We decided sort of last minute to have a bit of culture in our lives and set off early to visit the Minack. We have been before and the journey there and the Romanesque theatre, had to look that one up, are really, well, theatrical. We had to do a bit of a diversion to find Anne’s Pasty garage which is attached to her house. We bought some years ago and I have never forgotten how good they were. They are hand made and the best ever.
Got horribly lost and we ended up in a very narrow lane with me driving. A huge lorry was in front of me and when it started to reverse there was nowhere left for me to go. I lost it completely and G took over with me covering my head with two wet wipes. I do sweat in times of panic. As usual at these times, I swear never to drive again. Last year I set off with the hood down and a muck lorry discharged a dollop inside the car. The stain is still there.
Anyway, I digress. Never found Anne and her pasties. She has probably made so much money she now lives in the Bahamas and writes about the history of the pasty.
We were one of the first to arrive at Minack. Headed straight for the coffee shop. There were a few tired looking scones, as they were just setting up. Views just incredible. Had our coffee and bought a packet of biscuits, 3 for me 1 for G. He wasn’t looking. Two South Africans arrived with noisy shoes, G asked them what the shoes were. They were cleats on the shoes as they were cyclists. Looked too fat to be cyclists, I thought. Got a bit bored by this, so left G to chat about rugby with the members of the South African Fat Cyclists Club.
A lovely woman who now lives in New Zealand arrived who was walking the coastal path. That’s a very long way, but she’s already walked from one end of New Zealand to the other so this is just a stroll. She had all her worldly possessions with her in a huge rucksack and slept in a tent. She was coming back later to see the production. It is sold out well in advance and we always do things last minute, so only ourselves to blame. If it was Shakespeare I wouldn’t be able to go as I am allergic to culture.
We then went and looked at the wild gardens. A lot of the exotic plants had died over the winter as they had snow here for the first time in many, many years so they had re-planted.
The theatre is just amazing, tiered, and best of all is the setting. Can’t imagine anywhere else like it. We sat down and took it all in. It is quite ethereal. If we were nearer I would be a Volunteer. I would choose to be a meeter and greeter.
The production we should see is The Pirates of Penzance, because of the Cornwall links, but I’d rather go to a ‘proper’ musical.
We dragged ourselves to the top, and there was a bit of silliness on my part, hiding behind the huge plants. Not like me at all. Tee hee.
The woman who was responsible for this huge, huge construction was called Rowena Cade, very tall, very skinny and virtually a one woman band for a lot of the time. I said to G, it makes you ashamed when we moan about watering the garden, NOT with a hosepipe ban I hasten to add.
They have restructured the gallery of her life, and last time we were here there were pictures of famous people who have acted there. The pictures have gone, and I can only remember Judy Dench, but that is a biggy so will have to do.
Lots of people arriving, so we set back, and passed the new premises for Anne’s Pasties. Bought two to be taken back, but pulled in and ate one while it was hot. Luscious. We went back and got six more as we have friends to cater for.
G drove back as I was still traumatised from the reversing juggernaut while I had a kip. Yes, even with the hood down it’s possible to sleep in a Mini Cooper.
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
Not just a travelogue this time. A blog follower wrote in and said why did we stop adding personal opinions to the blog. I wasn’t aware we had. Even so, there’s a bit of philosophical whimsy in this one. Too much? Probably.
We were deliberating where to go on a delightfully sunny day. Up with the lark so traffic would not be a significant consideration, at least on the outboard journey, I had just topped up the tank with ruinously expensive petrol and Marigold decided we should have a coffee break.
‘We’ve been on the road for less than ten minutes,’ I pointed out. Marigold obviously decided this was not a consideration and set off for the attached café.
Very good coffee, newspapers to read and padded seats means no more complaints from me. At the next table were a group of youngsters, twenty-somethings, engaged in a lively debate. One in particular was very agitated. Putting the world to rights doesn’t even come close.
‘How wonderful to have all that wisdom,’ Marigold observed. ‘What a prat.’
His three companions obviously agreed with Marigold as they soon departed leaving him morosely studying the remains of a blueberry muffin. Unfortunately, he dragged his chair across, interrupted our important discussion of world events (unlikely) and set about cadging a lift.
‘Any chance you good people are heading for St Ives?’
‘No,’ we replied in unison, even though we’d just agreed that’s where we should go today.
Undeterred, our uninvited guest recommenced his previous conversation, seemingly unmindful that the previous recipients of his applied wisdom had speedily departed. A self termed anarchist, he said Jeremy Corbin had ‘sold out’ to the Right Wing and that only a revolution would bring about social justice. Why mention Jeremy Corbin? Do I look like him, just because I look scruffy and have greying stubble? It’s not flattering, is it?
‘We’re definitely not going to St Ives,’ Marigold muttered. I was reminded of Citizen Smith, a television programme featuring Robert Lindsey as the wild eyed left wing agitator, Wolfie Smith. We lived through the 1960s, we’ve heard all this stuff before.
Marigold nudged me, obviously having heard enough. We hadn’t finished our drinks, there were newspapers still unread and this was ‘our’ table, after all. I was spared the chore of having to tell the would-be anarchist to go away when he gave me the perfect opportunity.
‘As Marx said, property is theft.’
‘He may have done,’ I replied, ‘but as I’m sure you know, the words are not those of Karl Marx, but of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Marx merely plagiarised the sentiments of Proudhon.’
He looked at me blankly.
‘Of course, without the existence of property the concept of theft would not even exist and, like Marx, Proudhon saw no problem with actual ownership, as long as it referred to the fruits of labour.’
Now I sound as big a prat as he does, I thought. One glance at Marigold revealed she was thinking the same thing.
‘Maybe,’ “Wolfie Smith” conceded.
I suspect he had never heard of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Call yourself an anarchist? I stopped short of mentioning Fabianism or Revisionism. Why prolong our brief relationship? I’m pretty far removed from being a revolutionary Marxist, to put it mildly, but surely “Wolfie” should read up on his subject before inflicting it on complete strangers.
By now Wolfie was going on about Revolution, again.
‘Russia, France, nothing was achieved without direct action,’ he insisted. He didn’t mention the American Revolution. Unsurprisingly, given the US is the ultimate bastion of capitalism.
‘Oh, go on then,’ Marigold said as I turned towards her. She knows I’m reluctant to walk away when I’m on a roll.
I could have quoted the section from the Declaration of Independence which I committed to memory in the Sixth Form and is one of the (few) remnants of my education that remains therein - We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
But I didn’t.
(Just a brief digression: unalienable or inalienable? I’ve seen both versions, in print, many times, but have never bothered to check the precise wording of the original text. Does it matter? Of course not, in my view, but there are others out there of a far greater pedantic nature.)
Leaving Declarations aside, I offered instead:
‘Surely you should be referencing Rousseau as without his influence Marx and Tolstoy would never have come to anyone’s attention? Not to mention his being the philosophical voice that led to the French Revolution.’
Wolfie didn’t respond. If he’d have been older, I may even have suspected he imagined I was referring to Demis Roussos. Having no knowledge of an overweight Greek crooner would be fair enough; never having heard of Jean-Jacques Rousseau while espousing Marxist ideology struck me as bizarre.
Rousseau directly influenced Karl Marx and Tolstoy, inspired both the Romantic movement and the French Revolution, massively influenced the philosophy of Kant and Schopenhauer and, in the 18th century, an era where great writers and philosophers changed ideas and beliefs throughout Europe, was the preeminent voice.
Yes, Rousseau and his compatriots fascinated me at one time, enough to read up on the subject in some depth, but evidently Wolfie had gained what little he knew by reading the odd poorly printed pamphlet. Maybe ideation in his case had come about purely by garnering strands of conversation from others while under the influence of mind altering substances. I very much doubt the leaders of the G8 nations will be quaking in their collective boots.
Rousseau once said – yes, this time I did look it up - ‘The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said 'This is mine', and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.’
That’s powerful stuff, considering it was written in the 18th century. I bet Jeremy Corbin could quote it from memory, despite our idealist table-mate relegating him to ‘sell out’ status.
‘I think I preferred him going on,’ Marigold said as we walked back to the car. ‘Almost made me wish for the days when I first met you. You didn’t bother with people like him then.’
She’s right, but even so back then I was far more prone to threaten physical violence when offended. This must be progress.
St Ives having been postponed to another day, we decided one of our favourite places, the Minack Theatre, was due a visit as it would surely be glorious on a day like today.
Glorious is an understatement.
There’s a famous quote from the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams, relating to building a baseball stadium - ‘If you build it, they will come’.
The rationale behind that quote could have been borrowed from the Minack Theatre.
In essence, it’s an open-air theatre perched on steep cliffs above the sea, but the ‘back story’ as they would undoubtedly say in Hollywood, is where the appeal lies.
It resembles a scaled down Roman theatre, with its stone seats and the setting is simply magnificent. On a day like today with blue skies and a sparkling turquoise sea, the views are as good as anywhere in the Mediterranean (and there are very few parts of the Mediterranean we haven’t visited).
It looks old, but not much more than 80 years ago there was nothing here but rock strewn cliffs. A local resident,
Rowena Cade, decided she would build a theatre, from scratch, to stage productions put on by her friends and family. With the assistance, on occasion, of two gardeners, Rowena Cade worked tirelessly on her project until in 1932, the Minack Theatre saw its first production – The Tempest. The setting could not have been more basic, the only stage lighting came from car headlights, but that first production was just the first of many.
Work could only be done in the winter, summers being reserved for performances, but this remarkable woman carried on working. It now seats 800 people and its reputation as one of the finest open air theatres in the world is well deserved.
Thinking back to our encounter with the alleged anarchist, Rowena Cade was by most definitions, a ‘toff,’ the daughter of a wealthy landowner, brought up in a privileged background, yet devoted most of her adult life to scrabbling about on a rocky hillside. She carried enormous stones, hacked away with hammer and chisel, mixed cement and worked from dawn to dusk throughout every winter until well into her 80s. Anyone still think ‘toffs’ lead an easy life?
We’ve often commented on the glorious scenery, the fields, the woods, the great houses and so on while travelling around England. In so many cases these marvels of nature have been preserved for us and subsequent generations by the landed gentry. The terminology often has pejorative connotations, but the people who own vast tracts of England have done so for countless generations. Their houses, their lands are not truly ‘owned.’ They are merely stewards of the land, taking care of it for the next generations.
Estates such as those of the Grosvenor family in Cheshire were formed immediately after the Norman invasion of 1066. Nowadays, the second largest landowner in Britain is the National Trust. These landowners have a vested interest in preserving the fabric of the countryside and offer far more benefit to society as a whole than shouting slogans at visiting heads of state will ever do.
Back to Minack. In Cornish, Minack means rocky place and it’s a perfect description. We walked around the site, took in the views of the sea and the wonderful beach and marvelled at every step at the tenacity and work ethic of a remarkable woman, Rowena Cade.
At the end of a hard day’s graft, she still had one more job to do: trekking down to the beach far below, filling a sack with sand to mix with cement on the following day, lug it up the (very) steep hill and then go down and do it all again, and again and again.
I stood at the top of the cliff, looking down at the beach, marvelling at the determination, the sheer bloody-mindedness of that remarkable woman. Her fitness levels must have been remarkable. I would have found that task daunting even in my youth and yet she was still doing it well into her 80s.
We met a young woman carrying a rucksack almost as big as herself who was walking the South West Coast Path, the longest National Trail in the UK. We’ve come across a few people who have done this walk - 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset, following the coast of Somerset, Cornwall and Devon to Poole Harbour in Dorset – and have never failed to be impressed.
This particular solo walker, Jules, lives in New Zealand now, but has returned to visit family and walk the trail.
‘630 miles is a long way,’ I said, without a great deal of originality.
‘Well, I walked the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand so this should be okay.’
We’ve been just about everywhere in New Zealand, both islands, but we were in a camper van. Not walking with rucksacks on our backs. The Te Araroa Trail is over 1,800 miles long, from the top of North Island to the very bottom of South Island, taking in just about every type of terrain one could imagine.
I’m looking down at that fabulous beach and thinking about whether I feel up to trekking down to get a closer look while standing next to a young woman half my size who thinks nothing of walking hundreds of miles, on her own. Do I feel inadequate? Oh yes.
Yes, I can soften the blow, a little, by factoring in my greater age, dodgy knees and absence of tent or even a rucksack, but even so, it’s a humbling moment.
If you’re a young female seeking a role model, forget Kim Kardashian, think of Jules, the solo walker. Better still, consider the utterly remarkable woman who built the Minack Theatre, Rowena Cade.
Back to travelogues next time.