Category Archives: Cornwall

a r c h i v i n g

[ 13:12 saturday 31 december – perranwell station, cornwall ]

for this final day of the year i’m back in cornwall, where i grew up. i’m sitting in mum and dad’s conservatory with a vase of daffodils blazing yellow beside me. outside the sky is dove grey and the air hangs motionless. three chaffinches and a pair of robins hop and chatter in the lichen-covered tree beyond the window. cornwall has been especially beautiful in these days. every morning i wake to a different world. there have been spring-like days with clear blue skies, golden sunlight and waves lapping at the sand. there have been stormy days with atlantic gales, surf crashing on the granite rocks and squalls driving in from the writhing ocean. finally there have been damp mysterious days like today when moss and gorse blossom glow in the diffuse light.

2016 has been an unsettling year for the world. old certainties are fracturing and dark fears start to creep in through the cracks. for my part, i end the year with a greater sense of clarity, purpose and optimism than i’ve felt in a long while. across several strands of my life this has been a year of addressing unresolved legacies from the past and preparing for new stages of my journey.

the most personal part of this has been the process of sorting through my archived papers. when i was six years old i asked my parents for an album to store postcards received from grandparents, aunts and uncles. they got me a beautiful big book with a forest green cover. whenever i received a postcard that was too large i’d snip off the edges to make it fit. thus began a habit of preserving ephemera which expanded through my childhood to include scribbled notes, ticket stubs, concert programmes, pieces of art and design, recordings on cassette and minidisc, newspaper articles mentioning me; anything really that carried some personal significance or memory. it was completely disorganised. i’d put things in a pile. when the pile got too big i’d sweep its contents into a plastic bag. when the plastic bag was full it would be thrown into a cardboard box and i’d start a new bag. when a cardboard box was full i’d close it and find another.

this process of accumulation continued steadily through my childhood in cornwall, sixth form in cheltenham, studies at cambridge, establishing my first businesses in london, the year-long project in the isles of scilly, back in london with michael young and the school for social entrepreneurs, my two years living on stromboli and my return to london to set up trampoline systems. then finally a decade ago it began to abate. throughout this period the cardboard boxes kept on filling up. until the end of my time at cambridge the boxes all gravitated back to mum and dad’s attic. after that, each time i changed location i’d find somewhere new to stash them.

five years ago when my parents were preparing to move back to cornwall i was given an ultimatum that i could either pick up everything deposited at their house or it would be thrown on the tip. i rented a van and drove down with mattia. climbing the ladder to their attic i realised shamefully that it contained more of my stuff than theirs. i brought everything back to london and hid it in my spare room. then a couple of years later i moved from dalston to old ford lock and gathered the boxes in the dining room. it was the first time i’d seen them all together at once. dozens of them, all different shapes and sizes, with nothing to indicate what place or period they represented. it was obvious i needed to go through everything, throw away as much as possible and organise the bits worth keeping. but it was such an appalling prospect that i kept putting it off so month after month the boxes sat there reproachfully.

finally one evening last october i decided the time had come. i pulled out one of the cardboard boxes, took the uppermost plastic bag, emptied its contents onto the dining table and started sifting through its contents. every free evening since then the work has continued. i’m about three quarters of the way through at this point. fifteen foolscap folders have been filled with preserved material ordered by period, whilst sacks and sacks of rubbish have been jettisoned.

i was expecting it just to be a tedious housekeeping job but it’s proven a lot more charged than that. the experience has been like an intimate and merciless biography. everything is in there. hopes, failures, loves, triumphs, anguish. the fact the boxes are in random order has made it more gruelling. one moment i’ll be wading through notes on social structure from stromboli, the next it’s adolescent poetry from cornwall. thus my picture of each period has developed in a fragmentary and jagged way.

all kinds of treasures have revealed themselves. poetry and paintings from my infancy. copies of the magazines i printed with a friend at truro when i was thirteen. letters from my grandparents filled with love and wisdom which i could barely appreciate at the time. proposals for scores of mad projects from my early twenties.

one of my favourite artefacts comes from my first year at cambridge where i always kept a piece of notepaper clipped to the outside of my door on A staircase cripps, along with a pencil on a piece of string. i would leave messages for friends, friends would leave messages for me; and friends would also comment on each other’s messages. every scrap of paper is preserved. it’s a wonderful and self-contained collective document, distilling the shared life of my group of friends at that moment in our lives.

though leavened by the discovery of delights like these, i’ve found the overall process rather harrowing. the teenager who emerges is cripplingly shy, searching for a role and a way to engage with people. the person i see in my twenties is self-centred and burdened with an overmighty will, unable to acknowledge failures or properly learn the lessons they provide. going through the papers has brought me face to face with who i’ve been at each stage of my life and it hasn’t been an entirely comfortable experience.

this discomfort however is greatly outweighed by the therapeutic value of the process. in a very tangible way it’s forcing me to acknowledge all the shades of my personal history. after this there will be no ghosts left lurking from the past, nothing half-forgotten or swept under the rug. it’s helping me to foster a deeper acceptance of who i am which is perhaps something i needed.

the question remains what drove me to archive all this stuff in the first place. was it born out of narcissism? or a manifestation of my broader tendency to hoard things? or was i subconsciously laying the ground for the process i’m now undertaking? i don’t have a clear answer.

having thrown away so much of what i’d stored and organised the remainder, there remains a lingering thought in my mind that the day will come when i also need to throw away what i’ve kept if i wish to release myself fully from the weight of the past. this may come to pass, but it’s likely to be some years away.

for now i send my love and wishes to family and friends for the year ahead. sometimes it is the moments that seem darkest that give birth to the brightest light.

: c :

u n d e r s a i l

[ 20:33 sunday 12 july – river fowey, cornwall ]

i’m sitting in the cabin of dad’s 22 foot yacht “wild rose”. we’re moored in the river fowey about quarter of a mile upstream from the town. the boat sways gently in the ebbing tide. around us the trees press down the sides of the valley stretching their gnarled limbs towards the water. the air is almost motionless. wisps of mist twist and weave among the darkening trees. a grey-feathered heron stands motionless at the edge of the water watching for prey. across the channel a complex mass of girders and ducts juts into the river, part of a structure for loading china clay onto ships.

yesterday afternoon i sailed down the coast with dad and adam. we set out from mylor in a brisk south-westerly, weaving between the traditional working boats racing in falmouth harbour. by the time we rounded dodman point the wind was freshening to force six and a heavy swell had started rolling beneath us. we sped into fowey harbour on an exhilarating run then came upriver seeking a sheltered mooring.

this has been my best ever year for sailing. three weeks ago i travelled down to salcombe to join my friends arthur and gregoir who’d just arrived after crossing the channel from normandy and spent a magical week with them. the plan was to sail west along the cornish coast and cross to the isles of scilly. over the years i’ve arrived in the scillies by freight ship, ferry, helicopter and light aircraft but never under sail. it’s a long-standing dream of mine. however in the face of unremitting westerly winds we only sailed west for a single day, reaching cawsand at the southeastern eastern tip of cornwall. this is where we spent the solstice, starting with a group of villagers at a pub where a band was playing, then sitting on the darkened beach with a bottle of rum. the next day we turned around and headed eastward along the devon and dorset coasts stopping at dartmouth, teignmouth, exmouth, weymouth and poole.

we had some adventures along the way. leaving exmouth a fog bank descended on us and we spent most of the day sailing without any sight of land or other vessels. being isolated in cold, clammy greyness is tremendously unsettling. one’s senses are so amplified by the fear of collision with an unseen boat that one begins to hallucinate shapes and sounds. later that day approaching portland bill we realised with sinking hearts that we’d miscalculated the tidal flows and would be reaching it when its notorious tidal race was in full flow with its whirlpools and 10 knot currents. we could have been stuck for six hours before being able to get around. but following arthur’s instincts we headed close in to the land, as close as we dared go, and sure enough we found a counter-current that swept us around in the direction we wanted to go. the finest sailing was on my last day when we spent several exhilarating hours playing in  the wind before scudding into poole harbour with a force six wind behind us.

my dad worked in yacht-building when i was a child  so i was always around boats. likewise during my year in the isles of scilly and my two years on stromboli i was frequently on the water. a couple of years ago i felt the impulse to start taking it more seriously and did the royal yachting association’s day skipper course. now i’m trying to get out as often as the possibility arises.

one think i appreciate about being on a yacht for even a few days is the way life is stripped back to its essential components. the layers of modern behaviour which occupy so much of our attention simply melt away. if you go for days without seeing yourself in a mirror you stop worrying what your hair looks like. the end of daily showers makes concerns about hygiene irrelevant. there’s no deliberation about what clothes to wear when you wear the same clothes day after day. meanwhile the lack of electricity means mobile phones are turned off and the mass of neurotic habits for checking messages and status updates just fades away.

: c :

p h o t o s : cornwall vii 2010

[ 22:59 friday 27 may – haggerston road ]

last july matteo and i spent four idyllic days with anna and adam in cornwall. we drove down from london late in the afternoon and arrived in the early hours of the morning. i took my first swim of the year on gwithian towans while matteo cartwheeled on its infinite expanse of flat smooth sand. we walked out along the springy turf to the tip of gurnard’s head to watch the sunset. we had a barbecue supper at godrevy point with the stars and waves for company. we explored a fast-flowing stream near treen as it tumbled down the cliffside.

cornwall showed us its most serene face. we were blessed.

: c :

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c a m b o r n e t o b e r l i n

[ 09:16 saturday 27 december – great western train, camborne to london ]

pulling out of redruth the sun surmounts the horizon, sending long shadows racing across the frost-crusted fields and heathland that stretches to the north coast. the sky is perfectly blue. a friendly spaniel slithers under the seat in front and nuzzles my hand. three stops into the journey and the train is only sparsely inhabited but the forest of white reservation slips sprouting from the seat backs suggests it will soon be crammed full of people returning to the capital after christmas. once i reach london i’ll have two hours to sort myself then set off for stansted airport and a flight to berlin for the twenty-fifth chaos communication congress and the new year celebration.

christmas in cornwall with my family has been delightful. yesterday we walked from helston along the river to loe pool then out to the sand bar. meg joined us with her two daughters, whom i’d not seen since my caribbean trip in march 2007. we arrived at the beach just as the sun was setting. the long silvery waves fell upon each other in slow motion, blazoned orange-red in the dying sun. i walked to the edge of the surf with a sound recorder to capture the crash and fizz. after some minutes’ recording a big wave caught me unawares. retreating rapidly backwards i fell ignominiously on my backside in the water. my camera and recorder emerged unscathed so the only injury was having to walk back with cold wet trousers.

this was my first christmas without grandparents. it didn’t cast a pall over the celebration but i suspect we were all thinking of granny and missing her.

: c :

p o r t h e r a s

[ 20:53 saturday 4 october – roskear road, camborne, cornwall ]

this morning i woke at quarter past six, took a train from london bridge to gatwick then flew to newquay where i was greeted by anna and adam. since the age of seven i’ve been making the journey up and down from cornwall by train or car. the sheer time this takes (london is six hours) gives it the character of an epic undertaking and accentuates the feeling that cornwall is somewhere separate and different. crossing the river tamar, fixed by athelstan in 936 as the boundary between england and cornwall, always provokes a gulp of emotion. in contrast making the journey by air is very strange. from london it barely takes barely an hour. there’s no symbolic moment when the frontier is crossed and no sense of a great journey. one departs, one arrives.

that said, it does open up the miraculous possibility of traveling down on a friday night or saturday morning, spending the weekend in cornwall then returning on monday morning in time for work. indeed the commencement of low cost scheduled services between newquay and london in the past decade has created a new class of weekly commuters with a consequent escalation in cornish house prices.

this afternoon we drove through the wind and rain to the village of morvah at the far north-western tip of cornwall. parking in a field we walked down the valley to portheras with its white sand beach and jagged granite cliffs. the atlantic rollers were combing in towards the beach with the wind pulling spray horizontally from their crests. i love being on the north coast beaches on days like this. everything is contrasts of grey and white, bleak and strong. for me this is one of the most characteristic moods of the cornish landscape. we had the beach to ourselves except for a hardy dog-walker.

from portheras we walked up the cliff and around to the lighthouse at pendeen watch. arriving at the cliff-head we were exposed for the first time to the full force of the south-westerly gale. it was so strong that it was impossible to open one’s eyes looking directly into it. from here we walked back inland through pendeen village and bowjewyan, cut across a field and managed to get ourselves somewhat lost. at this point my phone’s gps came into its own. i was able to pull up a satellite image pin-pointing our location and plot a route back to the car. along the way we found a sheltered hedge smothered with marvelous blackberries so we stopped and gorged ourselves. now we’re back home with the wood-burning stove blazing and our sodden clothes hung up to dry.

yesterday was london’s first truly cold day since april. when i got home after eddie prevost’s improvisation session i reluctantly got a heater out of storage and plugged it in.

: c :

n a t a l e 2 0 0 7

[ 22:35 monday 24 december – roskear street, camborne, cornwall ]

en famille, anna and adam’s sitting room in cornwall. dad unfurls a paper, adam pores over a cycling magazine, anna’s curled up in an armchair and mum’s up to something in the kitchen. after dinner we played a game rather like the victorian parlour game where players attempt to communicate a word through drawing but in this case the word had to be conveyed by sculpting it in brightly-coloured clay. during my childhood we rarely played games together as a family but it’s generally a hoot when we do.

this afternoon mum, dad and i went for a walk from peranuthno around cudden point and back again. a keen south-westerly wind was pummeling the high rollers into the rocks, augmented by the big spring tide. afterwards we stopped in marazion to buy wrapping paper. the lady in the post office gave me a glass of mulled wine. a twenty-piece silver band was assembling in the village centre beside a big christmas tree, so we joined the crowd and listened for half an hour.

i’m strikingly happy and stimulated at the moment, which crept up on me unawares. one factor in this is the reemergence of music-making as a big component in my life. at the beginning of the year i started obsessively working obsessively at bach’s forty-eight preludes and fugues on my electronic keyboard. i’ve tinkered with them sporadically over the last few years but with no obvious trigger it suddenly became much more serious, i felt a hunger to truly master them. by august my technique was back up to where it was when i was eighteen and i could give a decent account of about half of the forty-eight. when i came down to cornwall for my birthday in september i visited my piano teacher viola nettle at her home in redruth and played a dozen of them for her. viola taught me from the age of seven to seventeen but this was the first time i’d played for her in nineteen years. she’s been one of the great inspirations in my life.

around the same time i started experimenting with karsten with him playing electronics and drums whilst i hopped between electric keyboard and accordion. in september i moved into a big flat above a glass-maker’s workshop in dalston which proved to be something of a catalyst. for the first time in london i have plenty of space and no neighbours, so i can make as much noise as i want at any hour of the day. i bought an upright piano (via ebay) from a japanese girl returning to tokyo after three years’ study at trinity college of music. i replaced the amplifier and speakers i’ve been using since cambridge. under karsten’s guidance i got some high-quality microphones. dexter loaned me a drum kit. timur contributed an amplifier and guitar. in november jam sessions started happening at my flat each week with a succession of new musicians coming along. meanwhile i started playing several times each week with josselin, a double bass player who also does some mean beatbox. it’s been great picking up a thread that’s been so central to my life after twenty years in abeyance.

this has been a demanding period for trampoline with the team trebling in size and a huge ramp-up in our engagement with customers. once all the new people were in post we took a deep breath, put all previous assumptions to one side and spent several months working together to plan the company’s strategy for the next year. there are few enough fixed points in any start-up so removing the ones that exist creates a certain amount of discomfort. but as i gain more experience running the business i’m discovering that removing structure can be as important as creating it. in the last couple of weeks we had a number of great developments with new clients so we all had the satisfaction of ending the year on a high.

last week i received a rather wonderful christmas present from the aether. for no discernible reason the bbc invited me and peter (plus guests) to a gala screening of this year’s doctor who christmas special. for friends outside britain, doctor who is a somewhat eccentric science fiction television drama for children that’s been on the air since nineteen sixty-three. the programme rapidly established itself as a cultural institution, a status undiminished forty-four years on. i loved it as a child and i still harbour a guilty fondness for it. so on tuesday evening, after a frantic day at the office, i zipped home to change my clothes then got a cab with timur to kings cross. the screening was in the science museum’s cinema so we took the piccadilly line down to south kensington. however at covent garden the train ground to a halt and it became clear it wouldn’t be moving again. we sped up to street level and ran through the streets to embankment station, dodging traffic and pedestrians on the way. we finally arrived at the science museum three quarters of an hour after the screening was due to start, gloomily resigned to having missed most of it. an attendant whisked us through corridors and up the back stairs. we finally emerged into the auditorium to discover that bbc executives had been droning on for the previous forty minutes and the film was was about to commence. joy!

the show was super. afterwards there were questions and answers with the cast and finally a party. at every turn i bumped into actors who’d appeared in doctor who at one time or another over the past forty years, plus an assortment of bbc grandees and minor-league politicians. it was deeply surreal and i felt gratifyingly like a ten year-old. my outfit played a useful role in the proceedings. back in october i went to a tailor in san francisco with a pattern for an english formal jacket circa 1780 and had them make one for me in lilac mohair velvet. the finished article arrived a week ago, so i wore it to the doctor who extravaganza. half-way through the party i bumped into russell davies, the programme’s ebullient writer and producer. after chatting for a few minutes he looked me up and down and said: “you look fabulous, you should be the eleventh doctor!”. my christmas was made then and there.

to my friends everywhere, happy christmas!

: c :