Category Archives: Cornwall

p o r t h a l l o w

[ 17:35 sunday 16 april 2017 – porthallow cove, cornwall ]

today is easter day. i’m sitting on the broad pebble beach of porthallow cove with mum and dad accompanied by a thermos of tea and homemade apple cake. the sky is a deep azure. the sea laps lazily on the shore. the air is filled with birdsong. a family is trying to light a fire at the other end of the beach. a pair of swans bobs inquisitively at the water’s edge. otherwise the cove is deserted. this is cornwall at its most sublime. i took the train down on friday evening and return to london on tuesday.

porthallow is on the eastern side of the lizard, the rugged peninsular of serpentine and shale that juts south into the atlantic between falmouth and penzance. the lighthouse at lizard point marks the southernmost extremity of the british mainland. the western side of the lizard is windswept and rocky, exposed to the fury of the atlantic’s winter gales. the sheltered eastern side is shrouded by a canopy of trees and cut with humid, mysterious valleys.

earlier we walked along the winding coastal track to nare point and back. the path was engulfed with a firework display of spring blossoms. golden yellow gorse and celandines; snow white blackthorn with its long spines; deep pink campions; pale yellow primroses; azure spanish bluebells and the deeper indigo of their native cousins; pale purple violets; a thousand shades of green in the lush foliage of trees, grass and ferns. everything blazes with the exuberant joy of life and growth.

how lucky i was to grow up in this landscape. as i child i was only partially able to appreciate it. but unconsciously the beauty and savagery seeped into my soul. now i am able to find solace simply by standing on this turf, feeling the breeze on my face and letting the sound of waves fill my mind.

: c :

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 :