Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year

In Cornwall, for many 2013 has been gruelling. Job prospects and real wages continue to drop away. Housing stock is ever-reducing, though I see in estate agents' windows second homes being flogged off in St Ives or St Agnes: not helpful. Cornish folk are strong, and many live in communities which try to look after everyone. Yet even in these close-knit societies people seem near to unravelling.

More and more I encounter a weary resignation, a battered worn-out acceptance of the next affliction or sacrifice demanded. Constant food price rises; dwindling public services; small businesses starved of cash; the disappointment of the young unemployed; elderly people too frightened to put an extra bar on the fire. Cliches? Not any more.

Just recently it’s been the expense, for many the worry of Christmas. And all the time cruel advertising pounds out the same command: buy more stuff, and be quick about it.

We’re about to enter the sixth year of recession without an end in sight. Banks prosper, everyone else is on their uppers. This is the Cornwall of Cameron and Clegg; it’s unbelievably harsh. I don’t know about you, but I’m almost out of Dunkirk spirit.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Cornwall In The First World War

Newlyn's seaplane base, 1918: a Short 184 floatplane under power





My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', was published by Truran last month. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy and on line at Waterstones with free UK post: http://bit.ly/I47c9p 

The First World War affected every Cornish town and village; no-one stayed untouched. At the outbreak in August 1914 thousands joined the colours, while Cornwall soon became a vital part of Britain’s all-consuming war effort. Ships of the Royal Navy, aircraft, even airships arrived to defend the sea lanes off the coastline, in a brutal campaign against marauding German submarines. On the home front, for four gruelling years Cornish men and women worked tirelessly to support those fighting in distant battles overseas.

Today, although a century has passed there’s a strong connection with the First World War, through family histories and community heritage. We don't have to look too far back to find those who joined up, whether frock-coated, flat-capped or long-skirted. Conflict raged on a scale never seen before, and Cornwall would play a crucial role in the struggle.

The First World War's centenary represents a unique moment in history. As well as the military events, the book focuses on the people of that time; it's a glimpse of Cornish life a hundred years ago. I hope it will appeal to everyone interested in Cornwall's past. It's also available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm


Monday, 16 December 2013

Cornwall In The First World War

Naval motor launch ML350 leaves Newlyn harbour 
for an anti-submarine patrol off the Lizard, 1917

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', was published by Truran last month. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy and on line at Waterstones with free UK post: http://bit.ly/I47c9p 

The First World War affected every Cornish town and village; no-one stayed untouched. At the outbreak in August 1914 thousands joined the colours, while Cornwall soon became a vital part of Britain’s all-consuming war effort. Ships of the Royal Navy, aircraft, even airships arrived to defend the sea lanes off the coastline, in a brutal campaign against marauding German submarines. On the home front, for four gruelling years Cornish men and women worked tirelessly to support those fighting in distant battles overseas.

Today, although a century has passed there’s a strong connection with the First World War, through family histories and community heritage. We don't have to look too far back to find those who joined up, whether frock-coated, flat-capped or long-skirted. Conflict raged on a scale never seen before, and Cornwall would play a crucial role in the struggle.

The First World War's centenary represents a unique moment in history. As well as the military events, the book focuses on the people of that time; it's a glimpse of Cornish life a hundred years ago. I hope it will appeal to everyone interested in Cornwall's past. It's also available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Mangling Our Sacred Language!

Goddess: perfect elocution
What’s this current linguistic vogue for stuffing extra syllables into perfectly good words? More and more, the trait’s being adopted by TV presenters and ‘personalities’. Perhaps they’ve picked it up from Engerland’s football supporters.

This isn’t evolution of language; these aren’t new words. Such affectation sits alongside the equally irksome upward-lilt, the ending of spoken sentences as if to say: “D'ya follow?"

So today, instead of struggling to make ends meet, we’re said to be ‘struggerling’. People who run quickly are atherletes, while gamberling is no longer what lambs do. Those who speak in this way aren't composing poetry, nor are they always from Essex. It sounds idiotic and often a touch self-conscious. Please stop it.

While we’re on the subject, TV’s weather forecasters (with one exception against whom I’ll hear nothing) now treat 'Ireland' as synonymous with 'island'. I’m sure that’ll please everyone in the nation of bogs, little people, and great filums like Von Ryan’s Daughter.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Cornwall In The First World War

During much of the First World War, Cornwall had its own defence force: the Volunteer Training Corps. Here’s a relic from those times, a cap badge from a Cornish VTC officer’s uniform.

The Duchy’s long coastline, mostly isolated and dotted with small bays, was felt vulnerable to possible enemy incursion. To help protect exposed and sensitive areas, by mid-1915 VTC contingents had formed in many Cornish towns and villages. Generally its men were ineligible for front-line service: old soldiers, essential war workers, members of the clergy. Among other duties they helped protect national treasures, including precious state papers and the Domesday Book which had arrived for safe keeping at Bodmin Gaol.

The Corps was a national body, the forerunner of the Second World War Home Guard, and given similar tasks. Its members wore a red brassard emblazoned with the initials GR (Georgius Rex), which led to unkind nicknames such as ‘Gorgeous Wrecks’ and ‘God’s Rejects’.

My book ‘Cornwall In The First World War is published by Truran. With 112 pages and over 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available on line through Waterstones, with free UK post: http://bit.ly/I47c9p    


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Christmas Charades

This Christmas, why not enjoy some traditional festive games of charades:
  • ‘Putting Up With Relatives I Detest’ charade
  • ‘Enduring Old People’ charade
  • ‘Believing in Jesus’ charade
  • ‘It’ll Be Worth It To See The Children’s Faces’ charade
  • ‘The Year’s Most Enjoyable Meal’ charade
  • ‘Visiting Loathsome Neighbours’ charade
Have a jolly and peaceful Yuletide; may your accompanying long-term debt crisis not break your spirits entirely.

Cornwall In The First World War


Here's an image from my new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War'. It's July 1916: pictured is airship C.9, which operated from Royal Naval Air Station Mullion. She's been punctured by ‘friendly’ fire from British troops during a patrol over Jersey. Slowly deflating, C.9 made it back as far as Mullion harbour, where finally she folded in half and fell into the sea. As Naval personnel stand perplexed on the harbour wall, local people watch proceedings from the bank above. The following month, repaired, C.9 returned to her anti-submarine patrols.

A couple of days ago I was interviewed by BBC Radio Cornwall's Hannah Stacey, as part of their World War One at Home project. They're producing a piece on Mullion's airship base, which began its anti-submarine patrols in 1916. The piece will go out during February.

My book's published by Truran; with 112 pages and over 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available on line through Waterstones, with free UK post: http://bit.ly/I47c9p


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Old People At Christmas

"I'm 84, they never come ..."
500,000 elderly folk in Britain will spend Christmas alone, a survey shows. Commissioned by the charity Hello Old PEople, the study examines attitudes of the young toward older citizens during the festive season.

The survey revealed most young people wouldn’t be inviting elderly relatives to their Christmas meals or parties, and would rather befriend animals than older citizens. Many didn’t have time to visit an old person, especially at Christmas. Others said they couldn’t be bothered, or had a feeling elderly folk already received enough visits.

The chief reasons for older people being abandoned, say the youngsters, are their unappealing habits. Rudeness and tutting; mania for quizzes on flags of the world; a belief their anecdotes are worthy of film rights. It’s claimed many old folk endlessly bemoan the decline of common sense in modern times, and expect reverence simply because of their age.

But some young people did make visits. A handful were religious, others doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award. The survey also revealed affluent elderly people, especially those in bad health, received frequent calls from the young. The Enduring Old People charade is a well-known Christmas game, and can be lucrative.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Cornwall In The First World War


HMS Defiance was Cornwall’s naval training base, built at Wearde Quay on the River Lynher near Saltash.  Throughout the First World War, Defiance trained seamen to operate naval weapons including torpedoes and huge sea-mines. Here are two of the station’s divers, wearing their bulky underwater suits. The image is by courtesy of Steve Johnson and his fascinating Cyberheritage site. Why not check him out: http://www.cyber-heritage.co.uk/

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available on line through Waterstones, with free UK post: http://bit.ly/I47c9p

Monday, 25 November 2013

Cornwall In The First World War


Among the Cornishmen who joined up when the First World War broke out was St Austell-born Percival Phillips; later he served with the Royal Flying Corps in Mesopotamia, Persia and Kurdistan.

This image was taken during 1918; Percival sits in the cockpit of his R.E.8 two-seat biplane at Baqubah. ‘PP’ survived the fighting and returned safely home. After a spell as a partner in a St Austell motor garage, in 1924 he formed the barnstorming Cornwall Aviation Company.

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available on line through Waterstones, with free UK post: http://bit.ly/I47c9p

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Mark Hoban MP: An Appreciation

Hoban: good with rules.
Tory MP Mark Hoban, recently culled as employment minister, leads a life of interesting double standards.

Earlier this year, former chartered accountant Hoban was allowed to keep nearly all the six-figure profit he made on selling his taxpayer-funded second home. The sum is one of the biggest made by any Government minister from sales of second homes part-funded through the MPs' expenses system.

MPs were banned from using Commons expenses to pay mortgage interest in May 2010, after public fury over “flipping” allowances and other abuses.  However, transitional arrangements allowed them to keep claiming the money up to August 2012. 

Mr Hoban made £144,000 profit on the sale of his Pimlico flat, while household claims included £100.00 for a shower rack, £79.00 for four silk cushion covers and £35.00 for a toilet roll holder.

But where others are concerned, Hoban is rather less extravagant.

Unemployed people, says the ex-minister, have taken benefits as a way of life; they must “roll up their sleeves” and “stop playing the system.”  Those who don’t “play by the rules” will lose their benefits.  It seems Mr Hoban has an impressive understanding of rules, and how they can best be interpreted.  

Just so we’re clear.
 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Cornwall In The First World War


Here's an image from August 1914, the month Britain declared war on Germany.

With deeply unlucky timing, just as war came two German liners sailing for America put in at Falmouth. The Hamburg America vessel Prince Adalbert (Captain Schonfeldt) arrived on 4 August, closely followed by Kronprinzessin Cecilie. Their crews and several hundred passengers classed as aliens were transferred to Custom House Quay by the tug Victor and detained, some in stinking quayside fish-houses.

Both vessels were seized; the aliens, harmless and by no means all Germans (some were Americans), were temporarily moved to workhouses at Falmouth, Helston, Madron, Redruth, St Columb Major and Truro. Later, most were permanently interned east of the Tamar.

In the image, a line of aliens have been marched up Redruth’s West End hill, escorted by policemen. They're on their way to detention at Barncoose workhouse. Local children join in the procession.

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available through Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm

Government Interference Is Damaging Cornwall's Prehistoric Monuments

West Penwith's ancient Mên an Tol stones,
summer 2012
Have you visited Cornwall's West Penwith moors? By turn wild or sun-softened, through the seasons the dramatic landscape varies from brooding greys to summer's vivid radiance. It’s not just the views which captivate; there's a wealth of ancient riches to admire, some of Britain’s finest prehistoric stone sites: Mên an Tol, Lanyon quoit, Chûn castle and quoit, Tregeseal circle.

Cattle damage, October 2013
But currently West Penwith's beautiful countryside is under threat, following disastrous interference in its management by government organisation Natural England. The previously open and unobstructed moorland, so long enjoyed by local people and visitors alike, has seen the introduction of cattle grids, hefty gates and long stretches of barbed wire fencing. This looks awful and impairs access.

Behind the fences, cattle have been brought in; since their arrival the ancient monuments have suffered increasing damage. Trampling hooves churn access paths and flat areas around the sites into quagmires; heaps of dung lie everywhere. The stones have been reduced to scratching-posts for the heavy beasts, their foundations eroded and in danger of being weakened.  If this continues, they will simply topple over.

Make no mistake: these are world-famous heritage sites, thousands of years old. The way they've been treated by Natural England is disgraceful.

Save Penwith Moors is a local group striving for sympathetic future management and unobstructed open access to the stones’ moorland home. SPM campaigns lawfully for the removal of all new stock proofing (fencing, gates and cattle grids) from areas of open access moorland popular for local and visitor recreation. The group's website is here: http://bit.ly/17xEpno
 
Cattle damage, November 2013
Last week, SPM representative Craig Weatherhill was interviewed by Cornish community broadcaster Redruth Radio. Craig lives in West Penwith and is a leading authority on the area. The interview will bring you up to speed with the situation: http://bit.ly/17O87H2

Please, if you can make time have a look or a listen, and give the group your support.



Thursday, 21 November 2013

CornwalI In The First World War

Here's an image from 1918, courtesy of Malcolm McCarthy. On the hard standing at Royal Naval Air Station Newlyn, an airman tends to a Short 184 seaplane. Between the floats of the aircraft is mounted a depth charge. In the background is a canvas hangar, standard issue of the day.
 
Newlyn was one of four Cornish centres of aero activity during the First World War; the others were at Bude, Mullion and Padstow.  A station was also built at Tresco on the Isles of Scilly.

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available through Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Cornwall In The First World War

Here's an image from 1916, courtesy of John Bennett.  Women munitions workers toil in the Hayle works of J and F Pool; they're making Stokes 3-inch mortar bombs and fuses. 

As well as the strain inherent in their tasks, the women endured frequent sickness and cumulative skin discolouration caused by chemicals in the explosives they handled. What would today's health and safety edicts make of the factory's exposed machines and flapping belt-drives?

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy. It's also available through Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm

Monday, 11 November 2013

Cornwall In The First World War

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy; here's part of a batch at Waterstones' Truro branch. It's also available through Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm 

The First World War affected every town and village in Cornwall; no-one stayed untouched. At the outbreak in August 1914 thousands joined the colours, while the Duchy soon became a vital part of Britain’s all-consuming war effort. Ships of the Royal Navy, aircraft, even airships arrived to defend the sea lanes off Cornwall’s coastline, in a brutal campaign against marauding German submarines. On the home front, for four gruelling years Cornish men and women worked tirelessly to support those fighting in distant battles overseas.

The centenary of the First World War represents a unique moment.  As well as the military events, the book focuses on the people of that time; it's a glimpse of Cornish life a hundred years ago. I hope it will appeal to everyone interested in Cornwall's past. 
  

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Cornwall In The First World War

Servicemen from Royal Naval Air Station Mullion
prepare for a 'run ashore' into Helston, 1917









My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', is published by Truran on 11 November. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy, or on Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm

The First World War affected every town and village in Cornwall; no-one stayed untouched. At the outbreak in August 1914 thousands joined the colours, while the Duchy soon became a vital part of Britain’s all-consuming war effort. Ships of the Royal Navy, aircraft, even airships arrived to defend the sea lanes off Cornwall’s coastline, in a brutal campaign against marauding German submarines. On the home front, for four gruelling years Cornish men and women worked tirelessly to support those fighting in distant battles overseas.

Today, although a century has passed there’s a strong connection with the First World War, through family histories and community heritage. We don't have to look too far back to find those who joined up, whether frock-coated, flat-capped or long-skirted. Conflict raged on a scale never seen before, and Cornwall would play a crucial role in the struggle.

The First World War's centenary represents a unique moment in history. As well as the military events, the book focuses on the people of that time; it's a glimpse of Cornish life a hundred years ago. I hope it will appeal to everyone interested in Cornwall's past.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Cornwall In The First World War


Naval motor launch ML350 leaves Newlyn harbour 
for an anti-submarine patrol off the Lizard, 1917

My new book, 'Cornwall In The First World War', was published by Truran last month. With 112 pages and 100 images, you'll find it in bookshops across the Duchy, and on line at Waterstones with free UK post: http://bit.ly/I47c9p

The First World War affected every town and village in Cornwall; no-one stayed untouched. At the outbreak in August 1914 thousands joined the colours, while the Duchy soon became a vital part of Britain’s all-consuming war effort. Ships of the Royal Navy, aircraft, even airships arrived to defend the sea lanes off Cornwall’s coastline, in a brutal campaign against marauding German submarines. On the home front, for four gruelling years Cornish men and women worked tirelessly to support those fighting in distant battles overseas.

Today, although a century has passed there’s a strong connection with the First World War, through family histories and community heritage. We don't have to look too far back to find those who joined up, whether frock-coated, flat-capped or long-skirted. Conflict raged on a scale never seen before, and Cornwall would play a crucial role in the struggle.

The First World War's centenary represents a unique moment in history. As well as the military events, the book focuses on the people of that time; it's a glimpse of Cornish life a hundred years ago. I hope it will appeal to everyone interested in Cornwall's past. It's also available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/19JbtZm
 

Centenary anniversaries in 2014-2018 represent a unique moment in history - See more at: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/first-world-war-books.html#sthash.SBedxhQE.dpuf
Centenary anniversaries in 2014-2018 represent a unique moment in history - See more at: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/first-world-war-books.html#sthash.SBedxhQE.dpuf
Centenary anniversaries in 2014-2018 represent a unique moment in history - See more at: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/first-world-war-books.html#sthash.SBedxhQE.dpuThe centenary of the First World War represents a unique moment in history. As well as the military events, this book focuses on the people who lived through that time; it's a glimpse of Cornish life a hundred years ago. I hope it will appeal to everyone with an interest in Cornwall's past.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Badger: Yum Yum!

Tasty snack
A man from north Cornwall who regularly cooks and consumes animals killed on local roads says culled badgers should be given to the public - so they can eat them.

Arthur Boyt (73) wolfs down weasels, rats and squirrels, as well as the unlucky brocks. He began eating roadkill 50 years ago, and still scoops up flattened animals for his dinner table. Mr Boyt believes all badgers killed under the Government's recent culling scheme should be served up, and has developed a recipe for badger casserole.

"I've eaten badger for 55 years and I certainly haven't got TB," says Arthur. "As with all meat you just make sure you cook it long and hot enough to kill any bugs. Badgers are fully edible, and their meat could be used to feed the hungry rather than being chucked in a furnace, I can't see any point in that."

Mr Boyt, a former civil servant and scientist, does not kill animals, and all his free meat comes from the roads near his home on Bodmin Moor. He also has an interest in taxidermy, and lives with long-suffering wife Sue, a vegetarian. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Jeremy Kyle: TV To Be Ashamed Of

Recently, a guest on TV's Jeremy Kyle Show hit the presenter in the head with a heavy envelope containing DNA test results proving he was the father of his girlfriend's baby. Hurled with great force, the envelope's edge caught Kyle around the ear. 

Clearly shaken, our host turned to confront his guest who threatened to "knock him out." Two of the show's bouncers stepped in to calm the situation before it escalated. 

The man, named only as Kev, and his girlfriend Elana appeared on an episode titled, 'Will our relationship survive two lie-detector tests and a DNA test.' Not included were tests such as general knowledge. 

To find people suitable for his programme, Kyle drives to run-down areas in an ice-cream van full of crack. He parks outside Pound Shops and Cash Converters, handing out drugs, cheap cider and tickets for the show. 

It’s two weeks later. On one side of the TV studio are several fat ugly people, all related and all sleeping with each other; on the other a baying, prurient audience. Kyle stands between them taking the piss and generally, no-one gets it. But sometimes it can be a risky business for the pint-sized personality, which is why the bodyguards are there. That, and the added buzz if they have to step in. 

The whole point of the Jeremy Kyle Show is to present a morbid procession of freakish people who are in some kind of turmoil. The programme titillates viewers who enjoy watching a human form of bear-baiting, inexplicably billed as entertainment. Really, even ITV should be ashamed.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Welby, Wonga and Wealth

Fighting the good fight?
Clear-eyed Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has launched a campaign against the money-lenders of Wonga. Sadly though, it’s since emerged his church funds the very company Archbishop Welby so wishes to oppose. Some prior fact-checking wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

In place of pay-day loan providers, Welby advocates Credit Unions. But there’s nothing new here; Unions have always offered an attractive and responsible alternative to rip-off loans.

Of course the church loves a fight; think of all the good things achieved by the Crusades, or the Reformation. How Welby intends to resource his challenge is left unclear but whatever happens, the church's support for Credit Unions will always be arms-length. Any taint of church-backed Unions being involved in say, sub-prime mortgage failure or scandal involving PPI would harm its reputation fatally.

Is Welby even attacking the right target? If banks were pressured to become more co-operative with loans, many people could avoid loan-sharks. Or how about demanding a living wage for the low-paid, so they can feed their families without resorting to usurers?

It’s not just the misdirection of Welby’s outburst which rankles. More irksome is his sense of entitlement to speak for those beyond his church's dwindling flock, to address wider society on temporal as well as spiritual matters.

Welby’s challenge to poverty might be better received, and more effective, if his church helped out by parting with some of its own resources. The Church of England’s hoarded wealth is currently a staggering £5.5 billion, helped by tax-free status. Yet even in these harsh times, every Sunday at services across Britain the collecting plate ensures ever more money rolls in.

In speaking out so, the new Archbishop of Canterbury follows his right-on leftie predecessor Rowan Williams, and shows a similar hilarious media naivety. Before Justin Welby addresses secular issues he should put his own out-of-step house in order, as gay people and women priests would no doubt agree.  

Friday, 30 August 2013

Spot The Difference (12): Dobby vs Charles Windsor

Dobby the elf is a character from the 'Harry Potter' series of children's books. Looks a little worried and anxious, eh readers.

Perhaps Dobby has secrets he's afraid will be found out. Is he feeling guilty over some past misdemeanour? Does he live in dread of retribution? Or maybe he's just a sponging ponce, growing ever richer while the rest of us struggle on.

And - oh, look, it's Charles Windsor.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The C Word: Caravans

Know your enemy
Each summer, Satan sends caravanners to torment the good people of Cornwall. Even on the shortest journey I meet lines of terrible white boxes, choking every bypass and lane west of the Tamar.

You’d think caravanners would squirm with embarrassment and guilt at the enormous traffic tailbacks they cause, humbly move aside to let normal road-users pass. But no: every year they appear, torturing us with their snail-like progress.

To tow a caravan, training is not required. You just hitch up your little tin home and lurch off down the road, swaying like a cobra. Caravanners’ towing cars are often dreadful, unsuitably small or old, while the vans have bizarre brand-names: ‘Speedbird’, ‘Carefree’ and stretching things to breaking-point, ‘Popular’.

What sort of people are caravanners? Stony-faced old gits whose driving is best described as cautious; they can’t read maps and sat-navs are modern rubbish, so everywhere they dither. At all times they glare straight ahead, never use their mirrors and hog the middle lane. Or else it’s poor fat families of sweaties, crushed into grimy estates; if only the parents had tried harder at school, today they could afford a holiday ‘abroad’.

I'll just put the kettle on
Caravanners drive 500 miles from their conurbations to ‘the country’, and park in a turd-strewn field one foot from another caravan. They unload trashy garden furniture; little plastic fences are put out to mark their territories, like some incontinent mongrel dog. For two weeks caravanners eat from Tupperware containers, sleep on planks and play cards in the rain.  Full marks for resilience; no wonder they’re serene about causing road misery.

I don’t like Top Gear, a TV programme, but it has the right idea with caravans.  Every week, new ways are shown of ridiculing caravanners and destroying their ‘homes-on-wheels’. Normal people who all detest caravans can watch appreciatively as ‘emmet-bins’ are dropped from great heights onto concrete, or thrown in the sea.

Caravanning: it’s like a tow-along house, except it’s shit.  Come on caravanners, why not give it up and take a decent holiday? Give us all a break.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Bongo Bongo Land: Another UKIP Triumph!

Bloom: up-to-the-minute
Recently, UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom addressed party supporters in the Midlands on the subject of Britain’s foreign aid policy. Mr Bloom isn't terribly keen on helping others. 

In a recording leaked to The Guardian, Bloom is heard saying: “How we can give a billion pounds a month to Bongo Bongo Land, when we’re in this sort of debt, is completely beyond me.” 

No matter what you think of foreign aid provided by Britain and the way some recipients spend the money, it’s clear what Bloom implied with his derogatory expression. He’s previously aired other retro views. 

Soon after he was appointed to the European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality he declared: “No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.” 

‘Old-school’ Bloom has also admitted visiting brothels, and has claimed that far from being exploited most prostitutes “do it because they want to.” 

Following his latest exposure Bloomosaurus made an uncompromising apology, saying: “At a public speech in early July, I used a term which I subsequently gather under certain circumstances could be interpreted as pejorative to some individuals and possibly cause offence.” 

UKIP’s leader, lovable eccentric Nigel Farage, emphatically rejected Bloom’s conduct, saying: "We're asking Godfrey if he’d mind not using this phrase again, as it might be considered disparaging by some people from the 21st century." 

It’s good to know UKIP has its finger so firmly on the pulse of contemporary standards of behaviour and language. Where do they think they are, King Solomon’s Mine?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Dave the Friendly Dolphin

Here’s a true story. 

This summer the Devon coastal village of Combe Martin has a new resident. Christened Dave by local people, a playful dolphin has made his home in the village’s bay. He’s often seen performing his aquabatic routines, and likes to zoom around canoeists and kayakers.

Recently Lucy Watkins, 14, was out kayaking with her grandparents, Nina and Mike. She’d been watching the dolphin’s antics for several minutes before he dived down and came up with a huge fish, dropping it next to her.

At first she was reluctant to take it, but the friendly dolphin nudged it towards her, before reappearing with his own dinner: a sea bass. Lucy said: “He definitely wanted me to have his fish. He first dropped it 20ft away but then pushed it to within 5ft of my kayak. Everyone on the beach was watching and we caused quite a stir when we paddled in with the cod.”

Nina added: “If I hadn't seen it myself I'd never have believed it. Perhaps he was lonely and wanted human company. He was with us for about two hours. 

“It seemed rude to refuse him, so we took the fish and had cod and chips for supper. It was massive - I've still got half in the freezer.”

As Lucy said: “To have this wonderful creature give me a fish he would usually have for his own dinner made me feel on top of the world.”
 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Cornwall's Photographer: George Ellis

George Ellis at work
George Ellis moved to Bodmin with his wife Jessie on Sunday 3 September 1939, a date he'd always be able to recollect. The following morning he began work at the Bodmin-based Cornish Guardian, as the paper’s staff photographer. George had trained as an engineer but hoping to turn his hobby into a livelihood, had left his job to become a press photographer.

Early in life George had many adventures; he crossed the Atlantic in a Moravian Missionary windjammer, spending six months in Labrador with the Eskimos to record their way of life. Keen on deep-sea fishing, he made several long trips with his cameras to explore the fishing-grounds of the North Sea and the Arctic. Afterwards he gave talks about his experiences, illustrated with his photographs: ‘The Western Isles’, ‘A Trip to Labrador’, ‘Meet Mrs Eskimo’.

Bodmin 1943: Bob Hope entertains the troops
With a growing family though, the expeditions came to an end. George worked for the Guardian until the summer of 1940, but wartime paper rationing led to his redundancy. He became self-employed, and began to build up his own photographic business in Bodmin.

Throughout the war, George also served with the Royal Observer Corps at the Bodmin Beacon post known as S.3. When American troops arrived, he set up a small studio so the GIs could send home photographs of themselves with their Cornish girlfriends. George was one of the few press photographers with access to military establishments, notably the naval airfield at St Merryn.

He liked to be known as George W F Ellis, and styled himself Cornwall’s leading Press Photographer. Working from his premises at 4 St Nicholas Street, he contributed to the Guardian but supplied other newspapers too, including the Western Morning News, and magazines such as Women’s Own; most of his work was in black and white. George also printed calendars bearing local scenes, and started a lucrative line in post-cards carrying his images. They sold in thousands; many survive today as collectable items.

Cornish saffron buns: a mixed reception.
Though he tended to focus on mid-Cornwall, George also travelled widely across the Duchy. His camera faithfully captured village life: Young Farmers functions, baby shows, carnival queens, musical occasions, agricultural shows, wassailers. George loved traditional occasions, and for around 30 years attended the annual Shrove Tuesday hurling at St Columb Major, as well as Padstow’s May Day festivities. He covered local sporting fixtures and enjoyed weddings; images with large groups of people usually meant good sales, as often mementos were ordered by the subjects. Some of his more unusual assignments included a rat-catching session at Liskeard, a party for centenarian Mrs Alicia Tugwell, and a giant haddock.

Charlotte Dymond memorial, 1943
But as well as parochial happenings, he photographed some big events: the manhunt following Newquay’s murder in July 1958; the Royal Cornwall Shows; the Tamar road bridge under construction. George was interested in technology, and travelled to the Lizard as the Goonhilly satellite station was being commissioned in mid-1962. St Austell’s china clay industry and the Cornish railways also attracted his lens.

George’s work was generally of fine quality but sometimes he was a little snap-happy. In his archives, some rural and shoreline scenes occur again and again; it seems he cherished certain views which he felt compelled to revisit. Numerous images, particularly the topographical, can’t be dated accurately because there are no people, cars or buildings to suggest when they were taken. A few show human failing; like everyone else, occasionally George would produce blurred, wobbly or lop-sided images, heads or feet missing. But he kept them all.

When the chance arose, George photographed royalty and the famous. Among them were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, together with Princess Elizabeth, when they visited Bodmin during the summer of 1950; twelve years later he recorded the Queen Mother once more, at the official opening of the new Tamar Bridge. He also visited Fowey, where he snapped a resident whose lifetime of artistic work had been admired by millions: Mabel Lucie Attwell.

Winter at Jamaica Inn, 1950s
As he aged, George’s photographs concentrated more on central Cornwall, nearer his home. He officially retired in 1975 but worked until his eighties. In retirement he developed an interest in painting, and kept up his musical activities: singing, and playing the piano and organ. George died in October 1985.

Today though, thousands of his negatives are still with us, held by the Cornish Studies Library at Redruth. George’s records of his work have also survived, great hand-written ledgers organised with a generous dash of Byzantium. Frozen in time, these historic images of Cornwall exist today thanks to the constant enthusiasm of George Ellis, and his indefatigable camera.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Cornwall's Unique Stone: Serpentine

Serpentine is the beautiful stone found at the foot of the Lizard peninsula, Cornwall's most southerly point.  Though it occurs elsewhere, the Cornish variety is uniquely coloured; dark green, red or grey, run through with contrasting seams, it polishes like marble to a wonderfully deep sheen.

For centuries, serpentine-bearing blocks were used to build the Lizard’s homes and farm buildings.  Local people also carved small decorative objects but it was a Mr Drew who first saw business possibilities for ornamental items, when he arrived in 1828 to repair the peninsula’s lighthouse.  The rock’s glorious tones must have caught his eye; he developed a polishing technique to buff it to a fine lustre, and opened a concern in his home town of Penzance which cut and carved serpentine items commercially.

A second factory soon opened nearby, at Wherrytown, also in Penzance; at first, orders were taken for items such as pedestals, vases, flower stands and mantelpieces.  But a boost came in 1846, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert called at the town aboard the royal yacht.  Ashore, they were shown specimens of polished serpentine.

Enchanted by the colours, the royal holidaymakers made an unscheduled visit to see the rock in its natural surroundings.  They ordered many serpentine items for their Osborne House residence, including several mantelpieces and twelve polished vase bases.  News of the stone travelled among the great-and-good of the land; with royal approval, serpentine grew as a fashionable material.

During 1851 the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park, an enormous show of culture and industry; from May to October, six million people visited.  Serpentine was exhibited there, bringing the unfamiliar rock before a huge audience.  Business soared; to represent the stone in the capital, the London and Penzance Serpentine Company was formed.

Orders arrived for ever-larger pieces: towering obelisks, columns, ecclesiastical pieces, fireplaces.  Cornish serpentine found its way to Chatsworth House, Hampton Court and Westminster Abbey.  Across Britain, the stone decorated the exteriors of municipal buildings and prominent shops.  Locally, serpentine was used to create ornamental items within the Lizard’s churches, including lecterns and pulpits at Grade and St Wynwallow.

In 1853 the Lizard Serpentine Company was founded, on the peninsula close to the stone, in tiny Poltesco valley; it too opened a London office.  Whereas Wherrytown used a steam engine to power its processing machinery, at first Poltesco relied on a waterwheel driven by the stream which ran through the valley; later, it acquired an engine of its own.

The two factories were great rivals, but there seemed enough work to go round.  Quarrying increased, all within a few miles of Lizard Village.  The raw serpentine was hewn in ever larger slabs; blasting damaged the material, so instead jacks, wedges and cranes were used.

But gradually a problem emerged with some of the veneers adorning building exteriors.  Serpentine wasn’t sufficiently resilient in the face of severe cold or frost, and away from the Lizard’s gentle climate the thin sheets began to flake and crack.  Serpentine’s critics, not least those from the rival marble trade, lost no time in hand-wringing.

Wherrytown put up the shutters but its rival continued, buoyed temporarily by the closure; during 1871 a change of ownership created the Poltesco Serpentine Marble Company.  Finally though, in 1893, the Lizard enterprise closed down too.  Processing and manufacturing equipment was sold off, the workforce left and the valley fell silent.

That might have been the end of the story, but as serpentine’s large-scale uses fell into decline, a new market emerged for items which could be made by small workshops: the tourist trade.  By the 1880s, amongst its myriad routes the Great Western Railway had opened a branch line to Helston, the Lizard’s northernmost point.  Later an omnibus connection appeared between Helston and Lizard Village.

Holidaymakers eagerly bought serpentine keepsakes: ash-trays, paperweights, tobacco jars.  Tourism developed into a mainstay of Cornwall’s economy, and demand for souvenirs grew.  The serpentine workers improved their artistry, creating bowls, miniatures and vases as well as elegant lighthouses, symbolic reminders of the seas around the Duchy’s long coastline.

Today a handful of craftsmen still work at Lizard Village and local showrooms sell serpentine pieces.  Poltesco valley shows evidence of its former use; the three-storey warehouse built in 1866 remains, as well as workshop footings and the waterwheel pit, during springtime surrounded with vivid wild flowers.

The best place on the Lizard to see serpentine in its raw state is Kynance Cove, where the pounding sea’s natural polish has fashioned and smoothed the rocks, leaving them gleaming as it recedes.  Against the soft white sand, Cornish serpentine stands out rich and unique.