28 February 2013

on accepting the weight of an empty bird cage

so...... back at the scrap yard but a bit of a role reversal and a whole new experience. yes, i sold some metal! 

i pulled down the metal grid that held the horrible itchy mdf tiles on the launderette ceiling - pulled it apart and packed it into sacks along with the aluminium ceiling light covers and some other light transformers. and that means that about a foot and a half of new ceiling space is revealed. the good thing about the shop at the moment is that it's growing bigger and bigger every day. i'm mid-way through uncovering an old granite wall, a lovely wooden beam and and now have the original ceiling with plaster mixed with horse hair. so not only is it growing larger but it's becoming more attractive too.

anyway, back at the scrap yard. selling this metal was like going on a very very short holiday - i had to take my passport (and it was raining!). it was all very official - they won't give you cash anymore but the choice of a bank transfer or cheque. i opted for a bank transfer for my £3 worth of aluminium, £6 worth of iron and £9 of 'motors'. so £18 of profit. but what were the chances of me leaving 3 scrap yards without buying something....... very slim!

at the 2nd one i found a beautiful old brass bird cage. they weighed it for me and it came to £14. what's the use of a bank transfer when you want to buy a bird cage from next door? maybe if i'd sold my ceiling grid to this scrap yard i could have done a direct swap and that would have been easier. fortunately my friend had cash i could borrow. so another £1 for a piece of copper with some nice blue patination and miraculously i came away with £3 - phew.

the bird cage is a particularly nice one. it has a removable bottom tray and two little bowls and it's a worn dusty colour with tiny speckles of light powdery blue. bizarrely there are also two brass birds on a perch that must have hung inside at one time. but do i want another bird cage? i don't know. there is something i like about an empty bird cage, especially one with the door open. it may be cliched but it's a symbol of freedom. and i think it may become a light in the new studio. that would be a nice new life for it.

experimenting with it as a light and burning a candle in memory of the caged bird

'on declining the gift of a cage bird' by gladys hunkin

o lark of all delight!
soaring in joyous flight,
flooding to earth your stream of song,
while blackbird from his tree,
loving his liberty,
pours silver notes through flute of gold;
bright robin on the ground,
rings his roulade of sound
alone, unheeding the world's wrong;
gay chaffinch carolling,
the linnet note in spring,
an echoing cuckoo call twice told,
some winter-daring thrush
or wren in the rose bush,
with lyric note can soothe my pain;
the swallow's gliding quill
brushing my window sill
in early morning ecstasy,
the bold swift hurtling by
with gulls on windy sky,
lift up my weary heart again.
your gift i could not bear,
for i so truly share
the prison of this bird once free,
feel the encircling bars
pressing upon old scars;
sad bird and man make melody:
o hand that bruised the wing,
caged bird myself, i sing.

24 February 2013

who was gladys hunkin?

last weekend we went to trelisick and i discovered an amazing little second hand bookshop tucked away behind the courtyard. there was talk of an accident. a horse had been hit by a car just along the road. nobody knew exactly what had happened but i was filled with a sense of dread at hearing this. i longed to browse through all the books but not wanting to spend too much time or money i homed in on one i liked the look of.

it was a small matt grey hardback with a black ink line drawing of a bird, flowers, moth, shell and a fish radiating out from a central anemone-like flower. it was a book of poems called 'cornish crystal' by 'gladys hunkin'. i'm not one to adhere to 'never judging a book by it's cover'. when i'm in second hand shops i'm always drawn to particular books primarily by how they look and feel followed by the sound of the title and the name of the author. only then do i open them to see what might lie inside.

in this case, i liked the look and feel of the book, the title and the name of the author. inside was a dedication to a. l. rowse and i loved the roughly torn edge of the thick pages. some were loose and i was careful not to let any poems flutter away. there was also the odd correction - a letter crossed out and replaced by another in faded blue fountain pen ink. skimming down the list of contents i immediately warmed to many of the titles - the sea, the windswept thorn, solace, on declining the gift of a caged bird (this one in particular), cornish chough, sea sorrow, tears into pearls, coracle of spring, secret stream, the stuffed kingfisher, song of the sea at najizel, nostalgia, unanswered, the dead fliers, storm spar, burning the lifeboat, dark flower, birch in winter, the wishing moon, hoverfly, miss marshall muses, fire enchantment, flower of peace, moth light, rainbow chromatic, white verge of sleep, shards of memory....... to name a few. 

buying the book proved a little tricky. first i was asked by an older lady if i was 'in a panic'. i took this to mean 'in a hurry' so i said no, i wasn't. but it was on my mind that my hot chocolate might be arriving at the table in the courtyard at any minute (and i suppose it was possible that the thought of it going cold could induce a very mild panic..... but it was unlikely). she informed me that she was showing another older lady how to use the card machine so i said that was fine. the lady in training fell into a deep state of concentration and the shop echoed with concerned voices, people sharing their stories of seeing the horse lying under a blanket. i caught little snippets here and there and tried to work out if that meant it was dead. but there was trouble with the card machine and they were going to have to phone the helpline. they apologised and said 'i bet you wish you'd never tried to buy this book don't you!' i really didn't. i went and rescued my hot chocolate. eventually they told me i'd have to go and pay for it in the shop. this took a while as the system only worked by scanning and there was nothing to scan on the book, just a figure saying 7s. 6d. in the end i could have made up any price or just walked away with it - all a little test of my honesty.

later that evening i started reading 'cornish crystal'. there are some very moving and beautiful poems. some short and to the point and others rich with visual imagery but minimal description. they are very personal poems that come from the heart. and throughout the book runs a strong individual authentic voice with a refreshing lack of religious morality, stuffiness and controlled form which i often find in  writing of this period. 

cornish chough

strange that this shy and gentle bird should choose
to build its nest within the tidal caves
of granite coasts, where mighty ocean spues
in spindrift, tossed from crests of mounting waves.
storm- buffeted into the wind it sails,
trailing its glossy plumage ruffled, black
against the lightening glare; despairing wails
"kee-ow, t'chuff, t'chuff" the waters echo back.
so desolate and solitary it goes,
almost extinct, yet proudly carries claws
of crimson, sickle-curving beak of rose;
unknowing follows where death's twilight draws
a beckoning finger, careless of a doom
as sure as that which took our Celtic speech;
but unforgotten these linked names will loom
in history that time will not outreach.


a peacock butterfly slipped down
from the buddleia tree
to my folded hand,
spread there its intimacy
of velvet brown
with purple and blue inlay.
i can never understand
why a thing so frail
could draw the veil
from my clouded day.


mysterious, delicate,
terpsichorean thing
on invisible wing,
swoons on the buoyant air
with joy in its brief fate.
while i disconsolate,
pitiful puppet-thing
on intangible string,
swung over the void of despair
am less articulate.

and i love the way gladys doesn't hold back! upon reading this one i was filled with total respect for the poet...... bowed to her sheer poetic brilliance as demonstrated in the 16th line...... and wanted to know more about her.

the stuffed kingfisher

now in the gay kingfisher weather
i watch the stream in vain,
no vivid flash of sea-dyed feather
will come this way again,
no halcyon blue will skim the platinum water
in effortless delight.
"i waited weeks and then at last i caught her
and shot her dead at sight,"
he said. "a shame," i muttered.
"a shame? why shame?"
he spluttered,
"it's all a game!"
this careless man had chosen
to shut his captive in a case,
he proudly showed her motionless and frozen;
i longed to smash his smug white face!
how could he know my heart was crying
for beauty lost beside the water's edge,
for broken wing and ruffled plumage lying
crushed upon the sighing sedge.

but i haven't been able to find out anything about her and i'm very intrigued. she writes for fellow cornish poet and historian, a. l. rowse and is heart broken at the death of a lover (could it be rowse?) and is trying to come to terms with her deep grief through many of these poems. but who was her lover and did he die in the war? it's hard to tell. some of the poems are written in the 30s and 40s and the book,  by fortune press, apparently was published in 1952.

i found a little excerpt from the london gazette 17th january 1939 stating:

"NOTICE is hereby given that by a deed poll 
dated the 29th day of December 1938, and duly 
enrolled in the Supreme Court of Judicature on 
the 29th day of December 1938 GLADYS HUNKIN 
of Fern Glen St. Ives Cornwall Spinster heretofore 
called and known by the name of Gladys Vellenoweth 
Hunkin renounced and abandoned the use of her said 
second Christian name of Vellenoweth and intends 
henceforth to be called and known by the name of 
Gladys Hunkin.—Dated the 6th day of January 1939." 

and someone has done some research on the hunkin surname (nearly all from mevagissey) and on his website there is an entry for a william verinder hunkin, son of henry hunkin and susan ley, born on the 24th april 1854 in mevagissey. occupation- fisherman. married sarah ann clark in 1880 in st austell. died 3rd july 1915 in mevagissey and is buried in mevagissey. he had 5 children-  ada, gladys, percy verinder, claude and cecil. so i'm guessing this must be gladys, but i'd love to know more about her.

20 February 2013

down the launderette

exciting news! i have a launderette! slowly it will become my studio with space to run workshops, have exhibitions and it may even have a piano too. so far i've found a pair of black lacy knickers, an odd sock, a hidden alcove and a lot of fluff. my friend is determined to unearth a cellar and has excavated a tiny area under the floor!

there's a lot of work to do as i'm stripping it back to its shell but it's lots of fun. sadly i can't find my two crowbars and my most favourite of wrecking tools, a cat's paw. it's a bit like a small crowbar with a sharp hooked claw that pulls out deeply sunk nails. oh how can i have mis-placed these essential things!

no need for a landline........

.............plenty of washer-driers


the path to the toilet and little pink sink

12 February 2013


the problem with wearing my hair down is greeting bearded men. not all bearded men but ones with a very particular amount of beard growth. this happened to me the other night at a private view. my friend's boyfriend had come down from london and i kissed him on the cheek. as i went to pull my head away i felt some resistance. a lock of my hair had become attached to his stubbly beard like velcro. it even made a soft ripping sound when i eased it free.

it's an uncomfortable predicament that seems to have been happening a lot recently. i don't know if it's due to the current fashion for beards and so there are more around, of if my hair has finally reached a beard-loving length. but i shouldn't be surprised. it's always had a will of its own - wild, untamable, light and breezy, and a little bit wayward.

in some ways beards are easier to deal with. there's a brief moment of awkwardness and a possibility that if i tug it back very quickly and with enough wishful thinking, the bearded man won't have noticed..... but really, i think he will. 

beard attachment might hurt my pride but at least it doesn't trap me. sometimes when i go to secret beach, especially if i'm in a hurry or it's very windy, i climb down the overgrown path. i'm feeling light and carefree when, all of a sudden, i experience a jerk, a mild whiplash. it's as if i'm a marionette and the performer has had a sudden change of heart. either a tenacious bramble with a penchant for curls has been patiently lying in wait for me or i'm walking too fast, nature is speeding by in a blur and my hair needs to pause and breathe...... or maybe it's just the wind. whatever happens, i'm ensnared. and wrenching myself free usually hurts. sometimes when two or more brambles have conspired together my hair is so entangled it's difficult to escape. part of me thinks my hair is complicit in this mischief but the other part wonders if it's fallen into a situation beyond its control, and when i tear it free i'll hear a tiny sigh of relief. i guess i'll never really know.

10 February 2013

broken crocuses

i went to deliver a letter but i ended up rescuing crocuses. they were scattered amongst the living ones, broken and lying in the mud. i wondered how this might have happened. they'd been trampled on and i thought maybe it was dogs.

i sat on a wall and arranged the purple buds in patterns on a stone covered in a mustard yellow lichen. i heard a 'miaow' and a tabby and white cat came padding up to me. it climbed onto my knee and rubbed against my face and shoulders. distant voices carried by the wind blew through the trees, the cat pricked up its ears, grew wide-eyed and bounded away. and i was sad for i'd wanted it to stay longer.

beyond sweeping curves of bamboo i spotted a girl balancing on a line tied between palm trees. every now and again she would jump high and land back on the rope as if attached by an invisible web. it was impressive. she was agile and moved like a dancer through the air. sometimes she seemed suspended in space. it was as if the moment she left the rope, time stood still and she hovered in the sky in a place between walking and flying, laughing and crying, remembering and forgetting. 

i gathered up my crocuses and wrapped them in a waxy red leaf that was lying on the ground. i tied them with some twisted grass to make sure they were secure. i thought i would take them to the sea so i could watch them float away. it was difficult to know whether to let them go. in the end i fished them out and left them on a window sill as a surprise for a friend. later i sent instructions: "please look after them, they will need a wash in cold water as they've been in the sea."

09 February 2013

running to the sea

today i ran to the sea and all i thought about was death. there could be lots of ways to die; slipping on the dark slimy rocks, being buried under a landslide, an unusually strong current might carry me out to sea or some brave marine creature might rise from the depths and pull me under. but what i'm really worried about is being hit by a golf ball. i know it sounds silly but i do find them on the beach and when i met arthur, it was one of the first things i asked him. that day there were two, nestled beside each other like eggs on a rocky ledge but he told me he'd never seen one land. he's more interested in finding a good one and selling it to somebody.

all the other ways of dying are part of the risks you take when visiting the sea. but being hit in the head by a golf ball and dying on the beach feels wrong. it would be unlucky.

a flight of about twenty cormorants make a hasty departure. their feet drag across the glassy water leaving a trail that starts in one place but explodes outwards like a head of cow parsley. the beach is empty. only one person has been here before me and he had gone to look in a cave. i say 'he' because when i place my shoe inside one of the footprints they are at least three sizes bigger.

i enter the water with a lot of swearing.  paddling next to me is a solitary shearwater, but i can't work out what type of shearwater he is. i wonder why he didn't leave with the cormorants. he doesn't seem to mind my presence and my words wash over him. there's no way of comparing our foot size so i don't know for sure that he is a he, i just think he is. i swim out to my rock and he dives down. what if he's a malicious shearwater and is planning to attack me from below? 

it's colder than marble and i'm still swearing under my breath. everything feels low. the sky hangs low and the birds fly low and the shearwater re-emerges. the water is clear and the sand has returned. my feet sink into it like a thick carpet and leave a set of more hurried footprints. i wash my feet in the foot pool but it involves a lot of hopping and i know that the man who showed it to me it would disapprove.

a little puff of wind catches my trousers and blows them into the foot pool. with a lightening quick reaction i didn't know i was capable of, i grab them before they go under. they are mostly dry but as i step into them i marvel at the way they have got wet. from the crotch all down the inside of one leg it's saturated. as well as being fascinated i'm also a little bit annoyed as i'm freezing. but how did they manage to get wet like this? on the rock they were all scrunched up in a clump so surely they should be damp in small patches. it looks like i've wet myself and takes seconds to soak through to my pants, so it feels that way too. it's cold and uncomfortable but this edge of comedy brings a hesitant smile to my face.

(ps. from the sounds of things and from someone who knows, i've got all the birds wrong!)

05 February 2013

meeting arthur

a burst of sunshine and a sudden desire to go to arthur's beach for a quick break and swim. a man with an orange hat walks towards me. could it be arthur? he's exactly as i imagine him - a tall old man with a  bushy white beard and a stick. i make a point of engaging him in conversation..... and ask him if he knows arthur. with a broad toothless smile he points to himself and, my god.....i'm so excited! he tells me a group of youngsters have just been taking his photo so i seize the opportunity and ask if i can take a few shots. he says he feels like a celebrity and he wishes he'd put in his false teeth......

i've been dying to meet arthur ever since i started swimming at "his" beach and little by little my nose has been leading me ever closer. so much to ask him i don't know where to start. he tells me that his bad knee makes it difficult to visit the beach as often as he'd like but assures me it doesn't stop him on the dance floor! he was born in 1935 and all his siblings have since died. he's lived in falmouth all his life and bought his four bedroom house when it cost just £2600. when he was on the dole he found some old council paint and named the beach. he finds money from metal detecting on the busier beaches.... and gold and watches..... lots of watches, though the one he's wearing is from his work. he used to be a mason after a period of military service. we talk about crabs and he tells me all about hell's mouth, a rock shaped like an indian's head and seals and lighthouses. 

i climb across the rocks and down to where i'm hoping to swim but the tide is too high. i notice a circled 'AR' at my feet and a little further on, 'arthur's beach' is written in the sand. a group of students are performing cartwheels and handstands and excitedly tell me they've just met arthur. they saw him writing with his stick in the sand and were as happy as i was to meet the man himself. they tell me that they found a big crab claw on a rock and when they walked past arthur he threw them the other matching claw. they were amazed and clearly saw this as some form of wizardry. they too love this beach and a beaming girl tells me that meeting arthur has made their day.

i wander back and arthur is sitting in the sunny spot (which he calls sunny corner) in a big red jumper. he tells me he loves red jumpers and that various people over the years have always knitted them for him. he also mentions, with a twinkle in his eye, that he found two crab claws and left one on a flat rock and put the other in his pocket. he watched the students discover the one on the rock but they didn't know he'd put it there or that he'd seen them find it. so when he threw them the other one they genuinely thought it was magic!

meeting arthur exceeded my expectations and in the fairy tale world of my imagination he really is something of a modern day wizard.....

arthur on his beach

signing the beach

turquoise waters hiding mermaids

tagging the beach

one of the red jumpers

spying on a wizard

04 February 2013

cyprus well

charles causley's bedroom
"a poem has a secret life; the simpler it is the more is going on underneath, like an unturned stone."

on saturday morning i had the privilege of a visit to cornish poet, charles causley's house. what i'd imagined would be a quick peek turned into my very own personal guided tour. it was a totally wonderful and quite a moving experience. 

stepping in through the door of no. 2 cyprus well in launceston was a magical moment full of anticipation and nervous excitement. talented musicians julie murphy and ceri owen jones were setting up equipment to record in causley's study using his piano, while malcolm from the causely trust showed me around. he is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all things causley and it was fascinating to hear the stories whilst seeing and touching the physical objects relating to them.

the cottage is fairly dark and there is a strong smell of must for it has stood empty since causley's death in 2003. but the musty odor doesn't quite mask the smell of the house and it's very evocative - an old person smell and combined with the brown hessian-effect wallpaper in the hallway and other dated decor i feel a powerful sense of stepping back in time. i also have an uneasy feeling - one of being in someone's personal space without their permission and there is a part of me that feels i need to tread lightly and speak quietly. malcolm, on the other hand, has the assured step of someone who's developed a more casual and familiar relationship with it all and doesn't think twice about pulling open drawers, sifting through stacks of papers, piling up paintings to show me a wardrobe shelf crammed with framed pictures. when he wiggles open the top drawer of causley's mother's chest of drawers i gasp, and think 'we can't look in there!' expecting it to reveal her bras and knickers! i particularly like "mother's" room (as she's referred to). all horizontal surfaces are covered with dusty trinkets and china ornaments. there are lots of things that remind me of both my grandmothers. her bed is warmed by a paisley patterned feather eiderdown and on it lies causley's sailor's cap from his navy days. there are colourful crocheted blankets, embroidered linen cushions and an identical partner to a big woven basket i have in my bedroom (in which was discovered a set of metal farm yard animals now in the local museum). 

causley's bedroom in contrast is small, uncluttered and utilitarian. the heavy beige wall paper has become stained and damp and it's incredibly moving to see his suit still hanging on the wardrobe possibly where he last left it. there's a painted wooden trunk by the window and an eclectic mix of paintings and prints. downstairs, julie is playing the piano and her singing is drifting up towards us. malcolm has been telling me tales about "mother" and her strong hold over her son and now we're standing next to causley's single metal bed musing about his seeming lack of relationships (although apparently there were some girlfriends in the early pre-naval days). i feel a bit naughty having this conversation in his bedroom and feel a heightened anxiety that maybe his ghost really is watching ...... and disapproving. so it's a bit of a relief to return downstairs and look in the big dining room cupboard crammed with pots, tupperware and no less than four thermos flasks!  fortunately for the trust causely was a man who threw nothing away and deciding between them all what to keep sounds like a tricky business. 

i really don't want to leave but i'm in a bit of a hurry as it's my sister's 30th birthday and i'm about to attempt a journey from launceston to golant all by kernow's public transport. i find it too difficult to interrupt julie's singing to say goodbye as it sounds so beautiful and i don't want to be the one who makes it stop. so i ask malcolm to do this for me instead. 

as i leave one recording "studio" i'm heading towards another. my sister has hired out the sawmills for the weekend. it's a beautiful old 17th century water mill that was turned into one of the first residential recording studios in the uk in the 70's. an array of big name bands such as oasis, the stone roses and robert plant have recorded there. getting to golant is a bit of an adventure. there's rain and sun and a rainbow. i pass a mysterious black house with a black gate and a black van outside, a neat wood pile and at the sawmills, an abandoned mossy wood pile. i arrive at this fully renovated celebrity hideaway to an air of excitement as apparently reef left just the night before. amongst the party goers there are animated discussions about which members of oasis might have slept in their beds! the image of causley's bed is imprinted strongly on my mind and it feels like i've entered a polar opposite world. 

if i had to sum up my experiences of the weekend in terms of wood piles (and it's not often you get to do this), then the mossy one would be cyrus wells and the neatly arranged angular one would be the sawmills!

wood pile representing my feeling of big name bands and commercial music recording studios

wood pile representing my feeling of diy homemade music recording in a poet's house