Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Last Blast

Last blast of the school holidays for me is the Greenbelt festival. 
This year was one of the best – Josie Long, James Acaster, The Barely Methodical Troupe, Vanessa Kisuule all blasted it.
At the open-air communion, thousands of us were led by 20 kids, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a host of kazoos.
All weekend, I wandered the festival, sometimes with Nigel or other mates, but often on my own – it’s the kind of place where people strike up conversations easily and help each other out.
The best bit was on the last night when Ster, a senior steward, hurried up to me in the dark and said,
“Your purse has been handed in, Clare.  You can pick it up from the information desk.”
I hadn’t even had time to realise that I’d dropped my purse.

When I collected it, I didn’t bother to check the contents – they would be fine -  this was Greenbelt.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Down to Earth Diet

Following Nigel’s angina earlier this year our diet has shifted again.
We have to avoid salt, trans-fats and saturated fats even more ardently than before.
Plus Carenza gave up meat (though not fish) at the start of the year.
Perran is vegan (which, as I keep forgetting, includes a ban on honey).
Pascoe has given up meat and can’t eat milk products. 
I, like Carenza, am a simple pescetarian.
Obviously, family catering has become a little complex.
My simple solution is to serve up garden soil. 
Much wholesome food (chocolate, marmite, gravy) is brown, and so is soil.
If served slightly damp, soil can be moulded into any shape so diners can sculpt a replica of the food they would most like to be eating.

Only snag – check carefully for earthworms before serving  - goodness knows whether they are high or low in cholesterol.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


I have discovered a way to feel immoral without actually technically doing anything wrong. 

1                     Go camping in Cornwall.
2                     Have a great time.  Talk loudly and heartily about fresh air and sleeping well.
3                     Check the weather forecast.
4                      Discover that torrential rain is forecast for just when you will be taking down your tent next morning.
5                     Go very quiet as you imagine driving all the way back to Hertfordshire with a car full of wet stuff and spending the following day drying it out.
6                     * Bottle out and book Saltash Travelodge
7                     Take the tent down a day early.

* The immoral bit.
This is the second time I have done something similar and each time I have felt guilty about following my head rather than my heart and deserting the campsite early.
That evening, Carenza and I walked into Saltash to admire Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s amazing rail bridge across the Tamar.  I said to Carenza, “It’s not raining yet.  Maybe I made a mistake, bottling out early.”
But the following morning, as we toured the grounds of Cotehele House in the pouring rain, I knew that even though I may have lost the moral high ground, at least I had been right to pack up early.
If only I had been equally decisive about the journey home.

I had misgivings about leaving  Cornwall at lunch time on a High Season Friday, but did it anyway and spent eight hours crawling along in heavy traffic.  Perhaps Divine Justice was punishing me for my flaky attitude to camping.

Monday, 22 August 2016


We camped at Bay View Farm.
It did exactly what it said on the can.   The only thing between our tent and the sea was a paddock with two Shire Horses clopping placidly about. 
My Granddad bred Shire horses and our family name means horse or horseman in Cornish.  The presence of the horses was comforting.
In the morning, I was awoken by wild geese – I don’t mean that they’d broken into our tent - but I could hear their calls from two fields away.
Why on earth then did we leave this rural idyll and walk across the cliffs to the nearby town of Looe?
Because Looe is a cultural centre for Cornish bad behaviour of the historical type.
Think pirates and smugglers. (Professions with which my family has absolutely no connection, of course!)
Neither Carenza nor I had been there before and we were impressed by the prettiness of the place, but as we stepped onto the main street we were nearly trampled by the crowds. 
We didn’t see any pirates or smugglers, but we did see a family who were so desperate to gobble their pasties that instead of walking 200 yards to the sea front, they had merely sat down on the narrow pavement just outside the bakers and tucked in right there.

High Season in Cornwall does strange things to people.

Despite its name, Looe was in some ways disappointing.

Sunday, 21 August 2016


Carenza and I were leaving Mum and Dad and moving on again.
There is a Norman Castle from which, for a while, Cornwall was ruled.  Beneath it, an ancient town where government moved later.
The castle is Restormel, the town Lostwithiel.
We planned to park at Lostwithiel and walk to the ruins of Restormel.
But we hadn’t taken into account the wet-morning high-season traffic, which was vile.  It was lunch time by the time we got to Lostwithiel and we had to “invent” a parking space at the far end of the car park.  The single public toilet was so popular that a queue stretched across the street.
Sometimes I wish I still lived in Cornwall – sometimes not.
As we strode out into the countryside, things got better.  At Restormel Castle, we discovered that the Black Prince had once been the first Duke of Cornwall and had resided there. 
It was hard for us to visualise the former grandeur of the castle.  But it might have been even harder for the Black Prince to imagine the castle as it is today – a tourist attraction.  Alongside us, several Asian women were exploring, their peach and pink headscarves and salwar kameez providing welcome colour as they walked the grey-brown battlements.
Back in Lostwithiel, the crowds had abated and we drifted round several of the antiques shops.  Lostwithiel had once been an administrative centre – the tin that was mined was assayed here for tax purposes.  But the fate of Lostwithiel seems symbolic of the rest of Cornwall, forced to live off its past for the tourist market.
The part of me that was a tourist adored Lostwithiel: the part of me that is Cornish hopes for a better economic future.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Old Haunts

I’m not good with routines.  I tend to seek novelty. 
But my parents, with whom Carenza and I are staying are quite the reverse. 
Today was to be dedicated to them and what they wanted to do, so the only question I had to ask was,
“Remind me, what time does Trelissick open?”
We have worn a groove around the paths of this NT garden and have admired it at every time of year. 
I would like to say I know every inch of it, but my parents have a particular, unvarying route they prefer, so acres remain unexplored.
Although some things have changed – Mum can no longer manage the long flight of steps so we no longer see the penny tree – a dead trunk into which my children would slot coins. 
But the high point of our walk remains an old hut with pine cones decorating its interior and a breath-taking view of the estuary.  I can’t remember the first time I came here, but an old photo proves I once breast-fed Carenza here. I send the boys a Whatsapp photo of us here again.  No caption – all of them will know exactly where we are.
On the floor hops the robin, as ever, hoping for crumbs.  What is amazing is that down the generations of robins, no ancestral memory has developed that the Hobbas always intend to bring bird food, but always forget!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Old Times’ Sake

Carenza and I are exploring Cornwall together.
We’re focusing on bits that I don’t know so well, but of course, Cornwall is also where I grew up and have returned to countless times. 
At this point, we’re staying with my parents.
Yesterday, we spent the morning with them, the afternoon with my brother, but today, I wanted to revisit the beach which I remember calling “perfect” – the one where I took my small children whenever I could. 
Carenza couldn’t remember Porthcurnick Beach, near Portscatho.  My friend Fiona had warned me that it had now been ‘discovered’ - the tiny shack which used to sell paper cups of tea had become a gourmet café.  It would be hard to grab a space in the car park.
It was true: as Carenza and I approached along the cliff, the beach was tessellated with colourful windbreaks, and a slew of people lounged at the café. 
But there were fertile rock pools at the West of the beach, and drifts of tiny shells at the East.  Carenza and I each found a pink cowry and solemnly made a gift of it to one another. 
But we didn’t linger – as the incoming tide herded holiday-makers up the beach, it congealed into people jam.
Then in the evening, Jennie, who has been one of my best friends for over forty years, had invited us to a barbecue.  As vegetarians, Carenza and I are used to being about as welcome at a barbecue as an unexpected item in the bagging area.  So we took along halloumi and cherry tomatoes, to make kebabs.  But it turned out that it wasn’t that kind of barbecue – Jennie had purchased an astonishing rack from Argentina and was roasting huge sections of beast.  It wasn’t a problem though – her salads were to-die-for.  And her friends were charming.

Call it anecdotal, but it seems that going back to old haunts can be disappointing, going back to old friends, never.

Thursday, 18 August 2016


For this part of my Cornish trip with Carenza, we are staying with my parents.
Our priority is to get along to St Clements for a walk along the estuary.  Oaks hang over the path and graze the water.  Herons and egrets stalk the great muddy banks.
This walk is such a well-rehearsed tradition in my family that it has accumulated rules  and expectations.
It has also been a way to mark my parents’ ageing.
Once upon a time, we might walk all the way to Tresillian, and Dad would tease us kids that there were crocodiles in the reeds.
Nowadays, a successful trip is defined by reaching the Pond which is about a third of the way along.  Getting to the bench at the far end of the pond would be a triumph if we were ever to make it.
And the other prize is for my parents to defy cataracts and short sight by spotting the kingfisher.
How do we do today?
We reach the Pond with grit, determination and walking sticks.
But the kingfishers….
There’s one there alright. 
But can my parents see it?
They peer through binoculars.
“To the left of the dead tree,” says Carenza.
“To the left of the dead tree and up a bit,” I add.
My parents are motionless – they can’t see it, but know that I’ll be disappointed too if they say so.
Eventually they say – “Let’s go for a sit on the bench.”
And there we are, finally at the bench which Mum and Dad find it so hard to walk to now, watching the water broken by the ripples of grey mullet.
I guess this will have to be enough, that we reached the bench.
Rested, Mum and Dad rise to return.
And there, on the Pond, is a whole noisy family of young kingfishers, peeping, fluttering about, diving for fish.
This time, it’s hard for Mum and Dad to miss the gleam of the blue wings, the chestnut of their breast. 
Each of them has a clear view of a kingfisher.
Let me consult the time-honoured criteria again.

Yes, it has been a perfect walk.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Bad Day for Crabs

Padstow Obby Oss on Mayday
After yesterday’s myth and prehistory epic, I was ready for more, but Carenza, being more grown-up than me, suggested that we have a more chilled day and recover. 
So we planned an amble around Padstow. 
After all, there WAS a cultural connection to my name – the Padstow Obby Oss (Hobba = horse/horseman) gave a famous dance round the town each May, possibly for ancient fertility reasons.  Or equally ancient beer reasons.
Only snag was, it was time for us to leave Boscastle.
We had to pack the tent away.
In the rain!
“Rain wasn’t forecast!” Even though I know the forecast is often wrong in Cornwall, I still experience 21st Century indignation.
Luckily the 21st Century has also provided a synthetic tent fabric which doesn’t rot if you put it away wet.
However, tetchiness was not completely circumvented.
On our way to Padstow, we rediscovered the sheer traffic-jamminess of a wet high-season Saturday in Cornwall. 
After our early set-off we still didn’t get to Padstow until midday. Grumpiness hovered.
But once there, the clouds parted, golden sunshine poured through and suddenly we were getting our chilled day by the sea.
Only thing was, there seemed to be a horrendous crab-fishing marathon at the harbour. 
All over the place, kids and parents were letting down crablines with bits of bacon attached.
“Did anybody warn the crabs?”
“Hopefully, they’ll think it’s the Rapture, but for crabs.”
“Yeah. ‘Look – Auntie Shelley’s being taken up to Heaven!’ “
“’Uncle Claus is being taken too.’”
Luckily, at the end of the day, we saw many crabs being returned to the water.
“But imagine the social embarrassment when Auntie Shelley and Uncle Claus reappear – not taken up to Heaven after all.”
“They’re probably so relieved to be put back that they don’t care.”
And actually, that evening, when we get to Mum and Dad’s in Truro, we do miss the amazing views from the campsite, but we’re so relieved to have access to their shower and toilet that we don’t care either.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016


On our first full day in Cornwall, Carenza and I took the bus to Tintagel.
But it turned out that King Arthur was not the only legend. 
Carenza and I also demonstrated determination of mythical proportions.
Having scrambled up and down hundreds of steps to see the ruins of the castle on the cliff, Carenza and I took the rugged coast path back to Boscastle.
The coast was punctuated by valleys so steep that the NT had provided staircases.
By the time we finished our journey it was 6pm and we were footsore and dehydrated. 
But the reason it had taken so long was because we had detoured to see some amazing sights.  We saw, in order:
Merlin’s Cave, open to the sea at both ends beneath the castle;
The Iron Gate where seafarers once entered Tintagel Castle;
A carving of a marigold cross and the ancient font of St Julitta at St Materiana’s Church;
A dolmen in the churchyard;
An Iron Age cliff fort;
Two Bronze Age labyrinths, carved into a rocky outcrop in a little valley;
The Forrabury Stitches – a field pattern, relic of Celtic agriculture;
The Celtic cross at Forrabury Church;

And best of all, the last two Cornish pasties in Boscastle, just waiting for us as the bakery shut for the day.
Merlin's Cave
Marigold Cross

Tintagel Castle

Bronze Age Labyrinth

Celtic Cross at Forrabury

Monday, 15 August 2016

On the road

On the drive to Cornwall, we flexed our literary muscles - Carenza read me some of Thomas Hardy’s poems and we listened to Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” on Audible.
But mostly, we chatted.
The campsite at Trebyla Farm was exactly what I’d been hoping for: small, quiet, with generous pitches.  No ping-pong table or fast food kiosk.  A view of fields in one direction and a deep valley down to the sea in the other.
And the feeling that there should have been a few more loo/shower cubicles.
Within an hour of arriving, we had erected the tent and got organised.   There was time for a walk around Beeny Head before sunset, one of the places where Thomas Hardy courted Emma Gifford, his first wife.
The coast was rugged – a kestrel hovered; a waterfall poured out over rocks; the salt wind blew in our faces.
“It’s amazing that just this morning we were setting off from Hertfordshire and now it feels we’re a whole world away.”

“Really?” says Carenza, “What I think is amazing is that we managed to get the tent up without arguing.”

Sunday, 14 August 2016


We thought about inter-railing.
“Yeah,” we said, “Yeah. Great.” not quite meeting each other’s eyes.
We even got as far as getting out a map of Europe and stabbing our fingers at it.
By this time next year Carenza will be in some serious grown-up job and it could be our last chance for a mother and daughter road trip.
But traipsing round European cities in the heat of August and doing what? Going to student hostels or going to grown up hotels…Were we students, were we a family?  And where was the meaning?  What were we doing it for?
The next day, Carenza says  – “You know, Mum, although you’re Cornish, and I’ve got a Cornish name, I don’t feel I know Cornwall very well at all.  It feels like my friends who go there on holiday know it better.”
It’s true.  Nowadays, visits to Cornwall mean sitting in my parents’ living room, punctuated only by the walk to Sainsbury’s for the daily paper.
There are so many amazing places in Cornwall that I haven’t seen for years.
Quickly we agree on a Cornish Odyssey. 
The themes will be history and mythology. Basically any stuff that interests US.
We will take the tent.

We look each other in the eye and smile.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Edinburgh Fringe

Pascoe lives in Edinburgh and once again, Nigel and I visited him for the Fringe Festival.
There’s only one show that we book in advance – the amazing Mark Thomas.  His new show, Red Shed, is a trip down Memory Lane to the Miners’ Strike of 1984/5.  It so happened I have vivid memories of this since I was living in Newcastle upon Tyne at the time.  Mark Thomas was involved in Yorkshire and that’s where the Red Shed is – in Wakefield. 
Mark Thomas was exploring to what extent he had embellished his memories:  “You know how it happens – you get your old, well-loved story down off the mantelpiece to polish it, a bit of truth drops off and you just kick it under the sofa.”
When I said that we always booked Mark Thomas, you might assume that it was my idea – I’ve been watching his performances most of my adult life.  However, Mark Thomas is Pascoe’s enthusiasm.  But I don’t think his nostalgic Red Shed show will have answered any of Pascoe’s current questions.
It’s a more complicated world now than in 1984.
Today’s youth are also fighting battles they will one day look back on with pride and nostalgia. 

I see Pascoe waging war on consumerism and climate change.  But for all our sakes, I have to hope that, unlike the miners, he wins.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Goodbye to all that

Carenza has completed her degree and left Oxford.
When I started writing this blog, the twins were in their last year at school and I was getting maudlin about a whole landslide of “last”s.  Last school concert,  last parents’ evening.
Some of the lasts weren’t lasts at all. We have continued to rally the complete set of offspring for summer holidays.  Until now, anyway. 
However, as Carenza’s undergraduate life came to an end, I was experiencing another set of lasts.
The question is, were they mine or hers?
I had to confess that it was like saying farewell to my own university days once more.
After a mere deluge of hints, Carenza graciously invited me for a last sleepover earlier in the spring and we went to a cocktail bar on a roof overlooking twinkling Oxford.  Fortunately afterwards I didn’t have to re-enact my student experience of sleeping on other people’s floors as Carenza let me have her bed.
A few weeks ago, Nigel, Perran and I had moved Carenza’s worldly goods from the highest, furthest corner of her accommodation block out to our car and she was about to lock up for the last time.
“Don’t you want to go back in and say good-bye to your room?”
“No, Mum, I did all that last night.”

So it was me who quickly darted back in and said, “Good bye, little room. It’s been fun.”

Monday, 1 August 2016

Dancing in the Rain

On our family holiday this year, we rented a house near Carcassonne for several days.  The house was homely and welcoming but there was one aspect I disliked.  Hanging from every hook were wooden signs with bons mots. 
“Home is where the heart is.”
“Live, laugh, love.”
However, on the door to our balcony was one I hadn’t seen before.  It struck me as being so true that at dinner in the garden I repeated it to the rest of the family:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass – it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
“That’s so true,” agreed Carenza, “You just have to get on with your life even when things aren’t perfect.”
Flash forward three days –  
A stroll by a lake has been curtailed by a thundery downpour. 
Luckily, there is a bird hide to shelter in.

We have been there twenty minutes and are beginning to lose faith that it is a passing shower. 
Tetchiness is rearing its ugly head.
“Shouldn’t you go out and ‘dance in the rain’, Mum?” asks Perran.
“I didn’t expect the rain to be this er heavy.”
Twenty minutes later and I’m feeling distinctly under-dressed and cold.
“Come here,” says Pascoe, “We can practise Scottish reels – that’ll warm us up.”
And that’s what we do.
“Look Nigel, I AM dancing in the rain.”
But Nigel isn’t there – he can stand it no more and is jogging the half mile back to fetch the car.

Probably more useful than dancing in the rain.