Category Archives: Cornwall

The Starfish Thrower (4)

In my previous posts about St Ives, in western Cornwall, I mentioned a good many of its attractions:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also mentioned Alfred Wallis, the most famous artist to have lived and worked there. Alfred was born in Devon in 1855 but moved with his parents to Penzance at quite an early age. He became a deep sea fisherman and sailed on trawlers as far away as Newfoundland. When he was 20 he married Susan Ward who was then 41 years of age. Alfred still worked as a fisherman, but on land he was also a labourer and a dealer in marine supplies.  Around this time, the family all moved to St Ives. As he grew older, Alfred worked for a local antique seller and it was perhaps this which pointed him towards painting. After his wife died in 1922, he began to paint, making use of the limited number of colours available in chandlers’ shops to paint ships and boats. Here he is as an old man and a young artist:

Instead of canvas, Alfred made use of scraps of cardboard which had been used as packaging.

Here are some of his paintings. This is called “Windjammer and Cutter”:

This is called “Four luggers leaving a harbour”:

This one is “Wreck of the Alba”. It is possible to recognise Godrevy Island, the beach at Porthmeor, and The Island with the Coast Guard Lookout:

“The Hold House Port Meor Island” also has recognisable features of St Ives such as Porthmeor Beach, The Island with St Nicholas Chapel on the top as well as Wallis’ own house:

Here is the map of these two paintings. The white area at the top is called “The Island”:

Here is Alfred’s rather unusual grave in Porthmeor Cemetery which overlooks the sea to the west of the word “(w)ater” on the map:

Here is the top, created in ceramic tiles by Bernard Leach:

One of the paintings above, and Wallis’ grave, both carry illustrations of a lighthouse. It is on Godrevy Island, a view which I have birdwatched for countless hundreds of hours over the years:

To study Wallis, your first port of call should be the Great Mother of Us All   After that, many of his paintings can be viewed at the Tate St Ives, which again, has a beautiful view over the Atlantic Ocean.

I have used some of these paintings at the Tate St Ives to illustrate this little introduction. If you are going to Cornwall this summer, make sure that you go there and check out this wonderful old man’s paintings. It’s certainly time better spent than wandering around the interminable surf shops and fast food eateries that are being allowed to spoil one of Britain’s most beautiful places.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Cornwall, History

The Starfish Thrower (3)

(If you haven’t already read “The Starfish Thrower (2)”, just let me say that you will understand this post a lot more easily if you do.)

OK. Back to St Ives:

And back to the moral of that story.

I was once told by a wise man, “You can always find a reason for not doing something”. And that is so true.

Why bother helping starfish?

It’s too hot

There are too many of them

What’s the point?

and so on.

But don’t just look for a reason to do nothing. It’s easy. Just throw the starfish back. You don’t need to train for 20 years and spend £300 on special equipment:

You don’t need to gather a crowd and you don’t need to wear special clothes:

And you never know. You might attract a helper:

Or get the grateful thanks of a mermaid.

With me, it’s always contributions to charity that I baulk at, whether that be my valuable time or my hard earned cash.

I give a little money to the Salvation Army because my Dad said that if you were freezing cold on a foggy station platform during the winter of 1943, the Salvation Army would always be there to help you. The Church of England never was. Nor was anybody else. So my Dad ordered me to donate a little money to them from time to time. But equally I could say to myself, “Well, I never saw my Dad give them any money himself, so why should I bother?”

In other words, “You can always find a reason for not doing something”.


Four days later, I was back in St Ives, wandering round a gallery stuffed with art that I like. Pictures of dogs, pictures of dogs playing cards, pictures of very large sharks, undersea divers, undersea divers being attacked by very large sharks, and most of all, aeroplanes.

I used to read war comics when I was little. Ones like this…

And this…

And this…

Just look at that fantastic line “Spitfeuer! Achtung!!” I’m fluent in that kind of German. I often think I could have been a Kommandant of a Prisoner of War Camp, using just the German from war comics and films.

This art gallery had dogs and sharks and undersea divers. And it also had this wonderful print:

Nowadays, lots of Germans visit Cornwall and they visit St Ives. They all like to look around the art galleries.

Suddenly a little boy came in, closely followed by his Dad. He looked up at the aircraft print on the wall.

He pointed up at it and loudly and clearly, he said to his Dad, the line I had waited to hear somebody say for 50 years. He shouted:

“Achtung Spitfeuer!  Achtung Spitfeuer!  Achtung Spitfeuer!”

 

25 Comments

Filed under Cornwall, Cryptozoology, History, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

The Starfish Thrower (2)

(And now, at last, you get to know exactly why these posts have such a bizarre title…..)

There is a second beach at St Ives in western Cornwall, just north of the pier. It is to the west of the Coast Guard (CG) Lookout and the Chapel of St Nicholas, the patron saint of fishermen.  On the map, it is the yellow area between the two words ‘brothers’ and ‘(w)ater’:

Here’s a general view from the chapel:

A closer view shows you the huge concrete monolith of the Tate St Ives Gallery. To the right is Porthmeor Cemetery which holds the grave of St Ives greatest artist, Alfred Wallis.


Which brings me back to the Art Gallery theme. More about it in a moment. In the meantime, here is St Ives’ most ironic hairdresser…

Last time, I gave you a brief introduction to St Ives. Its seals and its gulls and its main beach.
One day I strolled nonchalantly into an art gallery, looking for a picture with dogs in it because I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. I was looking in particular for that picture where the dogs are all playing cards and they have cigars and shades over their eyes. Here is a map with the Orange Arrow marking the place:

I actually found a painting with a story written on the canvas. The story was obviously designed to be uplifting:

Now normally I don’t really go in a great deal for the bumper sticker wisdom you can find on many sites on the Internet. If Life were that easy, we’d all be perfect (inadvertently, I’ve just created one. Sorry about that).
I don’t think you’ll be able to read the story off the photograph, so I’ve copied it out.
I know it’s probably been printed and reprinted a thousand times over, but I had never seen it before, and I can still remember the effect it had on me the very first time I ever saw it:

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.  He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.  One day he was walking along the shore.
As he looked down the beach,  he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.  He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day.  He began to walk faster to catch up.  As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore,  picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
He called out, “Good morning! What are you doing? ”
The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
I suppose that I should have asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean? ”
” The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”
“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it.

You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one ! “

22 Comments

Filed under Cornwall, History, Humour, Personal

The Starfish Thrower (1)

Until 2012, we always spent our family holidays in the very far west of Cornwall, near Penzance in a district called Penwith. One of the most famous places to visit is St Ives, a small town on the north coast. The map shows roughly where we are in England:

And here is St Ives. Welcome back, O Orange Arrow, which today marks the site of an Art Gallery, of which more later:

I love St Ives, even though it has changed enormously since we first went there in 1987.  Tiny interesting shops, faced with weekly rents of £2000 for a glorified phone box have all departed, unsurprisingly, leaving just fast food shops selling either traditional Cornish pizza and burgers, or surfwear shops, all tight and rubbery, and presumably not meant for the people who visit the fast food shops. St Ives is now really too expensive for locals to live there, thanks in the main to the London bankers and financiers, who can buy a house or two with their annual bonuses. Some streets are completely full of second homes so that from October to April, some areas of St Ives can become a ghost town.
In summer though, it’s different. Here’s the beach on the map above, and in the background, all the houses have saffron yellow lichen on their roofs, a sure sign of clean air:

When the tide is completely in, the beach disappears and the real locals come in to see what they can steal. A male Grey Seal knows he can come swimming into the waters near the Pier and a fisherman will throw him some unwanted fish:

On the promenade, the cleverest individuals in St Ives move to the attack. They are Herring Gulls larus argentatus argenteus. The gulls just walk around on the pavement and people might give them a chip or some other scrap of food:

On other occasions they operate in twos and threes and behave just like velociraptors:

One gull will get your attention and the second one will fly in from the side and snatch your lunch. Don’t ever taunt them. I saw a slack jawed teenager do this once. She waved her ice cream to the female gull in front of her, taunting her with how much food she had and the bird had none. The teenager didn’t even see the male gull who crashed into her head from the side. She dropped her ice cream on the floor. The female picked it up and they both flew off. How I wish I’d been filming it!

I found this among many other photographs of naughty gulls on Google. The good proportion of them were taken at St Ives:

This lady is not the silly teenager that I spoke about earlier. She is a completely innocent and trusting bystander.

Incidentally, I had a second hand operation on February 8th, so I won’t be able to reply to any of your comments for, probably, a couple of weeks. As soon as I am able to, though, I will answer what you have been kind enough to contribute.

24 Comments

Filed under Cornwall, History, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

The Peregrine : the Fastest Creature in Victorian Nottinghamshire (2)

Last time I was talking about Joseph Whitaker and the many times he saw Peregrines in Nottinghamshire. Here is the great man:

He isn’t the only overweight old bloke with excess facial hair to have seen Peregrines in action, though.

Very early one morning in Cornwall, I once watched a Peregrine chasing a Herring Gull. The latter was so scared that it landed and walked across to stand right next to me, like somebody queuing for the bus at a bus stop.  When the falcon flew away, the gull departed a few seconds later, in the opposite direction.

Shortly after May 1, 1920, Mr Frank Hind,  one of the leading members of the Nottingham Natural Science Field Club wrote:

“A very large bird was circling high up in the sky over Gedling. From its manner of circling, and flight and the great height, I can think of no bird but the Peregrine Falcon as likely to be the one seen.”

peregrineflying

The following account was published in the Nottingham Evening Post of April 14th, 1976:

“The pigeons in the Old Market Square in Nottingham had better watch out. For a bird of prey has been spotted on top of the nearby Council House. And it’s thought his taste for city life might be due to the prospect of a convenient meal of pigeon.
A spokesman for the Trent Valley Birdwatchers said the bird had not been positively identified but it could be a Peregrine Falcon. It was disturbed by one of the club members who was carrying out repairs to the Council House.”

pery grin1

Nowadays,  of course, this scenario is an everyday one. I wrote about the peregrines on the Newton Building of Trent University in an article entitled:

Jer Falcon. one shot at Park Hall by Mr Shelton. Now in my collection

There are live webcams of city dwelling peregrines across most of the developed world including Derby.

And Norwich

And Mississauga

And Etobicoke

The camera at Phoenix in Arizona is of very good quality:

If you get bored, go to Bowling Green in Ohio.

or Kitchener in southern Ontario in Canada.

Peregrines are pretty much the same the whole world over. They breed in every continent except one.

If you get tired of travelling the world, you could always use the webcam on the Newton Building here in Nottingham.

One of my favourite webcams though, is one that shows lots of brightly coloured American birds, and another where you can try to see the Loch Ness Monster.

Good luck  with that one.

 

18 Comments

Filed under Cornwall, History, Nottingham, Personal, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

A Twitch in 1817

A twitch doesn’t have to involve a bird. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to twitch animals. I have twitched a Steller’s Sea Lion on the Brisons, a pair of sea stacks just off Cape Cornwall, which is in Cornwall, funnily enough. And I succeeded in my quest. I saw this amazingly lost creature, who, by rights, should have been sunning herself in Vladivostock Harbour. I saw her, on and off, for several years, in actual fact:

Steller Sea Lion
I have twitched a Bottle-nose Dolphin in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. It frequented the River Trent at the back of of a supermarket car park in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Netto, if I remember correctly. It was there from January 25th-30th 1999, although I turned up on January 31st. And guess what? Well, this is all that I saw:

beaten

The following account is of a twitch for a sea-creature. It took place in the summer of 1817 in Massachusetts, and this is just one of a huge number of accounts. It came from Colonel TH Perkins on August 15th 1817. I have made one or two changes to make it easier for a modern reader to understand but other than that, there are no differences:

“The first appearance was in the summer of 1817, in the harbour of Cape Ann:

a Cape-Ann

And here is the more modern, less charming version:

a goolge YES easrthzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And conceivably, this map is the best one for all the English people who think Boston is a market town in Lincolnshire:

map ann (2)

Back to the story:

“I visited Gloucester with Mr Lee. On our way down we met several persons returning, who had already visited the place, and they reported to us that he had not been seen for two or three days past. We, however, continued our route to Gloucester, though with fears that we should not be rewarded with a sight of the monster which we sought.

I had already satisfied myself, from conversation with several persons who had already seen him, that the reports in circulation were not mere fables. All the townspeople were, as you may suppose, on the alert, and almost every individual, both great and small, had had sight of him, at a greater or less distance:

etching

“The weather was fine, the sea perfectly smooth, and Mr Lee and myself were seated on a point of land which projects into the harbour, about twenty feet above the level of the water, from which we were distant by about fifty or sixty feet. Seated in this way, I observed an agitation in the water at the entrance of the harbour, like that which follows a small vessel going five or six miles an hour through the water. As we knew there were no rocks where the water was this broken. I immediately said to Mr Lee that I had no doubt that what I had seen was the sea serpent in pursuit of fish. Mr Lee was not looking at the spot which I was talking about, and had not seen the foam of the water, the animal having immediately disappeared.
In a few moments after my exclamation, I saw on the opposite side of the harbour, at about two miles distance from where I had first seen, or thought I saw, the snake, the same object, moving with the rapid motion up the harbour, on the western shore”:

drawing (2)

“As he approached us, it was easy to see that his motion was not that of the common snake, either on the land or in the water, but evidently the vertical movement of the caterpillar. As nearly as I could judge, there was visible at a time about forty feet of his body. It was not, to be sure, a continuous body, as from head to tail he was seen only three or four feet at a time. It was very evident, however, that his length must be much greater than what appeared, as, in his movement, he left a considerable wake in his rear. I had a fine telescope, and was within less than half a mile of him. The head was flat in the water, and the animal was, as far as I could distinguish, of a chocolate colour. I was struck with an appearance in the front part of the head like a single horn, about nine inches to a foot in length, and of the form of a spike. There were a great many people collected by this time, many of whom had already seen the serpent. From the time I first saw him until he passed by the place where I stood, and soon after disappeared, was not more than fifteen or twenty minutes”:

erp banded (2)

“I left the place fully satisfied that the verbal reports in circulation, although differing in detail, were essentially correct. I returned to Boston, and having made my report, I found Mrs Perkins and my daughters disposed to make a visit to Gloucester with me when the return of the animal should again be announced. A few days after my return I went again to Cape Ann with the ladies; we had a pleasant ride, but returned unsatisfied in the quest which drew us there.”

BRM2493-Sea-Serpent_lowres-2000x1616

This particular sea serpent was seen regularly around Cape Ann until 1819 at least. Indeed, the east coast of the United States seems to have been a good place for would-be sea serpent twitchers, with records dating back to 1638:

new_england_sea_serpentxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Don’t think I don’t have my own story to tell:

On October 25th 1988, I went to the Isles of Scilly to birdwatch. I crossed over on the ferry, the Scillonian. For two or three hours during the crossing, I remained on deck with my binoculars, eagerly scanning the storm tossed waves for seabirds.

Scillonian_III-01 xxxxxx

“At one point, I noticed what I took to be the head of a Grey Seal, which broke the surface perhaps a hundred metres away. It was dark in colour, and I could see a forehead, two eye sockets, and an obvious snout. I didn’t really think twice about it, and it remained there for perhaps two or three minutes. Then, suddenly, a Gannet flew directly above it, and I realised from a comparison of sizes that the head must be at least a metre and a half, if not two metres, across. And that means it cannot have been a seal !”

12 Comments

Filed under Cornwall, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

Hallowe’en Tales : Numbers Seven and Eight

Number Seven

The Sea Serpent

On October 25th 1988, I went over to the Isles of Scilly to birdwatch. I crossed over from Cornwall on the ferry, the Scillonian:

scillonia on scillis xxxxxxxxxx

For two or three hours during the crossing, I remained on deck with my binoculars, eagerly scanning the storm tossed waves for seabirds.

At one point, I noticed what I took to be the head of a Grey Seal, which broke the surface perhaps fifty or a hundred metres away from the boat. This is a Grey Seal which I photographed in the harbour at St.Ives in Cornwall:

P1460520

This head, way out in the Atlantic Ocean, was very similar, dark in colour, and I could see a forehead, two eye sockets, and an obvious snout. I didn’t really think a great deal about it, other than the fact that, for a seal, it was certainly a very long way from land, at least fifteen miles. It remained there, presumably watching the boat, for perhaps two or three minutes. Then, suddenly, a Gannet flew directly above it. A Gannet is a very large bird with a wingspan of some six or seven feet:

wikikikik Northern_Gannetzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I then realised from a simple comparison of sizes that the head must be at least a metre and a half, if not two metres, across. And that means it cannot have been a seal !

 Number Eight

The Ghost on the No 90 Bus

Some thirty or more years ago, we used to live in a large house in a new estate on top of a hill right at the very northern edge of the City of Nottingham. From our top bedroom window, we could see the distant cooling towers of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, out towards the East Midlands Airport, absolutely miles away. If it had been built then, we would have easily been able to see the Control Tower on the Airport. To go into Nottingham was a little bit of a bore, though, because there was only the Number 90 bus, which ploughed, every hour, a long and very eccentric furrow from one side of the city to the other, from where we lived on the northern edge, to the furthest bus terminal of Edwalton, beyond even the foetid swamp that is West Bridgford:

DKY-496_lr

The Number 90 bus, strangely enough, had a very strong ghost story attached to it. People told me all about it on several occasions, almost as soon as I mentioned what bus I had to catch to get home and just how long the journey was.

3135590sssss

Funnily enough, the story concerned the very same bus stop on Mansfield Road which we used to use:

bus stop

Anyway, the first occasion the ghost appeared was quite a long time ago, in the 1950s perhaps, or in the 1960s. It was certainly in the era of the bus conductor, who used to go round the bus, issuing tickets and taking the money.

Just imagine to yourself. The time  is around seven or eight o’clock in the evening, and the bus is absolutely deserted. Not a single passenger. The conductor is standing up near the driver’s compartment, talking to him to pass the time. Suddenly, they both notice an old man who is standing at the Mansfield Road bus stop, waiting to go towards the city. The bus stops and the old man gets on. The evening is fine and dry, but the old man is absolutely drenched, with rainwater dripping off him. He looks quite battered, with little rips here and there in his clothing, which is, strangely for the weather at the time, a heavy winter topcoat over an equally heavy winter suit.

The old man says nothing as he gets on. He goes upstairs and the driver and conductor notice he is wearing his bike clips, a simple aid to cycling that is, by now, almost decades out of date.

The driver and conductor finish their conversation. The driver sets off down the road, and the conductor begins the shaky climb up the stairs. He wonders why this special kind of idiot had to go upstairs on a completely empty bus and make the tired conductor follow him.

He gets to the top of the stairs and has a good, surprised look round. The top deck of the bus is completely empty. The old man just isn’t there. He isn’t in the two rows of seats at the front of the bus. The conductor then walks slowly back past all the other rows of seats. The old man isn’t there either, neither is he hiding behind any of the seats in a ludicrous attempt to avoid paying his fare.

Puzzled, the conductor goes back down again, pushes his cap back on his head, and expresses his astonishment to the driver.

Back at the canteen, they tell their tale over a cup of tea and a couple of cigarettes. They are not the first crew to meet “The Phantom Passenger of the Number 90 bus.”

He is, or rather was, an old man of sixty or so:

old_man_on_bike_by_claeva

One winter’s night, he was riding his bicycle home to Arnold, when a hit-and-run driver killed him as he rode carefully and slowly around the Leapool Roundabout. It happened so swiftly that the old man does not realise, even now, that he is no longer alive. Wrapped up against the winter in his heavy suit and heavy topcoat, he still has his bike clips on. His bicycle, to him too valuable to leave behind, is too badly damaged to ride back home. And so, he must walk through the winter rain and sleet the two miles to the nearest bus stop to get back home to his wife and family. On this map, the orange arrow marks the bus stop where the wet old man would get on the No 90 bus. To the north is the Leapool Roundabout. Follow the green road until you come to the obvious roundabout:

map

I don’t know now if the Number 90 still runs or not. I hope it does. No ghost should fade away at the whim of the Nottingham City Transport.

12 Comments

Filed under Cornwall, Cryptozoology, History, Nottingham, Personal, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature