Covid buttock

Early February 2020, in Covent Garden each evening more and more of the tourists – especially the ones who looked like they were from East Asia – were wearing serious masks. I remember one man on the Central Line wearing a black N95 which looked like a double-D bra cup. Smirking is now regulated.

A former boss recently told me that when she saw me this time last year I was under the weather and wondering aloud if I had Covid. It seems deeply shocking to me now that I carried on as normal, but back then there was no framework to isolate and we were also on strike which made it even harder to stay away on the days we were supposed to work. And that week I had even been summoned to the surgery to queue in close proximity with people older than me for half an hour waiting for a blood pressure check. The norms were strongly to carry on as normal unless you had a fever, a cough or shortness of breath. Months later my borough would become one of those known as the Covid triangle – who knows how many caught it that day. As far as I can tell we’re still on our first wave – it never went away. The only other person at work I know of who lives near me lost his dad.

Between that and working in a massive cosmopolitan organisation with crowds funnelling through corridors on the hour, I’m not surprised I caught it early. On the tube into central London to meet my mum that week I started to feel very ill. Again, I didn’t know what to do – she’s not very mobile and would already be on the train from a town two counties away. The WHO had not yet declared a pandemic (though it turned out they would do so the following day). So I pressed on, breathing shallowly through my nose and touching as little as possible, including my mum whom I put next to me as far as possible away at a large table. I washed carefully and tried not to touch anything. I found it hard to find the energy to cut up the pizza. Fortunately a future study found that Covid is not associated with the Central Line, which though incredibly filthy is also incredibly turbulent.

That night I could barely lift a fork for aches. I crawled up to bed groaning – even took a painkiller – and rose in the morning determined. I only felt slightly ill until evening when the neuralgia struck again. The next morning I felt better, and the aches didn’t return. Then a week later in the shower I ritually raised my cupped hands to my nose to inhale the guilty pleasures of Superdrug B Men charcoal facial scrub (non-recyclable packaging) and smelt… Nothing.

Out of the shower, into bed and onto the net. Only the Daily Express reported the first small German study in which a small sample of Covid convalescents had lost their sense of smell and taste. Today it’s one of the three symptoms recognised by the government, but back then the evidence was embryonic.

This time I took the proper course of action: straight out of bed and into the spare room – that was 18th March 2020. That was the beginning of a long spell of meals being made for me – partly because I was polluted but even weeks later because I couldn’t season anything to taste. Without its aromatics, food became a series of rather unpleasant lumpy, sludgy sensations on the palate. For nights I wept alone with the essential oils you’re supposed to use to train your scent. If you’d asked me would I rather lose my sense of smell or hearing I’d have struggled to decide. My sense of smell is everything to me – and it was Spring for heaven’s sake. Spring is the best it gets. I sent out desperate social media calls hashtagged anosmia.

A rhinologist on Twitter warned me that smell might never come back but must have realised he’d overstepped since he protected his account the next day. He got infected a few weeks later, temporarily lost his smell, but recovered. Back in April 2020 the otorhinolaryngologists were among the first to raise the alarm about Covid-related anosmia, since they were encountering a spike in patients reporting loss of smell and taste, were peering into their throats and consequently were falling sick and dying in higher numbers than other health practitioners. My sense of smell began to return on 25th March, just as I was losing hope.

For this reason I made our reusable face coverings back in April from Matt’s old shirts with a two-layer pattern with a filter pocket and nose wire out of the garage (at this time there were the beginnings of craft supply shortages) even though the evidence supporting community use was and still is thin in contrast with the scale of the plastic waste, which is appalling. Imagine if every person in the UK used one disposable surgical mask each day for a year. It’s over 128,000 tonnes of un-recyclable plastic waste (66,000 tonnes of contaminated waste and 57,000 tonnes of plastic packaging.  It’s unconscionable. Yet that summer the Covid waste was everywhere – on verges, in gutters, in hedges, stuffed between tree roots. The UK government waited until 24th July to make face coverings mandatory inside in public places, and for some reason disposable masks are still widely available at a price that doesn’t reflect the environmental cost at all.

Sleeping alone was upsetting but with a silver lining of peace and uninterrupted sleep at what felt like the most precipitous time in our longish lives. My other half has risk factors and we were afraid. We also had a strong hunch that this particular government would fuck things up, and Brexit was rolling onward and would soon be past. Food security experts were worried, though thanks to the logistics people the country got fed. I’ve always been a stockpiler – for me it’s only prudent, equivalent to saving money in the bank or putting into a pension – it allows you to avoid panic buying and I’m surprised that most don’t seem to agree. By the time panic buying arrived, we were only really short of compost and fresh food. The first big ticket item I bought was a dehydrator – I dried many apples, oranges and, when the time came, soft fruit and tomatoes.

I used to walk in the local woods and grassland hardly anybody used because, back then, most of the borough avoided recreational walking unless there was full sun. That dramatically changed – by summer I had to litter pick gas capsules, cans and wrappers, and by mid-winter when it hardly ever wasn’t raining parts of it looked like the Somme and I stopped going because it was too depressing. Now there are desire lines all through the nesting sites because, as many will now admit, humans have a massive sense of entitlement and consider themselves outside and above nature. I began to hand-feed squirrels at the back door, but stopped when Chris Packham brought me to my senses – humans are dangerous and it is important that wild animals maintain a healthy mistrust of humans in general (he was more diplomatic). Now I feed at a distance. I think there are four individuals – Original Squirrel, Nosey, Angry and Skinny.

I had to go out of my way to get enough exercise. We’d go out alone, together or in groups of up to six, but I had been used to marching extra miles on my commute, climbing every escalator and stair and carrying heavy loads of shopping. Sat in back to back Teams Meetings day after day I didn’t develop a bad neck, shoulders or back – instead I developed one painful buttock. In late summer during surprisingly protracted negotiations for work to purchase me a gel cushion since I didn’t want to buy one of those bulky plastic computer chairs, I diagnosed myself with muscle wastage and started NHS Couch To 5k. I never in my life expected to be able to run non-stop for 30 minutes, but Couch to 5k is a great scheme.  But as the rain started to fall that winter it became clear I couldn’t continue – I couldn’t leave the path and run in the mire, and I couldn’t be breathing heavily in such proximity to the walkers. The second big ticket item I purchased was a rowing machine – a good one from Waterrower, which arrived before the Christmas break. I haven’t run since. I hate both running and rowing but my buttock is cured.

A week on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (Part 1)

An eight-day walk from Poppit Sands in Ceredigion to Broadhaven near St Davids, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. After around 15 years of long distance walking, this is the first where I phoned ahead to arrange vegan food and found that the majority of places had dedicated vegan menus or were otherwise apprised and prepared. Thanks to Eat Out Vegan Wales for signposting us to those places.

Day 0 23rd July – Poppit Sands

Sunday travel by public transport took us out of our way. We travelled the entire day and after a brief sojourn in Haverfordwest (huge potential, needs some love – like a better riverbank and picnic tables which can’t melt) arrived at YHA Poppit Sands, a clifftop hostel with superb views over the Teifi estuary.

We then quickly walked the two miles to St Dogmaels down along the coast road for dinner at the Ferry Inn, St Dogmael’s, the first of several dedicated vegan menus. We sat in the corner, with this view, and I watched the tide crawl in over the mud. Then we walked the two miles back and watched it some more.

Salt marsh at St Dogmael's, low tide, dusk

Salt marsh at St Dogmaels, dusk

Day 1 24th July – YHA Poppit Sands to Newport (14.5 miles)

YHA Poppit Sands is self-catering only (the kitchen is gorgeous), so we had brought a breakfast of flapjack (plus some bread I saved from dinner).

Beautiful fitted kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

Well put-together kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

On the first day the weather was cool and cloudy. Unaccustomed to the gradient, we huffed and puffed our way up through the bracken to Cemaes Head where we turned out of the estuary onto the rolling high cliff promenades of that corner of the country. At Ceibwr Bay we stopped for a break and I walked into the crystal water and skimmed stones. I forget where we ate our Uncle Ben’s rice but I remember the rice. The Mexican one is very good.

Skimming stones at Ceibwr Bay

Four bounces

Newport is one of those places where the beach is the other side of the estuary from the town. We were booked into a spacious, comfortable room in the roof of the friendly Castle Inn and after a shower and a change we went for a walk round the village. There were curlews on the mudflats and a Kiwi hiker in the youth hostel who had knackered his feet. We hadn’t stayed in the Youth Hostel because there were only single sex dorms, and I’m done with dorms until after Brexit when I expect the dorms will come to me.

You can’t tell from the website at the moment but The Castle Inn has a vegan menu too – there’s plenty to choose from and the onion rings are fantastic.

Day 2 25th July – Newport to Fishguard (12.5 miles)

From the health food shop in Newport we bought big sausage rolls and tomatoes for our lunch boxes. We walked out of Newport through Parrog in bright warm sun under a sky full of plump little clouds. On Dinas Head we met a older woman whose companion was urging her on – she wasn’t really making progress and told us she had never walked anywhere this rough before. Just as you come off Dinas to the west is Pwllgwaelod Beach and the Jolly Sailor, with this view from the beer garden.



It’s a lovely spot – we drank orange and soda and watched the bathers. The pub had run out of ice, which was disappointing since at that time I had solved my sensitive teeth but not my iron deficiency and was counting on it. Then we carried on for a bit and ate our sausage rolls in a far quieter cwm opening a little further along. London was roasted by record-breaking temperatures that week, but on the Pembs coast refreshing sea breezes disguised our developing sunburn.

By the time we reached lower Fishguard we were tired. It’s a place with fast driving holiday makers and no pavements, followed by a final slog to the upper town and our bed for the night which was Manor Townhouse on Main Street. We explored a little before eating at Jeera as recommended for vegans by the B&B. It was a very good meal, except we forgot that coconut rice from Bangladeshi restaurants is full of jaggery. I ate most of it anyway. The outside of the toilet door was very strangely painted, like a sort of 3D pure white Jackson Pollack.

We moved on to the Royal Oak where a folk band was in full swing, but a bad sinus migraine forced Matt home and I went too. It cleared with painkillers, and I got to sit in the window and look at dusk merging where the sea met the sky.

Fishguard Harbour at dusk

From upper Fishguard

Hundreds of jackdaws live in Fishguard, and they had a lot to say to each other all night.

There’s no fishmonger in Fishguard, or anywhere else nearby. The fish are gone – just farmed ones with lice now, fed on soy beans.

Day 3 26th July – Fishguard to Pwll Deri (10 miles)

The vegan cooked breakfast at the Manor Townhouse was a cut above. We left Fishguard with provisions for two days, since we wouldn’t see anywhere selling food until Trefin. From the Coop we had rolls, avocado and tomato for that day’s lunch, then Uncle Ben’s for dinner, and more for the next day’s lunch. And I think we bought more flapjack for breakfast. Then some smokey tofu from the health food shop. I also indulged myself with ground coffee for the youth hostel mornings.

Next morning the weather was still good, and then suddenly it wasn’t. The path up onto the cliffs and around the bay had a distinctly suburban feel. Fishguard Bay is said to have a rainy microclimate, and so it proved. By the time we dropped down to the harbour it was raining fairly hard. In our coats we sweated up an irritating zig zag wooded path up to the road through Goodwick and onto the cliffs again with no visibility. In the fog we met a small party and idiscovered they were the family of that week’s volunteer managers of our destination, YHA Pwll Deri. This cluster of Youth Hostels is staffed by volunteers, working a week each.

By the time the weather cleared, my Teva’d feet had blisters and the New Skin dressing wouldn’t stay on. I changed into my cursed boots, and walked the final miles with maddeningly hot feet, and hot booted feet are painful feet. I couldn’t enjoy the tumble of Strumble Head and was miserable until I got those boots off at YHA Pwll Deri.

It had only been 10 miles, if rough ones, and we had time to sit around in the hostel with its stunning views from the dining area and terrace outside. It’s remote, with only cliff between it and the sea.  Strumble Head is back to the north and to the south is the strikingly straight edge of land you can see in the picture – not a finger but an upturned edge which we would walk along the next morning. After our dinner of Uncle Ben’s rice and tofu, I talked to a nice art teacher from St Albans and we watched the sun set over the sea.

The view south from the dining area of YHA Pwll Deri

From the dining room at YHA Pwll Deri

Day 4 27th July – Pwll Deri to Trefin

Next morning after flapjack and ground coffee we set out along that pictured edge in strong wind and bright sun lighting up the purple bell heather and yellow gorse. I had expected this from the expressionist crayon sketches the art teacher had shown me, but somehow through scribbling she had really captured its essence. A scramble down the rocks took us to another secluded little cwm opening, accessible only from the coast path, which I think was called Pwllstrodur. We ate our rolls, paddled and watched young cows graze improbably far down the edge of a cliff, while a lone seal watched us in turn from the water. When the one other couple there left, they said the seal is on good terms with their B&B owner, and swims with her and her dogs.

At Abercastle the beach was quite busy, with blowy, dusty sand. We sat on a sort of mini sea wall until a man parked on the beach right in front of our view and drove off in a small motorboat with a couple of kids. Then on to Trefin, where the road to the sea ends at a ruined chapel at the head of a narrow, rocky, wave-lashed opening into the sea. We didn’t particularly enjoy a pint at the Ship, which though empty had a bar tender who couldn’t be bothered. Then through to Torbant Farmhouse where the kind host can’t do enough for you and the place is an elegy to the 1980s. But along the road is the good Square and Compass Inn where the chef is vegan and so consequently is half the menu. Welsh is spoken in that pub, which isn’t so usual in Pembs. A wildly good burger. Later three farmers came in and talked about everything under the sun.

Days 5 to 7 – St David’s, Solva and Broadhaven – coming soon.


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.

Modern palm reading

I am frustrated by my other-worldliness in not using Facebook very much. That aside, I’ve been using Gephi to analyse my Facebook social network (which I downloaded using this GetNet tool – hat tip Lada Adamic). I ran a simple analysis to display who of my friends are connected to whom. The three big clusters are left wing politics, my former workplace and my older friends. The nodes between these are interesting – these people can carry news and culture between strongly-connected networks. Matt (my other half) has the most connections – and given that this is my social network we’re looking at, this indicates that our social lives have a lot in common. I knew that.

What does yours look like?


World Vegan Month #11 (poor form)

Another installment of my self-imposed blogging regime – consumption, animals in the news, and animal encounters. I noticed I had two #7s so I’m skipping #10.


Oh dear, looking back it’s a strange day again. Please rest assured that not all vegans browse like me. Many keep regular mealtimes and have an unremarkable amount of carbohydrates.

  • Breakfast: it’s the weekend so I have a little holiday from Sainsbury’s Fruit & Fibre which in any case is at work in its humungous box. Instead I made bread in the bread maker overnight and ate one slice with Meridian Peanut Butter and another slice with Matt’s posh aged Marmite. And Suma spread. And Co-op filter coffee. We have stopped bothering with the filter because it sinks to the bottom of the cup fine.
  • Midday – a cup of Pukka Love tea, out in Gants Hill.
  • Lunch – 2 Co-op custard doughnuts (yes, vegan). They aren’t very big.
  • Second lunch – by 3.30pm I had sorted out the front garden, helped somebody rehearse something, got groceries, and washed up. I made a clear soup of finely chopped leek, potato and carrot with Kallo stock and herbs I grew (bay, oregano, sage), with a splash of cider vinegar and a splash of Sainsbury’s Vermouth, also vegan.
  • Strange non-meal – undisclosed number Cypressa breadsticks with houmous.
  • More food – a pear, a satsuma, a plum.

Animals in the news

  • Over on Meatinfo I learn that the first UK Halal abattoir has been certified. I couldn’t help noticing that the commenters were overwrought about this, considering that non-Halal abattoirs are known for terror and cruelty. It’s not actually about the animals, is it chaps.
  • Meatinfo seem to be saying that we can expect horsemeat until 2016.
  • The Wildlife Trusts have a badger vaccination programme you could consider supporting. Contrast this with the government-funded slaughter of badgers so that people can continue to leech off the lactating mother of another species.


  • Black fly on the potted black mint I have in the kitchen. I killed these with soapy water. Does anybody have anything to say about this?
  • Different flies in the compost heap, where the apple waste from cider making is, along with a woollen jumper of Matt’s – and latterly the clothes moths – and even more latterly, the worms..
  • Woodlice under the ox-eye daisies I pulled from the cracks in the concrete of our front path.
  • A beautiful yellow and dark brown snail, of a kind I haven’t seen round here.
  • More cat shit in the garden – thank you neighbours.
  • The usual post-bin-day meat-related rubbish round the garden. Whiskas tin this time. Usually it’s pedigree chum. Once again, thanks neighbours.



World Vegan Month #7

Struggling this week to fulfil my self-imposed commitment. I swype this from my phone.

In the news
Would have had to go out of my way but I didn’t.
Except they’ve experimented on mice again – this time to stimulate hair regrowth where there has been hair loss.

Fell apart this week. Not a great advert for a vegan diet. Please ignore.

Breakfast – nothing, just work.
Lunch – packed leftover sweetcorn, potato, salad.
Then nuts from M&S. Then  jellybeans.
Left over fruit platter at work.
Dinner – half a courgette, 1 carrot, some kale, steamed.  5 Redwood ham sandwich slices, fried. 4 rice cakes, 2 with marmite and 2 with blackberry jam.

I asked if either of the two vegetarian burgers at the Ed’s Diner near work were vegan. The answer is no.

While at work searching the creative commons database Photopin for keyword ‘sticky’ I came across a cat whose entire head had been encased in a hollowed out pineapple with a visor cut into it. What a horrible thing to do.

What death really says is THINK

So says Leon Wieseltier, author of Kaddish. Today another friend died and tomorrow the funeral will take place in Manchester. Kaddish, the Jewish mourners’ prayer will be said, as it was said today at the bat mitzvah I attended in North West London. Among the observant, Jewish funerals are arranged very quickly, which is why I may be the only member of my very small family to attend. Our friend was a good friend of my dad’s. At my own dad’s funeral I was busy and dry-eyed, so I am wondering what grief will feel like at this one.

Kaddish is not a prayer of comfort but an insistent drumbeat to sideline death and daunt you with your own insignificance. Allen Ginsberg, estranged from Jewishness, wrote this poem, Kaddish, between 1957 and 59 after the death of his mother Naomi. From it,

Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless, Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I’m hymnless, I’m Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore

Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not light or darkness, Dayless Eternity—

Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some of my Time, now given to Nothing—to praise Thee—But Death

This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Wonderer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping—page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God’s perfect Darkness—Death, stay thy phantoms!


World vegan month #4

I am on the train without my stylus so this daily post is necessarily short.

At The Royal Albert, Deptford way, I had Tap East Tonic on draught which according to Barnivore is vegan. I researched this in advance to avoid embarrassment at the bar.

I ate fruit and fibre, last night’s dinner for lunch, two M&S salads for dinner and some Divine Orange and Ginger chocolate for snack.

In Cornwall are blue sharks. They don’t tell you why they have come: hunger.

This is my stop.

Update: p40 of The Standard, goats climb Argan trees in Morocco to eat their olive-like fruits.

Goodbye Shaun Downey

by Shaun Downey

To quote the man himself – though he didn’t have the chance to warn us this time – “hiatus”. “Termination”.

Terrible news – Shaun Downey died a young man of 50.  I didn’t know him well but he was clearly a very fine person. I thought I’d say so here because I couldn’t get a comment up on his blog and because I can’t attend the gathering of bloggers who will raise a toast to him later this month.

Spring is the wrong time for death. Buds and sun rays insult bereavement horribly – I wish his family well. Recently Sean was photographing spring flowers. Just look at these.  And the cats, ayayay – I only sometimes overcame my disapproval of his contributions to this internet epidemic. And it was Sean who first alerted me to the extreme sedentary nature of British sport, which I then went on about for most of the Olympics. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if we shared politics, other times I was. Ultimately so what – you can tell from his blog that he was a man of humour and love.

Here’s a proper obit, inside another.


Also from Simply Jews, from Khanya – Shaun’s Poor Mouth can still speak, and Knatolee whose hen haiku contest Sean won. A lot of people Shaun hardly or never met felt a connection with him, a gift that until now I assumed was unique to celebrities. Roland Dodds found him somehow, and liked his style.

Lost in space, but I don’t know where he is

This one’s for Neil and about him – Monochrome, by The Sundays, the final song from their final album Static and Silence.

It’s four in the morning July in ’69
Me and my sister
We crept down like shadows
They’re bringing the moon right down to our sitting room
Static and silence and a monochrome vision

They’re dancing around
Slow puppets silver ground
And the world is watching with joy
We hear a voice from above and it’s history
And we stayed awake all night

And something is said and the whole room laughs aloud
Me and my sister
Looking on like shadows
The end of an age as we watched them walk in a glow
Lost in space, but I don’t know where it is

They’re dancing around
Slow puppets silver ground
And the stars and stripes in the sand
We hear a voice from above and it’s history
And we stayed awake all night

They’re dancing around
It sends a shiver down my spine
And I run to look in the sky and
I half expect to hear them asking to come down
Oh will they fly or will they fall
To be excited by a long late night