s h e l l s

00:32 saturday 15 january – rosevear , st agnes

i’ve just arrived back , a little mud-spattered , from cycling round the island under a moon torn by stormy clouds . no lights . a couple of brief squalls lashed me with icy rain . yesterday there was hail .

these weeks have been filled with wonder and discovery . it feels like the beginning all over again . perhaps this is no more than a heightened sense of the annual cycle . i notice the first white flashes of wild garlic on the path behind covean . the fresh shoots of alexanders in the hedges . the new growth on the tamarisks .

at low tide last saturday murray hicks and i went hunting for winkles on the rocks beside the quay at periglis . christine , murray’s mother , had suggested the idea on the boat a couple of days earlier . we scrambled about , poking in the crevices between rocks , trying to avoid the largest ( too tough ) and the smallest ( too fiddly ) . by the time the tide caught up with us we had gathered what we thought a respectible quantity .

back at westward farm christine dropped them into a pot of boiling water for four minutes , then drained them and left them to cool . once they were cool enough to hold we set to work with sewing needles , spearing each one and twisting it out of its spiral shell , discarding the brown translucent trap-door . quite a fiddly business .

soon we had a pile of these unprepossesing brown coiled creatures on a plate . we ate them the traditional way with vinegar , black pepper and freshly-baked brown bread . they were splendid . not such a rich flavour as mussels , but the same fresh tang of ocean .

murray and mike were not convinced of their edibility . ross experienced something of a conversion , particularly when a liberal dash of tabasco was added .

later on mike set up his telescope behind the house and pointed it towards saturn and jupiter . the sight made a profound impression upon me . somehow i had not expected saturn to look so perfectly like its popular image , a large sphere hemmed with flat slanted rings . and there it was before my eyes . i believe i cried out in surprise and joy . two equatorial bands were visible on jupiter , along with four of its moons . all this at one hundred and sixty-nine times magnification .

stars remain dots of light when viewed through a telescope . few things surpass the beauty of the moon when magnified , but it is an augmentation of what can be seen with the naked eye . at a stroke these planets were transformed from tiny points of colour into neighbours whose form , characteristics and satellites could clearly be perceived . at that moment my sense of the solar system latered . images seen on the page or the screen , however detailed , can never affect us the same way as direct experience .

a day or two later i picked a variety of seaweed i had not previously eaten , one which grows in fan-like clumps of short brownish / black stems . i have not seen it on many of the island’s beaches , but i discovered it in profusion on a little rocky cove between perkillier and browarth point . i chopped it coarsely and steamed it for five minutes , which made it turn a shade greener . with a dash of balsamic vinegar it was delicious . a chewy texture and a strong flavour . no idea what it’s called . this was the first time nik’s been subjected to my seaweed fetish and i was delighted when he responded positively . no turning back now … we’re off harvesting on sunday !

this week finally saw the start of my project to get a photograph and a sound recording of everyone on the island . i’ve been planning it since my arrival but it’s been agony deciding how to do it and what questions i should ask . with typical helpfulness the recharger for my minidisc chose now of all times to pack up . christine hicks has saved the project by loaning me a compatible device from her cd player .

work continues for the digital workshop and the sse . plans are beginning to coalesce for the year ahead . but that’s another story .

a few photos of the winkle adventure at

and some photos i took in december in an amazing derelict church in islington http://www.sse.org.uk/people/charles.armstrong/st-pauls ( i’ve temporarily stuck these on the sse server as i’ve run out of space on my own – hope that’s ok james ! )

: cH

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