Friday, 9 August 2013

Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, West Midlands, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cumbria, Northumberland day 14


Left Portscatho 9:40 for the long drive. The motorway gods smiled on us, recognising at the wheel one of their most devoted acolytes, and with only two stops (Gordano services & Lancaster Forton services, both hubs of grease alive with the hum of inefficient heat exchangers on the back of fridges full of Cheesestrings) we managed to do the whole 474 miles in one go. Arrived home at 8pm. Hadn't been burgled, both cats turned up within 20 mins, no floods, fires or explosions and everything still worked apart from the boiler (topped up) and the telephone (switched provider while away).
My many years of putting in long days followed by long drives have given me the ability to keep going almost indefinitely, but there is a price to pay. I knew what to expect. Despite attempting to still my mind with a medicinal can of draught Guinness (a gift from Graham Humphreys) my night was filled with the residual echo of the hum of road noise, and the ghostly after-image of a dotted white line flying towards me. My night wasn't helped by Bill (cat 2) apparently being so relieved to see us return that she would not desist from yowling outside the bedroom door until we let her in - against my rules but even my heart of stone can be melted by a bereaved kitty - whereupon she cuddled in and purred like a bloody chainsaw for ages, before deciding to resettle noisily on a plastic carrier bag in the corner of the room, before deciding to go out again (more door-yowling), before deciding to come back in again at 5:30 a.m. etc. etc.
Holiday? Feel like I've been keel-hauled and we haven't started unpacking yet.
Can I go back to work yet?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Cornwall day 13

Went to the beach this morning. Blue sky, warm sun and pleasant breeze so not too hot. Tide was out so plenty of beach. Sea almost flat calm, meaning I got to swim around in a warm (well OK quite cold but quite nice once you got into it) sea for literally the first time in my life - my experience hitherto has been mostly cold and turbulent (no existential platitude intended).
You may be thinking that this is turning into a typical holiday blog, and should be accompanied by a 'legsie' photo (I didn't take one but if you google it you'll get the idea - they're all the bloody same anyway). As I was swimming around it did occur to me that the day was progressing altogether far too smoothly for blogging purposes and I actually wondered if it would add spice to events if I was stung by one of the jellyfish that were allegedly lurking in the shallows. Alas this didn't happen so on we go with the saccharine stuff.
Due to the almost total lack of wave action Joseph didn't bother trying to body-board, but belied his surly teen status by readily agreeing to build a sod-off sand castle with Michael and Gerry. I allowed them a little space for a time (you know, in order to let their self-esteem build) before stepping in and taking control. The addition of my superior dredging and bucket-filling prowess moved things on apace, and after an hour was born the finest sand-based architecture to grace the shores of Britain since records began. It was based on the classic medieval 'motte and bailey' design, described by Wikipedia as having a 'keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. Relatively easy to build with unskilled, often forced labour.' Quite.
We actually did have several passers-by comment on the awesomeness of the sandcastle, and even a couple who took a photos using their iPad, presumably for article in Sandcastle Monthly or something. I know this is a really sad symptom of dadness, but I found my chest swelling with pride and felt the need to stand and look at it with inner satisfaction from various angles, the way a petrolhead does to their shiny new car.
The tide came in and eventually destroyed the castle, whilst the boys at first did a King Canute, vainly trying to shore up the palisade (as it is called don't you know) then gleefully jumping on the ruins shouting animalistic boy stuff. Thus symbolically ended the day in which I had skilfully duped my family into doing yet another castle, and it was with some sadness that we left the beach for the last time; this morning we decided to go home a day early due to having done everything we wanted to do, been away from home for two weeks and missing the cats. Joseph is also very keen to get home so he can lie in his bedroom and do nothing, properly.
Hitting the road first thing in the morning and will see if we can survive in the car long enough to get home in one go, with the fallback of copping out into nearest Premier Inn if necessary. Hopefully this will be the last instalment but I may be making use of 30 free minutes of wife in a purple pubhotel this time tomorrow night...

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Cornwall day 12

Two for the price of one, and a long one at that.
After much nagging, I was allowed to drag the family up to the North Coast to visit Tintagel Castle. I'd wanted to do this when we came to Cornwall last year, but somehow in two weeks we hadn't managed to find time to schlep 40 miles to go and see another bloody castle, as Emma might put it. This year I was not to be denied and it also offered us the opportunity to use our new middle-class picnic set, half price from Mountain Warehouse.
Nevertheless it was with some trepidation that I bombed up the country lanes at a speed designed to minimise journey time whilst not causing all my passengers to bowk; was I dragging a disinterested Emma, surly teenager, sceptical Michael and "Are we there yet" Gerry on a marathon journey (well about 1 hour 20 actually) for a deeply underwhelming pile of unidentifiable grassy stones with only Dad-interest value?
Arrived at Tintagel village and was slightly dismayed to find it a somewhat tacky tourist trap, much like the Godawful Lands's End. Thankfully the amusement arcade wasn't open. At this point my credibility hung Iike a thread, but I thought "F*** it I've waited a year and I want to see a castle" and stiffened my resolve, marching unflinching past the hoards of Spanish school kids, pot-bellied staycationers from Slough on a day-trip from their holiday park in Newquay and two lame teenagers dressed in stag-night 'King and Queen' costumes clutching clipboards containing a survey or something.
I need not have worried. The very first sight of the truly amazing landscape and jaw-dropping ambition/folly of the castle (built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1233) caused Emma and even J to exclaim with awe.
Climbing up the very steep and narrow stairway to the top of the island part of the site, it occurred to me how bloody heavy the picnic bag was. Well I suppose it would be, what with 4 plates, 4 cups, 4 sets of cutlery, salt and pepper cellars, napkins, 4 x ice packs, 5 x sandwiches, apples, bananas, 6 x juice cartons and a large bag of hand-cooked crisps to befit the class of the picnic bag.
When we got to the top, of course the first thing we did was sit down and scoff all the grub, without going near the cups, plates, cutlery napkins etc. The food wasn't in the bag long enough to need to ice packs either, but notwithstanding the pointlessness of bringing all this stuff I still had to mule it round the castle all day. Next time we will cut the sarnies with knives, eat them from plates and drink the juice from cups, before wiping our chins with the napkins, and we will wait long enough before eating to justify using ice packs.
I won't bore you with the details of Tintagel, suffice to say that it was the best pile of mossy stones I've seen in a long time, and there was a cool tunnel. Staggering views in all directions, which I will post when I get around to it. As we were descending down the stairway to the entrance point halfway between the two halves of the castle, there was a bit of a commotion down in the cove between. A group of four idiots from London had somehow got themselves stuck on the rocks at the bottom by climbing right through "Merlins's Cave", presumably past a sign saying "Do not pass this point, danger of being cut off by rising tide". Much drama ensued as the coastguard and Air Sea Rescue helicopter were called to winch them back up to safety.
Unfortunately this meant that access to the castle was closed (grrrr) so took M and G down to the bottom of the cliffs where we had an interesting chat about smelting metals. Gerry: "So did people discover copper and tin separately before deciding to make bronze?" That kid worries me.
Noticed some people swimming in the calm turquoise waters of the cove beneath so I offered to yomp back up the hill to the car to get the swimming gear: "Well I might as well take all the bags we're not using." Half an hour later having completed the Iron Man Challenge and returned with wetsuits, the tide was fast coming in so J and M had time only to swim for 10 mins through increasingly choppy and scummy waters before we had to abandon the beach or suffer the indignity of calling the helicopter back again.
Not fancying the climb up the hill again we took the Land Rover taxi, shared as we discovered with members of the family that had been stranded and rescued. Enjoyed watching the stupid selfish prats squirm as the driver, himself a sea rescuer, berated them as ignorant and selfish and pointed out that the rescue cost over £2000. Well they did offer to put a donation in the charity box next time they saw one, so that's alright then.
That's it, nuff castles. Was going to drag them round to Falmouth tomorrow to watch grown men in suits of armours hitting each other it swords and lances from horseback, but the family mutinied and insisted on spending the last two days sitting on the beach, huh.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Cornwall day 11

This was yesterday, but had no &@£#%ing Internet.
Rained.
A lot.
All morning.
Sat round the lodge, Internet-less and forlorn, with Artzooka running on a loop on the TV. Read, tidied up, read some more. Realised that I have had enough holiday - don't mind having some more I suppose, but it's as if a friendly neighbour has given me some nice onions from his allotment, actually a lot of onions. Thanks,the onions were nice. Would you like some more? Well maybe a few more. Here, have 5 sacks more! Well, um...
Thing is we're here until Friday and I've goddam paid for it so we're not leaving a moment early. Even if we did leave early, I wouldn't be allowed to go back to work.
Aaah, work. Twelve days ago I was a gibbering wreck, not having had any real time off since Christmas, pushed to the stress cliff-edge and staggering in a daze towards the last day. Now I'm wondering what I was whinging about - the thought of sitting at a desk/in a meeting room/driving/on a train all day seems quite interesting and pleasant. Lovely stress, not all this sitting about 'relaxing' followed by fidgety bursts of activity when I can't take the inactivity any more.
Also, I will be able to return to drinking huge quantities of irresponsibly strong coffee. The lack of any discernible withdrawal symptoms means that either I don't have a coffee problem and can take it or leave it without ill effect, or my blood has been completely replaced with Bolivian Machacamarca 2013 and Sumatra Lingtong Natural Washed and I am still metabolising it, with an appalling crash due some time soon.
Took the boys swimming in the indoor pool during the afternoon. That's right, during the afternoon when it was dry and sunny outside, not in the morning when it was coming down stair rods. I've learned that there is no point trying to be logical when planning their activities; everything is based on impulse only. "Can we go swimming?" "No, it's 10pm."
Tried to watch "The Eagle" DVD but Gerry didn't want to, nor indeed did he want to do anything else including keeping quiet: "Everything I can find I don't want to do." Truly it is time to go home soon.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Cornwall day 10

This time last year, starting our second week in Cornwall we knew we had seen the best of any sun we were going to get, and from here on in it would be rain, rain and more bleeding rain. Just seen the weather forecast. FML. £1200 spent on another week sitting with 3x bored kids in a lodge hoping it doesn't actually wash down the hill into the sea. Also spent the day with a pain in my chest and a growing sense that I'm brewing a summer cold. Hopefully it should have abated enough for me to be able to do the 450 mile drive home on Friday.
An environmental disaster movie outside, tried Googling "Things to do on a rainy day in Cornwall. This listing from a site entitled "101 things to do on a rainy day in Cornwall" under the category "Rainy Day" typifies what's available: "It's likely that the heaviest of downpours would go unnoticed by those hardy souls in pursuit of such countryside activities as are on offer here..." Sigh.
Decided to drive up to Truro for unspecified reasons but probably involving eating. J was of course hugely unenthusiastic about the plan, but Emma didn't want to leave him behind in case anything happened to us while we were out. I asked her if it gave her piece of mind to know that should we meet with an untimely end, he would share our fate. No logical way forward, so I took the easy way out and insisted he came with us.
As often happens, Truro reminded me of work because it is one of the many towns and cities I've visited for a 10:00 to 16:00 appointment in some underventilated asbestos box with downcast Council IT types, bookended by knackering journeys to and from home, and with no opportunity for checking out the environs.
Rather like St. Austell, Truro represents the 'true' Cornwall rather than the chocolate-box tourist confection of places like Portscatho. That is, relatively picturesque though it undoubtedly is, it does have overweight and foul-mouthed chavvy women pushing a buggy with one hand and smoking with the other, yelling at their lanky fast-striding wastrel partner even though he's only two yards away. You know, an ordinary British scene. To be honest it's a welcome break from the uniform bank-managerly yachtfulness of the people around the Roseland peninsula where we're staying: all steel-rimmed glasses, side-parted hair, respectable pilot shirt, Bodum shorts and whiny kids with just a little too much curly hair.
After dining in an authentic Cornish eatery (Pizza Express) came the now obligatory church-viewing session in the Cathedral, but resisted the temptation to ooh and ah in J's presence, especially as the place is only 100 years old, a Victorian neomedieval quasi-gothic Disneyesque repro, and lacking the mystery of proper old churches blah blah blah (see yesterday's post RE growing daddish tendency).
J suffered in silence and was rewarded by an excursion into that other most Cornish of shopping experiences, Sale at the Animal store. As we exited with new hoodie, swimming shorts and earphones, he remarked "Well that was successful!" Too bleeding right it was, to which my slightly more worn out debit card would attest. J had worked out some complicated financial calculation of which Nick Leeson would be proud, involving as-yet uncollected holiday pocket money from third parties, ghost funds in his bank account whose debit card is seen less often than Lord Lucan, virtual promissory notes etc. culminating in me getting the wallet out.
Anyway, Peter Capaldi. Doctor... who?

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Cornwall day 9 or something.

I think I must have started to unwind because I don't know what day it is.
Lost Gardens of Heligan. Didn't look that lost to me, judging by the advanced state of the commercial operation and site management. A very beautiful place with a breathtaking array of botanical specimens in a range of ecological settings. Particularly enjoyed "The Jungle" which is set in sloping ravine, and packed full of tropical flora - even saw bananas managing to grow, although they were definitely of the 'ripen at home' variety.
All very nice and not bad value at £29 for the family, although I was hit for more than this in the obligatory initial visit to the tea room for a slap up involving bottles of lemonade at £2.70 a pop. Half way round the route you can (if you stand on a bench) just see over a hedge into the grounds of Heligan House, the original manor house and still privately occupied. Not a rundown old pile this: whitewashed and gleaming with the light of old money, gleaned no doubt by theft, blood money, reward for treachery or generally just being in the right place (or backing the right side) at the right time. This gave me the sense that I was paying for the privilege of looking round someone's back garden, but only for a little while; also very conscious of being mugged in the gift shop on the way out, blackmailed into buying the ubiquitous teddy bear with a backpack with {insert name of attraction here} printed on the back, or the bendy pencil, or the torch keyring, or the stick with a shark's head on the end that snaps shut when you squeeze the handle. All oozing with the essence of Heligan.
The other problem when visiting somewhere like this with kids, and especially teenage ones, is that you realise that you have turned into your dad. Inane, bumbling comments about how interesting everything is dribble from your mouth uncontrollably. Things that would once have had you thinking "I'm missing pub/mates/gaming time for this" now seem fascinating, even though it feels wrong, and like some cruel degenerative mental illness you can't hide it from the scowling 14 year old dragging along behind you. If you want proof, read paragraph one again.
On the subject of losing all sense of coolness, at one point today I tried to recount to Emma and Joseph how weird it had been that yesterday I had been reading up the eviction of the Chagossians from Diego Garcia and today purely by chance Keri Smith had had a random Twitter follower send her a campaigning email on the subject, but I had to stop in mid sentence because Emma burst out laughing at the looks of utter contempt of J's face. Too late, it's happened, there's no going back, I just need to accept it and buy some grey Hush Puppies.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Cornwall day 8

Having spent 7 exhausting days relaxing, Emma and I decided to try a radical approach and stay in. The kids agreed, so I set about reading every page of Wikipedia.
As a Catholic, albeit lapsed to the point that avoiding eternal damnation would require me to say Hail Marys until well after the sun has gone supernova, I perhaps should have known what the "Synoptic" gospels are. The term refers to those of Matthew, Mark and Luke which apparently broadly agree; there is however much dispute about which documents were based on which, with the prevailing opinion seemingly that that of Mark preceded the other two. This is known as the... um... 'Markan' position. No that's not a Greek word, it's just "Mark" with "an" appended. Makes me wonder what people would say if I wrote something on which others based their texts: "Aidan-an" sounds comical enough to motivate me to do this.
Apparently the Gospel of John is significantly different from the other, 'Synoptic' gospels and actually contradicts them in various ways. Clearly God was having an off day when he dictated his literal word of truth to the anonymous author of the gospel which scholars agree was written 200 years after Jesus' death and was wrongly attributed to the apostle John who presumably didn't live to be 200 years old then.
Also, ever heard of the Egerton gospel? Nope me neither. This is a collection of papyrus fragments found in the 1930's containing stories about Jesus that are completely different to those in the canonical gospels and appear somewhat apocryphal, y'know silly stuff like making plants grow quickly, rather than the classic raising people from the dead type trick found in John. Obviously hokum.
Then I made some sarnies for the kids then took them swimming. What seemed like 1 hour after lunch it was apparently mealtime again, and with our plan of going out somewhere for tea frustrated by being bloody miles from anywhere and a sodding great thunderstorm and Emma unable to be arsed, instead popped round to the shop in Portscatho to buy comestibles accompanied by sons 1 and 2. Had a bit of a Homer Simpson moment and having inattentively acceded to their demands returned with 1 x Heritage (cheap) lasagne, 1 x Heritage (cheap) chicken chow mein, 2 x chicken flavour Supernoodles. Imagine Michael's plate: a heap of scarcely identifiable pseudo-Chinese food substance noodles alongside a heap of nuclear waste yellow, um, noodles. Bad dad. Withering looks from Emma: They're not blokes you know." Not yet, but I'm working on it.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Cornwall day...7?

Have discovered the secret of getting the iPad 3G to work... Curse, switch it off and on again 50 times, try flicking every bloody setting 50 times, finally give up, then watch it suddenly connect. Steve Jobs? Big jobs more like.

Anyway... beach day today: note I wrote "beach", not "bleach" which is what the washing-bowl is currently full of after J threw up in it. Not sure if it's too much sun or whether I'll be doing the same tomorrow.

Invested thirty snots in the half-day hire of a sit-on sea kayak. Best value for money I've had for ages, as we didn't see the kids for about 4 hours. Correction: didn't *speak* to the kids, whereas we *did* spend 4 hours craning our necks to see where they were, visions of our faces under the headline Three kids drown while neglectful parents indulge in 'rest' on beach.

Did have a break from kayak-monitoring: bestowed G with the benefit of my deep knowledge of the secret and ancient art of beach stream damming. For reference, the basic technique is to use large stones to stabilise the dam, and bladderwrack seaweed buried under sand to seal it. The project did eventually succeed, but resources were tight due to a dearth of suitably qualified labour on the beach, forcing me to employ random applicants with scant regard to their experience or attitude. The initial phase completed more or less on target but profligate use of seaweed bust the budget creating pressure on raw materials availability and a consequent increase in demand. Some unseemly industrial sabotage ensued, with rival projects pilfering from the build site and tempting the labour force away with promises of higher rewards and improved working conditions in the next door dam project. I was unable to stem the haemorrhage of skilled workers just at the moment that the project was at its highest point of risk, and so did the decent thing and fell on my sword. Gerry had run off anyway.

High point of the day: queuing for ages at the 'Hidden Hut' beach cafe (Porthcurnick beach, highly recommended) as the food gradually ran out and the menu shrank, only to have a full tray of freshly-baked Cornish pasties plonked in front of me just as I arrived at the counter, much to the chagrin of the chap who had just been served.

Low point: having to up sticks and moving our beach pitch/bags/shoes/bucket/spade etc. from up to the top of the beach to a stony, cramped and busy spot because of the incoming tide, and watching as the tide stops rising just in front of where we had been sitting, then newcomers arriving: "What a great spot!"

This beach thing is knackering.