Sunday, April 19, 2009


You bet!

Just before I left the metrolops by train to Cornwall, I watched Michelle Mone - the blonde bombshell bra magnate from Apprentice fame - explaining to ITVNews that she was fed up listening to the media drone on and on about how we're all going to hell, with or without a handcart, and how this very explanation of how terrible everything is partly explains how, well, terrible everything is.

So if you don't mind this will be an unrelentingly happy column today.

St Ives is a place to love. A bejewelled and sparkling sea. Dinky fishermen's cottages. A haven from the drudge. Cornish friends and family may disagree but what do they know, they only live here. I've been coming here for donkeys, and it's as refreshing a place today as it was when I first brought a girlfriend here for, er, a cultural weekend many years ago. A walk round Down-A-Long, the old fishing bit which once smelt of pilchards but now has a 'Chocolat!' shop, is as time-eroding as anything you'll find in Venice or Stonetown, Zanzibar. There may be big green council bins outside every door but the architecture is of another time; there may be more holiday homes than residences but you'd barely know as a visitor; and while the credit crunch means that more people are snacking than dining, here they're scarfing Cornish pasties, proper ones. There are no McDonalds or KFC. Hurrah!

There are no double red lines either, just a few yellow ones, no troublesome law enforcers beating your legs or Sky Helicopters hovering over funerals, few nutters (apart from retired Cornwallians studying the effects of Scrumpy on the mind), limited pub opportunities and, as far as I can see, no more than one Pound Shop. The only supermarket is a Co-op where the 'till-bunnies' (as they call themselves) do a neat line in witty repartee.

I'd say this + a beach or two + a Cornish pasty for lunch = a lot of people enjoying themselves. From surfer dudes to families to preening teens studying their oppos. (I'm a visitor, right? So don't email me about the credit crunch in Cornwall, I'm being Mr Happy today. I saw those teeshirts - "It's tourist season so why can't we shoot them?")

Porthmeor Beach is where you want to be - sunning yourself or scoffing fresh fish and chips (with a cup of tea and two slices please) in the beachfront cafe. It's here that I learned to surf and it's here that I intend to take it up again. Soon. In the meantime, I'm over the road in the Tate Gallery - the smallest of the Tate Empire and possibly my favourite - which at the moment has a retrospective of Ben Nicholson, the early modernist who came to live in St Ives, and an explosion of colour by Luke Frost. A brilliant coupling of St Ives 'old' modernist school and the very latest from what has become a local dynasty. Joy. No crowds, a beautiful building with the best rooftop caff in Britain, and sand underfoot, which is not something you get in Pimlico.

Lunch at the Mermaid, one of the oldest in the hood where the happy waiter who's been there for years tells me the special is a whole local lemon sole with chips for a tenner. He points surreptitiously at the next table and eyeballs the message "that's what they've got". So I get it. While trying to decide on a glass (how much?) or a bottle of Provence Rose he offers to do me a small carafe 'for six quid'. Done deal mate. They do a five pound lunch. They do lobster and chips. Oooooooh can I live here now please? (a moment recorded on every visit)

Because I'm working I'm in the apartment from heaven, the Sail Lofts, which have recently been reconverted from artists studios (of which several remain downstairs) because long before that this was a pilchard processing factory, and along with every mod con that my own home aspires to this spacious white loft has a flat screen TV which is this weekend dedicated to BBC 3 because they're showing 'Family Guy' the funniest thing now on TV. I'm jaded, a Simpsons fan who's turned in his Homer tee a long time ago, the consequence being that I find it very hard to find anything remotely amusing on TV at all. Family Guy is it.

It's the new series so the BBC have splashed out £2.74p on a behind-the-scenes effort. What would once have been a documentary is now a local crew fishing around the Family Guy production office for shots. Piece of crap really but it allowed me to see Seth McFarlane - the creator, writer, performer and drawer - say the words "as long as we don't do anything the Simpsons did" which sums it up. The baton has now been officially passed. Laugh your bloody socks off people. Or Brian gets it.

Which reminds me, down at the harbour I buy a huge spider crab straight off the boat for two quid. It's live (look away now if you're squeamish) and despite having a pot which is just a little too small it is cooked, prepped and served with potato salad and a crisp white wine. It is delicious. But is also tiny. I have discovered the difference between cock and hen spider crabs. One has loads of meat. The other doesn't.

Can't all be good news. Sorry.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bloody Sheep

The very funny comedian Arnold Brown ("I'm Jewish and I'm Scottish. Two minorities for the price of one" boomboom!) has a new act at the heart of which is an appreciation of sheep. At Brighton's Komedia last week he had us in stitches (well a Welsh friend anyway) as he embarrassed the audience into agreeing that sheep were, um, rather attractive in their own sweet way. As the discourse reaches its climax, Arnold describes a train journey which passes field after field of said flocks, each one more attractive than the other, exciting Arnold a little.

"In fact" he says, rising to the occasion,"They were asking for it." Cue hysterical laughter (from Welsh associate)

But he's wrong.They're not only not attractive, they're stupid too, and since I've spent the last few days edging my way through hordes of the wooly bastards I'm entitled to think that.

The single track roads connecting places like Achiltibuie, Achnahaird, Altan Dubh and Reiff (you'll have to Google to locate) are difficult enough to manouvre - one of them's not called the "mad wee road" for nothing - as delivery vans roar through, tourists misunderstand that passing places are not picnic spots, and the route itself twists and turns like the proverbial corkscrew, defying any attempt to reach third gear. In addition, the driver's eye is constantly distracted with eagles (actually, they're never eagles, they're always buzzards) and a mountain range that owes more to Monument Valley than the Grampians, Stac Polly especially.

So trying to deal with sheep playing chicken is just too much. Chicken?

As you approach from the rear (phnaar phnaar) there will be mother on one side and offspring on the other, eyes darting hither and thither in panic. They have plenty of time to make their escape. But they don't. Generally the offspring will make a break - across your path no less - at the last possible moment shouting the sheep equivalent of 'mummy mummy there's a car coming' as if mummy, who's now running in front of you cares about anything except saving her own scrawny neck.

Well woolly jumpers, you'd better wise up, because you're dealing with the SHEEP KILLER (dramatic, scary music) and I'm still on the loose!

A very long time ago (the statute of limitations is well up on this one) I was making a journey very familiar to me along a single track road, in a Range Rover doing 90 miles per hour. It was a clear day, the road was long, straight and uninterrupted. I was on a small island racing to catch the morning ferry.

In slow motion, I saw a sheep emerge from underneath a little bridge, twisting itself onto the road, not seeing me, and despite jamming on the anchors I hit it full force, killing it instantly and forcing me off the road. I was lucky not to have, oh, died.

I went back to examine the remains and like some perverse Damien Hirst installation, the sheep was neatly laid out in three small piles, all in a straight line along the middle of the road. The wooly coat, the torso, and the intestines in a quivering pile, steaming, bloody, but neat. The poor thing must have just exploded when I hit it.

I scanned the road, the surrounding bogland, and the distant horizons, hilltops and escarpments. There was no-one around, so I scooped the three piles off the road and into the small stream under the bridge, thus saving myself £90 in sheep killing fees.

Job done. Got away with it. Sorted.

The island has one pub and when I arrived back that evening, was greeted by shouts and torments on entry. "Murderer! Rustler! Sheep killer!" Nothing is secret in such small communities, particularly when the shepherd with 20/20 vision is on a mountaintop three miles away watching you murder one of his flock.