Three men in a boat, a picnic hamper and a dark tale involving suitcases….

Going to the theatre is a bit like catching buses. You don’t go for ages and then multiple opportunities to climb on board come along in quick succession.

Well, I know it’s not everyone’s analogy. But that’s how it is for me.

One trip to the theatre is special. Two in the same week is downright indulgent. A rare cornucopia of theatrical delights after an ceaselessly LONG dramatic pause. And, please believe me, Victorian comedy with exaggerated acting and modernised jokes on Tuesday followed by the early 18th century’s  Beggar’s Opera twisted, reformed and spat screaming into the 21st Century on Friday, left me feeling a bit dazed like a rabbit caught in the spotlight.

As stories go, the first was light and comic, it involved three chaps buffooning wonderfully and a female pianist who we always thought was on the point of breaking into words, but never did. Her expressions did her talking.photo 1 photo 3

The Hall for Cornwall offered me two tickets to see Three Men in a Boat , a complimentary pre-theatre ‘hamper’ worth £15, of local cheeses, olives, fresh bread and a selection salamis, I would guess by the quality were from of Deli Farm Charcuterie, to enjoy before the show and washed down with generous glasses of wine.  It was a totally unexpected invitation, and as with things unexpected, I had  absolutely no idea what to expect. It seems most others are equally clueless, as every time I mentioned “I went to see three men in a boat…” the quick reply would come back with a questions: “What?  Dara Ó Briain, Rory McGrath and Griff Rhys Jones  in person?” It  goes to prove the  TV series has overshadowed the original Jerome K Jerome’s classic tale of boating misadventure on which this production was based.

As the first people to sample the Hall for Cornwall’s hamper,  this ‘new’ initiative, we felt a little self-conscious, but once we’d taken our seats at the front of the theatre, felt bereft of ‘picnic’ hamper that by that time we’d demolished and left in the bar. The scene set and a hilarious tale from the river told,  it was just the thing that should really have been taken with us and eaten on this imaginary river bank…..

Produced by The Original Theatre Company and The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds the performance drew on the quintessential example of the charm and wit of Victorian England. Attempting to escape the stresses of city life, three friends, Harris, George and J – accompanied by their faithful canine companion – decide to take to the river in order to relax and rejuvenate.

The holiday, however, quickly unravels and descends into chaos… and my friend and I, on the other hand, soon found ourselves sitting amid people roaring with laughter. We looked at each other, and laughed like the last people to catch on with the joke.

 

The later end of the week, “Dead Dog in a suitcase (and other love songs)” A new Beggar’s Opera, from the ever inventive Kneehigh Theatre, was laced with dark humour and a grim tale of bribery, corruption, immorality and greed brought right up to date.

It was meant as a family outing for a birthday treat. It was only at the end I read not suitable for under 14’s. Well, my youngest, may have a been a little traumatized by the bawdy brothel scenes, but he is only a few months off his 14th and he’ll get over it.

I’ve grown up with the Kneehigh, I’ve been on an adolescent journey with them since I was sixteen, and frankly, there’s nothing quite like a Kneehigh performance for sheer inventiveness, puppetry, pyrotechnics and performance.

Mayor Goodman has been assassinated. Contract killer Macheath has just married Pretty Polly Peachum and Mr and Mrs Peachum aren’t happy. Not one bit.

Based on the Beggar’s Opera, John Gay’s classic musical satire, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) is busting with wit, wonder and weirdness. An extraordinary Kneehigh cast of actor musicians shoot, hoot and shimmy their way through this twisted morality tale of our times…by turns SHOCKING, HILARIOUS, HEARTFELT and ABSURD!

The gorgeous and powerful live score combines trip hop and folk, Renaissance polyphony and psychedelia, and ska, grime and dubstep. … echoing Gay’s original by plundering the sounds of our times.

What the HELL is the world coming to?

This is now, this is it

The world is poor and man’s a shit

The game is rigged, nothing’s truer

Death’s a joke and life a sewer!

As drama it couldn’t  have been more much more different – barring the energy of both performances, that both were brilliant and a somewhat ‘stiff’ dog in each play – I didn’t know whether to end my week laughing, howling or just to end it.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/100090170″>STORY</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/wearekneehigh”>WeAreKneehigh</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

 

My Shop Local Dilemma

Rodda’s, and I’ve no shame in saying it, is my favourite ‘local brand’.

This was last Christmas’ surprise  present from Rodda’s. It was as if they knew!

My Christmas pudding would have choices; local butter for the brandy butter, clotted cream which is in my opinion the perfect complement to its  sweet, rich stickyness or, Rodda’s newest product, custard.

photo[4] Rodda’s is not my favourite brand just because it is local (because its Cornish)  it’s my favourite because it is sooooo good!

I go out of my way to only buy Rodda’s milk – a by-product of their cream – which is premium because to make premium clotted cream Rodda’s choose their West Cornwall farms carefully. Right down to the quality of soil, the amount of rainfall, the richness of pasture, the husbandry of cows….

However, my favourite product is their crème fraîche.  I use it in much of cooking and prefer it to cream on many desserts. Or, I confess, I often have a  sneaky spoonful just on it own. If I get fat on it, well so be it, because I’ll get fat happy.

But in all the waxing happy about milk and cream and Cornishness there is on thing that makes me angrier than a wasp caught in a glass….

Every time I see the infuriating, and let’s face it,  fairly patronising message to “Shop Local, Support Local” I see red.

It hints at superiority and it insults the shopper who been valiantly trying to do those very things…

It’s an empty command, just like, “Have a Nice Day” with no real instruction. I’ve no idea how to go about a nice day especially when I’m frustrated by how  to “Shop Local”.

Would I be wrong if I thought it means buying things that have been produced locally, cutting down my food miles and supporting the local economy by buying from and supporting local businesses?

The Choose Cornish campaign was an excellent and really pro-active drive to Shop Local because it explains how it could be done and the difference it would make to the Cornish Economy.   Ruth Huxley, of Cornwall Food & Drink, and her husband’s Supermarket-free challenge was inspiring and I’d like nothing more that to be able to do there same…

However…..and this is like the big BUT that makes me furious…where I live it’s a vacuum of most things that are good and enrich the local area. For heaven’s sake, we live in area which is probably more abundant than any other park of the UK for the diversity and quality of fresh local food but in my town there is precious little local choice.

I want to be able to buy fresh fish caught in St. Austell Bay (St Austell mussels are fat, succulent and worthy of a mention) but I’m offered Iceland and 99p store instead :_( or make a special trip to Fowey or Mevagissey for a fishmonger.

I used to dream of opening a ‘local food’ shop as the ‘Farm Shop in town’ that would supply fresh locally produced and locally sourced. It works in Truro, it works in other towns and surely, since it can work in places that are way off the main routes, such as Padstow Farm Shop or  Trevaskis Farm Shop, near Hayle, because they become ‘destinations’ it could work in my town too?

But first there has to be sincerity to back those kind of ideas.  I doubt that St. Austell residents are any less keen to ‘Shop Locally’ in this town than they are to shop locally anywhere else.   There’s an appetite for it but no culture of enthusiasm to make it happen in the town centre.

In the meantime, thank goodness for the online shopping from Cornish Food Market and Cornish Food Box. I can sort of  ‘shop local’.  Just not how I want to be able to do it. Face to face with a shop keepers where I can select for myself the cut of local beef I like, where I can be told its breed and the farm it came from such as  the butchers, Philip Warren in Launceston.

But don’t get me wrong, St. Austell still has three pasty shops (I think there were seven not that long ago), we’ve an OK butcher and the two green grocers now long gone have been replaced by just one veg stall… It’s disappointingly little to draw me in to shop and support all the other shops  in a town centre that is meant to serve the biggest population in the whole of Cornwall!

We once had a Tesco in town, and although it was competition at the same time  it supported the independent shops by growing the footfall and flow around the town, but now if I want to buy the Cornish basics:  Rodda’s milk  or Davidstow Cheese,  I have to drive to Tesco, two miles from the Town Centre where I live.

There’s absolutely nothing more I’d rather do that shop in and support the place and the people where I live.

Nothing feels better than the money I spend going back into the local economy.

I’ve sat since Christmas with this post in my drafts file while I deliberated for a long time if it was right to post. Just because I feel very strongly about shopping locally doesn’t give me the right to shove it down people’s throats. In the end, shopper’s make their own choices and like to be incentivized to ‘choose’ not ‘preached to’ into feeling bad.

Please, don’t tell me to shop locally, I already do what I can, but if the ‘Local offer is not provided’ through local food shops, cafes and restaurants or it’s like being told to drink fresh spring water, because it’s good for you, in a pub.

Once there are local shops to visit regularly  for my daily needs, I’ll naturally start using the other local traders too for those less frequent purchases.

I just happen to think that facilitating that effort should not be placed on the shoulders of the customer. Shops have to provide the ‘local’ that ‘locals’ want to buy.

ChooseCornish from Cornwall Food & Drink on Vimeo.

 

Erase the Negative. Embrace the Positive.

Poor old St. Austell, beleaguered, battle worn and blighted in particular over this last year, by division and negativity.  The refusal of an out-of-town retail development for St. Austell at Coyte Farm didn’t bring jubilation in the street, despite the ‘Stop Coyte’ spurious claims that 83% of the people were against it. In fact, judging by the sheer volume of letters, almost unanimous in the voice of disappointment, printed in the Cornish Guardian in the weeks following the planning refusal, the opposite was true.

The trouble is that every attempt to give a ‘positive’ message either limps with phrases like, ‘St. Actually-quite-nice’; is lacklustre with ‘show some nice, not depressing, pictures’; or it backfires completely as the ‘Stop Coyte Farm’ campaign certainly did.

A recent poll on the ‘Silent Majority of St. Austell speak up’ Facebook page asked the question directly: “For a year the ‘Love St. Austell, Stop Coyte Farm’ posters were on display around St. Austell town centre. What effect did this campaign message have on your attitude towards the town centre?” 217 people answered the poll. A mere 5.1% said: “It made me feel more loyal to St. Austell. The message was positive and I felt more inclined to support my local traders”.Untitled

The campaign certainly made people much more aware of Coyte Farm, but not actually in the negative way the campaign intended. St. Austell people love and are fiercely loyal to their hometown and their memories are long. The majority consensus changed as they felt the addition of M&S to the retail portfolio of St. Austell would be a genuine opportunity for the area to claw itself out of the doldrums. It also insulted them because the campaign message implied that you couldn’t LOVE St. Austell if you wanted Coyte too.

Now, this is where things start to get serious. The campaign failed absolutely to have an impact on local people’s current shopping habits and neither did it make a significant number more inclined to support their local traders. In fact, 48.8%  said that the negative message in the word ‘Stop’ made them more inclined to shop elsewhere. If a retail survey were to show that trade in the town worsened in the last 12 months, then the energy that went into stopping Coyte Farm, rather than marketing the town itself in a wholly positive way, may well have been a contributing factor.

But the point is, people who have made a deliberate and conscious choice to live in or near St. Austell, buy houses and put down roots, haven’t done so because they hate the place. Ask anyone in the street, they’ll all say how much they want the town to improve and prosper even if each personal vision might differ.

Sadly, nothing will change and negatively will continue while one side remains mistrustful of the other.  As the article regarding the resigning of the Chairman of St. Austell Bay Chamber, last week in the paper, illustrated.

It stated, that a longstanding member of the Chamber said that 145 members voted against the Coyte Farm scheme. This cannot be true as the Chamber’s membership only recently topped 70 businesses.  The report also said the Chamber had received seven applications for membership from prominent supporters of the Coyte Farm scheme. It seems an odd thing to make mention of, it also makes a prejudicial assumption, as the particular member went on to say: “If they are genuine applications from businesses in the area that’s absolutely fine.” Meanwhile, the Chamber currently has four members whose addresses are from outside the St. Austell Bay area. So what is the point he is trying to make?  Could it be that different opinions, that might shake the status quo to oppose certain schemes and support others only, are really not acceptable?

So, while we wait for new Coyte plans to be submitted and with much cynicism placed on the genuine credibility of the ‘Animal Farm’ sounding ‘Together St. Austell’ where certain developers (because they are more local) ‘are more equal than others’ and who claim to have the backing of St. Austell Bids and the Chamber of Commerce when officially they haven’t been given that mandate… a split town is the present legacy of Coyte.

Let’s hope its not to be the enduring one, because, like an incitement for civil war, the Stop Coyte lobby have made it clear: “If you don’t entirely agree with us, you must be in the other camp by default.”

The reality is that most people, residents and business people, are much more open-minded, or have yet to be decided, and would rather be able to ask frank questions, get straight answers and consider the positive merits of each and every scheme, plan and vision and not just a chosen few. The biggest single act that will change the mood is a smile with a handshake; the most positive phrase St. Austell should adopt more frequently is simply, ‘Yes’.

Very Underprepared in the Feeling Festive

Christmas has barely touched me yet. Except for two preparations:

Sloe Schnapps (don’t let the Cork Dry Gin bottles fool you)  and the Christmas Cake.

This is how they currently look.  Tomorrow, I must write the Christmas letter 😦

Come back every few days to see if, and how, my Chrimbo preparations  have progresses….photo photo[1]

Moving on a little. Still no inspiration for the Christmas letter but the cake is developing slowly. The plan, in my head, is to make the cake look like a wrapped Christmas present with a bow…

…Hmm, let’s hope it works.photo 1
photo 2[1]
photo[2]

photo 2

Why the internet has made me try to be a better person.

Want me to trust your integrity? Just tell me your name.your-beliefs-dont-make-you-a-better-person-your-behavior-does

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been told to ‘get a life’, that I’m ‘naïve’ on more than one occasion and it’s been applied that I’m stupid, I’ve even been accused of being ‘paid to promote’ a ‘greed’-driven project. All of these have come from twitter accounts or Facebook pages that sound as if they are representative groups but use the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ which suggest they are just individuals with an axe to grind, and without an individual’s name they may be, for all I know, anonymous out of choice and accountable to no one. Either way, anonymity doesn’t inspire me with confidence in their authority.

Because, when I think a wave of opinion is misguided, misinformed or  verging on immoral I will step in, not to say “YOU ARE WRONG”, but to ask the question: “how do you know you are right?”

It’s not that I’m an antagonist person, because I like to think I’m pretty ordinary. You might pass me on the street, and I won’t stand out with a ‘get-me-noticed’ outfit or confident swagger. I chose a quite, peaceful life slipping by unnoticed in the crowd, but not anonymous.

My blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn have left my virtual footprint and I’m global. Whether I like it or not, I’m out there and Google will find me. Articles I’ve written, stuff I’ve liked or shared all give away little details of who I am, where I live and what I think.  So, each time I put my own name into a search engine and I’m surprised by what I find I’ve become ever more cautious.

I began blogging because I wanted to get the personal thoughts structured into words and out of the muddled rambling of my head. It disciplined me to be coherent, thoughtful, and certain. I don’t claim to be right but the aim is to present my own viewpoint, how I see it and why. People may, or may not, agree with me, it doesn’t really matter that much, but it’s heart warming and affirmative when they say they share some sentiment with what I’ve said. If, I’ve put into words what they also thought and they choose to come back, then I owe them decent writing at the very least.

Staying within the realms of personal territory is fairly safe, but lately I’ve been venturing into the minestrone soup of public opinions.  Other people’s ‘truths’ or ‘lies’ float like pasta noodles or ‘holier than thou’ chunks of farmer’s market brought veg. Don’t you know that holding strong beliefs doesn’t automatically give you the right to claim to be a better person if your actions are still dubious.  I sip carefully to separate, over tongue and through the teeth, the beliefs and opinion from the facts and research in an attempt to find the meaty chunks of substance and flavour.  I don’t want to have knowingly or deliberately posted inaccuracies as the truth and I aim not to carelessly dismiss opinions that are different to my own. So unless I’m very certain that I can back it up what I’m saying: personally, I won’t post.

Posting on the Internet, therefore carries responsibility.  For me, it’s my integrity that matters most and this makes me better mannered online than I might be in person. Overtime I’m becoming more of a stickler. It matters that I’m not going to be ashamed in some future time for what I’ve said. Blog posting takes time and effort to be sure and confident in its content. Even now my 140 character tweets can take a lot of writing and editing before I press the send button on them, because the throw away, unintentionally defamatory remark could be the thing that someone, one day, drags me into court for.

Clarity is not an absolute and it’s the possibility of what I try to make clear being misinterpreted that’s scary. Lift one or two of my lines, quote me and mix the order and it can change the emphasis, twist what I’m saying and alter the context of the truth.

So, I’ll only share the things I like; want to endorse or I think them funny enough to make a friend laugh. I won’t share anything with a negative message, even where I might share the sentiment.  Have you ever questioned where these negative scare stories come from? When it starts appearing on your Facebook page or twitter feed it’s likely it’s sponsored and you have to ask who’s posting this stuff and why?

Shortly after the announcement of Nelson Mandela’s death, for example, pre-prepared posts began to appear on twitter and Facebook, which said that David Cameron was a hypocrite to say that Mandela had been an inspiration to him. I found this offensive and I said so. Not in defence of Cameron, for me that had nothing to do with it, but because  Mandela’s legacy of integrity mattered to me.  I believe that coercing opinion by distorting  the true facts is disingenuous, and  a reflection of a suspicious soul.

These were my main reasons:

1) It devalued an event of the century, the death of one of the world’s greatest leaders, through using it as an opportunity for dirty and underhand political mud-slinging.

2) It was unforgiving in tone and was directly opposite to what Mandela said: ‘until you learn to forgive you cannot be truly free’. So the origin of these posts had not been inspired enough themselves to learn from Mandela’s example.

3) It suggested that our elected politicians are not afforded the liberty that the rest of the human population has. That they may grow, learn and change their opinions from ones they may have held over 25 years ago. Quite frankly, if we don’t want politicians to change their mind we might as well say goodbye to democracy.

Recently I also found the content of my blog on another site. The owner of that site wished to remain anonymous and they never contacted me for permission or asked if I minded. I suppose they thought, if the linked it to my blog and gave my name that would be fine as they hadn’t claimed to have written it themselves. I did mind because the topic I had written about, and my own hard spent time researching, was mine to choose to post, to edit or delete as I saw fit. Once my words were on someone else’s site I’d lost control of them. If I had second thoughts I’d lost my power to revoke.  I can change my mind, and if presented with new and compelling evidence, I’m very prepared to say that my previous view was wrong, so 25 years later I don’t want a previous idea twisted, taken out of context and brought back to haunt me.

Put simply, I don’t wish my integrity to be in question. I’m happy that you may need to know my actual name. However, I have problems trusting  spurious sources that hide their real identity behind something else.  I guess they may have good reason to hide.

So question yourself, who will trust you when you are suspicious of everyone else and is the choice to be anonymous an honest thing?

Love St. Austell or loath it, why does Coyte Farm divide so much opinion?

What do people really think about the Coyte Farm development? Are greater number for it or against it?

Depending on which side of the fence you sit, Coyte Farm has been put forward as  the best opportunity for St. Austell for a generation  and the very worse threat on the other? It’s both the saviour of this town and our damnation? So evangelical the nature of the debate that the ‘Love St. Austell, Stop Coyte Farm’ supporters would have it implied that you can’t do both. 

I’d really like to be able to leave this topic alone, but it has become like an itching sore and the more entrenched, polarised and blinkered the views become, the more I’m inclined to want to scratch it.

I’ve been well and truly been given the cold shoulder by the Anti Coyte Farm protestors who used to try to engage with me. Probably after I managed to summon up the courage – alone and without my bringing along  supporters – to speak up at the 2nd Cornwall Council public meeting on the subject on 30th October. I was number 25 on a long list of 63 people who signed up to speak.

Why does Coyte Farm represents many different things to different people?  In a nutshell these are the sum of all the views:

  • It’s the opportunity to have a better class or bigger retailers closer to St. Austell. We’re fed up of having to go to Truro for such shops.
  • Significant investment in a town that has the largest population in Cornwall and has suffered continuous decline in the past 30 years. Around a million pounds a week of potential spend in St. Austell is being lost to Truro.
  • It’s a catastrophic, out of scale retail park that will kill St. Austell’s town centre, destroy small businesses and the social heart of our town.
  • It’s unsustainable: the population of Cornwall and the amount of money to spend cannot support additional retail of such scale. Shops in St. Austell and other towns, Liskeard, Wadebridge, Bodmin, Lostwithiel etc.  will lose their own trade as a result.
  • The loss valuable farmland that should be kept to grow food in the future as the population grows and we have less to eat; it’s a flooding risk to Polgooth and the Pentewan stream; and a danger to pedestrians, especially those walking to school.
  • It’s outside the planning boundaries, contravenes the town plan and there are brownfield sites that should be used instead.
  • It’s a threat to Truro as it will draw back some of the millions that this catchment area spends in Truro, and it will have an impact on Truro’s own development plans for further retail. 

I stayed for three hours and heard them all. It was a very civilised debate. Nobody heckled. Everyone was heard. For sure there were more who spoke up against Coyte than for it, and compared to the public meeting in January, the quality of arguments on either side were generally much more thought through, considered and intelligent. Where I’d swung more towards Coyte after the ridiculous arguments made at the last meeting… this time, listening to the alternatives for larger shopping retail closer to town, I was back on the fence again.Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 17.02.10

Here are the arguments put against Coyte Farm and the deliberation I put forward.

1.   “It will kill St. Austell.”

We cannot blame Coyte, which is still only a planning application…I’ve known St. Austell for my whole life (almost half a century) and Coyte will most definitely not kill St. Austell.

To be absolutely clear, I mean the whole of St. Austell – the area and it’s population – not merely White River Place and the old town centre.

The thing this town needs is investment and every offer of such has to be very carefully considered on how it will improve the economic and social welfare of St. Austell.

The trouble is with all the laying blame in the past is that it blinds us from facing the present situation and diverts our energy from preparing for an increasingly changing future.

Why are the big supermarkets so successful? Because they have to be mindful of their rivals and responsive to social change and the demands of us: their customers. These grocery stores now have cafés, sell us wine, clothing and household wares, have online shops and provide banking, travel money, insurance services.  Everything that town centres once were, but made vastly more convenient. Supermarkets also predict future growth and where it is likely to come from.  The growing population size and the attractiveness of Cornwall to bring in more people to live, develop or relocate business, and the potential of an area to become more affluent.

If it were possible to make St. Austell operate like a supermarket.  The council with St. Austell’s landlords and retailers would have to pull together and follow this example, seek to have a competitive edge and operate with a common purpose St. Austell would win back shoppers as a viable alternative.  Added to which the town would be a more enjoyable experience, than our soulless supermarkets.  What is killing the town centre is negativity: poor image, parking charges, lack of imagination. If Sainsbury’s and M&S want to come to St. Austell it’s because they know that the right demographic currently live in the area and more of the same will come to live here.

The strongest argument against Coyte Farm say that as an out-of-town shopping centre it will kill St. Austell’s town centre. They forget the fact that St. Austell already has an out-of-town shopping centre that is killing us: it’s called Truro where the majority of the town’s more affluent population chose to shop and they haven’t set foot in town for ages.

St. Austell is currently a plastic bucket full of holes. It appears to have nothing of offer of value and lets opportunity seep away to shop elsewhere. The few pennies not lost through the holes get spent in Poundland and the 99p store.  In the absence of significant serious retail opportunities, we fail to keep the majority of our local population local, and  St. Austell’s shopping centre will continue to be vulnerable. Turn our back on Coyte for the sake of nostalgia or in the belief that local businesses can be saved without it is not a good move. All signs of improvement over the next 12mths, 5 years and into the future will continue to wax and wane and other future investment opportunities that we need to grasp in an attempt to put St. Austell back on the map will be fewer and further between.

2.    “It will destroy valuable farmland and green fields.”

Coyte Farm amounts to 98 acres.  Agricultural land split by the A390 and, sadly, is not large enough nowadays for a farmer to make a viable living. It has been said that the Coyte development is massive, I can only assume this is because calculations were made on the total area of the farm. Perhaps that’s how the conclusion was reached that it would be the third largest retail space in Cornwall and a bigger shopping area than the existing St Austell town centre.

The retail park including the new road improvements that will make access to St. Mewan School safer and easier, and landscaping to reduce the environmental impact is actually about 24 acres in all. I know this because I bothered to work it out using a Google map calculation tool. This amounts to about three fields mostly hidden from the approach view just as the Recycling centre on Tregongeeves Lane is hidden from view. I’ve been amazed and horrified how easily people accept what they are told rather than checking these things for themselves.

I’m also of the belief that nothing is for ever. We just can’t imagine the future. When the world changes to the extent where land to grow food is more necessary to our existence than cars and supermarkets we humans are clever enough to grown food in other ways we may not imagine, or will have removed the concrete and tarmac and sought the earth again.

3.    “The shops that want to come to Coyte can be accommodated in White River Place and on brownfields sites within the town.”

It is a big pity that White River Place doesn’t have M&S or Primark etc. I’m fairly certain that if it made good commercial sense to be in St. Austell they would have taken the opportunity to be in town already.

In all the so-called independent reports I’ve read, I’ve had to unpick statements given as empirical evidence that Coyte will have a negative effect on the town.  The scary part is that the quality of these ‘expensively produced’ reports is, in my own view crammed with ambiguous quantitive statistics presented as definitive evidence to tell us how much other retail is likely to lose out on. They are all deeply lacking in qualative data. None really prove anything, as they are not balanced by how much St. Austell already looses to Truro and so forth and how much spend Coyte could bring back to the town as a whole.

They’ve used examples to suggest Coyte will have an adverse effect on St. Austell that are irrelevant to Cornwall (I think it’s more important to reference Hayle – has that out-of-town retail park had an adverse or positive effect on Hayle?). I’ve looked at Margate. Google it yourselves. It’s really not comparable as a real example – scale and context – by any stretch of the imagination. Balance has to show cases where out-of-town shopping has improved the quality of an area as well as those that don’t so that the the likely impact, positive and negative, can be properly predicted in this case and plans adjusted accordingly.

They also ignore the topography of the town completely. The town centre is wrapped around the side of a hill. White River Place has helped to increase the amount of level shopping area, however in these reports some of the possible sites are absurd. People won’t walk uphill between retail areas, especially if the route is not lined with other shops they are likely to visit on the way.

No report examines if Coyte might improve the overall economy of the whole of St. Austell? The fact is that turning our backs on Coyte will have a much more damaging effect on St. Austell’s regeneration and reputation which is, frankly, pretty poor. Without a retail magnet, people won’t come back to shop and people won’t want to come here to live which means that the value of our homes is also suppressed.

I’m not saying that St. Austell should say ‘yes’ without asking lots questions. Potential flooding, busier roads, the environmental impact and the effect on the town centre are all negatives that have to be offset as much as possible. And it is important that the developers’ offered investment of ½ million to the town centre is used to the best possible effect. Ultimately, this is a one of a kind opportunity to bring credibility back to the area.

I said back in January that Coyte shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. I was advocating an open-minded view but I was accused of not knowing what I was talking about. So I’ve been very careful to read the reports and listen to all the arguments and do my own research. I have no agenda – so I have nothing to personally gain. I don’t run a business – but I am sympathetic to those who do and are struggling; I’m not being paid to voice my opinion. I just live here and I choose to live here is because I love St. Austell and wish to invest my livelihood in my local area.

Ultimately it cemented my view that a decision has to be made. On balance I would much prefer to see Coyte get its approval, with stringent conditions attached. For the sake of the whole of  St.  Austell  I believe this plan is better than the alternative without it.

However, after the meeting I have to add a post script. An alternative proposal  to Coyte is a possibility. It’s not without great merit but is it ultimately better in the immediate and the long-term?

To be honest, I’m not sure.

Next, we were told, could be interested in the Halfords Store near B&Q; M&S Food might come into White River Place; the  Restormel Offices could be pulled down to create another supermarket or Higher Trewhiddle Farm – where Westcountry Land have a similar scheme for housing and would like to include a petrol station and supermarket…. The proximity to the centre of the town is closer and some use brownfield sites.  I have to remain uncertain as the arguments to suggest these were better were put forward by the very developers and owners of these schemes. Plus, we’ve had Master Plans made for St. Austell before that resulted in nothing other than the same situation of stagnation that we had before.

More debate.

Super Slow #Superfast Cornwall

Superfast-vanNormally, I can be unbelievably patient and reasonable if I know what’s going on. I have a child with a Global Developmental Delay so I’ve grown accustomed to not having my expectations met. He won’t catch up and be ‘normal’ I understand that. However, in the last year an iPad has become his best friend as it allows him to join in with the rest of the world  for a bit, and technology is moving at such a pace there are communication programmes that will help him, eventually, to speak to us.

So please don’t get me wrong,  I’m not some hot-headed Mrs. Angry who spits her dummy out if not placed at the top of the queue.  But, every so often I have spat with my internet connection which drops out from time to time and grinds my pace of work (I’m self-employed) to nothing.  It has been an ongoing ‘promise’ for some time now. Superfast Cornwall shout about themselves all over billboards for us to get connected and I’ve been screaming “yes, yes” and registering my interest of “keep me in loop” for three years now. But even though I’m keen….I’m apparently shouting from a black hole right in the centre of St. Austell that keeps missing getting connected.

The whole sorry tale is best told here by my other half:

In terms of superfast communications time travels ever faster.

The summer of 2011 is so far behind us in technical history that it ranks on the timeline alongside Noah and the building of the Pyramids.

Back in June of 2011, about the time Noah was fitting the rudder, we were offered, as part of the pioneering surge for Cornwall spearhead the nation into BT infinity and beyond, to have the fibre optic link brought to us at the speed of light.

Our driveway was dug up and a conduit laid, with impressive efficiency but with nothing in it, just a short wait for the superfast cable to be pulled through.

We’re still waiting.

A few phone calls, with words like, ‘soon’, ‘shortly’ and ‘imminent’ were uttered with reassuring tones, but we’re still waiting.

Snow fell and melted away, the ark was probably afloat on the melt-water by now. The imminent time scale similarly drifted by, and we carried on – waiting.

Our house was demolished, and its replacement was built with a conduit to the site for the proposed junction box, the piece of blue rope inside waiting to pull through the superfast link. But we’re still waiting.

Then burst of activity, a brand new telegraph pole was erected, next to the proposed site of the proposed junction box, the piece of blue rope was nailed to it along with nothing else. It too is waiting for a continental drift to tip the axis of orbit. The Olympics came and went with numerous world records being broken … but we’re still waiting.

A BT Open Reach manager, a Mr Smith, took it upon himself to ‘Personally take possession of the case’ and to drive things through. Vans turned up, the drivers all got out, looked at our proud new telegraph pole, shook their heads and drove off; three in one day. ‘It’s only got to come across South Street’ – Were still waiting. And Mr Smith retired, the manager who replaced him gave all the same platitudes with justified embarrassment of his organisation’s impotence.

There wasn’t any snow in the following winter, it forgot to come along with the speed of light Superfast fibre optic cable.

Then in summer 2013, a burst of activity in South Street, traffic lights, digging the road three nights in succession till 2am, outside a block of flats, such was the urgency to progress the job with utmost efficiency. The noise was horrific, perhaps the ark was running aground. Then with great anticipation – nothing. We’re still waiting.

Time moves on, the new manager has been transferred to the Isles of Scilly, perhaps it’s part of the continuing hex spreading to those who dare to try to help us, one retires and another is exiled to far off-shore archipelagoes.

So we’re ending the third year since we were invited to grasp the dangling super fast carrot….. but silence has once again fallen on our ‘case’ that had been given an escalated status by Mr. Smith this time last year.

I suspect a lot of money has already been invested on not quite getting us connected. An underground conduit dug to drive the fibre optic cable through and straight into our house; a brand new telegraph pole to also connect us overhead as well; three nights of road works interruptions on South street to bring the cabling across the road and under the pavement….

Alas, we’re still waiting.  The wait might not be as bad if we knew we weren’t forgotten, or a date (however distant) was on the horizon,  but my emails about my issue don’t escape the black hole void we dwell in and get connected to superfastcornwall.org either now it seems!

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Almost 50

Reaching my half century feels as remote a possibility as it was when I was just turning twenty. I just can’t get my head round the fact that I’m soon to be that old.  At 49, I’m panicking that ultimately my life won’t have amounted to all that much, and the potential I showed at 21 was blown away while I drifted through one open door after another without considering if it was the right door, or if I should rattle the handle on a few closed ones first…Photo on 11-09-2013 at 18.43Photo on 11-09-2013 at 18.37 #2

Truthfully, I can’t pretend that I feel all that young anymore now that I can’t read without glasses and the skin on my hands is looking baggy, but neither do I feel ready to be considered old. My grandfather, at 60, said he was just approaching his middle-age.  We laughed about it, funny old Grandpa who survived two World Wars and died in a nursing home aged 95 – but now I get that what he said wasn’t meant to be funny, it was how he must have felt and what the mid-life crisis is all about. Life accelerating, whizzing all too fast.

The debris of my life past, littered with the quest for many adventures, and peppered by the ravages of family, friendships, relationships and kids are nothing other than a succession of journeys of self-discovery while I’ve been trying to find out who I am, what my talent might be, and what’s going to spark my desire to get up in the morning and to make something significant out of my day.

As soon as I can shake the offspring I’ll be ready to begin the thing I should be doing with my life and not just constantly rehearsing for it. The sad fact is, that while I’m now rapidly approaching my 50th decade I’m still just as unsure as I ever was what career path to follow.  Added to which, in a world of rapidly increasing change I’m running on a hamster wheel in order to assimilate new skills onto into my resume at a furious pace but still I don’t move forward. I just do it in the desperate attempt to slow the slide into the invisibility of old age.

This post was prompted – and frankly, if I’m to do anything nowadays outside the relentless everyday routine it needs to be prompted by somebody else’s inspiration. So thank you Tara Cain for your week 157 of The Photo Gallery: Selfie where I can have an excuse to turn the focus back on Me, me, me!

Empty Cornish Beaches in Summertime

August in Cornwall is full to bursting isn’t it?

The following pictures were taken during the past fortnight right in the middle of the mad 6 weeks of school summer holidays. This is the time when Cornwall’s capacity is stretched to the seams. When the county’s towns and coastal villages are crowded out with holiday visitors moving along pavements in slow, semi slumbering state as if they need to be herded or rounded up and corralled for they own safety. When our main roads slow to a crawl with long tail-backs of traffic, or we end up in car-to-car stand-offs with anxious holiday-makers in 4×4 cars caught in narrow lanes. They become incapable of engaging in reverse gear or are petrified of manoeuvring  in tight to Cornish hedges.

Most years I narrow my travelling circle during this time to just a few miles from home and confine journeys a network of back lanes to avoid the inevitable traffic congestion. In wet weather it’s worse as more drive in aimless desperation for entertainment, but with this summer’s fine weather it’s become a very different story…

On Monday, August 19 it was World Photography Day and here’s the picture I took at about 12.30pm. photo[3]Not a single human anywhere on this beach in South Cornwall, a mere 10 minute walk from the noise and bustle of families with small children playing on the beach at Polkerris. Unfortunately I’d not brought my swimming costume and had there been a big rock to hide behind or it not been so visible from the coast path and passing kids in sailing dinghies, I’d have been tempted to take a quick and risqué skinny dip.

It’s as if all our summer visitors have been sheep-herded into certain hotspots or are drawn like wasps to the most obvious places. Yesterday evening I drove through Polzeath where at high tide there was barely a non-occuppied space in the sea, on the beach in the car-parks or cafés. On Sunday, I jostled with the crowds in Mevagissey in search of the shortest queue for ice creams and on our walk back along the cost path, stopped here for a swim. photo[4] It’s really odd to find so many empty spaces at this time of year, believe me.  It’s as if the locals, who know of these places, have all gone to ground. For in the off-season – even in mid winter – I’d expect to see other humans out walking their dogs here.

This summer will go down in my memory as one that was extraordinarily quiet and peaceful summer in Cornwall. Empty beaches  and amazing wide clear views on cliff walks, blue skies, fluffy white clouds and azure seas and, apart from my kids and few friends and a dog, very few other souls encountered 🙂

The key thing is you just have to leave the car and get out a walk a bit to find these secret and glorious spots.

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Victoria Drummond is surely worth a Fiver? #Banknotes

This post has been sitting in my draft box for a couple of weeks now. It was a post I didn’t want to rush. I wanted to do it justice. I just ended up not getting down to it.

In the meantime, what started as one or two feminist women getting a bit shrill and cross over the apparently small issue of what face (apart from the Queen) should appear on a five-pound note  has since turned into this and some of  this. Just a couple of examples of a sudden surge of radio and news features. All started by just one young woman,  28-year-old Caroline Criado-Perez who, through social media channels, has highlighted an issue of discrimination on why no woman deserves to be represented on English bank notes.  In 15 days she’s also managed to raise a staggering £13,000 in donations in order to fund a legal challenge against the bank of England under the 2010 Equality Act.

In a nutshell, Sir Winston Churchill, it was announced,  would replace the social reformer Elizabeth Fry, on the £5 note from 2016. Meaning  than our English bank notes would have no women of merit represented for their contributions to our country’s history.

The best thing, of course, is that this type of social rumble is power in people’s hands. Suddenly, through all that male blustering, they’ll have to admit perhaps they have to think again. We women folk want to be represented and not have the governor of England choosing who deserves to be depicted on our money. In 2013 women must also have equality of merit or the country takes a backward step. But  what woman to choose?

My  initial thoughts, like many other, would be a suffragette. However my husband, as a man with a career that started in the Merchant Navy, suggested a woman who inspired him and yet I’d never heard of her before. While he extolled her merits it made me think. If the men on bank notes are meant to inspire everyone in our society then the best woman to choose must arguably be as much an inspiration to men as she can be to women.

So, as suggested by the Other Half,  here’s my choice:

Victoria Alexandrina Drummond MBE (1894 – 1978),  goddaughter of Queen Victoria, and the first woman marine engineer in Britain and first woman member of Institute of Marine Engineers. During the 1st World War she became an apprentice at the Northern Garage in Perth, Scotland, then until 1922 in the Caledon Ship Works in Dundee. She then went on to join the Blue Funnel line as a tenth engineer. It is said that her engineering skills became apparent when she fixed a car belonging to Sir Alfred Holt (Founder of Blue Funnel Line). He was staying over at her family’s estate at the time and his car wouldn’t start. He was so impressed with her skills, that he made a statement akin to “We could do with engineers like you aboard my ships” never realizing that she would one day call upon him to make good his word. victoria-drummond-300px

So what? Apart from the unusual fact of a woman with royal connections working in the grimy engine rooms of ships in the 1920s… does this make her particularly unique.

One eyewitness account said of her; “I was deck apprentice on British Monarch when Victoria Drummond was 2nd. Engineer. Story at that time was that her application was submitted to Raeburn & Verel under V.Drummond and her gender only became known when she signed on. As I recall she was a good age when I sailed with her – probably just in her late 50’s though – everyone seems old when you are 18!  That was a tough ship for engineers though as the B&W engine was constantly blowing exhaust valves, and I remember many times being stopped and wallowing around in a big swell in the tropics while the engineers worked at replacing one. She was certainly a unique and courageous lady. I imagine after serving her time in the Caledon shipyard, going to sea was a walk in the park!”

During the 1930s, she sat her exam to gain a British chief engineer’s certificate 37 times and met with repeated failure. It wasn’t that she wasn’t capable, just that  the Board of Trade Examiners were unable to accept a woman as a chief engineer. To prevent any accusations of unfairness, the board would habitual fail all the other candidates who sat the examinations with her. I found a discussion thread ‘Ships nostalgia’ asking if anyone knew her or had sailed with her. One said, ” One of my father’s colleagues as a superintendent went up for his chief’s at the same time as her. Once he, and the others, found out, they all cancelled their examination applications. They all knew that they would all fail, because the examiners would fail them all in order to show that they weren’t failing her because she was a woman”.

During World War II, she sailed on many convoys including the Russian ones, as an engineering officer in the British Merchant Navy. On August 25, 1940 Drummond was serving aboard the SS Bonita, sailing for America with a cargo of china clay, when the ship was attacked by German bombers in the Atlantic, 400 miles (640 km) from land. Drummond ordered the engine–room crew out, then remained alone at her post, keeping the engines running at full power despite damage to a vital pipe  from the bombardment. Her courage was recognised when she was awarded the Order of the British Empire and the Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea for her extraordinary bravery under enemy fire. Her MBE was awarded by George VI in July 1941.

After the war, she superintended the building of ships in Scotland and continued to serve aboard ships as second engineer. From 1959 until her retirement in 1962, she served as Chief Engineer, the first British woman to do so. Throughout her distinguished career she maintained her conviction that if you were good at something and could be of useful service, then you should be allowed to do your job. Her journey from apprentice in 1922 to Chief Engineer in 1959 must have been one of hardship and discrimination. But her tenacity got her there.

I get the feeling that ‘ feminist’ history has overlooked Victoria Drummond somewhat. As a brave and incredibly determined women she’s an inspiration and has to worth at least a fiver in my opinion.

You can also join the #Banknotes campaign by signing the petition. There’s a post to link up to on Nixdminx blog and a #Banknotes Pinterest board where all campaign faces will be featured. You can also tweet your suggestions using the #Banknotes hashtag.