Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2006.09.24, Pt I : One For Sorrow

"The candles were lit, and suddenly little electric lights sprayed out all round the Virgin's head. Even if it were all untrue and there were no God, surely life was happier with the enormous supernatural promise than with the petty social fulfilment, the tiny pension and the machine-made furniture."
- Graham Green, The Lawless Roads


Marazion Lads Fought to
Defend Their Island Home
    It had stormed overnight. I got up, crawled out of the tent, and moved the now-even-more-soaked travel towel from the fence (where it had been "drying") to an actual clothes dryer in the main building. I then broke camp, stowed my pack, and hoofed it into town – back to the same hotel from last night, just in time for a 6.95/10-minute continental breakfast. 6.95 was how much they charged; 10 minutes was how long after they took my money that they started clearing away all the food. Bastards. (*)

Out the window, I could see that the path out to the Mount was just clear. A few punters were standing near the middle, waiting for the last waves to splash over. So I headed out. Here I am, I scribbled.

For some reason, I seemed to feel increasingly like eating and sleeping – rather than walking and seeing things. Ah well. Must muddle on. And mustn't grumble (as my adopted people say). The weather was cold and grey. But, then, I thought: I could still look forward to one of Ann's world-famous pasties at Lizard Point!


Beep beep! Lord of the
Manor, Coming Through!
The thing about English stately homes is that aristocratic families generally still live in them. (Often, they will rope off one area of the castle for the family to live in, and another for uncouth American tourists to gawk and mewl in.) As for this place, the St. Aubyn family has lived here since 1647. And here they are going out – as soon as their driveway appeared – in the St Aubyn econo-box, probably for groceries. Don't want to get caught in a drafty castle with no coffee when the tide's in.

I doddered around the environs of the castle for 10 minutes. I viewed the cafe. I half-read a plaque or two. (The first charter (for . . .?) was granted in 1257 by Henry III.) Well, I thought to myself, that's about enough of that. As I exited, the causeway was thronged with incoming pilgrims, against whom I had to salmon-spawn. As I brusqued past a guy, a gallingly familiar jingle yipped from his pocket: that old default Nokia ringtone. Lovely.

One thing I discovered about these flip-open police-style notepads – the pages tear out quite easily. Whether this was a bug, or a feature, it made it rather unsuitable for my current purpose. And, sure enough, going through these notes in almost a year later, I'm now pretty sure I lost a page right here. The next page, after the ringtone bit, has me all the way back at the camp site, eating something I don't know what it is, or where I got it. Heigh ho, on with the show.

<…snip…>

I reflected that these collies, the camp site collies, especially the girl, were some of the best-natured dogs I'd ever met. Without in any way begging, they managed to convey how awfully nice they thought it would be of me if I were to share. I gave them a bit at the beginning, and vowed to give them the bit at the end. In between, though, presumably having made their food wishes clear, and not wanting to hover, they ambled off. I had to go find them to give them the last crust.

While retrieving my bag for me, the camp site matron volunteered her hopes – a propos of nothing – that I wouldn't get wet today. Clenching my teeth, I asked her for the forecast: scattered showers all day. "It's really worse that way, isn't it?" she further volunteered. Yes. Yes, it is. Rain kit goes on, rain kit comes off, rain kit goes back on . . . After I got kitted up and moving, and hit the main drag, I also got to ponder: Ah – what's that huge, looming black mass in the sky, directly to the East? Bastards.

I don't know. I considered that I'd had to struggle through plenty of discomfort on the C2C. But never, as far as I can recall, at the very beginning of a walking day. I was suddenly assailed by the fear that I'm actually only indefatigable when there are people around to be impressed by it. How sad is that? Also, my legs hurt. And, moreover, they ached in places they never had before: the outside of the upper thighs. It was as if my lower body had just had it with bearing all that weight. But I wasn't giving up! (Yet!)

Pace the weather forecast, I soon found I was getting hot; so I pulled over in an evidently National Trust-maintained 20 feet of glade to change into shorts. It felt so good sitting down that I stretched it out by recording the whole trivial incident in the (incredible disintegrating) notebook. Finally, I couldn't put it off any longer: Well . . . it's not going to suck itself.

On the other hand, I was feeling a bit jauntier, and the weather was still nice – if a little warm, which beats a lot wet. Walking between tall, buzzing hedgerows, I got vaguely worried about being swarmed and suffering multiple sting wounds. Shot down with Stingers. Mujahibees. (My friend Richard, who is a physics teacher, and head of department, has a student called Mujahid. This, perhaps, is a multiculturalism too far.)

I came to a crossroads in the path. I considered, then rejected, considering which direction I should go. Instead I just numbly followed the arrow on the National Trails guidepost. Whatever you say, acorn, I mumbled as I passed. I just go where the acorn tells me.

It occurred to me that perhaps picking up that Sunday Guardian hadn't been such a brilliant idea after all. Though it certainly did illustrate where my head, and heart, were at. Instead of admiring the scenery, or watching the signposts, I found myself head down, texting Jacqui – begging her to wait for me before going to the 'Holbein in England' exhibit that was just opening at Tate Britain; and Peter – begging himto get me a ticket to the Richard Dawkins reading and signing.

I stopped to stretch at some benches on a lofty point. (Benches are useful stretching equipment.) On one of the benches was nice-looking older gentleman.

Me: "Nice day for it."
N-LOG: "Magnificent."
Me: "For now . . ."
N-LOG: "Oh, that? They've been saying it's going to rain every day and it never does . . . How far you goin'?"
Me: "Falmouth."
N-LOG: "How long you takin'?"
Me: "I think every minute until my train leaves on Saturday."

I further learned from him that he'd retired two years ago; that he'd promised himself he'd start walking after he did; and that, after replacing his hips, he's finally started doing so. That was it! No wonder my legs hurt! I'd got 35-year-old hips!

Upon rising to leave, I saw that Jacqui had texted me back (about the Holbein exihibition). You can bet that enormously improved my mood. If you couldn't tell, I'd been getting a little down. Being reminded that I had London, and good friends, waiting for me . . .

"That was all you needed: a lit window in the distance, the knowledge that there was something there, something to work for. The company of a dwarfy hope."
- Tibor Fischer, Under the Frog (perhaps the single funniest and loveliest and saddest novel it can be said with substantial certainty you've never read)

Not much further along, I decided my powers of interpretation were no longer up to the challenge either of those mega-multi-arrow guideposts, nor the current bit of map in the guidebook. Clearly, more UI (user interface) testing was indicated. A magpie dashed by, just one. One for sorrow . . . as they say. Though, even singly, that streak of blue on the wings just really puts magpies over the top, that slash of irridescent blue . . .

I passed through a big field of proper black-and-white cows, proper cows, with big, dopey cow eyes.

Cows: <turn and look in unison>
Me: Hi, cows! <big, dopey wave>

Cullen Point. Ooh. That's kind of nice. Mmm, that's really nice. It was especially nice when a sailboat, draped with golden streamers of heavenly light, glided round the point in regal silence.

The sailboat, while perfectly beautiful, was admittedly a bit of a let-down when it shrugged off its raiments of Olympian glow. Nonetheless, it was Cullen Point where I chose to have a sit-down – flanked on either side by (swear to God) Eastern and Western Shag Rocks.

From Notebook:
Well, I'm feeling strong + happy again, and the weather's grand. I don't want to prejudge having turned the corner; but I am taking detours out onto rocky promontories again. Hey – is that a girl down there? Reading? On those rocks?


TO BE CONTINUED…


2006.09.24, Pt II : Praa Sands
Including My Long-Promised Jeremiad Against Camping on Long-Distance Walks
And Spiders

"One will never exhaust these little storehouses of human cruelty. They are tucked away like petrol from air-raids, in a street off the Tottenham Court Road, in a London park, at Huichapan – they are always there to be drawn on in case of need."
- Graham Green, The Lawless Roads

No, says my zoom, zooming onto the figure on the rocks below. It's not a girl with a book sunning herself. It's an old, and rather shrivelled, woman. Heigh ho. Off we go.


We like the lichen

"Give the guy a camera,
he thinks he's Superman."
As the light shifted on the water, I quick drew my camera and snapfired, John Woo style. → I think that's the shot! Either way, it had vanished in a matter of seconds.


The Birds They Do Fly
Despite the earlier close call, I made another fully-loaded jump a full foot down – as well as somewhat across, this time. I landed flat on both feet; the surface was grass; and it was, it turned out, level. But, still I thought: You need good knees to do this stuff. And then I added, But you're not going to keep them this way.

Long round-a-bout Bessie's Cove → I realised what today was like. There are some days at the health club, when I'm not feeling energetic, but still I'll dress out, and get going, and I get about one station into a free-weight circuit or one lap running around the lake and I think, "I've got nothing today", and I'll hit the showers. Well, I had nothing today.


Here There Be Monsters
← Well, I also wouldn't be hitting the beach today. All for the best, particularly as the weather was still acting dodgy – and seemed to be coming my way. This kind of trip really brings out the Indian scout in you. You scan 360° of sky, test the direction and speed of the wind, observe the cloud movements – and, if you're feeling fanciful, sniff the moving air. I guess I was glad of one thing, though, which was having put Penzance and St Michael's Mount behind me. It all felt rather man-made. (By people, for people.) I was glad to be back in nature, back on the desolate coast.

Alex says there are only two hours of the day when the light is worth shooting in: one at the beginning, one at the end. This was the one at the end. And as I was scribbling the words above, in fact, I literally dropped my pen and notebook and scrabbled for my camera. The light had shifted; and the water lit up like the sky.




Praa Sands
As I slogged the last up and down before my destination, I recalled Joe's stated position that the Cavity Creeps marching song makes the perfect cycling cadence. ("We / Make / Holes in teeth"). I was going with, weirdly, Stayin' Alive – "Staying a-liiii, uhuhiiiii, uhuhiiii, uhuhiiiive . . ." – stepping on every beat and inhaling on 1 and 3. I turned a corner and: Yay! Praa Sands.

Approaching, I thought I liked the look of the place. Lots of beach-side patios. I checked the map for the location of the camp site. There were two, in fact. There was Lower Pentreath, which was way out of town and 2/3 of the way up a small mountain. And there was Upper Pentreath, which was . . . well, I needn't belabour it, need I? Also, only one of the two camp sites was open this time of year. I also needn't tell you which one that was.

As I did the endless slog up the mountain, I sang . . . nothing. I just cursed under my breath. Now's about as good a time as any for my long-promised jeremiad about camping on long-distance walks. I'll try to make it short and sweet.

My Long-Promised Jeremiad Against Camping on Long-Distance Walks

The hell with it. Just sod it all to hell.

Okay, I'll elaborate a bit. See, the original idea was: freedom. Freedom. Say it with me. Lovely sound, isn't it? Breathy and airy and . . . free. The idea was that – with our lodging on our backs – the world was our accomodation. We could stop where we liked, and stay as long as we wanted, without being prisoner to B&Bs or hostels or angry hostel-keepers or buttoned-down B&B keepers who don't take one-night bookings. We could just go, man. Man.

Okay, there were other factors: communing with nature and all. And, yes, I knew there were some limitations on that freedom. That there's not really much wild camping allowed in the UK; and which meant we'd pretty much always have to camp in camp sites. But still. Still, man.

Here's the problem. The problem is this. The problem is that the flipping camp sites are generally about 148 billion miles off of the trail. They are not in the towns; they are in the vicinity (taken broadly). So not only couldn't we stop wherever and whenever we wanted; it turned out we couldn't even stop when we got where we were going. Because once you hit the "end" of the day's walk, you then still faced the trek out of town, to the camp site – sometimes as much as a mile. And then you had the trek back into town, for dinner. And then the trek back to camp – generally semi-conscious, by this point – to doss down for the night. And when you'd dragged yourself up in the morning, after a dodgy night's sleep on rocks, and you'd broken camp, and hitched it all up on your back . . . you still had to do the damned trek one last time, just to get back on the trail. It sucks. It just sucks.

And while camp sites rarely fill up, and so you rarely need bookings . . . camp sites also have an alarming tendency to just shut down and return to nature, especially out of season. As well, you still have to plan your itinerary based on which towns have camp sites – which is fewer than the towns that have B&Bs; so you're actually less free as regards where and when you can stop. And, of course, as you make your way to one of your limited camping options, you're bearing about an additional 20 pounds of crap on your back with every single goddamned step. And, finally, we needen't recount the enormous catalogue of indignities and discomforts associated with camping – though highlights include sucking mud, giant bugs, and cold showers.

Never again. I mean, I'll camp in the wild again. But never again while walking a national trail. The only single lone argument remotely in favour of it is that it's cheaper, if you happen to be a starving student, which I happen not to be. Never again.

Finally, at the top of the mountain, I found myself doddering around what seemed like two adjacent farms, trying to check in. I hailed a farmer, who was up on a truck, pitching hay (or something pastoral like that).

Me: "Pardon me, can you direct me to reception for the camp site?"
Farmer: "That bungalow around the corner."
Me: "Right by the sign that says 'No campers beyond this point'?"
Farmer: "Yes, actually."
A further, smaller sign alerted me that people to check me in would be back, and available to check me in, at 6pm. So I got busy pitching (tent, not hay). I had to use a boot as a tent pole mallet. What did Mark use? We never had a mallet, and the stakes always got in the ground. I took a lot of things for granted with Mark around. A series of throaty moos alerted me that there were cows in the next field over. I wondered how late these neighbours of mine were going to keep that up.

After set-up, 6pm was too close to go anywhere, but too far to sit in the field and contemplate the nature of existence. As a compromise, I decided to wash clothes. I discovered that the camp site's 1960s-era Gilliam-esque pay-per-wash devices were either out of order or I couldn't figure out how to operate them. (And I didn't have correct change anyway.) Even the hot water taps, I found, were on a damned coin meter. So, feeling contrary, I helped myself to one of the fire station sand buckets and filled it with hot water from the shower – which, with a little jiggering, I taught to produce water that was neither flesh-strippingly hot, nor nut-shrivellingly cold – which I then dumped into a stoppered sink basin (after rescuing from it a couple of live spiders, and committing to the Earth a couple of dead ones). Et voila tout.

By the time I'd finished hanging my newly-fragrant laundry in the tree to dry, it was bang-on six o'clock. I found the guy, handed over my 6, and headed down the hill – gunning for beer and food, in the last light. I ducked into the first – and, it rather appeared, the last – honky tonk overlooking the beach, grabbed a half of Eden, and proceeded trying to be more outgoing than I actually am.

Me (to two cute girls – okay, one cute girl and her friend): "So let me guess – the joint is completely packed because this is the only joint in town."
1CG&hF: "Pretty much."

It turned out the cute one was a Londoner who moved here five months ago to teach dance – and, probably inevitably, to work in this very bar/restaurant. I took my leave of them to check out what looked, sort of, like the lone competition next door. Sure enough – closed. I scampered back to the beleaguered outpost of Praa Sands nightlife and ordered a Kirin IB, which they had on tap. With a wink, the barman confided in me how very good that beer is – and 30p more expensive than anything else they pour. This put it over three quid.

From Notebook:

And now I sit on the patio, scribbling, watching the dusk surfers, sipping, waiting for it to get too cold, planning dinner – and wondering how interested I am, actually, in the dance instructor.


Route Follower Alongerer :

Tomorrow: Badgers, Bulges, Rashes, Dead Guys, Head-Sized Pasties, Cows, the Bishop, Pigs, and the Lizard (Walk into a Bar)


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about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

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ARISEN : Odyseey, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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