Saturday, 26 February 2011

Flying In Cornwall

I've had another softback published by Truran. This one looks at a subject close to my heart; it's titled Flying in Cornwall.

I've been collecting information and images on Cornish aviation for over twenty years, so it was difficult to know what to leave out. But I hope we've come up with a neat and hooky volume. A nostalgic feast of stick-and-string, early passenger biplanes, even the odd Spitfire.

In an attempt to prevent an outbreak of anorakism, it's even got pictures of girls in. One girl. A female mechanic from the First World War; we see her
beavering away on a seaplane, overalls clinging to her curves. Irresistible.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Paul Hathway Octave Mandola

Over the last couple of years I've played many different octave mandolas. Finally, I've found one which is head, shoulders and at least trunk above the rest. It's made by Paul Hathway.

Paul lives in Wanstead, where he builds the most beautiful stringed instruments; I went to see him. He made me welcome, gave me a coffee and showed me his shop, which occupies part of the upstairs at his house. Around the wall hang dozens of different instruments; it's crammed, and fabulous. Paul had placed several mandolas on a worktop, of different woods and finishes, and invited me to try them out. He left me on my own to play, so I didn't feel self-conscious while I fumbled to get round them for the first time.

Across the landing is Paul's workshop. After a lovely time with each mandola, I stuck my head round his door. Inside, hanging round the wall were half-completed guitars, mandolas, bouzoukis, some just skeletons, while Paul worked on them. I waved my chosen instrument and beamed; he smiled back.

Paul's mandolas are almost completely undecorated, and they aren't serially-numbered. He's not into that sort of thing. But compared with others of its type, my Hathway has astonishingly better action, tone, sustain and intonation - it rings out, and doesn't bite your fingers off.

It's also practical. The edge between top and sides is curved so it doesn't dig into your forearm, and it comes already fitted with a strap-peg in the heel.
It's comfortable to hold and well-balanced on the strap. The pick-up battery is accessible, located in a box with a pop-up top let into the back of the instrument. I so enjoy playing it; thanks, Paul.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Cornish Pasty Given Protected Status

A pasty can now only be called a 'Cornish pasty' if it's been made in Cornwall from a traditional recipe. Pasties contain beef skirt, onion, potato and swede. No carrot, which in Cornish people induces vomiting. And definitely no chicken tikka, llama or spam, fillings used in pasties unworthy of the title 'Cornish', produced for the tourist market.

The Cornish Pasty Association has won its application to the European Union to gain Protected Geographic Indication status for its pasties. The Association said it wanted to protect the reputation of its product. That aim presumably excluded the so-called pasties churned out by Ginsters, a concern unfortunately based just inside Cornwall, which supplies inedible muck to motorway service stations.

It's taken nine years for the EU to deliberate on this matter, and finally reach a conclusion. Now, my local newspaper tells me, the pasty's status is on a par with roquefort, parma ham and champagne. But not everyone's happy; one Devon-based manufacturer of pasties has said the Brussels bureaucrats "can go to hell." All in all though, it's good to know our contribution to the EU's coffers isn't being squandered on anything useless.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Royal Wedding: Pass The Sick Bag

The landlord of Kate Middleton's favourite pub is raising a toast after being invited to the Royal Wedding. John Haley is the envy of Bucklebury – the Berkshire village where the Middleton family lives – after the gold embossed swan-skin invitation landed on his doorstep.

John, who runs the the Old Boot Inn - what's in a name? - will be one of 1,900 guests at Westminster Abbey; also attending will be
Posh and Becks, the crowned heads of Europe, and loads of aristocratic girls Prince William once shagged. That said, John will be kept at the back, along with the other ordinary people invited for a laugh.

In the snug of the Old Boot, the lucky licensee was delirious. "Everyone's been joking about it and offering to go in my place, but that’s one seat I won’t be giving up," he gabbled, well in earshot of his remaining customers. "I can’t wait to watch Kate walk down the aisle with her prince, I wish them all the best. And I’ll be part of history."

"It'll be a busy day for me because I have to rush back in time for our own celebration here in the evening" continued John without pausing for breath. He's invited Sarah Ferguson to the pub's party but hasn't yet heard back from the flame-haired royal reject, who's been excluded from the daytime do.

"They often come here for a quiet drink," insisted John as the bar emptied.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Royal Weddings: Value For Money?

Charles and Diana: "Fairy-tale day for the entire nation."

Andrew and Fergie: "Common love of pies."

Edward and Sophie: "How on earth did that happen?"

Charles and Camilla: "It's great being a royal, the silly buggers paid for everything - again!"

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Royal Wedding Beer

Nottingham's Castle Rock Brewery is paying tribute to the forthcoming royal wedding with a beer named in honour of the future Princess Kate.

A commemorative draft ale named 'Kiss Me Kate' is to be released to a grateful nation at the end of March, well in time for the April Bank Holiday wedding-day piss-up. Castle Rock's head brewer Adrian Redgrove says the drink will be "elegant, tasteful and British to the core." Which is fitting, since that's exactly how I'd describe Ms Middleton.

A limited amount of the Royal brew will also be available in bottles for memento collectors, and for laying aside to toast future royal events such as the death of Prince Phillip.

By the by, it's good to recall Cole Porter’s musical 'Kiss Me Kate' was based on Shakespeare's 'Taming of the Shrew'. Bottoms up, baby.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Castles of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

My new book, 'Castles of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly', will be out in the next few weeks. It's published by Truran.

I've so enjoyed writing this one. A romp through prehistoric fortifications; castles built by the Normans, and added to during medieval times; the Tudor and Stuart periods. Back in history those who dwelt in castles, the governing classes, were a load of selfish bastards all juggling for position and fighting among themselves. It's good to reflect on how far we've come.

I spent part of last summer visiting castle sites across the Duchy, mucking about in the sun amid beautiful scenery, taking notes and photos, stuffing my face with whatever I'd knocked up for a picnic. At Launceston I had such a pleasant time I nodded off in the park there, following my post-Castle survey of the town's pubs.

On wet days I sat in Redruth's Cornish Studies Library. It's cheaper and less humiliating than stretching cups of tea for three hours in a greasy spoon. Useful too, because the library contains oodles of stuff on castles. Big thanks to the staff; you're great, and really patient.

Truran are also darlings, which helps. They work closely with their authors and once again it's been a joy. This writing malarkey's OK.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

British Flying Boats

This summer will see the History Press reprint my bumper book of waterborne aeroplanes, 'British Flying Boats'. 250 pages and over 200 nostalgic photographs of this unique type of aeroplane. From infant steps before the First World War, through conflict and peace, the mighty submarine-hunters of the nineteen-forties, to the final curtain during the fifties. It's the only comprehensive history of the British flying-boat, from start to finish, covering every single example built.

Reviewing the first edition published in 2003, the Royal Air Force Air Historical Society babbled with incoherent excitement: "Comprehensive and authoritative ... an excellent account ... informatively captioned images." Aero Militaria magazine's reviewer gushed: "... it provides an unmatched record ... deeply researched ... detailed appendices." T
a very much Uncle Tony, and Mr Jones from the plane-spotters' club. To brighten the forthcoming edition it's been updated and given a new jacket.

'British Flying Boats' was exhausting to research and write; by the time it finally emerged as a book I resented it. I'd fought a ten-year toe-to-toe slugging match with a dogged, obdurate monster that hadn't known when to submit. Now though, from time to time I enjoy dipping into it.

But 'Flying Boats' was my final excursion into practical non-fiction, that genre where world-wide, five thousand fanatics kiss and lick your book while the rest o
f humanity ignores it. A labour or love, or obsessive, compulsive insanity?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Cornwall's Sunrise Industry?

Yet again, mining in Cornwall seems poised for a return. This time it's thanks to the global demand for the metal indium. Large deposits of the rare element, which is used in the liquid crystal displays on televisions, laptops, smart phones and Apple's iPad, have been found at the South Crofty mine, between Camborne and Redruth.

Indium can be plated onto metal and evaporated onto glass. It forms a mirror as good as that made with silver, but with more resistance to atmospheric corrosion.

The owners of South Crofty, the last tin mine to operate in Britain, are confident that if tests prove correct they'll be able to extract millions of pounds-worth of indium. Hopes are high that around the local area hundreds of jobs could be created; some even predict a modern-day gold rush.

South Crofty closed in 1998 after the price of tin collapsed. However, in 2006 it was bought by a group of investors, hopeful that the recovery in global commodity prices would see a return to profitable mining.

A recent delay to investment funding caused sixteen of the sixty-odd workforce to be laid off, but now the owner, Western United Mines, hopes to employ up to four hundred people within the next two years. There's no other UK producer of indium, and few sources worldwide. Each kilo is worth about £500 and Western estimates South Crofty will yield between 250,000 to 400,000 tons per year initially.

The Camborne - Redruth district is one of Cornwall's poorest, with high unemployment and few prospects. Fingers and toes crossed that this latest development at South Crofty will help improve the local economy and with it, the quality of peoples' lives.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Funniest Headline Ever

Who says Twitter's silly, or a waste of time? Found today via the 140-letter microblogging service, a report taken from the Gloucestershire Echo of 2 February. The head in question belongs to the principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, Vicky Tuck; the piece was written by one Laura Vickers. Thanks, girls. Wonder who came up with the headline?