All posts by charlesarmstrong

f o l l o w u p

990218.1251 tamarisk farm

here’s the view from stef in melbourne ( full text ) :

– + –

Speaking as a total outsider –

Seems to me that the idea of the individual nation-state is giving way to …err….another nation-state, but on a bigger scale.

I believe that people living in this confusing, contradictory, world-weary time are somehow recognising that massive changes are needed for the human race to progress – that the outdated heirarchies don’t work, and that the weary old competitive models have created many of the things we don’t want in society (Europe’s a great example of that).

However, from what you’ve said, look like those in control are trying (and maybe they’ve succeeded) to retain control by channelling this tide into an arrangement that is basically more of the same – but now it’ll be the nation of Europe vs the nation of the US etc, a replay of times when the tiny city-states formed into countries.

Has anybody asked Europe’s citizens whether they want this to happen or not?

As the Australian saying so eloquently puts it, Same Shit, Different Bucket.

PS Maybe I should censor that last quote in case I’m reported to the Euro Net Police….

– + –

smiley mr blair has of course promised us a referendum . once he’s sure we’re sufficiently < informed > to get the answer right . the last paragraph of that gaurdian article ran as follows :
The bankers have succeeded in launching the Euro zone, and it will now be the industrialists who shape it. What the voters will make of it remains to be seen.
puts everyone in their place , eh ?

unusually there were three ( yes that’s 3 ! ) decent articles in this week’s new statesman [ traditionally left wing rag , quietly infiltrated by the forces of new righteousness and splendour ] . must be to stop the old subscribers getting too jittery . the statesman launched a charmingly clunky and hopeless website last autumn . but when i looked in last night , i found it had been replaced by a gleaming new one that’s alarmingly well constructed . couldn’t see any credits . interested if anyone knows who built it .

anyway , these are the articles : on the emergence of a new < global social movement > opposing the sinister world trade organisation on the folly of trying to plan cities – or implicitly anything – rationally ( written by paul barker of own beloved institute of community studies ) a hilariously vitriolic piece on the sparkly new < museum > in auckland , new zealand ( tom , christian : did you visit it ? )

here on aggie i’m feeling distinctly queesy about this evening’s impending tutorial . hope nobody turns up .

: cH

c h a n g e o f p a c e

990217.2133 tamarisk farm

something a bit different , since you’ve probably got the message by now that a ) i love it out here and b ) i could write more or less endlessly about it .

on page twenty-six of last saturday’s guardian there was a big article headlined < where the jobs will be in the us of e [ that should be a dinky euro symbol , but my mac’s too old to have one in its character set ] > . it proposes that the industrial map of europe will look very different by 2010 ( by which time britain , sweden , denmark and greece are assumed to have joined the euro , naturellement ) . instead of the current messy distribution of enterprises in each member state , it presents a future in which car manufacture is concentrated in germany , domestic appliances are made in italy , pharmaceuticals in britain , chemicals in the netherlands , mobile phones in finland , and so on .

reading this sent a shiver down my spine . just the day before i had been discussing europe with a friend here . until recently i have been unequivocally pro-union . but gradually i found myself hanging back from arguing the case so strongly , without really knowing why . it was only a month or two ago that i put my finger on what was nagging me . it is this : the federal european state off which the dust-sheets are now being pulled is in almost every respect identical to that proposed in the late 1940s .

surely that can’t be right ? that was fifty years ago . can you think of any vision proposed that long ago which does not now seem ludicrously dated and simplistic ?

that initial vision was forged in an understandable determination that another european war must be averted at any cost . the character of the vision was essentially french in its belief that rational bureaucratic systems were the appropriate means to the end . and so the project began , quiet but unswerving . nothing could be allowed to distract or modify it , such was the obsessive sense of mission which filled those who worked for it . public debate least of all .

it seems absolutely clear that a european amalgamation of some kind is desirable , even vital . but possessed as we are of an understanding of society and economy unimaginably more complex and chaotic than that held half a century ago , would we not envision something organic , flexible and dynamic rather than the centralized , bureaucratic , hierarchic union into which our nations have been invisibly coerced ?

the kind of industrial rationalization proposed by the guardian article is nothing new . it was the policy pursued by the french government in the 1950s and 1960s . indeed the article used the very phrase < national champion > usually used to describe the french policy . it is the first time i have heard it used in any other context . one only has to look at consequent behemoths like bull computer and air france to realise the risks of a policy based on such simplistic , rationalist assumptions .

do we honestly trust ourselves to such an old-fashioned future ?

interested to hear anybody’s thoughts . at least two wanderer recipients live in euro-member countries . several live outside europe altogether . so , some different perspectives . mail any thoughts to me at if you feel like it .

it’s a cold blustery night , perfectly clear . out here where there is no light pollution the sky is filled with stars . cold steel points in a deep black firmament . i shall wrap up warm , collect my tiny maglite torch and walk down to where the surf crashes upon the rocks .

: cH

ps – this just in . i quote verbatim from an official eu bulletin , relating to new legislation ( decision no 276/1999/ec ) to combat < illicit material > on the internet :
The Decision calls for the creation of a network of “hotlines”, or call centres, to which illegal content can be reported. It also includes plans to assess the legal implications of imposing regional restrictions on an international network, and for activities to foster international cooperation in these areas.
better watch those expletives , jim …

: cH

f i r s t w e e k

990216.2327 tamarisk farm

i arrived at this place seven days ago . i have neither started tearing my
hair out nor woken up to find , i don’t know , a pilchard head on my pillow
. i must therefore count the week to have been a success . this weekend i shall be travelling up to london for a school commitment on monday . i find myself mildly resentful at having to leave so soon after arriving , unwilling to break the spell . i shall be back soon enough .

as i write the electricity is momentarily interruputed from time to time . i should be brief and send this message on its way . what is happening , i wonder ? now that the island is served with electricity from the mainland you’d have thought the supply would be stable . when i first came here every house relied its own diesel generator . how quickly people take such advances for granted , become intolerant of any deterioration .

after several still days the wind started to rise again yesterday . it has been a wonderful bright day , and this evening the sky was glorious . in between tasks i took the opportunity to wander down to the sea and stare out across the western isles , hazily silhouetted against the golden and violet eruptions of the setting sun . i saw at least one islander similarly engaged . it is heartening to see confirmation that these wonders of nature still inspire marvel after a lifetime on the island . here the sky is so broad . my camera was with me .

i’ve spent the last couple of afternoons wrestling with the pc in the school here on st agnes . finally it is willing to go online via an isp other than msn and with a browser other than internet explorer , but it was a close thing . i gave the teacher , sue major , a brief introduction this afternoon . her job must be rather different than most teachers . at present there are on the island ten children of primary age ( between four and eleven ) . this fluctuates quite widely over time , but ten is about as high as it gets . with such small numbers of course everyone learns in the same group , so sue must structure exercises such that everyone may find an appropriate challenge . i can’t help feeling this is a much more natural environment in which to learn . it takes a gifted teacher though .

nervously i stuck a poster to the island blackboard outside the post office / shop this evening :
not so scary after all

A haphazard introduction for luddites , technophobes and complete beginners . Brought to you by Mr Charles Armstrong , late arrived these parts .

The School , St Agnes
( courtesy of the Governors )
Thursday 18th February
at 6.00 pm
truth is , i don’t have much experience helping beginners , and i’m not sure i know where to start . but i was asked to do it so i’ll do my best .

: cH

c o m m u t i n g

990212.1154 spirit of st agnes

i’m hitching a lift to st mary’s . the boat’s going over to pick up the music teacher for his fortnightly visit to the school on st agnes . i’m travelling to meet carmen mallon , a councillor who runs the ratio centre , a small technology centre set up as part of a project initiated by the university of plymouth .

its a still , cloudy day . a cormorant flies past in the opposite direction , just a foot or so from the water’s surface . about thirty or forty more are at rest , bobbing up and down in a loose huddle . strange bubbling clouds are massed on he horizon .

this vessel came into service only four years ago , replacing the old wooden-hulled craft which had plied the route between st agnes and st mary’s for decades . she’s a sturdy lady . twin grp hulls with steel superstructure . she can cope with heavier seas than her predecessor , moving the island one step closer towards 365 day access . david and john peacock own and run her . john was the first person on the island to send me an email , confirming the time of today’s journey . he studied systems engineering at portsmouth and worked for the mod before returning here to join his father in the family business .

we round the jetty , ease back the throttle and come up alongside the quay .

990213.0053 tamarisk farm

in bed , psion perched on the pillow . i’ve been tweaking my homepages . they’re still as self-indulgent as ever , but it’s hard to imagine how homepages could be anything else . maybe they could be a bit less pompous . for anyone who’s not had the delight . as soon as i get a new tube for my scanner ( the only casualty of the sea crossing ) i’ll get to work on a couple more modules .

i also put up the first simple page at , which will be the principal site for my project out here .

mails today from friends in australia ( ross ) , new zealand ( tom ) and thailand ( simon ) as well as several from around britain . and this place is meant to feel isolated ?

supper was locally-caught skate poached in a little milk ( local , unpasteurised ) with steamed red cabbage and couscous . i ate it whilst poring over the strategic report on the islands commissioned by the duchy of cornwall back in 1984 . interesting reading but a little unimaginative .

my time on st mary’s was useful . i spent an hour in animated discussion with carmen . they’ve got several machines , including video-conferencing facilities , set up in a newly-refurbished wesleyan chapel in the middle of hughtown . they share the building with the tourist information office and the public library will be moving in soon . the project’s remit was to facilitate distance learning in forty rural locations across the south west . european money , of course . the main interest has actually been from people wanting to pick up basic computing skills , a valuable service which the centre seems to be performing effectively . it’s difficult for people from the off islands ( the four smaller islands ) to make use of it though . there are also questions about its long-term viability once the euromoney dries up . but how very positive to see an initiative like this succeeding here .

whilst i was speaking to carmen a fellow stuck his head round the door whom i guessed was nick lishman , a friend of joffy hicks . as well as looking after the council’s internal systems he cultivates herbs ( organically ) and makes baskets . we met up afterwards in his minimal office at the council building , wedged between the photocopier and the reception desk .

from here i walked round the garrison to newman house , an imposing granite building behind which humfrey wakefield has his pottery . i think i erroneously refered to his wife as wakeham in a previous despatch . i found hum ( as he’s known ) leaning against the wall smoking one of his filthy roll-ups . he complained that he was suffering from withdrawal because his wheel was out of action whilst the gallery was being renovated , showing me the new roof and shelves ( twice ) . i pruriently declined the proffered rolly and tipple . we talked about island politics and intrigues . he’s an utterly delightful fellow , full of mischievous stories and schemes . he returned my sennheiser headphones , which i left there on my last visit in august . i blamed his notorious home-brewed mead for this oversight . hum’s chairman of the environmental trust and suggested i should meet andrew gibson , its director . another interesting avenue to explore .

then it was time for me to head back down to the quay to catch the 1515 boat back to st agnes , carrying the island’s children home from the secondary school where they board during the week . before this school was opened in the 1960s people had to go away to school on the mainland . this is why my old school at truro developed such a strong relationship with the islands . johann was there , as was his son joffy . time to sleep now .

: cH

q u i e t

990211.0041 tamarisk farm , st agnes

just got back from the turk’s head . i arrived there about quarter to nine to find it deserted . no sign even of the landlord . i spent a while examining the maps , photographs and memorabilia . then the landlord emerged ( like the shopkeeper in mr ben , as if by magic ) and i introduced myself . gradually others arrived and we coalesced into two teams for the quiz . it was demanding stuff , i must say , but happily i was on the victorious side . met quite a few people and was required to explain what i was up to for several of them . after a couple of pints i probably said more than i would have chosen , but heck that’s what pubs are for . i liked the people i met .

walking to and from the pub , maybe quarter of an hour’s leisurely stride , i was reminded as i always am how little experience of true darkness we have in the modern world . here there are no street lamps and virtually no light pollution . even though it is a clear night and my night vision is pretty good i was barely able to distinguish the concrete road . one is very conscious of the sweeping beams islands’ three main operating lighthouses , though they are all many miles distant . the bishop’s rock light is the most visible , seven miles away , a remarkable feet of early victorian engineering .

the wind has dropped , the temperature has risen a degree or two ( my breath no longer condenses before me as i write ) and a gentle rain falls sporadically .

miles davis’ < circle in the round > on the stereo . green tea in the pot . a couple of letters to write then bed for me .

thank you for sharing my journey . goodnight .

: cH

a r r i v a l

990209.0754 land’s end aerodrome

back again . it’s a beautiful morning . fluffy clouds are shedding snow here and there , but the wind’s dropped and visibility is good . might even get a decent view of the islands . luggage is checked in , safety video is watched ( the horizontal hold went ape ) , we’re just waiting for the mail now and should be leaving in about half an hour .


we’ve just boarded . five of us in the eight-seater cabin . two birdwatchers , two people visiting to get background for a novel , me . the engines are fired up , pre-flight checks undertaken .

we start bumping over the grass , seagulls grudgingly moving out of the way . fine view over land’s end and the sea .

we turn and the throttles open . we’re up !


we land on st mary’s , having passed between snow clouds . st agnes was bathed in light .


i got the minibus down form the airport , took a few photos of the gry maritha unloading ( no sign of my crates ) , and now i’m sitting aboard the spirit of st agnes , waiting to make the final leg of my journey .

it’s still pretty windy , and a damn cold wind at that . northerly . there was heavy hail here this morning . it’s a bright day though , and everything looks fresh . this is the first time i’ve ever been here in the winter , something i’ve wanted to do for years .

i spoke a little to the couple ( laurence and amanda ) who are here to do research for a novel . [ we cast off from the jetty ] . they were waiting with me yesterday for the aborted flight . turns out that laurence’s grandmother visited nournour , one of many a prehistoric settlements on st mary’s , and was so taken that she commissioned laurence to write a novel set there . so , there’s someone here on an even stranger pretext than mine .

st agnes hoves into view as we round the garrison , the fortified promontary at the west end of st mary’s . the squat lighthouse gleams white in the winter sun . this is the oldest standing light in the british isles , mid eighteenth century i think . and while we’re talking extremes , st agnes is the most south-westerly community in the british isles .


righto . i’m sitting here in my kitchen at tamarisk farm . through the door i look out over thick foliage , the lighthouse rising above it against a backdrop of plump clouds washed pink in the setting sun . it is a long narrow room , with windows running along either side , a dark red concrete floor , a white wooden roof . down one side my 21 inch monitor , hard drive , printer , phone and scanner are set up . i’ve rigged a phone line from johan’s adjoining workshop . everything is connected and operative .

as it turned out my freight preceded me by half an hour . i found it stacked on a trailer in the middle of the island , driven up from the quay by unknown hands . i hastily found a tarpaulin and covered it just in time for another sleet / hail shower . later the trailer appeared outside the farm so i set to work unloading everything and setting up . johan arrived back from the mainland just as i was finishing . we talked about starting points over a cup of tea .

this evening’s mission is to drop in on sue major , who teaches the island’s ten children of primary age . tomorrow evening is quiz night in the turk’s head , open only for two nights a week at this time of year . a chance to meet more of the islanders .

it’s pretty cold . i’ll try to track down a pair of thermal fingerless gloves to type in .

i’m so happy to be here at last . now it’s time to start discovering where this is all leading .

: cH

i n c l e m e n t

990208.1507 land’s end aerodrome

the phrase used by the pilot was < in the lap of the gods > . i may be flying out sometime this afternoon . or i may not .

i’m sitting here in the flourescent-lit cabin which serves as waiting room , windows lashed by rain and wind . the forecast is for winds reaching force nine in the islands . here on the mainland it’s no more than six or seven . taking off under these circumstances doesn’t seem to pose too much of a problem . landing , on the other hand , does .

yesterday morning was bright and clear . the drive down from gloucestershire was without incident . a great feeling of escape . my heart always lifts at the moment when the a30 plunges down over the lip of dartmoor and a breathtaking vista of rolling hills , light and shadow , extends to the distant horizon . even in the sluggish and unwieldy van it was a joy to trundle round the familiar roads . i met up with my mother , my sister anna and her husband adam in hayle as arranged yesterday afternoon . we braved the wind and went out for a short walk on the sand . i always loved the beaches down here in the winter . there’s a melancholic beauty and bleakness which i find supremely calming . and of course , no tourists .

early start this morning , reloading the van and driving down to the quay at penzance . everything was weighed and loaded into shipping crates amidst
pirouetting fork lifts and lorries unloading supplies for the islands . the
driving rain made me glad of those hours with the shrink wrap .

the docker who helped load everything up was not enthusiastic about computers . < when someone invades and turns the power off they’ll be no bloody use at all . who wants to spend all day sitting in front of a screen anyway ? > . i told him that broadly speaking i agreed with him , but pointed out that they actually made quite good weapons if dropped from a decent height .

looking out of the windows , i see that someone has just got into the small
plane’s cockpit , poked around and got out again . the flight was due to leave a few minutes ago . no decision yet .

i’ve arranged with david peacock to have a boat waiting for me at st mary’s to take me over to st agnes . i’d better call and warn him that the plan might be changing .


still no decision . before we can fly the pilot needs to be confident that
there is a fall-back landing strip which can be used should conditions at st mary’s be impossible . crosswinds are too strong at lands end , newquay , rnas culdrose and raf st mawgan .


it’s final . no flight today . back to hayle and hopefully more luck at 0825 tomorrow . i managed to get through to david peacock and call off the launch . the plane’s been wheeled back into the hanger .

: cH

w r a p p i n g

990206.0116 sandhurst

i always hoped this adventure of mine would provide new experience , but this is being realised in unexpetedly strange ways . today was mostly spent in the garage covering cardboard boxes in shrink wrap .

it looks like conditions are going to be pretty grim early next week . the prospect of rain and spray-sodden boxes disintegrating as they are lifted onto the quay , depositing sundry computers and books into the atlantic , is quite sufficient to spur me to this bizarre behaviour . weird stuff , sort of industrial cling film . quite kinky actually , or is that just my warped imagination ?

other than that i’ve thrown out twenty-four pairs of socks , all riddled with holes . never had much luck with them . and my parents bought me a new pair of wellies as a present for the islands . i’ve booked myself onto next monday’s 1525 flight from land’s end airfield to st mary’s . all the luggage will be received on the quay at penzance on monday morning , hopefully to arrive at st mary’s sometime on tuesday morning . it’ll then be transferred to a launch for the crossing to st agnes . unless the weather’s too bad .

still a bit stressed , but it’s feeling close now .

: cH

f i r s t l e g

990203.1950 sandhurst

i sit here in an armchair . embers glowing in the grate , emiting an occasional snap . otherwise it is silent , except for the uneven beat of the ancient grandfather clock standing in the hall . the sitting room of my parents’ house . we moved here from cornwall when i was seventeen .

the walls bear testament to a love of that county . screen prints and engravings of favourite places . amongst these , three depict the islands . they were bought from helena wakeham’s studio on st mary’s one easter when i was in the islands with my parents . that must have been twelve years ago . helena and her husband humfrey still live there , looking out across the sound . humfrey is a potter , prodigious mead brewer and chairman of the islands’ environmental trust . i visited him with my friend gaz in the summer and got so pissed that i left my headphones in his studio . they’re still there , waiting for me to pick them up . soon now , soon .

everything worked out ok last night . i met the people from sony in a soho pub . some interesting possilities . then christian came round , helped me dismantle my futon and shared a final spliff in my room . it took me a while to remember where i’d left the van , so we had a pleasant wander round the back streets of kentish town . eventually we located it and took the furniture up to hampstead . then it was time for the big hit . matt came round and helped me load the bigger pieces , then i carried on alone . at half past five i left the house , locked the front door and was ready to go .

it was a clear drive . i had my minidisc recording for the first few minutes . seemed like an important thing to document . i was crossing the cotswolds by the time it started getting lighter .

i arrived here just before eight , passing my father on his way to work as i bumped along the muddy lane .

now i must start making detailed arrangements for the next leg of the journey . mum might come down to cornwall with me . i hope to see my sister anna , who moved back to the county with her husband adam .

: cH

l e a v i n g l o n d o n

990202.1634 kentish town road , london

here i sit , surrounded by boxes and the detritus of five years . almost every object on which my eye rests conjures powerful associations of the experiences which have filled this time . but today is my last as a resident of this city . i shall be here often in the future , i am sure . but it will be different .

this will be the last thing i write before disconnecting the big old macintosh which has , if you like , been the hearth of the successive places i have made my home . a transit van was delivered to my door earlier , which i had then to drive around the crammed streets hereabouts for the next hour before finding a parking spot . i hope i can find the place again , and that the vehicle is there still . first there are my trusty futon , my coffee tables and a lovely old florentine chair of my aunt’s which i had reupholstered , all to be delivered to my friend christian’s loft-ish apartment in hampstead . i’m trying not to think of all those stairs . but i could not wish a better home for these beloved objects .

then the big one . my friend matt uncomplainingly agreed to help me load everything into the van . i’ll have to take the front door off its hinges to get my desk out . eventually it’ll all be done and i’ll set off for my parents’ house in gloucestershire . i’ll stay there a few days , sorting out all my stuff . i want to take as little as possible to the islands . i’ve been steadily accumulating belongings since my time at cambridge . it’s time to start shedding them now . time to travel light . i expect to travel the final leg , to penzance , st mary’s , st agnes , on sunday or monday .

so how does it feel ? it’s hard to say . these last days and weeks have been numbing . there has been so much for me to do , so many different threads to pursue , so many pitfalls to avoid . and i really hate the stress of moving house . i’m just longing for it to be over , to be there ready to start adapting . or perhaps that adaptation has begun already . perhaps it began last august when i decided , out of the blue , that this was how i intended to spend 1999 . at the time i didn’t know how , but i knew i would make it happen .

i am very aware that this is not going to be easy . so much that i have taken for granted is about to be stripped away . small remote communities can be vicious places , inward-turned and jealous . i shall be more conspicuous there than i have ever been , and that is saying something .

but in my heart i am inflamed with excitement . i know it is time for this new adventure . this will be a formative year for me .

to you first few members of this group , welcome . your presence , whether invisible or visible , will be an important anchor for me . i look forward to writing for you over these days weeks months .

and now i have work to do .

: cH