A fishy business

fishy friends

I’ve got an open bottle of cider in the fridge, going flat. It would seem my silver-topped bottle-stopper has far better things to do.

Strange things are afoot in the house, and have been ever since we took our 3-year-old to a Fisherman’s Friends concert in March. They are now the soundtrack to our lives; no other music is tolerated by she who rules. We listen to Port Isaac’s finest thrice daily (at least), and pore over the group shot, learning their names (at least half of them are called John – does that make it easier or harder?), and who sings lead vocal on each song (occasional guesswork required).

So it is that my once-functional bottle-stopper has been named in honour of bass singer Jon Cleave who, with his handlebar moustache and witty repartee, made a particular impression upon my daughter. During the day, “Jon” attends tea parties with my daughter, in the company of Jeremy the ice cream scoop. As I type, my little one is sleeping with “Jon” clasped lovingly in her fist. Cuddly toys have been cast off in favour of something that will poke her in the eye at 3am.

Some people may Daughter’s obsession with a bunch of middle-aged men rather weird; not I. In 10 years’ time, Daughter’s hormones will be raging and her walls covered with posters of a One Direction-type band who her father and I will dismiss as a bunch of pretty boys with no discernible talent. But for now, her fanaticism has entirely innocent roots. In her eyes, the FFs are gansey-clad, shanty-singing Teletubbies. The fact that Jon and Jeremy sup from Peppa Pig tea cups with penguins named Pootle and Oopsie proves this (kind of).

The guys even followed us to Crete, courtesy of iTunes. We plugged my phone into the hire car; trouble is, I only have two albums on there, and you can guess by whom. (Jon and Jeremy even came in “person”, packed in the Gruffalo Trunki with a wooden duck called Grooby. Shame they didn’t pack their swims, the pool was great).

While I would like a more varied musical diet, I’m quite partial to a shanty myself, and would certainly rather hear this than some of the nursery rhyme CDs I’ve been subjected to in the past. Sure, some of the lyrics are a little bawdy – Drunken Sailor includes several verses I’ve never heard before, such as “Make him sleep with the Captain’s daughter” (followed by “Have you seen the captain’s daughter early in the morning?”). And now I know what keelhauling actually is, I sing about it with marginally less gusto (look it up on Wikipedia – it’s brutal).

We’re still waiting for Daughter to sing “A damn good flogging wouldn’t do us any harm …” in public. And I now know where the Minch is, having looked up the Mingulay Boat Song to find out whether it was really as rude as I thought (it isn’t, so I must have a really dirty mind).

I admit, even, to being vicariously starstruck and milking my contacts. I met Jon Cleave at the Rioyal Cornwall Show, where he was selling copies of his children’s books about Gully the Seagull (a firm favourite in our house – particularly Gully And The Fisherman’s Friends), and his latest novel for grown-ups, Nasty Pasty (www.nastypasty.info). He was charming, even when I introduced him to “Jon Cleave”. “Very decorative,” he said, moustache bristling, adding: “An ice cream scoop – how functional. Typical Jeremy.”

I thought Daughter’s love affair might be over when we attended 80s extravaganza Let’s Rock Bristol. Having braved several monsoons and the ensuing mudbath (although not without a few “I want to go homes”), Daughter punching the air rave-style to Rick Astley, and joined in an audience a capella of Nik Kershaw’s I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, which we heard many, many times the following week. “I went home singing that song – it took me a while to work out why,” said a nursery worker.

But a week later, we had front row seats at the Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival, at a lunchtime concert by none other than the Fisherman’s Friends. We had a ball. Daughter impressed all around her with her inside-out knowledge of lyrics and actions (to Sailor Ain’t A Sailor – her all-time favourite).

A 4th birthday party is on the horizon, and the Friends may well provide the soundtrack. In fact, I wonder how much they charge for an appearance? That would be some birthday present.

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Making up is hard to do

A press release has just popped into my inbox, highlighting new research about the amount of time women spend deciding what to wear. On average, we girls spend more than a year of our lives deliberating over our choice of clothing, with 17% claiming they dress with social media in mind, ie. not wanting to wear the same outfit twice in photos that might appear on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Apart from the fact that this press release – from a fashion and lifestyle club, no less – bears no relation to Cornwall whatsoever (an oft-bemoaned bugbear of mine), I find this sort of inanity utterly depressing.

Dressed for the office?

Dressed for the office?

Every so often, my daughter piles on the plastic jewellery, grabs a handbag and announces: “I’m going to work.” I’m not sure where she gets this from. It certainly isn’t me – especially not the tiara. She’s also become very keen on pretty dresses and princesses. It’s funny how, despite having a low-maintenance mum, she still picks up those feminine stereotypes. Apparently, it’s the same at nursery – a recent delivery of toys saw boys gravitate towards cars and girls towards dolls, with no encouragement.

OH finds this a little worrying, but I don’t mind too much – I think a little girliness is fine. I like seeing her in a pretty dress. After all, I dress her myself – it takes me back to playing with Sindy dolls.

But I confess I did find the #nomakeupselfie a little disturbing. I took part – I was nominated twice, and my colleague needed one for the West Briton Facebook page (you’ll also see it in this week’s print edition). It was all in a good cause, for the most part it was fun, and as a piece of social media fundraising with a tally somewhere in the region of £8 million, it was darned impressive.

Look - no make-up!

Look – no make-up!

But all those women posting pictures of themselves, followed by variations on the phrase: “Brace yourselves, here’s a photo of me with no make-up on, looking awful” – that got to me. Most of them looked fresh-faced and pretty, and had no need to apologise. So why did they? Are they really so worried?

I think some are. I know quite a few women who won’t leave the house without eyeliner or mascara, for whom this was a brave step. I’m just not one of them. It wasn’t my best photo – I took it late at night, in my cuddliest pyjamas. But no make-up? That’s me, 24/7.

I write this from the perspective of someone who rarely wears make-up, so I realise I am biased. I am also in my 40s, which means I have less need for concealer than I did 20 years ago, when my skin was prone to volcanic breakouts; and I have yet to encounter serious bags/wrinkles. For this I am truly grateful. Not wearing make-up means I can spend a bit longer in bed in the morning, as does having a low-maintenance haircut (during a recent visit, my mum was disappointed to discover I no longer own a hairdryer).

I suspect most of the women I meet each day do wear make-up. I’ll state clearly, right now, that it’s their choice, and their right. I hope I don’t judge them for it, or make assumptions about individuals, any more than they might think less of me because I don’t wear make-up.

I got into trouble with one friend on Facebook for suggesting that women have been conditioned to wear make-up to attract men. This was a comment made on a Saturday morning by iPhone, while looking after a 3-year-old, and therefore I didn’t spend ages crafting it. As a result, it might have come across as rather reductive. My mistake. I certainly don’t think of said friend, or other women, as a “vacuous tart” as she suggested.

But I do reserve the right to consider how society views the female appearance, and what pressure we feel to wear cosmetics. And I would still maintain that to look appealing and attract a mate is one of many reasons. Perhaps I think that because I started wearing make-up in my teens, when I was keen to impress friends – and boys; and I stopped wearing it when I found my life partner, as I no longer felt the need to keep up appearances. I hope he’s not disappointed – rather I hope he’s happy with the confident woman I’ve become. I certainly am, and I’d hate to be the “little girl” in the song Wives And Lovers, who needs to do her hair and fix her make-up, lest she lose her man. We’ve moved on from that – haven’t we?

If anything, I think there is a societal pressure to wear make-up. We see images in magazines and on the TV of women glammed up, and we are told this is what beautiful looks like. Those who don’t fit the mould, like super-intelligent Mary Beard, are mocked loudly by macho types on social media.

And as women, we often collude in this. It’s women, rather than men, who have occasionally made me feel that I could make more of my appearance if I wore make-up. I carry that criticism with me, in the same way that many other women do; the difference, in my view, is that they wear make-up to counter the fear, and I don’t.

I do have a make-up bag, but it’s minimal. I once heard a decluttering guru say that to keep make-up for longer than six months was unhygienic. That would be terrible value for money in my book. I wear it for special occasions – weddings, glitzy dinners – partly because it makes a nice change, but also because I know practically every other woman will do so, and I don’t want to be the frumpy one in the corner.

Of course, I do make some concessions to conformity. I shower every day. I shave my legs (sometimes). I wear underarm deodorant. I go to a nice hairdresser, and beg her not to make me look masculine (easily done when you combine short hair with less-than-elfish features). I spend some time choosing what to wear in a morning, but not a year of my life.

I don’t want to look like a cavewoman. But I do want to look like me. And to all of those women out there who posted fresh-faced images of themselves – you are beautiful. You just have to believe it.

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The electronic age

It’s been an interesting day. At around 10am, we found ourselves without access to the internet, and other online services, at the office. Predictably, work ground to a halt. At first, colleagues enjoyed a chat and a cup of tea, or sent a few texts. A few hours later, computers were still saying no, and brows were furrowing. It’s fair to say almost everything exists online these days. It’s really clever, but when technology lets you down, it hits hard.

The nature of general correspondence and the way in which the publishing industry functions in general have changed vastly over the years. I went into journalism because, as a teenager, I loved to write, which in those days meant exactly that – pen and paper. The first time I was asked to “write” directly onto a screen, I was dumbfounded. These days, online rules OK, and I find it hard to be creative without a keyboard to hand. Cutting and pasting makes the process so much easier, as does the delete button.

My other half remembers the days of typewriters and hot metal, when all copy was produced in triplicate and a copy sent down a tube to the print room to be set. This is all ancient history; but the funny thing is, he isn’t that much older than me, which just goes to show how technology moves on apace.

Even I recall the times when the internet was but a hazy idea – science fiction. It’s hard to believe that we are now so enslaved, with Google and Wikipedia as essential research tools. No longer do I have the traditional journalist’s little black contacts book – everything’s on Microsoft Outlook. Today, I would have greeted that contacts book with open arms, like a long-lost friend. I even hankered after the spike, that time-honoured keeper of old press releases. Are they even allowed today, under health and safety rules?

When I got my first job at the Western Morning News in 1997, internet use was in its infancy. We still turned to the phone book, or Directory Enquiries. By the time I reached Devon Today in 2002, we considered ourselves lucky(ish) to have one internet terminal shared between five staff. I can hardly imagine an employee today being given any less than a personal e-mail account and internet access.

Although Cornwall Today is popular chiefly as a print magazine, its staff are nonetheless expected to fly other flags in this multi-media age. Cornwall Today has a Facebook page, and I have not one, but two profiles. While my work profile is all about Cornwall, and reaches out to readers and professional contacts, my personal profile offers family and friends news of baby progress and what I’m cooking for dinner. A few lucky people are privy to both – I’m sure they’re thrilled.

In truth, I really enjoy using social media. It’s great for promoting the magazine, for forging contacts and sourcing content. Used carefully, it offers a warm online community. I’m friends with people I’ve never met, purely by dint of reading their comments on friends’ walls and recognising a kindred spirit.

However, it’s a huge time-sucker. Profiles and pages need constant updating and cross-referencing in order to achieve their goal of maximum outreach. If I write what I consider a witty update, I want to see how many likes, re-tweets and comments I’ve got. Surely that’s the point? And with friends around the globe, and the web on our mobile phones, interaction is 24/7. Therein lies addiction – technophobe OH is constantly telling me off for having twitchy fingers, and I even considered giving up Facebook for Lent.

Another downside to our online activities is that while we expected them to reduce our paper mountains, they simply created virtual versions. One of my first interviews on return from maternity leave was with Lady Mary Holborow, outgoing Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall. “In the old days, I would get 30 letters a week. Now, it’s X e-mails a day, and they all expect an instant reply.”

As editor, I get around 100 e-mails every day, all of which are important, interesting and often both. In an ideal world, they would be opened, considered and responded to within a quick time frame. In reality, competing pressures and a part-time schedule mean that while an e-mail may be read straightaway, a response might not be immediate or even evident – a simple yes or no is easy, but the grey area in between requires consideration. By the end of the day, if an e-mail has dropped off my screen, it might not be seen again until an e-mail trawl along the lines of the one I conducted today while offline.

It’s curious to see the reactions of others to this predicament. Occasionally, it would seem e-mail has made it much easier, and more acceptable, to get angry with people. This happens on the rare and regrettable occasions that someone doesn’t receive a service they were expecting: a response to an unsolicited freelance pitch, for example, or an eagerly awaited competition prize. I’m always sorry to hear the words “I am deeply disappointed,” and feel justly chastised. But I find it harder to tolerate sarcasm: “Thanks for ignoring my pitch.” Or untruths: “You clearly had no intention of sending out this prize, and had us under false pretences.”

The truth is, more often than not, that I was really busy, and I forgot. Obviously a swift response to both would have been nice; but I’m human, and fallible, as are they. I sometimes wonder whether people would dream of picking up the phone or coming to the office, and saying such things in person. Probably not. But clicking “send” is so much easier, and without a human voice to lend softness, an e-mail can appear brusque and even aggressive even if such a tone wasn’t intended.

On the other hand, punishing print deadlines are rewarded when the mag hits shelves and doormats, followed by almost instant e-mails and Facebook/Twitter comments – thanks from those covered, and praise from readers. It makes the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.

My partner and I have visited several primary schools in recent months, ahead of our daughter’s first school term. All were very proud of their IT suites, which certainly beat the few Commodore 64s we enjoyed in my day. And of course, all the 4-year-olds were conversant with iPads – our daughter loves to see photos and videos on my smart phone, and gets frustrated when our digital camera doesn’t respond to her finger.

Although I’ve embraced modern technology, I am still a dinosaur in many ways. I love the permanence of print, and prefer shorthand over a Dictaphone any day. Today’s trainees are learning how to fit all the new tools in and use them well – and I envy them that.

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It’s all about me

Moving unexpectedly to a bungalow has resulted in my “letting go” of at least some of the effects that have mouldered in storage for a couple of years. One such casualty was the box of notes made during journalism training 17 years ago. It was surprisingly easy; if I don’t know it now, I reasoned with myself, I never will.

It was humbling, though, to see some of the distinctly average marks I got back in the day, and the biting criticism. For example: “This interviewee sounds really interesting – so why is the intro all about you?” This made me chuckle, as I’d said pretty much the same thing, to more than one person, that very week. The funny thing was that as I read the interview, I rather liked it and didn’t want to change it. Physician, heal thyself.

There are always two people in an interview – subject, and journalist. It’s the interaction and chemistry (or lack of) between the two that makes each one unique. Otherwise, why would anyone be interviewed more than once? On the few occasions I allow interviewees to read a draft before publication, it’s on condition that they restrict themselves to factual corrections only, because it’s my take on them.

This is what makes writing pleasurable. I may have adapted my style over the years, to bear the end reader in mind; but it’s still important to me that I should derive some enjoyment from writing. It would make for rather dull reading if I didn’t.

I also found outlines of my first column attempts, written on a year out in France for my local paper back home. In some respects, they were pretty lame, showing scant respect for word count, defamation or reader interest. They weren’t that far removed from books like Merde Alors, which I avoid like the plague on the grounds that the title alone makes fun of people I like.

I recall a student who was insistent that he wanted to write opinion pieces, and nothing else. His tutor, and I, had to enlighten him that most columnists have to start at the bottom and earn the right to have their opinion valued. Most of our CT columnists have a function, as experts in something that our readers will find interesting – wine, beer, fitness, sailing, farming. Only one, Backalong, is really “life according to” – Pete has got that one sewn up, and a fine job he does too. (You can buy an anthology of his past columns, by the way: it’s called Notes From A Cornish Shed).

Then there’s the blog. The great thing about a blog is that it really is all about you – at least, it is if you want it to be. In the latest issue of Cornwall Today, food blogger saffronbunny profiles several Cornwall bloggers, and gives expert tips on how to start your own, should that be your New Year resolution.

Award-winning blogs are often informative or commercial; mine is “the world according to Kirstie.” And why not? It’s my space. If you don’t like it, you can choose not to come here. I can take it. My blog might not win any awards or trend on Twitter, or make any contributions to world peace. But it’s the one place I can be myself, write what I think, for the benefit of anyone who wants to read it (hello, Mum).

This view was thrown back at me rather more bluntly when I recently took a fellow blogger to task for making what I thought were valid comments, but using unnecessarily foul language. “It’s my blog – I can say what I like,” she retorted. True indeed. And she had won an award.

Truth be told, I don’t read many blogs myself, if any at all. I don’t have much time to. Nor do I write mine as often as I’d like; I’ve got lots of ideas, but life kind of gets in the way, darn it. I don’t believe in half-measures; my blogs are like “mini-features” (or not-so-mini) that have been crafted and honed. I wrote more when I was on maternity leave, and tend to indulge these days when my partner is away for the night (as is the case right now) and therefore not around to moan: “You’re always working.”

Does my blog count as work? Kind of. I started it because I was told that the editor should have one. It has been a mix of personal and professional, stuff that I’ve been up to around the county, reflections on the act of putting together a magazine. It’s an add-on, like social media – one more thing to fit into a busy schedule, fun but occasionally onerous. I took no notes on this in 1997, which in the face of today’s technology might as well have been in prehistoric times.

My blog reminds me of how much I enjoy my life, whether with my family or through my work. It also makes me enjoy my life – I have to have something to write about, after all. But it should offer readers something, or else why would they come? Who cares what I think? If you’re reading, tell me why. I’d love to know what you like, what you don’t like and what you’d like to see more of. I’d like to make this as satisfying for you as it is for me; and besides, I’d like to win that award.

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Rubbing shoulders with the famous

9. stein

It’s been a busy month for celebrity interviews. In the current issue of Cornwall Today, you can read chats with chef Rick Stein (pictured above, with me), Quo frontman Francis Rossi and actress Felicity Kendal, all of whom have connections to Cornwall. I spoke to them all in the past month, and also shook hands with Sir Ben Ainslie when he visited Truro School to open its new sports centre.

Is it OK to admit I still get nervous about certain interviews? Like, those with famous people? I interviewed Francis Rossi over the phone. I went into a private office, so that no one would hear if I made an idiot of myself. “You sound edgy,” he said within seconds of picking up. By the time I left the room, I realised I was sweating.

That makes it sound like it was a dreadful interview. In fact, it wasn’t. Rossi was absolutely lovely. He talked a lot, and swore a lot, and was very open about the break-up of his first marriage. In short, he was pretty normal, and very modest, despite having done made some amazing music over the past five decades.

Students often ask me to name the most famous person I’ve ever interviewed. The truth is, those that impress me the most are the ones who were famous when I was a kid, only dreaming of doing the job I’m in now. Rossi is one of those. I’m the roughly the same age as the song Caroline (which was written in Perranporth), and when I was a kid, my uncle was in his mid to late teens, sporting long hair and listening to loud music. My grandparents were of the “Call that music?” view, but I loved it. Speaking to Rossi brought it all back, and I told him so at the end. He seemed genuinely pleased. “Tell him thanks very much – he’s kept me in a job,” he said.

It’s lovely when someone famous appreciates the impact they have had on the lives of others – after all, if they’re in the entertainment business, it should make them happy to know they’ve succeeded. But sometimes, celebrity interviews can be a disappointment. Not everyone wants to play the publicity game.

One that sticks in my mind was a gentleman actor known for being charm personified, who turned out to be anything but. I saw him being interviewed on TV recently, all smiles and kind words. Amazing what a huge difference the camera makes. With a bit of work, I managed to cobble together a pleasant piece for that month’s mag; a colleague on another publication told it exactly how it was. I’d already used that trick with someone else who had been equally uncooperative, and felt that twice would look careless.

It can be hard if you’re basing an interview on a play you haven’t seen, or a gig you haven’t been to yet. There’s only so much online research you can do, and it will never replace first-hand experience – my best interviews have been those where I have felt inspired by the work we’re discussing. But most of the time, you do your best to come up with a list of questions that you hope are informed and engaging enough to spark a natural conversation.

If you get to meet a celeb in person, so much the better. One of the first well-known people I interviewed for Cornwall Today, way back in 2006, was Rick Stein. He was in Padstow for the launch of his new beer, Chalky’s Bite, named after his little dog who had as big a following (if not bigger) than the man himself. I hadn’t been in the editor’s seat for long, and it seemed like an appropriate initiation to interview someone who had done much to promote the county on the small screen.

I was characteristically nervous, but at the end he said: “Good interview, by the way.” I felt like a student who had been patted on the head – and in a good way. I like praise. So I was happy to meet him again when he presided over the launch of Spires Restaurant at Truro College’s city campus. He peered over my notebook: “I recall complimenting you on your shorthand last time,” he said. I glowed, and had my photo taken with him (for the CT Facebook page, of course).

He was equally gracious and genuine with the student catering team, and with those who approached him for autographs and photographs. In short, a really nice guy doing a good job – which is what really counts, in my book.

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Bountiful Autumn

Tired girl gets a lift back to The Nare Hotel

Tired girl gets a lift back to The Nare Hotel

Autumn is upon us, and with it come beautiful landscapes and bountiful produce. This I discovered at the launch of the Fal River Walking Festival. Despite gloomy skies laden with heavy, sodden clouds, we enjoyed a short circular walk from the Nare Hotel.

At three, my daughter is at that awkward age – too long and heavy to carry, legs too short to walk too far. But I was keen to get her started, as her dad and I are keen walkers and desperate to get back in the habit. She did her best in monster wellies; it was a tad slippery underfoot, and she was mighty glad of a piggyback at the end, courtesy of Fal River’s Tommy Tonkins.

Tommy is a gig rower, and he made lifting our growing girl look effortless. She “sang a rainbow” in his ear, and was a fully-fledged fan by the time we reached our destination (and a welcome afternoon tea). To this day she recalls that Tommy works for “the King Harry Fairy” and “has no hair” (sorry, Tommy). We had a quick paddle on Carne beach, just long enough for the sea to go well over the top of her monster wellies.

The festival continues until November 3, and features self-guided walks through some of the most stunning scenery Cornwall has to offer, taking in areas from Falmouth to Truro, the Roseland to the Helford Passage. Families and dog-walkers catered for – see the link below.

Earlier this year, we moved to a house with a lovely garden full of glorious edibles: cultivated blackberries, blackcurrants, abundant mint, and two apple trees. At the beginning of October, we took fruit to the annual Trelissick Apple Weekend to be identified. The expert dangled our slightly manky looking eater by its stalk, before pronouncing: “Cornish Longstem.” I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to learn that even our inherited apple trees are “on message”.

Cornish longstem apples

Cornish longstem apples

Chez Newton, we have been busy. Picture the scene on a Saturday morning: him – swearing over his tax return; me -huffing over a box of furry runner beans that really should have been eaten a long time ago and are beyond redemption. My, how we’ve grown up. It’s one of many signs of middle age and middle class. Look. I have a growing addiction to Grand Designs (did you know it’s on EVERY NIGHT on More4? Heaven). My favourite shops are now Mallets – good old-fashioned homewares in Truro – and its high street equivalent, Lakeland. I have even liked the Kilner Jars Facebook page.

Having a kitchen larger than a postage stamp for the first time in my adult life is encouraging me to discover my inner Delia. I have jars of blackcurrant jam and runner bean chutney awaiting good homes (especially the chutney – I’ve never been fond of chutney, but needed to use up that glut of beans). I recently issued a spontaneous invitation to a work contact/friend – instead of meeting at a town restaurant, why not come to the house and try my carrot soup? I didn’t tell her I’d never made it before, and would be making it from scratch just for her. What if it all went horribly wrong? In the event, it was delicious, followed by stewed apple and blackberry (from the garden), mint tea (ditto) and homemade chocolate brownies. I can hear hordes stampeding to my front door now.

I’ve also started getting a veg box again. CT has featured two such schemes in recent months – Riverford, which focuses on organic produce, and the Cornish Food Box Company, which sources all its produce, organic or otherwise, from Bude to Helston via Bodmin Moor. To be honest, I’m rubbish at buying veg; I need it to be dumped on my doorstep with a recipe telling me what to do with it.

A good farmers’ market is also worth its weight in gold. We went to the Fifteen Cornwall Autumn Farmers’ Market on Saturday. It was wonderful, and we stocked up on plenty of goodies – duck burgers, apple juice, chocolate – none of which lasted longer than the weekend.

As an added bonus, we were able to attend a foraging walk with Caroline Davey of Fat Hen, who you might have seen in Cornwall Today over the summer, talking about seaweed – where to find it and its culinary uses. She explained to us how spring and autumn were the best times to find hedgerow delights, and in a very short distance pointed out tree mallow (as soft as rabbits’ ears) and stinging nettle (pick them under the leaves to avoid being stung). She offered useful recipe ideas, and warned us off a plant which resembled flat-leaved parsley but was actually the highly poisonous water hemlock. Yikes. Meanwhile, our daughter had spotted the last of the blackberries growing in a hedge, and was keen to indulge.

On the beach at Watergate Bay, Caroline led us to laver, sea beet and the foul-tasting scurvy grass, once eaten by sailors to ward off gum disease – give me an orange any day. It was a quick lesson on how sustenance can be found beneath your feet. While I wouldn’t be able to live like this permanently – even Caroline, who has three children, admits to doing a regular supermarket shop too – it was a step towards connecting with nature. And that’s really what it’s all about.


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Gowns and Gongs – the CT Awards

see-by-chloe-dress So, the big day has finally arrived. Tonight, 230 guests will receive the red carpet treatment at Newquay’s prestigious Headland Hotel, where the winners of the inaugural Cornwall Today Awards will be announced from approximately 9.15pm. You can follow the progress on Twitter – @Cornwall_Today #CTawards – where expectation is already mounting.

It’s the culmination of several months’ work, and we are all terribly excited at CT at the prospect of seeing the fruits of our efforts. As editor, I will be on stage, introducing nominees and presenting awards. This has sent me into a girly frenzy of frocks and war paint, which is most unlike me.

Say the word editor, in particular the female of the species, and you might think of Anna Wintour or Carine Roitfeld. That’s not my style. Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed the docu-film The September Issue, which followed La Wintour as she put together the titular edition of Vogue – a doorstop tome, several hundred pages thick with fashion shoots and tips. Some of the monthly drill I recognised, but a lot of it was a different world – I sat slack-jawed as she rubbished a Mario Testino shoot (come and see me, MT, I’ll be nice to you).

When I first got the job as editor of Cornwall Today, my mum looked me up and down with some disdain. “I’d have thought you’d be wearing a suit, like most editors,” she said. My mum doesn’t actually know any editors other than me, by the way.

She might be pleased to know that I am making an effort for tonight’s event. My See By Chloe metallic shift dress (pictured) has been taken out of the wardrobe and dusted off. This week, on Googling it, I discovered the accompanying strip of fabric was a belt – I’ve been using it as a scarf for the past three years. D’oh! I bought it in a charity shop, but not for peanuts, as most of them are wise now to the true value of vintage and designer wear. I don’t begrudge a penny of the £99 I spent (at a time when I didn’t have children to suck up my earnings), as it all went to help Children’s Hospice South West – which, furthermore, is nominated in the Best Charity category tonight.

Since Monday, I have had my nails and my hair done, and visited the nice ladies in M&S to ensure that I am, ahem, well supported. I enlisted the help of our rather more fashionable editorial asistant to choose smart yet comfy shoes – flats, as I can’t contemplate two hours on stage thinking, “My feet are killing me!” But at least I’ve ditched the Doc Martin boots for the night, which my mum (and the MD) will be no doubt pleased to hear.

I’ve even invested in a new lipstick, largely because I wear it so rarely that most of mine are several years old and possibly best avoided. I don’t wear make-up that often, because I feel comfortable in my own skin – it’s a lot better at 40 than it was at 14, for sure, one of the best things about growing older.

Well, I’ve gotta dash, as a dress rehearsal calls. If you are nominated tonight – good luck, and remember: you’re all winners really, so enjoy the night. And if you’re out there, the results will be in the November issue of CT, but if you can’t wait that long (and why should you?), follow those tweets.

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Phew, what a scorcher.

It’s a hoary old cliché, but my word, it really is hot out there. I am almost grateful for the shade of an air-conditioned office – but then, perhaps I am too British about the weather, complaining whichever way it happens to fall. It’s so different to last summer, when torrential downpours conspired with the Golden Jubilee, the Olympics and the recession to wreak havoc upon the peak tourism season; so on the whole, I think the mood here in Cornwall is a happy one.

The latest edition of Cornwall Today hit the shelves today, and I think the cover reflects the current mood. As I recall saying to photographer Mike Newman: “Take the kids and a windbreak to the beach, and get something summery.” With weather like this, how could he fail?

Of course, there can be fewer places as nice as Cornwall to live when the sun is out. I appear to be raising a water baby, so much of my spare time (lovely long weekends, thanks to part-time hours) has been spent on the county’s lovely beaches. One of the best things about being in Truro is the fact that both north and south coasts are 20 minutes’ drive, so you can take your pick. We love Carne beach on the Roseland peninsula, and Chapel Porth near St Agnes (pictured below). The latter offers the most fabulous ice cream, although we were less enamoured with the weaver fish that bit my mother-in-law on the big toe last week.
On Sunday, my other half decided we should take a family trip “up north”, perhaps inspired by the feature on Bude in the July issue of CT. Strangely, it seemed we had chosen the only place in Cornwall that day to be shrouded in fog. A sunny walk inland along Bude’s historic canal was followed by a dip in the community-run sea pool, which in the mist resembled a Turkish sauna (see left). It was fabulous.
My daughter was three last week, and the party was a simple affair: rather than labouring with pass the parcel and musical chairs, we invited little friends around to play with outdoor toys (paddling pool, trampoline) in the garden, with Pimms aplenty for the parents. Easy-peasy – well, apart from the inevitable “my house, my toys, no share” moments. This Saturday will see us at a beach party – look out, Falmouth.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re making the most of the weather. Slap on the suncream, don’t forget your hat, swim safely – and enjoy.

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How’s your grammar?

Readers who are keen grammarians, like me, might be baffled by the Wildabout feature in the April issue of Cornwall Today. It’s about Kings Wood near St Austell. That’s right – Kings Wood. No apostrophe. I triple checked it myself, on the Woodland Trust website. It doesn’t matter that it was named in honour of a monarch who visited centuries ago; it does not carry an apostrophe of ownership.
You can choose to be “correct” (or, as some might have it, “bloody-minded”) about such matters; or you can settle for consistency. I plumped for the latter; as such, you shouldn’t find a single apostrophe where the name occurs, not even on the cover. If you do, feel free to write in and complain – not an invitation I issue lightly.
Missing apostrophes reared their heads recently when Mid-Devon Council announced its intention to remove them – and all forms of punctuation – from new street signs, so as not to “baffle” residents. The Plain English Campaign branded the idea ‘nonsense’, while the Apostrophe Appreciation Society called it ‘disgusting’. I can think of worse things to happen, but it seems to have worked, for the council leader is to recommend a reversal of the policy at the end of the month.
It would be sad to see the apostrophe disappear on street signs, and it would be the beginning of the end without a doubt. Gradually, it would be dropped elsewhere, eventually to become extinct. Future generations would regard it as an archaic eccentricity. In fact, it’s probably inevitable.
You might expect a wordsmith like me to deplore poor standards of literacy. Facebook friends will be familiar with my occasional rants about poor punctuation and spelling, usually triggered by national PRs sending me releases which are not only irrelevant to my publication, but full of howlers to boot. On the one hand, these mark my out as a true conservative; on the other, such status updates attract a lot of comments, so I must be in good company.
While I do get annoyed by greengrocers’ apostrophes and inappropriate mis-spellings (eg in requests for work experience), I’m less hidebound than you might think. I’ve been known to write “C U 2moz” in text speak, but you won’t see that creeping into my professional work.
As a former language student, I’m interested in communication in all its forms – spoken and written – and indulge in the odd anoraky book. At university, I read Language Change: Progress Or Decay, by eminent linguist Jean Aitchison, and it stayed with me. It’s not a difficult concept to follow – we don’t speak as our ancestors did in the times of Chaucer or Shakespeare, so why should we expect our descendants to speak as we do? The things we sniff at today may well be the norms of tomorrow, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment when it comes to anoraky books. I started with Just My Type – a history of fonts by Simon Garfield. I now know that the font Cornwall Today uses (Frutiger if you please) is named after Adrian Frutiger, the Swiss typographer who invented it, and was first used on information signs in Parisian airports.
Then I moved onto Spell It Out by David Crystal. I heard him interviewed on the Today programme, and thought, “There’s a book for me.” I’m a pretty good speller, but I wanted to know why other people find it so hard. Crystal explains very clearly how the irregularities we find frustrating in the English language stem were influenced by many factors – the habits of scribes, the preferences of printers (who made more money if they used more ink, hence longer words), and the influence of foreign languages (Latin, French, even Flemish).
It’s fascinating, and what I found especially interesting is that David Crystal, who is a leading expert on the subject, does not see a spelling system in decline, but one in a natural state of development in our multi-media world. For example, he believes that text speak, far from eroding our ability to spell, will strengthen it. After all, you have to really understand how language works in order to subvert it.
And the way that spelling is taught needs some serious thought. Rules such as “ie before e except after c” do not always follow, and lists of words that are not connected or placed in context are pointless. I still recall being asked to spell “succour”, a word I’d never encountered before, and didn’t know the meaning of. I spelled it “sucker” and lost a mark; on arguing that this was a valid spelling, I was told that it wasn’t the word I’d been asked to learn. To this day, it’s a word I rarely use, but always remember.
Then there’s the word from the reading test that we followed right through primary school. It was the last word on the list, the only one I couldn’t manage. When the teacher was out of the room, I wrote it down on a scrap of paper, then took it home and asked my mum: what is it? The word was “idiosyncrasy”. Today, I think it’s quite a good word, but aged 10, it meant nothing. I suppose you could argue that we were being tested on our ability to apply acquired knowledge and guess at a pronunciation, but even so, it was hardly a realistic gauge of a child’s linguistic skills. It looks so alien to any other word I know. It has too many ys, and why idio, rather than ideo? (Answer: it’s from Greek rather than Latin. Thanks, Wikidictionary.)
I’m now reading Lost For Words: The Mangling And Manipulation Of The English Language by John Humphrys. Just when I think it’s straying into real “grumpy old man” territory, he throws up something that has me cheering in agreement.
For the record, my pet hates are:
• Use of the word “unique” in press releases, to describe something that is anything but, drives me potty. Unless you can prove it, don’t use it.
• The most misspelled word in history is definitely “definitely”.
• The creeping use of “yourself”, especially in call centre speak, to denote an obsequious professionalism, ie. “I’m just calling yourself because…”, makes me hang up on the spot.
I am not perfect. You may well wish to print out this blog, go through it with a red pen and send it to my office. Go right ahead – if it adds to the debate, that’s fine by me.

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Another day, another cause

Did you know that today is World Book Day? I found out on Tuesday, when nursery asked if I would like to send Daughter dressed as her favourite literary character. We plumped for the bedtime bunny in Goodnight Moon, a delightful post-war book which ends each day for us (I can recite it in my sleep). The fact that this involved a pair of pyjamas and some ready-owned bunny ears was a bonus.

Come today, however, Daughter was tired and grumpy, and would not wear her bunny ears. At nursery, I saw children in Gruffalo suits and home-made SpongeBob SquarePants sandwich boards; and I dropped off Daughter, in her pyjamas. They were clean on this morning, I promise.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. My inbox has been ringing throughout the day with messages from businesswomen about how they will be spending the day. I will be picking up my car from the garage, which is rather prosaic; but I will at least have baby swimming in the morning, a real highlight of the mummy/Daughter week.

I recently attended a focus group with Frugi, previewing the company’s AW13 clothing range for babies and children. I wondered aloud why bright blue dungarees were labelled as boys’ clothing, when I’d be quite happy to put them on my daughter. “Lots of people say that,” said director Lucy Jewson, “and I don’t disagree. But our sales figures say otherwise – it’s pink that everyone buys.”

While on maternity leave, I came across a website called Pink Stinks. I thought this was a bit harsh – I don’t mind pink, just not all the time, and preferably not pastel. OH also noticed a pink prevalence when buying Daughter’s last birthday present from a well-known high street toy retailer: “It’s all pink, plastic and princesses,” he sighed, before buying the single wooden toy in the shop.

Perhaps a more serious part of International Women’s Day is the consideration of how women live in other countries, and the celebration of strong role models. I’m all for that. Over the past year, I have been struck by the serenity of Aung San Suu Kyi, and thoroughly admired the fortitude of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by Taliban supporters for daring to campaign for women’s education. Her positive attitude on coming round from surgery should be an inspiration to all.

I often attend networking events at which I’m asked to promote my job to young people – tell them what I do, why I love it, how I got where I am today, etc. At a recent do, a male counterpart looked rather dejected. It turned out he worked in a traditionally masculine industry, and had spent much of the morning surrounded by all-girl groups who he assumed were a lost cause.

He was probably right, but I thought it a shame that, as his field is one supposedly crying out for more women to redress the balance, he hadn’t been better prepared by his employer to encourage those girls to apply, and to tell them why it’s as much their world as his. I was even more disappointed when, following some gentle probing, I discovered views that I thought went out of fashion with the ark. He felt that the onus was on women to shrug off male banter, and that those who didn’t weren’t right for the profession. “You can’t change men like that – you just have to fit in,” he said.

It saddens me that a generation of young men still see life this way. It’s the equivalent of saying “If you can’t stand the heat …” or “Get a sense of humour, love.” The idea that a woman might be forced to leave a job, not because she’s no good at it but because she feels intimidated and unsupported by colleagues, seems plain wrong.

As a student barmaid 20 years ago, I recall being the subject of sexual attentions. One man regularly had me in stitches. “Ooh Kirstie, I’ll make love to you, but not while you’re wearing those socks,” he would say. I didn’t mind that – it was a light-hearted gag, no harm meant. But the guy in the back room who told me I had nice breasts, and then proceeded to stare at them, was different. When I asked a male colleague to serve him, I was told in no uncertain terms: “If you can’t do the job, you shouldn’t be here.” It probably didn’t help that as a university student, I was considered la-di-da. Class and gender – the double whammy. Posh bird.

What it actually boils down to is bullying, and collusion – you fit in, so if doesn’t affect you. But if people took a stand, we could stamp out these attitudes for our children, and our children’s children.

Am I a feminist? If that means being a person with rights and opinions, who wants to be treated the same as others, then hell, yes. I’ve told girls they can do anything they like – no doors should be closed because of their gender. But sometimes I wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong. Thanks to our Suffragette ancestors, women today have it so much better – but we’ve still got a long way to go.

On the plus side, Frugi plans to categorise its online shop according to age, so you can decide for yourself whether your two-year-old wears flowers or dinosaurs. It’s a small but significant step towards equality, and I say “aye” to that.


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