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….

Monday 15 September 2008

The End of a Love Affair

On Saturday Falmouth had the Parade of Sail for the Tall Ships that have been moored up in the harbour since Wednesday.

We took a grockle boat out to see them though unfortunately couldn’t go ashore and peek at them as they were preparing to set sail later. We had an entertaining Guided Talk by the owner of the boat who told us that the hideous green house over at Flushing opposite is Piers Brosnan – can’t say much for his taste in houses. We did look out for him but expect he was viewing the Tall Ships from the deck of a gin palace somewhere. Himself has decided to write to Piers to tell him what he thinks of the colour of his house….

After that we wandered through town which had a fabulous atmosphere – very holidayish and happy – and had an Italian ice cream from the parlour bit of the new(ish) Pizza Express down by the maritime museum. We were down there so that Himself could have a look at more boats, including two racing boats. Later on we wandered back to Gas Works car park which had been cleared so that a huge marquee of Cornish produce was on offer plus loads of different eateries. We were able to watch the Tall Ships leave the harbour and head out into the bay for the Parade of Sail and it was a very moving spectacle.

At the end of it all, Himself said, “you know Pop, going out on the water this morning made me realise how much I miss it.”

My heart fell. I had a certain sense of déjà vu.

“There’s nothing for it. We’re going to have to get a boat of some kind. I think I should be able to pick up a hull for next to nothing and customise it.” He gave a guilty grin and said, “You see, Pop, I do miss them so much.”

“I know,” I said. “Boats are in your blood.” Meaning – he’s fallen in love with boats again. I thought how pleased I’d been when he was keen on jazz again. (A significantly cheaper hobby than boats.) His love affair with jazz has abated now as he’s too much of a perfectionist and isn’t able to play as well as he thinks he should. So he’s discouraged and has fallen in love with boats again.

I looked at him and smiled to myself. Some things never change. I can see from now on he'll be scouring the boatyards for an old wreck which he will get for nothing and do up. I wonder what sort of boat we’ll end up with next year?

Thursday 11 September 2008

An Unconventional Wedding

The average cost of a wedding nowadays is £20,000. But it’s possible to get married for a fraction of that and be spared all that pre-wedding hysteria.

Pip was 56 and I was 38 when we met, and by some quirk of fate, neither of us had previously been married nor had children. It didn’t take me long to realise that I had finally met the man I wanted spend the rest of my life with – and he seemed to feel the same – so I felt the situation should be honoured. Made official. Unfortunately Pip saw no reason to get married and ignored my increasingly less than subtle hints. Or so I thought.

We’d been living together for three years when we decided to go to Gibraltar for an early holiday in the sun. We had been restoring his boat White Heather for several years and felt we both deserved a rest. Several weeks before our holiday, Pip took me down to the empty shell of our boat and we climbed inside to view progress. In amongst the oily bilges, he went down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I burst into tears, said yes, and any progress on the boat was halted that day. We went to the pub instead.

When we sobered up, we discovered the problem was not who to invite, but who not to. Did we invite all the family, and all our friends? Where do you draw the line between guests and non-guests? We didn’t want a church wedding, but a quiet, simple affair. But where? Our friends and family are scattered around Britain, America, Australia and New Zealand and Cornwall is a long way from everyone.

As the list reached 150, Pip grabbed the holiday brochure. “Look,” he said. “You can get married in Gibraltar. Let’s do that!”

Delighted, I agreed. After all, I had left the brochure open at that page for some weeks now. Tying the knot in Gibraltar would only cost an extra £150 and would mean that someone else could deal with all the planning, administration and general migraine that accompanies most weddings.

The first thing was to find a dress. I couldn’t see anything I liked in the shops, so found a dressmaker in Falmouth and drew what I wanted on the back of an envelope. She sent me to a discount store for some material and a zip and my entire dress cost me £15.

Next came the problem of keeping it quiet. We had intended to marry in secret and tell everyone when we came back. But one of my brothers rang up. “My wife thinks you’re getting married in Gibraltar,” he said, which rather spoilt things. Lying convincingly is not a talent of mine.

Then my mother phoned. “You wouldn’t get married without telling me, would you?” came a quavery voice.

I clutched the phone wondering desperately what to say - I was damned either way. Shaking with guilt, I put down the phone and said to Pip, “It’s no good. We have to tell the family.”

When the news came out, there was outrage from young nephews and nieces who all wanted to participate in the wedding. Thankfully, my mother’s 70th birthday party coincided with our departure date, so we were able to have a non-wedding/birthday party with the family before we went.

We arrived in Gibraltar late in the day. The evening was warm and comfortingly dark, and the next morning we woke to clear blue skies and a temperature of 24 degrees C. For early May this was bliss.

Our travel representative met us in reception. Dennis was a courteous and efficient Gibraltarian who couldn’t have been more helpful. When he asked about flowers for the wedding, I smiled, remembering my childhood dream. “I’ve always wanted a bouquet of honeysuckle,” I said whimsically.

Unfortunately even Dennis couldn’t find honeysuckle, but he organised a photographer instead. My beloved blanched a little when Dennis asked us to meet him outside Mothercare the following day, but it turned out to be in a good cause. We were to meet a Commissioner of Oaths and swear an affidavit.

The day itself was wonderful. Dennis had booked us a taxi that took us to the registry office, an elegant old building with a big garden where our wedding photographs were taken. As we walked into the garden, I saw, to my delight, honeysuckle entwined round the iron railings. The photographer and registry clerk looked horrified as I ransacked their honeysuckle bushes and added handfuls of the strongly scented flowers to my bouquet. But a bride’s a bride, and this one had her wish.

The service was solemn and simple. Beside me, my intended paled in his new woollen jacket, and sweat poured off his brow, but he insisted later that this was nothing to do with forthcoming responsibilities. It was the heat. Dennis and the photographer acted as witnesses, I wasn’t arrested for attacking the honeysuckle, and we walked back to our hotel as man and wife.

The total cost of our wedding? £298. And I couldn’t have had a better day.

A shorter version of this is published in Brides in Cornwall Autumn 2008

Monday 8 September 2008


Thank you all for your kind wishes. The checkup was clear and I don’t have to have another one for five years which is a tremendous relief.

The worst part really was not being able to eat for a day and a half, and then when I could, my stomach was all confused and didn’t know what to do! Sleep pattern’s been disrupted – which for me is the first thing to go – which is a real nuisance – just when I thought I was getting over that particular hiccup. And I was utterly exhausted the next day, though they did warn about that. All in all I feel as if I’ve been through an upheaval, but I guess I have – mentally and physically – and it will take time for it to settle.

But the main thing is that my news is good, so I can move on and put it behind me – as they say in the trade.

And yesterday the sun shone, I had more energy and we had to drop off some jewellery Himself had made to a craft fair at Trelissick, the National Trust house outside Truro. I bought a pair of earrings there, then we went and had a coffee and took Moll for a gentle walk. She’s back on steroids for her itching poor girl so isn’t at her best but is as cheerful as she can be.

As a postscript – here is something I saw written in the pub the other night.

To be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what you do have.


Ah such wise words…

Thursday 4 September 2008

Colonoscopies and inspiration

A quick post as I shall be out of action for the next few days owing to my colonoscopy on Friday. When I rang to ask for an appointment in Truro I was told that I should have had a test two YEARS ago but Treliske’s waiting list goes on forever and that’s why I’d been given an appointment for Penzance.

I was given another appointment for two weeks time but didn’t sleep on Monday for worrying about it, so I rang them up on Tuesday morning and the lady very kindly said she had a cancellation for Friday morning and would I like that. Reasoning that I’d rather get it over and done with I said yes.

So today (Thursday) is spent taking laxatives, rushing to the loo and drinking lots of fluids. No food and I am starving and trying not to think about the fact that I can’t eat till Friday afternoon.

Anyway, at least by tomorrow lunchtime it will be over and done with all the earlier and I can relax again. In more ways than one.

The good thing about having to undergo things like this is that it makes you realise how good life is. I walked Moll yesterday through the fields at Flushing, watching St Just opposite lit by afternoon sunshine. This walk was made all the more special as I won’t be able to walk for a couple of days. And not being able to eat for a day and a half has made me realise how wonderful it will be to eat and drink again!

On the other news, the agent is reading my novel as I write this. She said she'd get back to me soonest so - well, all I can do is hope and identify the next agent to send it to if she says no. Which I have done.

I spent yesterday morning interviewing a fascinating couple who have set up a company called Treasure Trails. Do have a look – they cover most of the UK and will be online with another 4 counties by Christmas.

The idea behind it is a fun and inexpensive (£5 per trail) way of encouraging people to get out and about, working together to solve a mystery, exploring and appreciating their surroundings. So next time your family proclaim they’re bored, pick a Treasure Trail, or a Murder Mystery, or a Spy trail and have fun with all the family.

As they say, you always find more than you’re looking for. Value for money, a fun way to learn about your local area, history, quirky things or fascinating things. Clues that 6 year olds can pick up and others that their parents and grandparents can work out. It’s all carefully thought out.

Meeting this couple, it is impossible not to be swept up by their vibrant enthusiasm, their boundless energy and ideas which burst forth at every opportunity. That and the fact that they met aged 16 at school and have been together ever since.

It was a really inspiring morning and I came away glowing.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Monday 1 September 2008

A Nervous Morning

This morning I am feeling queasy, for two reasons.

The first is that I haven’t heard back from the agent that asked to see the whole manuscript of the last novel. They did say could they have it for six weeks and that six weeks is up. So I must ring them. Today. But knowing what it’s like getting into the office on a Monday morning, I am leaving it till later. Till they’ve got through the urgent stuff. And then I will pick up the phone and ask very nicely if they got my email of last week and whether they have had time to come to a decision.

I should say that I know they will say no to the novel. If they were going to say yes they would have done so by now. (But of course while I don’t know, there’s always that small flicker of hope.)

But I have a plan. I have several alterations that I think will make the novel stronger and then I will send it off to the next agent on my list. That is my plan.

The other thing is of an altogether different nature. My next colonoscopy appointment came through the post on Saturday. I have to have these checkups every 5 years as there is a history of bowel cancer in my family. I won’t go into details but basically it means taking very strong laxatives for a day, no food for a day and a half and then having the test – which is the least of it really.

Not pleasant but necessary. Anyway, the appointment came through, not only for next week but for next Saturday. And then I realised it was in Penzance, which is distinctly inconvenient for Falmouth. So I rang and left a message to say could I have an appointment in Truro please. This will probably just mean waiting longer for an appointment, but at least it will put it off for a little longer.

So you can see why my guts are churning this morning. Have a good week everyone. I’m off to lose myself in my novel and go over questions for an interview on Tuesday. If in doubt, escape to work!

Fingers crossed on all counts.

PS. Just got an email from the agent. Can't find my manuscript, can I send it by email. Phew......