During our trip to Cornwall last summer, we came across some curious things – some of these things were odd places and some were decidedly odd people. Mostly these are the things that mark Cornwall and the people from there as very special, unique even. I bet there’s not another place on Earth I could have taken some of these photos that follow.
I have a whole raft of images of some very special places – the Godrevy Lighthouse, Falmouth and St Ives come to mind and whilst these are almost indescribably beautiful and unique, I’m planning to feature them individually. But for the time being – I give you Cornwall at it’s finest.
It’s like stepping into another world visiting Cornwall. I highly recommend it, for the beauty, the fresh air, the fabulous scenery and undoubtedly for some measure of restoring your own sanity. It is hard to beat.
Occasionally, I take a photograph that I am inordinately pleased with. This is one of them. I have post-processed it only to change the size and format – it lends itself to a wide shot and looks the better for it. I’ve genuinely not tinkered with the colours or any of the usual fixes to improve a photo. It was just this gorgeous on the day I was there.
Perranporth Beach is in Cornwall – so this is part of my series of posts about our visit there at the end of last summer – a season of glorious weather, long sunny days and not a lot of rain. If you’re British too, you will understand our obsession with the weather! So rare it is that we can reliably predict that the next day will be sunny and dry, but this last summer broke all kinds of records in the weather department and it was, for the most part, very enjoyable.
My in-laws spent many family holidays when my FAB hubby and his sibling were small in Cornwall. They usually stayed in Newquay – long before it was the very noisy and commercialised of course. There were various traditions that included driving to assorted Cornish attractions, one of which was Perranporth Beach.
Now, Cornwall has many world-renowned beaches, some of which are magnificent for surfing, but one of the finest has to be Perranporth. Especially when the tide is out.
So without further ado – here’s the beach in question.
It just seems to go on for miles! And on this particular day, the sun was beating down, children played happily building sandcastles and people seemed, for once at least, happy and content with their lives. It was, for me at least a real moment of joy. I’m so glad I caught it.
I’ve long hankered to see this tiny island just off the mainland near Penzance in Cornwall.
We’ve visited the county several times but have not made it specifically to see this special place before and I was also intrigued as the reader of the gorgeous ‘The Mousehole Cat’ story (by Antonia Barber) which has illustrations by the wonderful Nicola Bayley which include the island, even though it’s not strictly off the coast of Mousehole – it’s further away, but I guess artistic licence is applicable.
We spent a while poring over the website which is actually fascinating – here’s a link if you have a few spare minutes to go check it out Official website for the tiny island. Tide timings are critical if you want to go onto the island itself and look around.
I didn’t, particularly. I have some significant mobility issues and I am still trying to get to grips with them, but one thing was clear – travelling over to the island would be a challenge, but going around and looking at anything other than just the tiny harbour (even smaller than Mousehole’s!) was not on my radar as achievable until I have better mobility aids. Something to look forward to next time.
So what was it that was intriguing to me?
Well as you may have noticed, I take a lot of photos. If quantity were the deciding factor, I could definitely call myself a ‘photographer’ because I have literally a couple of hundred thousand photos stored on various drives (including the Cloud). Some of them are quite interesting.
I wanted an interesting photo of St Michael’s Mount. One that was taken by me as dawn was breaking. I calculated where I thought the sun would rise, given the time of year and prevailing weather conditions and then ‘persuaded’ my FAB Hubby that it was indeed a ‘Good Idea’ to get out of our lovely comfy, warm and cosy bed, well before dawn. Even when we were on holiday! Actually, probably *BECAUSE* we were on holiday.
The level of planning such an adventure under normal circumstances should be fairly simple. You think it might be a good idea, float the suggestion with your other half – just to see if they want to tag along – and then you set the alarm, get up and go.
That’s what *normal* people do.
I plan everything down to the finest of details. I have to think about my lack of mobility and how that’s going to affect what I can and cannot achieve without being a total diva and demanding what I want, even though it’s highly impractical. After all, I am not ‘The Favourite’ – neither Queen Anne nor her infamous confidante – I don’t have legions of devoted servants at my beck and call to carry out my every whim. To fetch and carry, to load and unload, to look at me or not look at me, whatever flight of fancy drifts through my terribly bored brain at any given moment.
I DO have a FAB hubby. Bless him.
So, quite apart from ensuring that my photographic equipment (camera, lenses, bag, tripod, wipes, spare batteries, alternative lenses… etc, etc) is stored properly and safely (out of view) in the car the evening before; quite apart from ensuring the mobility scooter is juiced up and raring to go, in case I should decide to set up camp more than two yards from the car; quite apart from planning my medication intake to be MUCH earlier than usual so I CAN wake up at 4:00 am or whatever ridiculous time it was, I had also to actually get up, get dressed in warm clothing (it really IS much more challenging than it sounds!), get some hot coffee into a flask AND get into the car at this unGodly hour… but it was a piece of cake!
Mark, as always, did all the heavy lifting. No, scratch that. He did EVERYthing. I just dressed and wobbled to the car on my sticks.
It was dark out still. Of course, there were street lamps – Cornwall isn’t quite the back of beyond, in spite of some opinions otherwise. We followed the satnav to Marazion and found the car park unlocked and unmanned. It was still very dark, so we sat in the car for a few minutes before deciding we ought to crack on and set up the camera nearby.
The next part was not for the faint-hearted … involving much-undignified scrambling, tirades of (quiet) cursing and remarkably, without resorting to actual blows, about ten minutes later I was ensconced, settled into my director’s chair, equipment primed and ready in appropriate positions (within arms’ reach) various blankets, scarves and mitts properly donned. It’s entirely possible that I looked decidedly odd, sat in my little portable chair swaddled in various items of clothing and blankets and bedecked with an array of photographic equipment but being British, any other early birds that happened across our path made no mention of my slightly bizarre presence save for polite and cheery morning greetings.
We watched in anticipation as the sky lightened and the first lights entered the sky. It was 5:50am.
I panned across the bay and noticed a decidedly rosy glow starting to appear… and by 6:05am …
We waited and watched for about forty-nine minutes, as the sky grew progressively lighter … and then came a dawning (pun intended!) reality that maybe, just maybe this was not going to be a spectacularly rosy-hued morning after all. The sky seemed just grey and lifeless. People started to appear, walking their dogs and jogging on the beach, taking advantage of the low tide. They stopped to chat with each other, each oblivious to the increasing distress that I had missed the opportunity to snag my perfect shot. A van drove out onto the sand and then onto the causeway, to cross over to the island whilst it still could, taking important supplies of bread, milk and morning papers.
My next few shots seemed to become almost ashen and drab and bleak, tinged with a dreek sadness, I nearly lost hope.
The thing is, hope is all that’s left when your eyes tell you that the opportunity has passed. Belief is the thing that wills us on to achieve our goals in life, even when the obstacles that bar the path are seemingly insurmountable. The English climate tends towards the dreary much of the time. The odds were definitely in favour of this outing being doomed to failure – we’d either have to go through the whole rigmarole again or just forget it and, in the words of the infamous Disney Princess, just LET IT GO!
But you KNOW me.
Dogs and bones have nothing on me. To Mohamed and mountains, I say “Pah!”
Percy Verance should be my middle names. I think I’m going to go do that right now… it’s just a trip to the deed poll office and a few forms, right?
So after exactly fifty-one minutes of waiting since my first shot was taken this happened.
The sun burst through the cloud in *JUST* the right way to highlight the castle walls and bathe the whole tiny island in some glorious morning sunshine. I was elated and of course, took several more shots, now the light was perfect.
Sometimes, you just have to have some patience in life. I’m hopeful this is a metaphor and I can look forward to a brighter future now.
Tea and bacon butties beckoned. They’re still beckoning now…
“At the far end of England, a land of rocks and moorland stretches itself out into a blue-green sea. Between its high headlands lies tiny sheltering harbours where the fishing boats hide when the winter storms are blowing.
One of these harbours is so small and the entrance between its great stone breakwaters is so narrow that fishermen call it ‘the Mousehole’.
The people who lived in the cottages around the harbour grew fond of the name and the call their village Mousehole to this day. They say it in the Cornish way, ‘Mowzel’, but you may say it any way you choose.”
Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley: ‘The Mousehole Cat’
These words were recited at least once every night for nearly five years when my son, Toby was small. He was born in Hong Kong, which gives him an air of the exotic to his friends and colleagues in the UK, but to us of course, it was all perfectly normal and by-the-bye for us, except that he developed a fascination for all things connected to our home country of England from a very early age. This book was such a gorgeous picture book that I bought it almost as soon as I saw it, on the strength of the exquisite illustrations by Nicola Bayley, who had illustrated other books of cats that I used to read to my older children. I love her detailed style and clear empathy for feline creatures and was transfixed by the beauty of these images in this new book.
I was completely enraptured by the equally elegant prose that Antonia Barber wrote – such poeticism I had not seen for many years, such wordsmithing with an artistry that belied the fact this was (is) a book for children – with the notable exception of Roald Dahl, many books for children up until that point seemed to be fairly dull, using very simple and repetitive text that might have been very easy to read but lacked any inspirational qualities for sure.
Here was an awe-inspiringly brilliant example of a new kind of book (at least, it was new to me!) for children, one that was not only packed with charming and strikingly detailed, imaginative illustrations but that these were accompanied by such wonderfully chosen words that used a huge variety of quite advanced literary devices – it simply blew my mind. I started reading it with Toby when he was just a tiny babe, showing him the beautiful pictures of cats, which he seemed particularly drawn to, as he lay in his cot preparing for sleep each night.
It wasn’t long before he was asking for the story to be repeated, which then became a nightly occurrence and we soon learned to recite the first three paragraphs (quoted above) as I was settling down and opening the book. It was like entering a whole new world together, one where the weather was personified and a cat was a heroine. It was a very precious and special memory, I think for both of us.
As Toby grew we talked of England and eventually, when he was seven, we finally visited for the first time when he could remember the trip (we’d gone when he was smaller, but of course he had no memory of those trips). We stayed with our daughters who lived in Tiverton in Devon at the time and took a couple of days to visit Cornwall, where Toby was astounded to find that Mousehole was a real place, not just a place from his own imagination.
It was a stunning revelation to him as we wandered around the old harbour area and found a shop that sold ice cream AND a new copy of his favourite storybook. He was inspired by the reality of the place and was delighted to find Old Tom’s house in exactly the spot it was depicted in the book.
Tom’s house as it is seen from the harbourside
Bayley’s illustration of Tom’s house
Imagine if we found out that the world created by J.K. Rowling was actually real? I know there are snippets here and there, locations that were used in the films or other real places that she set different parts of the action, but on the whole most of it, however vividly described, came entirely from her imagination. This was the antithesis of that… Mousehole was described both in the prose and the pictures so very accurately and we stood in wonder on the harbourside, looking out at the real world, that had lived in our imaginations hitherto.
So, that was our first experience of Mousehole.
A week or two ago, my hubby and I visited Cornwall again – it’s a lovely place to go and we haven’t seen nearly as much of it as we’d like so that was as good a reason as any to go. The weather was perfect – gorgeous golden sunny days and breathtakingly clear night skies that make star-gazing so magical.
I’ve taken many lovely photos because the place is quite astonishingly gorgeous in pretty much any light, but there is a remarkable, very special quality to the light in St Ives, where we had decided to stay – it’s no wonder that so many artists choose to make it their home. I fully intend to post some of those lovely pictures too, but for today I’m concentrating of course on Mousehole because it was wonderful to be able to revisit this enchanting place after fifteen years.
It really hasn’t changed much at all in all that time – perhaps there is less emphasis on the story of the Mousehole Cat than there was then, but mostly everything is very much as it was. It was another lovely sunny day when we stopped by, the tide was further out than it had been before and frankly, I’m a better photographer than I was then, so the photos are perhaps richer and more atmospheric, but the subject remains constant – it is a timeless and almost perfect place that will forever live in my mind as Toby’s place.
We even found a gorgeous ginger cat (Mowzer was black and white) sat on a wall right outside a tiny gallery, aptly named ‘Mowzers’ where I was very tempted to buy some quite lovely art.
I do love Cornwall – there’s so much to see and explore. Next time I’ll tell you about our pre-dawn scramble for a perfect spot to watch the sun rise over St Michael’s Mount, opposite the village of Marazion, which is such a wonderfully Cornish name I can’t resist saying it! It was a lesson in patience that I obviously needed to learn…
In the dark stillness of the night, my mind wanders into places that are often unwelcome.
That impeccable quip that I could have thrown into a conversation so that I would have felt less foolish, gawky or homely.
That moment when I chose to be less than kind towards someone who may have needed nothing but kindness, an appreciation of their heavy load and their daily struggle to improve their lot in some way.
All that time that I’ve allowed passing by without purposefully chipping away at the barriers between my siblings and myself. Forty years without seeing my sister is probably too long. Allowing myself to regret without redressing the issues is self-indulgent and serves no real purpose, so I often spend the wee small hours thinking of the whys and wherefores, but it isn’t *moving on*. I seem resolutely inert when it comes to the business of properly understanding the motives that drive my two siblings (if you’re being THAT picky, yes, of course, they are in reality half-siblings) to the justification of their intense dislike of my existence.
Earlier this year, my daughter, who is a publisher in London and so reads voraciously at every opportunity, phoned me with a very odd tone to her question. She wanted to know if I had ‘made up’ with my sister over the latest and most hurtful falling out that we had, over four years ago now. It was just that she wasn’t sure how I’d feel about something she had to tell me.
I love my daughter more than life itself, but sometimes I think she envisages a time when I could perhaps fall out with her over something she’s said or done, as I have with my sister; she isn’t a parent and cannot conceive that the difference is actually visceral, I could no sooner abandon her than I could my own foot. It’s just never going to happen.
But her apprehension is understandable since my siblings have abandoned me because they believe I am some kind of ungrateful, unconscionable harpy with no morals or thought for the sensibilities of others… it’s like my actions, for which I have reasonable justifications, confirm their inherent belief in my wicked evilness and this allows them to deny my right to exist, to have ever existed. It’s twisted and inhuman, but I’ve long ago stopped trying to understand such convoluted logic. My psyche cannot allow their continual pummelling, through their joint repudiation and disregard for me, to gain ground or I am lost to the world. It’s often what’s behind some of my more awful bouts of depression, even though my sane ipseity reminds me continually that I am a good person, I am not responsible for our mother’s actions, I did not conceive myself.
After reassurance from me that I wanted to hear what she had to tell me, regardless of what it was or how it might make me feel, she spilt the beans. She had read a book recently, entitled ‘Walking Wounded’ as one of the many new releases and had enjoyed it, so that when a review of the debut novel was published by The Times (I think) she had eagerly read this to see what others thought of the book. It’s what she does, day in day out, so this was nothing unusual.
Except that she was stopped dead in her tracks whilst reading when she came across a photograph of the author, who was the image of me (but definitely much older, she was at great pains to point out!) – her first reaction being ‘When did Mum write a novel that I didn’t know about?’, which, given the circumstances was indeed very understandable.
Of course, it wasn’t me. It was my sister, Sheila Llewellyn.
We talked about the book, about how I felt about its publication and about the significant and clearly very positive reviews of the story that had been written. I read the various reviews and was appalled by Sheila’s lack of honesty about her past. She has air-brushed all other members of her family, save for her beloved father from existence; her description of her unorthodox upbringing hints at an extraordinary life, making her out to be a very unusual person. Reading the interviews with her you are meant to think she is an exotic, remarkable flower that is unlike any ordinary mortal.
She is many of those things – extraordinary, unorthodox and unusual. She has led a remarkably unconventional life and some truly phenomenal things have happened to her and around her, circumstances that she had no control over for the most part.
But, like every other mortal being, she has made some terrible decisions. It’s not for me to discuss all of those – there are undoubtedly many that have nothing to do with me – but the one thing that I think is truly unforgivable is this; for more than half a century, she purposely kept important information about my father from me. She claimed when she finally did offer me some scraps of material, manna from heaven as far as I was concerned, that it hadn’t occurred to her to tell me before. I found out, far too late for me to ever meet him of course as he is now probably long dead, that my father was Irish.
To discover that you are half Irish after a half-century believing that you are wholly English is monumental.
It affects every single thing you’ve ever known or thought about yourself.
It literally rocked my world.
I was enormously grateful for this when she finally told me. I had been trying to find a way to discover about my ancestry for a very, very long time. Our brother had warned me not to ask her about anything, for she was (in his words) ‘skittish about all that stuff‘, so it was not something I felt I could ask of her.
I made the enormous error of asking the ‘Universe’ for some way to find out – I left a question on an Internet page for people who had lived where I knew my parents had been for information about the strange circumstances that our mother had relayed (posthumously, through my brother) regarding the circumstances of my conception/her revelation to her husband that he had been cuckolded and she was pregnant with another man. The massively over-dramatised story I was told when I was sixteen, by my rather embarrassed brother, was that she and her lover had been in bed one afternoon (presumably, conceiving me!) when suddenly, her husband had leapt from the wardrobe, brandishing a shotgun and started shooting up the place… no definite consequence of the shooting (such as whether or not someone had been injured or killed, for example) was offered, but then Daddy was carted off to a South American gaol and she was deported from the colony, labelled a ‘Scarlet Woman’ and forbidden from ever returning to the shores of British Guyana. What became of my biological father was not mentioned, indeed, no further details were proffered and I was supposed to simply make of it all whatever I chose to.
Our mother was undeniably a fantasist of epic proportions, but even though this story had many holes and was outrageously unlikely, I had believed it, as I am convinced did our brother, for he would not have regaled me thus out of spite – I am sure about that. I had no reason to not believe it. It was one of the very few things I knew about my parents and I did cling to it, as a drowning person clings to any piece of flotsam that happens to float past, because it was so very tangible. I have over the years told a few, very close friends this story in an endeavour to try to understand and make sense out of it, which in spite of valiant attempts (thank you Mairi!) I never have. With the benefit of hindsight, OF COURSE, it’s obviously a fantasy, but that simply didn’t occur to me for over half a century.
As you can probably imagine, with this kind of backstory to my existence, it feels like I’ve been marked out in some way, as if I am very different to other people, alike in physicality to other humans – I have two arms, legs and a head just like normal people – but I don’t feel like I belong to any group, save the family that we have made and tried to maintain good relationships with, despite living in disparate places and circumstances. I am inordinately proud of my little family, that in spite of the horrors and difficulties and obstacles to overcome, we have three fantastic, fully grown children and they have good lives of their own, which is actually all a parent can ever really wish for their children I think.
So, with regards to my sister, whom I have virtually no relationship with, I find that I am still very pleased for her and her successes with something she has chosen to challenge herself with. I think it’s inspirational – she is inspirational. I’m adding a link to her book ‘Walking Wounded’ in the hopes that many others will also read it and find her writing interesting, intriguing or invigorating. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever discuss it, but I’m interested in what others think of her writing too because I know it’s motivating me to write more.
And the fact remains, she is still my sister and always will be.
One of the things I used to really enjoy most about my teaching work in Hong Kong was the recording of events throughout the school year and then the making of (short) films to share with everyone – partly this was because even 20 years ago technology in HK was rapidly advancing so that every family had video facilities and it’s only natural for people to record the special times in their children’s lives, much of which would happen at school events.
I became increasingly frustrated when, after spending many hours preparing performances (in a variety of capacities) the children’s parents would take up a suitable standing position at the back of the room and one of two things would happen: either they spent the whole performance on edge, waiting for only the part that their child contributed and then *missed* the overall performance, occasionally missing their own child as well, especially if there was little advance notice of when it would happen OR they spent the whole performance whizzing their cameras from side to side, because of course, they didn’t know the show and what was coming next. The resulting chaotic filming was deeply unsatisfactory to them and then they would complain that they had missed the whole performance.
This was the beginning of the idea that life can and should be experienced second hand because it’s more important to capture the moments for perpetuity than it is to actually experience the moment in reality. It bothered me then and still does today, but at least back then I had some power to try to overcome the tide of ‘Me First!’ and self-obsession that would see the concept of ‘selfies’ take over the entire world; I asked the Principal to request that parents should NOT film school productions as we would make a good job of recording the event, with semi-professional equipment and editing software so that at a very small cost parents could enjoy the experience of watching the whole performance AND have something to keep for posterity. This is pretty much standard practice in most schools today, but back then it was a revolutionary idea and not one that was particularly popular at first. Most parents did understand the reasoning and actually found that they enjoyed the events much more because their participation was not so vicarious.
I became quite adept at creating and distributing these videos and began to build an important archive of school life into the bargain. I really did enjoy using what was then fairly revolutionary software (iMovie) and utilising different perspectives from the footage created by placing our two school cameras in different positions for the (usually) two or three main performances. I still have some copies of these and for a small fee (to charity) could be persuaded to embarrass many of my former students with their antics (ONLY KIDDING!).
I’m not sure if this is what sparked my son’s obsession with films in general or not, but the fact is that he really does love the medium of film. It’s why he chose to pursue a career in film-making, starting with studying at the Northern Film School, based at Leeds Beckett’s University – which was also my university some thirty years ago.
It’s not been as easy as he had imagined, but his deep and abiding love for the medium has held him in good stead. He is (hopefully) about to embark upon his final year at the university, in which he will make several more intriguing and purposeful films.
Part of the coursework has been to understand how to market himself in a particularly competitive industry, which is not his natural environment – he likes the making part of the films but is less keen on the marketing side. It is essential really in the twenty-first century to make use of all the trappings of social media and develop his own website. IMDB is another essential tool in this field.
Which is where I come in.
I love creating content for websites. The whole business of selecting appropriate images and writing copy warms my little cockles, so it does. I can spend hours engrossed in jpeg resizing and putting elements together in a slideshow – I know I’m a nerd, but it is (at least partly) what makes me happy so I have created the beginnings of his website and I’m fairly happy with what we have so far.
So here is his website – he is marketing himself as an Assistant Director (AD, sometimes referred to as 1AD or 2AD depending on the film’s budget and size) and I’m hoping that lots of people will see it and join me in wishing him every success in his chosen field.
There’s such a plethora of advice on how to ‘glide through life’ these days, which promote the idea that learning to *glide* can take the fear out of life’s ups and downs. If that were the purpose of living, I’d be happy to dive straight in and accept much of this advice as helpful, reassuring and above all useful.
But it’s not.
My life has been a massive roller-coaster, with huge swings in every possible direction that give me a totally unique perspective. I’m pretty sure that many of the most successful people I’ve met (I’m not here to define ‘success’, so just go with it) have not found success via any kind of easy route. They’ve worked hard for it, as have I.
Just because I haven’t ended up where I might have wanted to be doesn’t mean I haven’t been successful – quite the opposite in fact – it just means that my story isn’t finished yet.
So a few weeks ago, when the sun was beginning to consider its own purpose in life, to shine forth upon this Earth and wake all the little flowers up, making all the creatures decide that, YES! Spring had finally shown up after a long, long absence, we went for a little drive and found ourselves up on the top of Sutton Bank.
For those who don’t know Yorkshire, I’ll just explain – Sutton Bank is side of the massive hill that was carved out by glaciers (I think) and stands almost 300m above sea level, with an almost vertical drop of over 140m from top to bottom, giving expansive views over the Vales of Mowbray and York – you can see Thirsk (James Herriot territory) from the top. The A170 snakes up the vertiginous side of the hill in a treacherous 25% or 1 in 4 gradient which is made even more difficult by the addition of a hairpin bend about half-way up – lorries continually find themselves in trouble and have to be rescued and towing caravans are simply banned since so many have bit the dust attempting the climb. It’s a renowned blackspot for drivers and can be hairy in even the fairest conditions – we avoid it at all costs when the weather is icy, snowy or otherwise unhelpful.
On this occasion, we stopped short of descending the declivitous incline and turned to venture along the ridge until we reached the space reserved for the Yorkshire Gliding Club launch point.
As you can imagine, the views from here are truly breathtaking for dozens of miles around – on a clear day you can see as far as Aysgarth, which is over 40 miles away.
But we weren’t there for the views particularly.
I wanted to watch the gliders as they are launched into the air by small propeller planes, to listen to the quiet moments as they climb higher on the thermals, floating and gliding so gracefully in the heavens.
‘they dip and dance like barn swallows at dusk glancing wingtip-to-wingtip against a lavender sky barely touching’ Kate Mullane Robertson
Transported to a place where nothing can disturb and disquiet, these silent machines are the simplest of beings. They simply are in space.
How magnificent to just be in the moment.
How majestic to see the Earth below, like a soaring kite, hushed, soundless, mute.
And then return to Earth so very gently, at peace with yourself.