Category Archives: In transit

i t i n e r e n t

990731.1420 virgin train , gloucester to penzance

damn crowded train . mewling holiday-makers and their accoutrements . i was lucky to get a seat .

another valuable trip . school all day monday . then on tuesday i went to london transport’s lost property office behind baker street station . an odd assortment of people queuing to retrieve their mislayings . i handed over the chit when my turn came , flashed my newly-invigorated passport , and after a couple of minutes a familiar box was passed across the counter . once again i was the owner of a digital camera . its saviour , a surfer from perth , had written a charming message on the top of the box , including his email address . the camera revealed twenty-four dodgy images of him and his friends . enough material for a cute little web module . quite a saga .

the lost property office had closed whilst i was in there , so i was ushered out through a back exit . while we were passing through the store-rooms i asked my guide about items which had turned up recently . thousands of umbrellas , a case packed with bondage gear , a canister of bull sperm , a full-size grandfather clock , bits of medical equipment . i scent a bizarre documentary in prospect . the people who work there must develop a very peculiar perspective on humanity .

on wednesday i nipped up to cambridge for a meeting with ray jobling . he interviewed me when i applied for a place at st john’s college back in 1989 . i remember we ended up talking about jazz . he was my tutor for the three years i was there . since then we had no contact until i wrote to him in january describing my project in the islands and asking whether he could recommend somebody to play a study guide role . i was delighted when he agreed to do it himself .

research didn’t figure much in my original plans . it was michael young who prompted me to consider developing my documenting activity into something more coherent . since then i have become increasingly interested in the ethnographic aspect of my project . ray has been invaluable in helping me understand what i am doing in the context of others’ work and the issues they confronted . as the year progresses it wil become increasingly important to have an experienced researcher to bounce ideas off .

990805.2209 watermill , st mary’s

damn . everything’s out of sync . this despatch has been sitting in the draft folder waiting for me to complete it but i just haven’t been in the mood .

that trip to cambridge was really engaging . for the first time i felt i had a clear reason for being there . my conversation with ray was quite different in character from anything in the past . i couldn’t help seeing the university as an archipelago cast out amidst the bleak fenlands , each college an island with its own customs , its own personality . somehow it felt more familiar than it ever did when i was studying there .

after that i spent a couple of days with my parents in gloucestershire then headed for cornwall intending to get to the islands in time for sunday’s < round the island > sailing race . as usual i arrived at the heliport without booking a seat . i’ve mentioned before that i’ve developed a reputation there for my improbable luck , but this time i really thought it had run out . there were only a couple of flights left and both were fully booked .

i sat and wrote in my journal as the first flight left . when things had calmed down a bit i sauntered over to the desk and asked how it was looking . with a slightly awe-struck expression i was told i < must be the luckiest man in the world > . due to a booking error there would be an extra unscheduled flight on which i could travel .

feeling rather elated , and with an hour and a half before this extra flight , i decided it would be nice to unwind from the day’s train journey ( for the record , forty minutes late ) . i pulled out my towel and trunks , left the heliport , crossed the main road , took the footbridge over the railway and bingo : i was on the beach . there can’t be many airports where you can kill time before a flight with a swim in the sea .

so with a smug half-interest i watched the next flight rise up and disappear towards the islands . about twenty minutes later i returned to the heliport . this time the faces greeting me were aghast . the error had itself been erroneous , there would be no extra flight , space had been found for me on the last one and repeated calls had gone out , but i was splashing around in the sea .

so , no round the island race for me . i’d been looking forward to this all year . but it meant i could spend the next day with my sister anna and her husband adam , a day which happened to be the first anniversary their wedding . no regrets .

i arrived back here on monday afternoon and have been buried in work since then . except last night , when i played my sax with the steam band in st agnes’ island hall . this is the grand-daddy of island bands , playing together for the last twenty years . it was an honour to play with them and i had a whale of time . it was also the first time i’ve set foot on agnes since i moved to st mary’s at the start of june . i found it all a bit emotional . i didn’t quite make the boat back to st mary’s and ended up crashing on mike and christine hicks’ sofa . just a touch fuzzy-headed today .

: cH

m a i n l a n d

990724.0839 heliport , st mary’s

i’m sitting on the ground behind the terminal with the morning sun on my face . once again i am heading for london as the islands brace themselves for a week of perfect weather . the locals seem to find this amusing . ha ha ha .

i’m just about back to full strength now after my yukky malaise . over the last couple of days it has been tremendous to feel my energy flooding back and i’ve got a lot of work done . yesterday i wrote an article to go in next month’s edition of scilly up-to-date , the islands’ most widely-read publication . i cycled down and pushed it through the publiisher’s letterbox late last night . i’m inevitably a little nervous . this is the moment at which my head rises fully above the parapet . let’s hope nothing too hard gets thrown at it .

990725.1913 great western train

what fun this is . as if it were not enough to spend the afternoon sealed in a metal pipe whilst the sun shone outside , one of the locomotives packed up in cornwall and after half an hour sitting in plymouth we were told to get out of the train and get onto another one . we’re running an hour late .

if my memory serves me it was a year ago today that kirmo , tony , adis and i drove from london to penzance and boarded the scillonian ( rather stressed and with about ninety seconds to spare before she slipped her moorings ) . tom joined us a couple of days later , delayed by work on his sleeve design for luke’s virgin virgin album .

our week at tamarisk farm became ten days , then twelve , then ten again as the next set of guests dithered about when they’d be arriving . the idea of spending 1999 setting up some kind of community project in the islands was conceived during that period . we had a great time . i remember late nights playing ladbroke-grove-rules blackjack round the table , tracking down gaz and turning up at his and button’s cabin ( with the team ) having not seen him for ten years , catching mullet off horse point with johann in the elvira , playing my debut with gaz’s band in the town hall at twenty-four hours’ notice , swimming in my trousers at bar point and having to cycle in them back to hugh town , walking round wingletang down with kirmo in the pouring rain , resorting to hammers with home-cooked crabs . it was the first time i’d been in the islands since easter 1993 . by the time i left i was fairly certain i’d be back for a longer stay .

i saw tony and adis last month in london . i got a mail yesterday from tom in singapore , just sorting out a boat ticket and malaria pills for sumatra . another mail arrived from kirmo , confirming that he’s sorted out his travel arrangements and will be in the islands for the eclipse .

i flew over to the mainland early yesterday morning and headed straight up to the post office in penzance to extend my passport for another two years ( the passport agency’s expensive new computer has collapsed and some post offices have been authorised to stamp new life into expiring passports ) . the clerk asked if the photo looked anything like me . i put on a puzzled expression and pointed out that this was scarcely the point with a passport photo ( mine was taken when i was studying my a-levels for pete’s sake ) . he laughed and stamped it . watch out world .

then henry hawkins , probably my longest-standing friend , came and collected me and we went off to porthcurno , where we scrambled down a vertiginous cliff track ( by mistake ) and went swimming on a nudist beach ( by mistake ) . it was fantastic anyway . later on we went for a sail in his father’s shrimper down at restronguet . we had plaice for supper , drank too much whisky and got all maudlin . i haven’t seen much of henry in the last few years as he’s been working with oily people in denmark and peru . we were at truro school together and then at cambridge . we share an interest in criticising one another’s photographs , vigorously disliking one another’s favourite films and feeling inadequate in a messed-up world .

: cH

s h a r d s

990702.1845 great western train , paddington to penzance

your correspondent sits on the cripplingly expensive rich-bastards-escaping-to-their-country-houses-on-a-friday-evening train out of london . the air is filled with the fragrence of british rail greaseburgers and the delicate tinkle of scandinavian mobile phones . i always try to work out which handful of my fellow-travellers will still be here by the time we pass over brunel’s bridge into cornwall .

the american gentleman to my left got out his laptop pc as soon as we were under way and has been playing < risk > ever since . the german boy opposite me looks a bit miserable . the stern-looking lady who completes our table is buried in her glossy magazine .

we are stopped in a field beside a big sign offering offices to let .

the family across the aisle from me looks to have been on a short break to london . papa is sitting reading the star-studded brochure from madame tussaud’s irrepressible waxworks . mama and young girl are enjoying their steaming offal from the buffet . young boy has , i think , finished his already . he is pulled up over the back of his chair looking at the remaining morsals with avid wonder .

.1851 . an announcement from the senior conductor . the reason we’re static in a field is that someone threw a brick through one of the carriage windows . o dear .

we move once again , but the conductor returns to tell us we will stop at the next station so that he and the driver can knock out the remaining glass from the broken window , a < hazard to passenger safety > .

this has been a very strange week in london . i have found things . i have lost things .

today has been extravagantly hot in london . beneath my backpacks and saxophone i became rather conscious of this . apparently cornwall is not nearly so splendid , langouring beneath a persistant overcast .

i’ll stay tonight with anna and adam in hayle . then the helicopter from penzance to st mary’s tomorrow afternoon .

: cH

r a i l s

990320.1043 intercity train tween paddington and penzance

leaving london . the density of building steadily decreasing . from close-packed residential and office to sprawling industrial , punctuated with scrapped cars and derelict scrubland .

i awoke this morning at christian’s . good news : the sun was bright in the window . bad news : it was an hour later than planned . too late for any hope of catching the 0815 train . which i would need to catch in order to make the 1525 bus from penzance station to land’s end airport . which i would need to be on to connect with the last flight of the day . and if i miss that i’ve no hope of getting to piers and rachel’s wedding tomorrow on agnes .

so a foolish-feeling start to the day . but it was too late to be worth rushing for the train so i got up and went out to stand on the roof terrace , still blurry from sleep and larglely unclothed . high up on the fringe of hampstead heath , looking out over the whole flat plain of london . rogers’ millennium dome in the east , goldfinger’s trellick tower in the west . crisp air strong sun shadow buildings trees morning-mist-entwined . from such a vantage point and under such conditions london is beautiful .

i checked my psion , on which i downloaded the timetable information last night . the next train would get in at 1540 . so a theoretical possibility of catching the 1615 flight remained .

a couple of expressos from christian’s quirky allessi jug ( i had to phone him at work yesterday morning to ask how to open the damn thing ) . baguette and honey . clothes . pack up . christian emerged and started preparing for his trip up to cambridge for the masters’ degree ceremony . a quaint and fraudulent affair which i underwent a couple of years ago . tube to paddington . platform eight . find a seat . away .

i phoned the steamship company in penzance , who now operate the planes as well . they offered to hold the bus for me , and the flight too if necessary . so long as the forecast fog doesn’t materialise it seems i’ll make the wedding .

my planning is often sloppy and last minute . yet i keep getting away with it . even to me this seems like an unhealthy situation . every protestant fibre in my body protests that hard consequences must follow such slackness . but from somewhere else springs faith that things will generally work out , and this is repeatedly borne out . my comeuppance waits for me somewhen .

the carriage is subdued . only a couple of people talk . most sit back and contemplate the passing countryside or lower their heads in books and papers .

i have been greatly stimulated by this week in london . my thanks to craig , markl , heidi , hans , james , markp , jodi , iaki , christian , bridget . it has been a pleasure to stay with you all in your different fragments of the city . the seminars at school were excellent . leading authorities on social housing , family policy , new politics , trusts and foundations came to talk with us . charles handy and his wife came to talk about entrepreneurship ( i’ve been roped in to help mrs h , a photographer , get to grips with digital imaging ) . above all , the discussions between the sixteen of us challenged me with new perspectives and experience . hopefully we will be able to keep this going in the evolving electronic discussion groups .

it will probably be more than a month before i am back again on the mainland . in the meantime i will be visited by friends and family on the islands .

.2055 tamarisk farm , st agnes

train bus plane and boat segued without incident . here i am . the island is feverish with preparations for tomorrow’s wedding . almost everyone is involved in some way or another . at the moment ben and tonya are cleaning scallop shells in johann’s bath . sue and her team are still preparing food for the one hundred and fifty guests . david and john peacock have run five boat trips from st mary’s to collect guests . the final batch will appear tomorrow morning . i’m ready with my camera and minidisc . it’ll be an early start . johann’s already making jibes at me about that . he seems to doubt my ability to get up before midday .

: cH

r e t o u r

990224.0824 number 18 bus , hayle , cornwall

i’m on my way to the heliport in penzance , having said goodbye to my sister anna and her husband adam .

the bus is bizarrely fitted with fruity pink flourescent tubes down its left hand side . not many passengers . three or four schoolchildren , a couple of smartly-dressed ladies whom one might presume bound for work .

we’re passing st erth’s fine old parish church . closely-dressed granite blocks , squat grey tower . after london i always find these cornish buses wonderfully incongruous . the same vehicles , but bumping and swaying through single-track country lanes .

i’ve never travelled by helicopter before so in a sad laddish way i’m quite looking forward to the trip . there aren’t too many routes on which they’re regularly used . until this year i’d always crossed to the islands by sea . it was cheaper and seemed more appropriate . but the ferry ( scillonian iii ) is laid up over the winter in plymouth for a refit so it’s fixed wing from land’s end or the chopper from penzance .

ah , mount’s bay comes into view . the sea flat and still . st michael’s mount rising fantastically above it , a steep tree-swathed island topped by a fairy-tale castle . soon we’ll be at the heliport .

.0923 departure lounge , penzance heliport
the pre-fight safety video is running for the second time . < there will be some noise and warm air from the engines . this is perfectly normal > . i used my last few minutes of mobile time to phone st mary’s to arrange a place in the mail boat over to st agnes . i’ll just have time for lunch before this afternoon’s bookings to help a couple of islanders with their computers . back into the swing .

.1058 innisidgen guest house , hugh town , st mary’s
i’ve ducked in here for a coffee and to get out of the rain . the flight was largely cloudbound . helicopters are cool . the company which operates the islands’ service is based in aberdeen from where it services the north sea oil fields . the same sikorsky helicopters too . it was less cramped than i expected . 28 seats in quite a roomy cabin . almost all aircraft interiors seem to be fitted out in the wall-to-wall beige plastic cladding introduced by boeing in the fifties . it’s refreshing to see one with even a marginally different aesthetic . goddam ruskies .

radio two has just announced a new government scheme to help the long-term unemployed . from now on funds will be provided to pay for the removal of tattoos . futuristic stuff .

: cH

g r e a t w e s t e r n

990223.1521 paddington station , london

your correspondent sits in the middle of the busy concourse , publicly-transported demographics eddying around me .

the penzance train has just been called for boarding . a surge of humanity and baggage towards platform two . in every eye the determination to gain advantage over fellow travellers , to push ahead of those slower or weaker . a carriage nearer the buffet . a seat with a table . a window . nowadays it doesn’t take much to reveal the mean selfishness which prospers beneath welcoming smile and conscienscious word .

your correspondent has a seat , despite his tardiness in the race for preference . inexplicably a lady removes from coach e seat 31 rear-facing as i pass . opportunistic reflexes kick in . a table for the psion . the usual puzzled interest from those milling past , searching for a place as i type .

the train departs on time . these few days in london have been inspiring . i am reconfirmed in my belief that the future must draw both from city and from country . neither root contains all the necessary knowledge .

i was able to see some good friends . in order of appearance : mark ( lascelles ) seb leon imogen caroline bobo joffy luke craig hans will . other liaisons proved impossible , but i shall be back next month .

: 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