Wednesday 24 February 2010


The above picture is more what Himself has in mind when you mention the magic word Boat, but unfortunately funds are a little pressed, so we now have the blow up boat which Himself is, this very morning, intending to inflate.

He doesn't seem very excited, given the amount of time, energy and money that's gone into it but I guess this is because it doesn't have a sail. There's a lot of talk about Getting On The Water and how it Doesn't Matter not sailing (oh, yeah?) so I only hope this machine won't end up in the harbour. At the bottom. For someone who has sailed all his life, and found great freedom in doing so, a paltry engine really isn't the same, but needs must...

He's also not been well. His lungs are bad and as this is caused by scarring on the lungs, there's nothing that can be done. Well, having said that, he's on his second bottle of cough mixture because the one from the doctors (which is free) was no good. Yesterday I heard him yelling, “POP!!”

I hurried next door, wondering what on earth had gone wrong to find him pointing at his laptop. “What do you think of that?” he said, pointing to his laptop screen. On it was a picture of Benylin bottles. “Are they any good?”

“I've taken it for bronchitis,” I said. “But what about the stuff from the GP?”

“No good,” came the curt reply. “Bloody stuff. I need this stuff – it's for a different kind of cough.”

Leaves on the line came to mind but I kept quiet while he hurtled down to Superdrug before it shut. Returning, he slammed the door. “Five pounds forty,” he muttered, throwing the first dose down his neck, followed swiftly by a beer. “Let's see if this does the trick.”

Of course on the outside it says Do Not Drink Alcohol with this. But he's still here. And not coughing quite so much. So who knows?

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Life on the Rocks

A quick update on the boating saga. We now have an inflatable dinghy (a large one - he never does this by halves), a huge outboard engine and a happy husband. At least, he will be when it's warm enough to blow the thing up and actually get in the water with it.

And on matters nautical, here's an interview with two lighthouse keepers. Not a job I would enjoy, but luckily they did. In Feb's Cornwall Today.

A tale of two lighthouse keepers

“I'd do it all over again!” says Gordon Partridge. “It was a unique way of life, not just a career. There's nothing else like it.” Gordon, 61, worked on 22 lighthouses during his time as a lighthouse keeper before being made redundant in 1996 because all UK lighthouses became automated by 1988. “I served at Les Casquets (7 miles West of Alderney) for 6 years and was the last Keeper "up the ladder" and into the helicopter,” he says proudly.
“I came from a fishing family from Brixham,” he continues, “and after fishing I wanted something more settled with more leave. I'd always been intrigued by lighthouses from a sea perspective, so I applied to Trinity House.”
There he found that the most important qualification was not a degree, but having the right personality. “Self-reliance was paramount,” he says firmly. On acceptance, he went to the Trinity House training school where he was taught everything he would need to know about life in a lighthouse. “We learned electrics, mechanics, radio work, First Aid at Sea (including giving injections of morphine etc.), Morse code, rope work, fire fighting and evacuation, how to make a lighthouse work and how to maintain it.” He laughs. “We even learned how to make bread!”
The training gave him some idea of the duties required, although there were never less than 3 men on a lighthouse at any given time. “There was usually a principal keeper and two assistants. Sometimes a 4th would join as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper (SAK). As a SAK you travelled to any lighthouse you were sent, relieving duties and that's when you got the most variety of lighthouses. I went to Wolf Rock, Longships, Bishop Rock - all the Western Rocks as they were known. And served the Bishop twice.”
The shift pattern was as follows: “On Day 1 we worked 4am-midday, then off. On from 8pm-midnight. Day 2 was 1200-2000, 4 hours off then back on at 0000-0400,” says Gordon. “The next day we had 24 hours off, but the person who was off was usually cook of the day.” They would stay on the lighthouse for 2 months but this was later reduced to one month, with 1 month off.
Setting off for a month's stay, it was important to take everything with you, including food, and paraffin fridges were provided before the advent of freezers. “Anything you didn't have you went without or had to borrow from your mates,” adds Gordon cheerfully.
Life in a lighthouse was understandably spartan, with most accommodation consisting of just two rooms – a kitchen and a bedroom. “There were 9 rooms in total but the others were a generating room, fuel store, engine room, battery room and so on,” explains Gordon. “All the furniture was built in and sleeping in a tower bunk was generally regarded as sleeping in a banana!”
Gordon's only regret is that he didn't start his career sooner. “Trinity House is one of the finest and oldest organisations in the country: it's like a big family, you're looked after so well.” But as well as work there was a lot of personal time when off duty. “I went fishing, did an Open University course, made ships in bottles, read, listened to my favourite music – the world was your bunk,” he explains. “There's a great sense of camaraderie – working together is almost like another marriage.” He pauses and adds thoughtfully, “You learn a lot about yourself and what you're capable of: how self reliant you are. You learn your own shortcomings and tolerance of others.”
One of Gordon's most poignant memories was one Christmas Day. “The radio was on distress frequency all the time so no one could miss it. You're not supposed to talk on channel 16, but it was nearly midnight and I was missing my family. I saw all these ships lights on the horizon and I picked up the mike and said 'Merry Xmas to all out there from Casquets lighthouse'. I've never heard so many replies in so many different languages – it went on for about 10 minutes! It was so moving, a shared moment in time of people a long way from home on Christmas Eve. I'll never forget that.”

Others became lighthouse keepers for very different reasons. Tony Martinez, 68, worked on Longships, Wolf Rock, Bishop Rock and Round Island from 1970 till September 1987. But his motivation was less altruistic. “It was the prospect of being paid to indulge my hobby of sea angling!” he laughs.
However, he proved his worth as a keeper, even on his day off – though his biggest catch wasn't fish. “One day I was fishing off Round Island when an 18 foot dory with one adult and five children came in and the propeller had sheared off because he caught on the rocks. They were drifting away and I managed to cast my line and get them back in. They came up to Round Island lighthouse and the children ate all the keeper's chocolates!”
He has fond memories of his time on the (Western) Rocks, as they're called. “It was one of the last adventures without becoming an explorer,” he explains. “Nothing had changed for 100 years.” While he regrets his time as a lighthouse keeper coming to an end, he understands why. “The writing was on the wall in the early '80s because the lighthouses could never have complied with Health & Safety, and it wasn't practical for mixed sexes out there or equal opportunities: it never would have worked.”
There are many pictures of lighthouses in a storm – on the internet, in posters and calendars, but Tony points out the stark reality. “People don't realise there were people in these lighthouses,” he says. “When you were in the Wolf Rock in a storm, then you really thanked your lucky stars that the people who built it knew what they were doing. The sea went over the top in bad weather and that was terrifying to begin with. After that you had to have faith in the system.”

Trinity House is the General Lighthouse Authority (GLA) for England and Wales, responsible for nearly 600 Aids to Navigation, from lighthouses, buoys and beacons to the latest satellite navigation technology. It maintains 69 lighthouses around the UK
All lighthouses were automated by November 1988
Bishop Rock is 4 miles West of the Isles of Scilly
Wolf Rock is 4 miles SW off Lands End
Longships is 1.25 miles off Lands End
Round Island is the most northerly outpost of Scilly
These are known as the Western Rocks
The construction of lighthouses are considered some of the greatest engineering achievements of the Industrial Age - Bishop Rock stands on a rock ledge just 16 metres wide.

Gordon is giving a talk on his experiences as a lighthouse keeper at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth on 24th February 2010 - – Life on the Rocks

Thursday 11 February 2010


Last weekend I heard the end of an interview with a Cruse Bereavement counsellor who said the first thing anyone who's been bereaved must do is talk.

Second she said is acceptance. Accept that your loved one has died and that you will feel – however you do feel. It's part of your love for them and nothing to be ashamed or frightened of.

Third, forgiveness.

Fourth, think of all the things you wish you'd done differently. Don't beat yourself up about them, but DO them differently next time.

Five - Don't look back but move on.

And I thought, that is such good advice, not just for bereavement, but for life.

I've recently been involved in several instances of lack of communication. The result has been unnecessary and very regrettable upset – or is, in the case of ongoing problems – silence. And in all cases this has been caused by a refusal on one part to discuss the problem.

I think emails are great as a form of quick communication, for business or arranging things, but in my experience, when there's a problem, they can be ambiguous. By that I mean that you can intend to say something but the recipient reads it differently (and can take offence where none is meant). In these instances, I've found that a phone call – or far better, actually meeting – is the best, if not the only way, to sort the problem out.

At choir last week, we went round the circle saying the next person's name. (This is a new choir, there are around 30-40 of us and so we don't tend to know each other's names.) We then stood in a circle and walked across the room saying the name of one of the other members and changed places. This meant that we stepped out of our usual places (comfort zones), sang with other people and actually knew what they were called. We talked to people we'd only ever looked at before. We all went for coffee afterwards.

Such a simple exercise broke down barriers. It made such a difference – we were suddenly discovering new friends.

Life is all about communication. So let's talk.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Frenchmans Creek

I promise a real blog soon - been somewhat hectic on the work front recently. In the interim, the picture is of Titch, Mollie's very handsome toyboy, the end of this walk we did back in one of those sunny days of summer (yes, there were one or two)- in Feb's Cornwall Today.

This is one of my favourite parts of Cornwall, first brought to my attention as a teenager, reading Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek, inspired by the pirates and free traders who worked these waters during the Napoleonic wars. Long ago Helford was an important port where trading ships brought rum, port, tobacco and lace from the continent. Those days are long gone, the houses mostly holiday homes, but Du Maurier's descriptions of the Helford river are so vivid, you can still identify this magical, secretive part of Cornwall.

On a stunningly bright Wednesday, Viv and her dog Titch met me and Mollie Dog and we drove out of Falmouth to Mawnan Smith. In the village we followed signs to Glendurgan and Trebah Gardens, then on to the Ferryboat Inn. Nearing the bottom of the hill is a car park on the right where you can park all day for a pound. We then walked the remainder of the way down to Helford Passage and waited for the passenger ferry (£5 return for adults) on the beach outside the Ferryboat Inn.

With a brisk north easterly blowing, the pontoon was bucking like a nervous horse, and Viv paled as Mollie and I clambered aboard. “Are you sure about this?” she said. Trying to still my stomach, heaving along with the waves, I nodded and clambered into the little passenger ferry as it tossed and turned alongside. Viv gulped, picked up Titch and hurried on board. Thankfully that was the difficult bit – by the time we reached Helford Point opposite, it was more sheltered, and Viv and Titch were looking decidedly less hangdog.

Much cheered by reaching dry land, we walked along the path towards Helford Village with time to appreciate the sun sparkling on the river. Heading through the village past the Shipwrights Inn (closed from 2.30 till 6pm so don't try and go there in the afternoon), we continued over a footbridge and on reaching a row of whitewashed cottages, turned right by a Public Footpath sign saying Manaccan ¾ miles. After a short distance the lane continued past a thatched cottage and into woods where the sun danced through the trees, dappling the leaves with an intense white light.

We followed the path as it forked right over a stream, over a small granite stile up through the woods and into a field. At the top of this field we climbed over a stile signed Alternative Permissive Footpath and into another field to the left of Kestle Farm which looked as if it was being done up for holiday cottages. At the end of this field was a sign on the right to Frenchman's Creek so we followed that through a gate onto the main road. A few yards further on we took the Public Footpath sign on the left which led to another path by the side of a field with a hedge of bay trees, looking out over lush green fields.

Passing through a wooden gate we passed a seat made of a huge slab of granite, with orchards on our right and headed down into more woodland, past chubby rose hips and tiny, disillusioned blackberries. The rough lane had diagonal stones acting as gullies to channel the water that must run through the woods – a sensible precaution in these times of abundant rain. We passed a huge old oak tree with the trunk split in half, smothered in thick moss; further up its ivy coated branches, bracken sprouted like tufts of hair.

Coming to a fork in the path we followed a sign indicating Frenchman's Creek (Permissive Path) and headed even further downhill. “Hmm,” muttered Viv. “What goes down must come up.” But at that moment we reached the creek and all thoughts of steep hills were forgotten. Frenchman's Creek is a secretive, silent place, ingrained with the sense of times gone by. The dogs danced along the mud in the dazzling sunshine while we stopped and just looked. At low tide the creek is littered with rotting trees, draped in seaweed; a lone egret stalked through a mud bank while rooks cawed above. As we followed the path alongside the creek, a pigeon squawked loudly in the trees and a narrow trickle of water wound its way down the creek in an S shape.

The dogs had a wonderful time hurtling through the trees, and as we walked along it was easy to imagine the heroine of Frenchman's Creek exploring the bank, pausing as she saw a strange ship at anchor, moored in the creek. Heard a sound of tapping and hammering, then a burst of French singing. Here Viv burst into something she sang at school which involved 'sabots' but was probably not sung by French pirates.

We passed over three footbridges, and by a tree on the left, we took the right fork which led up some steps then followed the Creekside Path which did just that, passing round the end of the creek, where we had a wonderful view of the two old quays of traditional Cornish stone, the Helford river shimmering before us, and the final resting place of an old shipwrecked boat. Out in the open we inhaled the toasty smell of sun baked bracken and continued until we reached a tarmac path where we headed right uphill with a field on the left.

At the top of this steep hill is a conveniently placed bench, today occupied by people having a picnic. Both dogs rushed over hoping to share their food (no luck) and we joined the picnickers for one last look back across Helford River. On past here, we turned right along a track signed Penarvon Cove, crossed a submerged cattle grid and turned left signed to Pengwedhen and Helford.

Heading down this lane we passed another tree covered in bouncy ivy, like an affro hairstyle. Coming to a fork we continued downhill until we reached Penarvon Cove, an idyllic spot with several picturesque National Trust cottages being repainted to the tinny tunes of Neil Sedaka coming from a tiny radio hung on a wall.

We sat on a log here while Viv ate her pasty (my sandwich was long gone) and as we stretched our legs in the sunshine, real life responsibilities seemed a long way away – and then I realised Mollie had gone missing. I found her with her head in someone's dustbin and felt it was time to move on. We followed the Public Footpath sign back through the woods, climbing away from the cove, through a metal gate at the top, and continued until we reached a steep path leading downhill to the left, back into Helford Village, by the Shipwrights Inn.

From here we turned left back to get the passenger ferry back to Helford Passage. It was such a lovely afternoon that we bought ice creams at the beach kiosk (strawberry for me, vanilla for Viv) and wandered along to the private (dog friendly) beach where we sat and lapped up the sunshine and planned our next walk.

“You know, this part of Cornwall reminds me that I'm just an insignificant walker,” said Viv. “I have no rights to this beautiful place, but feel so lucky to be able to pass through, enjoy it, and leave it undisturbed. I only hope it stays like this for the next few hundred years.”

Map: OS Explorer 103 The Lizard, Falmouth and Helston
Time: 2 hours
Length: 3 miles
Grade: steep at times
Refreshments: Ferryboat Inn, Shipwrights Inn
Helford Ferry - check seasonal running times on
or ring 01326 250770