Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2006.09.14 : "St. Ives! – And Step On It!"
Sandcastles and Rainbows (and Slags)

"St Ives is an enchanting seaside town full of light, art and ambience. The town's heart by the harbour is filled with cafes and restaurants. The old part of town is wonderfully charming with its narrow steep streets and fishermen's cottages… St Ives and contemporary art are synonymous and a visit to the Tate Gallery should not be missed. An aimless wander around the town will also lead you to innumerable smaller art galleries."
- Cornwall Coast Path, Trailblazer Walking Guide Series

And so C&M met us in the morning back at the pub, after Tim and I had broken camp. Here they are looking all cutesy-skippy- happy, and all bad, respectively. I think I can explain the skippy-happiness.

As foreshadowed previously, our traditional next-day's-walk planning session over dinner had led us to an unconventional conclusion, to wit: sod walking. In a nutshell, certain members of our party (well, okay, everyone but me) had only a certain number of days free for walking. We were a day's walk outside of St. Ives – where we also wanted to spend a day or two enjoying St. Ives; and which was also a very convenient place for the others to get their trains back to the world. So, basically, we'd always figured St Ives more or less to be our end point. But as we surveyed the map and guidebook, we noticed some things about the section of path ahead of us – Gwithian to St. Ives; particularly as contrasted with the section immediately after – St. Ives to Zennor, further along the coast. Here are some tellingly contrasting phrases from the guidebook:

Gwithian to St. Ives St. Ives to Zennor
  • "continually up and down"
  • "game of connect the dots"
  • "sleepy undemanding scenery"
  • "not always easy to find"
  • "dunes trap the heat… take plenty of water"
  • "five-mile stretch walking along roads"
  • "follow the busy Carnsew Rd"
  • "follows the A3047, an unpleasant highway with many cars"
  • "follows the railway line"
  • "amongst the most stunning"
  • "hugs the countours of the coastline"
  • "weathered and windblown landscape is reward enough"
  • "ancient stone circles and quoits"
  • "little wonder many artists found inspiration here"
  • "rocky granite tors and outcrops, boulder-strewn fields with their high stone walls and the slate and granite cliffs of the coastline"

And that's pretty much when it occurred to us that we were not the ancient stone circle builders, who had to walk from A to B; in point of fact, we were rich 21st-century Westerners, and were only walking at all because we enjoyed it, and we could at any time ring for a cab. And so that's what we did: we scheduled a cab pick-up for the next morning at the pub in Gwithian; the cab zipped us right down the unpleasant A3047 and dropped us in St. Ives; we checked in and spent a totally kick-ass day there, frolicking on the beach; and the next morning we took another cab further on out to Zennor – and then walked back to St Ives, along one of the best stretches of the whole coast. (*)

I don't think any of us could disagree with the opening quotation above – St Ives immediately presented as lovely, sunny, and dripping charm.

Tim and I had a bit of a slog up the hill to our campsite – but were rewarded by a lovely greensward pitch and panoramic views of the town and St Ives Bay (*) – and the prettiest camp site bathroom in history.

We all hooked back up at a patio cafe – overlooking the beach, and overlooked by the iconic Tate St. Ives. (Us photographed on portico here.) We caught our breath, and caught up, and had our tea – and then got on with the serious business of touring the gallery.

Photography was disallowed in the really stunning interior, but here are a couple of shots from the rooftop cafe. Moreover, the collection had some very good and interesting stuff in it – both the permanent collection of Cornwall-based artists, and the special exhibits. (Well, you know, for a museum outside of London they were very good.)

After eating our fill of art, and buying gift shop gifts, we decided to divide and conquer: I had about 145 errands to run, and everyone else had better things to do. So I dashed off, and – darting willy nilly through the tiny, curving, and becobbled streets – proceeded to: • buy batteries for the camera • burn a couple of CDs of photos • buy sellotape (that's Scotch tape in American) • find the rumoured library with free net access • wait around while they tried to restore net access, using the time to wrap my godson's birthday gift, and my mother's birthday gift, both purchased at the Tate giftshop • look up – when access was eventually restored – my godson's address, which I'd neglected to bring along • send mail to Mark (so say my notes – I don't actually remember doing this) • get cash at an HSBC cashpoint (American: ATM) • buy and consume, on the hoof, the greatest vegetable pasty ever, along with a sparkling elderflower beverage • find the post office and post (American: mail) the gifts • and, finally, at the exact moment I'd finished the last errand, run right into the rest of the group in the street. (The post office was at the end of the street with Charles and Meeyoung's B&B.) →

Charles: "We've made a booking for dinner tomorrow."
Me: "Where?"
Charles: "The best seafood restaurant in town."
Meeyoung: "Don't worry, we've reserved a vegan meal for you in advance."
Tim: "It's all taken care of."
Me: purrr

After that – well, wasn't our next step obvious? Gorgeous day, beautiful beach-side town . . . and, oh, look, there's an off-license right on their street. After provisioning ourselves with beer (a couple of brown-bagged bottles of Skinner's Cornish Lager – which became my personal baby's milk) and cider (a huge jug of, erm, something), we hit the beach.

We indulged in a lazy wading tour of the largest of St Ives' four beaches. Smiling, sighing, and growing drunkenness were major themes.

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.
We also got a live-action introduction to the activities of the fine folks in the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI), even if we failed to show any of the respect or seriousness they are emphatically due. Much like the Coast Watch guys we met earlier, these are an all-volunteer outfit – and but still they've got some very cool boats, and have saved a lot of lives.

Then, after that bit of Baywatch-style drama, it was back on with our previously-scheduled massively enjoying ourselves.

For no readily apparent reason, as you can see from above, Tim had draped himself in a string of sweets he'd bought at the off-license. It served, if I recall, as a necktie – until we had eaten too many and it became a belt.

We cut inland a bit to go from one beach to the next. Along here I also met the seagull who would be the focus of my activities – and, in fact, my diva – for much of the rest of the afternoon.

When a few drops of rain threatened, we sought shelter inland; but the rain never really came and I, for one, mainly got a nice nap on this bench

So I'm actually thinking, judging from the photo-record, that it might have been this (no doubt wildly annoying to the gull) toddler who planted the idea of gull-stalking in my mind.

I hesitated there a bit, watching the others wander off down the beach ←; and I took a last couple of non-gull shots. → But then after that it was pretty much the All Seagull All the Time Channel. ↓

Though you, gentle reader, are enormously likely to disagree, I kept shooting because the bird, as my notes note, "wouldn't stop doing interesting things".

And then the rainbow came. Okay, sure, Cornwall wasn't Kenya; and the Tate wasn't Kilimanjaro; and the gull wasn't two 5-tonne elephants. But why quibble?

Getting the rainbow behind the gull (or the other way round) had required going belly-down in the sand. Once there – taking my lead from the toddler – it was a short slither to seeing how close to the gull I could creep (not to mention get it with other backgrounds).

I like those last two. You might not have noticed they're good, because they're 2 of about 100. Look again. Oh, go on.

Anyway, of course, the gull was only having so much of that, and finally showed me its backside as it strutted off. I closed out by immortalising my sand-nosing.

I spotted the others further down the beach – and so began stalking bigger and cleverer prey! As it turned out, they were too occupied in serious (if not quite sober) construction of an entire sand city to take any notice of photo-predators.

As the others were wasting valuable drinking time being creative and industrious, I naturally got through all my beer more quickly. This naturally resulted in me A) needing more beer; and, simultaneously, B) needing less beer (if you get my drift). I struck out toward some structures at the top of the beach, hoping to fulfill one, or ideally both, of these objectives.

I failed to find any trace of a public convenience (guess they piss in the sea in these parts), but I did sneak into a nice beach-side restaurant – having to go down a floor to find the loo. Coming back up, and having already ruled out any beach-side booze vendor, I flagged down one of the waiters – a nice Ozzie bloke – and asked him if he could do me a beer for take-away. He demurred that they were sadly not licensed for such sales; but, on the other hand, if I were to have a seat at one of their outdoor tables, he'd happily set me up – "and then whatever happens, happens." Ozzies. Needless to say, what happened was that I went back to the beach.

Believe it or not, I shoot a fair bit to get the shots you actually see. (Just as sometimes "the book is better than the author", the photography here is definitely better than the photographer.) Of course, wildlife is tricky to shoot because it moves. But, occasionally, totally missed shots result in interesting photos nonetheless. Here are two.

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Um. Right then. This → here has no rational, or, really, even conceivable explanation. [ The young woman sitting beside me just asked: "Why?" to which I could only reply, "I have no idea. I was there and I still don't know." ]

At some point, a couple more beers in, I became gripped with an unmasterable desire to kick down one – or, in an ideal scenario, all – of the sandcastles the others had painstakingly designed and raised. In an act explicable only in terms of drunkenness, I mooted my plan to the others and asked if they'd mind.

Charles: "And you won't mind if I take your sunnies and sort of bend the arms out the other way…"
Me: "Is your castle worth 300 dollars US?"
Charles: "Neither are your sunglasses… they're sort of worth whatever Bono paid for them."
Me: "Glad I asked first."

No problems with the shooting light today. These photos are unenhanced. Only a couple are even cropped. They fell out of the camera just like this.

Well, the sun can't shine all the time – not even in idyllic St Ives. We followed the dusk indoors, and repaired ourselves to Blas Burgerworks. I believe we completely stumbled upon this place, in our ramblings through a dockside area called the Warren (I had hell finding it again a few days later); but suffice it to say it ruled: Cosy room with benches and tables, winning proprietress and staff. They served me their signature Sunflower Burger, along with fresh-grilled corn-on-the-cobb, chips, salad – and more Skinner's lager.

We spilled out into the streets, at which it was remembered that beach-side locales often get cold at night. The others went off to buy the fleeces they hadn't packed; and I took the time to wander the dockside, get a tropical smoothie – and play more Time Crisis 4.

On hooking back up, we crowded into a pub for a nightcap; but quickly realising how much we were all flagging, we soon went for coffee – ending up in the place that had served me the best pasty of all time: the Yellow Canary. This was soon to become our St Ives headquarters: killer pasties; two cute Cornish girls serving and entertaining us – not to mention playing Roxette's Greatest Hits throughout the cafe; but, mainly, mainly… they had soya milk. Being as my mantra thoughout trips like this is generally "I would kill everyone in this village for a drop of sweet soya milk for my morning coffee", they'd won my loyalty forever. And they made me the best mocha I'd ever had – and with flair.

At the next pub – yes, of course there was a next pub – Charles related another of his stock of unexpected, surprisingly dramatic and entertaining stories from his past. Somehow the topic of malaria must have come up. (I was probably babbling on about Africa.) Anyway, while teaching English in a remote Kenyan village, amongst Seventh Day Adventists, Charles at one point, for reasons which escape me now (my notes are pretty sketchy here – it was the tail end of a long day), turned up with something like 50 mosquito bites. Sure enough, one of them was that cursed malarial one you're always fearing. His fever came, and then went, and commenced coming and going – and finally he had to walk 10 miles just to get to a bus stop, to get a bus to the nearest mission hospital. Upon arriving, he had a 108 fever. He was down for two weeks, being given regular cold showers to keep from dying from overheating – and, to his eternal shame, he read every single Jeffrey Archer book in the catalog. (It was all they had.)

At the next pub (Whuh? What?), we were immediately accosted at the bar by a woman called Lauren – who might be categorized, on the one hand, as "a lush"; and, on the other, we soon learned, as "town property". When hitting on me didn't yield immediate results, she turned to Tim – but nearly the first words out of her mouth were, "Are you gay?!" Whoah-hoah. There was good mileage there. "I hope you're not gay." This turned out to be not because she was homophobic – but merely because a gay man was of little use to her. She was actually enormously amusing and clever – particularly for someone that drunk, and that single-minded. The following example is representative:

Lauren: "I've got a boyfriend, actually. But he's in Australia."
Me: "How do you manage with your boyfriend 12,000 miles away?"
Lauren:"He's got a huge cock."

After shooting a fairly inept game of pool (on my part, at least), Tim and I slogged back up the hill (which seemed to get longer and steeper each night), trading romantic and sexual histories – as one does when one is drunk, and has just been exposed to someone like Lauren. The stars and moon were stunning – and I even sorta kinda managed to photograph the latter, along with the flash-illuminated tent lines. As my last act of what my notes insist was the "best, loveliest day ever", I even found convenient power to charge my phone.

Route Follower Alongerer :

Tomorrow: a 15-minute cab ride to Zennor, then 6 Miles Back to St. Ives – "the toughest six miles of the coast path, but among the most stunning."

Better toilets than most of the hotels I've stayed in! And funky!         (hide)
We eventually gave in and let the child play..

I remember this part rather clearly - she did turn to me and say in a rather loud (clear to the whole bar kind of loud) high pitched voice: "Are you gay?!" - although it's not the first time it's been suggested I was rather stunned by the sheer abruptness of it - handily Michael jumped in with "Yes of course he is" - she then went on to ask me some rather detailed questions along the lines of "Why do you like [male genitals - yeah you know the c word - I don't say that!]?" etc. etc. I was speechless but giggling along (I don't think she noticed!) - Michael and the others were in hysterics (she definitely didn't notice!). Anyway when I was less then forthcoming conversationally she turned to Son: "Are you a lezzer?! - see it's not just me!!         (hide)

  art     camping     cornwall coast path     drinking     humour     photography     tim     walking     wildlife     mates  
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.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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