the Carols, everybody was home for dinner, which was brilliant.  Enough to keep me going until we are all reunited once more for Christmas itself.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Some Hope

I guess I don’t give my heart to Christmas completely. 
As we put up the decorations, I think about how long it will take me to fetch them down again on January 6th and moderate my swags accordingly. 
When I buy gifts for the children, they aren’t luxuries.   I try to get useful things that I probably should have bought them anyway.  In our house, Christmas has become the Festival of New Pants.
I buy my Brussels sprouts (and indeed everything else) from Morrisons, not Waitrose – the Christmas meal will be pleasant, but would leave Mary Berry with that puzzled disappointed look we have come to know.
Perhaps I hold back because I’m afraid the festival will let me down. 
Don’t get me wrong, each year Christmas sends me into a complete tailspin of organisational frenzy, but it is partly because we have so many significant family birthdays in December.  And trips to grandparents in Cornwall and Northumberland to arrange.  Not to mention the complications of a Christmas dinner which must cater for a meat eater and a vegan, and every ideological regime in between.
However, I have reached the “no longer care” plateau quite early this year and am even pursuing other exciting projects such as replacing our double-glazing.

And yet part of me is waiting for Christmas to tiptoe up behind me and surprise me with a joyful hug, as it does most years.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Cornish Christmas

There was a hold up.  So when I finally set off for Cornwall, it wasn’t when I’d planned, and when I travelled, the M4 was completely blocked so I had to turn round and go back towards London and set out again on the M3 (should I have put a sat nav on my Christmas list?)
It didn’t feel like a good start.
But although things hadn’t gone to plan, it was certainly educational.

I discovered what happens when Jennie gets tinsellitis.

I learnt that Fiona and Izzie would rather take a country walk in the pouring rain than go Christmas shopping.

And that Mark felt the woods were safer than Marks and Spencer at this time of year.

And I found that Mum and Dad could be Lord and Lady of the Manor, if only granted the chance by the NT.

So really, it was all worthwhile.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Lazarus Gave me a Dead Leg

“Tonight Will and I are going to see Lazarus, the David Bowie musical” announced Carenza. 
“I wish I could go.” I was feeling sorry for myself as my plans for the weekend (visiting elderly parents) had fallen through. 
“You can.  We’ve got a third ticket.”
Wow.  Am cool and trendy.
Thought long and hard about what one wears to a David Bowie musical.  Realised how cold it was and put on an OAP jumper instead.
When I got there, even the venue was edgy – a big marquee by Kings Cross.  Will bought us each a prosecco and spotted an actor from Game of Thrones at the bar.
“Was he very short?” I asked.
“Not that one,” said Will.
The seating was clever too – the chairs were raised high to allow leg room for the lanky.  Unfortunately I am not lanky and was able to swing my legs like a prematurely-aged six year old on an outing with her parents.  Except that, (meanly, I thought) Will and Carenza wouldn’t let me sit between them.
The music was great, and the performances stunning. However, to praise Lazarus further would be disingenuous.  The plot was so confusing that I wasn’t even sure whether I should feel sad or happy at the end.  There was the odd moment of lucidity when one character explained the plot to another, but apart from that….
I wasn’t even able to fidget restlessly in my seat as my feet weren’t on the ground.  Two hours without an interval seemed quite long.
Then bizarrely on the way home on a dark city street, I kicked something soft.  It landed with a thud. I made the mistake of looking to see what I’d kicked.  It was the most enormous frog I have ever seen.  What was it doing on these mean streets on a November night? 
In spite of my boot, it was still alive, although injured.  It stared at me with an unblinking beady eye.  What to do?  Should I finish it off?  But what with?  And what if it wasn’t fatally injured? 
A coward, I left it, probably prey to an urban fox.  But the look it had given me stayed with me.  Didn’t this remind me of some fairy tale?  What if I had just been cursed by a magic frog?
The next day I woke up with a pain in my outer left thigh.  A week later, I had developed deep vein thrombosis.  Not in reality, just in my mind.  It was when I reached down and felt that my skin was numb that I panicked.  (I think it had been numb all along, but I’d been feeling through corduroy trousers which is a similar sensation.)
I googled the symptoms of DVT. 
Never google symptoms. 
Reassuringly I didn’t have the common symptoms.  Then I read the caveat which said, “Only half of those who have DVT experience any symptoms.”
There was nobody home so I drove myself to minor injuries. 
“We can’t help you – DVT isn’t a minor injury.”
I looked miserable.  They suggested I ring 111 and tell them I was already at a hospital and the 111 people might then ring the hospital I was already at and arrange for me to see a doctor there.
I rang the 111 people.  They wanted me to examine my leg over the phone.  I explained that I was in a public waiting room and couldn’t take my trousers off.
“Go to the loo.”
I crouched in the overheated loo with my trousers round my ankles, attempting not to make contact with the much-used toilet seat while they asked me questions, often ones that conjured unwelcome images, such as,
“Are you bleeding a lot?”
At the end of all that, they were pretty sure it wasn’t a DVT but I ought to see my GP.  When I finally got out of the loo, I had that swimmy feeling which means you are about to faint.  I sat in the waiting room with my head between my knees for a while.
But nobody was home and nobody was going to come to rescue me.  I would just have to pull myself together and get home somehow. 
And that was when I remembered the curse of the frog.
In the end, I had to hope that the poor frog had limped to safety, because my own fate was not as dreadful as it could have been – I didn’t have DVT.  Instead, the uncomfortable seat at Lazarus had pinched/bruised a nerve and it should feel better after some weeks.

So although seeing the David Bowie musical made me feel young, cool and trendy, I am not sure it was worth it as I now have a limp and am possibly living under a frog curse.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Socially Inappropriate Sign Store

Jackie being importuned by an elf.
Last weekend, we went to a large craft fair with Nick and Jackie.
Support local makers – not the economy of China.
We saw everything from a crocheted toilet roll cover (washable) to exquisite silver jewellery.
But our favourite was the Socially Inappropriate Sign Stall (our choice of name, not theirs).
I’ve mentioned these  homely signs before in my blog – they say things like “Live, laugh, love”, or “My Kitchen, My Rules”, and are charming and humorous the FIRST time you see them.
At the craft show, there was a stall jam-packed with these sweet little sayings.  I was about to pass by, but a large sign caught me eye. 
“I love you even more than CHEESE.”
Who would ever hang that up on their wall?
And there were more. 
Gently I back-pedalled.
The stall was run by a couple. 
                He could cut wood into little rectangles and hearts.
                She could do cutesie handwriting.
Unfortunately, neither of them could produce a bon mot.
No wonder there was so much stock on display – nobody would ever buy these.
After perusal, my favourite was the stalkerish:
“I may not be the most important person in your life, but when you hear my name, I hope you smile and say ‘That’s my friend.’”
But Nick, who had also paid the stall close attention, had spotted an even better one:
“Sometimes I laugh so much that the tears run down my legs.”
Perhaps I should suggest to the stall-holders that they go crochet some toilet roll covers instead.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Proper Job

There was a point where Nigel and I very nearly relocated our family back to my homeland of Cornwall, but in the end fears for job prospects (both ours and our children’s) stopped us.

However, last Sunday night, I had a revelation.  The perfect job had been there waiting for me all along, but I had been too blind to see.

We were watching Poldark when an angry mob burst onto the scene and threatened to lynch Warleggan.  As they shook their fists and roared defiantly in a West Country manner, I rose slightly in my chair.

“I want to do that.  At last, my vocation!”
I should have been an extra - ‘Angry mob, number 14'.

It should have been me! With a kerchief wrapped round my head, brandishing a pitchfork in one hand and a pasty in the other, shouting “Aaaaarh.”

It looked like an occupation which would not only be rewarding from the first day, but would also offer career progression.  Eventually I could hope to become “Angry Mob, number 1” – the one that gets to shout “That’s right, Cap’n Poldark – You tell un!”

And then possibilities for international travel.  I could one day graduate to be one of the mob of angry villagers that besieges the Vampire’s Castle in Transylvania.

Perhaps it’s not too late for me after all.  Where do I find the application form?

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Can you hack a hike?

I should have been thrilled at the thought of a bracing Autumn weekend in the Peak District with the Thompsons.  However, my foot has been hurting – a symptom of advanced Middle-Age.
It’s meant we haven’t done any proper walking for a long time.  Such a long time that I had forgotten the importance of sturdy boots and not wearing denim jeans.   
When we set off on Saturday, the air was as full of moisture as it could be without actually committing to raining.  Our route was through fields of deep, saturated grass studded with sheep poo and garnished with country pancakes. 
My old boots not only leaked, but didn’t have much grip left. 
In my mind’s eye was a vivid picture of me skidding and landing on my bum in animal dung. 
I whinged quite a lot.  Nigel and David and Carolyn lured me onwards with a flask of tea and encouraging words.  They pretended that it could be any of us who slipped over in the poo.  I knew for a certainty that it would be me. 
But we were soon mounting a ridge.  We didn’t know which ridge, but some hikers coming the other way told us confidently where we were.  They had louder, posher voices than ours so we believed them.  Until we met them 15 minutes later shamefacedly retracing their steps.
By now, my jeans had wicked wetness up to my knees. 
Then there was a choice to make – I could continue with my low-level whining as we made our way round the base of splendid, craggy Comb hill, or we could choose to ascend it  and I could ramp up to high-level complaining.  We chose the latter course.   
Thanks to Nigel, David and Carolyn, I made it to the top, even with my dodgy equipment and poorly foot.  And I didn’t even slip over in the poo.
I’m surprised they managed to put up with all my beefing.  Perhaps they too have a middle-aged affliction – deafness.  And what looks like a warm and supportive friendship is, in fact, an inability to hear my protests.

Yep.  That must be it.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Phooey to Halloween – Celebrate Autumn

The US-dictated Halloween colours are limited to black and orange.  But this Autumn season is so much richer than that - if you look at the trees, your eyes will be ravished by yellow, maroon, green, tan and ochre.
Halloween is about spooks, but Autumn celebrates not only the closing in of night, but also the satisfaction of a wild harvest, the lighting of fires and candles, kicking through golden leaves, watching blackbirds eating berries. 
Our kitchen has been steamy with apples being peeled and cooked for wine and crumbles.  Soon there will be the sloes for gin.   Hanging in the outhouse are bayleaves, hydrangeas and larch cones ready to make the Christmas pot pourri.

But it's late October which offers my favourite Autumn experience.  We go to a local wood and plan our walk so that the last place we come to is the grove where the chestnuts grow.  If it’s a good year, we know we’ll pick so many that we don’t want to carry them far.  If you touch the prickly cases, you get spines in your fingers, so we have developed a technique for opening the little green urchins between our boots.  There is such pleasure in picking out the plump, gleaming chestnuts. 
Focused on the ground, one becomes dazed and disoriented and we have been known to head off in entirely the wrong direction, losing the path.

And this year, we have a great harvest of chestnuts to roast bake and boil.

A welcome change from Halloween pumpkins.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Earning a Crust

Pascoe is at home this Autumn
All my life I have had friends a few years older than me.  It’s been great – they already knew how to get a job, plan a wedding, and that one must on no account turn down pain relief during the birth process.
Up until now, having older friends has been nothing but an advantage: the only chasm between us was that it was a different set of Top-of-the-Pops hits which made them dewy eyed with nostalgia.
However, the difference has now become significant – their children are through university, their family inheritances have been passed on. They are passing gracefully into semi-retirement.
And as the clocks change and bleak November draws in, they will be winging their way to exotic destinations such as the Philippines or Myanmar while I soldier on at school, trying to dodge the winter flu epidemics, getting home in the dark.
But wait, I am thoroughly enjoying my portfolio of jobs, teaching some of the nicest people you could hope to meet.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.

And I shall go on saying that until I see all those beautiful holiday snaps……….

Saturday, 15 October 2016

South for the Winter

Pascoe has come South, just for three months – he got a placement with The Government Office for Science – GO-Science.  Naively, I thought he might return to the parental home and commute into Westminster on the crowded train.
I went to enormous pains to make his bedroom welcoming – dammit, I even put the ironing board away.
But did he show any gratitude?
GO-Science offered to pay rent on a modest room in London and he seized the opportunity.  Well, what twenty-four year old wouldn’t want to live in the humming heart of London for a time at least?
So you would think that maybe I’d forgiven him. 
But no – I had resorted to sending him passive aggressive texts:
“Hope your new accommodation is lovely and spacious.”
“Hope you’re managing to cook delicious meals in the tiny shared kitchen.”
But then at the weekend, he appeared at our house, as he had said he would.
Standing next to him in church I felt both ridiculously short and stupidly proud.
And all was forgiven.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Blowing down the wrong end of a kazoo

Pascoe, Nigel and Nick with kazoos
Lying around on my kitchen surface has been a pink kazoo. 
Seems wrong to chuck it out, especially after all it has taught me.
At the Greenbelt Festival, Sunday morning communion was run by twenty children and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Thrown into the mix were several thousand kazoos to help out with the hymns.
Confidently I put the narrow end to my mouth and tooted.  Nigel shook his head at me. 
I ignored him.  After raising three children and presiding at many kids’ parties and school events I was confident that my kazoo technique was superior to his. 
Nigel had the broad end in his mouth – Loser.
Then Jennie nudged me and pointed at the hymn sheet.  There, in black and white were instructions for the use of a kazoo. 
It said to hum down the broad end.  My reaction was that the leaflet writer had it all wrong. But I was surrounded by thousands of people, all blowing down the broad end.
Was I a lone voice of sanity; was everybody else right, or were they merely acting as mindless sheep?
And more hauntingly –

How many other areas are there in my life where I am heedlessly blowing down the wrong end of the kazoo?

Friday, 30 September 2016

WhatsApp ruined my day

I have just had a MEGA birdwatching experience.
Like all the best sightings, I was completely not expecting it.  Like so many of the things that I hold special today, it has its roots in my childhood.  I remember in Truro Museum, I would often return to  a tall stuffed bird with its glassy eye on a level with mine.  It had a weirdly shaped beak which used to fascinate me.
I was walking along the Truro River with my parents.
We had spotted the teal, shelduck, curlew, redshank, godwit plus mallard and dabchick.
In the estuary, the tide was just up and the water was bubbling with grey mullet enjoying a feeding frenzy. 
It had been a good walk and we were returning to the car when a large white bird took off over the water. 
“Egret” said Dad.
“Too big,” I replied and indeed there was an egret close by – it was smaller.
I had a gut feeling: “Spoonbill!”.
As it came closer and finally flew right over our heads, every doubt was banished.
Thrilled, I WhatsApp the family:
“Guess what flew over my head today?”
“A helicopter?”
“A highland cow?”
“A Moomin?”
I tire of their flippancy:
Then there is some old chat from Carenza and Nigel about what they are having for dinner.
“I said, A SPOONBILL.”
Perran: “Is that a kind of tractor?”
Nigel: “Are you sure it wasn’t a heron? To the untrained eye they can be easily confused.”
Carenza: “We know that bird watching is challenging for you.
I’m sure you’ll learn soon though.”
Pascoe: “I think it was probably a heron holding a very small frying pan in its beak.”
I give in:

“Yep. That does seem to be the most plausible explanation.” *Sighs*

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

You again

It seems like only last week that I was driving Perran to Bristol and bidding him a sentimental goodbye.
Wait a minute, it was only last week.
But tomorrow I’ll be seeing him again.
He has left all his lecture notes carefully stashed away for the Summer on top of his wardrobe.
He texted to ask would I mind posting them.
If there is one thing I hate (and, just for the record, there is more than one thing I hate), it is finding a cardboard box that hasn’t been crushed by a retailer, wrapping it up, taping it, addressing it, glueing stamps to it and loitering at the post office where the person in front of me always has something bulky/complicated which contravenes post office protocols.
I hate parcels and all their kind.  Nowadays, I even hate receiving them because private delivery firms seem to hire employees with black belts in “knock and run”.
Luckily I’ll be driving to Cornwall to see my parents tomorrow and will therefore transport the gear to Perran in Bristol.
A cock-up like this hasn’t happened since Carenza’s Great Bedroll Omission of 2014 so I guess I should be grateful.  And it’ll give me a chance to see how Perran and his mates have made a home of their little student house. 
I like to picture my offspring missing the comforts of home but not completely overcome by squalor. 

And I guess I can take him a jar of my newly made chilli chutney – I certainly wouldn’t have sent that in a parcel!

Thursday, 22 September 2016


I drove Perran back to university today.  On the long journey back alone I heard poems on Radio 4 to mark the Autumn Equinox.
I had plenty of time to think. 
It struck me that our family has reached an Equinox too. 
Grandparents are all ageing, Nigel and I still have maybe a decade of working life ahead.
And the children, although they may often find themselves at home with us are launching on adult life.
For a while Nigel and I are still the fulcrum of our family.
I’ve always enjoyed the Autumn – the briskness in the air, the fiery colours of the leaves, the cosiness of the evening fire.

So can I convince myself that Autumn is as wonderful as Summer?

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


Part of the qualifications for getting a degree should surely be the power to pass on information.
Luckily for me Carenza has gained this skill.
For, on Saturday, it was her graduation, the type of event where one wears a hat and high heels (or at least the Mums do, though not most of the Dads).
In the end, there were very few hats although Will did mention he’d seen some unusual “fascinators”.  I explained to him that these were mortar boards.
Shoes, however, were de rigeur and there was a fair sprinkling of vertiginous heels.
And this is where the bit about passing on information comes in.
Once robed up, the graduands of St Hugh’s process around a mile to the Sheldonian Theatre where the ceremony takes place.
They process accompanied by friends and family.
In their heels.
It seemed that not all the proud Mums had been expecting this and by the time we reached the Sheldonian, not all the tears were tears of sentiment.
Ironically, within the Sheldonian, the junior proctors who were conducting the ceremony were dashing young women in shiny black high heels and sashayed up and down the aisle as if it were a catwalk.  Presumably neither of them had had to walk quite such a long way to the ceremony.

My flat sandals were dowdy by comparison, but at least when it was time to walk back to lovely the reception at St Hugh’s, I was ready!

Thursday, 15 September 2016


On Monday, received an email from the Blood donation service:

“Dear Clare,
This is a reminder that you have an appointment to give blood again on 15 September 2016.”
On Tuesday I received a text saying,
“Your appointment to donate is in 2 days. If you can’t make it please tell us now so we can offer it to another donor.  Thank you.”
On Thursday, another text.
“Hi.  To help keep you well please remember to drink plenty of water before you come to give blood today. We look forward to seeing you later, Many thanks!”
So, with my bladder creaking like a well-filled hot water bottle, I drove up to the designated church hall.  Last time there had been a problem with parking, so I was not surprised when I saw a woman in day-glo directing traffic.
I wound down my window.
“Sorry,” she said, “It’s been cancelled.  There’s building work going on elsewhere in the church and it’s making the hall too dusty.  Perhaps you’d be kind enough to book another appointment.”
After the long suspenseful build-up I actually felt disappointed.
However, I now had an hour to myself that I hadn’t thought I would get.
I could do anything, go anywhere.
Only thing was, it would have to be somewhere with a loo.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

On Fire

Eversheds were throwing a launch at the Museum of London for the amazing Fire! Fire! exhibition which they have sponsored.
Nigel was invited and asked if he could bring me as a guest.
The stories about the Great Fire of London have always captivated me.
Did Charles II really organise the fire in order to demolish the crowded city?
Was it really fewer than ten people who died?
Thing is, Perran and Carenza are home.  They have been a shortage item in my life for such a long time, it’s hard to pass up on spending time with them.
Just at the moment, a night in can be tremendous fun.
“They’ve got a great range of original documents at the exhibition,” said Nigel, “And crockery and metalwork that got burnt in the actual fire three hundred and fifty years ago.”
So I went.  The reception was generous with drink, canapés and good company.
The exhibition was intriguing – it told the story of the Great Fire clearly and colourfully.
And when we finally got home, we discovered that the children still were not back from their various social engagements.
All in all, a good decision then.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Last Blast

Last blast of the school holidays for me is the Greenbelt festival. 
This year was one of the best – Josie Long, James Acaster, The Barely Methodical Troupe, Vanessa Kisuule all blasted it.
At the open-air communion, thousands of us were led by 20 kids, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a host of kazoos.
All weekend, I wandered the festival, sometimes with Nigel or other mates, but often on my own – it’s the kind of place where people strike up conversations easily and help each other out.
The best bit was on the last night when Ster, a senior steward, hurried up to me in the dark and said,
“Your purse has been handed in, Clare.  You can pick it up from the information desk.”
I hadn’t even had time to realise that I’d dropped my purse.

When I collected it, I didn’t bother to check the contents – they would be fine -  this was Greenbelt.

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.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Bad Day for Crabs

Padstow Obby Oss on Mayday
After yesterday’s myth and prehistory epic, I was ready for more, but Carenza, being more grown-up than me, suggested that we have a more chilled day and recover. 
So we planned an amble around Padstow. 
After all, there WAS a cultural connection to my name – the Padstow Obby Oss (Hobba = horse/horseman) gave a famous dance round the town each May, possibly for ancient fertility reasons.  Or equally ancient beer reasons.
Only snag was, it was time for us to leave Boscastle.
We had to pack the tent away.
In the rain!
“Rain wasn’t forecast!” Even though I know the forecast is often wrong in Cornwall, I still experience 21st Century indignation.
Luckily the 21st Century has also provided a synthetic tent fabric which doesn’t rot if you put it away wet.
However, tetchiness was not completely circumvented.
On our way to Padstow, we rediscovered the sheer traffic-jamminess of a wet high-season Saturday in Cornwall. 
After our early set-off we still didn’t get to Padstow until midday. Grumpiness hovered.
But once there, the clouds parted, golden sunshine poured through and suddenly we were getting our chilled day by the sea.
Only thing was, there seemed to be a horrendous crab-fishing marathon at the harbour. 
All over the place, kids and parents were letting down crablines with bits of bacon attached.
“Did anybody warn the crabs?”
“Hopefully, they’ll think it’s the Rapture, but for crabs.”
“Yeah. ‘Look – Auntie Shelley’s being taken up to Heaven!’ “
“’Uncle Claus is being taken too.’”
Luckily, at the end of the day, we saw many crabs being returned to the water.
“But imagine the social embarrassment when Auntie Shelley and Uncle Claus reappear – not taken up to Heaven after all.”
“They’re probably so relieved to be put back that they don’t care.”
And actually, that evening, when we get to Mum and Dad’s in Truro, we do miss the amazing views from the campsite, but we’re so relieved to have access to their shower and toilet that we don’t care either.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016


On our first full day in Cornwall, Carenza and I took the bus to Tintagel.
But it turned out that King Arthur was not the only legend. 
Carenza and I also demonstrated determination of mythical proportions.
Having scrambled up and down hundreds of steps to see the ruins of the castle on the cliff, Carenza and I took the rugged coast path back to Boscastle.
The coast was punctuated by valleys so steep that the NT had provided staircases.
By the time we finished our journey it was 6pm and we were footsore and dehydrated. 
But the reason it had taken so long was because we had detoured to see some amazing sights.  We saw, in order:
Merlin’s Cave, open to the sea at both ends beneath the castle;
The Iron Gate where seafarers once entered Tintagel Castle;
A carving of a marigold cross and the ancient font of St Julitta at St Materiana’s Church;
A dolmen in the churchyard;
An Iron Age cliff fort;
Two Bronze Age labyrinths, carved into a rocky outcrop in a little valley;
The Forrabury Stitches – a field pattern, relic of Celtic agriculture;
The Celtic cross at Forrabury Church;

And best of all, the last two Cornish pasties in Boscastle, just waiting for us as the bakery shut for the day.
Merlin's Cave
Marigold Cross

Tintagel Castle

Bronze Age Labyrinth

Celtic Cross at Forrabury