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