From the sea to the land beyond

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Cornwall is a special place for me.

The first time I ever visited was just before we were married and it has been a constant in our lives ever since. I’m not quite sure what it is that captures my imagination, it just feels so completely different to Yorkshire and if I think about it, pretty much most counties in the UK.

As the traveller heads South West in England, the counties get more mystical the further west one travels. From the ancient prehistoric majesty of the stones in Wiltshire, to the spirituality of Glastonbury in Somerset and the deceptive chocolate box beauty of Devon, these are all precursors to the unique county (or some would say country in itself) of Cornwall.

We holidayed with the kids for many years in Cornwall, camping at the same campsite – Rose Hill in Porthtowan – on the North Coast. Cornwall is a small county and it doesn’t take many visits to become accustomed to its charms. The North coast has the crashing drama of the Atlantic and the south coast has a delicate coast of inlets and beautiful ports. The land in between ranges from rolling countryside awash with sleepy villages and hamlets, seemingly lost in time, surrounded by rugged moorland and magical valleys locked in their own eco systems.

It does have an otherworldly feel too. The far western tip of the county is the western most point on mainland UK and this feels like nowhere else in the country and the Lizard peninsula to which it is attached is full of mystery and Cornish legend. There are of course more workaday cities and towns in Cornwall that to be fair look and feel very similar to every other high street in the country, but that seems to be the blight of modern living with homogenised towns and to some degree lifestyle.

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Cornwall does its own thing and wears its tourism crown lightly. In summer, the tourist hotspots and jammed and the spectacular beaches full to bursting, just as they should be with tourism being the major source of income. In the winter it has a very different feel. The masses have long gone and the towns and cities get back to living a relatively normal life.

This week I took the girl down to Falmouth for her University interview. She’s looking at a few options and Falmouth University College is one of them. Falmouth on a cold, stormy day in February is actually pretty good. There are still a few half-term visitors milling about listlessly and the locals and students seem quite happy to have the place to themselves.

We booked into a very nice B&B and whilst the girl was being interviewed, I had a wander. I know Falmouth very well of course from previous visits as it was always our default place to visit on a wet day when the beach wasn’t an option. It’s always therefore a surprise to me that the sun does shine there from time to time. Falmouth has an edge to it in comparison to some other towns in Cornwall and I think it’s the seafaring history and although lots of the maritime links have long gone, there is still a large ship repair yard on the outskirts of the town.

In 1688, Falmouth was made the Royal mail packet station and news from around the world landed there first, including the Victory of Trafalgar and nelson’s death. I was also quite taken with the fact that Darwin landed here in the Beagle after his voyage of discovery that changed the way we think about evolution. The excellent book by Harry Thompson This thing of darkness uses Darwin’s voyage of discovery to wonderful effect – I wrote about it here.

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It’s this history that adds to the atmosphere in the town and although it’s generations since British sea power ruled the waves, Falmouth still proudly sits at the mouth of one of the worlds most stunning natural estuaries, waiting for its time again.

In the meantime, I enjoyed a cracking pasty, had a very nice pint of Doombar and hope the daughter gets a place at the University ensuring plenty of future visits.

An obsession with Apes

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The original Planet of the Apes movie franchise ran from 1968 to 1973. The movie franchise was based on the original novel La Planete des Singes or Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote the original Bridge on the River Kwai book). The first movie in the series starred Charlton Heston and set the bar for drama and originality in the sci-fi genre that was gradually diminished as each movie sequel was released. Only the diehard Planet of the Apes fan would disagree with that statement and I guess that person would be me.

My personal favourites (after the original of course) are ‘Beneath…’ and ‘Battle…’ for lots of obscure fanboy reasons all centred around the gorilla-centric plot lines and the expansion of the original premise that apes now rule our devastated planet. I was keen on the idea being fleshed out and seeing the everyday simian/human existence for some reason fascinated me.

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In 1974 a TV series was created – quite some time after the original movie had been made – I was all over it. Or as much as an 11 year old in the analogue world of Britain in the early seventies could be all over anything. Only fourteen episodes were actually made (why is it that when you discover a fact like this it’s always a surprise) and the show was cancelled midway through its run due to low ratings.

The show is based loosely around the apes ruling the world routine but with the subjugated humans having the ability to talk, helping to create more plot options, clearly. Two astronauts, Burke and Virdon, hook up with chimpanzee Galen and end up having what to modern eyes fairly run of the mill episodes. At the time of course these were monumental clashes between man and ape with the ingenuity of humankind, the wisdom of orangutans, the intelligence of chimpanzees and the barbarity of gorillas all providing plenty of plot options.

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Of course these days if we like a movie or TV show we can record it, buy it, download it, see it umpteen times on catch up or see it endlessly on a lesser channel. But in 1974 it was on once and that was it. Not to be short-changed I recorded each episode on an analogue audio tape deck, sat in front of the television set with a circular dial operated tape cassette .

No, really, I did.

I even stopped and started to cut out the TV ads.I would listen to the deteriorating TDK recordings over and over, trying make out the dialogue amidst the tape hiss and pots and pans being rattled in the background. I can still recall the thrill of the opening credits theme tune and it still to this day sends a chill down my spine.

Although the series was canned in the US, it was much popular in the UK for some reason and it spawned all manner or merchandise and paraphernalia around it. I was already a comic devotee by this time and it’s fair to say that Planet of the Apes caught my imagination in so many ways. The original movie franchise was also released back in to the cinemas which is when I actually saw them all for the first time – all out of the correct order as it happens – and the bug was well and truly caught for me.

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There were the ubiquitous bubble gum cards of course and what self-respecting 11-year-old wasn’t into that? Then came the Marvel comic adaptation which wasn’t bad at all with an alternative take on the ape versus man universe. Toy merchadise was next up and compared to the relentless commercialism around franchises these days, the POTA toys were tame by comparison but very collectable. My favourite was Urko, so I had to get him first, followed by Galen and for bizarrely I wasn’t that fussed for the humans, it was all about the apes for me.

There were also live shows at showgrounds across the country with Apes on horseback chasing down humans, whips, guns and all manner of excitement. We went to see one of the live extravaganzas in Harrogate and my dad managed to get Urko’s autograph for me. I still have it somewhere. There was even what I thought at the time sub standard animated TV series called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it was no substitute for the main deal, but it slaked our simian thirst.

I look back on my obsession with all things ape with faint embarrassment but with complete understanding of myself now and at that time. I often see things in the geek treasure trove that I think my 11 year old self would be beside himself to even touch, never mind own. My obsessional behavioural pattern was established early in life with boxes of Apes stuff stashed in the loft after the next big thing to come along overtook it (Star Wars I think).

These boxes of well used merchhadise and lovingly curated scrapbooks wait patiently to be discovered in the dusty darkness. In fact, I might go have a look right now…

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Heart books for Valentine’s Day

This is a deceptively whimsical take on classic book covers by the guys at ReDesign to coincide with Valentine’s day. The covers are witty and simple and beautifully conceived – and they made me smile.

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Marvel Pixar-ised

These made me smile. I love Marvel and I love Pixar and these affectionate mash-ups are a joy.

They are the work of artist Phil Postma came up with the idea of interpreting our beloved superheroes in the style of Pixar.

Can you spot which Pixar movie character he has used for each superhero?

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The worst book I’ve ever read

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I realise that’s a contentious title, but I have to come clean about the last book we read in Book Club.

It was awful. No, worse than awful, it was dreadful. Hang on, scratch dreadful. In fact, the more I think about it, it was fucking abysmal.

Last month’s book was Life: A user’s guide by George Perec. If you’ve read this book and loved it, it’s probably best that you look away now or, better still, reply at the foot of the post explaining why I’m a foolish thrill seeker looking for fun where there clearly is none and deep meaning where there is monotony. If, on the other hand, you’ve read this and hated it – read on and enjoy the vitriol.

But seriously, this book sucked. Big time. Never have I read a book so diametrically opposed to engaging the reader with the author adopting an almost unreadable modernist style that meant every single page was the hardest reading yards I’ve ever done. There was no dialogue whatsoever, no light and shade in his writing – just shade. Page after page of tedious descriptive text which to give him some credit was moderately interesting, in an autistic obsessive kind of way.

The book paints a ludicrously detailed picture of a Parisian apartment building and all the people who live in it. That in itself would have been a feat I can tell you, but Perec decides to not only tell those stories but those of every other family that has ever lived there. It would have been one of the great feats of modern literature for the author to pull this off this vast tableau of stories successfully. But unfortunately for me, he didn’t.

And then there was the size. The sheer number of pages the book took to unfold its layers of tediousity mocked me daily. We make a point of not de-selecting books if they are large – in fact some of the best books we have ever read scared us with the point size of the book or the page count. But Perec took page count to a whole new level of tedium, filling the pages with meaningless drivel and thankfully page after page of OCD type lists that could be skipped easily (and by the way, his style of writing meant there weren’t many opportunities to skip pages, believe you me I did try).

So were there any positives? As ever, the evening discussion inevitably led to some insight and enlightenment for me. But to be honest I wasn’t buying it. There weren’t any scores above 5/10 which is rare, bottoming out with my big fat zero – which is a first for me, king of the optimists. Some of the other chaps were gamely digging out gems that gave the author far too much leeway and whilst I accept the writing style, subject matter and sheer quantity was a major barrier to my getting anything out of this experience, my failure to connect was in itself  interesting and hilarious in equal measure.

Under no circumstances read this book, or attempt to read this book. It’s hours of your life that will never, ever come back.

By the way, this is what the author looks like – I rest my case.

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