Monday 30 March 2009

Greg's Lot - Cusgarne Organic Farm

This is in April's edition of Cornwall Today -

Reconnecting people with food at Cusgarne Organic Farm

“Organic oranges and positive thinking!” is Greg Pascoe's attitude towards beating flu. Greg owns Cusgarne Organic Farm and is passionate about good, fresh food since he switched from conventional farming to organic production 20 years ago.
Greg explains his reasons; “If you drank a normal helping of agri-chemicals, wouldn't it harm you? So - at what point would you add vegetables to this dressing to make it safe?'

Greg's family moved to Cusgarne, a sheltered valley near Truro, around 1800 and still own the original holding. Greg was converting a barn into his current home when he met his wife Teresa in 1986. “We married the following year and had to build an extension because the babies arrived with unerring regularity,” he says cheerfully.

Switching to organic production was “a very big risk. We were growing produce without chemical protection and had to wait for two years to become fully organic,” Greg says. “We had a young family and very little income for about 5 years. It was hard going.”

In order to survive they started the hamper scheme which Teresa delivered “with two babies strapped in the front of the car.” Gradually they increased production from 30 hampers in the first year, up to about 180 now. Greg grins: “Every time there was a food scare the phone would ring - we were the only ones doing a box scheme then.”
They have now expanded and built a new pack house and farm store. “The pillars are greenheart (wood) from Falmouth docks, the windows are red cedar from a wreck off Whitsand Bay, and we've got terracotta tiles on the floor,” Greg says proudly. Inside are wooden tables with boxes of vegetables and all kinds of salad, freezers with meat and broad bean pate and a chest full of home made chutneys and fudge.
“People can visit the farm store and make up their own vegetable boxes here or order by phone or online,” he explains. “These can include beef, our own organic chicken, vegetables, salad, free range eggs and chutneys. I can cut the salad for them while they wait or sometimes they'll pick their own.”

The vegetables are “at a price I think is fair,” ensuring that they are usually below supermarket costs. “We started with limited produce but now we grow salads, new potatoes, strawberries, onions, carrots, cucumber, peppers – we've tried everything!” He places a small red knobbly tuber on the table. “This is a Peruvian vegetable called Oca which tastes like a like lemony potato – boiled and served with butter and black pepper they're delicious.”

Greg believes that their selling point is dealing direct with their customers. He sends out a regular newsletter and ensures that buying from Cusgarne is a relaxed business where everyone is made welcome. Even their huge black cat settles on my lap, purring loudly for the duration of the interview.

At this point an elderly couple shuffle in, and are greeted with courteous respect, like old friends. They'd like some beef, so Greg tells them what's available. “Topside, silverside, rump, fillet, sirloin, beefburgers, our own mince.” He pulls a packet from the freezer. “Our beefburgers and meatballs are made with rice flakes and our own vegetables, so they're gluten free.”

Greg waits patiently while they finish their shopping then places the goods in a small wooden box. “I'll carry that to your car for you,” he says, and escorts them to the car.

This personal approach has won him clients such as the Tresanton hotel, the Old Quay House in Fowey, the Housel Bay Hotel and Lord Falmouth. Italian kale and Jerusalem artichokes are very popular, as is Cusgarne's Angus beef. “We take our meat to a local abattoir only 2 miles away which has an organic licence and they hang the meat for 2-3 weeks or 4 weeks for Lord Falmouth's fillet,” says Greg. “He says our fillet steak is the best he's ever had!”

During the summer months, Greg needs help hoeing and weeding and found that getting help locally was very difficult. So he became involved in World wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.

“Everyone mucks in – we share cooking and eat together,” Greg explains. They've had students from Korea, France, Germany, New Zealand and Japan which causes great amusement in the local pub. “Our landlord calls them Greg's Lot!” he grins. “We learn something from everyone.” But Greg would love some permanent help. “I could do with finding someone who's committed to what we're doing to allow me some more free time,” he says.

Another of Greg's strengths is adaptability, and he remains positive, even in a recession. “I believe it's important to keep changing and providing what people want. Our trade is holding up at the moment, and because we're not expensive, some people might save money.”

Of more concern is the fact that farming is a dying industry, in part due to to the supermarkets' monopoly on selling food. Greg explains: “The way I see it, most people are stuck in a situation where they don't care about the countryside or where their food comes from; they don't care that they're supporting supermarkets who are helping the destruction of a way of life. These people are also paying quite a lot for that privilege.

“In my own small way I try to change things by providing an alternative to what one of my customers calls “stupermarkets” and offering something unique. We reduce food miles, and we can show people round the farm so they can see where the food comes from. We can reconnect people with their food.”

Greg & Teresa Pascoe
Cusgarne Wollas, Cusgarne, Truro TR4 8RL - 01872 865922.
Opening hours:
Tuesday and Saturday 1-5pm
Wed – Friday 10am-5pm
Or ring to arrange a more convenient time

Thursday 26 March 2009

Henry, Don't Do That - or how to train your Dog

Dearly though I love Himself, when it comes to dog training, his idea of discipline differs from mine. Admittedly I was the one that took Mollie to puppy class, then to obedience training – though he did come along to the latter.

The obedience classes were as much for us as for Molls, and we both emerged with a better idea of what we should and should not do. However, four years on, I notice that Standards are Slipping.

Himself's idea of admonishing his dog is to look down, when she's eating something she shouldn't, and say vaguely, “Don't do that, darling,” in much the same tone as he would address me. Come to think of it, in EXACTLY the same tone.

If she misbehaves by bounding up to greet people rather over effusively and barking he growls at her (thereby exciting her all the more) or says, “Do something with your dog!”

The highlight of his discipline came last weekend when we were staying with my mum. We were sitting in the garden reading the paper (in blissful sun) when Mollie came up with her brand new ball (thanks, Mum, best present ever).

Himself looked down at Mollie and evidently thought he'd show that he was In Charge. “Drop it,” he said sternly.

Mollie took no notice and carried on wrestling with the toy.

“Mollie, leave it!”

Again, nothing. Not even an ear twitch.

“Mollie? I said DROP IT!”

Mollie looked up, smirked, and continued playing.

Himself sighed heavily, “Oh, please yourself, then,” he said.

So you can see why most dog trainers are women....

Monday 23 March 2009

Coombe Creek

Next walk - in May issue of Cornwall Today

A gentle walk round Coombe and Cowlands Creeks,
home of the famous Kea Plums

A friend of mine had breast cancer several years ago, and used to have radiotherapy at Treliske. On the way home, she would walk her dogs at Coombe, “because it was such a contrast to the hospital”. She took me with her one day, after she'd received her all clear for cancer, so this walk is a celebration of life.

On this grey and wintry afternoon, I arranged to meet my friend Viv and her dog in defiance of the weather forecast which threatened gale force winds and lashing rain. However, my dog Mollie was longing to meet her toyboy, Titch, and nothing would stop that.

Taking the A39 Truro to Falmouth road, we turned off at Playing Place for the King Harry Ferry turning. This passes through Penelewey and just past the Punchbowl and Ladle pub is a turning on signposted to Coombe. We continued along this road, through Porthkea and turned sharp right down to Coombe.

After the second cattle grid, we parked in a layby on the left, then walked down to the creek. In the past the main industries of this area were plum growing, oyster dredging, resin for the leather industry (obtained from 'barking' oak trees), and the production of mineral ore. Today it is quiet; even the cottage selling cream teas has shut, and the creek retains its air of magical secrecy.

It was approaching low tide on the day of our walk, and thick mud banks lay like sleeping elephants. A few gulls shrieked at us before flying off, while a group of mallards bathed and quacked at Mollie and Titch, who tore past in mindless glee. We walked past several old boat hulls and noticed two wooden benches, positioned to give a perfect view up the creek.

The path grew narrower here and led us past a settlement on the opposite bank with a run down quay, several moored vessels like ghost ships, and a home made red flag. The inhabitant is a recluse who does not welcome visitors, so we've always respected his privacy.

Overhanging oak trees with roots rubbed bare by years of erosion accompanied us along the rest of the path until we reached the foreshore where we turned right by a yellow arrow marking the footpath called a way mark, up to a cottage that is currently being refurbished. I remember the stall of nick nacks that used to be outside, constructed on railway sleepers, perched over a running stream. I often stopped there, and it never failed to delight.

Following the way marks through a steep field on our left, we reached a wooden stile that led us into woods where catkins peeped out shyly as we squelched our way down the muddy path, and the dogs careered in and out of the trees, yelping with joy.

Further on we came to a whitewashed cob cottage and a Public Footpath sign pointing to the right towards Cowlands. A brisk wind hit us here as we followed yet another muddy track through woods with holly trees on either side until we reached the road where we turned left down to Cowlands, home to the potter, Mary Rich.

Standing at the head of the creek, on our left was an orchard of Kea plums, some of which grow on the foreshore where they are sheltered from the south-westerly winds. Kea plums are exclusive to this area and used to provide an important income to the villagers, though the season is only two weeks between late August and early September. Kea plums are the size of damsons and too sharp to eat fresh, but make the most fabulous jam. More recently, Cornish producers have diversified into making ice cream, cider, wine and even chocolates from these little fruits. The name is taken from the Irish Saint Kea who, after floating from Ireland on a granite boulder, is supposed to have landed where old Kea church stood.

On the other side of Cowlands Creek was a huge fake thatched Georgian house that has been the cause of endless controversy in the area. A Public Footpath sign led us round the back of the house, into woods with a fast flowing stream. Some of the trees were covered in a brilliant emerald green lichen, and further on we found an old quarry where the stone was covered in dense ferns and ivy that tumbled to the ground like dreadlocks.

This path led into a steep field with a live fence on our left. At the end of this field was a wooden stile with steep steps the other side that landed us in a pool of mud. We took the right hand turning, where a red arrow led us down a steep tarmac path like a drover's lane, with steep walls covered in ferns. This path dipped down and we began to climb up again when I heard, “Oh, NO!,” to my left. I hurried back, to find Viv pointing at Titch. “Look!” she cried.

Titch was bounding towards us, a huge rabbit in his mouth.

“Drop it!” cried Viv, ever the optimist.

At this point Mollie appeared and Titch looked up, evidently decided that a mud spattered girlfriend was much more interesting and dropped the rabbit. The bunny seemed none the worse for wear, and loped off in one direction while we loped off in another, weak kneed with relief. Trying to wrench a rabbit from a terrier's jaws was not to be relished.

The wind intensified as we continued along the lane, and overhead a kestrel hovered, searching for prey. As we looked back down the lush valley, there was a break in the clouds and we saw a field spattered with wild daffodils that lifted our spirits and banished the winter greyness.

Walking past a farm we turned right at the top of a muddy lane and looked through a gate towards several huge ships laid up the Truro river – an uncomfortable reminder of the recession. Swiftly dismissing reality, we continued down the lane until we came to a Public Footpath sign on our left, leading into woods. At this point my memory of the route became a little hazy. Would she trust me?

“No!” came the resounding reply. “But let's go anyway.”

Reassured by a comforting way mark, we crashed through woods reminiscent of a children's story: an air of magic and mystery with dense trees and rustling leaves underfoot. Sliding down a steep gully, we arrived back at the foreshore, by the whitewashed cottage in the woods, and continued back the way we had come.

Our return trip revealed a cluster of snowdrops perched above a slate wall; a single primrose, and a few violet periwinkles, while further down the creek a single egret stood, silhouetted against the mudbanks and incoming tide. Rooks cried and circled ahead, and as we reached the car, we felt the first heavy drops of rain. I looked back, down the creek, with the fervent hope that nothing would spoil this gentle, precious part of Cornwall.

Map: Explorer 105 Falmouth and Mevagissey, Truro and St Mawes
Length: 3 miles
A few steep hills but otherwise easy going though can be muddy in parts
Approximately 1 ½ hours
Nearest refreshments Punchbowl and Ladle Inn at Penelewey, near Feock
Mary Rich, Potter

Thursday 19 March 2009

Cancer awareness and Peeing

March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month – though I've seen very little in the media about this. According to the Prostate Cancer Charity, 70% of men don't know where the prostate is, let alone what it does. Prostate cancer affects almost as many men as breast cancer affects women. There are 35,000 men diagnosed every year with prostate cancer compared to 44,000 women with breast cancer. 10,000 men die of prostate cancer every year compared with just over 12,000 women that die of breast cancer each year.

Now that's cheered you all up, think of the warning signals. Basically this is men having trouble peeing. This doesn't mean they have cancer – it tends to happen with age – but it's always worth trying to get them to go and see their GP (I find threatening divorce usually works).

Treatment is varied but often is hormone therapy (taken via tablet form) which is usually very successful. There are side effects, one of which can be inability to get an erection. Depending on age, this might not matter, but for younger men (and/or their wives) this can be very upsetting.

Still, if this does happen, there are instances (dependent on the medical background of the man) where a Viagra type drug can be supplied. Always ask your GP or specialist nurse.

So the motto of this is that every cloud has a silver lining. In other words, yes, it is possible to get Viagra on the NHS!

Monday 16 March 2009

Interviews and Insecurities

Trust me to tempt fate. Just when I thought I could get stuck into the novel, along comes an interview that will need a lot of preparation. I'm interviewing Patrick Gale, prior to the publication of his latest novel, The Whole Day Through.

As with any interview, I am concerned that I prepare well, which means trawling through old interviews, learning about his background, thinking up new questions, and reading his new novel. I'm currently cross eyed from staring at the computer screen and my brain's reached saturation point.

Before any interview, I am always nervous. Rather like stage fright. Another journalist friend thinks this is a good thing. “It keeps you focused and means you don't get complacent,” she said. “It means you end up doing a good interview.” (I can only hope.) In fact, preparation is the key to a good interview. Compiling the right questions.

But my nerves usually filter into a bad case of sudden insecurity - can I do this person justice? Will he/she – and I – be pleased with the end result? Will my editor be pleased?

There's also the matter of the recession which has hit the main magazine I work for. Redundancies have been made, cuts implemented and many rumours flying around. Obviously as a freelancer I can't be made redundant, but the threat of No Work is always there.

Having said all that, would I swap jobs? Go back to working in an office, or juggling bureaucracy? Would I hell....

Friday 13 March 2009

Silver Linings and Kindred Spirits

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.
E.E. Cummings, poet (1894-1962)

For the first time in ages I've been able to get back to writing my novel. It's been a strange start to the year, not helped by weeks and weeks of utter exhaustion following my gum infection and having a tooth out. Then I lost two close friends.

For someone who has always had boundless energy, not having any at all is a very spooky experience. Suddenly walking Mollie in the morning was a major undertaking. I had to drag myself up and down the beach for 20 minutes, each step feeling as if I was trying to finish the marathon. And at the end of it I had to go home and collapse.

I saw my GP in the end who smiled when I told him what had happened and said, “No wonder you're tired. You've had the equivalent of being hit by a building. But do a little exercise, or you'll seize up. But do 50% of what you normally do. Don't push yourself.”

So I'm learning to listen to my body. I've had to, so I constantly check myself. Am I getting tired? OK, sit down. Relax. And then this novel idea – I could enjoy myself! Read (if I could stay awake long enough), watch TV. Do normal things that usually I'm too hyper to enjoy.

And you know what? Not only have I read more than I have for months, but I've realised that the time I have had to work has been incredibly productive. I've written more articles in the past few weeks than I ever had. True, I haven't had any time to write either of my books, but you can't do everything, and I realised that it doesn't matter. Without your health you're nothing.

It's also made me appreciate my husband a lot more. Made me stop and enjoy things that I'm normally too busy to take note of. A silent hug. A shared giggle. A robin singing in the garden. A woodpecker hard at work on the trunk of a tree, his red and green colours mesmerising in the morning gloom. Mollie's intent joy digging a hole on the beach.

And finally, I'm getting some energy back. Not much, but every day brings a tiny improvement, like the first signs of spring. And as if to reward me for my unaccustomed patience, I've even met a kindred spirit – as Anne of Green Gables would say. And we all know how important kindred spirits are....

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Pushing Them On

We have a problem. It is self induced, but nevertheless disturbing our sleep. It concerns Buster, who is a bully. He is also spoilt (NOT by me) and very greedy. Guess who's the culprit?

The problem is that for some time now he has decided his breakfast time is any time from 5.30am – well, when it pleases him really. Matters are not helped by the fact that yesterday Himself decided to give them their tea at 2pm. Even by my maths, that is a long time until breakfast. But I digress.

When he decides it's time for grub, Bussie jumps on the bed, strides past me, purring purposefully, and waits to see if he gets a reaction. He doesn't, usually, or not a favourable one, so he then stomps over to Himself, and circles the pillow like a looming hangover.

Himself grunts, and turns over. Grunts some more and Bussie waits, with an imperturbable expression. He then crouches by Himself and prods his nose with a paw. If this still doesn't get the desired result, he extends a claw, and rakes the end of Himself's nose.

By now Mollie has woken up and is squeaking with excitement at the idea of BREAKFAST, egging Bussie on.

By this time one of us has usually given in, and stumbled out of bed to go to the kitchen.

Some time ago we decided this was ridiculous and we had to Push Them On, as Himself says. Somehow it all slipped back, so on Saturday I decided Enough was Enough. So we've had three mornings of lying there, crouching under the duvet while Bussie stanks up and down the bed. (Stanking is a Cornish expression. Quite descriptive I think.)

So far we haven't given in, and I am determined not to. Whether Himself will last the course is another matter.

Friday 6 March 2009

Daymer Bay

In March edition of Cornwall Today - if you can get hold of a copy, RT's pictures are wonderful.

A walk in Betjeman country taking in “one of the best beaches in the world”!

My summer holidays as a child were always spent in Polzeath, round the corner from Daymer Bay, so this area of North Cornwall has special memories for me. Hours spent surfing (bellyboards in my day) before tucking hungrily into steaming pasties. Lying in bed feeling full of salty air, while the Atlantic rollers rumbled comfortingly outside our window.

Fast forward to the present day, and my husband, Mollie dog and I arrived in Wadebridge on a dull Sunday morning, and took the B3314 signposted to Rock and Polzeath. Several miles on we turned left to Rock and Pityme, and just past the Pityme Inn was a small turning on the right to Polzeath. We took this road and after about a mile saw a dusty sign on the left for Daymer Bay. This lane is steep and narrow and leads down to a public car park at Daymer Bay where the shop was shut but the public toilets were open.

Leaving husband behind, Mollie and I walked back up the lane a few yards and turned right, down a private road signposted Footpath to St Enodoc Church. There are large houses on either side, one of which was owned by John Betjeman, who spent many happy times here. Today we passed several cheery dog walkers and emerged onto the windswept golf course of St Enodoc.

I'd been assured that the path was easy to follow - “just follow the white painted stones”. I didn't see many white stones, but stayed on the path and came to the tiny church of St Enodoc, the last resting place of John Betjeman, and also of Fleur Lombard, the first female firefighter to die on duty in peacetime Britain.
The tiny Norman church, with its wonderfully crooked spire, was buried in the sand dunes for many years and the vicar had to be lowered into the church through a skylight to take the annual service. In 1863 the Reverend Hart Smith started to restore this "sinkininny” church and it is still without electricity, but much loved both as a worship place and a shrine for Betjeman followers.

This Sunday the door was beautifully decorated with holly, and a pot of rosemary stood on one side of the entrance; a pot of white heather on the other side. A notice told me that the church was open from 0730 to dusk, so I stepped inside, to be greeted with bouquets of pungent lilies at the door. This tiny church, cradled in a sand dune and surrounded by tamarisk trees, is a peaceful oasis in the desert of modern life.

Back on the golf course, I found more white stones that guided me round the side of the greens, with an overgrown valley and stream to our right; presumably the same stream that Betjeman dammed as a boy while acting as a grudging caddy for his father.

To our left a couple of golfers eyed Mollie suspiciously, but to my relief she behaved herself, and we followed a sign to our left, over a bridge built “in memory of Tom Regis”. As we approached, I noticed a flowering purple hyacinth. A tribute to Tom, perhaps?

From here we followed more white painted stones over the undulating greens, and headed towards the sand dunes. “Over there, love!” cried more golfers, and pointed me in the direction of St Enodoc club house. The skies were heavy with banks of grey cloud, and a lone seagull hovered above us, before moving on.

At this point my husband rang (he's not a walker) to say he was waiting for me in the Rock Inn. Brightening at the thought of a drink half way round, I strode on, reaching a narrow path that brought back childhood memories of sandy walks down to the beach, where we sat and ate Kelly's ice cream, a rich golden treat.
This path led to the golf club car park, and down the hill into Rock, so I rang my husband for directions to the pub. No reply. I turned to the left and found a pub, but the wrong one. I retraced my steps, rang husband again; still no reply. I kept walking – and phoning - and finally saw the Rock Inn on my right.

My husband was sitting upstairs, unaware of an irate wife and his phone ringing in his pocket. Dodging my insults, he bought me a drink and a packet of crisps and wisely kept quiet while I drank in the view. Outside the window the slate green Camel Estuary was sprinkled with empty moorings like hundreds and thousands. Padstow sprawled opposite, with Prideaux Place behind, and the Rock to Padstow passenger ferry trundled back and forth.

Humour restored, Mollie and I walked on to the Quarry car park (more public toilets here if you need them) and walked back along the path that meanders through the sand dunes. If the tide is out, you can walk back along the beach but make sure of tide times: this is a particularly treacherous part of the coast. We stumbled over knotted roots rubbed bare by countless feet, and passed winter hawthorn that looked as if it had been sprayed with golden lichen. A family walked ahead in noisy single file, each wearing a bobble hat of different colours, while on a strip of beach opposite, a lone dog walker chased his dog in and out of the surf.

Over to our left was Harbour Cove and Hawker's Cove and further on, Stepper Point and the lookout station. Doom Bar was clearly visible over the Camel Estuary, with waves rippling on the sandbank. According to legend, this was the curse of a mermaid shot by a sailor: shortly after her death a great storm threw up the sandbank and wrecked many ships in the harbour. Doom Bar has wrecked over 600 ships since records began 200 years ago.

Grateful we weren't at sea, we walked round the headland and below us was the wide expanse of Daymer Bay, freshly washed by the outgoing tide. While Mollie ran headlong along the chamois leather coloured sand, I followed at a more sedate pace, relieved that the bay hadn't changed since my childhood. No wonder the Sunday Times featured this as one of the six best beaches in the world: it's perfect for small children playing on the beach but equally good for surfing and water sports. As Betjeman recalled in “Summoned by Bells”, I remembered the summer warmth of rock pools, the fine sand between my toes and that giddy sense of holiday freedom.

OS Explorer Map 106 Newquay and Padstow
Walk: 3 miles
Length: 1 ½ – 2 hours
Grade: easy walking but can be steep over the sand dunes
Car park and public toilets at Daymer Bay and Quarry car park, Rock
Refreshments: Cafe at Daymer Bay summer only; cafe and pubs at Rock
Passenger ferry from Rock to Padstow below the Rock Inn, near Quarry car park
John Betjeman spent much of his holidays at Daymer Bay and is buried at St Enodoc Church
Golf courses at St Enodoc and Roserrow
Wheelchair access to coastal path at Daymer Bay
Excellent water sports from both beaches
Camel Estuary is a haven for birds and wildlife
The Camel Trail winds from Padstow through Wadebridge and on towards Bodmin for 17 miles.

Monday 2 March 2009

Polly Joke

Polly Joke 4

The above picture is RT's - see Cornish Dreamer
when we went to Polly Joke last week to do a walk for the magazine. The weather was just perfect, so much so that you could almost imagine it was spring....

I just love this quote, courtesy of Shelagh:-

Our heads are round so that thoughts can change direction.
Francis Picabia, painter and poet (1879-1953)

Today is a beautiful morning and the day of saying goodbye to both my friends.
They both deserve a good send off so it's good to see some sunshine to mark the event.

Yesterday we took some friends and their dog, Lily, up to Polly Joke for the second part of my birthday celebrations, as it's one of my favourite places ever and Molls and Lily are good buddies. RT and Himself and I went up there about 10 days ago to do a walk for the magazine, and she's sending me a picture which I will upload when I get it.

Yesterday we were blessed with sunshine and a fairly keen north westerly wind that cut through the warmth but gave us that wonderfully windblown feeling. Our friends had never been to Polly Joke before, and enjoyed it nearly as much as the dogs did which is saying something. It's a real treasure of a place, and sitting in the pub later, looking out at the fabulous view, we could see the spray crashing off Chick Island, the long waves rolling up the Gannel Estuary and I hugged myself.

Sitting with good friends, looking out on the most beautiful place in the world, our dogs with us as well. What more could I wish for?