South West Coast Path St Ives to Appledore – camping, food, sights

Early in June we took a walk of about 130 miles along the North Cornwall coast and into West Devon.

Our camera packed up after a rainy spell on the coast path last year and hasn’t yet been replaced, so this is a slightly idiosyncratic account intended to jog my memory rather than amuse you.

Though we do have lizards and scientologists, so give it a go.

And sunsets.

Bude at dusk, from the lock gates, early June

Bude at dusk, from the lock gates, early June

Also, I found the Vegan Cornwall blog useful in planning where to eat, although my experience was sometimes different.

Day 1 – St Ives to Hayle

8 miles after the long train journey down – above Carbis Bay and then through the dunes between Porth Kidney Sands and the branch line from St Erth. In the garden of The Badger Inn at Lelant Saltings we watch a seagull finish off an abandoned lunch, even venturing the ketchup. Reach Hayle – Hayle is the old Cornish word for, simply, estuary but confusingly the river itself is also called the Hayle. Then again, Ordnance Survey maps rarely name the brief watercourses which nevertheless manage to open out significant coves and even bays, so no complaints. Hayle’s infrastructure reveals its past as a major port and steam engine producer. Treglisson campsite is a good place less than 2 quiet miles’ walk out of Hayle with outside and covered play spaces for kids, Pirate FM piped into the washrooms, and run by very nice former teacher. Walk back into Hayle, buy breakfast and lunch from the Co-op, then to the Curry Leaf for a very good chana masala and saag bhaji with views over construction work on the estuary, followed by a pint at the Cornish Arms. Local papers full of remarkable misdemeanours (e.g. leisure centre worker poisons colleague’s lunch with chlorine) and nearly-broken record performance of Pirates of Penzance. Letters pages full of UKIP support. Walk back at dusk, head torches off, buzzed by bats.

Day 2 – Hayle to Portreath

Early awakening by extremely loud dawn chorus – a pattern repeated for the week. Sunny, the dewy tent soon dries. Breakfast is half a rhubarb pie, and we put the lunch we bought the previous night into our lunchboxes. We tell ourselves if the campsite owner repeats his offer of a ride down to the coast we will accept. He drops us off north of the holiday parks around 10. Some miles along, a coffee at Godrevy Beach Cafe. They have very nice vegan-looking salads, but we already have lunch which we eat sitting on a sandy bank in a car park above dunes with a gymkhana going on in the background. After that we’re into the  UNESCO World Heritage mining district. Portreath used to be an important port for Cornwall’s metal mining industry whose centres were inland at Camborne and Redruth. We have a drink at the Waterfront Inn with views of the beach. There’s a lot of litter and dog crap around, which I assume was left by the half term week tourists. About two miles down the mineral tramway route from Portreath, Cambrose Touring Park is a very well-kept place run by a former dairy farmer and remarkable for fully adjustable, unlimited showers. Also there, two dutch gents passing the first night of their cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats. Once again the owner offers us a lift into Portreath to find dinner. He recommended Basset Arms – nice place but I didn’t find them very active in the vegan department. I had to have chips and salad. The Bassets were a family of mineral lords – mine owners whose wealth dates back to their arrival during the Norman conquest – Cornish separatists and UKIP voters might like to think about that when they celebrate Cornwall’s former industrial prowess. We have another drink in the Basset sun room listening to a young woman talk about her new job in a shop in Penzance, then back along the tramway at dusk with more bats and dog walkers.

Day 3 – Portreath to Perranporth

Overcast but tent dries. Breakfast is odd – falafel and cherry tomato purchased the day before yesterday at Hayle Co-op. Rather than walking down the tramway again we pick up the path north of Portreath and soon arrive at Porthtowan where we impulsively buy some jam tarts (odd choices of food indicate restricted vegan offerings before happening upon the beach cafe where I’m briefly lit up by the prospect of veggie bacon – only to discover it’s Quorn, which is owned by a private equity firm and made of a patented fungus held together with egg albumen. Quorn is more for dieters than serious vegetarians but unfortunately it seems to have taken Cornwall by storm. Over my beans on toast I read the cafe copy of a history of Porthtowan. The village was once a busy resort for the people of Redruth. From Porthtowan (‘towan’ is the Cornish word for dune, and ‘porth’ means cove) we head through the mining centre of St Agnes Head, lunching on refined mezze at the Driftwood Spars pub at Trevaunance Cove and eventually reaching Tollgate Farm, a nice campsite accessed via a mile or so of good footpath from Perranporth through the golf course. It is home to many rabbits. After showering we set off back to Perranporth for dinner at the Jaipur and our customary Co-op shop for next day’s breakfast and lunch. Hoping to reach the beach through the golf course we become disorientated among the sand dunes, have to divert away from MOD land and end up back on the coast path, reaching Perranporth beach 3 miles later in light rain. About 15 or 20 wetsuited surfers are in the sea and among the astonishing amount of rubbish on the beach is a jellyfish about a metre in diameter (barrel?). The beach flotsam (and possibly jetsam) is a mixture of plastic stuff that looks as if it has been around the world a few times and packaging dropped by beach users, and it makes the beach look dismal. It’s no surprise that Surfers Against Sewage – co-founded by Porthtowan and St Agnes people, incidentally – have diversified into several campaigns against marine litter including posting identifiable litter back to manufacturers and trying to get people to stop flushing discarded plastics down the toilet. The Jaipur was high quality – another saag bhaji and chana masala. Back to the campsite at dusk with only one wrong turn on the golf course.

Day 4 – Perranporth to Newquay

Breakfast is apple pie and jam tarts – too much even for my sweet tooth but bringing a flare of energy as we paddle the two miles along a largely deserted Perran Sands before scrambling up the dune and onto the cliffs and round a strange razor wire-festooned army base before descending to Holywell Bay and St Piran’s Inn (which has an old fashioned glass water cooler with a brass tap). Then we trudge through the dunes, losing the waymarks, abraded by marram grass which stabilises the dunes, and generally exhausting ourselves.  It is warm but blisters have kept Matt out of his sandals – neither New Skin nor plasters stay in place. We meet a couple of Australian pensioners striding lustily in the other direction who recommend leukotape sports strapping tape over a bit of padding. We walk along The Gannel for a while and since tide is low we cross at the footbridge and stop at the hut on the other side for lemonade lollies. Then through Crantock along the river’s edge and to Trenance Holiday Park whose permanent residents have developed their static caravans with landscaping and boundary walls. Most strikingly, a small conservatory with tiny arches through which a model railway runs in from the yard beyond. We put up our tent within earshot of the school behind. That evening we head to The Fort on Fore Street and watch surfers from a beer garden strung with wire to deter seagulls (though not choughs). We also saw some gigs – gig racing is an internationally growing sport at which Cornwall excels. We’re celebrating tonight and after surveying Newquay for vegan-friendly foods we settle on Pizza Express with its NUS discount (I’m a legit but dubious holder of an NUS card) sea views and new Pianta vegan pizza.

Day 5 – Newquay to Porthcothan

We have a long shopping list at Newquay: sports strapping tape from Boots; Ordnance Survey map from Tourist Information; batteries for Matt’s GPS (which he sets to beep on arrival at various critical places mainly to keep us to time) and a pasty for lunch. Tourist Information tells us we can get a vegan pasty at a certain place but it turns us away – we are served by (we think) Jamie’s Pasty Parlour on Central Square near Fore Street. The woman warns us they will be paler in colour and it occurs to us that perhaps the only reason the vegetable pasties are not vegan is the stupid wasteful cosmetic egg wash. Cafe Irie opens at 10am and we have an enormous cooked breakfast with a vegan option which doesn’t involve just leaving things out. We set off relatively late and it takes a while to reach the edge of Newquay’s suburbs, and a heavy rain shower sent us sheltering under a new apartment complex to put on our coats and pack covers. The shower soon passes and we watch five kitesurfers on Watergate Bay in bright sunlight. We reached Mawgan Porth at lunchtime but our breakfast is still going down so we only had a pint at the Merrymoor. It’s Wednesday in early June and the diners seem to be mostly pensioners who stare intently through the windows as we change back into our waterproofs – trousers this time – on the steps outside. The sky opens up and for two hours we drip our way up and down the cliffs with almost no visibility of the Bedruthan Steps. The sky clears. A couple of walkers coming from the other direction report large hailstones. Slowly drying out, we sit down in a deserted cove at about 3pm to eat our pasties. Behind us is an abandoned car. A spaniel arrives followed by a man who walks laboriously and we exchange a few friendly words. Another car arrives, another old geezer gets out, and to our mystifcation they both get into the abandoned car. We continue, eventually turning into the mouth of the (unnamed) river at Porthcothan. It’s amazing to me how such puny rivers carve out such magnificent passages to the sea – though Matt reminds me that they could be glacial. A new two-storey house on the cliff has eliminated most of the wall on its river-facing side, which has become four large windows. Its prospect is a sandy beach and a trickle backed by a round grassy hill, and it’s almost inconceivable that in 6 hours the tide will have altered the scene beyond recognition. I find these changing views very exciting. Carnevas campsite is a very nice place but there are recklessly fast drivers on the lane. It’s windy when we arrive so we shield our tent with a hedge and an unoccupied motorhome, but suddenly the wind drops at about the time the tide is changing. There is a lot to know about wind and tide but I can’t find anything about tides causing wind changes. Carnevas has a bar and they make chips and salad for me and vegetable lasagne for Matt. I should say that the progress of vegetarianism is very strong in Cornwall, so I tell myself that even though veganism seems to mystify the Cornish hospitality industry there is every hope that in 20 years they will have grasped it. It needn’t be costly of time or money.

Day 6 Porthcothan to Padstow

Breakfast is at the next campsite along, Berryfields. It is run by a nice family from the Midlands (Cornwall and Devon are full of Midland people). Despite their sign, they seem surprised by breakfasters but the dad rises to the occasion and fires up the kitchen while we sit in the sunny pleasantly planted courtyard. Good humouredly anti-vegetarian, Mr Bellisan butters my toast by mistake and ends up with a second breakfast himself. We chat about the problems of large single sex groups of campers, which has led him to specify the easily decoded “Camping for nice people”. Thanks to Tripadvisor, Berrylands is renowned for their cream teas, and he hopes to major on those. One son goes off to the Royal Cornwall Show and the other, an electrician, talks to us for a while about veganism. Father and son debate whether Stein or Chip Ahoy have better fish and chips in Padstow. We set off, reaching the attractive Treyarnon Bay youth hostel in the late morning. I’m not sure why the staff (who reminded me of Bill and Ted) felt unauthorised to divert some houmous from the menu into a packed lunch for me, but there you go. Then up and down the cliffs to Trevone, too late for the beach cafe but I have pasta and sundried tomato sauce with salad at the Well Parc Hotel, a friendly, spacious place with a lot of potential. Matt has a ploughmans with probably 500g of cheese. We reach Trevose Head and the turn along the Camel (a river with a name) very tired and footsore with 4 miles to go. More dunes after gun point, then down along the Camel Trail to Dennis Farm campsite where we become sole occupants of my favourite pitch of the holiday – four spots dedicated to hikers (i.e. people without cars) on a flat spot at the end of the site right next to the Camel surrounded on two sides by dense old woodland. Showers were wet rooms accessed from outside (rather than within a ladies / gents shower block) my favourite kind. The owners refer us to the Golden Lion for vegetarian dinner. On arrival the bartender reacts tersely to the lack of notice of vegan needs, but before we can walk out she has hurried away to see the chef. Out he comes, looking regretful. He tells us that with the lack of notice the best he can manage is a cassoulet of beans and mushrooms. This is charged at the same price as the bean burger Matt has. This delicious, generously portioned meal – with fries included – becomes my favourite meal of the holiday. Clearly the anger and dismay was not directed at me, but is a product of their own high standards. Then we took a look around Padstow – we think this is where we saw an oversized door of the Old Police House next to a tiny door in the adjacent cottage. Back at the campsite there were bats. In the tent we could hear the river lapping the shore below and the moorings and sails of the various craft nearby gently tinkling – slept very well and by morning the river had shrunk and the boats were resting on its exposed sands.

Day 7 Padstow to Port Isaac

Search Padstow in vain for vegan breakfast and vegan lunch of any quality. For breakfast I have a mass-produced caramel flapjack which contains some milk – if I’m going to break with vegan, I won’t give the gourmets any cash. None of the pasty shops are open early and when they do open they have nothing vegan. The famed Chough Bakery say they cannot help, so it’s rolls, houmous and tomatoes from The Spar. Don’t tell me Padstow is a foody place – it’s basically unsustainable. We walk back along the dunes of the Camel estuary’s northern shore, past Polzeath. I love the seaward view from Padstow, the bulks of Trevose Head and Pentire Point protecting the river from the open Atlantic beyond. We sit down on a high cliff to find out why Matt’s hydration system isn’t working. It turns out that it is empty – we inadvertently squeezed out the water while trying to jam the tent into his backpack. Sharing one person’s water is a problem for us since today the cliffs have become steep and high, with a combined ascent of over 850 metres (to get things in perspective, Snowden is 1085m). It’s a very hot day and there is nowhere between Polzeath and Port Isaac to buy refreshment. We eat lunch in a secluded cove. Three young men start a disposable barbeque before swimming to the mouth of the cove to jump of rocks. Driven on by the need for a drink we march up and down the made steps (to prevent erosion rather than make things easier). After the now defunct but still hauntingly beautiful little pilchard port of Port Quin we meet more presumably-retired groups who also seem weary of the lack of any flat places to walk. At Port Isaac we go straight to The Mote on the harbour and have a pint of water and a pint of orange and soda. They can veganise their veggie burger so we book a table there at 8.30. There is no campsite near enough and we don’t like to wild camp (no drinking water, nowhere to wash and nowhere to crap) so we spent our first night in a bed at a vegetarian-friendly Trewetha Farm about a mile inland, with sea views, and although we used an overgrown footpath from Port Gaverne, the lane to Port Isaac is broad and has pavement for most of the way. The owners were active in the RNLI which provides lifeboat and lifeguard protection along the British coast. Their son Damien Bolton had helmed a tremendously difficult rescue in the spring of 2012 when anglers Paul and Peter Sleeman were swept into the sea between Port Isaac and Tintagel, documented in this video. In understand that Peter’s widow is now active on the local RNLI committee, which is amazing of her. There are plenty of donation boxes along the path, but the thing about the RNLI is that it is mostly staffed by volunteers. Dinner was very nice – over 30 covers in the upstairs room, armies of waiting staff running up and down the stairs to and from the kitchen, and a band (The Fisherman’s Friends?) was singing sea shanties outside in the harbour. Then a group of local farmers arrived in the pub and things became so noisy that we didn’t hear the stupendous thunderstorm which everybody mentioned the following day. By the time we got out to wander the steep lanes and alleys the night was warm and clear again. We were beginning to wonder if our luck with the weather was about to run out.

Day 8 – Port Isaac to Tintagel

The Trewetha breakfast was good, including Linda McCartney sausages. The next stretch of coast had so many long, steep ups and downs I hardly remember it (you have to look where you’re putting your feet). Some hours later coming into Trebarwith we encountered a series of couples and groups, including one with a baby, dog and no water, who seemed to be out for a jaunt. The trouble is, you can see Port Isaac quite clearly and although it is 5 hours’ walk along a steep and jagged coast, it looks as if you could reach it in 45 minutes. We had thai green curry for lunch at the Trebarwith Hotel. 10 miles took us to Tintagel where Matt worked out it was sensible to stop. Pengenna Pasties‘ vegetable pasty is peerless and vegan by default – we bought two of those for next day’s lunch, flapjacks for breakfast and camped at The Headland campsite. Passing Camelot (1930s fake castle on the headland, now a hotel) we decided to go in for a beer, and ordered dinner before we realised what a strange place it was, with its self-published tabloid newspaper and books of the co-owner’s trippy, mystical artwork. It turns out that the three owners – who also reside there – are proselytising scientologists who seem to be enormously wealthy. I was served half a butternut squash with yoghurt sauce and a small amount of stuff on the side. I returned it and they got rid of the yoghurt sauce. They then tried to charge me nearly £18 pounds, which I successfully contested since it had been offered as a subsitute for the veganless bar menu. The staff are friendly and helpful, the setting is truly lovely, and the bar menu is down to earth prices. But the newspaper full of pictures of (sometimes with) minor celebrities and congratulations to various dignitaries of Kazakhstan and other former soviet satellites, the art books and the life changing promise of ‘the light box’ were unfathomable to us. Paternalistic largesse, mysticism, a bit of faith healing – all very pampered and individualistic, completely lacking in social justice. The owners are very rich and broadcast their disorientated principles with great confidence. We felt uncomfortable there and finished our evening in The Cornishman. Trip Advisor has a number of favourable and unfavourable reviews and a local woman told us that some of the rooms have been renovated while others are languishing.

Day 9 Crackington Haven to Bude

Missing out a very beautiful stretch from Tintagel to Boscastle, We catch the 9.30 bus from Tintagel to Crackington Haven and begin from there. The fare for two is £9 and the bus does some unfeasible hill starts in the lanes. Upper Lynstone Caravan & Camping Park is a tidysouth of Bude with less than a mile of footpath into the town centre. Just one slight grumble – is 8 seconds really enough for a push on a push-button shower? 20 seconds minimum, surely!? Bude is a good little town with beautiful rocks and a tidal pool. We had a modest dinner at Tiandi, a superior but correspondingly-priced far eastern restaurant.

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Day 10 Bude to Hartland Quay

Arriving in Bude for 8.45 to shop for food before getting on the bus to Morwenstow, once again rebuffed by a pasty shop that doesn’t offer pasties before a sluggish mid-morning. I looked after the bags while Matt sortied around Bude picking up our breakfast and lunch. A woman in (a guess) her mid or late 50s who had been walking stretches of path queried whether the bus goes to Morwenstow on any other day than Wednesday. She’s half-right – we can get to Morwenstow if we stay on the bus for an hour and a half and alight on its return journey. Instead we reluctantly get in a minicab which costs something like £14. The woman, incidentally, walked the entire stretch on her own, starting at 6am. She said that when she got tired she’d stop and read her book. This is where the weather could make a huge difference. Morwenstow is a magical little place. The next encounter is an ancient, lonely, slightly dilapidated stone house in a cove. It’s for holiday rent. Then come the legendary ups and downs of that stretch, but the weather is lovely and we’ve halved the walk so I am happy. After several rather arduous drops and climbs we see a sign on a tiny building saying something like Ronald Duncan’s Hut is open – come on in. The book has led us to expect no respite and no shelter or succour for 16 miles, so this is welcome and we go and sit down inside.There is water and some glasses – how kind of his family. A couple pass us – when we pass them later we realise we met them in the campsite in Tintagel. We’ll see them again the following day, for the last time.


I’m now writing this 3 months later and I can’t remember much until close to the end. We can see Lundy. Then more ups and downs. It is warm and we struggle but prevail. Lunch is on a high bench. Along a field, we see a huge solitary human approach with a pack. She is a German woman of around 60 or perhaps older. It’s around 3pm and she’s aiming for Bude. We think she is late and will be walking  As we approach Hartland the terrain becomes magnificent. Massive grassy hills rear abruptly from flat, dry-stone-wall-ringed pasture. As you round them, you realise with a shock that they are half-hills only, eaten away on the ocean side. The rock of the cliffs is contorted into tight folds. Long fingers poke out into the sea. We are at Hartland but the pub, briefly glimpsed, eludes us. We take a wrong turn and edge along a narrow shelf of cliff above a jaggedly beautiful cove. And then retrace our steps. There is no campsite so we stay at the Hartland Quay Hotel. There is no quay either – the sea had it. We eat an alright bar meal in the Wreckers Retreat Bar, wander around outside looking at the rocks, and fall asleep in the sitting room.

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Day 11 Hartland Quay to Clovelly

Another strenuous day. We followed a solitary figure for a few miles and passed her when she stopped to change into her wet weather gear. Then she passed us as we huddled and fumbled in very heavy rain trying to change into ours. We caught her up at an open air cafe near Hartland Point. It wasn’t open air cafe weather. She was trying to contact her sister in law, whom she was supposed to be meeting there in two hour’s time, to tell her to go straight to Clovelly. We left her there. She caught us up some miles later and we walked together for a bit until she (Caroline, by this time) left us when we stopped for a snack. Then all I remember was relentless rain until the parkland west of the Clovelly estate. The paths had become torrents. We couldn’t have been wetter or tireder. We got to the top of the estate and limped down the Up-Along / Down-Along with its upended cobblestones. We checked in at the New Inn, where we had one of the top rooms and a shared bathroom. Caroline’s sister-in-law Sarah was already there, while Caroline had just arrived having been hoodwinked by paths which looked like rivers and taken a 2-mile detour. In order to dry our stuff we had to rinse off the mud and debris, and then festoon it round the small double room. By then it had brightened up and we walked down to the harbour – the only safe harbour for many miles either side. The village is distinguished by being wholly owned by the local aristocrat, who rents to residents handpicked by interview. Consequently there aren’t any second homes or holiday lets, everybody is resident, and the people are friendly. There are no cars in Clovelly, and heavy stuff is moved by noisy wooden-runnered sleds, these days dragged by men. Had a beanburger at the New Inn – the other pub on the harbour was also lovely and offered finer dining too. Drank a lot of cider and spoke to one of the residents from Peckham. Don’t really remember going to bed.

Clovelly harbour

Clovelly harbour

Day 12 Clovelly to Westward Ho!

This was a very hard day, in lovely weather. It started off in parkland, progressed to woodland, and finally some sea views from clifftop and scrub before the turn along the esplanade into the Victorian town of Westward Ho! The ups and downs were quite arduous, particularly one late one where we dropped about 80 meters to the beach for about 20 steps on boulders before climbing back up higher than we had been. The YHA bunkhouse was unstaffed despite it being after 5. We were exhausted and sweaty so were fairly unsympathetic when the bloke running it sauntered in. After our shower we went out and ended up in The Village Inn, a nice pub where we had dinner (also with Caroline and Sarah). Then Matt and I went for a walk. It’s a very nice place. On the beach at dusk we thought the tide might come in quite fast across the flat beach, but a leaf-shaped formation of posts caught our eye protruding from the sand. Next morning a coastguard told us it was the remains of a ship wreck. Back to the hostel and slept well.

Wrecked boat on Westward Ho! beach, low tide

Wrecked boat on Westward Ho! beach, low tide

Day 13 Westward Ho! to Appledore

We had a picnic breakfast and then walked to Appledore along the Westward Ho! beach – tide out, bare feet. Had fun with the blue clay on the beach exposed by the storms, trying to leave footprints to be found by humans in the far future who would analyse them and think we were very fat for our size. Saw a little crab rushing along looking for somewhere to dig, and even a blenny in one of the rockpools. An RNLI lifeguard told us that the oval of wooden stumps at WH!!! was a wreck, again exposed by storms. A woman in Appledore told us they lose sand in winter and gain it back in summer but this year they hadn’t gained what they lost. Funny to live in such a shifting landscape. 
Had a good lunch on the terrace of The Beaver Inn. We liked Appledore. From the bus to Barnstaple we could see its massive shipyard – Babcock, on boat #3 for Irish navy.

Then home.

A march – 999 Call for the NHS

Reposted and lightly amended with permission from Barkingside21.

People's March for the NHSStarting off from Jarrow early today, a group of local mums from Darlington known as the #Darlomums are beginning the 999 March for the NHS. They’ll make their way 300 miles to London entirely on foot.

They’re trying to draw attention to the critical condition of the NHS as it is gradually eroded by privatisation. Following the route of the Jarrow hunger march, they’ll pass through 23 towns and cities over 21 days. On each stretch they’ll be joined by NHS workers, NHS users, and other supporters of all stripes. It looks like it’s going to be big and bold. After all, there’s so much at stake.

They’ll be in this neck of the woods on Saturday 6th September leaving Edmonton at 10am and arriving in Westminster at 3pm for a rally which is likely to be a landmark event in the campaign to keep the NHS public.

They want us to join them. Here is a day-by-day route and a place to let them know you’re coming. Being volunteers with a lot to organise, they need funds too – you can help by buying a T-Shirt and/or donating. If you use Twitter, big up @999CallforNHS with the hashtag #march4nhs . If you use Facebook, they’re here.

Here is why:

Tricycle Theatre and the UKJFF – no quiet for quiet

Even from this one article I can think of several possible angles to take on the decision by the board of Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival unless the organisers refused funding from the Israeli Embassy cultural department and accepted instead an equivalent amount from the theatre itself.

 The first is that the Tricycle acted very late. It had come under pressure last year, from a group which openly seeks an end to Israel’s existence, and you get the impression it craved a quiet life. Although the films of the UKJFF are famously open minded about Israel’s conflicts, Israel’s boycotters, seemingly always short of creative ideas or recreational outlets, have taken to wrecking anything that could conceivably be linked to Israel. So I’m guessing the Tricycle decided to jettison Israeli Embassy funding, create a bit of distance, buy itself some quiet. It doesn’t seem to have much zeal for boycotting Israel, but it did so anyway. If this speculation is right, then that is a milestone in the boycott campaign.

The second is that if the Tricycle were set on excluding Jews, I don’t think it would have offered to shell out from its own pocket. Linda Grant says “I’m happy to press war crimes charges against politicians and generals, but not punish ballerinas and actors because you can’t get at the powerful”. The Tricycle is not punishing Israeli film makers with exclusion – it is attempting to substitute for an Israeli Embassy funder. So I can’t see that there’s any antisemitic intent here. As for antisemitic effects, that’s another matter (update: Nick Cohen on the racist nature of discriminatory double standards). But it doesn’t have to be antisemitic to be plain wrong.

The third is that refusing Israeli funding is indeed a measure towards ‘neutrality’. But, reading the statement, the neutrality they seem to be referring to is between opposing British partisans, not between Israel and Hamas. Because if the Tricycle were to accept Israeli funds, there would be a tornado of rage from British anti-Israel activists which would bring a response in kind from the supporters of Israel, and there would be an almightly fight all over the festival, driving away the tender punters and draining the energies of the director and board.

Another is that the Tricycle cannot be neutral in the actual conflict by refusing to take Israeli Embassy money when Hamas has no intention of giving it money. The Israeli Embassy is not even in the same league as Hamas. We clearly need to revisit who Hamas are – even if you think that Israel’s strategy is ill-fated, Hamas are a self-declaredly implacable and legitimate enemy. Who will actually cheer the Tricycle’s decision? My prediction is Israel-eliminationists, pro-Hamas activists, Islamists, Arab nationalists and those who are combinations of each. You can judge a controversial action by what the people who like it stand for.

Another is that the ‘plague on both their houses’ approach of not “accepting funding from any party to the conflict” makes me ache for a Hamas that did actually want to fund the kind of arts which theatres like the Tricycle host. What a genuine bridge to understanding that could be. Then the Tricycle could fund both, and the supporters of each would flock to watch. As militant Islamists, I doubt Hamas likes artists because artists tend to be resolutely independent-minded. Israel, on the other hand, is a hothouse for critical films about Israel.

Another is that it’s a big development for boycotting Israel to be considered ‘neutrality’ when it has always been the acceptable front of a longstanding campaign to end Israel’s actual existence. Is the Tricycle’s decision a sign that the boycott is changing its identity to something more constructive? Perhaps but I am a long way from being convinced.

Another is that there is something penetrating about the equal treatment of Israel and Hamas, because it is a neat way to expose differences and inequalities. So when the BBC reports equally, it throws into relief the discrepancies between Gaza and Israel – the number of deaths, the affluence, or the amount of firepower, or the protections available to ordinary residents. When the Tricycle boycotts both Israel and Hamas, you realise that Hamas doesn’t like the arts at all although – as we now know – it has plenty of spare cash.

Another is that the Tricycle caused a self-boycott on the part of UKJFF, because its quest for a quiet life on the home front was interpreted by the Jewish organisers as a wedge to part Jews from the world’s only Jewish state. A few things about this. Though my knowledge about UK Jewry is slim, I know that it is normal for most Jews to have family ties to Israel – that’s the way the cookie crumbled for European Jews after the Holocaust. I also know that in countries where antisemitism is waxing – France, for example – Jews are more susceptible to come-hithers from Israel. I haven’t mentioned the (more positive) spiritual and emotional connection between Jews and Israel, but I understand it’s pretty strong. Under the circumstances, I doubt that attempts to pry apart Jews and Israel will have much success – although without these pressures I’m certain that Israel would come to feel more and more distinct. It is after all, its own place, and it has never given much support to Jews who live outside Israel. And for the moment it has an awful government. But for now, for many Jews, if even at the back of their mind, Israel is their insurance against a resurgence of expulsions, statelessness and physical attacks.

Another is that I hope I’ve exposed as a black joke Nicholas Hytner’s comment that it’s the UKJFF who, though they have always been funded by the Israeli Embassy “have unwisely politicised a celebration of Jewish culture”.

The UK Jewish Film Festival will take place, but keep an eye out for the new venues.

Update 9th August

It’s looking worse and worse for the Tricycle. Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row barristers’ chambers examines has a UK Human Rights blogpost examining whether the Tricycle Theatre has broken the law. He draws attention to the Tricycle’s self-description as an organisation that “views the world through a variety of lenses, bringing unheard voices into the mainstream” (ringing hollow right now). he also sheds light on the tiny amount (should have realised it would be tiny if the Tricycle were offering to cover it) which was probably also a tiny proportion of the overall funding. Nick Cohen points out that the Israeli Embassy did not impose any conditions on the donation. He also points out that the money the Tricycle proposed to substitute for the Israeli money comes from the UK state, which has gone to war in Iraq with drastic loss of human life. The double standards on Israel are unjustifiable. We need to get to the bottom of why only Israel? It is not far-fetched to suppose that at the heart of this is latent unintentional bias against Jews.

Update 16th August

Despite 500 artistic signatories to a letter defending The Tricycle against allegations of antisemitism, the theatre decided to revoke the conditions on the UK Jewish Film Festival. This was a happy outcome, but one which for me was marred by worry that it didn’t represent any change of heart on the part of the Trike. On Twitter the campaign to boycott the theatre – including @TalOfer and @BoycottTricycle – was elated. They should be proud of a well-organised campaign, but they seemed to care more about touting the decision as their victory than celebrating it as an victory of anti-discrimination activism. Maybe they were right – other funders had begun to pull out of the Trike, so maybe it had no choice. In which case, the new decision is not enlightened but forced. Better forced than nothing, but I’m left with a feeling of disquiet and questions about the Trike’s motives. Could they have been persuaded, or was money and the most strident voices the only thing that talked? Are they still susceptible to this antisemitic variety of anti-Zionism which singles out Israel alone for special penalties? The anti-Zionists are livid and mystified, and determined to be the loudest voices and the biggest sticks. For its part the Tricycle’s and UKJFF’s joint statement did nothing to illuminate the situation, or really explain its take on reconciliation. It needed to be clearer about its principles in order for the decision not to be seen by the increasing number of people with antisemitic instincts as a capitulation to Jewish power. As Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles remarked on Twitter, “The Jewish film festival ban/un-ban by Tricycle Theatre” has been a disaster from beginning to end. I wonder if there is still space for reason, persuasion, empathy, and compassion.

Is it pro-Palestinian?

Not in my name

For example Laurie Penny says that although Jews aren’t responsible for Palestinian deaths, their opinions carry extra weight and could “make a difference” when raised in opposition to Israel. “It is not anti-Semitic to say “not in my name””.

Picking through that, she’s obviously not expecting to make a difference with the Israeli government since they’re not even taking a steer from the US government at the moment. And she’s not addressing Palestinians (who may by now understand the limits of moral support – very nice thanks but here we still are, cooped up and dying). She’s definitely exhibiting her own political credentials, which matter only within her political bubble. And she may be hoping to inoculate herself against the now prevalent antisemitic view that all Jews should be assumed to support child-killing unless they say otherwise. Isn’t that a bit like urging Muslims to speak up against ISIS massacres? Don’t Jews held to political tests deserve solidarity?

Conclusion: self-centred cop-out.

Palestinian flags

For example, the “gesture of solidarity” from Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman is a stunt which exceeds his office and misuses a local government institution. How can a Palestinian flag have any impact as a symbol of peace when the Israeli flag is absent? It’s a partisan nationalistic symbol.

Conclusion: competitive, vicarious nationalism.

Writing a letter, as a Jew

Plenty of letters have been written by people and groups who wish to ostentatiously set themselves apart from the Jewish establishment.

I don’t get it. If you have a Jewish background but you’re not part of a Jewish communal organisation then you don’t get to send a representative to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the organisation which was formed to allow UK Jewry to make official, democratically negotiated representation to UK government, or its equivalent for your country. That’s understandable – so go and publish your own letter, as long as you don’t make out that your local group of elected Jewish representatives is invalid (I realise this needs more examples, but it’s late…). It probably has its tribulations and gets through them OK. Or if your Jewish communal organisation decides not to send a representative to the BOD but prefers to use the BOD as a counterfoil, then you’re in an anti-establishment clique which represents a cliquey, niche kind of Jewishness. But well done you for being so fresh and diverse. You’ll stand out really nicely against the silent, confused, hurting majority of Jews who feel unable to speak up for Gazans if it’s anti-Zionists and Jew-baiters trying to make them, and who understand enough to hate what Hamas stand for as much as they hate the sight of smashed up Palestinians.

Conclusion: loathsome identity politics from the dullest radicals.

Calling it a Holocaust

Telling Jews that they of all people should have learned from the Holocaust not to treat other people like the Nazis treated them is vindictively stupid. If I think of them as ignorant,  and beside themselves with grief, fear or rage, I can just about bring myself to explain Palestinian men drawing Hitler moustaches and swastikas on pictures Netanyahu and burning them, but when this is picked up by social media with such evident enthusiasm, Bob From Brockley explains the significance.

Conclusion: casual antisemitism of moralising simpletons influenced (maybe unwittingly) by Hamas &tc media strategists.

Fake pictures and other exaggerations

So many fake or misunderstood pictures and so much misinformation that people begin to doubt any of the reportage. On that, read this. Passing off artistic interpretations of a terrible situation as documentary evidence only sends the message that the truth isn’t actually very impressive and we can all relax.

Conclusion: lying and careless retweeting betrays any cause.

Boycotting Israel

The call is to boycott Israel in its entirety until it fulfills a list of requirements. The poorly hidden agenda is to wipe Israel off the map. “Colonization”? By whom? Nobody. “All Arab lands”? If they meant end the occupation they’d say it. “Dismantle the wall”? Not so fast – remember all those suicide bombers and all that Israeli civilian blood? “the right of Palestinian refugees to return”? That’s 12 or so million people who are designated refugees only because the countries where they live (many of whom made life unbearable for local Jews) refused to give them citizenship to keep up pressure on Israel. Imagine any politician even attempting to pull off that scale of immigration at home.

Conclusion: simple partisanship – Palestinian nationalism good, Israeli nationalism evil.

Blaming Israel for antisemitic attacks on Jews in the name of Palestinians

A seriously depressing and disturbing form of Palestine activism – particularly since so many on the Israeli left find it convenient to instrumentalise these attacks on Jews outside Israel as evidence that the Israeli strategy of confinement and bouts of force is failing.

I’m missing it out cos I’m going to bed.

Anything positive, whatsoever?

For those who are genuinely interested, plenty – but I can’t see any low hanging fruit. The easiest is reversing the empathy deficit – so hard to do in Israel or the occupied territories. Also easy, trying to understand, giving consideration to all sides from the religious Israeli settlers to the genocidal jihadis. Refusing to be in a bubble. Paying attention to honest reportage from brave journalists, and commentary from experts who are interested in peace rather than winning. Insisting that humans at risk of harm are at the centre of all conflict considerations. Insisting that every death is investigated, amplifying alternative plans for ending the conflict. Finding ways to drive a wedge between Israel and the expanding settlements, which might include selective boycott. Not leaving it to pro-Israel partisans to hold Hamas to account. Not leaving it to pro-Palestine partisans to hold Israel to account. Refusing to import the conflict. Rejecting zero-sum game politics. Pursuing a vision of peace which doesn’t involve punishing and demeaning one or other of the parties in the conflict. Being careful not to damage the credibility of Palestinian or Israeli politicians by folding them into your own agenda.