Category Archives: Isles of Scilly

d e l a y

10:30 wednesday 9 february – rosevear , st agnes

at this point i should be standing on the quay watching the lyonesse lady arrive , ready to winch my belongings aboard . instead i’m sitting in the house with everything piled around me .

i awoke to a beautiful sunny morning , the thrushes singing their hearts out … and the growl of a seriously big sea . at nine the launch was still expected to run . half an hour later it had been cancelled . the gry maritha , which runs freight between the islands and penzance , has just arrived at st mary’s but it will return to penzance as soon as it has unloaded . there is a possibility the sea will get worse tomorrow .

it seems the islands are not ready to release me quite yet . the weather has even denied me the use of my camera . i have plenty of film but the battery expired yesterday . one of a number of articles i intended to buy on st mary’s .

the next sailing of the gry isn’t until saturday , and the steamship company is sceptical if even that will be running .

i sit by the phone and wait .

: cH

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e n d i n g

10:55 tuesday 8 february – rosevear , st agnes

i sit in my studio amidst half-packed boxes and scattered papers . sunlight cuts low through the windows and i can feel its heat on the back of my hands as i type . my belongings are booked on the launch to st mary’s at half past nine tomorrow morning , ready for thursday morning’s sailing to penzance .

so it is almost over , this enchanted year . but i find my heart is not heavy . i have drunk deep of this place .

these final weeks have been as busy as any . the first full meeting of the scillonia digital workshop’s membership , a session on the internet with the st agnes schoolchildren , the first steps towards a community website built by the people of st agnes , a flurry of correspondence . also i have a new computer , a macintosh powerbook . the big system which has been the mainstay of successive projects since 1995 , when it was acquired to develop the balkan odyssey cd-rom , has found its final home in the school here on st agnes . i found myself unexpectedly sentimental about parting with it . we have been through a lot together , shared many memories . but i’m glad to put it out to pasture here where it may continue to be of use a little longer .

the new one is a joy . i spent half an hour last week with keith in the sail loft designing a padded case for it in yellow and tan canvas . another step towards being able to work from anywhere . i leave for australia on the twenty-fourth , where i shall be for five weeks or so .

today is clear , bright and very windy . i had a packed morning planned on st mary’s . meetings with the duchy of cornwall and the education authority , a handful of other liaisons and ( most important ) a haircut . but it is too rough and the boats were cancelled . there will now be no chance to reschedule these engagements . the weather has had the final word . i wonder if it will calm down tomorrow ?

this inconvenience did have a silver lining . i got some terrific photos of the island’s farmers loading boxes of flowers onto the launch . the light is amazing .

: cH

l u n a c y

05:37 friday 21 january 2000 – rosevear , st agnes

i’ve just cycled back from wingletang where i’ve been watching the lunar eclipse . i feel like sleeping now so i’ll write later .

02:10 saturday

later , as usual , turns out to be quite a lot later !

i’ve just put together a little module : http://www.charlesarmtstrong.net/trawl

you might have noticed a more stable style of presentation and interface emerging over the last few weeks . for the time being i’ve moved away from the photo-journal approach i tried in october to focus on self-contained modules . people’s comments and feedback have been instrumental in shaping the current format . i know some people still find themselves opening scores of image windows , but at least this can be avoided with the next and previous image buttons . it’s always good to hear people’s thoughts .

last night i ( that is , thursday night ) i returned from a magnificent dinner at westward and settled into several hours’ work . i’d intended to spend the afternoon recording interviews but ended up in highly-charged conversation with two island women who nonetheless refused to record a peep . i stuck my head out the door at about half three to confirm that the eclipse had begun . the sky was still cloudy but the moon’s white disc could be seen and a quadrant was indeed absent .

over supper we’d speculated about whether the sky would clear . inevitably there were memories of august’s eclipse , the solar one ( http://www.charlesarmstrong.net/eclipse ) , when a perfectly-situated hole opened in the clouds precisely for the period of totality then closing again as mysteriously .

i woke nik as arranged at four and we went into the lane outside my studio . the sky was featureless black . i decided to bike down to wingletang to see whether it might be visible away from the house lights . i tried to chivy nik into joining me but fresh from bed he was not enthusiastic . so off i sped , down the pitted concrete track , past the ghostly bulk of the old lighthouse , turning right onto the rutted mud of barnaby lane , down the narrowing track flanked by pitasporum and tamarisk , finally out into the open space of the downs . i pedaled through the bracken up to the great rock known as the giant’s punchbowl . there i stopped and looked about .

from the way the cloud caught the beams of lighthouses it was evidently low in the sky . in these conditions one can clearly make out the play of seven different lights . bishop rock , penninnis head , round island – the islands’ trinity . then wolf rock , longships , sennen and lizard , hidden below the far eastern horizon .

still there was no sign of the moon . but several patches of star-crammed sky had opened in the cloud . and they were slowly stretching . it would be worth waiting and watching . the weather here often rewards patience .

so i bounced down the curving track to praskin , my best-loved beach , a short band of white sand punctuated by great boulders and embraced by jagged arms of black rock . i left my bike at the sand’s margin and trod down to the quietly lapping water . then i lay back on the sand , my face to the sky , and waited .

i have not spent nearly enough time this year lying on sand watching the stars . but in a way last night made up for it all . at twenty-nine minutes past four ( i checked my camera’s clock ) i caught my first glimpse of the eclipsed moon . for a fleeting moment a dark orange crescent appeared through the seathing cloud before being consumed once again . nothing more was visible for quarter of an hour . by this time the sky was six-tenths clear with great swathes of stars . but the quarter in which the moon hid remained stubbornly veiled . constantly i judged that she would be revealed by the drifting clouds , but time after time they seemed to mutate before my eyes or reverse their motion or in some other way refuse to disgorge her .

then there was another glimpse , swiftly engulfed . and another , a few seconds . this teasing continued . i smiled to myself and the sky .

around five o’clock my patience was rewarded . twice or three times , for a few moments only , the full disk was revealed . like sombre cochineel , the colour reminded me of the air’s hue during the solar totality . my eyes widened and my heart pounded in the same way . residues from a primaeval ancestry tinging me with the deep terror of perverted nature .

i tried to take a photograph but it was hopeless . this event was to be seen unrecorded .

a little later , knowing that totality would be ending , i raised myself , returned to my bike and began the ride home . at several points i stopped to stare a little longer towards the patch in the sky where i knew a crescent of brilliant blue-white would be beginning to spread . back up at the old coastguard cottages i was granted a view of this , the rebirth of normality looking perhaps even stranger than the fearful orange disk had done .

then i returned my bike to johann’s barn , braced the door with the old broken oar , wrote the few words with which this despatch began and went satisfied to bed .

: cH

s h e l l s

00:32 saturday 15 january – rosevear , st agnes

i’ve just arrived back , a little mud-spattered , from cycling round the island under a moon torn by stormy clouds . no lights . a couple of brief squalls lashed me with icy rain . yesterday there was hail .

these weeks have been filled with wonder and discovery . it feels like the beginning all over again . perhaps this is no more than a heightened sense of the annual cycle . i notice the first white flashes of wild garlic on the path behind covean . the fresh shoots of alexanders in the hedges . the new growth on the tamarisks .

at low tide last saturday murray hicks and i went hunting for winkles on the rocks beside the quay at periglis . christine , murray’s mother , had suggested the idea on the boat a couple of days earlier . we scrambled about , poking in the crevices between rocks , trying to avoid the largest ( too tough ) and the smallest ( too fiddly ) . by the time the tide caught up with us we had gathered what we thought a respectible quantity .

back at westward farm christine dropped them into a pot of boiling water for four minutes , then drained them and left them to cool . once they were cool enough to hold we set to work with sewing needles , spearing each one and twisting it out of its spiral shell , discarding the brown translucent trap-door . quite a fiddly business .

soon we had a pile of these unprepossesing brown coiled creatures on a plate . we ate them the traditional way with vinegar , black pepper and freshly-baked brown bread . they were splendid . not such a rich flavour as mussels , but the same fresh tang of ocean .

murray and mike were not convinced of their edibility . ross experienced something of a conversion , particularly when a liberal dash of tabasco was added .

later on mike set up his telescope behind the house and pointed it towards saturn and jupiter . the sight made a profound impression upon me . somehow i had not expected saturn to look so perfectly like its popular image , a large sphere hemmed with flat slanted rings . and there it was before my eyes . i believe i cried out in surprise and joy . two equatorial bands were visible on jupiter , along with four of its moons . all this at one hundred and sixty-nine times magnification .

stars remain dots of light when viewed through a telescope . few things surpass the beauty of the moon when magnified , but it is an augmentation of what can be seen with the naked eye . at a stroke these planets were transformed from tiny points of colour into neighbours whose form , characteristics and satellites could clearly be perceived . at that moment my sense of the solar system latered . images seen on the page or the screen , however detailed , can never affect us the same way as direct experience .

a day or two later i picked a variety of seaweed i had not previously eaten , one which grows in fan-like clumps of short brownish / black stems . i have not seen it on many of the island’s beaches , but i discovered it in profusion on a little rocky cove between perkillier and browarth point . i chopped it coarsely and steamed it for five minutes , which made it turn a shade greener . with a dash of balsamic vinegar it was delicious . a chewy texture and a strong flavour . no idea what it’s called . this was the first time nik’s been subjected to my seaweed fetish and i was delighted when he responded positively . no turning back now … we’re off harvesting on sunday !

this week finally saw the start of my project to get a photograph and a sound recording of everyone on the island . i’ve been planning it since my arrival but it’s been agony deciding how to do it and what questions i should ask . with typical helpfulness the recharger for my minidisc chose now of all times to pack up . christine hicks has saved the project by loaning me a compatible device from her cd player .

work continues for the digital workshop and the sse . plans are beginning to coalesce for the year ahead . but that’s another story .

a few photos of the winkle adventure at
http://www.charlesarmstrong.net/winkling

and some photos i took in december in an amazing derelict church in islington http://www.sse.org.uk/people/charles.armstrong/st-pauls ( i’ve temporarily stuck these on the sse server as i’ve run out of space on my own – hope that’s ok james ! )

: cH

t u r n

08:34 friday 31 december , penzance heliport

a thick fog shrouds land and sea . it has just been announced that there will be no service until visibiity improves . anna and adam waved a bleary farewell from their doorway in hayle just forty minutes ago .

the spirit will be waiting against hugh town quay shortly after eleven . i’ll be able to meet her so long as a flight departs from here by 10:30 .

this shall be my last crossing to the islands for the forseeable future .

21:47- rosevear , st agnes

just about to don my costume and walk down to the island hall . i was planning to lift some remarkable seventies clothes from my parents but was mortified to discover they had all been sent to jumble over the last year . so we cobbled together a sort of psychadelic african guise . could catch on …

the helicopter was delayed an hour by the fog , but i made it . had a chance to catch up with nick lishman on st mary’s . the first time i’ve seen him since the workshop was founded . lots to sort out for the next month .

some of my friends are already in the next millennium . my turn will come soon , and other friends a little later . there is a great sense of a sphere rotating majestically , a perimeter between lght and dark sweeping across a rounded surface .

the afternoon was clear , with wonderful vivid light .

chin chin everyone

see you next time

: cH