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>

 

 

 

Who are the Silent Majority?

Silent MajorityAccording to wikipedia,  the silent majority is an unspecified large majority of people in a country or group who do not express their opinions publicly.

The term was popularized (though not first used) by U.S. President Richard Nixon in a November 3, 1969, speech in which he said, “And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.”

In this usage it referred to those Americans who did not join in the large demonstrations against the Vietnam War at the time, who did not join in the counterculture, and who did not participate in public discourse. Nixon along with many others saw this group of Middle Americans as being overshadowed in the media by the more vocal minority.

So who are the “Silent Majority” today?

They’re still here… and just as powerful as before.  You see them everyday.  They’re all around you.  They are the folks who don’t openly discuss or make  input into discussions about politics or current affairs….but they absorb what they hear.

Some absorb the opinions of others because it is easier to let other, stronger more vocal thoughts do their thinking and opinion forming for them. A few will disseminate everything and make reasoned choices – although few have time to do this and can strip away their own personal bias. Others choose to be contrary to the status quo and make deliberate protest votes to ensure their dissatisfaction is heard. The choice might reflect their opinion, or it might be a way of saying; “I don’t like the direction of the current leadership…”

The “Silent Majority” is the folk who can be divided approximately into thirds. Approximately 1/3 will never vote (65.% turnout for the 2010 General Election), a fluctuating 30% or so who sometimes will vote, and those who will never miss an opportunity to vote. (33% turnout for the Cornwall Council election last year. and the turnout for the European elections in Cornwall was 36%, with 147,278 people voting).

They are a mix of all people either apathetic, shy or secret who do not necessarily tell their friends, families or those taking the exit polls who they voted for.  But they wield enormous power.  When they choose to vote these people can make, or break, any election.  When they step into the voting booth, they speak, loud and clear.   It is there that the Silent Majority rejects their silence and shouts their politics to the world.  

I’ve always been apathetic about becoming all that politically informed. Concerned that my vote, living in a traditionally Liberal / Liberal Democrat stronghold would never make a scrap of difference in government however I chose to cast it.  So I’ve veered towards making a maverick  vote. I’ve wanted to prick the conscience of dictatorial politicians and make them work harder for my vote and make me believe in their integrity.

The results of  the recent election results of UKIP in the Euro elections are, I should imagine, universally surprising and shocking. Who really saw that coming?

I think even Nigel Farage was surprised and it will be interesting if cocky turns into over confidence in next year’s General Elections.

But if this tells us anything it’s this: Politicians and planners, councillors and community leaders if you neglect, or ignore the opinions of even your own local Silent Majority (even the non-voting ones) ….it’s at your peril.



 

Philleigh Way repeating

How does one give thanks properly (and sincerely) for gifts; especially those that unexpectedly go on giving?

A last minute invite from Philleigh Way, a relatively new cookery school located deep in south Cornwall’s beautiful Roseland, en route to the King Harry Ferry crossing, recently turned my hum-drum life on its head.

I can’t tell if it’s the tediousness of middle-aged tiredness, the relentless repetition of family meals or that I’ve simply become distracted by other things and different projects, but lately I’ve lost my mojo for ‘food’, ‘cookery’ and ‘blog writing’.

So, my first apprehension came from the fear that I wouldn’t be able to choose words to deliver the flavour. Plus, a whole day’s course ‘cooking with vegetables’ might…well… It really worried me what I might be letting myself in for.

I love vegetables (don’t get me wrong) but carrots, and the like, get their uninspired place alongside the meat and potatoes for the benefit of the ungracious teenagers, chemically at odds with their ‘greens’, I feed at home. The thought of unwelcome repetitions of oniony burps, cabbage farts, and unanticipated beetroot pink pee took the edge of my characteristic acceptance of this particular offer with normal spontaneity and glee.

In essence, I’ve become grumpy, but I forced myself to accept because it would have been ungracious and cowardly not to.

I’m really glad to say that I learnt many good lessons that day.

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Asparagus, Blue Cheese and Spinach Tart

Lesson 1:

As a self-taught cook, because I wouldn’t take on board what my mother had tried to teach me, I’d never understood the basic ‘half fat to flour’ in making pastry. Chef George Pascoe, fifth generation of his family at Court Farm in Philleigh, had us using butter for a vegetable tarte tartin recipe. He talked about the alternatives quoting his Cornish granny while he demonstrated. She’d always used lard and margarine as the fat for making pastry for pasties, “Because I’m not made of money, Georgie Boy!”

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Sherry, Three Corner Leek and Cornish Blue Cheese Linguine

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Beetroot Tarte Tartin

Lesson 2:

The first dish of the day was a Beetroot Tarte Tartin. I can tolerate beetroot’s earthy flavour in tiny quantities as crisps, baked in cakes or within chocolate brownies, otherwise it’s a vegetable I steer a wide berth of. So my heart sank, “What other vegetable might work?” I asked. George was upbeat and encouraging and suggested a fennel bulb as an idea because, if you don’t like what the recipe says, use a bit of imagination and make it something else. Others in the group who tried it afterwards, thought is tastier than the beetroot version.

Fennel Bulb Tarte Tartin (Serves 1 as a main)

Ingredients

  • 1 Fennel Bulb (sliced)
  • 20g butter
  • 20g brown sugar
  • 30ml white wine vinegar

For the Pastry

  • 100g strong flour
  • 50g cold butter (diced)
  • Enough cold water to bind

Method

  1. Put the butter with the flour and mix until the butter is completely covered to make a rough flakey style pastry.
  2. Add the salt then enough water to form a dough. Knead until smooth. Roll and fold back on itself 5 times then rest the pastry in the fridge.
  3. Place the butter, wine vinegar and sugar in a small 15cm pan and bring to the boil.
  4. Add the fennel slices, making sure the whole of the pan is filled and simmer for a couple of minutes
  5. Roll out the pastry to roughly the thickness of a pound coin and 15cm in diameter
  6. Place on top of the fennel and bake at 200 degrees centigrade for about 20 minutes.
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Fennel Tart Tatin (a variation on the Beetroot)

Lesson 3:
Making fresh pasta is quick, fun and easy (if you have a machine to roll it) and it certainly makes a difference in taste to anything you can buy in the shops. It’s actually something good to get kids involved in. Ultimately, although I was too full by that time to eat it all, the Sherry, three corner leek and Cornish Blue cheese linguine was may favourite dish of the day.

Lesson 4:
Forage and eat fresh. Each dish was liberally flavoured with fresh herbs picked from just outside the kitchen. Three corner leeks were readily available from the hedgerow opposite and the spicy pesto we made for our gnocchi came from watercress growing on the farm we collected during the lunch break. Picked on a bright day in the Spring sunshine, the pungency of flavours in new growth is worth having. Food without it seems bland.

Lesson 5:
A cooking course is, at the very least, a pleasant distraction from normal life. Or it can be good tonic for the soul and make you love cooking just a bit more. At it’s very best it will shift old habits and might completely change and attitude to food and the way you cook.

Vegetables have started to take pride of place on my plate as main course dishes in their own right. Meat is frequently relegated to ‘garnish’ and I’m more interested in cooking again. Bizarrely, the family hasn’t complained, their plates are clean and the smells are always fragrant.

This has been, for certain, a cooking experience with very welcome repetitions.

Philleigh Way’s Farmhouse Cookery style is inspired both by George Pascoe’s experience gained from working in some of the top kitchens in Cornwall and around the globe and from the family recipes handed down by the Pascoe generations.

The cookery school, sourcing fantastic local produce, borders the river Fal with the ocean a few miles away. It’s a balanced landscape of arable fields, pasture and ancient oak woodland making it an inspirational place to learn about food and its provenance.

 

For more information about other Philleigh Way Cookery Courses

Contact: 

Telephone: 01872 580893

Email: info@philleighway.co.uk

Philleigh Way Cookery School
Court Farm, Philleigh, Truro, Cornwall TR2 5NB

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Falafel, Flatbread and Tatziki

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George Pascoe making the gnocchi shapes

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Gnocchi, Roast Tomato Sauce, Watercress Pesto, Parmesan and Herbs.

 

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Philleigh Way Flowers

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The Rattler Run

Cornish endurance event launched by Healeys Cyder

From Barefoot MediaA-range-of-Rattler-bottles The-Cornish-Bite-on-the-beach I occasionally get these ‘nudges’. “Off-road endurance runners can test their mettle in a new Cornish mud run and music festival this summer.”

Yes, Jessica, food and drink cannot be the only motivation in life, sometimes a kick in the pants to run off some of those Cornish applied calories is also something to aim for!

The Healeys story began in 1980 when David and Kay Healey made their first cyder (“cyder” is the Cornish way of spelling “cider”). In 1986 they bought a 150-year old Penhallow Farm  and began to resurrect the largely forgotten art of cyder-making in Cornwall.

Today, the family-owned business near Truro is the longest-standing cyder maker in Cornwall, producing award-winning cyders and juices every year – including the popular Rattler Cyder created by Healeys second generation, Sam and Joe.

Healeys Cyder Farm is one of Cornwall’s most popular visitor attractions with over 400,000 visitors a year. Visitors can see apples being pressed, sample cyders, jams and juices in the farm shop, and take a guided tour by tractor through the orchards.

The site also includes Cornwall’s only distillery, handcrafting superb vintage brandies, and a limited edition Hicks & Healey Cornish Single Malt 8 Year-old Whiskey which was named European Whisky of the Year 2013 by Jim Murray.

The Rattler Run , organised by Healeys, and  in partnership with Fully Sussed, the will take place over the August bank holiday weekend (Friday 22 to Monday 25) at Tregoninny Farm, near Truro.
Joe Healey, Commercial Director at Healeys, is a keen endurance athlete and has helped design the natural course through trees, tracks and rivers.

Joe said: “The Rattler Run is designed to test your physical and mental strength. The course is approximately 8km and includes plenty of hills. We’ve used the natural environment and terrain to create a series of obstacles. Competitors can enter solo or in teams completing five laps of the course, which is the equivalent distance to a marathon.

“I’m really excited to be taking part and have been looking for a new challenge to train for. What better place to push yourself to the max before relaxing with a few well-earned Rattlers than on our beautiful farm at Tregoninny.”

The Healey family bought 193 acre Tregoninny Farm at the beginning of 2013 with plans to plant 8,000 apple trees. This will see them triple their apple production.

Sam Healey, Operations Director at Healeys, said: “We like to be innovative and creative in our approach, and this was how our Rattler range was born, and more recently Cornish Bite, our apple based energy drink.

“The Rattler Run is a great way of combining some of the things we love – endurance events, the Cornish countryside and our delicious Rattler cyder.”

Alongside the main event, there will be an after-party with live music and a bar serving the full range of Rattler cyder. On Sunday 24 August a series of shorter running races including a Cani-x with dogs, and a children’s under 12 race will also take place.

Early bird tickets are currently on sale, with entry for a team of five costing £150 including three days camping, music and the marathon mud run. Children under 12 are free and there are various options for those looking to camp and attend the music or simply to enter races.

For more details or to enter the Rattler Run visit: thecornishcyderfarm.co.uk/rattler-run.

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]
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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?

Extreme Food (Fifteen Cornwall)

Cornwall has extremes. Often so beautiful, on clement days and in sunshine, that she steals all words that might adequately describe her as a welcoming marvel, leaving the spectator speechless and in awe.

In contrast, this southwestern extremity, with craggy toe posturing towards the Atlantic, can turn overnight into a salty wet, ill-tempered, moody bitch especially on exposed coasts. Bleak and blustering, she screams at low-grown thorny trees who bend cowering under the banshee’s onslaught. Grabbing loose hair, she tosses it into bird’s nest mangles, whips up a foam of green-grey scum off the ocean and throws buckets of sea mixed with rain relentlessly upon us. There is not much to do. Either dress for it and face the weather and be exhilarated by it,  or stay indoors, batten down the hatches, and comfort eat.IMG_1292

Pondering both options, wet or dry, there’s few better locations, than a mid-week lunch on Watergate Bay at Fifteen Cornwall, to enjoy both. I chose comfort over thrill, but with a great ringside view to see the kite-surfers zip up and down the shoreline, sometimes taken airborne above the waves, most of my food bites were accompanied by gasps of wonder.

Personally, I find it impossible not to love the food at Fifteen Cornwall, and a three course mid-week lunch for £21 makes the off-season experience well worth while. Currently running Monday to Friday until 20th December, this makes it a local’s special treat and,  the Autumn into Winter menus feature richer, earthier food that’s full of flavour.IMG_0776

Not every plate of food is as pretty or refined as each other, but it doesn’t matter one jot unless you only measure taste through your eyes! The thick Tuscan soup – resembling something I might have concocted from everything I found in my cupboard in fridge in my University days – was actually a flavour marvel. Rich, warming and spicy. Perfect comfort food on the cold, windswept November day I chose it. Mullet with its fine flavour and flakey texture, I have to declare is now my favourite fish.

Where my partner chose the opposite dishes, starting light and building towards his Sticky toffee apple pudding; I worked in reverse and finished with a light creamy panna cotta with spicy plums. Delicious!

I only have one teeny-weeny gripe, that on that day the service was slow and we were itching for a beach blast that would give our  dog a good  run before the tide came in. On the upside, slow is a good if you want to stay unhurried, watch the surf action and savour every Fifteen moment warm in doors.

Try the delicious Lemongrass and Ginger or Fifteen’s home-made Cola for a non-alcoholic treat.

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Mozzarella di bufala, dressed beets and almonds

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Ribollita (a thick Tuscan soup)

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Crispy fillet of mullet with herby potatoes, cavolo nero and aioli

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Pappardelle of slow cooked balsamic pork ragu and crispy herbs

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Sticky toffee apple pudding and clotted cream

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Panna cotta, spiced plums and shortbread

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.