I finally feel qualified to write about my personal brushes with Covid-19. No opinions. Just my observations from the beginning of 2020 in which I offer no judgement.
It is now official. I have Covid-19. I’m a little better today but the last 7 days have been my weirdest and scariest experience since I was waiting to be trepanned to relieve a dual subdural haematoma in a French hospital 5 years ago.
Apart from our commitment to the wellbeing of our community, Shan and I had a few personal reasons to embrace any efforts that might ensure the virus could be brought under control as speedily as possible.
With this in mind we put ourselves forward as "guinea pigs" where it made sense and we were early adopters of physical barriers to the spread of Covid-19. We never thought we'd actually get the sickness but we hoped to mitigate the small risk for ourselves and the population of the UK at large. We downloaded the ZOE app and have been 2 of the more than 4M contributors reporting symptoms daily (well, almost; we do forget occasionally) for the duration of the epidemic.
When we were exhorted to download the latest Test and Trace app (unrelated to ZOE), I did so almost immediately. I am not a person who generally does this sort of thing without questioning it but it seemed a sensible measure to help contain the spread.
I am assuming the name, Test and Trace, describes what it sets out to do. It probably starts with the Trace component, in which businesses display a bar code to be scanned into the app, much like paying a bill with one's phone. From then on the resultant information can track positive cases and warn members of the public at large if they may have come into contact with Covid-19. I had been using it for more than 3 weeks before I tested positive. I was fairly diligent about checking in during those weeks. The last time I did it was 3 days before the symptoms started.
It was actual ZOE that invited me to go for a test but both systems end up sending you to the same GOV.UK site to book.
I was able to get a test almost immediately, although I was informed that tests were in high demand and I needed to get to my appointment on time to avoid missing out!
I live in Oxfordshire. There were more than 400 drive-in slots remaining at my closest test facility that day.
I arrived about half an hour early, expecting to sit in a queue. Instead, a succession of most pleasant people ushered me through to Lane 8. Lanes 1 to 7 were closed. There was not another car in sight. At the end of Lane 8 was a tent and I was told to keep my windows closed, pull up and wait for further instructions. I was wearing a mask, as requested.
A person emerged from a side tent, motioning for me to open the car window. She was friendly and sympathetic. I was given a tissue and instructed to blow my nose. She showed me the swab, which resembled an elongated earbud and explained that she needed to access the back of my throat.
"Please open wide and stick your tongue out," she said, "I need to see the dangly bit (my uvula).
"Nope, can't get there
"Can you put your finger on your tongue?"
I tried but there is a lot of saliva involved and the tongue doesn't behave that easily.
"Sorry, I can't get a sample," she concluded.
"But I've come all this way," I protested, trying to look appealing through the window.
She relented and went to ask another person. He went through the same process, equally unsuccessfully.
"We can't get a sample," he announced, "Sorry."
"What does that mean?" I inquired querulously.
"We can't do a test on you today."
That seemed to be it. The only alternative would have been to go home and try to get a test posted to me.
"This happens often," the two testers nodded.
"Is there no-one else here that could have one last go?" I pleaded. "If it hurts a bit, It hurts."
They called another person. They conferred and she relented. More commands to put my slimy finger on my slimy tongue. Eventually she pulled the swab out and eyed it doubtfully.
"I'll need to swab your nose for 10 seconds," she said. That was the easy bit. I managed to hold back the sneeze for 10.5 seconds.
"We'll send this sample to the testing centre," they agreed, "but it'll probably come back inconclusive.
"You'll be texted the result, whatever it is."
At this stage I noticed one more car in the facility.
I left feeling a bit woozy.
As I was driving out of the huge car park it occurred to me that at no time had they used a tongue depressor. I remembered the wooden sticks from my youth.
When I arrived home I related my experiences to Shan. She was feeling upset because her nephew, Andrew, had just tested positive. I asked her about the tongue depressors. It seems they are still in use and, indeed issued by some UK counties in the test packs.
I received my result after 2 and a half days.
I had tested positive for Covid-19.
By that stage it was almost a relief. I had begun to feel seriously peculiar. Apart from the persistent cough that had kicked the whole process into motion, I had been having every other symptom apart from the telltale loss of taste and smell. The temperature came and went. Muscles ached. I had serious hallucinations and was continually exhausted. Still feel tired but am fairly confident I'm on the mend.
In the mean time I've had two lengthy phone calls from NHS Test And Trace asking me for all the information that I had thought the app collected automatically. The individuals making the calls were charming and sympathetic and I didn't have the heart to challenge them personally, even when asked for details of my ethnicity, which GOV.UK seemed to define differently and more pointedly than the generally accepted definition of the words I had been used to: "state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition" and nothing to do with where you were born. We'd already covered race.
Yesterday I was surprised to see this tweet from my county council.
I promised no opinions but, if there is an irony to this, it has to be that while I was told to self-isolate for ten days from the first apparent symptoms, my wife Shan has to do so for 14 days.
I'm pretty sure she has it and only time will tell which of us will have suffered the most. We're both agreed on one thing though: there is very little point in her going for a test.
I'm not sure how many people would make the similar decision, nor whether the significant number of "false negatives" being talked about is real.
Coming soon: My "normal" flow of blogs has been interrupted through this period. Some of you may have felt relief but I will shortly be resuming Scottish Serendipity and Unreliable Tasting Notes.
England is overcrowded and the overcrowding is spread across the country almost perfectly. This is because tourists (local and otherwise) are almost perfectly informed by the media. This means there are no hidden gems, whatever it is you're seeking.
It used to be that one had a choice ... a trade off between warmer weather with jam-packed coastal towns on the one hand and riskier weather with a little more breathing space, on the other. Actually, families with progeny didn't really have a choice for approximately 15-20 years - school terms take care of that. The parents may have looked wistfully at relaxed out of season getaways but reality always won out when the summer holidays loomed. Depending on the age and spread of the progeny it could be one of three options: get out the bucket and spade and head to the beach; head to the beach with leaflets on contraception and the evils of wacky-backy carefully secreted in the luggage; both.
Cynical youths might suggest that parents had finally been hoisted by their own petard. School holidays were timed for harvest time so that help was at hand to bring in the crops. Cynical parents would counter that the days of Cider with Rosie had a) their compensations and b) disappeared before the Spanish Civil War when Laurie Lee went off to participate in the Iberian peninsula, leaving the Woolpack in Slad to become a gastropub.
My friend, Richard, and I had a premonition of things to come. This was a few years ago when we were walking along the Cotswold Way in preparation for an expedition he was about to undertake in the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa. Our training trek had to be gruelling and involve him lugging half a motorhome up and down some VERY STEEP TERRAIN. Not unlike the places Shan and I have recently traversed in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.
The registration on the car behind Richard, depicted above, was a polite version of our exclamation when we had trudged up hill and down dale from Painswick to the seemingly empty Woolpack.
"Have you got a booking?" the person on the door at the Woolpack demanded.
"Afraid not," we admitted shamefacedly, "but you appear empty at the moment? Just a sandwich?"
The outdoor terrace was deserted.
"We pride ourselves on our food and serving our clientele who've booked," he countered, rather more aggressively than was necessary. We suspected that our walking gear was the problem rather than the lack of a slice of ham or a few of bread. The Chelsea tractors were beginning to arrive and this unfriendly chap was becoming increasingly edgy.
"R**ATS" we exclaimed as we turned and commenced the hungry trek into Stroud, where we ended up in a Wetherspoons. Happily neither of us had heard of Tim Martin at that stage, so we gorged on chips and beer and telephoned for an airlift. Shan and Kate to the rescue. My next expedition with Richard was in a desert.
That's enough of Laurie Lee! Get on with it, Ed.
Apologies if the chain gets a bit confusing with the intervening tangent, humanely interrupted by Ed. What I was leading up to was this. Covid-19 changed all that in 2020. If the state interventions into Covid-19 haven't been confusing the Hell out of you, you're a much more together person than I am.
OK so school holidays dominate the summer, which often means that those who can holiday at a quieter time of the year go for that option, taking the weather risk on the chin. Besides, this year Shan and I were on the fringe of the Coronavirus risk group so the breathing space would be appreciated and we had Campy's girth to satisfy.
We should have been alerted by the difficulty in obtaining campy space in advance. It is never wise to make impromptu trips in a motorhome in England. There's an oxymoron in there somewhere, I suppose? It needn't be that way. But even if it has to be, why are we so marginalised when we get there, all booked and paid for? Stuck several miles from any attraction or source of fun, food and/or drink. If it's the traffic that's the problem, why is every seaside town choked with white vans and fawbeefaws? Answer me that. There is an alternative.
Padstow could be so beautiful. Instead, it was choked with motor vehicles, many of them travelling too fast, and people who would generally have gone back to learning by that time. Covid-19 was merely the catalyst for overcrowding that was waiting to happen.
Sure, the two of us are fit enough to walk or cycle a couple of miles into town. But the journey could be made so much more inviting. There's plenty of room away from cheating death on the busy A389 to create an attractive path.
As soon as we got into the town it was obvious that most visitors and a number of shops and hostelries didn't give a flying fig (I'm being polite) about social distancing. I lost it when three large male 20-somethings were coming at me walking abreast on the pavement. Normal people in that situation would form a temporary single file, intuitively on the left. Shan and I did that. They didn't and I was deliberately shouldered out of the way. Where did that contempt come from?
"Rick Stein's ruined this place," I spluttered to Shan.
"Do you think so," she countered sagely.
"Some people would welcome the economic activity he's generated," my wife pointed out, not unreasonably. "Think about Faz (our name for our home town, Faringdon, in Oxfordshire). We could do with this kind of regeneration."
Of course she was completely on the button but allowed me recognition that there could be some checks and balances to mitigate the impact if it were properly thought out. She knows I like that kind of intellectual conundrum.
"Get rid of all unnecessary motorised traffic for a start," I murmured after a few minutes reflection.
I'm not proposing to go into long and boring detail of how this might be achieved but Padstow lends itself to a number of options including a funicular (Linton/Lynmouth has one) from the Pay and Display on the A389 and perhaps something like the solution below to gather visitors from their accommodations and deposit them at their chosen attractions:
After all this is what seaside trams used to to do in places like Swanage. Maybe a little less twee? A modernised electric version without some of the ultra-touristic trappings. Perhaps lose the choo-choo in favour of Porsche, Lambo. and MacLaren replicas?
Actually, Shan got a bit enthusiastic at this point and introduced Tom Kerridge and his input to revitalising Marlow. As an aside to Mike BinTwo, the Hand and Flowers does a fine line in Orange wine but not quite up to your standard, Mike. I reckon the Pet Nat could be something his sommeliers there, and in the Coach, could/should be interested in exploring. I WISH I'd had a chance to share that bottle of El Bandito that was in Campy all throughout our western adventure.
The other missed opportunity for us in the Camel Valley was a self-propelled Camel Wine Trail. Lovely and flat for cyclists but HTF do you get there. Sure you can hire a bike, which is what we did on a previous visit. Hire a bike in Wadebridge and Bob's your Auntie. We had our own bikes but were told that the only alternatives for accessing the Camel Trail from the Padstow Touring Park were either a death-defying stint on the precipitous A389 to Padstow (and back again) or drive to Wadebridge. It could be so much more inviting.
What could Faz do better than Marlow and Padstow. OK, I need more practice with Photoshop but this cartoon created a a bit of excitement in our community. Only thing, we need Tom or Rick ... maybe even Heston could be persuaded? Or a coalition? There are a few adventurous landlords but it takes mega self-belief to embark on a Brayston Padstein, Bring it on. The "tram" could feed our attractive Georgian Market Place, three major supermarket chains, a Travelodge and LOADS of parking. The rest would follow ...
Coming some time: a list of annoying items ... there are some but I'm having too much fun for prolonged curmudgeonliness
 Editor ... allegedly a typical interjection when an editor decides the author is waffling beyond the readership's will to live. Immortalised in Private Eye
 Not to be confused with Branston Pickle. We did note that England does love a double-barreled name for its towns and villages and, perhaps especially, hamlets. Sadly, I think someone's already written that book.
Broomfield denouement averted in St Ives (Cornwall). The answer’s one, BTW. Saucy seagull wins my affection. My beautiful hometown needs a makeover a la Padstow or Marlow but can we learn by their mistakes?
But first my TLHDaTDW quest from Part 1/2
Why plan go to Padstow in the last week in mid-autumn? Nights drawing in and all that stuff. There are two parts to this question: 1. Padstow? 2. Time of year (beyond Summer)?
Padstow because BinTwo is there, set in a potentially idyllic landscape, and the establishment's wine purveyor/maker/bon-vivant seemed like the sort of decent cove we would very much enjoy meeting. Besides my website has always been about travel with a twist and BinTwo sets out its stall as a wine merchant with a twist. Evidenced in the first picture below taken from a bottle of BinTwo product consumed in early summer. Its partner, 148, was burning a hole in our wine rack.
Beyond Summer because our intended holiday had fallen victim to Covid-19 lockdown. It had been cancelled. We would have set off to Cornwall as soon as we received this news but (me particularly) being ancient we wanted to avoid exposing ourselves to croaking from overexposure. Shan-lea (The Leader) insisted, when challenged on this, that it was I that was most likely to croak. Reference to my decrepitude and weak chest as a child were never far from my Leader's lips when explaining social distancing to sceptics. She was considerate enough to avoid continually reminding me of the refrain from the sub-40 cohort that its members should be allowed to revel sans frontières while anyone besting 60 should be locked away in a care home under extreme isolation. As The Leader fits in the undefinable gap between, it seemed churlish to challenge her logic.
In between deciding when to go and actually getting down to Gormenghast, another bit of excitement raised its head. On a visit to Dalwood Vineyard, another Mike had produced the bottle in the second picture above for Shan and me to share with the first Mike. This sparked off a twonvo in which acolytes of the two Mikes, including Lee Isaacs, begged to be at the party, which was to have included FBB 148, too.
We arrived at the "holiday park" on the outskirts of Padstow on the last Sunday in September. Decided to venture into the town the next day when it would be quieter. A recce of the route provided three options. Drive a 50 cubic metre motorhome into the centre ✘, cycle down the middle of the local version of the A1 ✘ or walk along the public footpath shown on our Ordnance Survey map ✔︎.
I was keen to forge a repeatable path between Campy and the watering holes of peaceful Padstow for our weekday perambulations. As we were about to make the first of many journeys, the single bottle of Dalwood went into my small rucksack for the journey. This decision was vindicated by the next door farmer's attempts to turn our route into a Grockle-free right of way. Walking was difficult enough as the path was ploughed up (third pic above) during our first excursion to the town. Cycling was completely impossible thanks to a few death-defying stiles (4th pic above). It was so narrow that social-distancing was well-nigh impossible, too, but this proved to be completely academic when we reached the town centre.
It was heaving on a Monday morning in the rain. Mostly by the sub-40 cohort, making absolutely no effort at social distancing. Cars were queuing everywhere and every eatery we could find was bulging.
The only place in town that seemed to be making a huge effort to keep its customers safe was BinTwo. Of course this meant that, after three attempts at finding a binnacle, we decided to offload the Dalwood, buy some Chardonnay for Shan and try again the next day. It had been a good decision to hold back the Fizzy Bum Bum from our first excursion.
That evening, fired up by a positive forecast for sunshine, I checked if Mike would be around at BinTwo 'morra. Sadly he'd been called up by the NHS and was having to desert Cornwall for a few days.
But Tuesday dawned fine and we scuttled back down the hill as fast as we could slide in the mud from Monday's rain. We expected bigger crowds, and weren't to be disappointed. There was even the obligatory yoof showing off his/his parents' McLaren (supercar, not pushchair) outside one of the many Rick Stein establishments. But all this seemed less intrusive in the sunshine.
First picture is of an altogether more optimistic outlook from the footpath at the top of the hill and then there's Rock (possibly where the McLaren emanated from) across the estuary from the Camel trail, the bridge across the river looking down towards the mouth and, last, a more romantic outlook of the inner harbour and the town itself.
This romantic outlook set the scene for being propositioned by Sexy Sadie Seagull. Maybe this remarkably unaggressive gal was seduced by my unkempt ancient mariner/Captain Birdseye look, cultivated during a bohemian sojourn in Lockdown.
"Hello sailor," Sadie seems to be saying with this winsome look. Definitely turned the tide on our Padstow luck.
Our next call was another try at BinTwo. Success!
We were ushered to our little haven for the next hour or so, protected from the ghastly virus by the cunning design devised by Mike, Mary and the lovely staff. There was even a staff photographer to capture the Divine Leader looking a bit more glamorous than her hairy husband. Lovin' the doek Shan ❤️.
As I've mentioned, Mike describes this place as a wine merchant with a twist (read attitude). We encountered a delicious selection of substantial snacks including squid marinading in their own ink in a tin reminiscent of midnight feasts ... something delightful neither of us had experienced before. I've had squid in more ways than most. Fried (in batter and tempura), in curry, chilli sauce, paella, pasta, bouillabaisse ... can't get enough of this stuff so long as it's not rubbery or με σκελετό that budgies might sharpen their beaks on when it's completely dried out.
The Leader doesn't do well drinking at lunchtime but loved the ginger beer iced tea. I also had some biltong so I could have a second glass, this time red. I didn't eat all of it and that does not mean we didn't clean the bowl.
Lugged a few Kgs back up the hill to Campy. Some outré stuff I'll tell y'all about when I've discovered a way to share it with Lee, who sent me to BinTwo in the first place. And can someone please tell me a bit more about Jas Swan. The label on the Sif bottle is a teensy weensy bit enigmatic ... and I'm used to Pieter Walser! Lekker to find something low alcohol this tasty.
I won’t deny that I was disappointed not to meet Mike BinTwo but he does great stuff for the NHS, which must, of course, take priority over my ambitions to become as big a pisscat as I imagined him to be (a self-portrait he has created for his Twitter personality)
Wednesday brought another all-day deluge. Time to enjoy being cosily indoors in Campy and catching up with writing and stuff.
The rain hadn't really let up the next day but that was OK as we were off to St Ives with our first actual restaurant (the one lit up in blue above) reservation since the lockdown regime started in March.
"This is a special moment," Shan enthused. "When we check in to our Hellesveor, St Ives site, please can we book taxis there and back." The Leader had cottoned on that 99.9% of places in England where one can park a motorhome involve a challenging walk to any of the local attractions. Especially with Storm Alex brewing. Covid didn't help either. Taxi was the best decision we'd made. Apart from anything else, taxi drivers can be mines of information. On the ride in we were told that St Ives had never been busier at this time of the year. This came as no surprise to us, having encountered the phenomenon everywhere else. It was as if Covid-19 had suddenly become an aphrodisiac. Shades of Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet dealing with the consequences of the iceberg.
We arrived early for our slot at the restaurant and meandered around a bit. We'd been to St Ives before. Fourteen years earlier on a daylight excursion from Marazion. Our daughter, Kate, was giving us an art appreciation tour of the West Country, having just completed her GCSEs.
Bit of of 2006 nostalgia, starting with the view from Marazion, followed by a few in St Ives (including the Tate) and ending with a little reflection on the trip at the Minack Theatre near Porthcurno.
Back to Ben Prior and our booking at the Porthminster Kitchen:
I was treating myself to a Soho wine extravaganza in September last year. It was arranged by wine merchant, Swig, and was presenting the most comprehensive gathering of New Wave South African (SA) winemakers I'd witnessed in the UK. So many people I'd read about, and whose wines I had sampled, were gathered in one space. In fact, it was a little overwhelming. I think some of the winemakers found that, too. I asked one of the winemakers I wanted to "interview" if we could meet later in the week and the response was:
"Would love to but we're all headed to Marazion."
For someone who knew where Marazion was, this was baffling. Especially as the place was not exactly Rome, Paris or even Birmingham. Why would a bunch of SA winemakers be heading off to this relatively obscure place?
"What's happening in Mara-a-a-a," I tailed off as my interlocutor was herded away.
I subsequently found out that they were off to see Ben in his acclaimed restaurant. Why not an acclaimed London restaurant? The answer was in the wine list. Ever since then, I've been scheming on how to get to Marazion again. Before I could, Ben had moved to St Ives and I'd acquired some fab wines from him, including The Leader's favourite Chardonnay: Die Kat se Snor.
Now we were there with time for a quick stroll before our rendezvous with the maestro
First of all, I have to say that both BinTwo and the Porthminster Kitchen were the two places we observed that had done the most to make their guests feel safe in their environments. My conclusion: if you love making your guests happy with food and wine, it follows that you care about their safety, too.
You won't have to guess which wine Shan chose after Ben had presented us with an aperitif of bubbly. She felt like the cat's whiskers while I had a Dirty Little Secret to confess to. We took the remains back to Campy, aided and abetted by another friendly taxi driver.
All of our food was superb. Nibbles of olives and mackerel pate. Tempura squid starter for me (I would, wouldn't I) followed by seafood linguine and line fish with clotted cream mash for Shan and me respectively. I couldn't resist necking a Caffè Affogato as I was edging towards the door to comply with lockdown. So much more we wanted to say to Ben. Each plate was superb but a few stood out most: stuffed olives, the mackerel pate and "the best linguine I've ever had," Shan exclaimed to the serving staff and Ben. She does love her linguine so that's going to be a hard act to follow.
Perhaps the beautiful moon was a harbinger for the worst of Storm Alex. We had hoped to spend some time the next day making the most of St Ives in daylight but relentless rain and wind gusting to 60 mph meant another cosy day in Campy with half bottles of Kat se Snor and Dirty Little Secret.
We were to have moved on another site near Truro the following day and meander slowly home over 6 days but there're only so many cosy days indoors one can spend in a confined space within a high-sided vehicle exposed to buffeting gales. We escaped back to Oxfordshire to watch the foul weather through our picture window. We do have a great bucolic view,
Coming later: What can we learn from the likes of Rick Stein in revitalising our own Faringdon in Oxfordshire? Looking at The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of touring English resorts in late September. Covid was a wild card but ...
 As I was going to St. Ives,: I met a man with seven wives,: Actually, there is another question: was the nursery rhyme talking about St Ives in Cornwall or Cambridgeshire?
 Did I just make that up? Tweet Conv[o]ersation?
 We all have one of those ... should we call it a Twinality?
 200 miles away ... more than six hours by road and 12 by train.
Part 1 of 2 is a continuation of “Broomfield Moments” from earlier blogs and will fill in a bit of background before trying a chronological attempt at some sort of story. Because there are other bits, too.
Nick Broomfield is a documentary film maker. His magnum opus, from my perspective, was a feature length account of an interview with Eugène Terre’blanche (the South African white supremacist politician) that never took place. I’m not suggesting the subjects of my moments in any way resemble, or have ever resembled, the leader of the AWB, an organisation with a logo that looks like a swastika with a leg missing. It’s merely the principle of setting out on an endeavour with a goal in mind and in which stuff happens but the goal doesn’t, if you know what I mean?
These moments could equally be described as “Burns Moments” in celebration of the lines in To a Mouse: “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley.“
Examples of Broomfield/Burns moments include:
A primary goal of the trip we’re currently on was to meet two friends I’d admired on social media, and by reputation, and had bought wine from them. The first of these was Mike from BinTwo in Padstow, who’d won all kinds of awards as an inventive independent wine shop and was latterly proving to be an emerging winemaker himself. The second was Ben Prior in St Ives (latterly of Marazion) and we haven’t got there yet.
According to Mike, I was holding the last remaining bottle (No 148) of his Fizzy Bum Bum, a Pet Nat sparkling wine. I’d also admired what he and his partner Mary had achieved in redesigning their place to protect patrons from COVID-19. If you’ve been following these blogs, you may recall that another Mike, winemaker at Dalwood, had also given me a bottle of his wine to share with BinTwo Mike. This was nestled up to the Fizzy Bum Bum in a wine box in Campy.
This strand of the saga will continue in Part 2 after the break:
En route to Cornwall
I’ve related most of our adventures through Eastern Wessex (if that’s not an oxymoron) including duelling with satnav in various guises, including Jane and Niamh, who had commanded us to “turn around when possible” or demanded that we “make the U turn” followed by “turn left and then left again” when we demurred at these unsubtle attempts to dupe us into submission.
Even The Leader and The Driver chorussing “S.T.F.U. Niamh” did nothing to diminish her ardour.
Some light relief was in stall when we disobeyed her the whole way around to our hippy dippy campsite to find the picture repeated on the left below, suggesting a new nom de guerre for The Leader. You’d think Niamh, being Irish would be more understanding of the challenges of steering a behemoth around lanes with 2mm clearance on either side of the wing mirrors.
Our story now finds us making our first attempt at a hairpin just short of our designated camp site in Lynmouth. Campy didn’t have the momentum nor the torque to negotiate the damp surface of the tarmac. An attempt by The Driver to stop and attempt to pull off after engaging first gear provoked the dreaded wheelspin. If you measured the traction of a front-wheel-drive motorhome on a scale of 1 to 100, I doubt you’d get into double figures.
“I’m going to have to roll back and have a run at it in first gear,” thought The Driver.
“You’re going to have to reverse and take a run at it,” said The Leader.
“I need to check if something’s behind,” thought The Driver.
“You’ll need to check if there’s anything behind,” said The Leader.
The second attempt failed. TOO SHARP. TOO STEEP. TOO SLIPPERY.
“I’ll need to have another go and take it wider,” thought The Driver recognising that this would require an incursion into the oncoming lane.
“You’ll need to have another go but take it wider,” said The Leader.
A few minutes later we drew up outside reception at the campsite. The Driver donned his COVID-19 mask and entered the office. Outlining the attractions the most friendly and helpful manager explained how to get into actual Lynmouth.
“It’s about a mile and a half along the footpath,” she explained. “Takes about 45 minutes to an hour.”
“Blimey,” thought The Driver, “should only take half of that.”
But the driver kept his counsel.
We did get a great pitch though, alongside Silvia, pictured on the right above.
The next day it soon became clear why we’d take an hour to walk a mile and a half. Just have a look at the walk profile below (top left). Actually, descending was more difficult.
Pasty (had to be done) alongside the little inner harbour (top right) and then beginning the trudge back home past Shelley’s underwriting (bottom left) and nearly home (bottom right).
Lovely tea and cake as a reward at Neil and Mandy’s cottage (which we hadn’t seen before) in Lynbridge and Neil inspired us with a new walk for the next day in which The Leader may have discovered a new nom de guerre.
But first we must go down the hill, a drop of some 1,000 feet into the gorge at Riversmeet. An intensely beautiful place but quite a rough descent. Not sure whether the steps helped or not although they probably prevented some nasty soil erosion. Some bum~clenching drops off the side of the path once you get into trees and the gorge proper.
I’ll come back to the bit in the middle (between going up and down) because I need to make my excuses NOW for going up to Lynton in the water powered funicular. There is an improbably even incline for a walker at the end of the profile depicted below (top left). Yes, we also got a taxi back to the campsite.
OK. We all know that the Leader. Does. Not. Like. Being. Called. Shirley. After all, it is a suburb of Birmingham. But we don’t think Solihull would be any better, do we? Doesn’t sound too Leaderish! A bit bulky for an essentially feminine Leader. An attractive one at that.
In between going down the hill on foot, and going back up again by funicular, we came upon the answer. Nom de guerre? Probably not aggressive enough.
After a moment of quiet reflection (below left), The Leader came upon the answer herself. There it is, right there (below right) complete with Leaderish accommodation. And a pink throne for when one is caught short after a bit of Chardonnay at the pub bench.
Battered haddock and chips to celebrate in Lynmouth. The seagulls didn’t dare.
Coming some time very soonish: Part 2 of this saga hits Padstow.
 Shut on Wednesdays
When did wine shops become bars and possibly even restaurants. And who did it first? We’ll never know.
But first Crapstone and bargs
Why. Because I am sitting in Campy near Okehampton remembering my first visit to Devon. This involved a trip to visit Bob, a journo friend, and his wife Carol. Back in the 70s he was a jolly decent cove as was his wonderful partner, Carol. I‘m sure they still are. Their address was: Bob and Carol Crampton, Windy Ridge, Crapstone, nr Yelverton. You couldn’t make it up. From memory, Bob was generally pretty taciturn, except when the Durban newsroom raconteurs exercised their great wit by repeating the refrain:
“Bob Crampton, son of the famous cricketer, Denis Crampton,” This caused him some irritation.
“His name is Denis Compton,” he would retort.
Ironically, Denis Compton’s sons, Patrick and Richard, fetched up in our newsroom soon after Bob had returned to the outskirts of Plymouth.
I stayed one night with the Cramptons and their baby son. Shortly after I had arrived, Carol shoo’d us out of Windy Ridge while she prepared a roast in my honour.
“I think Bob wants to introduce you to the local scrumpy. Careful how you go,” Carol warned.
“We’ll pop down to the Who’d Have Thought It, kind of appropriate for two reporters,” he nodded.
I had been warned that scrumpy played havoc with one’s legs before it disabled one’s brain but, hey ho, we were young then.
The incline from Windy Ridge down to the pub was as formidable as one would expect in Devon but we were full of reminiscences and I was eager to sample the fabled brew.
We sat at the bar on traditional high stools while we continued recalling newsroom characters and escapades, many of them regarding cricket. Respectful of the fact that Carol was roasting our dinner, I don’t think we had that many pints before we decided we’d better go. I slid off my stool as one would normally do but carried on sliding as my knees buckled and I crumpled on the floor.
Bob and the publican eyed me knowingly but my memory insists that he had just as much difficulty making the ascent back to Crapstone as I did. I’m pretty sure that, at least at one point, hands and knees were involved.
But, as is the way in one’s 20s, we seem to have recovered quickly and very much enjoyed our roast dinner with Carol.
When they were heading off to bed and I was being shown to their spare, Carol warned me that Bob had to be at work early and would stick his head around the door to say goodbye. I was heading back to London after lunch and wouldn’t see him again. I don’t believe I ever did.
“I just have to warn you that he does wear a traditional long night shirt,” she grinned, “just in case you think you are seeing a ghost or something.”
The plan was that Carol and the infant Crampton would be my guides for a whistle-stop tour of North Devon until I had to depart.
I remember being entranced by Clovelly and moving on to a traditional pub for victuals.
“Don’t mention the sign above the door ... let me do the talking,” Carol warned.
“What are Grockles?” I whispered after we’d successfully passed under the “No Grockles Allowed” sign and Carol had placed our order, I thought exaggerating her burr a little while doing so.
“This landlord is fabled for turning people away who ask that question,” she whispered back.
“If you don’t know then you are one,” she intoned, imitating the landlord with as much of a burr as her need to keep her voice down would allow.
I have to say we have only encountered loveliness from the locals since we’ve been in Devon, especially from the retired farmer, Gilbert, who owns our current campsite. He did have some cautionary tales, though:
“When you can see them hills on Dartmoor over there, you know it’s gonna rain,” he smiled, “and when you can’t see them, it’s arlready rainin’,” he grinned.
“And when it’s rainin’ you got to watch out for them bargs. Them bargs will suck you right in before you know. Never stop if you step in a barg without expectin’, you needs to keep walking smooth and careful, like.”
There were so many examples that they would occupy a whole new blog. I’ll have to return to that when I have a suitable interlude to research the WWII plane what disappeared on Dartmoor.
Dino and I often ate lunch in a modest fiaschetteria close to our office in (if I remember correctly) the Via Sallustiana in Rome. Dino is a long time friend and colleague who headed up the multi-year project we were working on. As his name suggests, he is a native Italian who loves food and sharing it with his amici. He is also as thin as a rake. He uses a lot of energy. More often than not lunch consisted of fagioli a la Nonna in a generous bowl. Most likely they were topped with salsicce, our favourite. Always at least one glass of vino rosso.
“La Nonna Mia says it aids digestion and is therefore essential,” he explained, adding: “E vero.” 
According to my friend the fiaschetterie had started out as wine merchants but many Italians liked to buy wine during their lunch breaks and there was no time for food while they made their choices. Someone saw an opportunity for them to do precisely that, eat while choosing.
During my time in Rome the menu was kept very simple, perhaps just one option ... you guessed it, sausages and beans washed down with a glass of everyday red.
Fiaschetterie started to become popular in the evening, too. A certain Madonna Louise Ciccone saw to that when it became known that she liked to frequent the Fiaschetteria Beltramme near the Spanish Steps. The menu became a little more sophisticated but not OTT. Shan and I went there a few times and loved it. A feature of fiaschetterie was that they didn’t take bookings but we soon learned that Italians can be quite rigid in their evening routines and passeggiata takes place every day between 7 and 8 PM. Get to your fave fiaschetteria at 7:55 you could always get a table. At 8:05 no chance at the Beltramme, given its provenance and its proximity to Via dei Condotti.
So did wine shops that serve food start with the Italians or with the Spanish. Rumour has it that tapas started with a slice of stale bread placed over a wine glass to keep the flies out. A Spaniard got hungry and ...
Answers on a postcard to this blog? If you can bear the occasional formalities when posting a comment, I’d love to hear your theory.
In the mean time I’ll be happy to pay some sort of service charge while drinking “in” at BinTwo.
Coming up some time soon: Cornish fiaschetterie. Do you pay “corkage” on a carafe? Can you pay “corkage” in kind? Will we be in a position to even order wine without getting Raabies. Why does it take twice as long to type a blog on an iPad because of Apple’s sheer obstinacy over cursor back and forward arrows.
 Grandma’s beans
 It’s true?
When the weather closes in on a Devon day, what better way to bring back the sunshine than to recall our visit to Mike Huskins at Dalwood Vineyards. So now for Part 2. The aperitif has been sampled ...
For us, travel becomes a proper adventure when we have memories to recall of real tales delivered by real people. Enthusiasm is uplifting but recollections often need the frisson of sorry tales, too, as a backdrop to the brightness. Happily, this tale is all about enthusiasm.
So, on this Blog Day Afternoon, I’ll take a leaf out out of Prince Hal’s book, if only to justify fulfilling Shan’s lack of confidence in my ability to negotiate Campy through the narrow lanes of the West Country;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly, and attract more eyes,
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I will therefore sneak my confession of additional Campy damage under the radar of Hal’s “loose behaviour” before returning to Mike’s “bright metal”. I am using this metaphor in honour of the Dalwood bard’s love of the metaphor, especially those involving English Rugby.
OK, so a couple of days after Mike steered us up a more tolerable return route to the A35, and my brain slowing down in the balmy glow above Lyme Regis, I judged it possible to execute what was effectively a u-turn in a 7.2M motor home in a 5M wide lane. In mitigation, there were a few misaligned field openings that might have provided some refuge had my driving been 100% accurate but in the end probably only 85% was achieved. As is always the case in situations like these, a small crowd of experts gathered, our campsite owner, James, included.
He was quick to point out that I had been attempting the impossible and apologised to Shan for surreptitiously glancing to see if there’d been any damage to his gatepost. Happily, another member of the small crowd was more sympathetic to my predicament and exhibited the knowledge, probably gained from having been a similar seemingly deadly embrace before. He calmly guided me to a safer position. The only damage in rugby metaphor parlance was a few grass burns to Campy’s nearside rear flank.
Yesterday was taken up getting from there to here and scandalising Niamh only a tiny bit and the patrons of Waitrose a little more by having the temerity to shop there in a battle scarred motorhome. The last part of the day was taken up with a very short bike ride from here on a beautiful evening and attacking some challenging gradients on my wife’s e-bike after being warned by the locals that the route “were a bit lumpy”.
And so the state of the weather today declared that it was to be a Blog Day Afternoon to let me return to my Dalwood #Roaminations.
By the time Mike had conveyed us up to the top of the Dalwood vineyard, showed due care and attention with liberal use of gin-based disinfectant and given us each a glass untouched by Covid-19, my dearly beloved was into the swing of things. Our host proffered a tasting sample of his award-winning bubbly - the appropriate amount for me to spit out and a bit more for Shan to calm her nerves - and late afternoon Nirvana commenced. Surrounded by the scenery one would expect in Devon and bathed in softening sunlight Mike demonstrated the deep knowledge of viticulture that is borne from a life on the land and an enthusiasm for the project in hand.
The closest winemaker to showing us similar love for his vines had been Richard Kershaw MW, at his home in the Western Cape of South Africa. Richard’s wine has attracted many accolades and was described by John Platter, founder of the annual bible of SA wines, Platter’s Wine Guide, as “boffin juice”. Nothing is left to chance. Given the emerging status of English wine, Mike follows a similar pattern of matching grape varieties to the terroir.
Dalwood is every armchair winelover’s dream. Six mates having a pint in the local confess to a yen for making their own wine. Enough of a yen to chuck in enough £000s each to allocate 3 acres of farmland and plant 3,000 vines. Enough of a yen to take a vine growing course at Plumpton College. Enough of a yen to work their way up the ladder of Decanter awards to silver medals for both their offerings within 10 years of planting their first vines. Enough of a yen to plant 3 out of 4 varieties most people have never heard of, i.e. seyval blanc, solaris, madeleine angevine and clearly sufficiently risk-seeking to plant the pinot noir that graces the Dalwood fizz. Mike and Jo (Huskins) aim to repeat something similar IN AN ORGANIC VINEYARD.
But the Huskins’ family collie is named Pinot, isn’t she. She has even more energy than Mike.
The rugby metaphors came thick and fast. Growing quality wines took the dedication of a Jonny Wilkinson. Bucking the trend took the belligerence of a Martin Johnson.
“And pulling brilliance out of the hat, Ben Stokes,” I ventured.
“Probably, but he’s a bit of a maverick,” Mike conceded. “I don’t follow cricket to the same extent.”
These are early days for Dalwood. I was encouraged to contact him by Lee Isaacs, a guitar playing punster who adds a dimension of daring fun to the wine scene. Mike’s zeal includes extending this work to others who are hankering after the same thing. I followed Lee’s suggestion with a message to Mike. He responded By phoning me just before lockdown, with evangelistic zeal.
“Edge of the Costwolds, don’t see why not,” he enthused. “First you should get a soil sample, I’ll give you the contact details of John Buchan.”
John Buchan is an agronomist. I haven’t contacted him yet because lockdown has stalled my efforts to build a co-op.
I believe it will take a force majeure to prevent Dalwood from exponentiating. The yen and the spirit of enterprise is all there and the proof of results is emerging.
This year’s harvest began on Saturday and the smiles on the faces of the pickers are the evidence ...
“You’re going to BinTwo in Pastow?” Mike exclaimed when Shan and I were taking our leave. “I’ll give you a bottle of our white blend to share with THAT Mike.”
I thought this was a lovely idea and a perfect introduction to MikeBinTwo (MBT), with whom I’d corresponded but never met.
I mentioned this in a thank you to Mike (Dalwood) out of courtesy, copying in Lee and MBT, as well as Lisa, a fan of of all of theirs. Lee immediately started stirring and suggested a bottle each. It all escalated from there. All players feigned offence at not being invited to the “party”.
MBT was even moved to exclaim: “Just gimme my wine basically.”
The offending bottle is in MY possession (see below, MBT) consider my half the corkage/delivery charge.
During the interregnum between that conversation and Blog Day Afternoon, the clown who should be obeyed has declared a Covid-19 Curfew of 10PM with the threat of a £10K fine for loiterers who exceed that limit. MBT reckons this effectively means half an hour before that, given the time it takes to clear up and bugger off. Mike and his partner, Mary, have spent a fortune in time and money to transform BinTwo to comply with previous lockdown guidelines so THEY ARE DEFINITELY RESPONSIBLE vendors!
So it looks like we’ll have to start drinking early given what we understand to be a 9:30PM curfew ....
Coming some time later next week: feud over bottle of Devon white wine curtailed by Cummings curfew ...
In the first blog in this series, I had a bit of a rant about TomTom, guarantor of added stress to a journey. From Johannesburg to Eden to Dalwood. Thank heavens for the serenity of our hippy camp and to winemaker, Mike Huskins, for restoring our sanity.
Johannesburg is a bit of a red herring for this bit of the TomTom saga. Thankfully that episode was behind me when we set off from Corfe Castle But the bit about avoiding unsuitable roads was certainly not. Now, Shan had looked at a real map and worked out the route we needed to follow to our next destination, Camp Eden. The very name promised a peaceful haven. Actually, her route had drawn heavily on the site’s recommended directions and a knowledge that West Country roads can be very narrow and travel between high walls and/or hedges.
All that having been established, I confessed that I’d also entered the coordinates of Camp Eden into our TomTom. You see, I know she likes to sit and admire the view while I steer the beast. I had also chosen the Voice of Jane to add the required calm note.
We hadn’t gone very far when my human navigator noticed that Jane was about to disobey her.
“Follow the A35 all the way to Bridport,” my wife instructed.
“Turn around when possible,” Jane commanded.
“S.T.F.U. Jane,” Shan exclaimed.
What one has to realise is that Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are notorious for their network of narrow lanes that go off in all directions, some of which could reduce the length of one’s journey by a few hundred metres while ramping up stress by several orders of magnitude.
I can’t tell you how many sequences of,
Jane: “In 400 metres, turn right ... take the right ... turn around when possible ... make the u-turn.”
Shan: “S.T.F.U. , Jane!”
we had over the 40 miles to Bridport. I lost count. Eventually Shan gave up admiring the view and buried her nose in the site’s written recommendations.
We did eventually arrive safely, you’ll be relieved to hear and, after a multiple-point turn, had Campy facing in the correct direction in the pitch reserved for Shirley. Shan. Does. Not. Like. Being. Called. Shirley.
YES. I had to cackle and sent a WhatsApp message to Roger (see a bit Further below).
Eden ticked all the boxes: gorgeous outlook, hippy-dippy spiritual aura and a proper lav for a brief respite from Chemilavia.
We also had a slow start the next morning and were able the relax for coffee a few hours in the dappled sunshine.
I had programmed the next bit of the route into our TomTom and changed the person delivering the directions to Niamh. We’d had enough of Jane.
I’m not quite sure which was the more death-defying: continually referring to my bride as Shirley or my decision to follow TomTom (Niamh) instructions down the narrowest possible lane to the village of Dalwood. To be honest, probably neither, particularly the road, but Shelley-ann Harrison, (nee Deale) a.k.a. Shan/Shazam/Mumbly, hates being referred to by my mother’s second first name. Mum didn’t like it either but she liked her first name, Edith, even less. To the extent that she persuaded her parents, Cecil and Beryl, to change her moniker officially to Shirley Edith Rogers. No one admitted to choosing “Shirley”, possibly it was Mum, but the choice of names can be a dangerous thing, especially when it is identical to the child star of the day, Shirley Temple. Mum went to boarding school a lot and fellow pupils can be merciless. In latter years she seemed to prefer to be called “Shirl” or, of course, Mum.
When I was born, my parents were determined to give me a name that was impossible to shorten. Unfortunately they decided to throw in my maternal grandmother’s maiden name and I became Mark Foggitt Harrison. How naïve could they have been? Don’t even try to imagine what my contemporaries made of that. I’m sure it is a cardinal rule to call one’s mates anything but their given first names. Some of my kinder ones include Banjo, Harry, Harri, Banj and others were things like Spook and, of course, Foggitt. My brother-in-law, Martin, calls me “Henry”, which he thinks annoys me but I actually quite like it.
So, back to Shelley-ann, Shan, Sheila, Shazam, Shirley.
Most of our friends are childlike and fancy themselves as windup merchants and will choose the one they gets them the biggest rise. John R once had a place setting made in the name of Shazam Harrison for a charity ball in Oxford’s Randolph Hotel. That didn’t work because my dearly beloved still keeps the name card as a souvenir.
But Starry has fastened on to “Shirley” and it does seem to work as a pistache. Sadly, I was unable to resist when the proprietor of our campsite mistakenly heard the name my wife proffered for the booking. I am, of course, more infantile than most.
Heading down to Dalwood
Back to the main purpose of this blog episode, the visit to Dalwood to meet Mike and to admire his wines and vineyard.
“What are the arrangements,“ Shan quizzed me upon leaving Camp Eden, having replaced the thoughtful Shirley sign in its rightful place on our, now-ex, pitch.
“Mike suggested we meet him there at 4,” was my unsatisfactory response.
After successfully negotiating the single-track lane back the way we had come and having agreed that we would turn right back towards Bridport when we reached the main road, Niamh suddenly interrupted our self-congratulatory reverie:
“Turn right on to the main road and then immediately left,” her dulcet tones commanded.
“S.T.F.U.!” We chorused in reply while turning left in defiance and glancing to the right to see where Niamh would’ve take us. A large blue sign counter-commanded, “unsuitable for large goods vehicles!”
Once again we ignored repeated TomTom instructions to “turn around when possible!”
On safely regaining the A35 and correctly turning West, Shan resumed her interrogation as to my “arrangements” with Mike.
“Where is ‘there’,” she responded.
“How long will it take?”
“About 35 minutes.”
“Where did you arrange to meet Mike in Dalwood?”
“It’s a small place. We’ll just get there and I’ll contact him.”
This continued for a while. We had plenty of time despite a massive tailback before Chideock.
About 15 minutes after we had cleared the snarlup, Niamh, seemingly suddenly, urged us to bear right on to a side lane.
To Shan’s horror, it was barely wider than Campy and within a few hundred metres a huge tractor-trailer combo was coming the other way. I prepared to reverse but he expertly found somewhere to let us past. Despite occasionally hearing the tick-tick-tick of the mirrors interfering with the hedges on either side simultaneously for the next few miles, we parked outside the church, about the only place in the village wide enough to do such a thing.
At this point I need to point out that one of the attractions Mike and Dalwood had for me was the romantic notion that Everyman could grow grapes and make wine. On a previous phone call, Mike told me that he and a few mates had had that notion over a few pints after a darts tournament in the local pub. Being a small village, the local was visible from where we had parked and I popped in to work out the lie of the land and was soon in touch with Mike.
Shan is always graceful when meeting new people and allowed a few pleasantries to pass before the inevitable question arose:
“Mike, please tell me there’s an easier way out of Dalwood to the A35?”
“Did you come off the A35 at Studhayes Road and come along Lower Lane?” he asked knowingly.
“Yes,” she responded eagerly.
“Well done. That’s a bit tight for a large vehicle, yes there is definitely a much easier way but first I’ll show you the vineyard ...“
I’m going to leave you with this picture of Mike standing in front of his own Eden but the story does not stop here ...
Coming next : The second half of the inspiring Dalwood story and Mike’s enthusiasm, together with a connection to BinTwo in Padstow. The knowledge and rugby metaphors are too precious not to devote time to our time spent in the vineyard and beyond.
 TomTom diverted me off the main freeway to OR Tambo airport through an extremely dodgy area. Proper scary.
 For those unaccustomed to TomTom it is a company dispensing Satnav devices.
Could Trainspotting be a new fetish for me? Like most things, a fetish has to start somewhere, making me suspect that yesterday’s activities may have had a tenuous link to having been restrained the evening before, strapped to an ice block.
In my previous blog, I described grumping my way up a bit of a tortuous hill having developed a sexagenarian pain in the foot. My life’s partner, Shan, always ready with some patent cure to prevent me becoming a complete pain in the arse, declared that the solution lay in cooling the injury down. I’d like to report that a small crowd of campers gathered to witness my ritual humiliation but it would be a lie.
Instead, I was strapped unceremoniously to a small plastic ice pack, more properly used in a miniature cool bag, using the strap that, in normal life, keeps Campy’s awning from blowing away. In order to complete the humiliation, the above photo was taken as evidence to be used for future blackmail. OK, so it was me who had been rabbiting on about getting a steam train from Corfe Castle to Swanage to meet The Queen in the morning. I believe this was to ensure that I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it when I was sober the next morning. A further bribe of fish and chips had induced me into this predicament in the first place.
All so that I could hobble my way down the rough-hewn byway to Corfe Castle to take up our assignation with steam and, unbeknownst to me, also with The Queen.
During one of those often tedious moments while waiting for a delayed train, serendipity took over when I confessed to a couple of charming steam train volunteers that I wished to take some photos of the steam locomotive to send to a friend. Expecting the normal knowing nudge and wink when using the “asking for a friend” explanation, I incurred genuine interest of the kind that turns bucket list tourism into genuine travellers’ experiences. I could easily have dug my hole a bit deeper when “confessing” that my friend was South African.
“Which part,” one of the volunteers asked. He was manning the Corfe Castle railway museum.
“Durban,” I replied. “East Coast.”
“He’s not part of the Umgeni Steam Railway, is he?”
This was too detailed for me. I’ll have to verify with Jeremy Hathorn (Jem) when we’re next in contact. I believe it to be true though.
Turns out this gentleman from Corfe Castle knew, and had traveled on, just about every steam railway in South Africa that had been extant in 1987 ... this last time he had visited the country. He’d also traversed many of the spectacular mountain road passes while on his railway quest (just like Jem, too). Apologising for gaps in his memory, he proceeded to reel off the names of all the passes between the Little and Great Karoo.
I also learned about the “Ficksburg line” and the last train that tried to traverse it in its neglected, dilapidated state. Beats Last Train to Clarksville any day. I was beginning to find out why people become trainspotters, many of whom lined the track between Corfe Castle and Swanage. There’s a visceral source of excitement when these iron beasts chug across spectacular countryside puffing steam from giant pistons and using it to toot a deafening whistle.
With all of my newfound excitement you may be justified in asking why I haven’t provided pukka illustrations ... I will, just as soon as I work out how to get them off my pukka camera while out in the bundu.
In the meantime, as soon as we arrived in Swanage we discovered that the iron roads had been central to the seaside town’s former glory. There must’ve once been a tram that skirted the bay, at least as far as the genteel pier. Swanage still has its attractions but the fine old buildings that cascade down the hill to the sea have been diluted by the more modern temples to fast food. As fish and chips may have delighted Victorian visitors to the seaside, perhaps while they rode the tram, it is possible that the older buildings remain behind some of the once-were-modern facades.
Covid-19 did bring a treble highlight to our brief sojourn in Swanage. We had to sit outside for our own interpretation of lockdown and spotted a brand new facade sporting fresh seating overlooking the fine bay. It was our first restaurant/bar/cafe meal since our tedious social distancing had begun.
A car drew up on the esplanade opposite and we were rewarded for our adventures by a wave from this fine lady smiling from the rear window of her chauffeur-driven Ford Fiesta.
Seemed apt somehow.
No trip to the seaside in England is complete without a walk on a pier and an ice cream. Swanage’s Wooden pier is sufficiently restrained to make it a peaceful haven and provide an opportunity to enter into dialogue with the local people fishing. Shan was particularly taken with a young woman’s minuscule fishing rod and asked her about it.
“It’s a Kayak fishing rod,” she responded, seemingly delighted that a fellow human being had taken an interest. My dear wife was delighted that she would have something to tell her sister, Kerry, about. Kerry is a world class fisherperson who has represented her country and lives in Hermanus in the Western Cape, a province of South Africa. Maybe it was ESP but Kerry phoned Shan and a typically raucous sisterly conversation took place between the three of them overheard by most of Swanage pier. I say three, because their 91-year-old Mum was there too and would, these days, rather be a sister.
And so it was we returned to the antique splendour of our steam railway. After our sumptuous lunch it was no disappointment that the buffet was closed. We’d learned a little more about how wonderful it is to have the time to stop and talk to people. The natural instinct seems to be that questions will not be welcome. How wrong an instinct this is. Show an interest and I’m prepared to wager the vast majority will be touched and delighted.
Shan tolerated my hobbling the mile back up to Campy, all revved up to complete this chapter by the time I went to bed yesterday evening.
I tolerated the interruption to despatch the “biggest hornet ever known to man, must be a super Vespa.”
Shan very seldom interrupts her teeth-cleaning for such trivia and so I’m completing these roaminations this afternoon from a completely different location. C’est la vie.
It is so peaceful now after yesterday’s excitement that it’s hard to imagine anything other than the lone Robin twittering away in the tree beside Campy.
Having endured unsilenced, high-revving two-stroke everything all Sunday as neighbours and allotment holders set about their autumn chores at home, we were relishing the prospect of peace in the sylvan delights of our wooded campsite near the South Coast of England.
“KABOOM 💥” a massive bang rent the air, at what seemed like dawn. Campy shuddered and assembled dogs began yapping. As if to provide the rhythm accompaniment to this awful symphony some petrol powered piece of equipment burst into life close by.
Admittedly the equipment operator was showing the consideration of using a silenced 4-stroke piece of kit ... something that is mandatory in France but not here yet. Also, the second explosion that vibrated through our bones suggested the lawn mower driver was being doubly considerate under covering fire. Although this only became obvious a while later where the staccato of machine gun fire became audible. It was too much to hope that we were witnessing Jimi’s resurrection at the nearby Isle of Wight as these were the real deal and we realised that military manoeuvres are not uncommon with the firing ranges nearby.
Battle sounds were omnipresent throughout the day, providing an awful authenticity to our visit to Corfe Castle
No wonder that bits have kept falling off this fabulous pile of rocks.
Bits started falling off me, too, although metaphorically rather than physically.
They felt physical, though, as the precipitous rough-hewn descent pounded away at the ball of my left foot.
During the castle visit, while moaning away and taking inconsequential snaps of its innards,
my observant wife was taking in the model village scene below.
I grumped my way back up the hill and requested leave to have an afternoon nap.
“Will you be able to sleep with all the explosions?” Shan asked. They had continued throughout the day.
I was convinced I was able and was soon snoring, blissfully unaware that she’d taken herself off to investigate the possibilities of evening victuals. The first I knew about this was when she roused me with: “It’s nearly six o’ clock and I’ve had a bit of an adventure.”
”Tell me about it,” I replied groggily.
”You need to get up so I can tell you properly’,” Shan responded. She likes her dramatic effects.
The story goes that she was walking down the road when a fellow camper alerted her, entirely through eye movements, that there was a deer that had wandered into the camp to enjoy the plentiful acorns. The camper then tried to be helpful by handing the hungry beast some more of these delicacies
This peaceful scene was promptly disrupted by the ungrateful animal’s aberrant behaviour. First it attacked the original giver and then her partner, seen here with a similar gesture.
As can be seen from the lack of photographic evidence, Shan retreated to get help before it could attack her and the man in the picture had to be rescued by another man with a stick.
It is not clear whether the continuing loud explosions, that carried on until well after sunset, set the poor deer off.
We ended our evening with the thing that “had to be done”.
Delicious battered cod avec chips and mushy peas, all ordered and delivered according to social distancing rules dictated by COVID-19 rules.
Oh and the pic on the banner of this series of blogs is a clumsy attempt to capture a kiss in a kissing gate. Evidence on my selfie ineptitude.
Lying on my back in Campy, gazing through the sky light I was astonished to see a bright, clear vista of a starry sky, the likes of which I’d normally only witnessed in places such as Calvinia in the South African Karoo.
Which was weird because a few hours earlier I’d been watching in awe as an intrepid cyclist climbed an incline on the Jurassic Way that was challenging for a person on foot. Not to mention the loose chalk and flint surface!
And then up pops a deer as if to say, “Oi, you taking my picture or what?
Kinda strange being in a campsite for the first time after lockdown ... this one more locked down than most with just about all facilities closed so the unpleasantness of chemical lavvies WILL be involved.
We got here despite duelling Satnavs, TomTom, Google and Shan’s paper map ensemble but I’m going have to do some homework to figure out how to prevent TomTom from taking us down the shortest route imaginable. We haven’t quite traversed a ploughed field yet but we did manage to terrify an old dear by attempting a postage stamp 75-point turn to extract ourselves from an impossibly narrow lane. I would’ve gone for it but my traveling companion has witnessed me removing bits from Campy’s exterior before and vetoed that suggestion.
Also, WTF is Shan able to access Instagram from her iPhone while mine keeps stubbornly saying “NO INTERNET CONNECTION “. The wonders of technology not being helped, either, by Apple’s perverse insistence on only moving one’s cursor with “haptics” when simple back and forward keys would maker everyone’s life easier.
It’s all fab in theory but try posting to a blog when lying on your bed in a motorhome in a forest on the side of a hill.
It really is all lovely really. Really.
hopefully more tomorrow once we’ve been out and about a bit. Love y’all.