Thursday, 31 December 2009


On this last day of 2009 I would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and successful 2010.

2009 has been a busy year for me, with a lot more work, progress on the novel front (albeit slow) and the start of a fabulous new choir. I won't dwell on the downside of things, but I hit a very low spot just before Christmas which, as always with me, was caused by a kick in the teeth to my confidence. This pulled me up, made me look at myself and what I'm doing. That's not a bad thing, I find. Being honest with myself is something I find very important.

I woke up early this morning with an easterly wind howling outside the window and snuggled up against Himself and Mollie, and thought about some of the things that had troubled me recently. Two concerned being let down by people. Being oversensitive, I react more strongly to others, I know, and I need to find ways of dealing with that.

But I have some wonderful friends, one of whom I had a long walk with on the Lizard yesterday. We both talked about our troubles, listened to each other and commented where required, comforted where necessary. And as the miles ticked by, and Mollie scampered ahead, oblivious to foolish human troubles, our perspectives changed, settled, normalised.

I liked to imagine our problems blown away by the brisk wind, off towards Porthleven, dashed to smithereens in the fierce waves crashing and pounding off Loe Bar.

I value my friends so much, and am especially happy to have made some very good new ones recently, some through writing, which is even more special.

So to all you friends of mine out there – thank you. I will raise a glass to you all tonight and hope 2010 is a good year for all of us.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Thought for Paws

Wishing everyone a good Christmas - here's a tale that makes me cry every time. In January's edition of Cornwall Today, out now.

Caring for Cornwall’s unwanted animals is a heartwrenching but deeply rewarding job

“Nothing would stop me doing this job, heartbreaking though it is,” says Louise Barker. “I don’t think any of us can say we don’t get emotionally involved. If you ever stop shedding a few tears then I think it’s time to walk away.”

Louise Barker, 38, is the manager of the National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) rescue centre on the outskirts of Hayle. Founded in 1971, the NAWT is now one of the top 10 animal rescue and re-homing charities in England, and runs 5 centres across the country, located in Berkshire, Essex, Somerset, Cornwall and Watford.

“Molly Wyatt was a lovely eccentric lady who’d been rescuing and re-homing dogs and cats in Cornwall for 25 years,” says Louise. “When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she asked the NAWT to continue her work and they were happy to do so.”

Louise has been manager at Hayle since January 2008. Before that she managed another animal rescue centre in Leicester for 9 years, but when this post came up, she jumped at it. She explains, “My sister lives here and my husband has family down here, so moving to Cornwall really is living the dream.”

Louise has always worked with animals and currently has two rescue dogs and a rescue cat, “but the numbers go up and down! I’m a sucker for taking in older animals.”

Any animal lover will feel at home at the centre in Hayle: dogs bark and volunteers and staff come in and out of reception carrying dog leads, treats and blankets. The atmosphere is warm, friendly and you can sense the passion for helping animals.

The facilities were very basic but in August 2008 the Trust purchased the land they had been renting and the new homing centre was ready to move into in November 2008. This cost over a million pounds to build, has 24 kennels and 20 cat pens and is eco-friendly. “The old centre will be demolished but we’ll salvage as much as we can to make staff kennels, so staff can bring their own dogs to work,” says Louise. “There will also be staff accommodation so that someone will always be here over night.”
The money for the new centre was raised following years of hard work. “The Cornish are wonderful fund raisers,” Louise says. “They turn up in any weather because they’re passionate about helping dogs. There are no warm weather volunteers in Cornwall.”

In addition to fundraisers, there are about 25 helpers who walk dogs, clean kennels and carry out home checks. “We’re always looking for volunteers and now with the new centre we’re looking for cat carers as well,” says Louise. “Some stay all day, some can only stay an hour.” Louise smiles. “The cat helpers are called Fussers and Brushers! Socialising the cats for a few hours is so valuable because we don’t have time. Without this we wouldn’t be able to re-home half the cats we do because they’re so frightened.”

Volunteers are of all ages but have to be over 16. “They don’t need experience,” explains Louise. “As long as they have a caring nature and their hearts are in the right place, they’re always welcome.”

The Trust have a policy that no healthy animal is ever put to sleep, but there is occasionally an exception to the rule. “Most dogs just need rehabilitation though sadly we sometimes get one which is so nasty we can’t deal with it and it has to be put down.

“Once we’re full we sometimes foster dogs and sometimes we tell people we’ll fit them in if they can hold on a while.” She sighs. “We usually find homes for the older dogs because they’re quite calm. It’s often the younger loopy ones that end up being long termers. If we can’t find a home they just stay with us.” Walking through the kennels she points to a black and tan cross breed who wags his tail as he sees us coming, his dark eyes full of hope. “I won't even tell you what he's been through,” she says. “He's been here since last November. So far nobody wants him.”

The current recession has had all kinds of repercussions. “Some people leave us money in their Wills but because houses aren’t selling we don’t get the big donations,” Louise explains. “Some volunteers can’t afford the petrol so we’ve lost them. The only place that hasn’t been affected is our charity shop in Falmouth. Perhaps people can’t afford new stuff so they’re buying from there; the shop always needs donations.”

It’s no wonder the staff shed a tear most days as they see plenty of life’s casualties. “We’ve had people having to move into rented accommodation who’ve lost everything and probably the only thing that’s helped them through is their dog. If they have to bring that into us as well, that’s just choking.” Louise continues, “with the recession we’ll see more of this – this week alone we’ve had 3 people begging us to take their dogs.”

Others can’t afford to keep their animals. “The dog wardens pick up a lot more dogs now whose owners have let their dogs loose because they can’t afford to pay vet fees.”

Like any jobs, this one has its down side. “It’s very frustrating dealing with human beings who don’t know any better,” says Louise sadly. “Sometimes they turn up with animals in an appalling state. It’s not always cruelty, it’s ignorance. It would help if dog licences were brought back as it would teach people to be more responsible.”

Another disadvantage is lack of money. “It would be lovely to have a larger centre,” Louise says wistfully. “We’d always fill it no matter how big it was. We rely on volunteers for food but some dogs need specific diets.

“We also need money for vets’ fees, though we have a great vet who gives us a discount. We have a vet room in the new centre but we can’t afford the equipment for operations so it’s just going to be used for health checks and vaccinations.

“Exercise equipment would help socialise the dogs and teach them how to play. A hydrotherapy pool would help relieve the stress of being in kennels and help build up muscles for the undernourished or arthritic dogs. I’d love to employ someone to train dogs and go into the community to teach people how to look after their pets properly.” She smiles. “But any donations that improve the animals’ quality of life or simply brighten their day are always gratefully received.”

Christmas is a strained and stressful time, as Louise explains. “People seem to part with their pets prior to Christmas, so our policy is not to re-home any animals at Christmas to prevent them going as presents. The Christmas fortnight is not an ideal time for a dog to settle into a new home. Though there are exceptions, namely elderly people who live alone.”

For anyone stuck for birthday or Christmas ideas, the NAWT offer the gift of a year’s sponsorship of a dog kennel or cat pen which comes with photos and a folder of information. With this in mind, Louise would like to create more awareness of NAWT in Cornwall. “I’d like to get more local businesses involved maybe in sponsorship and have open days so people can come and look round.” She grins. “The official opening of the centre will be in May 2009 and I’m told that royalty has been invited. I’m practising my curtsey!”

It’s clear that Louise, her staff and volunteers all have one thing in common: the animals’ happiness. Without them, Cornwall would be a poorer place. “You can really make a difference,” she explains. “It’s very hard and emotional but it’s very rewarding. When you see a frail, nervous dog transform into a really happy one and you find it a new home, you know that you’ve changed the rest of its life.”

National Animal Welfare Trust
Wheal Alfred Road
Hayle TR27 5JT
01736 756005
Opening hours 11am-3pm
Dogs to be re-homed are featured on the website, which is updated weekly -

NAWT Shop, 38 Church Street, Falmouth TR11 3EF 01326 211700
Open 10-4 Monday-Saturday. Donations of items in good condition (not electrical or furniture) or offers of help are welcome.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I'm in love.

And I suspect that Himself is a little envious. Though he pretends he's not.

For most of his life, his two loves have been music and boats, and these two are not usually compatible, so one took precedence over the other. Then I came along and confused matters.

But these two have been constants, and as we don't have a boat any more, Himself turned back to jazz. Unfortunately, having been out of the swing of things for many years, he found it very hard to get back into playing the cornet again. After trying for a year or so, he finally decided to hang up his cornet and hasn't wanted to listen to any jazz since.

I can understand that. It's like when a love affair goes wrong. You don't often want to be reminded of the person, so you shut it all out.

But now I've discovered this fabulous choir and I'm in love with music. I love the hour and a half that we have every Thursday to get together and make these incredible noises. Though I would add that all credit goes to our musical director, Claire, who is one of the most inspirational and musical people I have ever met.

For years I belonged to one conventional choir after another and each time I would leave, knowing that it wasn't quite right. Not their fault. Mine. But this one is just FAB. We have no accompaniment, just the natural harmonies of our voices, and Claire clicking her fingers and tapping her foot to keep time.

We sing gypsy music, a Liberian chant, a negro spiritual number, traditional carols, a Congolose folk song, a Bulgarian song, an American canon and many others and for that hour and a half every Thursday I am transported. I get back and can't concentrate on anything else, just the music roaring round my head.

And I would so like to be able to share this with Himself. It's not the kind of music that he has enjoyed in the past, but not to be able to enjoy music is such a loss. Particularly for someone as musical as him.

He's coming to hear us sing this weekend at a Christmas fair, and I hope he'll enjoy that. But somehow I must devise a Cunning Plan to get him back to music.

Any ideas gratefully received.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Food for thought

I've had a busy few weeks – lots to do with a new novel writing group, which has provoked lots of thought about the novel and where I'm going with it. Diverse opinions from others – some published, some not – about it which can lead to confusion. But at the end of the day this is my book. And it's up to me to write it the way I feel is best. Publication can feel so near yet so far – but hearing the news that ChrisH has finally got a contract is very cheering for all of us Not Quite There. Well done, Chris! You've shown us there is hope...

On the paying front, I've interviewed a humanist who really made me think about life – and death. He became a humanist after his son died at the age of 4months, very suddenly. He felt that a religious ceremony for someone who wasn't religious was wrong, and formed a Cornish branch of the Humanist Association, and set about persuading funeral directors to allow him to take funerals. From there he now does weddings and baby namings.

In case you didn't know (and I didn't), humanists don't believe in an after life – this is what you get so you must make the most of it and take responsibility for your actions. But they also believe that we should help each other, and that this is the way for humans to succeed. I very much agree – though mankind seems to be heading in the opposite direction with gusto.

This fellow – called John the Fish, from when he was a fisherman, has been at the forefront of professional folk singing in Cornwall for many years. He's also been a clog dancer/maker, a leather craftsman, a broadcaster, an engineer – you name it there's not much he hasn't done.

Every time something has gone wrong in his life, he simply does something else. “Doors always seem to be opening if you look for them,” he adds. “I think we have to accept what comes and turn it to our advantage. You need to look for the positive rather than the negative, which isn't always easy to do.”

Wise words that I will endeavour to remember.

Friday, 4 December 2009

I recently volunteered to take part in a trial for treatment of Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder.

I hadn't realised how much weather can affect me until several years ago when we had a(nother) lousy summer, then I got food poisoning. By late September I was feeling terrible, and rang a girlfriend in desperation.

“Can we meet for a long weekend?” I said (she'd just moved to Bournemouth: a long way from Cornwall.

She agreed to look into it and rang back the next day. “You've got a choice,” she said, with a catch of excitement in her voice. “It's a week in Spain or ten days in Menorca.”

We opted for the ten days, said goodbye to our respective partners and did a runner. Typically we arrived in the middle of a storm and spent the first day freezing, the next day going to a market and buying thick sweatshirts and wondering what the hell we'd done. The next day the sun came out......

That really set me up for the winter and I returned home tanned and beaming to pick blackberries in the greyness of a Cornish October. Now we have Mollie (whom we would not leave behind) but anyway finances rather preclude any foreign jaunts, so I am now sitting in front of my lightbox, getting my daily dose of light (there being none from the sun), and reading my booklet on ways to beat SAD. This includes Getting Outside – not a problem given a) my propensity to cabin fever (inherited from my mother) b) itchy feet and c) Mollie. But there are suggestions for beating negative thinking, Trying New Things and eating sensibly.

I'm charting my progress. So far I've joined the most amazing choir which has lifted my Thursdays beyond belief. As I was having a wobbly time, I tried the ways to beat negative thinking (and I think that helped), but a good sing helped more than anything, followed by a chat with new friends over coffee afterwards. I do eat reasonably sensibly anyway

So, does the lightbox work? Well, given the weather we've had over the past month, I haven't being dragged down into dire depression, put my head in a gas oven or murdered my husband. So I think the answer must be yes.

Do any of you suffer from SAD and/or tried a lightbox?

Thursday, 26 November 2009


This is me having a go at archery - in December's Cornwall Today...

An ancient sport enjoyed by many a contemporary Robin Hood
My friend Diane Johnstone fell in love with archery five years ago, and when she suggested I try it, I thought – why not? So one sunny afternoon I met her at the Lizard Peninsula Bowmen Club outside Helston and prepared to do battle.
First of all, footwear. “Sensible shoes,” she said, looking pointedly at my scuffed sandals. “If you wear sandals you might jab yourself in the foot with an arrow.” Unfortunately I hadn't any other shoes with me so had to leave my toes at risk.
Then, working up the body, more protection. “As you're right handed, you'll need an arm guard on your left arm,” said Diane, handing me a perforated plastic contraption which eased over my upper arm. “Normally you'd need a tab which protects the fingers, but this bow is fitted with a string guard, so you won't need one.”
The bow was made of fibre glass with a plastic handle. “This is a recurve, or Olympic bow, as used in the Olympic Games,” she explained. “Recurves have more aids to shooting – sights and stabilisers for example - than the traditional longbow.” Olympic bows are also made left or right handed, which would suit my left handed husband. “This is an 18lb bow because when you pull it, you're pulling 18 pounds.”
The arrows are made of aluminium (for short distances) though carbon is mainly used outdoors for longer distances as they fly much straighter and further.
Beginners must do a 6 week course and the club shoots all year round, retiring to Gweek Village Hall in winter. “There's no upper age limit but the lower limit is around 11, depending on the child's physique,” explained Diane. “If they're too small they have difficulty pulling the bow. It's always advisable not to buy your own equipment until you've done the Beginners' Course because you need to practise so you get more idea of what kind of bow you'd like. It's not a sport to rush into.”
My husband, having done some archery years ago, wanted to know about competitions. “They run throughout the year,” said Diane. “Internal ones are for club members only, with trophies and medals, also fun shoots at unusual targets; and all the clubs round here hold tournaments with more trophies and medals.”
There's also clout shooting which is with bare bows (which means you take the sight off) at a foot-high flag in the grass. “Shots are measured with a thing like a long tape-measure which has gold, red, blue, black, white - painted on it. Arrows falling within its range count.” Diane smiled. “It's really good fun!”
The longest distance in this field is 100 yards but my target was 10 yards away - a beginner's distance. Even with my bad eyesight I couldn't miss that.
Now we came to the actual shooting. “It's important to observe line etiquette – normally there'd be a whistle telling you when to go to the shooting line,” instructed Diane. I took my quiver, a metal contraption containing my arrows, up to the shooting line and stuck it in the ground. Quivers are usually worn around the waist, or over the shoulder for longbowmen.
Diane showed me how to stand correctly, at right angles to the target, weight evenly balanced. Then came positioning the arrow so it didn't pinch. Next I had to bring up the bow, look through the sight – “And then when you're ready, let go.” A stunned silence – my arrow had hit the target!
I shot five more arrows under fire from Diane's instructions: “Stand straight – don't lean back! Keep your head looking over your shoulder. Try and push those shoulder blades together – that's where the power should come from.” My brain was buzzing trying to think about my stance, feet, elbows, arms, fingers, shoulders – there was so much to remember - “Yes there is,” said Diane brusquely. “And we haven't even started yet!”
In summary, she explained, there are four distinct movements to archery. “One is on the line and settling yourself. Two – bring the bow up. Three is the draw and four is the release. When you let go it's also a good thing to hold still for about three seconds. You'd be surprised - it somehow makes a difference.” And it did.
After six arrows I stopped. “We usually shoot six arrows outdoors, and when everyone has finished, two whistles blow and you can then get your arrows,” Diane said, and showed me how to collect them. “The hand that's nearest the target goes on it to provide a base, then you pull the arrow as close to the target as you can , so as not to bend it. Also make sure there's no one standing behind you. Transfer it to the other hand and repeat.”
To my relief I hadn't done too badly as all the arrows had hit the target. “At this stage it doesn't matter where the arrows land,” said Diane reassuringly. “They're all together in a group which is good. The rest of it is just adjusting the bow.”
I continued until my arms ached and I discovered muscles in my shoulders I didn't know existed. Finally came Diane's verdict. “You'd be fine – your basic technique is all right. It wouldn't take you long to be shooting very well.”
“There you are, that's incentive enough,” said my husband enviously. I grinned at Diane's praise and we arranged another session – I could tell my husband was itching to have a go. And if he wanted to be Robin Hood, I had visions of myself as a short sighted Maid Marion with perfect aim. And sensible shoes of course.

Diane Johnstone, Secretary, Lizard Peninsula Bowmen, Tremorna, Treleaver, Coverack, Helston,
Cornwall TR12 6SF
tel: 01326 280308 / e – – Grand National Archery Society – FITA (International Archery Federation) – Devon and Cornwall Archery Society – Archery GB – Disabled Archery

Archery is the practice of shooting arrows with a bow. Historically archery was used for hunting and combat, but nowadays archery is mainly a sport.
Someone who practises archery is known as an “archer” or “bowman”. One who enjoys archery or is an expert is known as a "toxophilite."
A 6 week beginners' course costs £25 or £60 to join for adults and £25 for juniors. Open days are also available - contact Diane for details.
Archery has been an Olympic sport from 1900 and there is also a Paralympic Squad that has achieved great success.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Us and Them

Those of us who don't have children – for whatever reason – find ourselves barred from that exclusive club that is the Mothers' Club. Recently I was at a yoga class and became very aware of the fact that two of us stood to one side talking, while the rest congregated on the floor, swapping school stories and tales of their offspring.

Most of us have encountered groups that can make us feel unwelcome - sexism at work, perhaps. Being the only woman in a male environment can be difficult – though it can also be fun. Then there's ageism – being married to someone 18 years my senior I have become used to being with older people, but at first I was very aware of being the youngest and was treated with wary friendliness by his friends. Now I've realised that age doesn't matter, and I've been welcomed as his wife.

But both those are accidents of birth, if you like. We can't help our sex any more than our age. But women not having children? Surely we were born to procreate. Thousands of years ago being barren was a curse from the gods. Nowadays it's a lifestyle choice – or is it? Those of us who don't have children still tend to have to defend our choice to those disbelieving others. We are still viewed as second citizens with Something Wrong with us. We feel excluded from the main swim of life. But there's nothing the matter with us. Why should we be treated as pariahs?

Many years ago I was swimming with a friend's children and one of them asked where my children were. “I don't have any,” I replied, splashing back. “Why not?” asked the six year old, with a frown.
I opened my mouth to explain and shut it again. It was too complicated. “I just don't,” I finished, lamely.

My husband, an observant fellow, noted the other morning that a lot of our friends don't have children. So while we obviously tend to befriend those in a similar situation, not having children shapes our lives. Our parameters are different: our anxieties not the same. We focus on different things. Not better, nor worse, but different. We have time that can be devoted to other things.

I used to wish we had children, but now I don't. For many reasons. I am content with my life. But try explaining that to the world at large.

Have any of you ever been made aware of this divide – from either side of the fence?

Friday, 13 November 2009


(Apologies to any Novel Racers for duplication!)

Oh lord I've just realised the date. Not that I'm suspicious or anything....

Back in 1995 I was among 50 nutters selected to take part in the World One Day Novel competition. (The entry form was devised by Terry Pratchett which tells you something about the kind of person they wanted.)

I got the letter to say I'd been accepted on my birthday. And panicked. My writing group met and we worked out A Plan, which was basically enlarging a short story I'd just had published. Based on the previous year's submissions I think the word count I was aiming at was 20,000 words but I could type fast in those days. But it obviously meant a lot of fleshing out from 12000 words to 20,000. So I walked round the village, reciting the plot, characters etc as I went (we werent allowed to take any notes in to the competition).

On a practical level, it meant travelling to the Groucho Club in London and doing the competition on a laptop. In those days laptops were like gold dust but thankfully my little brother came to the rescue with one from work. He also put me up for the weekend, dear of him.

So at 10 am that Saturday, 50 of us were poised, ready to start writing. We'd been told that the organisers reserved the right to set a subject at the last minute but thankfully they didn't. I was shaking so much that I didn't think I'd be able to type a word, particularly when the event was being covered by Radio Four and other news channels, so I had a huge fluffy microphone stuck under my nose (to hear my manic tapping of the keys, presumably. Either that or my belaboured, hysterical gasping). When we were given the Off my brain went entirely blank and I hyperventilated.

But eventually I got going – and didn't stop till we had to finish at 10 o'clock that night. We started at 10am again the following day, all of us feeling slightly more at home with what we were doing. Several had even gone off on the piss the night before, or what was left of it.

Being someone who always rushes things, I was the first to finish, some time that Sunday afternoon. Having edited and polished, with the few remaining brain cells left, I then staggered to the bar and got drunk courtesy of the Groucho Club, with various other members.

The experience was decidedly zany. It was terrifying, exhilarating and so unlike anything else that I will never forget it. It would have been great to have more time to meet the other contestants, but as it was I became friends with two journalists from the West Country. I then spent a week with my poor system in overdrive, unable to relax.

Looking back, what did I get out of it? Well, nothing that helped my day to day writing. But I did learn how to think – or write - on my feet. Or is that bum? I could type a lot faster – and more accurately – in those days, which helped a lot. I learnt how to plan and edit according to the time I had (not much). And I learnt how to work under pressure. Apart from all that, it was great fun and if asked, and after a few glasses of wine, I'm sure I'd do it again.

Whether it actually helped my writing is another matter. But I so enjoyed it!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Helford river walk

I did this walk back on a perfect summer's day (yes, we did have one) that will stay with me for a long while...

A circular walk in Daphne du Maurier country -
by the Helford river, St Anthony Church and Gillan Creek

The Helford river has great allure for me, mostly because of Daphne du Maurier's books, which I have read avidly since a teenager. While the pirates might be absent, and the traders be long gone, if you walk carefully and keep your senses alert, I swear you can catch the rustle of a crinoline, the flash of a sword and the rattle of an anchor.

With this in mind, Mollie Dog and I set off one morning with Deb, Viv and her effervescent terrier, Titch, left Falmouth and headed to towards Mawnan Smith. In the middle of the village we bore right past the Red Lion pub, following signs to Helford Passage. This road passes Glendurgan and Trebah gardens, and when it bears round to the right we drove straight ahead signposted to the Ferryboat Inn. Towards the bottom of a steep hill was a sign to the Ferryboat Inn and car park – we turned right and parked here (£1 per day). Down the hill was Helford Passage, where the passenger ferry operates over to Helford Village and back in the summer months.

Unfortunately a stiff easterly wind was blowing, and together with a very low tide, meant the ferry couldn't run, so we had to get back in the car and follow signs to Gweek, then Mawgan and Helford. Finally we arrived at the car park at Helford Village and headed towards the sailing club, took a Public Footpath sign and turned left through the woods. The path here is rocky and can be very muddy in winter, and leads down some steps onto a road where we turned right up the hill then left with a stream on our right, past a stall with an incredible selection of glass stoppered bottles in blues, greens and browns. Taking the next left into Bosahan Woods (dogs under strict control here) we followed this narrow windy path through the trees.

This path closely follows the shore looking over to Porth Saxon beach and Toll Point opposite. Out in Falmouth Bay we saw several tankers moored up, a couple of yachts with yellow and blue spinnakers billowing and St Anthony lighthouse in the hazy distance. Passing through a kissing gate we entered a field flanked by nettles, sorrel and clover. At this juncture we met a pack of dogs of various shapes and sizes with their owners and a friendly dog battle ensued. Thankfully canines were all rescued intact and unharmed and we continued round the edge of several fields, up a steep path, into a field at the top of the hill where the ground was scattered with speedwell and field bindweed. Looking down we could see the vastness of Gillan Creek, parched of water at low tide.

Passing through a wooden kissing gate we followed the path down the middle of this field. Knowing that I'm not keen on cattle, Deb waited till we'd got towards the end of the field before telling me that the last time she'd been here the field was full of cows and a bull, but thankfully this time there were just cowpats. This path led to a dusty track and we turned left down towards St Anthony Church.

The first mention of the church of St Anthony in Meneage is in 1170. This church, built on the bank of Gillan Creek, is said to have been built from Normandy stone by Norman sailors, as a thanksgiving for being saved from drowning. The carpeted church is beautifully kept, still lit by candles, has an old whipping post near the entrance and is well worth a visit.

Leaving the church we walked along the creek as it was low tide – otherwise take the lane bordering the creek inland for about a mile. Every Good Friday local families gather at the cockle beds at Bar Beach, Treath and Gillan to collect cockles and other shellfish. This tradition, dating from pre-Christian times, is known as trigging. People are encouraged to leave any undersized cockles (smaller than a 20p piece) and only take as many as they need for their own consumption, while still enjoying their traditional family day on the shore.

Tripping over a little spider crab, I saw a grassy knoll on our right with a wooden caravan on wheels, like a Victorian bathing machine. Incredulously we looked round, and set back in the trees was a smaller one, like a gypsy caravan, newly painted in cream and red trimming. Delighted, Mollie and I ran over to investigate and found, in amongst the bushes, several sheds and a picnic table covered by an awning. With a barbecue area out front, it was just like a scene out of Swallows and Amazons.
Leaving this area of paradise behind, we headed along the creek while a rooster crowed in the distance. Mollie scampered into what little water there was in the creek, and emerged with her tail wagging, all four legs covered in black treacly mud.
Scrambling further along the creek we came to a newly built stone wall, and just before this an almost sheer path which led back up to the lane. Hauling ourselves up, we were able to enjoy hedges full of dog roses and campion, and looking back at the creek through the trees was a bevy of swans, splashing and enjoying an afternoon siesta.
Turning sharp right inland we headed through a wooden gate (if you're under a size 10 you can squeeze past the gate post) and into woods up a long steep hill. It was stony and damp underfoot but ahead was a wall of tumbling wild roses, almost obscuring what looked like a studio in amongst the foxgloves. All we needed was the fox and we could have stepped into a Beatrix Potter book.
The path bore round to the left, past some restored barns and a sign to Manaccan. Past a churchyard on the left, we walked ahead through a lych gate and stopped in the churchyard, where an empty wooden seat awaited us, in the shade of a fig tree growing out of the church wall.
Restored by biscuits, apples and water for us and the dogs, we left the churchyard and turned right up the hill, past Manaccan Primary School. Wild sweet peas billowed out from the wall on our right and passing a cafe on the right, we took the first left signposted to Helford.
This field led over a stile, crossed the road and into another field, then downhill and into more woods. Looking up on the right was a beautiful white (grey) horse, so perfect it seemed unreal. Dazzled, we headed on through more woods ignoring waymarks to the right or left, continuing ahead where we passed a row of whitewashed cottages. Heading down a steep concreted path, this led to another row of cottages which we kept on our right, up the hill past several painters, eager to capture the beauty of Helford Village, until we arrived back in Helford car park. At the entrance is Down by the Riverside cafe, and we settled on seats outside for very welcome tea and slabs of home made cake.
As I lay awake that night, I knew that this day and this walk will remain with me forever. I relived the white sunlight sizzling the ivy leaves, the welcome easterly breeze as we rounded Dennis Head, and the silent, peaceful mystery of Gillan Creek. I can't wait to do it again.

OS Explorer 103, The Lizard, Falmouth and Helston
Length: 5.5 miles
Duration: 2 ¾ hours
Grade: moderate, some steep hills; walking through the woods can be muddy and slow
Helford Passage ferry -
Ferryboat Inn, Helford Passage - 01326 250625.
Shipwrights Inn, Helford Village – 01326 231235
The beach at Helford Passage is not dog friendly in summer
Down By the Riverside Cafe at Helford Village car park. There are also public toilets here.
New Inn, Manaccan

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Money can't buy me Love

I woke last night and started thinking about things that troubled me.

One was my American friend who, having lived over here for 4 years, has applied for residency. This has involved various tests, submitting both her and her partners' passports, wage slips and countless other pieces of paper and also parting with nearly a thousand quid.

She'd hoped to fly home for Thanksgiving but when she rang the Immigration lot to ask when she might know if her application had been successful, she was told to wait FOURTEEN WEEKS before ringing again. That's nearly four months in which time a) she can't go home as they have her passport, b) she won't see her mother and sister and c) she's wondering whether any day she might be deported. If she is, where would she and her partner go? And what about their beloved animals? If they had to be quarantined, she would find that so so hard.

The other thing that was my youngest brother and his family, whom we saw yesterday (see above - them off to surf). They were staying in North Cornwall for half term but he was unable to take much time off as he has a big tender coming up on Tuesday and needs to prepare for that. So no holidays on holiday.

I love my brothers to bits, but they lead such stressful lives that I thank God we don't have to live like that. Not having children helps, and the fact that neither Himself or I have ever been materialistic or acquisitive.

I was talking to a friend the other night and we discussed the sentences over the Baby P case. One of the men has had his sentence reduced and could be out of prison in three years, and the other is appealing as well. While in other cases, people are getting indefinite sentences for fraud.

Deb and I wondered - since when has money become god, meaning more than lives?

Of course money is essential for bills, mortgages, university fees, accommodation, clothing - well, we all know what it goes on. And a bit more would certainly smooth our path. Money can provide choices: a better education for children; paying bills. Holidays and clothes; boats and houses.

But it certainly can't buy peace of mind. And when you get to a certain age - I'm talking over 50 here - there might come a time when it's possible - or necessary - to rethink life. (Of course if you're happy with it anyway, there's no need.)

I realise I am extremely fortunate: I work hard and have a job I love, even if the pay isn't wonderful. Himself has very little work, but we scrape by, and I am so glad we are able to live the way we do, where we have the time and space to appreciate life.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Stones Bakery

I go to this bakery in Falmouth a lot. Himself buys their organic flour to make bread, and they make the best flapjack ever: full of fruit, seeds and not too sweet. Think I'll have to go down there later.... read about them here and in November's Cornwall Today.


Stone's Bakery in Falmouth is one of several artisan bakers emerging in Cornwall to make delicious products using high quality ingredients. Having started off two years ago from an industrial unit in Penryn and a stall on Falmouth Moor they have taken over a shop in the High Street and are selling out with their delicious baguettes, focaccia and sourdoughs, as well as speciality breads including garlic and thyme, and a spelt and honey loaf. They also sell a wide range of cakes, croissants and cheese straws and are renowned for their flapjack. And to cater for all tastes, they even sell books!

Oliver Kingdon, 29 and his wife Rosie, 28, seem a quiet, industrious couple but their faces light up when they start talking about their food. “We get our organic flour from three places – every mill produces a slightly different type of flour that suits different types of bread,” Oliver explains. “Stoates & Son are a Dorset firm that provide good wholemeal spelt and rye flour.”

“We did look into getting Cornish flour but there wasn't anyone who sold it on a large enough scale,” adds Rosie. “So we get white flour from Shipton Mill, and self-raising and plain flour for cakes from Doves. We tried them all out to see what suits which bread, and we've tried to go with smaller independent mills - they're more knowledgeable and specialised.”

“Organic flour has less pesticides, as wheat is a crop that is heavily sprayed,” Oliver continues. “The flavour from stoneground is better and they blend different types of wheat which have different levels of protein.”

“We wanted the flour to be organic because it tastes better,” says Rosie. “We're not completely organic because we wanted to keep our prices down but the flour is. And in some areas you don't necessarily taste the difference. We wanted to make our products at a price everyone could afford.”

The shop is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9-4 but the hours are flexible. “There are always things to finish up at the back so if we're there we might as well sell things,” says Oliver. “We're happy for people to tap on the window!”

Oliver and Rosie Kingdon met at Hull university 9 years ago and have been together ever since. After leaving university, Oliver got a job at a small organic mill and bakery at Lincolnshire. “I'd always been interested in food, and I wanted to do something practical,” he explained. “I also did a Panary course which is like bakery school.”

“We liked the idea of being self employed and we both enjoy baking,” Rosie says. “It seemed something we could do on our own so we went from there.”

The couple moved to Cornwall two years ago. “We'd been here on holiday and wanted to live by the sea,” Rosie says. Initially they lived in St Ives, and named the bakery after the notorious Stones Reef off Godrevy Island. They found the industrial unit in Penryn, and set up the stall in Falmouth. “We liked Falmouth as a town,” says Oliver. “It's a year round town not just tourists, which is good for business.”

“We didn't want to take on a huge amount of risk so the stall allowed us to start off small and test the water,” explains Rosie. “If it hadn't worked, we would have done something else. In fact we built up a customer base but if it was really windy then the market would be cancelled and we couldn't trade that week. So we wanted something where we could be there 5 days a week, year round.”

This job is not for the fainthearted - Oliver starts baking between 3 and 5 in the morning, five days a week. “When we had the unit I slept in the day and never saw anyone,” he says. “I'm used to being covered in flour!” he adds with a grin. “But with the shop we get to know our customers and see more of each other.”

Rosie makes the cakes in the daytime in between serving customers. “There aren't many places where you can buy a cake which is just made out of the ingredients you'd have in the fridge,” she says. “If we have fat in the cake then it will be Trewithen butter, and eggs from Cornhill.”
“If there's chocolate then it's proper chocolate melted by us, not chocolate flavour,” adds Oliver. “We experiment a lot with the cakes but if they don't sell, we don't make them.”

The most popular items are baguettes, chocolate brownies and the longest cheese straws ever seen. “We use Trewithen butter in the croissants and cheese straws, and you can really taste the creamy flavour,” says Rosie. “They're made from a croissant base and we use Cornish cheese,” adds Oliver.

At the moment their favourite is a rye sourdough loaf. “We make it just for Saturday in an Eastern European style,” says Oliver. “It's a really moist, dark sticky loaf that looks like a little brick!”

They've found the other shop owners in the High Street very friendly. “Lots of them pop in to pick things up and the hairdresser is always recommending us to her customers!” says Rosie. “There's a strong sense of community along the High Street,” adds Oliver. “When we first started work on the building we got cards from some of the others saying welcome and lots popped in to say hi. It was really nice.”

This enterprising couple don't just sell their own baking and muesli. They also stock Kyfyth Kernow jams and chutneys, greetings cards by illustrator Beth Knowles, chopping boards and cutlery trays from Barncrest in Penryn who made the wooden shop counter. They even sell second hand books. “The books come from a friend who owns Beerwolf books on Falmouth market,” says Rosie. “They have a really good selection so we decided to stock them as well.”

Having their own business has been a steep learning curve but despite having proved such a success, they have no plans to change. “Some people expand too quickly and lose the quality of the product,” explains Oliver. “If we have an idea we can find out what people think of it immediately by having tasters on the counter.”

“We want to do something practical, not have to manage lots of people,” adds Rosie. “I enjoy serving the customers – if I make a tray of flapjack then a couple of hours later it's me that sells it – that's immediate satisfaction. Particularly when they come back and tell me how much they've enjoyed it!” She pauses. “The way the shop looks is just how we want it to look. It reflects us as individuals.”

Oliver and Rosie are conscious of needing a balance between work and their lives outside. “We've got to enjoy our work and our customers, but we also want to be able to enjoy the lovely place we live in,” says Rosie. And despite not wanting to expand, in one way they will, for Rosie is expecting a baby in December.

“I'll probably get more help in the shop and work part time at first,” says Rosie thoughtfully. “But we'll see what happens.” Oliver smiles at his wife and his eyes twinkle. “We'll just get the baby baking!” he says.

Stones Bakery
28a High Street
Falmouth TR11 2AD


Stones Bakery also attend St Ives Farmers Market on Thursdays

Friday, 16 October 2009

It's Never Too Late

Last night we had a novel writing meeting, and one of those present was Nancy. My inspiration. She is in October's Cornwall Today.

After twenty years away, a 70 year old Cornish woman returned home
and embarked on her third career.

Nancy Kinnison has a lot in common with the late Mary Wesley, who once said, ‘Sixty should be the time to start something new, not put your feet up.’ Nancy agrees with this, having changed career – again – when she retired from teaching at 65. Her latest reincarnation is perhaps one of her hardest challenges. Becoming a writer.

‘I’ve always wanted to write,’ Nancy says in her breathless fashion. ‘I had a very encouraging teacher at school, then, when I was married, I started writing short stories. I always said that when I finish work I will write, and that’s what I've done.’

Nancy talks quickly, waving her hands as she speaks. She wears no makeup, and her jewellery is all silver; a pair of dangly earrings, a variety of chunky rings on each finger, and a pendant. She is short and stocky, with understated, comfortable clothes that struggle to contain her overflowing enthusiasm. Her eyes flash back and forth, missing nothing.

‘The worst bit about being a writer is the frustration of trying to put emotions into words that will evoke those feelings for a reader,’ she says.

Nancy moved back to Cornwall in 2004 because, “simply, it's home. But I'd lived in cities for 20 years and enjoy their facilities: that's why I chose to live in Truro. It's at the centre of Cornwall but only minutes away from the sea; the sound of breaking surf was a childhood lullaby.”

What did she miss about Cornwall? She laughs. “Everything! The people – their down to earth character and wicked sense of humour. The infinite variety of its landscape, and above all, the untameable and ever-changing sea.”

Nancy now lives in a small house on a quiet estate in Truro. Her living room is filled with novels, books on psychology, Cornish magazines and newspapers. A collection of fruit ripens on the window sills, next door to pots of basil and parsley, and above the television are a collection of photographs of her grown children and grandchildren. An ordinary house, you might think. But there is nothing ordinary about Nancy.

She was born and brought up in a small fishing village in Cornwall, and started pre-nursing training in 1950 aged 16 before doing her nursing training at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.

When Nancy married a policeman in 1957 she worked as a staff nurse until she had children. When they were at school she returned to work, but not for long. ‘It was impossible to fit in with my husband’s shifts while the children were young,’ she says. ‘When they were older I did my Diploma in Nursing and worked at Treliske hospital as a night sister for two years.’

In 1976 Nancy’s marriage broke up. ‘My husband left when the children were 15 and 18,’ she says, the pain and anger still clear in her voice. As a result she left nursing and worked as a technician at Falmouth School. ‘It wasn’t the most fulfilling of jobs, but it was right at the time,’ she adds resolutely.

When Nancy was 45 she applied to Southampton University to read Sociology and Social Administration. ‘I’d always wanted to go to university but never thought I was bright enough.’ She smiles defiantly. ‘I was terrified. Most people considered going to university at my age ridiculous, but I thought I must try - and fail if necessary.’

So she’d never thought about going to university earlier? ‘Coming from a working class family, it wasn’t an option,’ she said. ‘But if I could change anything about my life I would have gone to university earlier. It was the first step to finding intellectual fulfilment.’

Nancy got her degree and secured a lecturing post at North London College teaching Sociology and Psychology. ‘I got a tremendous amount out of all my various jobs,’ she says, her eyes gleaming, ‘but teaching was the most rewarding. Having piloted a BTEC Nursery Nurse course, I applied for a job to set up a similar course in Bath. I stayed there till I retired in 1997.’

Most people would have some time off before starting on another career, but not Nancy. ‘The second Saturday after I retired, I went on a writing course and started writing,’ she says with her open laugh. ‘I wish I’d started earlier – someone told me it takes ten years to produce anything professional.’

But since then Nancy’s short stories have appeared in QWF (Quality Women’s Fiction), Woman’s Own, Fiction Feast, Yours and Family Circle, which has greatly increased her confidence.

‘I've joined various groups, attended a novel writing course and started writing my first novel,’ she says. The novel, the first of a trilogy, is set in the 1950s, about a young nursing student. ‘I wanted to show how different nursing was then compared to now,’ she explains.

The novel was interrupted when an ex-colleague asked her to collaborate on a psychology textbook for nurses. ‘If I’d have known how much time it was going to take, I probably wouldn’t have done it,’ she says. ‘But it’s in print now, so I've gone back to my novel which is such a relief!’

At 75, Nancy is aware that she has less time than some of us, but this doesn’t deter her. ‘I always knew that learning how to write would be a long slow process,’ she says. Her hard work was rewarded last year when a London literary agent asked to see the whole manuscript. 'She turned it down, but to have got that far is very encouraging,' Nancy says. And she is positive about the future. ‘In five years time I hope to be writing a bestseller - my third best selling novel!’

Nancy is an inspiration to anyone regardless of sex or age. So what advice does she have? ‘If you want to try something, do it,’ she says. ‘Get tuition, join groups – take whatever you're doing seriously.’ She looks up and smiles. ‘It’s all about having the courage to try. If there’s something you really want to do, go for it.’

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Jewel in the Crown

We're now back from holiday and there's nothing like going away on holiday to really appreciate Home.

Don't get me wrong - we had a great time. The cottage was lovely, and had a very good range cooker that Himself fell in love with, and made great use of (so we were all happy) and a back yard for Mollie so she was happy. My mum came for half the week, various friends dropped in, we had cousins for supper, and a very good pub within a few minutes walk. Perfick, as Pa Larkin would say.

The weather could have been better, but there was one day that really stood out for me. Our cousins had told me about a Bronze Age settlement called Carn Euny – from there you can walk over to Chapel Carn Brea, one of the highest spots in Cornwall. I did this walk on the one really good day we had where the sky was dark blue and I could see for miles.

Himself looked at the map and said “you just go up to Carn Euny and go left,” as if I was in the middle of a town.

I grunted, he said he'd meet me at Chapel car park, and we both departed in opposite directions, Mollie scampering behind me. Well, suffice it to say that as I'd figured, it wasn't as simple as Just Turning Left. I found Carn Euny and that was an incredible sight – but from then on it got tricky. I looked at the map but the green lines indicating Public Footpath didn't bear any resemblance to the paths in front of me. So I retraced my steps and started again.

Then I found another map which seemed to indicate I was going in roughly the right direction, so I continued. After I'd been walking for about 40 minutes (Himself had reckoned the entire walk would be 30 mins), my phone rang. “Where are you?” he said in his I'm-not-worried-just-enquiring-voice.

“I've no idea,” I said. “I figure if I don't find you I'll retrace my steps.”

Silence. “Where's the sun?”

“On my left.”

Another pause. “You should be walking into it, Pop.”

We left it that I'd continue for another ten minutes and if I was still lost then, I'd go back.

But then I came to the top of the hill and the path curved into the sun. I took a deep breath and there was Cornwall laid out before me in all her glory. Scilly glimmered in the distance, Long Ships lighthouse stood proudly in the sea before me, a small airplane took off from Lands End runway, and I took a deep breath, breathing in that exhilarating air, and realised how lucky I was to be there, at that time, with the wind whipping my hair, the sun beating down on me – and Mollie wondering if I was whooping because I'd really flipped.

Looking round, there was such a dizzying sense of height and depth and space. And here, in an area that hasn't been overly farmed, and apart from the monstrosity that is Lands End, hasn't been mucked around by tourism, it's possible to see a glimpse of the real, rough Cornwall. The land as it was in the Bronze Age. An earthy, raw feeling that is simply very, very ancient and basic and simple.

And that glimpse – that for me was the real jewel in my holiday crown.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Many thanks to Debs who kindly passed this "Your Blog is Fabulous!" Award which stands for: Integrity. Commitment to Excellence. Stubbornly Optimistic.

List five current obsessions:

Well – I'm scratching my head here because I'm trying to send everything to my editor before I go away tomorrow, remember to pack what I need for the funeral in Devon on Friday, and also thinking about what we'll need to take with us when we go on holiday on Saturday. Oh, and because I'll be doing a couple of interviews while we're away, I need to take notebooks, walk books and tape recorder. Plus list of questions for interviewees, spare batteries for recorder – all that sort of stuff.

So these obsessions might be a little distracted. Please help yourself to this award and meme - you deserve it!

In no particular order -

1.Writing. Thinking about writing or writing does, I realise, take up a lot of my life. Not that I'm complaining, but it does. I need it in order to breathe, to function. When I'm upset or confused I write something down to make sense of it. When I'm happy I write about it. In fact, here I am now rabbiting on about it. So yes, that is definitely an obsession.

2.My family and friends – my immediate family is Himself, Bussie the cat and Mollie the dog. I love them more than I can say. And I know you're not supposed to let dogs sleep on your bed, but I do sleep so much better with that hot little body squashed against mine..... As for my friends - where would I be without you all? Thanks for everything. Darn – this is sounding more and more like an Oscar acceptance speech.

3.Cruelty to animals – don't get me started....... just light the touch paper and STAND BACK!!

4.Himself would tell you about my over-sensitivity (frequently concerning how other people are feeling) which causes a lot of agonising. I'm currently thinking of a poor friend who has just borrowed my cat box to take her cat to the vet for The Last Trip.....

5.Walks – I spend a lot of time walking with Molls. As from 1st October the dog ban is lifted so we can go on the beaches – hooray! They are always a good place to think and explore thoughts. I have learnt a lot about friends on walks – it's a good way to share concerns and sort the world out.

6.Enjoyment. I am a firm believer in enjoying the small things of life, not the expensive ones (can't afford those). A good book, flowers on my desk, a nice bottle of wine, a piece of home made flapjack, a weepy movie, sitting in the sun with Molls.

See? Life can be fun on very little money! (Just realised that's six but never mind - you have one for luck.)

I will be back in a couple of weeks – have a good time everyone. It's bound to rain now I've mentioned the H word....

Friday, 25 September 2009


In October's issue of Cornwall Today -


I've always been attracted by fencing for its skill, elegance and drama, so when I had the chance to try it out, I jumped at it. Arriving at Truro Fencing Club I was greeted by Maxine McCombie, a diminutive figure bouncing with fitness, who started fencing 6 years ago at the age of 23. She is a TFC club coach and ranked 10th in the nation in the Sabre category. “Fencing attracts many women - it's good for improving general fitness, co-ordination and agility,” she explained.

Jon Salfield, Head Coach, joined us as we watched the Performance Programme in training. “We have 7 people training towards the 2012 Olympics and aim to offer the most comprehensive sabre training available in the UK,” he said. This gives athletes the tools to achieve world-class results, and build a pathway for future generations of international fencers. “Truro Fencing Club have already achieved great successes and hope to build on these.”
But TFC are also a very inclusive and friendly club, keen to encourage fencers of all ages and abilities. Even crocks like me!

Jon explained, “Sabre fencing is such a dynamic sport. You only have a knife edge of time in which to hit the other person so you have to be so focused. You need to concentrate 110% of the time.”

I wondered if my brain cells were up to it, but after showing me the electronic scoring device, Maxine took me to the far end of the gym to put on the kit. “Fencing is very safe because we use safety equipment which is regularly updated,” she explained, and showed me the pieces of kit that beginners wear. “A chest protector (for women), a plastron, or under-jacket for the sword arm, and a jacket which is worn over the top made of Kevlar based material.” All of this is very lightweight cotton but, apparently, made of the same technology as bullet proof vests!

Next came a white glove like a gauntlet, worn on my sword hand and lastly, but most important of all, a mask made of very strong steel with a bib to protect the neck.

First of all Maxine showed me the salute, which is an integral part of fencing. “As it's a combat sport we acknowledge respect for our opponent.” I had to point my sword down towards the floor then bring it straight out in front, then bring the guard up to my nose and back down. “You salute your opponent before and after your fight and also salute the referee and salute at sword point. It's not a violent sport: you try and outwit your opponent.”

Once kitted up, Maxine explained the three types of sword in fencing. “The sabre is used with a cutting action of what would have been a cavalry sword to hit your opponent, whereas with the other two swords, the foil and epee, you can only use the tip.” We were to use a sabre which is a relatively new competitive sport for women, starting at the Olympics in 2004.

First of all she showed me how to place my thumb and hold the sword up in the air. Next came foot work which is quite specific. “As you're right handed, put your right foot forward and always keep it straight,” said Maxine. “Then your back foot turns out to the side at a right angle giving an L shape, then you bend both knees. That's your en garde position so that when you do your lunge you have a good starting position, and your sword comes out at the front.”

She showed me how to move my front foot forwards, then the back foot, and to move backwards start with the back foot, then the front foot. All footwork is a variation on this step, using different patterns and rhythms depending on how the fight's going.

Next came the lunge; the long attacking action. “Your back foot stays flat on the floor and you push forwards into a long stretch and your front knee is bent over your ankle. To get out of it you push backwards into the en garde position. Well done!” I glowed at the praise, though having done both ballet and yoga was a help.

Just when I thought I was making progress, we moved on to attacking. “In sabre the target area is everywhere above the hip line: arms, chest, head, even the sides and back, apart from the hands,” Maxine told me. First I had to hit her on the head, then the chest with the original cutting edge of the sword, and she showed me how to put up my sword to stop a hit. “The three areas to be hit are the head, chest and flank. So you need three main defense blocks, using your sword to stop your opponent hitting you. This is called a parry.”

A parry signifies the end of an attack, then it's time for the opponent to attack. She showed me another way to stop your opponent which was easy: “Step back, out of the way.”

Having shown me the sword work, I then added the footwork, stepping backwards to avoid Maxine, then lunged to attack her. I wanted to know when you hit each other? “When you move forwards, you have the attack,” said Maxine as our swords clashed – she's a very clear and patient coach.
“As soon as you've made me miss or defended, then it's your attack and I have to defend myself, so priority is given to the attack. You can't just hit.” So that cleared that up.

“You're constantly working with the balance of attacking without getting too close,” explained Maxine. “Basically it's attack, parry and change of rhythm.”

I could see that in fencing concentration is vital, as is timing, footwork and lightning-quick reactions. Maxine nodded. “I love the competitiveness and the activity: it's adrenaline fueled but you have to keep your head working. You compete against yourself to improve and your opponent, so they push you to deliver your best fencing.”

By this time I was on an incredible high and my head was spinning: I'd never realised fencing was so complex. But Jon and Maxine are excellent ambassadors of the sport. Their enthusiasm is so contagious, you really want to have a go. or ring Jon on 07779 130942.

Truro Fencing Club was founded in 1970 and now has over 100 members. It costs £25 per month or £15 for children for 2 practices per week, overseen by 5-6 coaches and includes clothes and equipment. The club meets on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and new members of any standard are welcome.

Fencing can be traced back to the 12th century and was one of the disciplines at the very first Olympics in 1896.

The fastest of all the fencing weapons, and the only one which uses cutting actions as well as point attacks. The sabre is descended from the eighteenth and nineteenth century heavy cavalry sword. The target for sabre is above the waist, and simultaneous hits (within 120 milliseconds) are decided by 'right of attack'. Any contact is a valid hit at sabre, ie. no particular level of pressure is required to score a valid hit.

Heavier than the foil and with a larger guard, the epee is descended from the dueling rapier of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Hits can be scored anywhere on the body and must be made with the point. For a hit to be valid it must be delivered with at least 750 grams of pressure (this is detected by a spring loaded tip which is wired to an electronic scoring box). Simultaneous hits score one point each.
A light weapon, developed from the small-sword of the eighteenth century. Hits are made on the torso with the point, and simultaneous hits are governed by 'right of attack'. This means that the fencer who initiates an attacking movement will score the hit, unless the defender first deflects the opponents blade, or makes it miss. For a hit to be valid it must be delivered with at least 500 grams of pressure (this is detected by a spring loaded tip which is wired to an electronic scoring box).

Flushing Walk


Taking in woods, the coast, ice cream and a bowling green

This is one of my favourite local walks, as there are beautiful woods, wonderful views of the Carrick Roads, all kinds of boats, Falmouth docks and St Just in Roseland. Or if you're my dog, Mollie, it's wonderful for rabbit hunting and swimming.

Flushing was named Nankersey by Dutch engineers from Flushing in Holland who built the three main quays in the village. The grand houses on St Peter's Hill, the road that leads into the village, were owned by captains of the packet ships (mail-boats) that docked in nearby Falmouth.

In the 19th and 20th century, the village's economy mainly relied upon fishing, the two farms (Trefusis and Tregew) and Falmouth Docks. There was also briefly a copper mine on Jericho beach, but this proved to be unworkable commercially.
Flushing is also famous for its carnival week at the end of July and for the excellent Nankersey Choir which performs all over Cornwall. Falmouth Boat Construction Company has built traditional wooden craft since the early 1880s, and during the war years, motor torpedo boats were produced. There is a passenger ferry to and from Flushing Quay to Falmouth's Prince of Wales Pier which acts as a school bus for many children.

One sunny afternoon, my husband, Mollie and I drove from Falmouth on the A39 and at Penryn turned right signposted Flushing 2 miles. Several hundred yards later we turned right again, following signs for Flushing and Mylor Harbour, and at a T junction on the outskirts of Flushing, we turned right and headed down into the village where you can park on Flushing Quay.

Husband was going off to the pub (no surprise there), so Mollie and I retraced our steps past the Seven Stars pub and turned right into Kersey Road, up the hill to a housing estate where we turned up a Public Footpath by a road sign saying Orchard Vale.

This steep path was fringed with bluebells, ragged robin and campion, and led over a stile to a huge field with ploughed rich earth like chocolate fudge. The path ran round the edge of this massive field with clouds leaving magnificent sweeping shadows, and looking up I saw a herd of Friesians silhouetted against the sky like a still life painting. Mollie bounded ahead, like a cross between a rabbit and a sheep, as we clambered over an overgrown stile, across the top of a field of potatoes, and into a private drive. We turned left here, by a cattle grid, to the end of the drive, crossed the road and took a Public Footpath sign to Trelew on our right.

A blaze of buttercups greeted us, a cross sounding pheasant squawked his disapproval, and I saw my first foxglove of the year. At the bottom of the field we turned left into a wood with masses of wild garlic and a Cabbage White alighting on a tired looking bluebell. A stream rippled on our right as we splashed our way down a stony path, but sunshine dappled the trees, cheering our afternoon.

Passing through a five barred gate, we continued along an even muddier path round to the left, over a stream which led to a gateway where we turned right, along a private drive and right again into Church Road. Here an elderly lady greeted a very muddy Mollie with delight and even gave her a back rub, ensuring a friend for life. Regretfully leaving her behind, Mollie and I headed up the hill, where there is a raised pavement useful if you have children and dogs: the road is narrow and there can be a fair amount of traffic. As we walked along, swallows darted in front of us and a blue tit perched on guttering in front of us to have a drink.

The path opens out into a creek and we continued up the hill, round the back of some houses and came to another road. Crossing this, we entered Mylor churchyard through a wrought iron gate, walked down some steps and past a daisy strewn bank to the Ganges memorial, erected in 1872. This lists 53 young cadets, aged 15-17, who died while training for the Royal Navy on HMS Ganges from 1866-1899. The majority died from measles, scarletina and influenza, and 8 were either killed on board or drowned.

St Mylor Church, founded in 450 AD by a Celtic Bishop, is very popular for weddings, and today was beautifully decked with flowers from a previous wedding. Back in the churchyard we passed a blazing scarlet rhododendron that reminded me of flamenco skirts, and emerged into Mylor Harbour.

There are several eateries here but today my husband was sitting outside staring wistfully at the boats in the marina. “There's a lovely day boat down there that would just do us,” he said.
I grunted, made a note to get a lottery ticket, and went to get something to cheer him up. He can never resist a good vanilla ice cream, so we sat in contented silence, licking our ices and listening to the clink of rigging. Up the river a fishing trawler was coming in, gulls screaming overhead, desperate for fish scraps.

Leaving husband behind, Mollie and I wiped the last of the ice cream from our mouths (and whiskers in her case) and walked past Restronguet Sailing Club on our right. Dogs are requested to be on leads here as there is an outside picnic area and Mollie for one is always keen to hoover up other people's tea.

Past the sailing club was a yellow waymark arrow which we followed through a field full of catamarans leading to a stile which led to the first field on the Trefusis Estate. Looking out to the left we could see Restronguet, Loe Beach, a distant Trelissick House with its magnificent porticos and further on St Just in Roseland.

Squelching our way through the mud, we walked through a succession of fields, one of potatoes, the next studded with buttercups, thistles and speedwell. This part of the walk is good for those who like flat walks and up on our right were woods with a thick carpet of bluebells. We were drawn there to inhale the wonderfully deep scented smell, and there in front of us was a small rabbit, gazing raptly ahead. It thumped its back feet, then dived down the nearest rabbit hole, disappearing before Mollie could chase it - to my relief.

The next field was reached by crossing a fast running stream good for thirsty dogs. Around us spring was bursting out everywhere, each tree a remarkably different shade of green, reaching young fingertips to the sky. The last of the blackthorn was turning brown, and at our feet new ferns uncurled like babies' fists.

Looking out, St Mawes Castle came into view, then St Anthony lighthouse; further on was the famous Black Rock marker, then Falmouth castle, the docks and Falmouth itself. The St Mawes Ferry was returning to Falmouth on one of its half hourly journeys, and ahead was the distinctive cream coloured Falmouth Hotel, then further round the observatory, recently sold as a pricey dwelling. We emerged onto the broad green sweep of Trefusis Point and saw Falmouth ahead of us, leading round to the marina and Penryn River.

Walking through a gap in the hedge we arrived at Kiln Beach so Mollie could have a swim (this private beach is dog friendly all year round), but you can continue along the field and into the woods. Either way leads back to Trefusis Road which we walked along until we reached Flushing Bowling Green on our right at the end. Climbing up here we had the most fabulous view over the roofs of Flushing, over to Falmouth and up the Penryn River. We sat for a moment and enjoyed the view, before following the path down the hill and emerging by Flushing School. Here we continued down the road, to emerge by the Seven Stars pub where we found my husband sitting outside enjoying a peaceful pint.

We joined him, reflecting on the fact that though we love Falmouth, Flushing comes a good second best. And it gets the evening sunshine, which Falmouth doesn't. Sitting in the early evening sun with a drink takes some beating. Especially in this country.


OS Explorer 105 Falmouth & Mevagissey
Length: 4 miles
Duration: Approx 2 hours; moderate/easy going, can be very muddy in places
St Mawes Ferry -
Flushing Ferry -
Restronguet Sailing Club -
St Mylor church -
Castaways wine bar – 01326 377710
Mylor Cafe – 01326 373712
Seven Stars, Flushing – 01326 374373

Monday, 21 September 2009

Old Friends

Last night my mum rang and I could tell from her voice that it was bad news. It was. My oldest friend – who has lived in Australia for the last 30 years – has just lost her mother. She went into hospital for a routine assessment and then Lin's Dad got a call to say she'd died.

This has upset me more than I could have believed. I hadn't seen Lin's Mum for about 15 years, and Lin and I don't keep in regular contact (her working hours preclude writing letters or emails) and the time difference – essentially when we're up they're in bed – make phone calls difficult. But her family and mine became intertwined from when we were both 4. As we're now both 51, that's quite a long time.

My mum and hers met at the school gates when Mum was shoving a weeping me into the playground, feeling like a monster. Lin's Mum came up to her and said, “This is my third child and I still feel terrible. Shall we go and have a cup of tea?” And from then on we were all good mates.

So I can only imagine how poor Lin is feeling right now. To lose your mum is bad enough. When you're the other side of the world it's so much worse. Trying to organise her several jobs, looking after all the animals while she's gone – whether to bring her son with her – all these things to take into account – as well as trying to get a flight. And the fact that here - “home” - isn't, of course, and hasn't been for so long.

From my point of view, this is also a sharp and painful nudge as to how I will feel when my own dear Mum goes, and none of us like to be reminded of that sort of thing.

I waited till I thought Lin would be back from work to ring her. For some reason I was extremely nervous – wanting to say the right thing. I dialled, fingers shaking, and listened while the phone rang and rang on the opposite side of the world. I could imagine her coming in, running to grab it – but the answerphone clicked in and that oh so familiar voice apologised for being out and told me to leave a message.

I got as far as, “I've just heard about your mum and I'm so so sorry,” and that was it. Tears welled up and clogged my throat so I could hardly speak. I left a strangled message, put down the phone and wept for her, for her poor dad, for the rest of the family – and for my inability to say the right thing.

But at least she knows that I'm here and that I'll be at the funeral – and that I really do care.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Nowt so queer as folk..

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post except that I liked it.

I had a drink with a friend last week who was telling me about a friendship she'd had years ago that still bothered her.

“I met this woman at work and felt an instant connection,” she told me. “We were both with younger men; we'd both had been married twice before; we both had cats, and shared likes and dislikes in music, books, films, food – that sort of thing. We both had troublesome mothers and older brothers.”

My friend, Jane, had plenty of friends but felt that this woman was a bit different – almost like a twin. “She just made me feel really good about life,” she said. “And she told me what a difference I'd made to her life. Meeting someone who's a kindred spirit is really special.”

Then the friend was promoted and everything changed. She had to work very long hours, looked drawn and exhausted. “I knew she was under a lot of pressure, but it was as if she didn't want to talk to me about it either,” said Jane. “I realised that she was struggling and needed time to herselt, so I thought I'd better leave her alone. But part of me felt incredibly rejected. How could such a connection like that just – go?”

Jane's a Personnel Manager so she's used to dealing with other people's problems, but this one really bugged her because she couldn't talk to her friend. “I felt shut out,” she said, “and that really hurt.”

When I asked asked her how things were she shrugged. “Well, we meet up sometimes,” she said. “But when we do it's as if she's found me lacking in something and moved on.”

I pointed out that none of her other friends had ever found her anything but a staunch, loyal friend. So perhaps the fault lay in the friend, not Jane.

And then she got a phone call from the friend to say they were moving to France. Her partner had been offered a job in Paris and they were moving on.

“In a way it was a relief,” said Jane. “It meant I couldn't see her so I could forget about it.”

It seemed sad that such a promising friendship should fizzle out because of lack of communication, particularly given Jane's job. But as the old saying goes, 'there's nowt so queer as folk'.

Friday, 11 September 2009


This is Frenchman's Creek, made famous by Daphne du Maurier in her novel of that name. In it, the heroine, Donna, undergoes a huge life change by running away from London to the obscurity of Cornish life and falls in love with a pirate. Which makes the novel sound like a trite whimsical affair - if you read it, it's anything but. This is someone who knows her creeks and tides, knows the way the wind russles in the trees. She knows her boats and her birds, she can write about tension, love, suspense and escapism, and all of this is evident in her writing.

On Monday a group of us got together for a meal, and everyone there is undergoing change. One of us lost her partner in February. She has been struggling through the necessary change in living without him, discovered she has far more friends than she had dreamt of, and has now decided to work for the Samaritans. I take my hat off to her - the training sounds very hard but I think she will be brilliant at it; furthermore, I'm sure she will gain a lot from it.

Another friend is struggling with a part time course, a part time job and trying to paint. You know those days when you feel you're sinking? I think that's how she feels at the moment. Looking at it objectively, she needs to either give something up, organise her time better or get up earlier. Putting it into practise is the bit that requires discipline, as we all know...

My change is continual, but I like having a life where every day is different. This week I've met a wonderful fellow who started collecting vintage gramophones when he retired, and has now had to go back to being self employed, he's so successful. I've struggled with family problems (still unresolved) and tussled with the novel. The novel is the hardest of all - I love doing it but it's so difficult to know if the edits I'm doing are enough. But all writers are insecure and I'm no different from the rest. It's learning to live with the fact that my writing is never good enough - or to look at it another way, it could always be better. That's either depressing or a constant challenge. I prefer to see it as the latter.

Yesterday we did the Frenchmans Creek walk for Cornwall Today magazine on a day of such intense brightness that the sunlight was almost white. These days are the ones I will hold onto in the grey murk of winter (which let's face it isn't that different from the grey murk of summer in the West Country). These days make me so very glad to live here.

My third friend has met a new man, is incredibly stressed at work and is struggling to cope with all that. She knows the work side of things will calm down and being a philosophical person, has accepted that she will go through sleepless periods when she's so stressed she can't think straight, and that very soon she can give it all up. Hooray!

Her new man sounds lovely if shy and so she's suggested a topic of conversation for when they next meet. The fact that she's chosen polygamy is perhaps unfortunate, but that's what the wine and sex diet does for you...

What changes are you going through, and how are you dealing with them?

Thursday, 3 September 2009

When the Past collides with the Present...

Last month I was doing some online research when I came across a site connected to my mother's family. There, someone put a request for information about the house that my mother was born and grew up in near Camborne (Cornwall). Being slightly cynical, I emailed him back but found that he was the curator of a well known museum in Penzance. Also that he is well known by several people we know.

Apparently he used to live in this house back in the '60s and is keen to write about the history of the house, which is now a restaurant. Since I stumbled across him, we've exchanged several lengthy emails with fascinating information about the house and glimpses of my mum's past, including a lovely picture of her, aged about 8 or 9, stomping around the garden.

Better still, my mum is coming down this weekend and we are finally going to meet this man so she can answer his many questions – and mine.

What interested me is that my mum never liked the house much. It had a very odd atmosphere, she said, was freezing cold and gave her the spooks as a child. She was sometimes so scared that she'd run down the corridor and jump into bed. Later, when her mother-in-law stayed she came down the next morning and vowed she would never sleep in that room again. (This from a woman who didn't believe in the word 'ghost'.)

Years later, when Jonathan lived there, he had only happy memories. So I shall be interested to hear what else he remembers. Should be a fascinating meeting.

Oh no! He's just emailed to say he's not well so have to postpone the weekend. What a shame!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Making Time and other mottos

This is a quiet spot by the River Dart where we sometimes walk Mollie when we're staying with my mum. While it might not seem to have anything to do with this post it does - trust me.

Recent events, including the announcement of A levels and GCSE results, have got me thinking about the tremendous amount of pressure that is placed on kids nowadays. Some of course have more pressure than others depending on where you live, it seems. South East England seems to be much more pressurised than us hicks down here in Cornwall (though us hicks still achieve very good results).

Of course everyone wants the best for their children. But at what cost? One of my closest friends has a daughter who moved down here from Sussex a few years ago. “It's such a relief just to be me, to be us,” she said. “Most people down here don't have money, so there's no pressure to keep up with the neighbours and all that.”

Life tends to be very much defined by What We Do rather than who we are, though of course one is often bound up very tightly in the other. I am fortunate in loving what I do – it's a constant challenge that on bad days is utterly chronic, but on good days makes me fulfilled and happy. But for a lot of my working life I haven't enjoyed what I've done, and I know there is little more soul destroying than trudging into a job you hate. It eeks the colour from your life, rips your confidence to shreds and makes you wonder if it's worth getting up in the morning.

Regardless of whether you enjoy work or not, I think it's worth remembering that life isn't all about achievement but about relationships too. Time is a precious commodity these days, but how can we have good relationships with others if we have no time for them?

I am fortunate in having a husband who is extremely generous, thoughtful and acute when it comes to people. He very much believes in making time for the people that matter in life, and this can be very humbling. Quite often I've felt tired, unsociable, like having a Saturday morning with just us, and it's our turn to take elderly James out. I protest on those occasions, and he will say, “It's not much to do, to take him out for an hour.” And of course he's right. Seeing the joy in James's face makes it all worthwhile.

My mum is a good example of making time for people. She has a very busy social life but she has a huge number of very good friends because she always makes time for them.

So perhaps my motto for this post would be to try and Make Time. Not by making your life busier, but by making it less busy (and I know how difficult this can be if you have children). Try and have time with and for your partner, your children, your dog, your parents, your family or your best friend. But most importantly, try and make time for yourself.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

New Station Officer at RNAS Culdrose

This is in August editon of Cornwall Today.

Wing Commander Paul Loader has been appointed Station Commander at RAF St Mawgan. Born and raised in Cornwall, he is a keen sportsman and spent five years teaching Physical Education and outdoor activities before joining the RAF in 1992.

You were born in Illogan but have served in Bosnia, Holland and Germany. How has your upbringing in Cornwall influenced you?
Massively, because I was brought up outdoors, and on the beach which I love. It encouraged me to explore and my physical upbringing has been very useful to me as a Phys Ed teacher, rugby player and as part of the Military.

What made you decide to join the RAF?
I was coming towards the end of my rugby career and needed new challenges. Since then all my aspirations have been delivered by joining the Air Force, and now I am delighted and honored to take over command of RAF St Mawgan.

Military flying ended in December 2008, amid a lot of uncertainty – what role will RAF St Mawgan fulfill now and in the future?

I will be focusing on our engagement and involvement in the community and ensuring that the Station and its personnel continue to contribute and play an active and leading role in Cornwall. We are now specializing in ground training: adventure training, military skills, survival and decompression training, so we provide a holistic training centre for all three military services.

I am particularly pleased for our civilian personnel and all our friends in the community who have lived with uncertainty over recent years, and would like to thank each and every one of them for their continued support, hardwork and loyalty.

How many military personnel are there?
At the moment there are 200 military personnel and 150 civilians, but from next summer approximately 90,000 personnel, cadets and troops, could be coming through RAF St Mawgan per year.

What does your role as Station Commander of RAF St Mawgan involve?
I suppose you could say I'm the pinnacle of the pyramid. My role is to lead, motivate and direct all efforts towards supporting frontline operations, whether it's running messes, supply and logistics or training for deployment. I am very proud to take command of a RAF Base, but particularly so, as a Cornishman, to take a command in Cornwall.

What made you return to Cornwall?
I have three boys, and was keen to bring my family back to Cornwall – I find Cornwall inspiring, magical and unbeatable from anywhere I have visited around the world. We were having a holiday here when I heard that RAF St Mawgan was drawing down, and I thought why haven't I applied? So I did – and finally got the job!

I understand you have a degree in PE and are a keen rugger player – what role does sport have in your life?
A huge role. I've kept fit all my life and now I try and train every day. You need to be fit in mind and body for a military life - if you're deployed overseas, you need to be able to take responsibility for yourself and lead or support others around you.

If you hadn't joined the RAF, what would you like to have done?
Something sporting – perhaps adventure training, rugby coaching or become a lecturer in PE.

What's your favorite place in Cornwall?
I can't say that – everyone might go there and then it wouldn't be so special! All right then – I have several which depend on the time of year, the weather, my mood and so on. I like quiet places, so Holywell and Gwithian are two of my favourite beaches.

How do you relax?
I enjoy partying, cooking and physical activities of all sorts – and training on the beach.

Will you retire to Cornwall?
Oh yes – without a doubt!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Family Times

I've just had several days with my youngest brother and his family – his wife and my niece and nephew, whom we don't see nearly enough of, owing to the fact that they live in Sussex.

Still, it reinforced to me how important family is. Meeting up with them and having time to talk and laugh, discuss and share views, was made all the better by some uncharacteristic sunshine which meant our time could be spent mostly on the beach.

Not having children ourselves, it's all the more important to keep track of theirs and hear what they've been up to, watch them grow from children, taking the first steps towards adulthood. Sometimes you see flashes of how they'll look as adults, notice eyes or noses that are their parents' characteristics, or the tilt of a chin that is just theirs.

One afternoon I was taken by my niece and nephew to a Maize Maze near here. It took 45 minutes to get out, but it was a great way of bonding, and as a result we all got a certificate and badge to say we are now official Pirates. I shall keep mine and smile at it, remember our family days with joy and squirrel them away for the rainy months of winter. When I think of our sunlit time together, I get a warm glow and family love surrounds me like a big hug.

I was talking to a friend who sadly rarely sees her sister and family. They live in London and the last time she saw her nephews was over a year ago. She was very upset, and over a glass of wine she said, “they're coming down to spend a week with some friends in Bude but say they're too busy to come and see us.” She took a gulp of wine and added, “I think it's something to do with my brother-in-law, though I don't know what I've done to upset them. My sister would never behave like that.”

I didn't know what to suggest, other than perhaps to ring her brother-in-law and talk to him. “I would but I'm afraid of making matters worse,” she said.

If you were in this situation, what would you do?