Finished my latest major bit of reading ‘Citizen Clem’ by John Guy. Through my interest in Churchill I had often come across Attlee but purely as a background figure. I had wanted to know more, just as I would like to know a lot more about the other great reformer of the twentieth century Loyd George. So, to the book. It was 550 odd pages of pure pleasure. A serious History by a serious historian, yes. But written in such a style as to always leave you wanting to pick up again and find out how things developed next. Attlee was in fact something of a hero, and a very unlikely one at that. And, although Churchill himself called him ‘a modest man with much to be modest about’ the truth is that he had every confidence in leaving Attlee in charge when on his many forays abroad. He was also glad to leave most of Home Affairs in Attlee’s capable hands. Now although one cannot get away from Attlee’s shyness, his reserve, and how this translated into his political life, the fact is that Attlee oversaw the greatest and most radical transformation of British society in this momentous century including the establishment of the NHS and social insurance. He was also very influential in giving India its independence and ensuring the smooth transition from Empire to Commonwealth….all this fro a man who was a great patriot but whose background and early feelings led him to be very pro-Empire. One of the reasons he was able to push through so much in such a short time was the fact that it was difficult to criticise him..he was the archetypal upright public servant. And this reminds one of another important aspect of what he argued for and achieved…his belief that new rights could only be bound up with new duties. Thus the title of the book….Citizen Clem. Citizenship was what he aspired to. He had lots of people who tried to do him down at times, Churchill foremost, but significantly most of these people were his own back benchers and Ministers. He handled them with aplomb. What I found fascinating was that very often his knight in shining armour was Ernie Bevin. Now there was a man – I would like to know more about him. Such a pity that John Guy hasn’t written his biography. Anyway a truly great history, much enjoyed.
Drove to St Ives 65 miles so just over half a tank of lpg making the return journey £12.50, not bad. After touring the council estate on the hill we found a parking space on-street, and made our way down to the Tate which we discovered is re-opening in a few days, so we will call in there next time. We did however call in the Porthmeor cafe which is opposite the Tate and had our usual enjoyable lunch there, marvelling at the almost tropical views before us…the pic above is taken from our lunch table. Interestingly, when we walked around to the far side of the harbour we found that the seas there were quite rough, and we actually spent an enjoyable 5 minutes watching people walking or running along the pathway getting soaked with spray, before negotiating the ambush area ourselves….
We then spent an enjoyable quarter of an hour sitting on a bench by St Ives Art Club, watching a seal frolicking nearby – perhaps driven in by the rough swells. The way back to the car was through town and we spent another (!) 5 minutes sitting in the pleasant memorial garden opposite St Ia’s church. That tropical feeling again…one or two art galleries completed a most enjoyable visit……
On the journey home we stopped off for a drink at the Old Quay Inn Devoran, and wandered down to the creek. The whole riverside area had undergone a bit of a transformation since last we were here with gravelled path, seats and information boards. The latter showed that like nearly everywhere in Cornwall the settlement was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a hive of industry..it is almost unbelievable seeing the idyllic scene today to imagine mines and workings and a busy industrial quayside…an improvement we must suppose, but sad about the loss of industry, wealth and jobs! It was amusing when we walked to the end of the quayside opposite Point to see a labrador enjoying himself walking presumably on a sandbank almost 100 yards out into the creek…you may just be able to see him on the pic……in fact the water seemed only a foot deep for as far as we could see…..
Short trip to Cothele to see the spring flowers, especially pretty in the old orchard. The attempts to have a daffodil theme around the house and grounds did seem a little contrived however…
As usual with the NT you get a nice cup of tea and home-made cake in the old barn which is ‘done up’ rather nicely…
Just want to mention the magnificence of the Cornish hedgerows around us at this time of year…more primroses than you could imagine plus ransom and wild garlic popping up and beginning to flower, and bluebells showing incipient growth. These together with flowering weeds of purple and white, always make our walks and bus or car trips a real pleasure…The iwalkcornwall site has this to say about primroses, and we confirm that we have seen the pale pink ones in all kinds of places, but usually singly….
‘Although most primroses tend to be pale yellow, in residential areas, extensive hybridisation occurs with pink and purple garden primulas to create all kinds of weird and wonderful mutants, with some even shaped like cowslips. However there is a pale pink variety of primrose (known as rhubarb and custard) that is thought to be a naturally-occurring variant of the pale yellow (rhubarb-free) version as it has been found miles away from any domestic plants.
During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable’.
At home the garden is starting to put on a real show with our never-ending pink camellia by the house plus one at the bottom of the garden, and a deeper red and a double white, plus our own primroses as well as our pots of primroses and hyacinths and our two troughs with alpines which are doing very well indeed.
By train to Exeter, first class. One of those rare occasions when I found first class tickets cheaper than standard, and what a difference it made to our journey. In fact the carriage we were in seemed brand new…the leather seats were sumptuous, it was all nice and quiet and refined, and free coffee and pastries were welcome. I never want to travel second class again! The train journey itself is a picturesque one crossing several rivers and estuaries, lovely countryside and Powderham Castle (which we must visit soon). We arrived at Exeter St David’s and did the 20 minute walk into the city centre, past some nice houses, parts of
the medieval town wall and a pleasant park. We then booked the one hour tour around the cathedral (2 for 1 with our rail journey…welcome because it was £7.50 each otherwise). A fascinating tour around a simply marvellous Gothic interior, one of the finest in Europe. It is most famous perhaps for its two Norman towers and impressive west front carvings but also for the fact that it has the longest unbroken stretch of Gothic vaulting in the world. The bosses were magnificently painted and it was truly awe-inspiring to see a full reproduction of one at ground level…..a full two tons in weight, and each one acting as the keystone. We were impressed too with the Minstrels’ Gallery, the 15 Century Astronomical Clock, the complete set of Misercords (with a very interesting side-story of the one carved as an elephant), and the highly decorated tombs, bosses and corbels. Great for me in particular was to see the chantry chapel of Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter who was one of the founders of my school Manchester Grammar School. I was delighted to see, on seemingly every inch of spare space, carvings of the owl which I used to proudly (I think) wear on my school cap. This reflected Hugh’s sense of humour as he was ribbed for his North Country accent when he referred to himself as ‘ Ugh Owldom’. We wandered around more of the city seeing different pieces of the town wall (apparently 70% survives), and for the first time Exeter Castle which is quite impressive. Much to see in future visits….
For the first time we went to buy fish during the week in Looe and that meant that the fish supplier we have never found open on a Saturday (our food shopping day in Looe), was there. Simply Fish we found to be different from our usual fishmonger Pengelley’s in one important respect – we viewed the whole fish in the boxes they came in from the market earlier that day. That meant that it was as fresh as fresh could be. We chose a haddock and a plaice, and left them to be filleted while we went on our walk. When we returned not only were they ready, but the fishmonger had added two pieces of Pollack at no charge because he said he didn’t think the plaice was enough for a meal for the two of us. The cost was £7.50, cheap indeed. Amazing. I have nothing against Pengelley’s whose service has been amazing, but I have always thought that buying pre-prepared fillets is not as satisfactory – as you don’t know how old they are, and they might have been frozen before sale. So now we have an alternative.
Finished ‘The Killing 2’. Was it as good as the first in the series? I honestly can’t say. It was long, complicated (for me), and crammed full with incident and plot turns, and it had a contemporary theme..involvement in foreign wars and possible trouble from immigrants at home. There were one or two loose threads for me at the denouement but what I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and it was crime writing of the very highest standard. I might however wait a while before reading the last in the series!
Decided today to combine visiting Lidl at Newquay for our weekend’s shopping with visits to some of the North coast beaches we didn’t know. First to Constantine Bay. A great choice. It was wonderful weather with blue skies and the beach was vast with lovely sand dunes backing it.
At one point on our walk to the far end we saw the high-water mark and unbelievable amounts of plastic detritus, just as had been described on a recent TV program as affecting most beaches these days. Apparently all the plastic that has ever been made still exists in some form….astonishing!! We really need to do something about this problem world-wide but I have determined if I can remember (more and more difficult these days) to take a refuse sack where we go and spend a short while at least picking up rubbish. There were few people on the huge expanse of sand, mainly dog walkers. One friendly old gent who stopped on the dunes path to let us pass said what a privilege it was that we were there on such a wonderful day – he was exactly right. From there we drove to Treyarnon Bay which was fine but overlooked by houses and nowhere near as pleasant as Constantine. Then it was to Porthcothan Bay….where we didn’t stop…a town beach, and no doubt crowded in season because of the plethora of holiday houses and caravans around. Finally we stopped at Mawgan Porth which was lovely if narrow-seeming, hemmed in by the cliffs on each side. The surf swell was impressive and the views too. We saw a group of about 6 people obviously measuring something. When F. politely enquired, we were told that they were measuring sand levels over a period of time because there was a serious sand-loss problem.
Finished Patrick o’Brian’s ‘The Fortune of War’. What a book, what an author! ‘The greatest historical novelist of all time’ according to The Times. Would I agree? I certainly would. And this without me understanding at all a good portion of what he writes. I believe I may have read the first novel in the series but am not sure. This is certainly the sort of sequence of books that I would like to read from end to end and then back again. Set in the times of Britain’s sailing mastery of the seas, around the time of Nelson, the novels are about Captain Jack Aubrey and his good friend the surgeon and secret agent Stephen Maturin. In this particular story, they are about to return to England from the Dutch East Indies when the War of 1812 against America breaks out….two sea engagements ensue one lost, one won and Maturin, when captured, finds his spying activities catching up with him in a potentially deadly way. Much excitement and a wonderful re-creation of life at sea are just the basis for a wonderful storyteller to engage us in every way. And the amount of research underlying the novel, in foreign as well as native archives, is absolutely breathtaking. Wherever possible, as the author explains in his preface, history and fiction intertwine…’in this book I have two historical frigate actions and when I describe them I keep strictly to the contemporary accounts’ which he then enumerates. In the frontispiece there is a diagram of a square rigged ship with its 21 different sails….but this hardly enables you to keep up with a fraction of the detailed action. Nevertheless, and rather surprisingly, this in no way spoils your pleasure…as the TLS said of another of the sequence ‘each incident or description is saturated by a mass of complex and convincing detail…such details might be overwhelming were they not reduced to their proper status as background by the superabundant liveliness and lifelikeness of the characters and by the pace and excitement of the narrative……..’.
We had noticed Pinetum on travelling past St Austell before and, as it is supposed to be one of Cornwall’s best gardens, we thought we would give it a try. Pleasant enough but hardly spectacular. The winter garden was very impressive though with lots of colour and foliage shapes, and since coming back we have ordered Cornus Midwinter for our own garden as it was a spectacular display. £8 each a bit expensive, and the Nursery was pretty pathetic to be honest. As we were near Carlyon Bay we popped into the Hotel where we had lunched before and had a very good value pot of tea and sandwiches (which were very tasty and fresh). We then walked down to the beach where on last year’s visit there was a lot of construction work going on. It was quite impressive to find a fine sandy beach with an area designated for disc golf (new to me, and most others I dare say), and ongoing work taking place. Should be excellent when finished. On the way back we called in to Fowey and parked for free at Readymoney Cove, with a pretty and interesting walk in to town. I can still find nothing to fault with Fowey….although there is evidently a lot of wealth around it does seem relatively unspoilt. A pint at the Ship Inn rounded off another good day.It is Fowey’s oldest pub dating from the sixteenth century and has a nice friendly, historic appeal inside.