Life on the Edge; Autumn 2016



“We are surrounded by goodness, kindness, wonder and beauty. But, it’s human nature to take for granted the billions of beneficial bacteria, curse the bug that gives us influenza; gloss over the myriad songbirds, remember and, damn the seagull that snatches our chips…” The Damnathon ©Coudrille 2016

I was intrigued to see that the new hand-wash in the kitchen is called: Organic Surge.

Heard out loud it sounds as though pampered sheep have given their wool for a Jaeger trench-coat. But printed and read, the legend is unsettling. The suggestion of something both healthy and, unstoppable makes me think of the way I felt about girls when I was sixteen: if I once risk scrubbing my nails with the stuff, will it be content to loiter by the sink in case I pass by and fancy another wash? No. It will whistle and, if I ignore it, throw gravel at my window at two o’clock in the morning.

Splatter the label how you may with tiny print saying how delicate the fragrance, how mild the action, the damage is done. (It’s not mild anyway; ten minutes afterwards it feels though the skin has been tightened by an algorithm for faces in wedding photographs.)

I think then that I’ll avoid Antimicrobial Alkalis, and stick with good old-fashioned Soap. You know where you are with Sunlight and Pears.*

But Organic Surge could well describe the Summer of 2016 here on the Edge of Southernmost Cornwall, which culminated in a hyper-abundance of Sunlight and Apples.

Back in the Spring, the Tabloid Newspapers had shouted:

“BRITAIN is on a 10-day countdown to the start of what is shaping up to be the hottest summer in more than A CENTURY.”

This would have brought small comfort to the people staring from their bacon-smelling boarding-houses (or worse, tents) at rain like scaffold poles during a June that was, quote: the “WETTEST on RECORD.”

But, the unusual sequence of soak and scorch was amazing for the plants. Some that usually only flower in Autumn sprang to vivid extravagance in May and now, the Buddleias that startle us early with their brief bobbles are still thrusting out honey-scented lumps of colour to the delight of the butterflies and, the stragglers remaining from the thousands of bees that flocked in while pundits were saying there were no bees.

The Echiums, sucked dry, rattle their skeletons in the stiffening wind while droves of their grandchildren are already in infant leaf menacing the lawn.  Animate life has burgeoned too. Foxes have begat with success; the cubs are now gawky teenagers, glimmering through the bracken like orange ghosts.

Two yards from my feet a weary Blue-Tit is feeding a petulant babe; this has to be a second or even, a third brood. Jackdaws and, Jackdaw babes that look like small Rooks save for their startling blue eyes, are super-abundant. As are the Magpies.

The Sparrow Hawk thunders through like an express-train snatching mail-bags, yet the small songbirds remain more numerous than I can remember. I cannot tell one from another but I have noticed a finch that gains advantage by hovering, unlike the other finches, which do not.

There are but two carrion crows. One is content to fly, to give of its raucous song and to roost peaceably; and the other (and, try as I might to distinguish it, to me it looks just like the well-behaved one) cartwheels through the sky cackling in an eldritch falsetto like a Disney witch. It divebombs the seagulls, terrorises the Dunnocks and even feints at the mighty Ravens. It raps on the French windows at dawn like a Woodpecker on amphetamine. It mutters at its reflection in what sounds like abusive terms. Worse, it has plucked, eye-like, the sparkling badge from the venerable nose of my car and, put mushrooms on the roof. It has perched on the wing-mirrors and pecked dog’s tooth dags in the rubber seals around the windows. It has made free with the windscreen wipers. It has covered the glass in spit and the doors in shit. Does this Crow in its own world have a name? I wonder.  If so, I don’t know it. We have failed to bond. I have cawed back. I have offered it biscuits. It ignores me. If it continues in its misdemeanours, I may have to Take Steps.

From a cosmic perspective, we human beings are as numerous as the birds and it must be tough for even an Omniscient God to identify us all, to tell one from another. By our names? Having reached the age where names are elusive in a mere seven decades, I doubt if the Ancient of Days pays much attention to names. From our looks? We change our clothes, our spectacles, our expressions, as often as a classical composer changes key. We may however be recognised by our daily wave and smile, if in gratitude for our blessings we take the trouble to say hullo. Otherwise I suspect that it is by our bad behaviour that we are remembered.                                   JXC Cadgwith

*Sunlight and Pears are British brands of soap hallowed by time and famed for their unscented purity. 

Life On The Edge

High Summer, Early Autumn 2015

Autumn FlotsamOur weather is changeable, our climate comfortable. In the toe-numbing Russian and Canadian snows, and even more while sweating under the Equator’s plunging sunsets I learned to yearn for the sort of mild damp Cornish Summer’s Day that we’re all so sniffy about.

Yes recently I’ve had my fill of damp, although there is beauty to be beheld even as the rain drips from one’s eyebrows onto one’s sandwich in liquid moonstones against a sky of slate. Indeed, the sky is the secondary – sometimes primary – subject of many of my paintings, for on The Lizard’s high plateau it surrounds us like a marquee. Often, as at the time of writing, it is blameless blue. Equally often, clouds of heavenly clotted cream chased by an ominous liquorice sorbet scroll from the headlands over a seething ocean, and there is: precipitation.

After each Deluge, the sodden, empty beaches reflect skies of that intense and luminous neutrality otherwise encountered inside an oyster-shell.

Then do the hotel monopoly boards get sticky and dog-eared and the slot-machines grow fat; it’s good for the Attractions and it’s truly rotten for the poor souls who have elected to holiday under canvas, for not all are skilled or imperturbable as my late father who could smilingly conjure a driftwood fire to grill bacon and, boil the billycan in a downpour. Wet grass was ever the least lovely of bedding, the paths turn to slides and shoes grow mildew hanging from the tent-frames. Unbelievably, perhaps due to a dry winter, the soil beneath the muddy layer of misery is as the dust in a Pharaoh’s tomb, and the plants are protesting.

I came late to gardening, not wishing to put down roots of my own while the bejewelled finger of experience beckoned.

But one’s point of view changes with growing up, and during my years of exile I spent more and more time in parks and gardens soaking up the artificial landscape and, the Horticulture.

I returned to Cornwall in 1989 when my dear father died; I stayed, not least so that my daughter should be born here and have in her blood and bones what I have in mine.

In the quarter-century I had been away, there had been a transformation. The croft around the quarry was now fenced off, and on our side of the fence a tangle of blackthorn had employed the time entombing the chamomile lawns; impenetrable blackthorn lagged around with honeysuckle and brambles had made a Sleeping Beauty forest of what had been my childhood playground.

My mother had once cultivated vegetables with success, and for pleasure stuck various perennials – the more exotic the better – into the little pockets of earth among the general bedrock of our land, so Hebes and Buddleias and giant Agaves rioted, but she was no longer young and her asparagus beds and artichoke enclaves had gone the way of the chamomile and were inaccessible even to the booted and gaitered Bold.

I disliked digging, but when Xenia was born I celebrated by planting trees in the few spots I could reach. When she was two I thought she should have a bluebell wood to play in. Power tools are powerless against ankle-thick blackthorn, dragons’ teeth brambles and vines like a hangman’s rope, so to tackle the Maquis, I sought a Macheté. There was a garage that sold tools for a pound. The Store-Piskie did not have any Machetés, she said.

Save for This one, she said. She hauled it from under the counter with both skinny wrists. It crackled like a thunder-sheet. It was – is – three feet long, and looks like something Goliath might have hoped to use for bisecting David.

Do you not have something smaller? I asked.

No, she said. Just this.

Oh, I said. How much is it? It’s a pound, she said. Everything’s a pound.

There was at the time a gangsta-busting police initiative: they were arresting anyone found carrying even a small penknife, especially innocent librarians, and the jail terms seemed to run at six months an inch. I looked at the oily glint of the wicked length along the counter.

Slowly I handed over my pound. I put Excalibur into the car with apprehension and drove, very inconspicuously, home. Twenty years on, the implement gleams less but slashes and smashes as well as ever. It is the reason I still have muscular arms, scarred toecaps and, a Labyrinth.

The idea of the Labyrinth is as ancient as architecture, as mysterious as fog. There’s something about being lost and finding your way that is deeply printed on the human spirit; after all, those who have found their way have contributed more to the gene pool than those that have not. I found my way home, and went on to find amazement.

I made a start with the idea only of navigating to the vague middle of the wood. What resulted may be the subject of my next article…