Along for the ride:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Seagulls and Other Flying Memories

I began this post with the intention of writing about seagulls and their ever-present swooping, squabbling and squawking. Cross, demanding sandwich-snatching beach seagulls; transformed into beautiful wraiths with plumage lit rose-gold, by ocean sunsets, wheeling and corkscrewing in the last of daylight. Huddled, hunch-backed on the green grass of an inland field; harbingers of a wicked storm beyond the shore. Seagulls have been the background singers in many of the memories of my life.

Peter Warlock writes "I am living now in a little wooden house on the highest part of the moor that separates the two seas, north and south, between Zennor and Penzance. All around, on all sides, nothing but open moorland and rock-strewn hills, mostly crowned with marvelous Druidic temples. Without leaving the house I can see the sun rise at five in the morning, and watch it sink at night into the sea. The sky never grows dark; the darkness seems rather to come welling out of the earth like a dye, oozing into every shape and form, every twig and every stone, keen, intense blackness..."

The quote above is from a book called "From Cornwall with Love". It is a collection of evocative photos by Bob Croxford, and is accompanied by an anthology of writings about the part of the world I call home, even though I don't get home very often. It is the kind of coffee-table book that is a great gift to bring back from vacation to give to the friend who watered your garden or fed your cats whilst you were away. This copy was my gift to me. I can glimpse the little villages and safe harbours of the rocky Cornish coast and smile in agreement at some of the things that people have written.
I went to school in Penzance, of Pirate fame. The local rugby team are called The Pirates. I rode sure-footed ponies of my youth up across these granite-strewn, treeless hills; and, more recently, walked these moors with my sister and "Danny the Disappearing Fucking Greyhound"; as she likes to call him. Top of Zennor moor, with a view of Mounts Bay on the one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, is where my ashes will one day be scattered to the blustery winds, or dumped down a rabbit hole; I know my sister!

"And talking of seagulls, I was about to enter Seagull City, otherwise known as Mevagissy. Here the birds swooped down the alleyways in squadrons like something Barnes Wallis had designed, dropping their bombs with a white splat on the pavement. Fortunately, these didn't bounce, but in a place like this, it was only a matter of time before one was hit". - Mark Wallington

And here I came upon another descriptive paragraph; this one serving as a sign post; "Turn Here", "New Direction" it said, as it reminded me of a movie about bouncing bombs; a true story of innovation, persistence, courage and well-spoken leadership. The Dam Busters.
I remember watching this black and white movie several times over the years, with my Father. It was and still is a good story, with many compelling characters. It exemplifies the indomitable spirit of wartime Britain, and the theme music is stirring and triumphant; so much so that we chose this as the final tune to accompany our Father's coffin as it swept through the curtains and away to the crematorium.

If you have played this video you must realize that this is a spoof of the original, very serious, film. It was turned into an advertisement for Carling Black Label Beer. My Dad would have loved this humour too. He raised us with a firm hand and a lot of Monty Python and Benny Hill. Quirky by nature and quirky by nurture, that's us. He died in August a few years ago. I'd have to look up the exact date and year. I am not diminishing the importance of his death, I just don't believe that revering the date changes anything. I don't want my warm, seagull filled memories sullied by the Alzheimer ghost vultures that pursued him at the end of his life. I prefer to imagine him laughing and telling me I have a school-girl sense of humour.


  1. It sounds so beautiful, were I not also transplanted in life, the obvious question would be "why" did you ever leave such beauty.

    Do you think you would miss where you are now if you left?

    Out of the blue, life took me back "home" to Iowa to look after my mother in late stage alzheimers. It was all the things I remembered...but I just ached for the hills and the grace of Dixie. After 40 years away, this is my home, so why do I feel the need to have my ashes where I was born? Weird.

  2. Niiiiicccceeee...

    "Quirky by nature and quirky by nurture." wouldn't have it any other way.

  3. Magical images as always. It's strange how we have this feeling of connectedness to some places and not others. I've lived all my life in the town where I was born (apart from an 18-month stint in Ireland) and I guess, barring the intervention of some major fate, I'll be here till I peg it.

  4. Even I found that ad funny!

    It is a long time since I've been to Cornwall, I used to take my daughter there on holiday and she and I explored rock pools, and cycled on (very poor) hired bikes from Penzance to Land's End. The bikes gave up on for the last 3 miles and we had to push them all the way back.

  5. I am totally attached to home. Still in the same house where I have lived all my life.

    Love the British sense of humor in all its Monty Python glory. Your Dad must have been one special guy. I can relate as my Dad always had a mischievous twinkle in his eye too.

  6. my hovercraft is FULL of eels...

  7. Oh yes, I remember that advert. It was hilarious then and it's hilarious now.

    I sympayise with the nostalgia you feel (and the sadness at your father's passing). I have been suffering a little bit of nostalgia too and keep thinking I need to go home. Problem is, last time I went home I was itching to get back here after a week. Sometimes seeing the old haunts and having some time to take them in and think about old times is all we need. Then our tanks are recharged and off we go.

  8. Dave, thanks for taking the time to visit. I had never seen this ad before. I have played it a few times this last few days and laugh each time.
    India, WHAT?
    Jean, Argent & @eloh, funny that I only lived three or four years in Cornwall. Home of my Mother and her family, I was born at Grandads house then whisked off to Nigeria at 6 weeks old. life in Africa, Holland, various parts of England, some France and Germany. Way before my trip to U.S. I knew only one place where I had roots. This is the place we returned to each time, between foreign lands and new schools. Summer vacations in the sunny house on the hill with cousins, aunts and family stories I could relate to the geography I came to know. My parents retired here. Maybe I will too.
    Friko, what do you mean "even you" found it funny?

  9. Oh, the ever-present (sea)gulls. In Southwold the local council have just passed a law making it illegal to feed them chips on the seafront. Not sure who goes to jail if you do...

  10. I'm struggling to name the two comedians in my head - the bald one was Steve someone, but the loo-brush haired one escapes me.

    Just looked them up: Stephen Frost and Mark Arden.

    Another wonderfully set post that is so evocative you could almost be there

  11. PS: India is quoting the Hungarian Phrase-book sketch from Monty Python - the book has been deliberately mis-translated to start fights: he goes into a tobacconist and starts saying things like "I will not buy this record, it is scratched" and (my favourite) "My nipples explode with delight"

  12. Hi Dotterel, thanks for stopping by. I will visit you in return (when I'm not supposed to be working).Possible movie titles "Seagulls of (Alcatraz) Southwold?"
    Pixie, obviously my Monty python Lore needs up-dating. I remember highwaymen demanding lupins but I did not know the Hungarian phrase book. I am sure I will enjoy finding out more. My sister informed me that the Frost family are from Newlyn, right next door to Penzance. The other brother is a successful artist. Sis doesn't do the computer-thing much but her brain works like a resource guide anyway.

  13. I really enjoyed reading this touching remembering. I think everyone must have seagull memories.. Love the name of the greyhound!... would have been a great racing name, lol!

  14. Watercats, Danny was mentioned in an email my sister had sent describing how much walking she was doing with a lame horse and a dog that can, and does, cover many miles in the blink of an eye. The name has stuck.

  15. One of my happiest memories was of catching the sleeper train to Penzance and having the most wonderful holiday there.


  16. It is so relaxing to catch a train, knowing that one's destination is the last station on the trip. No matter what, you can't miss your stop. Waking up to the sound of the seagulls and the sight of St Michael's Mount. Memories....