Wednesday 30 September 2009

Many thanks to Debs who kindly passed this "Your Blog is Fabulous!" Award which stands for: Integrity. Commitment to Excellence. Stubbornly Optimistic.

List five current obsessions:

Well – I'm scratching my head here because I'm trying to send everything to my editor before I go away tomorrow, remember to pack what I need for the funeral in Devon on Friday, and also thinking about what we'll need to take with us when we go on holiday on Saturday. Oh, and because I'll be doing a couple of interviews while we're away, I need to take notebooks, walk books and tape recorder. Plus list of questions for interviewees, spare batteries for recorder – all that sort of stuff.

So these obsessions might be a little distracted. Please help yourself to this award and meme - you deserve it!

In no particular order -

1.Writing. Thinking about writing or writing does, I realise, take up a lot of my life. Not that I'm complaining, but it does. I need it in order to breathe, to function. When I'm upset or confused I write something down to make sense of it. When I'm happy I write about it. In fact, here I am now rabbiting on about it. So yes, that is definitely an obsession.

2.My family and friends – my immediate family is Himself, Bussie the cat and Mollie the dog. I love them more than I can say. And I know you're not supposed to let dogs sleep on your bed, but I do sleep so much better with that hot little body squashed against mine..... As for my friends - where would I be without you all? Thanks for everything. Darn – this is sounding more and more like an Oscar acceptance speech.

3.Cruelty to animals – don't get me started....... just light the touch paper and STAND BACK!!

4.Himself would tell you about my over-sensitivity (frequently concerning how other people are feeling) which causes a lot of agonising. I'm currently thinking of a poor friend who has just borrowed my cat box to take her cat to the vet for The Last Trip.....

5.Walks – I spend a lot of time walking with Molls. As from 1st October the dog ban is lifted so we can go on the beaches – hooray! They are always a good place to think and explore thoughts. I have learnt a lot about friends on walks – it's a good way to share concerns and sort the world out.

6.Enjoyment. I am a firm believer in enjoying the small things of life, not the expensive ones (can't afford those). A good book, flowers on my desk, a nice bottle of wine, a piece of home made flapjack, a weepy movie, sitting in the sun with Molls.

See? Life can be fun on very little money! (Just realised that's six but never mind - you have one for luck.)

I will be back in a couple of weeks – have a good time everyone. It's bound to rain now I've mentioned the H word....

Friday 25 September 2009


In October's issue of Cornwall Today -


I've always been attracted by fencing for its skill, elegance and drama, so when I had the chance to try it out, I jumped at it. Arriving at Truro Fencing Club I was greeted by Maxine McCombie, a diminutive figure bouncing with fitness, who started fencing 6 years ago at the age of 23. She is a TFC club coach and ranked 10th in the nation in the Sabre category. “Fencing attracts many women - it's good for improving general fitness, co-ordination and agility,” she explained.

Jon Salfield, Head Coach, joined us as we watched the Performance Programme in training. “We have 7 people training towards the 2012 Olympics and aim to offer the most comprehensive sabre training available in the UK,” he said. This gives athletes the tools to achieve world-class results, and build a pathway for future generations of international fencers. “Truro Fencing Club have already achieved great successes and hope to build on these.”
But TFC are also a very inclusive and friendly club, keen to encourage fencers of all ages and abilities. Even crocks like me!

Jon explained, “Sabre fencing is such a dynamic sport. You only have a knife edge of time in which to hit the other person so you have to be so focused. You need to concentrate 110% of the time.”

I wondered if my brain cells were up to it, but after showing me the electronic scoring device, Maxine took me to the far end of the gym to put on the kit. “Fencing is very safe because we use safety equipment which is regularly updated,” she explained, and showed me the pieces of kit that beginners wear. “A chest protector (for women), a plastron, or under-jacket for the sword arm, and a jacket which is worn over the top made of Kevlar based material.” All of this is very lightweight cotton but, apparently, made of the same technology as bullet proof vests!

Next came a white glove like a gauntlet, worn on my sword hand and lastly, but most important of all, a mask made of very strong steel with a bib to protect the neck.

First of all Maxine showed me the salute, which is an integral part of fencing. “As it's a combat sport we acknowledge respect for our opponent.” I had to point my sword down towards the floor then bring it straight out in front, then bring the guard up to my nose and back down. “You salute your opponent before and after your fight and also salute the referee and salute at sword point. It's not a violent sport: you try and outwit your opponent.”

Once kitted up, Maxine explained the three types of sword in fencing. “The sabre is used with a cutting action of what would have been a cavalry sword to hit your opponent, whereas with the other two swords, the foil and epee, you can only use the tip.” We were to use a sabre which is a relatively new competitive sport for women, starting at the Olympics in 2004.

First of all she showed me how to place my thumb and hold the sword up in the air. Next came foot work which is quite specific. “As you're right handed, put your right foot forward and always keep it straight,” said Maxine. “Then your back foot turns out to the side at a right angle giving an L shape, then you bend both knees. That's your en garde position so that when you do your lunge you have a good starting position, and your sword comes out at the front.”

She showed me how to move my front foot forwards, then the back foot, and to move backwards start with the back foot, then the front foot. All footwork is a variation on this step, using different patterns and rhythms depending on how the fight's going.

Next came the lunge; the long attacking action. “Your back foot stays flat on the floor and you push forwards into a long stretch and your front knee is bent over your ankle. To get out of it you push backwards into the en garde position. Well done!” I glowed at the praise, though having done both ballet and yoga was a help.

Just when I thought I was making progress, we moved on to attacking. “In sabre the target area is everywhere above the hip line: arms, chest, head, even the sides and back, apart from the hands,” Maxine told me. First I had to hit her on the head, then the chest with the original cutting edge of the sword, and she showed me how to put up my sword to stop a hit. “The three areas to be hit are the head, chest and flank. So you need three main defense blocks, using your sword to stop your opponent hitting you. This is called a parry.”

A parry signifies the end of an attack, then it's time for the opponent to attack. She showed me another way to stop your opponent which was easy: “Step back, out of the way.”

Having shown me the sword work, I then added the footwork, stepping backwards to avoid Maxine, then lunged to attack her. I wanted to know when you hit each other? “When you move forwards, you have the attack,” said Maxine as our swords clashed – she's a very clear and patient coach.
“As soon as you've made me miss or defended, then it's your attack and I have to defend myself, so priority is given to the attack. You can't just hit.” So that cleared that up.

“You're constantly working with the balance of attacking without getting too close,” explained Maxine. “Basically it's attack, parry and change of rhythm.”

I could see that in fencing concentration is vital, as is timing, footwork and lightning-quick reactions. Maxine nodded. “I love the competitiveness and the activity: it's adrenaline fueled but you have to keep your head working. You compete against yourself to improve and your opponent, so they push you to deliver your best fencing.”

By this time I was on an incredible high and my head was spinning: I'd never realised fencing was so complex. But Jon and Maxine are excellent ambassadors of the sport. Their enthusiasm is so contagious, you really want to have a go. or ring Jon on 07779 130942.

Truro Fencing Club was founded in 1970 and now has over 100 members. It costs £25 per month or £15 for children for 2 practices per week, overseen by 5-6 coaches and includes clothes and equipment. The club meets on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and new members of any standard are welcome.

Fencing can be traced back to the 12th century and was one of the disciplines at the very first Olympics in 1896.

The fastest of all the fencing weapons, and the only one which uses cutting actions as well as point attacks. The sabre is descended from the eighteenth and nineteenth century heavy cavalry sword. The target for sabre is above the waist, and simultaneous hits (within 120 milliseconds) are decided by 'right of attack'. Any contact is a valid hit at sabre, ie. no particular level of pressure is required to score a valid hit.

Heavier than the foil and with a larger guard, the epee is descended from the dueling rapier of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Hits can be scored anywhere on the body and must be made with the point. For a hit to be valid it must be delivered with at least 750 grams of pressure (this is detected by a spring loaded tip which is wired to an electronic scoring box). Simultaneous hits score one point each.
A light weapon, developed from the small-sword of the eighteenth century. Hits are made on the torso with the point, and simultaneous hits are governed by 'right of attack'. This means that the fencer who initiates an attacking movement will score the hit, unless the defender first deflects the opponents blade, or makes it miss. For a hit to be valid it must be delivered with at least 500 grams of pressure (this is detected by a spring loaded tip which is wired to an electronic scoring box).

Flushing Walk


Taking in woods, the coast, ice cream and a bowling green

This is one of my favourite local walks, as there are beautiful woods, wonderful views of the Carrick Roads, all kinds of boats, Falmouth docks and St Just in Roseland. Or if you're my dog, Mollie, it's wonderful for rabbit hunting and swimming.

Flushing was named Nankersey by Dutch engineers from Flushing in Holland who built the three main quays in the village. The grand houses on St Peter's Hill, the road that leads into the village, were owned by captains of the packet ships (mail-boats) that docked in nearby Falmouth.

In the 19th and 20th century, the village's economy mainly relied upon fishing, the two farms (Trefusis and Tregew) and Falmouth Docks. There was also briefly a copper mine on Jericho beach, but this proved to be unworkable commercially.
Flushing is also famous for its carnival week at the end of July and for the excellent Nankersey Choir which performs all over Cornwall. Falmouth Boat Construction Company has built traditional wooden craft since the early 1880s, and during the war years, motor torpedo boats were produced. There is a passenger ferry to and from Flushing Quay to Falmouth's Prince of Wales Pier which acts as a school bus for many children.

One sunny afternoon, my husband, Mollie and I drove from Falmouth on the A39 and at Penryn turned right signposted Flushing 2 miles. Several hundred yards later we turned right again, following signs for Flushing and Mylor Harbour, and at a T junction on the outskirts of Flushing, we turned right and headed down into the village where you can park on Flushing Quay.

Husband was going off to the pub (no surprise there), so Mollie and I retraced our steps past the Seven Stars pub and turned right into Kersey Road, up the hill to a housing estate where we turned up a Public Footpath by a road sign saying Orchard Vale.

This steep path was fringed with bluebells, ragged robin and campion, and led over a stile to a huge field with ploughed rich earth like chocolate fudge. The path ran round the edge of this massive field with clouds leaving magnificent sweeping shadows, and looking up I saw a herd of Friesians silhouetted against the sky like a still life painting. Mollie bounded ahead, like a cross between a rabbit and a sheep, as we clambered over an overgrown stile, across the top of a field of potatoes, and into a private drive. We turned left here, by a cattle grid, to the end of the drive, crossed the road and took a Public Footpath sign to Trelew on our right.

A blaze of buttercups greeted us, a cross sounding pheasant squawked his disapproval, and I saw my first foxglove of the year. At the bottom of the field we turned left into a wood with masses of wild garlic and a Cabbage White alighting on a tired looking bluebell. A stream rippled on our right as we splashed our way down a stony path, but sunshine dappled the trees, cheering our afternoon.

Passing through a five barred gate, we continued along an even muddier path round to the left, over a stream which led to a gateway where we turned right, along a private drive and right again into Church Road. Here an elderly lady greeted a very muddy Mollie with delight and even gave her a back rub, ensuring a friend for life. Regretfully leaving her behind, Mollie and I headed up the hill, where there is a raised pavement useful if you have children and dogs: the road is narrow and there can be a fair amount of traffic. As we walked along, swallows darted in front of us and a blue tit perched on guttering in front of us to have a drink.

The path opens out into a creek and we continued up the hill, round the back of some houses and came to another road. Crossing this, we entered Mylor churchyard through a wrought iron gate, walked down some steps and past a daisy strewn bank to the Ganges memorial, erected in 1872. This lists 53 young cadets, aged 15-17, who died while training for the Royal Navy on HMS Ganges from 1866-1899. The majority died from measles, scarletina and influenza, and 8 were either killed on board or drowned.

St Mylor Church, founded in 450 AD by a Celtic Bishop, is very popular for weddings, and today was beautifully decked with flowers from a previous wedding. Back in the churchyard we passed a blazing scarlet rhododendron that reminded me of flamenco skirts, and emerged into Mylor Harbour.

There are several eateries here but today my husband was sitting outside staring wistfully at the boats in the marina. “There's a lovely day boat down there that would just do us,” he said.
I grunted, made a note to get a lottery ticket, and went to get something to cheer him up. He can never resist a good vanilla ice cream, so we sat in contented silence, licking our ices and listening to the clink of rigging. Up the river a fishing trawler was coming in, gulls screaming overhead, desperate for fish scraps.

Leaving husband behind, Mollie and I wiped the last of the ice cream from our mouths (and whiskers in her case) and walked past Restronguet Sailing Club on our right. Dogs are requested to be on leads here as there is an outside picnic area and Mollie for one is always keen to hoover up other people's tea.

Past the sailing club was a yellow waymark arrow which we followed through a field full of catamarans leading to a stile which led to the first field on the Trefusis Estate. Looking out to the left we could see Restronguet, Loe Beach, a distant Trelissick House with its magnificent porticos and further on St Just in Roseland.

Squelching our way through the mud, we walked through a succession of fields, one of potatoes, the next studded with buttercups, thistles and speedwell. This part of the walk is good for those who like flat walks and up on our right were woods with a thick carpet of bluebells. We were drawn there to inhale the wonderfully deep scented smell, and there in front of us was a small rabbit, gazing raptly ahead. It thumped its back feet, then dived down the nearest rabbit hole, disappearing before Mollie could chase it - to my relief.

The next field was reached by crossing a fast running stream good for thirsty dogs. Around us spring was bursting out everywhere, each tree a remarkably different shade of green, reaching young fingertips to the sky. The last of the blackthorn was turning brown, and at our feet new ferns uncurled like babies' fists.

Looking out, St Mawes Castle came into view, then St Anthony lighthouse; further on was the famous Black Rock marker, then Falmouth castle, the docks and Falmouth itself. The St Mawes Ferry was returning to Falmouth on one of its half hourly journeys, and ahead was the distinctive cream coloured Falmouth Hotel, then further round the observatory, recently sold as a pricey dwelling. We emerged onto the broad green sweep of Trefusis Point and saw Falmouth ahead of us, leading round to the marina and Penryn River.

Walking through a gap in the hedge we arrived at Kiln Beach so Mollie could have a swim (this private beach is dog friendly all year round), but you can continue along the field and into the woods. Either way leads back to Trefusis Road which we walked along until we reached Flushing Bowling Green on our right at the end. Climbing up here we had the most fabulous view over the roofs of Flushing, over to Falmouth and up the Penryn River. We sat for a moment and enjoyed the view, before following the path down the hill and emerging by Flushing School. Here we continued down the road, to emerge by the Seven Stars pub where we found my husband sitting outside enjoying a peaceful pint.

We joined him, reflecting on the fact that though we love Falmouth, Flushing comes a good second best. And it gets the evening sunshine, which Falmouth doesn't. Sitting in the early evening sun with a drink takes some beating. Especially in this country.


OS Explorer 105 Falmouth & Mevagissey
Length: 4 miles
Duration: Approx 2 hours; moderate/easy going, can be very muddy in places
St Mawes Ferry -
Flushing Ferry -
Restronguet Sailing Club -
St Mylor church -
Castaways wine bar – 01326 377710
Mylor Cafe – 01326 373712
Seven Stars, Flushing – 01326 374373

Monday 21 September 2009

Old Friends

Last night my mum rang and I could tell from her voice that it was bad news. It was. My oldest friend – who has lived in Australia for the last 30 years – has just lost her mother. She went into hospital for a routine assessment and then Lin's Dad got a call to say she'd died.

This has upset me more than I could have believed. I hadn't seen Lin's Mum for about 15 years, and Lin and I don't keep in regular contact (her working hours preclude writing letters or emails) and the time difference – essentially when we're up they're in bed – make phone calls difficult. But her family and mine became intertwined from when we were both 4. As we're now both 51, that's quite a long time.

My mum and hers met at the school gates when Mum was shoving a weeping me into the playground, feeling like a monster. Lin's Mum came up to her and said, “This is my third child and I still feel terrible. Shall we go and have a cup of tea?” And from then on we were all good mates.

So I can only imagine how poor Lin is feeling right now. To lose your mum is bad enough. When you're the other side of the world it's so much worse. Trying to organise her several jobs, looking after all the animals while she's gone – whether to bring her son with her – all these things to take into account – as well as trying to get a flight. And the fact that here - “home” - isn't, of course, and hasn't been for so long.

From my point of view, this is also a sharp and painful nudge as to how I will feel when my own dear Mum goes, and none of us like to be reminded of that sort of thing.

I waited till I thought Lin would be back from work to ring her. For some reason I was extremely nervous – wanting to say the right thing. I dialled, fingers shaking, and listened while the phone rang and rang on the opposite side of the world. I could imagine her coming in, running to grab it – but the answerphone clicked in and that oh so familiar voice apologised for being out and told me to leave a message.

I got as far as, “I've just heard about your mum and I'm so so sorry,” and that was it. Tears welled up and clogged my throat so I could hardly speak. I left a strangled message, put down the phone and wept for her, for her poor dad, for the rest of the family – and for my inability to say the right thing.

But at least she knows that I'm here and that I'll be at the funeral – and that I really do care.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Nowt so queer as folk..

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post except that I liked it.

I had a drink with a friend last week who was telling me about a friendship she'd had years ago that still bothered her.

“I met this woman at work and felt an instant connection,” she told me. “We were both with younger men; we'd both had been married twice before; we both had cats, and shared likes and dislikes in music, books, films, food – that sort of thing. We both had troublesome mothers and older brothers.”

My friend, Jane, had plenty of friends but felt that this woman was a bit different – almost like a twin. “She just made me feel really good about life,” she said. “And she told me what a difference I'd made to her life. Meeting someone who's a kindred spirit is really special.”

Then the friend was promoted and everything changed. She had to work very long hours, looked drawn and exhausted. “I knew she was under a lot of pressure, but it was as if she didn't want to talk to me about it either,” said Jane. “I realised that she was struggling and needed time to herselt, so I thought I'd better leave her alone. But part of me felt incredibly rejected. How could such a connection like that just – go?”

Jane's a Personnel Manager so she's used to dealing with other people's problems, but this one really bugged her because she couldn't talk to her friend. “I felt shut out,” she said, “and that really hurt.”

When I asked asked her how things were she shrugged. “Well, we meet up sometimes,” she said. “But when we do it's as if she's found me lacking in something and moved on.”

I pointed out that none of her other friends had ever found her anything but a staunch, loyal friend. So perhaps the fault lay in the friend, not Jane.

And then she got a phone call from the friend to say they were moving to France. Her partner had been offered a job in Paris and they were moving on.

“In a way it was a relief,” said Jane. “It meant I couldn't see her so I could forget about it.”

It seemed sad that such a promising friendship should fizzle out because of lack of communication, particularly given Jane's job. But as the old saying goes, 'there's nowt so queer as folk'.

Friday 11 September 2009


This is Frenchman's Creek, made famous by Daphne du Maurier in her novel of that name. In it, the heroine, Donna, undergoes a huge life change by running away from London to the obscurity of Cornish life and falls in love with a pirate. Which makes the novel sound like a trite whimsical affair - if you read it, it's anything but. This is someone who knows her creeks and tides, knows the way the wind russles in the trees. She knows her boats and her birds, she can write about tension, love, suspense and escapism, and all of this is evident in her writing.

On Monday a group of us got together for a meal, and everyone there is undergoing change. One of us lost her partner in February. She has been struggling through the necessary change in living without him, discovered she has far more friends than she had dreamt of, and has now decided to work for the Samaritans. I take my hat off to her - the training sounds very hard but I think she will be brilliant at it; furthermore, I'm sure she will gain a lot from it.

Another friend is struggling with a part time course, a part time job and trying to paint. You know those days when you feel you're sinking? I think that's how she feels at the moment. Looking at it objectively, she needs to either give something up, organise her time better or get up earlier. Putting it into practise is the bit that requires discipline, as we all know...

My change is continual, but I like having a life where every day is different. This week I've met a wonderful fellow who started collecting vintage gramophones when he retired, and has now had to go back to being self employed, he's so successful. I've struggled with family problems (still unresolved) and tussled with the novel. The novel is the hardest of all - I love doing it but it's so difficult to know if the edits I'm doing are enough. But all writers are insecure and I'm no different from the rest. It's learning to live with the fact that my writing is never good enough - or to look at it another way, it could always be better. That's either depressing or a constant challenge. I prefer to see it as the latter.

Yesterday we did the Frenchmans Creek walk for Cornwall Today magazine on a day of such intense brightness that the sunlight was almost white. These days are the ones I will hold onto in the grey murk of winter (which let's face it isn't that different from the grey murk of summer in the West Country). These days make me so very glad to live here.

My third friend has met a new man, is incredibly stressed at work and is struggling to cope with all that. She knows the work side of things will calm down and being a philosophical person, has accepted that she will go through sleepless periods when she's so stressed she can't think straight, and that very soon she can give it all up. Hooray!

Her new man sounds lovely if shy and so she's suggested a topic of conversation for when they next meet. The fact that she's chosen polygamy is perhaps unfortunate, but that's what the wine and sex diet does for you...

What changes are you going through, and how are you dealing with them?

Thursday 3 September 2009

When the Past collides with the Present...

Last month I was doing some online research when I came across a site connected to my mother's family. There, someone put a request for information about the house that my mother was born and grew up in near Camborne (Cornwall). Being slightly cynical, I emailed him back but found that he was the curator of a well known museum in Penzance. Also that he is well known by several people we know.

Apparently he used to live in this house back in the '60s and is keen to write about the history of the house, which is now a restaurant. Since I stumbled across him, we've exchanged several lengthy emails with fascinating information about the house and glimpses of my mum's past, including a lovely picture of her, aged about 8 or 9, stomping around the garden.

Better still, my mum is coming down this weekend and we are finally going to meet this man so she can answer his many questions – and mine.

What interested me is that my mum never liked the house much. It had a very odd atmosphere, she said, was freezing cold and gave her the spooks as a child. She was sometimes so scared that she'd run down the corridor and jump into bed. Later, when her mother-in-law stayed she came down the next morning and vowed she would never sleep in that room again. (This from a woman who didn't believe in the word 'ghost'.)

Years later, when Jonathan lived there, he had only happy memories. So I shall be interested to hear what else he remembers. Should be a fascinating meeting.

Oh no! He's just emailed to say he's not well so have to postpone the weekend. What a shame!