Tuesday 30 December 2008

The Importance of Friends

Akelamalu has very kindly nominated me for this Friends award which is lovely and very touching. As far as I am concerned, I hope that everyone that reads this blog is – or will become - a friend – so please take this award and pass it on to whomever you think fit. We can never overestimate the importance of friends.

This came to mind over Christmas when I heard that an old friend of mine who was discovered to have a brain tumour a few months ago, had a scan before Christmas. The news isn't good. He has about four weeks. As I don't want this post to be a real dampener, I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that his personality has changed (because of the tumour) and as a result his partner is having a really bad time of it all.

She is a very gutsy lady who always goes out of her way to help others. She is gregarious, eccentric and caring, and they'd just moved house so they could spend more time together – and now this. All plans tumbled like a pack of cards.

I know she has a lot of friends who will help her through this terrible time. Family will of course as well, but family have their own responsibilities and often live far away. It's friends who are there. When you've been holding it all together and the smallest thing – like stubbing your toe – can release an outpouring of frustration, guilt, loneliness or fear. Or all of those.

It's then that I value my friends most. To be able to pick up the phone and say, in wobbly voice, “can I come round?” or “how about meeting for a drink? In five minutes?” And hearing that soothing voice the other end of the phone saying, “Yes of course, I'll be there in five minutes.”

And oh, the relief of letting it all spill out. Tears of joy or worry; actually voicing those fears that kept you awake all night and now, when exposed to the open air and a kindly friend, suddenly lose their terror. You find you can accept them; laugh over them perhaps.

And you part, later, awash with tea or wine and the best feeling of all. That warm, glowing feeling (no, not the one after sex!) but a quieter, more solid sensation that has its feet on the ground. It is steadying and precious and available to us all to be shared.

Years ago,when I moved to Falmouth and bemoaned leaving all my friends behind, my dear friend Av said, “When you share a problem with someone, that's when they become a friend.”

It hadn't occurred to me until she said it, and of course how right she is.

So in honour of all our friends, and to those especially in need, please pass this post on.

Monday 22 December 2008

The Best Party Ever

Yesterday was a busy day for us. I wanted to get another walk done for the magazine, but the weather was overcast with those heavy banks of cloud that aren't going to budge, so Rebecca Taunton (friend and photographer) didn't come as the light wasn't good enough to take any pictures.

She is a fount of knowledge of wildlife, vegetation and geology, and we missed her company, too. Mind you, the walk – at Daymer Bay – was largely over a golf course and sand dunes which are pretty short on vegetation or anything geological. Not much birdlife either. We got lost on the golf course, at which point Himself rang to say he was in the Rock Inn. Upstairs. “OK,” I said. “I'll see you there when I get there.”

We finally made it to Rock, but having reached the bottom of the golf course drive, didn't know which way to go next. Where was this pub? Rang Himself. No answer – phone switched on but no reply. Where was he?

Turned left. Found another pub. Wrong one. No one to ask. Walked a bit further and decided to turn back.

Rang Himself again. Still no reply.

Ten minutes later, by which time my temper was becoming a little Short, and there was still no reply from errant husband, I espied the Rock Inn, past the Green Tomato Cafe (no comment).

Having vented my spleen (whatever that is), we had a pleasant drink and packet of crisps before Moll and I returned to Daymer Bay via the sand dunes. Windblown and covered in sand, but happy.

An hour's drive back home, then a quick collapse before setting out to the Singalong version of Mamma Mia. I should explain that Himself is a Mamma Mia virgin, but having expressed a desire to see the film (he is brave enough to admit to enjoying Abba songs), I decided that tonight was the night.

Sadly, owing to the flu epidemic ravaging Falmouth, the cinema wasn't quite full, but the audience was more than appreciative. A crowd of young children ran up to the side whenever one of their favourite numbers came up, and danced happily in the aisles. The rest of us – aged 50+ - sang quietly or, in my case, loudly, and wept (in my case) throughout most of it.

We emerged at 7.30 to walk up to meet some friends in the pub for supper. My head was ringing with music but Himself was rather quiet so I asked, rather hesitantly, if he'd enjoyed it.

“How could you not?” he said giving me a big cuddle. “It was like going to the best party ever.”

Friday 19 December 2008

This Post has Nothing to do with Christmas

A friend of mine once saw a psychotherapist when she was going through a bad time – she'd been made redundant, had depression, was unemployed and single and just about everything was going wrong.

This fellow was a sort of father figure and was there for her when everything else in her life seemed to be going belly up. Happily life improved after a while, she became involved in a relationship and instinctively felt that it was time to stop seeing this therapist. Nothing she could put her finger on; just something wasn't right. And she didn't feel the need to see anyone. Life was OK: she could manage on her own. So she told him she wasn't going to see him again.

He rang her at home. Several times. Wanting to know why.

She became uneasy with these phone calls. Why was he behaving so weirdly? Sounding so – desperate? The last phone call took place when her sister in law was visiting, and she was rather abrupt. Told him not to call her again.

He didn't.

She bumped into him many years later and felt uneasy about the whole incident. Nothing had happened, but it was the undercurrents of what hadn't been said that still rankled.

Wanting to get some closure on this, she told a friend. The friend was a writer.

She asked if she could use the material to write a novel. Her friend agreed, and the novel was written.

So far, two agents have asked to see the full manuscript, but both said no. Could it be third time lucky?

Sunday 14 December 2008

Award and Teaching Dogs New Tricks

Many thanks to Debs for this wonderful award – I love the little fellow scribbling away. It reminds me of an Edward Ardizzone picture. But because I'm in a hurry – have to do a job in Bodmin with Himself first thing, please take this, all you bloggers and in particular all us Novel Racers out there, because we are ALL superior scribblers! And won't we show 'em....

Something happened this morning that really made me stop and think. It happened like this. We usually walk Moll on the beach at about 8am most mornings and there is a group of us dog walkers who form a close knit community. We laugh and talk and sometimes walk together, share sorrows, jokes and joys and generally look after each other, if not each other's dogs.

On Friday, one of our lot said that a fellow who walks his two black labradors every morning had lost one of them. He'd died suddenly.

“Oh,” cried Isobel. “I wondered what was the matter – I saw him yesterday and he looked so SAD. But we've all been there – it's such a difficult time.”

This morning we were on the beach – and my God, it was cold. Three degrees, which is COLD for Cornwall. Even the sand was frozen, to say nothing of the tip of my nose.

We were walking, fast, along the beach, when I said, “Look. There's the fellow who's lost his black lab.” We continued walking and I wondered whether to say something. I felt I should, but also felt that Himself would probably say, “No, don't. He's unhappy. Leave him alone.”

So I battled with my thoughts and as we grew nearer, I was astonished when Himself walked up to the fellow and said, “I'm so sorry to hear about your dog.”

He turned to look at us, and his round face was empty with grief. He could hardly speak, but muttered something. And a bit more. Then he started talking, about how the dogs were only 7; brother and sister, and it was such a shock. I looked at his kind face and couldn't speak; tears burnt my eyes.

He looked at me with a glimmer of a smile and said that they'd probably get a puppy in the spring. I patted his arm, and said, “I'm so glad,” in a choked sort of voice, and we talked a bit more and then said goodbye.

As Himself and I walked off, I said, “Well done darling. I didn't think you'd want to say anything.”

“No,” he said firmly. “I think it's important to show that you care. I'd like someone to say something if it was us.”

I nodded in agreement, still stunned. And part of me thought, he wouldn't have said that a few years ago. He would have told me not to interfere. To 'keep our heads down'.

So it just goes to show that you really CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

Pardon the pun.

Thursday 11 December 2008

My Girl

Mollie on the run


Some lovely pictures of My Girl, By Rebecca Taunton, taken at Church Cove where we were doing a walk for the magazine Cornwall Today. We nearly didn't make it as the forecast was lovely, and in Falmouth the sky was a clear, Wedgewood blue. Then RT rang at 11.30 - her partner was working in Helston where it was raining. Oh no! An hour later, the rain had stopped but it was still cloudy. We decided to risk it and very glad we did - the sky was clear enough for RT to get some great shots and I was able to make all the notes for the walk.

My gums have been causing more problems so Mollie and Bussie are very cheering. This morning Bussie sauntered down the corridor after breakfast and put his nose round the door. He then looked back at me in disgust and I could have sworn he said, "What? Haven't made the bed yet? PAH!" And sauntered back to the lounge to sit on the table in a huff. Can't get the staff, you know.

Feeling all discombobulated with Christmas coming. Haven't bought a single present and can't get my head round it somehow. Anyone else suffering from pre-Christmas-itis?

Monday 8 December 2008

Treasure Trail part 2

Also in Cornwall Today this month, as a continuation from post below -

Having met the Ridds, I was keen to try out a Treasure Trail. According to the instructions, one of the locations on the map contains hidden treasure. To find out which location, you have to solve the clues, and the answers are names you will find as you follow the Trail. When you have solved all the clues you will be left with the location that hides the treasure.

So one sunny morning my dog Mollie and I picked up a friend to indulge in a bit of treasure hunting. As we neared St Austell, the clouds gathered, but undeterred, we turned right at the roundabout outside St Austell on the A390 and headed for Mevagissey. We parked the van in the Willows car park on the outskirts of town, and set off for the start of the Trail. We were distracted by five Yorkshire Terriers, emitting the sound of a whole kennel’s worth, but we traced the first clue with ease and, hopes rising, set off on the second clue.

Childishly pleased with our progress, we followed the map through a maze of narrow unspoilt streets, past the 15th century Fountain Inn (well worth a visit), along the harbour wall – and here we got stuck. Not only was it raining in earnest, but we could not find the clue about the seahorse. We walked up and down, searching street names, house names, backs of benches, even manhole covers (one clue is on a manhole cover) and had to give up on that one as even Mollie was shivering.

Our clues led us past the free aquarium, along the other arm of the harbour, past fishing boats, lobster pots and fishing nets; all reassuring signs that Mevagissey is still very much a working port. Deep sea angling and shark fishing is available for visitors, as are mackerel fishing trips, and moorings are available for visiting boats.

From the end of the pier our next clue led us up an incredibly steep cliff path - not good for my vertigo – to a park with a breathtaking view over the whole of Mevagissey, with its cluster of cottages hugging the hills, out into the wide waters of St Austell Bay.

By this time we were getting the hang of the Trail and found that clues are interspersed with nuggets of local history, such as that the two hamlets of Porthilly and Lamoreck, dating back to 1313, formed one town in the 15th century, which was named after their patron saints, Meva and Issey.

The joy of these Trails is that they made us look above and below eye level, to seek out things we would otherwise have missed. We noted wonderful house names – Foam Edge and Overhang Cottage – passed a house with green grapes growing outside – and eventually were led down to the Railway Museum where we were greeted by a cheery fellow well used to people doing the Treasure Trail.

He couldn’t help us with the seahorse clue though, and having finished, we congratulated ourselves on solving all the clues – except one. We retraced our steps, searched further along the harbour wall – and finally we found the answer.

We celebrated with pasties and coffee, sitting outside a café because of Mollie, and by this time the rain had stopped and the sun made a brief appearance. We looked out over the little town which felt as if it had heaved a sigh; the last of the tourists had gone, and there was a quiet sense that this was the real Mevagissey, unnoticed in the summer.

Thanks to Treasure Trails, we spent a couple of hours learning and seeing more of the town than we ever would have done otherwise. And we had fun. I can’t wait for the next one now…

Thursday 4 December 2008

A Cornish Treasure Part One

A shorter version of this is in this month's Cornwall Today. An incredible couple with an incredible company.

Treasure Trails is the brainchild of Steve and Teresa Ridd, both 43, from Probus, who spent 16 years travelling worldwide with the army, until three years ago. “We had good pay and a good lifestyle in the army, so it was a huge gamble to leave,” says Steve, who has an MBE for his military services. “But it was our life plan.”

“We wanted our sons to have the sort of childhood we were lucky enough to enjoy,” explains Teresa. “A less frantic pace of life, the Cornish scenery, and a safer environment to bring up children in. Leaving the army was more about being brave rather than reckless. It would have been far worse if we’d looked back in 25 years and been disappointed that we hadn’t taken the chance.”

Back home, Teresa taught modern languages while Steve looked after the house and children. While he loved this role, he needed another challenge. “I’d always loved treasure hunts as a child,” he says. “I’m a big kid and treasure hunts are fun and bring out the inner child. Treasure Trails seemed the natural fit and there was a gap in the market. We started it part time but then it just took off!”

Teresa adds: “We set up Treasure Trails as a fun and inexpensive way of encouraging locals and visitors to get out and about, working together to solve a mystery, exploring and appreciating their surroundings. Treasure Trails are value for money, you learn something historical about the area and have an outstanding day for £5.”

Teresa joined the company in 2005 and now they have carefully recruited licensees running Treasure Trails in 12 other counties with another 4 coming online before Christmas 2008. “The licensees have to look after Treasure Trails as we do,” says Teresa. “They are like minded people who have usually done the trails themselves. They become extended family!”

Treasure Trails started because Boscastle, St Mawes and Mevagissey all lent themselves to the pirate theme. Then came Murder Mysteries “which was my mum’s idea,” says Steve. The most recent addition is the Spy Trail. “This was discussed at our last conference,” says Teresa. “It seemed a natural progression and is great fun.”

The Trails can be downloaded from the website at a cost of £5, take from 1 hour to
3-4 hours, and you can even win a prize at the end! They are suitable for all ages and abilities, though not all are suitable for wheelchair users. Perhaps surprisingly, Bodmin Moor is always the most popular. “Roseland and the Lizard have been in the top five every year,” says Steve. “People seem to like the different challenges.”

It’s clear that Steve’s army experience has helped a lot in the success of Treasure Trails. “My management and leadership experience encouraged delegation and flexibility which is very important in running a business,” he says. “We have a good relationship with our staff because we believe it’s about making them accountable for themselves: they work harder that way, and when they want time off that’s fine.” But they believe that life has helped them as well. “We have negotiated a course through life together as a family and I think that arms you to run a business.”

“We’ve been together for 27 years. We’re very different but this makes our relationship stronger which makes us stronger as a company,” says Teresa. “We know each other very well and we plug each other’s gaps.”

It’s impossible not to be swept along by Steve’s enthusiasm. “Every day’s different,” he says, dark eyes gleaming. “I love being an entrepreneur. There are so many different strands - Treasure Trails is so exciting!”

“We meet lovely people, particularly at shows,” says Teresa with a smile. “We love the feedback and we also love the flexibility of working for ourselves.”

What keeps them rooted is their love of Cornwall. “Having served all over the world I wouldn’t want to live anywhere other than Cornwall,” Steve says. “You can do almost anything you want here. You’ve got the sea, the moors, lovely beaches, cliffs, good shopping and some good sport coming. Cornwall has an innate sense of style and well being.”

“There’s something magical about Cornwall which is why millions of people come here on holiday,” says Teresa. “But for us, it’s home.”

This company is clearly going places, but they are determined to stay in Cornwall, however successful they become. “Treasure Trails will always be a Cornish company,” says Steve firmly. “We have a very high level of customer service, a sense of fun, it’s different, high quality and it’s a lifestyle business.”

They have recently acquired Shinermons Games, which will be re-branded Treasure Trails Games, and some exciting new board games will be launched at the end of 2008. A newspaper based Treasure Hunt called Cross Trails has also been launched, to be published weekly in The West Briton and The Cornishman and there is also a bus trail between Truro and St Ives and a cycle trail in Scotland.

But that’s not all. “I see Treasure Trails activity parks for the whole family, with orienteering and interactive fun activities,” says Steve. “We could have Treasure Trail television, Treasure Trail cafés, horse riding trails, dog walking trails, canoeing, extreme trails and sailing trails!

“I’m going to make this a national brand – in fact an international brand based on education, health and people doing exciting things together. We’re setting our sights high and we’re going to achieve it.”

Cornwall Tourism Awards 2006 – Gold Leisure Pursuits Provider
Runner Up, Best New Business in Cornwall 2006

Treasure Trails Ltd
1 Vicarage Hill
St Austell
PL25 5PL

01726 68829

Sunday 30 November 2008

More Gums and Tigers

I was summonsed to see my new dentist about this infection and the bad news is that I have to be on antibiotics for TWO MONTHS (albeit a very low dose) while I have more treatment to stop any more infections recurring. The good news is that I didn't have to pay him for his time (20mins) and he and the hygienist were very caring and kind and pleasant. (The other private lot were arrogant and couldn't care as long as they received large amounts of my money.)
So I'm sitting here with a glass of water, shortly to go on to grape juice – not quite the same as watching Little Dorritt with a glass of wine but there you go.

And on a more pleasant note - in a zoo in California , a mother tiger gave birth to a rare set of triplet tiger cubs. Unfortunately, due to complications in the pregnancy, the cubs were born prematurely and due to their tiny size, they died shortly after birth.

After recovering from the delivery, the mother tiger suddenly started to decline, although physically she was fine. The vets felt that the loss of her litter had caused the tigress to fall into a depression. They decided that if the tigress could surrogate another mother's cubs, perhaps she would improve.

After checking with many other zoos across the country, the bad news was that there were no tiger cubs of the right age to introduce to the mourning mother. The vets therefore decided to try something that had never been tried in a zoo environment. Sometimes a mother of one species will take on the care of a different species. The only orphans that could be found quickly were a litter of weanling pigs. The zoo keepers and vets wrapped the piglets in tiger skin and placed the babies around the mother tiger. What happened next....

Thursday 27 November 2008

One of Those Weeks Awards

Many thanks from Cornish Dreamer for these awards which have made my week.
Rather than nominate anyone in particular, please take them – you all deserve them!

It's been One of Those Weeks. I've been more hormonal than usual which has left me feeling exhausted and ratty. This means that maintaining any enthusiasm in my novel has been oh so difficult. I can't concentrate, and wish I could fast forward to The End, having somehow done all those tricky bits that require thought processes.

Today was typical of this week. We're walking Annie, an Old English Sheepdog belonging to a neighbour who's on holiday. Himself put Moll into the front of our van, while I fetched Annie and put her in the back (a bit of separation is necessary as the dogs go mad). On the way to the beach, Annie started howling as she does every morning – well, it's a cross between a howl and a sing which I'm sure is tuneful in dog language but painful to human ears. Then of course Moll started singing to keep her company. By the time we got to the beach it was raining. Tipped out dogs and spent the next 5 minutes clearing up dog poo and placing in suitable bins.

Himself looked in amazement at the amount Annie created and said, “I've never SEEN a dog who could c**p so much. No wonder she makes such a noise in the car.”

After 15 minutes of walking, the heavens opened. I was wearing waterproof trousers but Himself wasn't so you can imagine how pleased he was. We headed towards the cafe with two wet dogs to shelter. It stopped a bit so we continued to walk and try and dry the dogs out. Got back home in time to unload dogs and Himself had to pick up a carpet cleaner for upstairs tenants.

Came back and I tried to print off rest of manuscript for someone to read. Paper jam. Fixed that. Brand new printer cartridge then ran out of ink after18 pages. I think you can guess my reaction. Finally fixed that –

And now I've got toothache, having spent a large amount of money at the hygienist on Monday. Had to go to my NHS dentist who said, “oh yes, your face is all swollen.” You can tell how often I look in the mirror.

On the plus side, he put in one of those periochip things (rather than antibiotics), and didn't charge me. He is also VERY good looking, so at least I could indulge in some outrageous fantasies while lying there being tortured.

So you can see why those awards are so cheering.

I think this calls for some drastic action. It could be a time to buy the DVD of Mamma Mia (reduced to £7 in a well known supermarket near me) and watch it, non-stop, all weekend. By Monday I'll be crazy, but I won't care.

Monday 24 November 2008

The Teapot Pub

Think of me in half an hour as I head off for an HOUR LONG session at the hygienist. But meanwhile onto more pleasant matters -

When is a pub not a pub.....
This is in December's edition of Cornwall Today – out now!

From the street, the Star and Garter in Falmouth’s High Street looks like any other town pub. But step inside and you’ll see a cornucopia of teapots: a tractor, unicorn, bull in a china shop, Ronald Reagan and the Queen with a corgi on her head are all depicted with spouts, parading on shelves at eye level.

Jane Collins is landlady of the Star & Garter, and arrived at the pub 22 years ago with 100 teapots. “I’ve got over 300 now and they’re all different,” she says. “I like the diversity of it. A couple are repeats but in different colours.” She smiles. “One of the most unusual ones is the Bunny Girl; her bottom comes off – I wish mine would!”

Jane started collecting teapots in 1977 after one of her brothers bought her one. “My first husband didn’t like the smell of tea – couldn’t stand it. I was given a teapot for my birthday - needless to say we weren’t married much longer!” She points to her first ever teapot. “That first one – it was really different. It has feet on it. Then I got one for Christmas which was a car and that was it – I was off!”

Jane has a theory about collectors. “I think if you didn’t have much when you were growing up, that’s when you surround yourself with things. It’s a family trait – my brothers all collect things as well.” She grins. “I tried collecting husbands but gave that up – I wasn’t very successful!”

The teapots come from many different sources; “Some come from car boot sales, ebay, and a very nice potter called Andy Titcomb in St Mabyn. He makes lovely teapots. The rest have all been presents.” But they are not all decorative: many have been used. “Those green and silver ones I had in London,” she says, pointing to a shelf near the bar. “They’re wonderful teapots. The toy ones haven’t got spouts, so they can’t be used.” She laughs. “And the knitted one doesn’t hold water either!”

“My favourite is that one,” Jane points to a teapot of a jumping fish. “It’s like a Stargazy teapot.” (After the Stargazy fish pie that originated in Mousehole.) “And the oldest is that black one over there – that belonged to my great grandmother.” But teapots are not just English – Jane has one from Russia and one from Australia, “and if someone asks about a particular teapot I know where they all are.” Which is some feat, given the shelves adorning every wall of the pub.

This collection is priceless in one aspect, though Jane has never spent more than £40 on a teapot. “Some of the ones I like best were 50p,” she says. “It’s not the price that’s important. But most have been given to me.”

Deservedly, Jane is well known in Falmouth as having a big heart. “When I came here I started cooking Christmas lunch for regulars on their own – now it’s family and friends. There were 18 of us last year and there are usually about that many.” She grins. “Any excuse for a party, really!”

The pub is also the headquarters of the famous Marine Band, now celebrating its 20th anniversary. “Back in 1989 several people wanted to set up a band for carnivals like Fowey Town Band,” she explains. “We were the only ones in the band who had a pub at the time, so we had room for meetings.” The Marine Band are renowned for raising a huge amount of money. “We’ve raised enough money for 3 electric wheelchairs and countless money for different charities,” Jane says proudly. “If you need help with anything, you write in and the band will consider it. If they agree they will raise money for your cause.”

But one aspect Jane will not be charitable over is her precious teapots. “They mean a lot but as I’m getting older I think of dusting them!” she says philosophically.
“If I left here I’d have to sell some because they take up so much room. But I wouldn’t sell all of them – it’d be like selling granny!” She frowns. “I’d miss them, particularly the unusual ones. I could get rid of about 50 but the other 250 are like family.” She pauses. “Though I don’t think my daughter would agree!”

Jane also collects bottle openers and pourers, tucked away in a display near the window. These have the advantage of taking up less space than the teapots. “And I collect paintings of the staff and customers by Steve Taylor, a local Falmouth artist.” She points to a large painting at the top of the stairs. “There I am, done in oils, on canvas. Naked apart from a towel and a smile!” These colourful, humorous oil paintings adorn the walls of the pub and are big enough to detract the eye from Jane’s teapots.

“Most people don’t even notice the teapots,” muses Jane. “Some have been pinched – around Christmas time there are usually gaps. I could tie them all down but it’s rather sad if you can’t trust people.” There has also been the odd breakage. “Oh yes. A bit of superglue’s been necessary at times.”

Jane has had offers from people wanting to buy the teapots. “Someone came in once and said ‘I want this teapot for my boy, how much is it?’ and I said, ‘it’s not for sale,’ He then said, ‘I could smash you in the face and take it. I was being nice and asking you,’” She laughs. “He went away – without the teapot. We don’t get many of those!”

Jane looks round the pub and sighs. “I’ve had to stop collecting because I’ve run out of room,” she says. Then her eyes light up. “Perhaps I could fit another shelf in over the window there. That’s another 50 teapots. Or perhaps I could hang them from the beams…”

Star & Garter
52 High Street
TR11 2AF
01326 318313

Friday 21 November 2008

Losing a Loved One

Last week a friend rang me, deeply unhappy. One of her dogs, who'd had a very bad cough for months, had a tumour and had to be put down. This friend of mine is one of those generous people who will always look after nature's lost causes (I count humans in amongst those). If anytime you need something to do something, she will do it. And she'd never think of asking for money, when she could do with it. She is generous to a fault, always puts herself last, and at times rails against injustice in the world – against herself or her loved ones.

For those of you who don't have pets, they do take up a huge amount of our hearts. When something happens to them,it is utterly agonising. Not the same as losing a child, but not far off.

I asked this friend whether she was going to get another dog (she has a chocolate lab, so at least she's not entirely bereft of canine company).
“No,” she cried. “I couldn't bear to lose another one. It's far too painful. I never want to go through this again.”

This reminded me of a friend who lost her cat about a year ago and when I asked if she'd like a rescue cat as a present, she was vehement. “NO, Flowerpot,” she said. “I'm not having another cat. Ever. I can't bear it.”

She came round last night and we were talking about the rescue centre at Hayle, how if it hadn't been for Bussie, we might well have brought another dog back. “But Bussie would have packed his bags and left,” said Himself.

“Oh,” said Lyn and her face lit up. “He can come and live with me. I'd unseal the catflap for Bussie.”

I was telling this to an 80 year old friend who has had countless Old English Sheepdogs.

“Oh yes,” said Betty and laughed. “We all say that. And after a while, we go and get another one.”

Losing a loved one is never easy, whoever they are. I still have wonderful memories of my first cat, Minnie, an adorable tortoiseshell brought up by a labrador on a goat farm (her feline instincts were a little confused though she was a great mouser).

My last cat, Cyd, lived until the age of 18 and at the age of 16 took on a toyboy. I'd watch them frolicking together in the garden – like Margot Fonteyn with Nureyev, Cyd really did have a second lease of life.

When Cyd died, I couldn't stop crying for days. I couldn't bear having no one to feed in the mornings, no black little face yowling at me over the bedclothes. I hated coming home to an empty house, no black creature rubbing her haunches against my ankles. No one could replace Cyd, and I wouldn't want to, but I hated not having a cat.

My sister in law advised, “get another cat, completely different, as soon as possible.”

Instead of a female black cat, we ended up with a male rescue kitten, white with black splodges, who'd been abandoned over Christmas (can you imagine?) and after that, there was little time to be miserable.

In memory of Cyd, Himself suggested we made a collage of some of the best pictures of her, which now hangs up in the living room. I can look at those pictures now with a smile and remember what a loveable tyrant she was.

I'm sure that her spirit still lives on – come to think of it, Mollie's very like her...

Tuesday 18 November 2008

A whirlwind few days

An action packed weekend that kicked off with my mother arriving on Friday night. This coincided with me returning from walking Moll, while Himself “warmed the place up” for my mother. Bearing in mind it's hardly cold, and we're trying to economise at the moment, I got back to find the woodburner pumping out heat, the central heating on as well and my mother growing pinker by the second. I opened all the windows, turned the heating off, opened the front door and gradually the flat returned to an ambient temperature. Credit crunch? You wouldn't think so down here...

Anyway, on Saturday we went to see the house that was my mother's home – she was born and lived there till she was married from there. It's now a restaurant and you can imagine her mixed feelings as she looked at the summerhouse where she'd had lessons, at the playroom that was now a dining room, at the fireplace where her wedding pictures had been taken. I hovered by like an anxious mother hen (daughter hen?), anticipating her mixed emotional response. We couldn't see the room she'd been born in which might have been a good thing, but we had a look in the garden and at what had been the old garages, and mum had a bucket full of memories to take home with her.

Next stop was lunch at a dog friendly pub in Gwithian – the Red River pub. I'm writing a feature on 10 of the best Dog Friendly pubs in Cornwall, so naturally we had to sample some. This place was great – nothing special inside but so friendly and the owner and bar staff adore dogs which is a bonus. Food was great – lovely bowlfuls of carrot and sweet potato soup – and then we took Mollie for a good long run along Godrevy Beach. Mum's favourite childhood beach.

Last stop of the afternoon was the National Animal Welfare Trust rescue centre where I interviewed the manager a month ago. They've just moved into larger premises so I was keen to see how they were getting on. The new kennels are fabulous and Louise and her staff have worked so hard to ensure that the dogs and cats are happy and well looked after. It was agonising though, to see two very special little terriers that I longed to take home.....

We returned home (minus extra animals, to the cat's relief: he swore he'd leave home otherwise) and then had our cousins from Penzance for a musical evening which was a wonderful end to the day.

Sunday I did a walk for the magazine at Chapel Porth with my photographer friend and her partner and Moll, and yesterday was spent frantically writing that up. Got another rejection for the novel but then a request to see first three chapters, so it just goes to prove how subjective the whole process is...

Thursday 13 November 2008

Generosity isn't dead

The good news is that the Western Morning News are to feature this blog in a Westountry blog spot in a few weeks. More details when I have them!

The bad news is more teeth problems causing yet more money to be extracted (though thankfully no more teeth extracted as yet – that could well come later, in which case I will be known as Gappy). But enough of boring things like dentists and gum disease. Perhaps if I tell them I'm a freelance journalist writing a piece on periodontal disease, I might get discounted treatment? Dream on, Flowerpot.

On a completely different topic, I am, as some of you know, reduced to tears very easily. Why, I know not – put it down to hormones, if you like. I don't always cry because I'm unhappy, either. I could be enjoying a particularly wonderful piece of music, or a marvellous sunset and the tears will drip down my cheeks, or cascade down my nose, depending on the extremity of emotions incurred. As Himself says, “you're the only person I know who cries at the weather forecast,” which is a slight exaggeration.

On the other hand, in case anyone thinks I'm a pushover, I can be very fierce when needs be. Hurt my husband, any of my friends or family and there will be Big Trouble. Right? In the course of my job, I endure so many rejections that if I didn't develop a tough shell I wouldn't survive.

I suppose Mollie takes after me - shaggy haired, untidy and tough on the outside, but soft and cuddly on the inside.

I was having lunch with a friend I hadn't seen for ages the other day in a tiny cafe in Falmouth. At that time we were the only occupants, then three teenage girls came in, whispering and muttering over the menu.

From what we could gather, they only had enough money for a jacket potato between them, so they sat down and ordered that.

“I'm sorry,” said the owner of the cafe, “but it is lunchtime – you have to order at least a drink.”

More muttering from the girls, turning out of purses. Leaning forward, conferring in agonised whispers - rather like University Challenge, but they were a few years off that, and the stakes were higher. This was Food.

At this point we got up, fetched our coats and as we passed the girls, my friend handed them a fiver. “Here,” she said. “Early Christmas present. Buy yourselves some drinks.”

Their stunned, delighted faces made my day, and I gulped, overwhelmed and proud of such a generous gesture. That's when I burst into tears.

Monday 10 November 2008

A Childhood Walk

This walk is in this month's Cornwall Today with wonderful pictures by Rebecca Taunton. If you are anywhere near a newsagent that has the November edition, it's well worth looking at just for RT's pictures!

A walk along part of the cycle trail, through old mining country

One overcast afternoon, my dog Mollie and I set off with a friend for a circular walk around her childhood stamping ground of Bissoe. We piled into my van and took the A39 from Falmouth to Truro; at the Devoran roundabout at the bottom of the hill we took the turning marked Bissoe. This led under a viaduct, past Bissoe Cycle Hire and we took the first small turning on the right opposite a garage. Several hundred yards later we came to a granite post saying Wheal Andrew and a little further down the road we parked in a large layby on the right.

From here we walked 100 yards on and took a steep rocky lane on the left by a granite sign to Twelveheads. This area is known as Wheal Fortune and the land here was once the most expensive in Cornwall. From 1819 Wheal Fortune formed the easternmost part of the Great Gwennap Consolidated Mines, which was once the largest copper mine in the world. Although it worked for tin at an early period, it was as a copper mine that it became important. But cheaper ores were being mined abroad, and in England the price of copper fell from £115 to £80 a ton. In 1870 Wheal Fortune was abandoned and across Cornwall many miners emigrated to work in Australia and North America. There is little sign of wealth now: only a few scattered houses in amongst granite, bracken and heather; across the fields the only sound was the cry of a solitary cockerel.
We followed this path up the hill, down past Arley Cottage on the right, crossed over a road and continued over, passing clumps of puffball mushrooms, like dun coloured pincushions. Up the hill we walked, past Fernysplatt Bal, disused mine dumps and mine workings. Oak leaves were already turning here, and the blackberries were out in abundance.

At the top of the hill we took a left fork, past White Cottage on the left, and followed this rocky path downhill through thick mud churned up by cycle tracks. We looked over high hedges onto fields of lush tall grass, heard the mew of a young buzzard overhead, and at the end of the footpath we turned right into a small road. A thin watery sunshine came out as we walked through the tiny hamlet of Coombe Hill, where we passed Clifford House on our left and an orchard studded with bright red apples and the last netted raspberries.

Further down the road we realised we were descending into a dense wooded valley where the river rumbled noisily below us, orange gold rosehips peeked from the hedges and a dog barked in the distance.

At the bottom of this road we turned right and first left at a Public Footpath sign, partly obscured by an oak tree laden with green acorns, and entered another small hamlet. Here were stables on our right, and a rusty dustbin perched incongruously on the bank of a fast running stream. Further on we turned left to follow another Public Footpath sign, over a bridge where the stream swelled to a river, then plunged into a whirling eddy. Here the slender trees were throttled with thick veins of ivy, and the path was heavy with mud. Rooks have been known to nest in nearby Cusgarne School but today they cawed above us, black shadows in the sky.

The path suddenly opened out into a tarmac area and we passed Calico Cottage before arriving at Hicks Mill Methodist Church, built in 1821, though the deeds go back to 1667 and there was once a corn mill on this site.

We peered through the windows of this well maintained building before walking through the car park out onto a road and turned immediately left, along a quiet road past Mount Pleasant Farm on the right. This led to another crossroads where we turned left. Over the granite bridge we turned left onto the official cycle trail from Devoran to Portreath; this is a smoother track, popular with cyclists of all ages and sizes. As we walked, two cyclists in red and yellow jerseys sped past, ringing their bells loudly.

We walked over another wooden bridge, and noticed red water flowing in the stream below: this was from heavy metals that leaked into the water when Wheal Jane mine flooded in 1991, leaching toxic mine waste that travelled as far as Restronguet Creek.

The ground opened up here into flat moorland with gorse, purple heather and blackberries in abundance – a natural buffet for myself and Mollie. Up on our right, disembodied voices floated down from the cement works that looked like an eerie James Bond set. Mount Wellington looked down from the left, and all around us was Bissoe Valley Nature Reserve owned by the Wildlife Trust. A restoration programme set up in 1986 has ensured that there is newly planted woodland, ponds and regenerating heathland in this area and we saw evidence of this: a pond with huge lemon coloured waterlillies in amongst the reeds, dragonflies and emerald damsel flies.

Further on we came to what looked like a solitary mine engine but is in fact what was left of the Point Mills Arsenic Refinery, that produced arsenic famous for its high quality throughout Europe. A plaque told us that the refinery operated for 100 years ending with the outbreak of World War Two.

Nearing the road we passed a field full of large rabbits which Mollie tried to chase, and a pony which she thankfully didn’t. We headed towards the road, turned left and immediately right to Bissoe Cycle Hire where we sat outside the café and enjoyed mugs of tea and slices of fruit cake, though their cream teas and flapjacks looked very tempting. Despite the proximity to the arsenic works!
Leaving the cycle hire behind, we headed onto a narrow and muddy path where the sun broke through the clouds and a flock of crows chattered above, followed by a solitary egret. Further on we saw a dragonfly, its turquoise wings glittering in the faint light, proof that the conservation efforts are working here.

Soon we forked right and met up with another bridlepath. This was smoother which made walking easier and a little further on we hit the official cycle trail. To our right towered a mine waste dump which my friend said she had played on as a child. Not something that would be allowed in these health and safety conscious days!
We finally arrived back at Wheal Andrew, turned right and walked along the road to the layby where we’d left the van. Mollie was covered in mud, but she gave a happy sigh and flopped into her basket, eyeing the bag of blackberries hopefully as we drove home.

This walk gives a real insight into one of the mining areas of Cornwall, undisturbed and ancient, where the air is heavy with history.

Length: 3 1/4 miles
Time: 1 ½ - 2 hours
Grade: moderate but can be muddy in places so boots are advised
Maps: OS Explorer 104 Redruth & St Agnes
Refreshments: Available at Bissoe Tramways Cycle Hire.
Over 100 Bikes Open all year. Old Conns Works, Bissoe Truro, TR4 8QZ
Tel:- 01872 870341
Areas of historical/other interest: The old Mineral Tramways from Devoran to Portreath is an interesting ride for the average cyclist - the route follows what were working rail tracks that carried minerals (tin, copper etc) to the ancient quays at Devoran or the harbour at Portreath.
Mount Wellington Mine was once part of Wheal Jane and one of the last 3 working mines in Cornwall during the 1980s.

Friday 7 November 2008

Bad Mouth News conquered by Belief

Nearly two years ago now I had a really bad time with my mouth – endless chronic toothache, abscesses etc which led to a course of very expensive periodontal treatment to treat my gum disease.

Having parted with a Huge amount of money, I was set on the road to recovery – or stability, as once the damage has been done, you can't entirely reverse it. And I continued to brush my teeth, floss them and poke at bits with interdental sticks, three times a day. I went back for a 3 month check up in July and all was well. I was looking after my gums as I should, and I got a pat on the back. I also got a VAST bill for a 20 minute checkup.

I asked my NHS dentist (who suggested I should continue to see this private hygienist – doesn't say much for his hygienist) if he could recommend someone else as the private bunch are extortionately expensive. It's not just me that says that either. My dentist recommended another fellow and I'm waiting for an appointment to see him next week.

Last weekend I began to have twinges in my mouth. Bad ones. On Monday I realised my gums in front were inflamed and very sore. I went back to see Very Expensive hygienist yesterday who confirmed that my gums were in a Bad Way. She said that I'd “slipped” with brushing them. “I haven't,” I said, with my mouth wide open, stung with injustice. “But I was concentrating on the teeth at the back that are the problem ones, and forgot the front ones.”

She looked at me then and said, “have you had a lot of stress recently?”

I thought back – it's been quite a year, emotionally. “Yes,” I said. “Menopause, insomnia, financial worries.”

When I got to insomnia she nodded. “That'll be it,” she said. “Your gums are your weak spot and if you're under a lot of stress, unless you're really careful, they'll suffer.”

So I trundled back home feeling miserable, as if I'd failed, and with a mouth that felt as if it had been attacked with a cheese grater. I managed to rationalise it all but then I woke in the night feeling terrible. After all that brushing and STILL I got it wrong.

I went back to sleep eventually but I told Himself this morning how I felt. “Of course you're upset,” he said. “Anyone would be. But you do brush your teeth properly and I'll bloody well tell them so, silly *****ers.”

I began to feel better. But he hadn't finished.

“You'll get your gums get better really quickly, like you did last time,” he said. “Just remember, Pop, you can do anything you want.”

What a star.

Monday 3 November 2008

Birthday Boy and Lusting...

Yesterday was Himself's birthday, and as he'd already had his main present (a pair of shoes), we started off celebrating on Saturday meeting a mutual friend for a drink. He'd had loads of cards – nearly all from women I would add – and friends of mine (I can tell by the writing on the envelopes).

“Of course,” said Deb. “It just shows how highly you're regarded.”

He went a bit pink after that and got up to get himself a brandy.

So yesterday was Fun Day. We got to Truro early afternoon, went to Tesco to get him a present - and ended up with some badly needed thermal socks – and then – the Fun Bit..... Quantum of Solace.

I happen to think Daniel Craig is one of the sexiest men around. I quite appreciate many do not, but he Does It for me. So I sat and prepared myself for 2 hours of drooling.

The only criticism, from Himself, is that while there is a huge amount of action (for which read violence) there weren't a lot of laughs with those old one-liners. Apparently they'd tried and it just didn't work. Mind you, as I pointed out, this is a man with a mission – and it's Revenge for the woman he loved, who died. So you're not going to get a lot of laughs.

The action was non stop (which meant I had to hide for quite a bit) but the rest of it was – well, sigh.... Lovely.

Afterwards we met up with some friends who bought Himself a birthday drink in the pub up the road and Andrea and I sat wondering if we were doing to dream about Daniel C that night.

Sadly, neither of us did.

Friday 31 October 2008

A Truce - and Curious Goings On

The above picture says it all, I think. Bussie and Mollie have finally laid down arms – for a minute...

The other night I had the strangest dream A little girl stood in front of me and put her arms up towards me. I bent down, picked her up, and she hugged me tight, wrapping her legs around my waist, clutching me with hot little arms, her head tucked into the nook by my chin. I held her tight and rocked her until she was comforted, and felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. Who was this girl, and why did I love her so much?

The dream was at once deeply upsetting yet a great comfort, and stayed with me all day, not fading as dreams usually do. The image grew stronger, which made me think she has a purpose.

So I wondered who she was. The daughter I never had?
The sister I never had?
Me as a little girl.
An embodiment of life and death – for they are different ends of the same spectrum.

Or perhaps I'm just being analytical and it was just one of those strange things that you can't account for.

On the way home from seeing a friend last night I came round the corner to our flat and there beside me was the little girl, skipping along and calling me. She held my hand and we swung arms and then she faded away.

When I woke in the middle of the night, she was there again. Close by, needing me there while she went to sleep.

Curiouser and curiouser...

Monday 27 October 2008

Callington School of Art

This is in this month's Cornwall Today - an aspirational couple I thought who deserve all the best


Lower House in Callington has the most welcoming feeling, like walking into an old family home. There’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, big sash windows that keep the rooms light, bookcases and paintings galore, and four sympathetically decorated en suite bedrooms that have been rated four star by Visit Britain.

The kitchen has a long table where everyone eats together, and adjoining this is a coach house where Peter Sulston, 58, and his wife Tessa, 57 run Callington School of Art. A well established art teacher, Tessa is able to provide a wide range of courses including 3 or 6 day residential courses, one day workshops, and courses for teachers. “We never have more than six in a class so I can give individual tuition,” she says. “This way, we can be professional and versatile.”

Located in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, the school is open all year round, offers comfortable accommodation, delicious home made cooking, trips to local outdoor locations and an extensive art library. “We cater for all ages and abilities and we’re getting a lot of interest from people who haven’t painted since school,” Peter says. “We provide the time for them to do that.”

Since opening in September 2007, the art school has already proved a success. “We worried whether people would like our style, but people have commented on how relaxed they feel in our company and how friendly it is,” Tessa says. “And they love Peter’s food!”

“People are already booking to come back which is very heartening,” says Peter. “We advertise a lot but word of mouth is the best way. It’s a personal endorsement.”

Peter and Tessa met as students in London in 1970 and have been married for 33 years. Their first son was born in Australia; their second son in Ethiopia where Peter was working for Oxfam. They returned to Oxford 20 years ago where he took up loss adjusting and Tessa taught at Magdalen College School, one of the country’s leading independent schools.

Two years ago, Peter and Tessa decided it was time for a change. “I said ‘do you fancy an adventure?’ ” Peter says. “We’d talked about running our own school and now we had the opportunity to do it.”

They explored the possibility of buying in France, but decided that negotiating a strange legal system with their limited French would be unwise. “We browsed the net and found Lower House, with an attached two storey dilapidated coach house which was the right price with some left over to finance the renovations,” Tessa says. That was the start of a steep learning curve. “We had to be aware of everything. Like fire precautions, Health & Safety, disabled access and filling in incredibly complex grant application forms.”

With help from an Objective One grant they finished the renovations last year and ran their first residential course in September. “Just as the builders left!” says Tessa. “The first people arrived when it still smelt of fresh paint and the varnish on the staircase wasn’t quite dry. They declared at once that this would be their sixteenth art holiday so we replied, 'Well, this is our first!'”

They needn’t have worried about their reception in the town, as the art school has been welcomed by locals and visitors. “The mayor said it’s just what the town needs,” says Peter. “There’s a little theatre here and I think perhaps we’re seen alongside that. It helps the status of the town.”

“We were surprised by the level of local interest,” Tessa says. “Most of our customers have come from Penzance to Bristol.” But already the word has spread and people are coming from further afield. “We’ve just had someone from Dublin, two from Scotland and an Australian.”

The couple have quickly become involved in community life in Callington, a small market town with a population of just over 5000. “I worked for Oxfam when it launched the Fairtrade movement so when I found out there was a committee here, I volunteered,” says Peter, who has found everyone very friendly and helpful. “One of our neighbours offered us a parking space for visitors which is very generous.”

Tessa wasted no time in using her artistic skills. “The town is internationally famous for its murals – there used to be 17 of them,” she says. “The surrounding schools ran a competition for children to design a mural and I was on the committee so I judged it.”

Learning to work together was another huge challenge. “We started out rather irrationally with both of us doing everything,” says Tessa. “Now I liaise with prospective students, run the courses and clean and make the beds. Peter does the accounts, maintenance, administration and cooking and entertaining. When we can, we’ll take on help with cleaning and laundry and outsource some of the tutoring.”

“We’ve been together more in the past 2 years than in the last 20,” says Peter, and this has brought its rewards and frustrations. “Like any couple we have our differences but nothing serious. Tessa gets on with things and I adapt!”

Tessa agrees. “We talk things through mainly. If we have any spare time, Peter plays badminton and I paint. Although we’re together most of the time we have space.”

Despite being incredibly busy, they have found time to explore the area and have quickly fallen in love with Cornwall. “The pace of life seems different,” says Peter. “You get to know people and I’ve got a local pub again – it’s lovely to go in there and be welcomed.”

For Tessa, the landscape has inspired her painting. “I get completely different inspiration from Bodmin and the coasts. Both have different atmospheres, different views, contrasts, shapes and colours. When you’ve got shadow coming off rocks and water you get wonderful changes in colour.”

Having given up well paid jobs, security and pensions, Peter and Tessa realise they have taken a huge gamble, but have great faith in their business. “We don’t in any way regret our move,” says Tessa. “As with any new business we’d be lying if we said we weren’t nervous about our future. But we’re going to give it everything we have, physically, financially and emotionally.”

Callington School of Art, Lower House, Church Street, Callington PL17 7AN
01579 383491

Lower House Guest House

Friday 24 October 2008

Email Bloomers

There was a piece in the news recently about Google, who have set up a facility called Mail Goggles. This is in response to the number of people who have sent emails to the wrong people when Under The Influence. Several people were quoted having sent vitriolic messages to ex-spouses; ex-lovers, ex-in-laws etc., having had a few in the pub. Or at home, which makes it easier to send the emails.

When enabled, Mail Goggles kicks in at a time specified by you and says, “It’s that time of day. Are you sure you want to send this?” It then tries to ascertain if you’re drunk by asking five maths on the screen which you have to answer in a limited time. If you can’t, it presumes you’re pissed and suggests that you send it the next day when you’ve had time to consider the matter.

The writers of the piece were unable to test this out as all of their staff were sober, but many said they wished it had been invented earlier to prevent previous bloomers.

It seems an excellent idea to me. I’ve never actually sent embarrassing emails when drunk as I can’t type after a glass of wine. I have, however, sent them when in a hurry and sober which is infinitely more embarrassing, as I have no excuse.

It made me think, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could apply this facility to our brains, so when we’ve worried something to death, a message would come up saying, “Enough - I’m sick of this. Can you think about something else, please?”

P. S. To activate Mail Goggles, go into Gmail's settings, and turn on Mail Goggles in the "Labs" tab. Then adjust how and when it works in the "General" tab.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Another Swansong and Meme

My new computer is due to arrive this afternoon (I hope) but at least this one’s limping along which is the main thing.

So as the second swansong, here is a meme from Pat and ChrisH as well

The winners of this award have to answer these questions, in one word per question.... so here we go:
1. Where is your cell phone? Kitchen
2. Where is your significant other? Jazz-ing
3. Your hair color? Brown
4. Your mother? Devon
5. Your father? Heaven
6. Your favorite thing? Love
7. Your dream last night? Confused
8. Your dream/goal? Published
9. The room you're in? Bedroom
10. Your hobby? Walking
11. Your fear? Loss
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Here
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. What you're not? Sane
15. One of your wish-list items? Younger
16. Where you grew up? Devon
17. The last thing you did? Drink
18. What are you wearing? Jeans
19. Your TV? Off
20. Your pets? Sleeping
21. Your computer? On
22. Your mood? Steady
23. Missing someone? Always
24. Your car? Parked
25. Something you're not wearing? Socks
26. Favorite store? Zilch
27. Your summer? Mixed
28. Love someone? Yes.
29. Your favorite color? Autumnal
30. When is the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Yesterday

Instead of passing this meme on, as I have a deadline and should be finishing a piece on teapots, please pick this up and run with it if you like it!

Friday 17 October 2008

A Swansong

This computer is on its last legs, and has developed a habit of bleeping at me from a dark, blank screen and not letting me go any further - tricky that when you've got two deadlines (can you hear me screaming?).

New computer arrives on Monday - I hope - so normal service will resume next week. So while I'm not able to blog or read your blogs for a few days, I will be back soon.

Meanwhile, I'm frantically trying to finish a piece on a nearby animal rescue centre before the pc crashes again.... I was in tears most of yesterday transcribing the tape and now writing it, the floodgates are opening yet again.

I will leave you with a joke which has enlightened my week.

A 3-year-old boy examined his testicles while taking a bath.

'Mom', he asked, 'Are these my brains?'

'Not yet,' she replied.

Have a good weekend!

PS Computer not arrived yet - am hanging on by fingernails and hoping this will see me through the last deadline!

Tuesday 14 October 2008

A Philosophical Post - or how to deal with Menopausal Wobbles

We had some of the best weather for our long weekend that we’ve had all summer, and it was lovely to have time with Mum and Moll – 3 girls together. I also had time to see a few friends without having to worry about Himself, who was on his Boat Hunt.

But in amongst all this crept my old fear about losing those I am closest to. My mother is incredibly fit and sprightly (mentally and physically) and doesn’t even wear glasses (groan from her daughter who has been myopic since the age of 13). She is always interested in everything and everyone and has a huge army of friends – understandably. At 79, she is also still extremely attractive.

Himself is doing well, his cancer is under control and despite having days when the medication makes him feel exhausted, as well as general ageing, he is feeling well. He plays the cornet still, has resumed his love affair with boats and still thinks about his wife and dog now and then. (A bit more than that to be honest.)

That I should chose a long weekend to delve into mortality is unfortunate but probably because I wasn’t working so had more time to think about it. Anyway, it kept me awake in the small hours, terrified of this huge void called death.

Ageing is no bundle of laughs. And being married to someone 18 years older, I am more aware than some of the frustrations that this can bring. The body’s gradual refusal to do things we could once do easily. But there’s nothing we can do about it, and it is completely natural. It's part of the ongoing process of life. Look at nature - the tumbling, flame coloured leaves of autumn. Crackly winter frosts. The emerald vibrancy of spring. Life goes on.

Luckily I saw a wise friend who knows me very well. When I was a child, she said, I thought that when you died you lay down in a lovely wood on a blanket of leaves and went to sleep. Death is not a void – it’s something peaceful and part of nature. Part of life.

Seeing my worries, she said you must face your fears, not hide from them. You should have a plan, she said. Write it down, then put it to one side - don't dwell on it, but make the most of the time you have. Enjoy your time with your nearest and dearests. Enjoy life but be prepared.

One of the worst things about losing those we love is being left behind. And yet, as my friend said, we only lose their physical presence. We have albums in our heads full of memories, and it is these that we can remember and play over and over again. And we are not alone. Most of us are fortunate enough to have friends and/or family. We have animals and other responsibilities. We have work. We have hobbies that soothe or distract or invigorate us. We meet new friends, lovers, animals, and these don’t replace the old ones but add to our army of supporters. We can learn new things and this adds to our wisdom and enjoyment of life.

I talked to Himself and he said that we need stamina and courage to face our difficulties. I also think we need to know that we are stronger than we might believe. Particularly if you are in the midst of a menopausal wobble, as I was. As Julie Andrews sang: “All I trust I lead my heart to, All I trust becomes my own. I have confidence in confidence alone. Besides which you see I have confidence in me!”

After that musical outburst, the other thing my friend said was, “You’re not alone. But you must believe in something.”

What, I thought? I was brought up C of E but lost faith in God, or perhaps I never quite had it. As a teenager I was unhappy and developed anorexia, then lost several people who meant a lot to me, then my dad died. Perhaps He was looking after me anyway, but I was angry and turned away, felt bitterly let down. Now a part of me would like to believe but doesn’t quite know how. Or what.

But thinking about what my friend said, I wondered - what do I believe in? Friends. Love. Determination. Perseverance. Caring. Justice – but I don’t mean the legal system. I mean a sense of fairness in life that might not be obvious but usually works out in some odd way. Lots of other things, too. Laughter, fun, enjoyment. Helping others, and being helped in return. A good cry with friends. Cuddles. Sunny walks with Moll. The lovely stretched way I feel after yoga. The sense of peace following meditation. The joy of having a good sing.

As a writer I have to be sensitive enough to write about emotions so that others can understand and empathise with them. But I must be tough enough to deal with the multitude of rejections and disappointments that come across a writer’s path. So this made me realise that I believe very strongly in the subconscious.

Not that I really know what that entails, but I do know that while it might contain memories of old fears and worries, it also stores up joys and treasures. Furthermore, it enables me to write. It spurs me to write. Sometimes phrases tap out of my keyboard and I wonder where they came from. I read them and cry, or laugh, and think, did I write that? Perhaps God is in my keyboard, or my subconscious?

This reminds me of the lovely fellow I met when out walking with Moll. Gabriel Fry he was called. A solid fellow with a wonderfully broad smile, intelligent eyes that missed nothing. If my subconscious could be a person it would be him. Full of rich secrets, fun and laughter. An instant supporter who trusted me, laughed with me as if we'd known each other all our lives. Perhaps we had.

Who do you believe in?

Wednesday 8 October 2008

A Lost Husband

We're off to Devon tomorrow for a few days - or rather, Molls and I are. Himself is dropping us at my mother's so we can have a few Girls' Days while he peruses the boat yards of Lymington, Southampton, Gosport etc. in pursuit of an ex-racing boat that he can't afford. Well, it keeps him happy and out of mischief. We hope.

Anyway, this afternoon Moll and I did one of our favourite walks and Himself had a quick half in the pub while waiting for us - and we usually meet him there. We got to the pub - no husband. I retraced my steps - no sign of him. Back to the pub. No sign. Saw the van, couldnt get in. No mobile, no money, bag in van, no keys. Swore. Appealed to Molls who grinned and wagged her tail and said, "I dunno Mum," or something similar.

We repeated the above exercise with me trying not to get increasingly frantic. Himself is not a walker, you see. He grudgingly comes on the short walk with Moll in the morning and That's It. Added to which he was off to do a job at 5pm and this was 4.15pm. I'd last seen him at 2.45.

One last time I went back asking everyone en route. By this time I was convinced he'd fallen into a ditch, broken a leg, had a heart attack - you know the kind of thing. I called an d called him, panic rising in my chest as I ran along the path, legs wobbly with fear.

And just as I asked yet another couple if they'd seen someone matching his description, there he was lolloping along the beach. I fell into his arms, weeping and swearing, "Where have you BEEN?"

As we walked back to the van he said he'd walked as far as the second field and waited for me, thought I was talking to someone, as I sometimes do. No comment.

"Anyway," he said. "Tomorrow and Friday you won't know where I am. I could be in a Laptop Club."

So That's what those dancers do......

Monday 6 October 2008

An eventful weekend

Poor Mollie had another terrible outbreak of itching on Friday which resulted in yet another trip to the vet, antibiotics, Piriton and a steroid spray as well as increasing her steroids. We were so desperate at the time that we didn’t question this dosage as perhaps we should have done, so having rung the vet this morning we've cut down her dosage and hope the spray will help. Poor girl, she's had a really bad few months and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. But she's such a cheerful soul and we love her for that.

Notwithstanding that, Moll and I set off to pick up a friend on Saturday to do the Mevagissey Treasure Trail for Cornwall Today. As we neared Mevagissey, the clouds gathered and by the time we arrived we were wading through steady drizzle and a gathering wind, but we completed the trail, had a fascinating trip round the town and felt we deserved an award for stoicism and determination - Moll included.

The rain finally stopped late Sunday morning and we had a wonderful walk with my Swedish friend around Rosemullion Head. As apparently this was to be the only good day of the week, I’m glad we made the most of it as today is back to normal grey drizzle.

I’ve recently been told about a website run by Harper Collins which is for avid readers and budding novelists. The idea is that you can upload your novel – or part of it – and while reading others’ novels, they can comment on yours. If you’re very lucky your novel might land on the desk of an editor, but the site is regularly perused by agents and editors.

I thought it was worth a go, so please have a look at my first three chapters, if you feel so inclined, and let me know how I might improve them – here

You need to scroll down until you see The Current Beneath by Sam Kittow (pseudonym)

And do pass the word around - try it yourself if you're a writer - it could help us all get published!

We’re off on Thursday for a few days in Devon so this might be the last post for a bit.

Thursday 2 October 2008

A Great Idea

I recently read about Barbara Bright, who has set up a company called Nexus, which began in the 1970s as a phone based network service and is still going strong.

Nexus is not a dating agency but a means of meeting other unattached people. As Barbara explains, “If you’re lonely, you’ll find that people are not going to beat a path to your door,” she says. “You just have to get out and meet people. NO one can change your life but you.” And that is what Nexus does – provide an opportunity to do just that.

Nexus was devised by an Australian civil engineer who found it difficult to meet people in the early 1970s. He heard of a system in Japan where people could phone a number and listen to recorded messages. If they liked the sound of the person, they could contact them.

So Nexus was founded on that idea and a similar service set up in the UK. Barbara and Peter advertised and were inundated with calls. Within this service came Icebreakers, which is a listing of members’ ads with a first name and phone number, released every month.

Then Skills Bank was started by a member who wanted to help people with business skills in exchange for practical help. The Leisure Interest directory came next, categorising members by their interests, and the Bulletin tells Nexus members what’s going on in their area.

As a result of all this communication and contact, members form a community and help each other. Not just that, but they tend to keep their membership long after they have found a partner.

“It becomes a way of life,” says Barbara. “It gives people a family outside their family.”

It seems strange that nowadays there are more forms of communication than ever, yet it is ever easier to avoid talking to people, so communication skills are dying.

Perhaps we should all re-learn the art of listening. Of having time for each other; of caring. Taking the time to stop. Grabbing those moments of happiness, and sticking them in our mental scrapbook, to be taken out and treasured.

With so many of us scattered all over the country, if not the world, Nexus sounds like a wonderful idea.

or ring 01237 471704

And just to lower the tone completely, Himself has suggested calling the van the Bonkmobile....

Monday 29 September 2008

Name That Van

Here you have me and Moll perched inside The White Van. Posing rather uncertainly, in my case, because I hate having my picture taken (which is why it's a small picture). Mollie isn't at all abashed - she loves the camera, knowing smugly that she always comes out looking winning.

Having had a wonderful weekend of glorious sunshine - which is the first and last of the year apparently - it is now officially autumn.

So we have decided, as we are going away in the van next week (well, Himself is going to sleep in it for a few nights while Mollie and I are not) that the time has come to christen it.

Flowerpotmobile was mooted but is just too long.
Doxie Three is the current name but that seems unimaginative.
Himself suggested Krow as the first two letters are KR but I thought that had sinister connotations. The last three letters are AVP in case that gives anyone any bright ideas.

So over to you lot.

Oh, and while I've got you thinking - I'm trying to think of a title for an article about walking with Mollie. The scrapes she gets into, friends met along the way, all that kind of thing. The only one that springs to mind is The bitch Is Back by Elton John which isn't desperately complimentary.
Any ideas?

Thursday 25 September 2008

The Baker's Dozen

David Buscombe, 58, his wife Sara, 57, and their twelve children run The Cornish Mill & Bakehouse from Trescowthick Farm, on the North Cornish coast. It’s a place of peace and contentment: a hundred yards from the house lies a tranquil dip covered in hawthorn blossom called Snow Valley, the Atlantic glistens in the distance, and the noise is not of traffic but of ewes bleating, dogs barking and skylarks singing.
From here the Buscombes grow and mill their own flour, bake a large range of bread, biscuits and pasties, and keep Black Rock hens whose eggs are used in their baking. The family are unusual in combining traditional values and a strong Catholic faith with a versatility that ensures they succeed in an increasingly tough commercial world.

“We’ve switched to whatever we’ve needed to do rather than what we’ve wanted to do,” says David. And that means hard work. “We work from dawn till dusk and a bit more most days. But we don’t count success as how much money’s in the bank – it’s how happy you are. That’s success.”

David and Sara have had several businesses since they met in 1967 when Sara’s parents moved into the farm and guesthouse next door.

“They brought her to me!” says David. “We married 3 years later and have been in business ever since. First we took on the guesthouse where I worked as the chef. Then I worked on the Trewithen Estate, milking herds for 14 years, and as the children started arriving, we set up a business selling secondhand baby equipment, with shops in Truro and Plymouth. We rented Trescowthick Farm from the Trewithen Estate, and when the property boom came about, we sold the shops, started farming and Sara began baking.”

10 years ago they decided to take a stall in the new Farmer’s Market in Truro. “The food just disappeared,” says Sara. “Soon we had two stalls instead of one.”

“It got so busy I said you’d better teach me to bake and we went from there, got bigger and bigger.” David laughs. “It beats farming!”

Friends who run Buddy Designs designed a distinctive white Cornish cross on a black background which clearly communicates the ‘Cornish Pride’ of the business and this logo won the Benchmarks Award 2007. The Bakehouse logo can now be seen on all their produce which they sell at Farmer’s Markets in Falmouth and Truro, as well as a range of cafes and restaurants. They also sell their additive free, 100% pure flour through the markets and wholesale, to such customers as the Eden Project.

Diversification is always important to farmers and the Buscombes are no exception. “With the cost of fuel and food going up, the balance is more difficult to maintain,” says David. “At the moment people still want what we’ve got but we are a luxury food business so if there is a crunch we may need to modify the business further. That’s why we’re selling more flour.”

Like any business, there are pros and cons. “The advantage to working with family is that if there’s a problem we resolve it straight away,” David says. “The only disadvantage is doing the Farmers Markets. That’s the only time Sara’s not there.”

7 of the 12 children still live at home and all are involved with the business in some capacity. “Even the youngest (twins aged 12) clean the baskets and van and help with the stalls,” says David. “It runs in the family – my grandparents used to have a barrow stall.” Four of the other children are partners in the business which suits them all. “Why should they work for us when they can work with us?” says David. “The family working together is the strongest bond we’ve got.”

But their faith is equally important. “The faith and the family is our life,” David says. “That’s what it’s based on. If you haven’t got anything to believe in, what’s the point? You just go on day after day - for what reason?” But he acknowledges that it’s not always easy. “You have to be strong to stand out.”

David and Sara decided to dispense with a television when they moved to Trescowthick Farm in 1990. “I didn’t want my children watching rubbish,” says David. “Parental supervision is vital as children do whatever their parents do. I always say if I do it, you can do it. If I don’t, you don’t. And it works.”

This authoritative approach to raising their children clearly does work. “Here they’re always outside with the ponies or playing football or rugger. Some play in the Newlyn East band and sing with the local choir,” says David. “What better place to bring children up?”

“All the children get on very well and that’s where our faith comes in,” says Sara. “We all have this background, so if you think you’ve done something wrong you apologise and move on. We don’t brood on it.”

David and Sara also sing with the Perraners, a group of singers that rehearse in Perranporth. “We used to compete in ballroom dancing up to intermediate level,” says David. “It got political after that so we decided not to take it any further.”

They never work on Sundays because that’s their day of rest, but David always cooks. “In winter I do a roast and a barbecue in the summer. We often have twenty plus sitting down to lunch and there’s always some left over in case anyone calls by.” He grins. “Then we all go and have a game of football – the girls as well. There’s a competitive streak in our family, so we need challenges – it keeps us on our toes.”

Meeting David and Sara, it is clear how happy they are. “I wouldn’t do anything differently, David says. “If I did, I wouldn’t have what I’ve got now and that’s what counts.” Life hasn’t always been like this. “We’ve been through incredibly hard times but it’s made us stronger. In recessions and tough times you either pull together or pull apart. The Trewithen Estate have been behind us all the way and supported the business.”

They haven’t been able to have many holidays but David looks ahead to when he and Sara can slow down a little. “It would be nice to take a back seat with Sara and let the children take over more. We could have a few holidays and see one or two places. But we don’t go ‘abroad’ over the Tamar very often!

“Cornwall’s home isn’t it?” he says looking out over the land with a smile. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. We often go to Holywell Bay on a Sunday – and what a place! It’s always different but always beautiful.”

And while some people might find it difficult working with their spouse, David couldn’t be happier. “I wonder sometimes how we get through with 12 children,” he says. “The answer to that is with a good wife who’s a good mother. We’ve never really fallen out – I just give in!” But he is entirely happy with the situation. “I can’t think of anything better than working with those you love.”

The Old Mill and Bakehouse
Trescowthick Farm
St Newlyn East

01637 830958

Falmouth Farmer’s Market is on the Moor on Tuesdays
Truro Farmer’s Market is on Wednesday and Saturdays on Lemon Quay

This is published in the October edition of Cornwall Today

Monday 22 September 2008

A Doggie Gathering

The above picture doesn’t really need any words. But it’s Monday morning and I am trying to work out how to finish a piece on a walk I did last week for the magazine (otherwise known as procrastination).

I don’t know about your neck of the woods but here in Cornwall we had a wonderful weekend. The sun shone and despite a brisk north easterly wind, just seeing the sun is such a tonic – particularly as we had a friend staying.

We had a couple of lovely walks with Moll and on Saturday had a cup of tea at a café which is wonderful for people and dog watching. The dogs – what a mixture – a red setter called Dolly; a fat dachsund, a young black lab, soaked from a recent swim, a bearded collie, a miniature poodle, a springer spaniel and of course, scruffy Moll. We were all sitting outside enjoying the warmth when the dachsund (being one of the smallest) started barking. In a couple of seconds every dog was shouting their heads off – just like the Twilight Barking from 101 Dalmatians.

There was a stunned silence, then all the owners roared with laughter. Nothing like dogs to bond people together.

Friday 19 September 2008

Patrick Gale

Yesterday I went to a Wonderful Words day (run by Cornish libraries) with several poets and authors including Patrick Gale, famous for his most recent novel, Notes From An Exhibition, which was picked up by the Richard & Judy book club earlier this year. His website is here . It’s a fascinating novel about a Cornish artist in Penzance and how she and her family are affected by her manic depression, or bipolar disorder as it’s called now. She is ‘saved’ by her husband who is a staunch Quaker, another fascinating topic. If you haven’t read it – do.

I have to say my concentration was somewhat shattered by a) appalling signeage at Tremough Campus (Falmouth university) which directed us the wrong way to start off with. Having wandered round, lost, for twenty minutes, we finally found the right building and the right room, only to discover that they’d run out of hot water and tea. On the basis that if you want something done, do it yourself, I volunteered to go and get some hot water. I was sent on a wild goose chase but finally found the staff room, boiled up two kettles and tipped them into the thermos and returned only to find that no water would come out of it. It turned out the necessary siphon part was missing so we had to nick it out of another thermos.

So you can see that wasted another twenty minutes and I wasn’t my most suave and sophisticated by this time – just gasping for a cuppa. And then I looked round the room and – well. His photographs don’t do him justice. He is stunning. Tall and slim, wearing a cream linen jacket, mauve and white striped shirt (believe me, it suited him wonderfully) and navy blue trousers. But it was his dark eyes that drew me, and dark eyelashes, plus when he smiled, which was often, his eyes crinkled up and he revealed white, even teeth.

In case any of you are getting the wrong idea, I would like to say that I know he lives with his ‘hubby’, Aidan, on a farm near Land’s End. I know, but I can look – and drool – and I did. When not reminding myself that I was a journalist and therefore sort of on duty.

So I sat and listened and watched (nice hands too) and he talks very well – funny, bursting with intelligence, fascinating about Quakers and their way of life. And all the questions he was asked about how he writes, his thought processes, what he does when he’s stuck – I sat there thinking, ‘I do that. Oh, and I do that too.’ Which was kind of heartening and not. The not bit being that while I am delighted at his success (and it’s taken him 10 novels to start actually making money at it), the other part of me is thinking, ‘I want to be there. I want to be published. Now!’ (And no I havent heard back from that agent yet.)

Anyway it was a fascinating morning and he signed one of this books and – the best bit - he’s agreed to give me an interview next year when his next novel comes out. I can’t wait….