Category Archives: Cornwall

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 :

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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 :

k i t e s u r f e r s

[ 15:14 monday 29 may – hayle towans, cornwall ]

the tide has receded further than i’ve ever seen. these must be some of the biggest spring tides of the year. the departing waters have left the huge expanse of white sand imprinted with a mysterious caligraphy of wrinkles and undulations.

attracted by today’s clear skies, two feet of surf and a steady force five the kite surfers are out in force. i can count twenty of them darting around, leaping high into the air and floating gracefully back down. they’d be easier to count if they’d stayed still.

the wind’s a bit chilly so i’m sheltering amongst  rocks at the base of the cliff. how good to be back here in cornwall where i grew up. good also to spend these days with anna and adam, who are packing up their home in hayle ready to move next weekend.

[ 22:03 tuesday 30 may – great western railway, hayle to london ]

four hours into the six hour journey. the sun set shortly before bristol in a golden blaze.

i feel a tug of emotion every time i pass over brunel’s saltash bridge, the iconic frontier between devon and cornwall. the nature of the emotion depends on my direction.

: c :

s l e e p e r

[ 23:56 monday 8 november – shipton street, london ]

i wrote this four weeks ago. the final sentence, in retrospect, is ironic and slightly forlorn.

[ 21:53 monday 11 october – first great western train from hayle to paddington ]

i’m on my way back to london after spending the weekend in cornwall. leaving this remote limb of britain always provokes a slight lump in my throat, a gentle yearning. we are all imprinted in some way by the environment in which we spend our childhood but some places seem prone to leave a stronger mark than others. my (wholly subjective) impression is that cornwall is located at the more affecting end of the spectrum. the identity of many of my friends who grew up in cornwall seems to remain in some way anchored to its landscapes, climate and culture long after their lives take them elsewhere.

at a quarter before midnight on friday evening i checked into my cabin on the sleeper train at paddington. this is only the second time i’ve travelled on the service, the fist being in spring 1999 when i was living on the island of st agnes. on that occasion i recall a rather splendid dalliance kept me from my cabin until the final hour of the journey so i arrived in penzance exhausted and slept the whole journey by ship to the islands. traveling on this sleeper is overpoweringly nostalgic. arriving on the platform one is greeted by uniformed train officials standing outside every carriage with documents, a much larger crew than any other train service i’ve used. stepping into the train feels like entering a museum of 1970s british industrial socialism. the rolling stock was financed, constructed and brought into service in that period; fully in the state sector of course. somehow it has carried on ever since despite the intervening privatisation and general rendering-down of the railways. it is hard to believe this is a profitable service. i can only imagine that enough politicians with constituencies in devon and cornwall find the sleeper convenient to ensure a nice subsidy is maintained.

the cabins are all formica surfaces and sturdy cast steel fittings. everything has a chunky engineered feel to it. it doesn’t scream “design” in the way contemporary rolling stock tends to but all the details are pleasingly resolved. i like the clothes hangers built into the wall, integrated with elastic restraining bands to stop your clothes flapping around. this is what british design used to be, before it stopped being an engineering-driven discipline and became a fashion-driven discipline. one half expects to find harold wilson puffing on his pipe in the restaurant car.

at half past seven on saturday morning a steward called tamsin tapped on my cabin door and brought in a jug of coffee and some biscuits. twenty minutes later sand dunes hove into view outside my window and the train pulled into hayle station where i alighted, to be met by anna (my sister).

the two poles of the weekend were a big family dinner on saturday night and a long coastal walk on sunday afternoon. dinner brought together my parents, my aunt jill from canada, anna and adam, sergio and myself. anna and adam won’t be in britain for christmas so the meal was slightly surreally accessorised with streamers and crackers. sergio and i braved the rain before supper to pick our way through the cowpats and gorse to the top of trencrom hill. this is a westerly outpost of the west penwith moors, a rugged windswept landscape dotted with weathered granite outcrops and stunted trees. from the top of the highest carn, buffeted by the wind and rain, we could see both coasts: the sand-fringed sweep of st ives bay stretching to godrevy to the north and st michael’s mount to the south.

on sunday we set out from lamorna cove around eleven in the morning. the strong easterly wind and a rising tide sent the swell crashing against the quay and sending plumes of spray high into the air. i find the atlantic incomparably thrilling, cold and mighty and relentless. a straggle of off-season tourists perched slightly nervously near the quay with their cameras poised, unsure how close they should advance. jill walked straight to the end of the quay and a huge roller exploded all around her. she returned grinning from ear to ear and miraculously dry.

from lamorna we walked along the coastal path to penberth, the first time i’ve covered this stretch of coast. every step was accompanied by crashing of the atlantic to our left. about half-way along we descended into a patch of ancient oak and chestnut woodland, with arum lillies peppering the ground. lowland cornwall was once covered with this habitat but today it is extremely rare. for me it is magical to be in such a place. under the canopy formed by the trees, their lichen-covered branches formed into a smooth mantle by the wind, everything was bathed in a damp greenish half-light and the roar of the sea was muffled. in places such as this i have a sense of enormous spans of time.

later on, at porthcurno, we ate pasties sheltering from the rain under the cliff whilst the rollers crashed against the beach. jill ventured to the shoreline and this time she get soaked. we found a slow-worm on the beach, just twenty centimetres long with a lustrous golden skin. maybe he had fallen from the cliff, certainly the sand is not his favourite habitat. as i held him in my hand he twisted around my fingers, as if fearful of falling, and pressed the side of his head against me, his tiny black tongue darting in and out against my skin. we carried him up the beach and placed him in some grass where he darted off.

my life is bursting with unshared stories. i am absorbed in trampoline to the exclusion of almost everything else. previously i believed it was just a question of finding time to write these despatches, but i now realise the reflection that underlies the writing is equally important; and it is this that i lack. my days are given to the ceaseless demands of my business. it is thrilling. but having achieved a near-perfect balance in my way of living between 1999 and 2003 it pains me to recognise how unbalanced my life is become. yet this is what i chose, in full consciousness, and through this imbalance i am achieving things i could achieve no other way.

in the last few months we have brought several more people into the team, and have moved the company’s office out of my house into a rather splendid neo-classical pile off old street. week by week the momentum is increasing.

a month ago i was in japan with christian and kumi. i have 400 photographs to show for this and a half-written wanderer despatch. two similarly half-written despatches from sicily were lost when my computer was stolen from a train between florence and milan in july. a further half-written despatch describes these losses. somehow i have to learn new habits which permit me to write and send these things, rather than having them fester unfinished on my computer. possibly i should try to write briefer observations rather than the rambling descriptives towards which i seem inclined.

with perfect timing my train is now arriving into paddington. this message, at least, is complete.

peace to all : c*

e o y s t e r

[ 00:29 monday 16 april – bodgriggy street , hayle , cornwall ]

this evening i cycled to gwithian towans and scrambled down the cliff onto the sand . there was hardly anyone around . perhaps a dozen people visible along two miles of beach . earlier in the day i’d been walking with my family at land’s end and the sky was overcast . here it was quite different , a soaring blue mingling with violets and ochres as the sun closed to the horizon .

i felt fully awake for the first time in days , running along the tide line as my shadow grew longer on the firm white sand . the light was gorgeous , my camera gorged itself .

oh it is so hard to leave this place for london .

but of course i must . my main focus at the moment is the recruitment of a software engineer to work for six months on learning web , the partnership established between circus foundation and the school for social entrepreneurs . we need someone experienced in messaging systems , able to manage themselves and highly inventive .

i’m sending out a card with this despatch (you’ll need adobe acrobat reader to open it) . if you know any software engineers who might be interested i’d be very grateful if you could send it in their direction . we need to engage someone in the next couple of weeks .

learning web will be the first practical implementation based on the “trampoline” concepts which i first outlined eighteen months ago in the isles of scilly . i feel frustrated with myself that it has taken so damn long to reach this point . i could scarcely have wished for stronger support from those around me . james smith has patiently championed the project within sse and helped win resources to get it moving . it was he who pressed me to return to london for six months , itself a crucial step . craig mcmillan has provided the discipline of a technical perspective and a genius for drawing coherence from my incoherence . warren langley has helped me steer my thinking from a vision towards a venture .

each day i awaken wondering if i am about to discover that someone else has brought a technology to market which embodies everything i envisaged . it’s horrible . i would rather be completely wrong then be completely right yet too slow . but until one or other of these conclusions becomes manifest i shall plod on as best i can .

my first contact with the school for social entrepreneurs came about in consequence of an interview i read with michael young (lord young of dartington) on a flight to meet kirmo kivela in helsinki back in 1997 . i knew nothing of him prior to this . since getting involved with the school i’ve been able to spend a bit time with him .

while i was in ghana i realised how much i wanted to continue learning from michael (who is now 85) . a couple of weeks ago i finally plucked up the courage to ask if he would agree to be a mentor to me . he agreed on condition that i teach him to use a computer and the internet , which i suspect is going to be a nightmare . but , as warren commented , i still got a good deal !

during my time as a student michael gave me a copy of his first major piece of social research : “family and kinship in east london” , which he wrote in bethnal green during the early fifties . it’s a wonderful book , farsighted in its analysis and overflowing with humanity . michael is currently completing a sequel , looking at the same neighbourhood fifty years later . he’s asked me to contribute a section describing the influx of young information-sector professionals into the area and its impact . it will not be easy to write with clarity about a phenomenon of which i am so conspicuously a part .

as soon as i decided to come and live in london for these six months i decided i would give up smoking pot for the period . i’ve smoked it intermittently since i left cambridge and , dare i say , enjoyed it a lot . the first week of abstinence was not very successful as i kept finding excuses to make exceptions . but after that i’m happy to say it’s been no effort at all . i’ve a sneaking suspicion my libido has expanded to fill the gap , but it’s probably best not to dwell on that …

i’m sitting here in anna and adam’s sitting room typing away by the light of the lamp i had made for their wedding . mum and dad are staying here as well .

happy easter everyone

: cH

e x e u n t

07:58 saturday 12 february – steamship company office , hugh town quay , st mary’s

i sit here keeping out of the way of the frenetic ballet of forklifts on the quay outside . the gry came in yesterday afternoon with a full load . as i walked round to keith’s yard at porthmellon one of the steamship company directors commented to me that he’d never seen her so low in the water .

there are still stacks of flower boxes waiting on the quay to be loaded . i reckon she might be an hour later than the scheduled eight o’clock sailing time . no matter . i am content to sit and observe .

ian is phoning round the islands letting them know the lyonesse lady’s revised movements . there’s so much freight to despatch that she’ll have to take it in two runs .

the sky is grey and troubled but for the present the wind is not too severe . ian says it’ll rise over the next two hours .

everybody looks at me as if i’m mad when i tell them i’m going over on the gry . it has a reputation for being less than the most comfortable way to travel between here and penzance , particularly in rough weather . it has been known to take seven or eight hours in a heavy sea . but today there should be a following wind and swell , even if they are a little on the large side . people seem to regard it as some kind of ultimate sea-sickness endurance challenge . because she has a shallow drought and the wheelhouse is up forward the motion can be quite unpleasant . i’ve never succumbed in the past and rather hope to avoid it today .

ian’s just handed me the latest weather fax from the met office . southwest force 7 or gale force 8 with the strongest winds around the isles of scilly . sea state rough to very rough . hehe !

10:09 – gry maritha , a couple of miles out from scilly

i was eventually called at twenty past nine and hurried down the quay. i threw my bags onto the deck then grabbed the rail and heaved myself up . we slipped berth five minutes later . the sky has cleared . we are rolling about quite a bit .

10:19 in the last couple of minutes the ship’s motion has changed noticeably . we rise up and down each wave more steeply . the hull judders as we pitch into each one and there is a constant swish of spray breaking across the deck . my rucksack falls over in the cabin as i write .

10:26 i went out on deck and was confused to find the islands already out of sight to stern . then i poked my head over the rail , looked forward , and there they were . i blinked and checked again . but we were definitely heading * towards * the islands . no wonder i sensed a change of motion . i went down to the mess where the crew was variously sitting and lying with cups of tea . i enquired why we were going back . to drop me off , they teased , to answer some tricky questions for the police . but it turned out a fuel line had burst , spraying diesel all over the engine room .

this creates a slight problem for me . at two o’clock a van will be delivered to the quay at penzance for me to drive all my stuff up to my parents in gloucestershire . i need to be there to brandish my licence and sign some papers . i’ll phone and try to delay it .

12:05 we have just cast off from st mary’s quay for the second time today , having arrived three quarters of an hour ago . it felt earie to be returned like this having bade the islands farewell . the fuel line couldn’t be repaired and the decision has been made to proceed to penzance anyway . could be a slow journey .

13:58 no land in sight from the main deck , though there probably would be if i climbed up to the wheelhouse . we have passed out of signal range for my mobile phone . following a flurry of calls to the penzance harbour office , the steamship company office and the van rental company i am left with very little idea whether there will be a vehicle waiting for me , and whether its keys will be locked in an office somewhere .

there is nothing more i can do . the crew gave me some tea and a pack of biscuits . i shall settle down to some reading .

21:32 bodriggy street , hayle , cornwall

we docked at penzance at half past five , eight hours after the initial departure from st mary’s . by this time the uncertainty regarding the van had been augmented by the possibility that my belongings were not even aboard the gry . the crew could find no trace of my two palates and bicycle in the hold . my feeling of exasperation increased a couple more notches .

but some anxious communications with st mary’s drew assurance that they had been loaded into a big steel container on deck , though this would not be confirmed until we arrived in port .

the quay was crammed with articulated lorries waiting to collect shipments of flowers from the islands to deliver across the country . we drew in , lines were thrown , i leapt across with my rucksack , my powerbook , my camera , my saxophone . as the holds were being opened i scuttled up to the steamship company office , where i found a waiting van . but no keys in evidence . and nobody around . i returned to the quay to find the first of my palettes and my bicycle unloaded . encouraged by this i went back for another search of the parked van . the keys were tucked in the sun visor . i suddenly felt a lot lighter .

i drove down to the quay , tore the plastic wrap off my palettes and transferred everything into the van . three children emerged and started firing a stream of questions at me : where had i come from where was i going could they come with me what was in the boxes why were all the lorries on the quay what was it like to ride in a ship ?

i shouted my thanks to the master of the gry and made the twenty minute drive here , the home of my sister anna and her husband adam . i’ll continue up to my parents tomorrow afternoon . so what was the voyage like ? well the sea was big and ship rolled around a lot , but to be honest there was nothing very exciting about it and at no point did i feel even the tiniest bit queasy . almost a sense of anti-climax . but this was the right way for me to leave the islands .

: cH