Category Archives: Wanderer

f i r s t w e e k

990216.2327 tamarisk farm

i arrived at this place seven days ago . i have neither started tearing my
hair out nor woken up to find , i don’t know , a pilchard head on my pillow
. i must therefore count the week to have been a success . this weekend i shall be travelling up to london for a school commitment on monday . i find myself mildly resentful at having to leave so soon after arriving , unwilling to break the spell . i shall be back soon enough .

as i write the electricity is momentarily interruputed from time to time . i should be brief and send this message on its way . what is happening , i wonder ? now that the island is served with electricity from the mainland you’d have thought the supply would be stable . when i first came here every house relied its own diesel generator . how quickly people take such advances for granted , become intolerant of any deterioration .

after several still days the wind started to rise again yesterday . it has been a wonderful bright day , and this evening the sky was glorious . in between tasks i took the opportunity to wander down to the sea and stare out across the western isles , hazily silhouetted against the golden and violet eruptions of the setting sun . i saw at least one islander similarly engaged . it is heartening to see confirmation that these wonders of nature still inspire marvel after a lifetime on the island . here the sky is so broad . my camera was with me .

i’ve spent the last couple of afternoons wrestling with the pc in the school here on st agnes . finally it is willing to go online via an isp other than msn and with a browser other than internet explorer , but it was a close thing . i gave the teacher , sue major , a brief introduction this afternoon . her job must be rather different than most teachers . at present there are on the island ten children of primary age ( between four and eleven ) . this fluctuates quite widely over time , but ten is about as high as it gets . with such small numbers of course everyone learns in the same group , so sue must structure exercises such that everyone may find an appropriate challenge . i can’t help feeling this is a much more natural environment in which to learn . it takes a gifted teacher though .

nervously i stuck a poster to the island blackboard outside the post office / shop this evening :
not so scary after all

A haphazard introduction for luddites , technophobes and complete beginners . Brought to you by Mr Charles Armstrong , late arrived these parts .

The School , St Agnes
( courtesy of the Governors )
Thursday 18th February
at 6.00 pm
truth is , i don’t have much experience helping beginners , and i’m not sure i know where to start . but i was asked to do it so i’ll do my best .

: cH

c o m m u t i n g

990212.1154 spirit of st agnes

i’m hitching a lift to st mary’s . the boat’s going over to pick up the music teacher for his fortnightly visit to the school on st agnes . i’m travelling to meet carmen mallon , a councillor who runs the ratio centre , a small technology centre set up as part of a project initiated by the university of plymouth .

its a still , cloudy day . a cormorant flies past in the opposite direction , just a foot or so from the water’s surface . about thirty or forty more are at rest , bobbing up and down in a loose huddle . strange bubbling clouds are massed on he horizon .

this vessel came into service only four years ago , replacing the old wooden-hulled craft which had plied the route between st agnes and st mary’s for decades . she’s a sturdy lady . twin grp hulls with steel superstructure . she can cope with heavier seas than her predecessor , moving the island one step closer towards 365 day access . david and john peacock own and run her . john was the first person on the island to send me an email , confirming the time of today’s journey . he studied systems engineering at portsmouth and worked for the mod before returning here to join his father in the family business .

we round the jetty , ease back the throttle and come up alongside the quay .

990213.0053 tamarisk farm

in bed , psion perched on the pillow . i’ve been tweaking my homepages . they’re still as self-indulgent as ever , but it’s hard to imagine how homepages could be anything else . maybe they could be a bit less pompous . for anyone who’s not had the delight . as soon as i get a new tube for my scanner ( the only casualty of the sea crossing ) i’ll get to work on a couple more modules .

i also put up the first simple page at , which will be the principal site for my project out here .

mails today from friends in australia ( ross ) , new zealand ( tom ) and thailand ( simon ) as well as several from around britain . and this place is meant to feel isolated ?

supper was locally-caught skate poached in a little milk ( local , unpasteurised ) with steamed red cabbage and couscous . i ate it whilst poring over the strategic report on the islands commissioned by the duchy of cornwall back in 1984 . interesting reading but a little unimaginative .

my time on st mary’s was useful . i spent an hour in animated discussion with carmen . they’ve got several machines , including video-conferencing facilities , set up in a newly-refurbished wesleyan chapel in the middle of hughtown . they share the building with the tourist information office and the public library will be moving in soon . the project’s remit was to facilitate distance learning in forty rural locations across the south west . european money , of course . the main interest has actually been from people wanting to pick up basic computing skills , a valuable service which the centre seems to be performing effectively . it’s difficult for people from the off islands ( the four smaller islands ) to make use of it though . there are also questions about its long-term viability once the euromoney dries up . but how very positive to see an initiative like this succeeding here .

whilst i was speaking to carmen a fellow stuck his head round the door whom i guessed was nick lishman , a friend of joffy hicks . as well as looking after the council’s internal systems he cultivates herbs ( organically ) and makes baskets . we met up afterwards in his minimal office at the council building , wedged between the photocopier and the reception desk .

from here i walked round the garrison to newman house , an imposing granite building behind which humfrey wakefield has his pottery . i think i erroneously refered to his wife as wakeham in a previous despatch . i found hum ( as he’s known ) leaning against the wall smoking one of his filthy roll-ups . he complained that he was suffering from withdrawal because his wheel was out of action whilst the gallery was being renovated , showing me the new roof and shelves ( twice ) . i pruriently declined the proffered rolly and tipple . we talked about island politics and intrigues . he’s an utterly delightful fellow , full of mischievous stories and schemes . he returned my sennheiser headphones , which i left there on my last visit in august . i blamed his notorious home-brewed mead for this oversight . hum’s chairman of the environmental trust and suggested i should meet andrew gibson , its director . another interesting avenue to explore .

then it was time for me to head back down to the quay to catch the 1515 boat back to st agnes , carrying the island’s children home from the secondary school where they board during the week . before this school was opened in the 1960s people had to go away to school on the mainland . this is why my old school at truro developed such a strong relationship with the islands . johann was there , as was his son joffy . time to sleep now .

: cH

q u i e t

990211.0041 tamarisk farm , st agnes

just got back from the turk’s head . i arrived there about quarter to nine to find it deserted . no sign even of the landlord . i spent a while examining the maps , photographs and memorabilia . then the landlord emerged ( like the shopkeeper in mr ben , as if by magic ) and i introduced myself . gradually others arrived and we coalesced into two teams for the quiz . it was demanding stuff , i must say , but happily i was on the victorious side . met quite a few people and was required to explain what i was up to for several of them . after a couple of pints i probably said more than i would have chosen , but heck that’s what pubs are for . i liked the people i met .

walking to and from the pub , maybe quarter of an hour’s leisurely stride , i was reminded as i always am how little experience of true darkness we have in the modern world . here there are no street lamps and virtually no light pollution . even though it is a clear night and my night vision is pretty good i was barely able to distinguish the concrete road . one is very conscious of the sweeping beams islands’ three main operating lighthouses , though they are all many miles distant . the bishop’s rock light is the most visible , seven miles away , a remarkable feet of early victorian engineering .

the wind has dropped , the temperature has risen a degree or two ( my breath no longer condenses before me as i write ) and a gentle rain falls sporadically .

miles davis’ < circle in the round > on the stereo . green tea in the pot . a couple of letters to write then bed for me .

thank you for sharing my journey . goodnight .

: 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

i n c l e m e n t

990208.1507 land’s end aerodrome

the phrase used by the pilot was < in the lap of the gods > . i may be flying out sometime this afternoon . or i may not .

i’m sitting here in the flourescent-lit cabin which serves as waiting room , windows lashed by rain and wind . the forecast is for winds reaching force nine in the islands . here on the mainland it’s no more than six or seven . taking off under these circumstances doesn’t seem to pose too much of a problem . landing , on the other hand , does .

yesterday morning was bright and clear . the drive down from gloucestershire was without incident . a great feeling of escape . my heart always lifts at the moment when the a30 plunges down over the lip of dartmoor and a breathtaking vista of rolling hills , light and shadow , extends to the distant horizon . even in the sluggish and unwieldy van it was a joy to trundle round the familiar roads . i met up with my mother , my sister anna and her husband adam in hayle as arranged yesterday afternoon . we braved the wind and went out for a short walk on the sand . i always loved the beaches down here in the winter . there’s a melancholic beauty and bleakness which i find supremely calming . and of course , no tourists .

early start this morning , reloading the van and driving down to the quay at penzance . everything was weighed and loaded into shipping crates amidst
pirouetting fork lifts and lorries unloading supplies for the islands . the
driving rain made me glad of those hours with the shrink wrap .

the docker who helped load everything up was not enthusiastic about computers . < when someone invades and turns the power off they’ll be no bloody use at all . who wants to spend all day sitting in front of a screen anyway ? > . i told him that broadly speaking i agreed with him , but pointed out that they actually made quite good weapons if dropped from a decent height .

looking out of the windows , i see that someone has just got into the small
plane’s cockpit , poked around and got out again . the flight was due to leave a few minutes ago . no decision yet .

i’ve arranged with david peacock to have a boat waiting for me at st mary’s to take me over to st agnes . i’d better call and warn him that the plan might be changing .


still no decision . before we can fly the pilot needs to be confident that
there is a fall-back landing strip which can be used should conditions at st mary’s be impossible . crosswinds are too strong at lands end , newquay , rnas culdrose and raf st mawgan .


it’s final . no flight today . back to hayle and hopefully more luck at 0825 tomorrow . i managed to get through to david peacock and call off the launch . the plane’s been wheeled back into the hanger .

: cH

w r a p p i n g

990206.0116 sandhurst

i always hoped this adventure of mine would provide new experience , but this is being realised in unexpetedly strange ways . today was mostly spent in the garage covering cardboard boxes in shrink wrap .

it looks like conditions are going to be pretty grim early next week . the prospect of rain and spray-sodden boxes disintegrating as they are lifted onto the quay , depositing sundry computers and books into the atlantic , is quite sufficient to spur me to this bizarre behaviour . weird stuff , sort of industrial cling film . quite kinky actually , or is that just my warped imagination ?

other than that i’ve thrown out twenty-four pairs of socks , all riddled with holes . never had much luck with them . and my parents bought me a new pair of wellies as a present for the islands . i’ve booked myself onto next monday’s 1525 flight from land’s end airfield to st mary’s . all the luggage will be received on the quay at penzance on monday morning , hopefully to arrive at st mary’s sometime on tuesday morning . it’ll then be transferred to a launch for the crossing to st agnes . unless the weather’s too bad .

still a bit stressed , but it’s feeling close now .

: cH

f i r s t l e g

990203.1950 sandhurst

i sit here in an armchair . embers glowing in the grate , emiting an occasional snap . otherwise it is silent , except for the uneven beat of the ancient grandfather clock standing in the hall . the sitting room of my parents’ house . we moved here from cornwall when i was seventeen .

the walls bear testament to a love of that county . screen prints and engravings of favourite places . amongst these , three depict the islands . they were bought from helena wakeham’s studio on st mary’s one easter when i was in the islands with my parents . that must have been twelve years ago . helena and her husband humfrey still live there , looking out across the sound . humfrey is a potter , prodigious mead brewer and chairman of the islands’ environmental trust . i visited him with my friend gaz in the summer and got so pissed that i left my headphones in his studio . they’re still there , waiting for me to pick them up . soon now , soon .

everything worked out ok last night . i met the people from sony in a soho pub . some interesting possilities . then christian came round , helped me dismantle my futon and shared a final spliff in my room . it took me a while to remember where i’d left the van , so we had a pleasant wander round the back streets of kentish town . eventually we located it and took the furniture up to hampstead . then it was time for the big hit . matt came round and helped me load the bigger pieces , then i carried on alone . at half past five i left the house , locked the front door and was ready to go .

it was a clear drive . i had my minidisc recording for the first few minutes . seemed like an important thing to document . i was crossing the cotswolds by the time it started getting lighter .

i arrived here just before eight , passing my father on his way to work as i bumped along the muddy lane .

now i must start making detailed arrangements for the next leg of the journey . mum might come down to cornwall with me . i hope to see my sister anna , who moved back to the county with her husband adam .

: cH

l e a v i n g l o n d o n

990202.1634 kentish town road , london

here i sit , surrounded by boxes and the detritus of five years . almost every object on which my eye rests conjures powerful associations of the experiences which have filled this time . but today is my last as a resident of this city . i shall be here often in the future , i am sure . but it will be different .

this will be the last thing i write before disconnecting the big old macintosh which has , if you like , been the hearth of the successive places i have made my home . a transit van was delivered to my door earlier , which i had then to drive around the crammed streets hereabouts for the next hour before finding a parking spot . i hope i can find the place again , and that the vehicle is there still . first there are my trusty futon , my coffee tables and a lovely old florentine chair of my aunt’s which i had reupholstered , all to be delivered to my friend christian’s loft-ish apartment in hampstead . i’m trying not to think of all those stairs . but i could not wish a better home for these beloved objects .

then the big one . my friend matt uncomplainingly agreed to help me load everything into the van . i’ll have to take the front door off its hinges to get my desk out . eventually it’ll all be done and i’ll set off for my parents’ house in gloucestershire . i’ll stay there a few days , sorting out all my stuff . i want to take as little as possible to the islands . i’ve been steadily accumulating belongings since my time at cambridge . it’s time to start shedding them now . time to travel light . i expect to travel the final leg , to penzance , st mary’s , st agnes , on sunday or monday .

so how does it feel ? it’s hard to say . these last days and weeks have been numbing . there has been so much for me to do , so many different threads to pursue , so many pitfalls to avoid . and i really hate the stress of moving house . i’m just longing for it to be over , to be there ready to start adapting . or perhaps that adaptation has begun already . perhaps it began last august when i decided , out of the blue , that this was how i intended to spend 1999 . at the time i didn’t know how , but i knew i would make it happen .

i am very aware that this is not going to be easy . so much that i have taken for granted is about to be stripped away . small remote communities can be vicious places , inward-turned and jealous . i shall be more conspicuous there than i have ever been , and that is saying something .

but in my heart i am inflamed with excitement . i know it is time for this new adventure . this will be a formative year for me .

to you first few members of this group , welcome . your presence , whether invisible or visible , will be an important anchor for me . i look forward to writing for you over these days weeks months .

and now i have work to do .

: cH