Monday, 29 November 2010

Cornwall's Mad Weather

Foreign people find it difficult to understand British preoccupations; concern with tea, cricket and particularly, the weather. In Britain, if you don't mention the weather in conversation at least twenty times a day, you're considered rather dull. And if today's anything to go by, weather is a most exciting topic.

Because today, the weather has been mad. Here in Cornwall we've had early morning snow, but in extraordinary combination with fierce overhead thunder and lightning. Ice-strewn roads on which to play Hirohito School of Motoring. Hail so brutal it would leave dents in the skull of Wayne Rooney. For a moment, vivid sunlight twinkling the dusted trees. But then dark lowering clouds, and snow drifting in banks across our narrow lanes.

And through all this, not a sign, not the merest glimpse of a Council gritter, a bulldozer, a tiny day-glo-bibbed man battling gallantly against the elements. Tonight, the slush which formed earlier has frozen over. Cornwall has become a skating-rink. Villages are cut off, isolated from arterial roads. I hope there aren't too many people who've been forced to try to make a car journey. Thanks to the Council's uselessness, tonight the roads here are really dangerous.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Cornwall's Country Kitchen

One of Cornwall's joys is its food. Not the pricey Padstow emporia of Rick Stein, or Mockney Jamie's Fifteen Newquay dining experience. Nor the bizarre fusion food knocked up at other tourist spots by wannabe celebrity chefs. The cognoscenti know Cornish fare isn't really about dining out.

The other night I was at a garage paying for petrol. Queueing was an old man in ragged clothes. Sharply, he turned to me. "Do you like fish?" I'd never seen him before; in my mind, I edged away. I replied cautiously that I did like fish, yes.

"I been fishing all day, but they made me come back." I nodded, while glancing round for a possible weapon. "There's some in a bucket by the door, help yourself to a couple if you want."

I hurried to pay for the petrol. But just as the old man had said, outside was a bucket. Within, scales gleaming, mackerel, just out of the sea. I took two, and returned to thank the man for his eccentric generosity. He beamed and moved toward me; a moment later I gave him a wave from my car. That evening I cooked the beautiful fish, fresher and with more taste than a supermarket could ever, ever manage.

In Cornwall too, we have wayside produce. During the summer and autumn, in boxes on garden walls across the Duchy coy little displays appear, goodies fresh from the garden, allotment or farm. Invariably they're unattended, but tins are left out for customers' money. Cash of course, the way Cornish people like it, no need to trouble the revenue men. Gnarled, bumpy vegetables, shiny fruit full of flavour, eggs with bulging, vivid yolks rather than pallid little puddles of 'yellow'. All at a fraction of the shop price.

If you're partial to seafood there's a thriving underground trade in crab and lobster, fresh off the boats, sold at the Falmouth dockside. Well actually, just round the back. A little coinage, a big fat crab. I've learned to dress these beasts and they're delicious. For a good deal you need to know the right people, and fortunately I've been introduced. Meanwhile Oliver and his lot are charged the full whack, which they pass on to the tourists.

And who'd bother with supermarket meat? I've found a butcher in Redruth who supplies the most tender, succulent fare at lean prices, straight from the farm down the road. He'll joint it for you, or dice it up for a stew, or score it. His pork chops are thick and obscenely juicy, with golden crackling which deserves to be a Cornish national delicacy. It's to die for, especially if you're the pig.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

William and Kate: A Nation Rejoices

Yesterday the joyful news came through. Britain's favourite sweethearts Prince William and Kate Middleton are to marry. The world's most eligible bachelor and his beautiful bride-to-be announced their engagement, as across the nation millions spontaneously cheered and threw their hats in the air. So much for Broken Britain!

Prime Minister David Pillsbury said the engagement marked "a great day for our country". He said he'd received the news in a call from Buckingham Palace during a cabinet meeting, and it had been greeted with "a great cheer" and "banging of the table" from fellow ministers.
How like the Tories. Labour leader Glen Milliband, also sensitive to the mood of the people, said: "The whole country will be wishing them every happiness."

The day of the wedding will be marked with a public holiday for those still working, while the unemployed will be put to organising lovely parties enabling everyone to forget their problems. Since public services are being cut, welfare payments slashed and the armed forces axed, thankfully we can afford to spend the savings on priorities like a royal wedding!

It's certainly a big step up for lucky Kate, whose parents run a small mail-order party-planning business. Whether their little company nets a slice of the wedding action remains to be seen. William said he'd been "torn between asking Kate's dad first, and the realization that if I did that, he might say no!" Wills' heart must have been in his mouth.

The Prince of Wales has generously agreed to contribute his own money towards the cost of the wedding. Charles' donation will be taken from his income received from the Duchy of Cornwall's grateful residents, currently estimated at abrillion pounds a year.

Already, souvenir-makers are working feverishly, mindful that memorabilia of previous royal nuptials inexplicably remains sought-after by mad collectors. Plates and mugs - similar to those produced for the fairytale wedding of William's father to Lady Diana Spencer - have been rushed onto the market. All items will be made here in the UK, to ensure a record growth in British industry.

By the by, when Charles and his life-time mistress Camilla eventually married, among the most popular mementos was a fine bone china mug, featuring two entwined letter Cs.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Armistice Day: The Unknown Soldier

A few feet inside the main entrance to Westminster Abbey is a black marble tombstone, permanently surrounded by a border of greenery and poppies. In a place where monarchs and statesmen, scientific pioneers and composers are buried, it is the only gravestone in the Abbey that may not be walked upon, and contains the remains of an unidentified soldier of the First World War.

The remains of the soldier were laid to rest in a solemn ceremony on Armistice Day 1920, ninety years ago today, in a service attended by King George V and his family. The following year, the US government announced that it was awarding its highest military decoration – the Congressional Medal of Honor – to the man whose remains are buried here. The medal may be seen today in a frame hanging on a pillar a little way from the tomb.

The idea for the commemoration came from Army chaplain David Railton. While serving with the British Expeditionary Force in 1916, he visited a private garden in Armentières, where a rough wooden cross had been erected. Across which had been pencilled “An unknown British soldier”. After the war, Railton suggested to the Dean of Westminster, Herbert Ryle, that a tomb containing the remains of an unidentified British soldier be installed in the Abbey, a symbolic memorial to all who lost their lives in the great conflict, but who lacked any monument.

Selection of a body took place in France in 1920. The remains of four men were exhumed from war graves in four of the principal battlefields in France and Flanders: Arras, the Somme, the Aisne and Ypres. One of the bodies was chosen at random and was placed in a plain coffin.

On 10 November 1920, the coffin was sealed inside another, more ornate one incorporating within its iron bands a 16th century crusader’s sword from the collection at the Tower of London. For the ceremony on Remembrance Day, the coffin was placed on a gun carriage and drawn by six black horses through crowd-lined streets to Westminster Abbey. It was handed towards its final resting-place by a hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross. After it had been lowered into the tomb, King George scattered a handful of earth from a French battlefield over the coffin.

The Westminster Abbey tomb was by no means the first ever to an unknown soldier. The idea seems to have originated with a Danish memorial erected in Fredericia in the 19th century, but it did inspire a whole host of other such memorials throughout Europe and the US. There is an unknown French soldier of the Great War beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Unknown soldiers rest in South Africa and Canada too, and at the US national cemetery at Arlington, Virginia
rest unknown soldiers from several wars.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Christine Bleakley: Global Brand

Christine Bleakley rose to celebrity superstardom as the bubbly co-presenter of the BBC's 'One Show'. She left the programme last June, concerned over its intellectual integrity, but was fortunate in subsequently signing to ITV for a million pounds a year.

To the delight of fans, the deal reunited her with engaging former colleague Adrian Chiles; the two were given ITV's prime early morning slot. Their programme, hookily christened Daybreak, launched in September.

Yesterday's edition of the show - which replaced GMTV - drew around 700,000 viewers, while BBC's Breakfast had 1.8 million. Audience figures show that at around 8am the BBC show had almost three times as many viewers with 2.6 million, compared with Daybreak's 900,000.

Last night, a friend close to the Nothern Irish brunette said: ‘Christine is extremely frustrated that Daybreak’s ratings aren’t improving. The biggest problem is that if she did drop Daybreak, ITV can’t just conjure a hit prime-time show for her out of thin air."

Indeed, a grave difficulty. Such talent deeply deserves an appropriate platform. Giggling, gurning, face-painting: is Christine fabulous, or just supremely irritating and greedy? The rumour is, she'll soon be leaving Daybreak to 'work with' X-Factor. Don't ask me how she's qualified for that move, apart from X-Factor being an idiotic programme, or why she's on television at all.

Magic Roundabout

The other day I drove from Falmouth on Cornwall's south coast, to Davidstow in the far north. It's a pleasant journey if you're not in a great rush, like many road-trips across the Duchy. The drive was uneventful, except for one disturbing theme.

Roundabout issues. Not the drivers whose indicators I always assume have unfortunately become broken. Nor the after-you, hesitation-waltz we have to endure from countless confused tourists round these parts. But everywhere, workmen.

On four separate roundabouts along the journey, I noticed gangs of labourers. You're supposed to, which is why they wear hi-vis apparel. But what were they doing there? Just slouching around of course, amid piles of unused barriers protecting nothing, surrounded by daffodil-yellow trucks.

But why were they there at all? The job of work, it seemed, was planting flowers and shrubs, raking gravel, doing a bit of weeding, all very slowly. Can't have our roundabouts looking tawdry.

I assume all this type of work is sponsored by the private sector. I'd hate to think that in these austere times our local councils are squandering public money on such activities.