Sunday, 29 July 2012

The End (sort of...)

Hi All,

Again, sorry not to post for so long. Busiest time of the year for us - madness.

The following is what WAS going to be the end of the Fisherman's Apprentice book. Just found it in a  dusty old electronic folder, and thought I'd show it the light of day at long last.

The end of a great time for me in a beautiful little Cornish village....

The Magic of Little Cove:

Why is it worth saving, this bustling border of our island? Why should we get very excited indeed about the riches that lurk in the shallows, as we shade ourselves on packed beaches sporting ridiculous hats and licking over-priced ice-creams.

The answer for me is best provided by the small, stony beach the other side of the Todden, a little cove known - catchily - as Little Cove. After a days fishing I would sometimes sneak down the stone steps onto the shoreline, speargun in hand, and go in hunt of bass. These most beautiful and noble of all our inshore fish would drift in on the rising tide, appearing like grey ghosts from deeper water. They seemed less like fish and more akin to wraiths soaring over the white sand, moving in packs, sleek, deadly and full of predatory intent. They drifted on the edge of the tide, eyes bright and seeking out movement ahead, broad tails sweeping them towards forests of kelp and bladderwrack. They would move ever closer, sliding towards their hunting grounds as effortlessly as a glob of mercury, until they were positioned under the shoals of sandeels that bunched and pulsed overhead, silhouetted against a golden dusk. Once the main players were in place, the predatory drama could begin.

I would fin lazily out to meet them, floating high above and taking care not to cast my shadow on the seabed. Moving from boulder to boulder, hop-scotching along dark waving patches of weed, I would settle into stillness. My breath would rasp through the snorkel and the neoprene of my hood would enhance my pulse, a sonorous drum beating the slow rhythm of the hunt. The scene below was entirely timeless, acted out on this same stretch of seabed long before man appeared, the rising tide and fading light an irresistible trigger that summoned the predators from deeper water.

Skulking in the wings were pollock, smaller and less agile than the aristocrats who had appeared in their midst. They would dart from cover to cover, they too watching the sandeel weave patterns against the sky, occasionally darting into the shoal which would scatter before them. They seemed more opportunistic, more impulsive, relying on serendipity to bring the smaller fish in range. If their predatory runs were unsuccessful - and it seemed to me that a great many of them were - they would settle once again on the sea floor, bodies angled upward slightly, dark livery clear against the sand.

The bass were altogether more deadly, and on some simultaneous cue they would erupt, exploding into life, streaking towards the shoal that shattered before them, a shrapnel of frantic silver crystals. The bass would twist and turn, flashing broad flanks in a series of final lunges that tracked and then devoured fish after fish. I watched it all, breathless at the spectacle as the waves crackled around me, a prism that split the rays of the sun to dance on the seafloor beneath. Once the bass had torn several times through the shoal, they would settle once again into exploratory lazy circles in mid water, a cue for another predator to move towards them from the surface.

I would slip quietly under the water, away from the world of light and air, and fin gently deeper. Again and again the bass would drift away, contemptuous of my clumsy approach, until after an hour or so my angle of dive was precisely right, just in the blind spot of one of the shoals as it hovered in mid water. I settled briefly, extended one arm towards one of the bass, paused for a moment, and fired. The spear ran straight and true, hitting one of the fish broadside with a percussive thump that transmitted clearly through the water. It thrashed and heaved, twisting in it’s death throes as I ascended.

I walked back up the shore carrying the bass on the end of the spear, heading for home where lemon, garlic, and chilled white wine awaited. By now late afternoon had passed into dusk, and the surface of the water shone in the reflection of an indigo sky. A hunters moon had risen from the sea, and the first lights glowed warm in the windows of the cottages on the Todden. A wisp of wood-smoke rose from one of the chimneys, twisting into nothing as the wind whisked it away. The smell was unmistakable, stemming from the timeless ritual of another fire being lit in a grate in this tiny Cornish fishing village. The rock walls beneath and beyond the cottages loomed stark on crackling foundations of spray, whilst the waves sighed their quiet demise on the shingle of the beach.

I walked the last few yards through the fleet, past Scorpio with her battered blue hull and predatory lines, and then past Kingfisher 2 - brightly coloured, friendly, and larger than life just like her skipper. Silver Queen loomed in the darkness beyond, the chough painted on her wheelhouse door still gazing out to sea, lit eerily by the silver glow of the moon. And finally, resting in the darkness, lay Razorbill. I idly ran one hand along her weathered gunwale as I covered the last few yards up the beach, the wood scarred and marked by the rough passage of a million lines.

I felt completely alone, caught in the timeless passage of another day at the edge of the Atlantic. Pausing one last time, I looked out over the fishing fleet of Cadgwith Cove, then turned and rounded the corner for home. For one more evening, in one more magical rocky inlet around the British coast, the hunt was over.  

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A guilty pleasure.....

There are - of course - many pleasures to be had from fatherhood. There is that first smile, and that first moment when you can convince yourself that your cherished offspring is actually saying your name. The latter came about after an Ipcress File style interrogation, where I sat in front of little Isla for an hour going “da da, da da, da da...” over and over until she eventually buckled. Glassy eyed and fatigued, she finally mumbled “da da” just to get me to stop, which gave me proper bragging rights over Tam. Unfortunate Isla had to do it all again as I had forgotten to video it. I imagine it’ll require several years of counseling for the poor wee mite to recover from the stress.
But aside from all these land-mark moments on the journey for any new parent, there is one pleasure that over-rides them all. This is the fact that you are now allowed - in fact obliged - to watch children’s tv programmes.
I dimly recall these from my own childhood of course. It’s a roll call of innocence, of a time lost that will never be reclaimed. Trumpton, The Clangers, Mr Ben, and Andy Pandy (mind you, for the latter even my four year old brain was thinking “This is garbage, I wonder what’s on the other side - ah yes, Vision On.”). It might just be the passage of time, but a lot of the kids stuff that I’m watching now makes The Magic Roundabout look like Panorama - plot lines are scant, and the animation lazily compiled on computers that don’t require painstaking manipulation of bits of plasticine. There is, however, one notable exception.
I was introduced to this by Tam, who’s giggles made it all the way to where I was attempting to work / staring out of the window idly wondering when the rain would stop. Curious, I walked into the front room to find the ladies of the house both hooting with laughter at the tv. One of them was dribbling uncontrollably too whilst periodically trying to eat the remote control although fortunately this was Isla, so I could turn my attention to what was on the screen.
It’s was a programme called “In the Night Garden”, and quite frankly after watching it for ten minutes I was dribbling and trying to eat the remote too. It’s barking mad, properly insane, utterly deranged, and quite, quite brilliant. 
I’m struggling to think of the production meeting where it was devised. Of course something mildly hallucinogenic would have been discreetly piped into the room beforehand. And everyone has to be equipped with a spliff the size of a baseball bat. How else would you explain the subsequent conversation?
“Right, we’ve got a forest as a setting, now we need a star, a strong central character around who it all revolves. A role model for kids watching. Any suggestions?”
“How about a blue half man half teddy called Igglepiggle who passes out every time something unusual happens?”
“Brilliant. Any more ideas?”
“Well - and bear with me on this - how about a train that climbs trees called the Ninky Nonk?”
Vigorous nods all round.
“And I thought three weird creatures - let’s call them the Tombliboos - whose trousers keep falling down. Oh, and a small thing called a Makka Pakka who essentially has OCD and relentlessly cleans stuff.”
“This is tv gold I tell you! Keep it coming....”
“Right, well we’ll obviously need five massive, billowy things called Haahoos that basically get in the way all the time and are just a bit sinister in a starey wide eyed way - the sort of things that would give Andy MacNab screaming nightmares.”
“Stop right there - I can smell the awards. All we need now is a narrator - someone who is down with the yoof, trendy and very much of the moment?”
“How about 73 year old classic Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi? 
“Of course, silly of me not to think of him sooner.”
And there we have it. The result is once-in-a-lifetime tv that’ll make you laugh so hard you’ll almost certainly rupture something. Or - depending on your viewpoint - a disturbingly insane set of images that means your kids will never want to go near a forest as long as they live. Isla finds it mesmerising and baffling all at the same time, as I think the attached image illustrates. What you can’t see is that Tam and I had precisely the same expressions as we watched it too. Even the dog looked bewlidered.

I’m hoping the rain stops soon I can get back to exploring the coast, but for now “In the Night Garden” is doing a very good job at keeping us all vaguely sane. It deserves every gong it gets.   

Monday, 18 June 2012

Meeting Her Majesty (kind of....)....

All this happened in the frenzy of the Jubilee by the way, so forgive the delay. The piccie is of Tam and Isla (a.k.a Kate Middleton and a small Princess) on the beautiful boat The Fairmile (a.k.a. their personal Royal Barge) as part of the Dartmouth Jubilee procession. Very nice it was too.....


There are a great many benefits of having a dog. One of the main ones of course is that you are absolutely and unconditionally adored. This unfettered loyalty and relentless enthusiasm for pretty much anything you do is unbending.  Go out for ten minutes, and you’ll return to find the dog pogo’ing in delight in the hallway, surrounded by a scene that says “You went out, and I didn’t think you were ever, ever, ever, ever coming back. So I panicked and ate the sofa.” It’s hard to stay annoyed though - many’s the time I’ve been putting up a wonky shelf or cooking one of my famously inept meals only to glance round and see Reubs staring at me with that look that says “That is simply the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, you are a talent beyond measure and I respect, admire and love you for it.” This is diametrically opposed to cats by the way, who would look at you doing the same thing with an expression that unequivocally says “Call that a shelf? Jesus, what an incompetent prat” before stalking off to find small mammals to murder. 

One of the other great peripheral benefits of the dog thing is that you are forced to go out at least twice a day. Reubs is the size of a respectably plump timber wolf, and would not look kindly on me sitting at home watching the world go by when there are squirrels to be chased and large expanses of ocean to be barked at. Having a dog certainly keeps you fit, and so one of the real pleasures for me and big hairy fella is running along the path that leads from the house, winding its way along the coast through many an echoing cove and ancient wood.

My runs nowadays are fairly calculated affairs. Gone are the days of the pronking gazelle of youth, to be replaced by the gut-shot buffalo of middle age – I wheeze and stumble along, puce of face, heart vibrating like a bag of jam left on top of a spin-dryer, all the while leaving vapour trails of shining spittle in my wake. It’s not a good look, and I’m always keen to find reasons to stop. So as I ran along a quiet lane towards Dartmouth Castle, I needed no excuse to skid to a halt next to house tucked away in a shady hollow.

The image that had caught my attention was a really quite substantial picture of the Queen on the front door of the house. This wasn’t a photo that had been cut out of a magazine and casually stuck to the panelling, it was colossal – in fact it was pretty much life size. For one faintly panicky moment – as I blinked away the sweat that had streamed into my eyes - I thought it actually WAS the Queen. This would have been one of those classically awkward social situations, particularly as Reubs – untroubled it seemed by the presence of royalty - took the opportunity for a quick toilet stop. Suffice to say that he’s a very large dog indeed, so this is invariably a flamboyant affair involving apocalyptic smells, the occasional deafening noise, and a pile that can reach knee height. The fact that he was doing this directly in front of Her Majesty filled me – as I trust it would any stout hearted Englishman – with horror. Happily a closer look at the door revealed that it was HRH in 2D, and not the 3D version which would have seen me marched off to the Tower to be beaten senseless by furious Beefeaters. 

Having cleaned up (one of the other joys of dog ownership) I carried on running to the castle to finally stand on a grass bank that led down to the seashore, the green slope before me alive with primroses and bluebells. The cove below us shone in the morning sunshine, the waves rustling and chuckling into the loose stones of the beach after their journey across a wide sea. The castle was built to keep out the invaders from beyond the horizon, and stands as a monument to a time when being a Royalist could mean the difference between life and death. Such sentiments are of course long gone, but it seems to me that coastal communities – the front line for invasion in days of yore - always had to rely on an established Monarchy at their back as they faced such uncertainty to their front.  

We duly stumbled home, with me tugging a respectful forelock as we passed the door on the return journey. I know we all have mixed views on the Monarchy, but I reckon the Jubilee was a pretty good thing as it got us all buntingly-flutteringly happy for a wee while, before the spectre of double dip recessions and free-falling Euro's reappeared. Yep, I enjoyed the Jubilee. Let's do another one soon..... 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Man Cave.....

Hi All,

So sorry that it's been a while since I last posted. I've been charging about like a man possessed, Isla tucked under one arm, keys for the boat, the house, the car, the safe, and the shop all lost or mislaid at one time or another, my boxer shorts on backwards and wearing odd socks. Blimey. But I have had a little refuge, somewhere I can go to re-connect with my basest self, so I thought I'd write about that as I'm assuming everyone has such a place.

Our house looks fairly standard from the outside. Perhaps the presence of a small baby and large dog means that there is slightly more rubbish than usual out front (we’re trying to adhere to the massively complex recycling rules of modern life as best we can, the result being ninety seven bins of varying shades containing the detritus of our existence). But generally we have the veneer of pretty much the standard home. Walk inside and there is – just like any other place - a certain level of bedlam. You’ll probably step on a squeaky toy as you pass over the threshold. Reuben will bark ferociously, every inch the timber wolf defending the pack, until you scratch him behind one ear at which point he’ll roll over and gaze at you adoringly whilst waggling his legs in the air. If only the moose in the Klondike knew this about wolves, their lives would be considerably lengthened I imagine. Baby Isla will be sitting on the floor, drooling like an escaped maniac and trying very hard to eat a cushion, and Tam will be multi-tasking in that sort of “playing a vigorous solo on a one man band outfit” manner that is the new mum preparing for the day ahead.

Walk through the chaos, side-stepping bags and babies, all the while being followed slavishly by Reuben, and you’ll come to a door under the stairs. A non-descript door, just like any other, and yet behind it lurks the very essence of my manhood. Turn the handle, and there’s every chance you’ll be overwhelmed by the musky whiff of testosterone that emerges as the door swings ajar. For this is a portal to that essential of modern life - my man-cave.

As your eyes adjust to the gloom you’ll be able to make out the murky shapes of spear guns, diving equipment, tools (oh yes, lots and lots of tools), and crouched in the corner like some hormonal silverback, me. As you enter I may well glance up with a primal grunt. In my more exuberantly masculine moments I may even stand and vigorously pummel my own chest. I have even been known to mock charge those who enter the man-cave, as Tam whispers in the background “Just stay calm, don’t run, and whatever you do don’t look him in the eye. He’s sees it as a challenge you know.” After a few moments I’ll return to whatever I’m doing, which involves a variety of different tools but always, always a very large hammer.

Here's a piccie. To get the full effect whilst viewing this image you need to go and get a whiff of a stag in the midst of the rut, or a bull elephant in musth. But I'm sure you get the general idea.....

I’ve heard it said that modern society is noting the gradual eradication of that peculiar creature that is a man. The thinking goes that the difference between the sexes has become blurred as we become an androgynous monoculture – you only have to stand Orlando Bloom next to Fatima Whitbread to see that this argument has merit. The days of the hunter are behind us, which neatly removes that particular daily test of virility. If you were the chap who thundered first down the hill ahead of the tribe, waggling your pitiful sharp twig at a lavishly tusked mammoth, you were held in high esteem. Or you were messily and immediately dead (which also means that the buffoons were invariably removed from the gene pool by the way, which is something that is again lamentably in the distant past).

May I say on behalf of at least half of the world’s population that it’s not easy being a modern chap. The normal tests of man-dom have been removed by the march of civilisation, and now we have to convince our respective partners that we could – if the chips were down – wrestle a sabre tooth tiger into submission, but the modern life means that we have this discussion whilst taking out a pink recycling bin. I know that society today applauds the delicate, sensitive man, and so it should. But inside, deep inside, I’m sure there’s a tiny voice in every woman that is saying “I wonder if my man could wrestle a sabre-tooth tiger into submission? Yeah, I bet he could…..”

Glance across at your man now, and you’re looking at the greatest predator that has ever walked planet earth, a magnificent uber-animal that can run all day and bring home the bacon. The passage of time, pasties and pies may have taken their toll, but inside there’s a snake hipped Apache warrior (possibly two now I think about some of my more generously upholstered mates).

And so let’s celebrate the man-cave, the shed, the garage, the study, the den and the fug. It’s here that your man can convince himself that he’s still got it, that he could still flit across the Kalahari in the shimmering heat, that he can kick a lion in the family jewels, and stare down a grizzly. The fact that from the within his cave he’ll occasionally bellow “Darling, could I have a cup of tea please? Not too strong. Oh, and with my sweetners please, not sugar. Oh, and with soya milk too, you know that dairy makes me a tad gassy….” should be quietly, and benevolently, forgiven.      

Friday, 4 May 2012

Hell and High Water, and why there'll always be an England.....

Morning All. At last another chance to sit and scribble a brief note about the trials and travails of the Great Escapes. Going well I must say, if only as a monument to the resilience of human nature if nothing else. To explain....

We finally ran our first Ultimate Taste of Devon trip the other day - this is notionally a trip out over gilded water to bob sedately off Jurassic cliffs, looking at charismatic large animals, followed by landing on a white beach to consume a feast of local produce, before a shorewalk with a marine biologist then and five mile trek home along the cliff path. All to take place in the burnished sunshine of a classic Devon Spring. Our happy, contented punters would then retire to the pub to proclaim very loudly how splendid we were.

As the day approached, so did a gigantic, spiralling low pressure system from the mid Atlantic. These two seismic events - the Ultimate Taste of Devon, and the storm of the decade - met on the 29th April at 11 am in Dartmouth, with the centre of the weather system - basically a whirlpool of violently spinning cold air - sitting precisely over the chimney of the shop building. I walked to work that day at 45 degrees, eyes slitted against the driving rain, with the gulls flying backwards and people packing their possessions into their cars whilst shouting "It's the end of all things, grab the children" at passers by. It was, in a word, bad.

When I got to the shop, Andy was in the process of putting on more protective clothing than Sir Ranulph Fiennes, as the door rattled and groaned on it's hinges. The town itself was utterly deserted, as scirrocos of  rain span down the street. Pub signs creaked and swung on their hinges, and no living thing was out in the open, as to do so would mean certain death. My thoughts at this stage was that only a deranged lunatic would pay money to sit in an open boat on a day like today, and then, hunched and staggering through the maelstrom, came five of them.

At that exact point, I loved being British. Such a refusal to accept the blindingly obvious is the reason we once had an Empire. It wasn't quite charging the cannons in the Crimea, but I'd venture it was fairly close. As Julia and Robin - our first guests - came through the door they did that special "stamp the water off the wellies" dance and muttered "Blimey, it's a bit fresh." As they said this a yacht went past upside down in the street and a van with an American typhoon chaser was seen speeding past as it ran for cover. Soon our other guests appeared, and we had a full complement of mad people.

And so to the boat. Literally nothing else was moving on the river, except for the odd duck cowering in the lee of a marker bouy quacking in alarm and paddling like a wind-up toy to stay in the same place.

Everyone cheerily climbed on board, piling into the stern to huddle together like Emperor Penguins in a blizzard as seen in one of the more lavishly funded wildlife documentaries.

"RIGHT" I hollered above the shriek of the wind, "WE'RE JUST GOING FOR A LITTLE CRUISE UP THE RIVER."

Everyone nodded with the look of the imminently doomed, and we moved sedately away from the quay. Backwards and then sideways as the wind took charge. Happily we had the horsepower to turn up-river, although unhappily this meant we were now going directly into the wind. To replicate this sensation it's probably best to stand directly behind a jet engine with someone hurling small ice cubes at our face.

"AND OVER THERE IS THE NAVAL COLLEGE. BUILT IN 1905." I roared, like it was a nice day and everyone on board was stone deaf.

We finally admitted defeat, and turned so we were going with the wind. I slowed the engines to idle as essentially we were being pushed along at a neat ten knots by the gale up our rear end. Here's a picture of us all in action. Please note the utterly deserted waters behind us and the shuttered frontage of Dartmouth.

We duly landed in the lee of the castle, and everyone piled ashore in good order. The nature walk was one of the shortest in history, the slight snag being that the beach was under about eight feet of foaming, heaving water. The seashore talk was along the lines of "There's the beach. Now, run, save yourselves."

Back to the shop, and a feast of bliblical dimensions laid on by Helen and Danii at the Dart to Mouth Deli. I could go into detail, but the best way to put it is - as ever - in a picture. Clotted cream from local farms, crab from the local fleet, smoked chicken from the local smokehouse - food so good it made you want to burst into song.

And that was it - a day that was truly epic and yet about as much fun as it's possible to have with your clothes on. Andy you played a blinder, and as for Kate and Matt, Bruce, Julia and Robin, well - you are the stuff of legend.

Next one on 13th May when the sun will definitely shine.

Cheers, Mont

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Well, I type this as a gibbering ruin of a man. My life for the last ten days or so has been bedlam, with a touch of chaos, a hint of anarchy, and more than a little fevered turmoil. I should start by saying that I have a slight touch of man flu. Which is real by the way. I looked it up, and it's classified by the World Health Organisation as "A virulent strain of normal flu which effects only chaps, and is entirely unfathomable to ladies". I am struggling heroically on, but fear that I may weaken before the end of this column (said the Duchess to the Vicar).

Anyway, to recap. A week and half ago we - that's me, Tam, Andy and Lucy - triumphantly threw open the doors of the shop at precisely 10 o'clock. We all stood behind the counter, beaming expectantly, and then the most extraordinary thing happened. Absolutely nothing. There was no rush, no gaggle of delighted punters eager to relive me of books and DVD's whilst pressing crumpled tenners into my clammy palm, all the while whispering "Keep the change" as they delightedly thumbed through their new volume of amusing tales about Reuben. Oh no. We just stood there for a while, as all around was a kind of embarrassed silence broken only by a slight cough and a vague shuffling of the feet as we all studiously avoided each others eyes.

And then, a man came in. A perfectly normal, nice man. On holiday with his family in Dartmouth. He just happened to be wandering past, and thought he'd pop in and browse. And browse he did, under the expectant gaze of all five of us, our eyes collectively boring into the back of the poor chaps head. And then....and...then...he picked up a copy of the sizzling bodice ripper that is "The Great Escape" volume one, plainly liked the heft of it, and said (as you would) "I'd like to buy this please."

Seldom can those words have created such an exhalation of relief, and a rush of impeccable service. One of us reverentially took the book off him, the other retrieved a "Monty Halls Great Escapes" branded bag from under the counter, another panicked and tried to make a cappucino from the coffee machine that wasn't switched on yet, and another just stared at the - now thoroughly alarmed - chap with the adoring gaze of acolyte. If Carlsberg made shop assistants, they would be exactly like us at that precise moment. Anyway here is a photo of the historic moment, consisting of an alarmed man and his lovely family, and a delighted new business owner.

So, the clock reads six minutes past ten, and we were seven quid up on the day. Keep this up and we'd be millionaires by August.

Happily the rest of the day proved if not quite busy, then certainly active enough to make us realise that we had absolutely no idea how to work the till. Modern tills are heinously complex bits of kit, with a brain bigger than ours and all manner of buttons. How I wished for an Arkwright style till with massive levers and drawer that went ding. Anyway, we muddled through, and were then into the evening and a little party we'd organised for anyone local who fancied coming along. Happily this turned out to be quite a few people, and so the evening passed in an increasingly burpy, amiable, glassy eyed way.

This was a potential survival situation as by this stage I'd been talking so much that dehydration was plainly a serious concern. Happily Suze spotted the impeding crisis, and every time I looked up she was walking towards me with a full pint which I drank in a medicinal manner. This proved to be a splendid development, meaning that each story I told became increasingly far fetched, with me assuming a more centrally heroic role every time. Here's a piccie, although I must say she appears to have taken a few sips of this one to test it (and has assumed the facial expression of the recently rumbled).

 Lots and lots and lots then happened over the next ten days. The best way I can describe it is in pictures. Suffice to say it was a great time with great people and we made about £2.50 profit in total as we were just trying things out. So here we go......

That was an experimental shorewalk with family, friends, and a few people who had gamely paid a reduced fee to come along. The people in the bottom picture giving me bist of seaweed are my big sister and her two brilliant kids, Charlie and Gemma. The whole thing was great fun, particularly as it came complete with a burbling drunk who got punchy in the car park where we met up, as he was off his face on Alcopops. Never let it be said that we don't know how to show our clients a good time....

This was out in the RIB testing the routes we're going to use / being suckered into going really fast by everyone in the boat yelling "I don't care if it's a razorbill or a guillemot, MAKE THE BOAT GO FAST!" So I had to.

This was Tam's photo as we set out on our first trip.

Anyway, we're hanging on in there, things are starting to make sense, and we're figuring out a plan for the bedlam of the approaching Summer. A massive thanks to everyone in Dartmouth who has been so kind to us, which is pretty much everyone in Dartmouth now I come to think of it.

More in a week or so.



Thursday, 5 April 2012

We (or rather they) did it....

We have lift off. The shop is opening tomorrow, and by jingo it actually does look quite like a shop. This, I should hastily point out, has absolutely nothing to do with me, as I have been off on a publicity tour for the new book over the last week or so. My contribution has therefore consisted of waltzing out of the empty shell of a room last Thursday, calling cheerily over one shoulder to the new staff members "See you in a week chaps, try to get the place ready if you can."

Book tours are great, as you tend to stay in lovely hotels, wear big fluffy dressing gowns, and everyone is very, very nice to you because they have to be. Over a series of sumptious breakfasts, whilst reading a recently ironed copy of The Times, I would occasionally phone the shop to find out how things were going. Things were going very, very well as it turned out.

The reasons for this are called Andy and Lucy. Andy has been nothing short of a man possessed, standing on the top of wobbly ladders balancing on one foot with a mouthful of nails, brow furrowed as he sorts another piece of overhead DIY phoned in by me in the manner of Lord Bufton-Tufton as I feasted on quail at the Ritz. Andy, in short, is made of the right stuff.

Lucy applied considerable elan and flair to the layout of the place, and plundered her own store to provide lovely chalk boards and odds and bobs to make the shop look what can only be described as chic and stylish. As these are two words that have NEVER been applied to me, it's obvious that the credit for the place looking so good really does lie elsewhere.

Not forgetting Jim, Jim, Simon, Josh, Steve who all worked on the project, and the many brilliant photographers who have submitted their works for display. It's been a wonderful effort all round.

So, we now have a shop. Here's a couple of piccies....

Andy, by the way, is the ruin of a man waving his arm in triumph behind the counter. Or possibly waving his fist at me and threatening legal action - I haven't quite decided which....

So it's the big opening tomorrow morning. If you're in Dartmouth come in and have a coffee (if we can figure out how to work the machine), have a chat (if we've figured out our staff roster system), or maybe even buy something (if we can figure out how to work the till). It's been a roller coaster ride, but then again they're quite fun aren't they?

Oh, and I've been told under threat of death by Tam that I need to pass on the new Facebook page for the business. There we go, done it. We'll use this to keep you posted about the shenanighans of the Summer to come.

Oh, and by the way here's a shot of our little Isla swimming. She's a chip off the old block that girl....

Oh (again) and there's some big news about the blog, but I'm sworn to secrecy - tell you as soon as I can.

Onward ever onward.

Cheers, Mont and the team.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Stoats and senility and social media….

It’s so beautiful down here at the moment. I mean, ridiculously so. There’s that special Spring thing going on, which we as a temperate nation appreciate more than most. We’ve emerged from yet another bleak mid-winter and are now officially frolicking in the sunshine. If I was a lamb I would almost certainly be gambolling, and if this was pagan times there would be all manner of fertility rituals going on. This has been replaced in modern society by seven pints of Stellar and a kebab eating competition, but the theme is still the same. Anyway, I like Spring. A lot.

As I was feeling young and fecund, I strolled across the park to join the nearby lifeboat station as a volunteer. I know everyone says they do this out of a sense of duty – which is true – but there is also the not inconsiderable motivation of the possibility of rescuing the (all female) crew of a yacht that has stranded on a sand bank and urgently need lots of lotion applying. The thought of hoving into view to be greeted by the words “Thank god you’re here. We’re the Hooters display team on a motivational outing and there will be genuine bikini chafing issues unless you can do something RIGHT NOW”. 
Well, let’s just say it added a certain spring to my step as I approached the lifeboat shed.

I duly chatted to Rob, the boss, who is a very nice man, but told me that I was too old. Crikey. I’m forty five, and the maximum age for a D Class boat is….forty five. The crew were all very welcoming indeed, and – seeing my crestfallen expression as the vision of helping out in a helicopter lift by attaching a hook to a leopard skin thong duly faded – Rob said that I could help out on shore. I am therefore being trained as stand-by tractor driver to get the boat in and out of the water. My feelings on the RNLI are well known as I do try to write about them whenever I can – they represent the very best of what we can be I think, volunteering to put themselves in harms way to save others. I’m happy and honoured to help out, and for now have put away my tub of coconut smelling factor 30 and bikini release shears. But I’m ready at a moments notice.

We went up river in the RIB to explore the Dart. It’s a strange sensation to motor away from the genteel, manicured seafront in Dartmouth, and within minutes be puttering through what appears to be the Amazonian basin. The trees come right down to the edge of the water, and the valley echos and crackles with life. I was fully expecting some parakeets to fly overhead or a tapir to emerge from the margins. Although that didn’t happen, what did was probably – in fact definitely from Reuben’s perspective – just as exciting.

As we motored through one of the larger turns in the river – which are in effect huge, sweeping lagoons as the Dart slows in it’s leisurely amble to the sea – I saw something in the water. We were probably three hundred metres from the bank, right in mid-stream, and a long way from anything.

The first I saw was a very small head motoring very determinedly along, whiskers bristling, whilst a very short distance behind there was a fluffy tail being used as a makeshift rudder. As we got closer we realised – after considerable debate in the boat - that it was a stoat. Plainly there was something highly compelling on the opposite bank that had made it plunge in to swim a very, very long way indeed. We drew alongside and I could make out it’s little legs whirring away, eyes fixed on it’s destination, a demented David Walliams on a mission to the promised land.

There was a great deal of ‘ahhh’ing” and “come on little fella’ ing” from all of us in the boat, which drew the attention of the – until this point rather bored – dog.

Up to this juncture Reuben had been occupied with his crewman’s duties which consist mainly of a) barking at the water, b) sitting on my feet to keep them warm, and c) barking at the water again. Having performed these duties with some aplomb, he was by this stage pretty unimpressed with the trip. Imagine then his considerable delight as he hoisted himself to his feet to be met with the sight of what appeared to be a swimming squirrel right under his twitching nose. This was the equivalent of every single one of his Christmas’s and Birthdays arriving simultaneously.

At this point a certain level of bedlam broke out on the boat. Reubs was very, very, very keen to retrieve said squirrel for – as the Japanese whaling fleet might put it – scientific purposes. We were equally keen that he didn’t. Kerin – Tam’s brother – basically had to assume a similar position to a water skier as he held Reub’s collar and skidded across the deck. Reinforcements became involved, and Reubs was taken into custody before being manacled to the deck. He found this disappointing. He started barking, the baby started crying, it started to rain, and the stoat engaged the after-burners and accelerated to about one mile an hour. It seemed as good a time as any for us to leave the scene.

Anyway, what an amazing thing. It turns out that stoats are very good swimmers – we did a bit of research when we got back – and found out that they can swim out to offshore islands as far as a mile out. Unless pursued by Reubs of course, in which case I bet they’d swim much further (and faster). He sulked all the way home by the way, and is still slightly huffy about it.

The shop looks great, and will really come on in the next week or so. The big opening is Friday 6th April – hooray indeed. We’re doing a course about how to use social media soon, so we can keep everyone posted about what animals we’re seeing via twitter and all that. The shop, although small, will have an electronic signature akin to the USS Nimitz shelling a beach prior to an invasion.

Isla's very well, although she’s now the size of Miranda. Reubs loves her, and keeps a close eye on proceedings. 

We’ll keep you posted as ever – can’t believe that soon we’ll be flipping the sign from Closed to Open!

Best, Monty

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The sad demise of HMS Nelanor......

It’s all happening. Right now. At enormous speed.

Having said rather glibly for a while now that I’ve got aaaaaages to get the shop together, it suddenly appears that I’ve got two weeks until the first customers will walk through the door. These will be real people, wanting stuff, and attempting to give me money. With this distinctly alarming prospect in mind, the last few days have been moderately intense. There has also been, I must say, more than a smattering of fun though.

The main fun element was taking the RIB out for an impromptu photo shoot. I did this in the company of three old muckers from the Royal Marines. The optimum word in that sentence is probably the “old” bit, as we’re all in our mid forties now. Although we’ve still got it. Oh yes. Mind you, that does make the assumption that we had “it” in the first place. Whatever "it" is (never quite figured that one out....) 

The boys have done well since leaving the Marines. We’ve got Doug – now an airline pilot. Paul, a polar explorer of note and an expert in leadership training. And Si – a ludicrously talented man who has done amazing work in Nepal, Sierra Leone and Kosovo, as well as writing brilliant children’s books and recording some genuinely excellent albums. What a collection of life experience. What talent. What could possibly go wrong? 

The answer to the latter question is relatively simple. Also in the boat was my good mate Becks – in her own right a hugely talented jazz musician. She’s a legend is Becks, a smiley, very bright, enthusiast who gets on with anyone and is destined for great things. So, to recap, we have four Royal Marines all at various stages of their mid-life crisis, twenty four feet of fast boat driven by two hundred and thirty snorting horses on the stern, and a good looking girl on board. Oh dear.

It was Simon who succumbed first really. Having taken over for a quick drive, he politely asked me where the throttles were located, then pushed them smartly forward until they were up against the stops. The engine noise went from a mutter to a full throated roar to a bestial howl. We went so fast that my sideburns blew off, Paul was blinded by his own luxuriant moustache, and Doug blacked out due to the intense G forces. I glanced across at Si as he was driving, and noted that he had by now sprouted horns and had testosterone dribbling out of his ears.

It is actually written into Naval law that should your skipper go insane, you are allowed to forcefully relieve him of command. As such there was a brief mutiny, and Si was summarily sacked. The rest of the trip passed at a more sedate pace, giving us the chance to get very close to a bruiser of a grey seal, and watch two harbour porpoises roll and twist through the surface, their flanks gilded in the dusk.

We’ve also done the rowing boat thing - called Nelanor for some reason no-one can quite figure out. I picked her up last week. It turns out that quite a small rowing boat in a large garden in Cornwall, is actually a rather large rowing boat in a small shop in Devon, and it dawned on me it was going to be a bit of a squeeze to get her in the shop. Nonetheless myself and Simon the carpenter hacked and sawed away under the aghast gaze of the good people of Dartmouth (who know a thing or two about boats). 

It was very shortly after we stood back in triumph, with one large rowing boat having just become two smaller ones, that our friend Hayden idly remarked that (prior to dismembering it) I could have repaired it and done it up for about £400 quid. Add this to the £400 I paid for it, and that would have come to £800. A lot less than the £3000 Hayden said we could have got had I then sold the repaired boat. And so my first big business gesture had been to vigorously saw in half my main investment of the month. Great work. 

But it is quite simply the greatest counter a shop has ever had. We’re just going to have to sell A LOT of coffee to make up the money we could have got for it in the first place.

Anyway, aside from offending the entire town, nearly making the RIB engines explode, and enthusiastically sawing up two grand, the business is going splendidly. The boat really does look very good indeed in the shop, and Simon has done an amazing job. We’ve also got the sofa in there now, which means I can now sit on it and bark instructions at him which he seems to enjoy very much.

It’s a gamble being down here and setting this up. But the other evening, as we flew like a comet ahead of the twisting tail of our spreading wake, with the cliffs of South Devon glowing in the sun, and my muckers in the boat around me, you realise that after all is said and done, some gambles are worth taking.

Two weeks until opening! I’ll keep you posted…

Best, Monty

PS. Thanks so much for your kind comments about the fishing series. So important we support our fishermen.....

Monday, 5 March 2012

The ego has landed..... other words - we're in! Through the door of debt and into the new premises. Obviously only a fool would set up a business in the current economic climate, particularly one based entirely around a rowing boat that has been sawed in half, an old sofa (more of that in a moment), coffee, and tall stories of questionable accuracy. But it appears that's precisely what we're doing.

I walked through the doors for the first time last week. Actually, that should be "we" walked through the doors last week, as Isla was strapped to my chest at the time. I used her as a sort of fleshy buffer to ease the door open, and so our entry into the shop for the first time was punctuated by an exclamation of delight from me, and a howl of protest from her.

Anyway, it's great to be in. The people of Dartmouth have been more than welcoming, one of whom is Josh, who introduced me to Jim, who told me about Simon, who recommended me to Steve, who said I really should chat to (confusingly) Simon (a different one), who said I'd be mad to proceed without talking to (even more confusingly) Jim (a different one). So, me, Tam, Isla, Jim, Jim, Simon, Simon, and Steve are now getting stuck in.

One of the first things Simon did was rip up the carpet, to reveal a set of tiles covered in an adhesive that appeared to be made of jam, combined with snot, combined with something very, very sticky. Seldom has an adhesive been so adhesive. We've spent a great deal of this afternoon scraping it off. Reuben has assisted us in this process by bringing me his ball every fifteen seconds so I can throw it three feet away (it's only a small shop), for him to chase, then bring back, drop at my feet, and look at me like this is simply the most impossibly exciting game ever invented. This went on for two hours, and would still be going on now if he had his way, the utter buffoon.

  Now, the sofa. This is no ordinary shop, so this will be no ordinary sofa. I've found one in a place called "Commerce" in Dartmouth (go there, it's full of wacky furniture and eccentric, absolutely beautiful odds and bobs that have a whiff of intrigue and adventure about them). It's worn and battered, and the cushions are made from a faded red ensign that fluttered off the back of a commercial vessel that has circumnavigated the globe. Sit on it and your generously supported rump will be nestled into the warm winds of Madagascar, the psychotic fury of a hurricane off Alaska, and the cold fog of the Grand Banks. This sofa alone is reason enough to visit the shop I'd say. We're going to charge at least a tenner to sit in it, and a fiver to sniff it.

The wooden flooring arrives tomorrow, and then I'm off to get the rowing boat from Nige down in Cadgwith. And on that note, hope you're enjoying the new series by the way. If you happen to enjoy the sight of a grown man being turned into a great big vomity organ of evacuation, then the next episode is definitely the one for you.

Walked Reubs home at the end of a knackering day, pausing only briefly by the river so he could be assaulted by two swans. If you look at the picture, you might see elegance and serenity, but actually you're looking at Vinnie Jones and Ray Winstone with feathers. Shortly after this photo it got a tad feisty. I know hurting a swan is tantamount to shooting the Queen, but touch my big hairy boy (not a euphemism) again and I'll do something unpleasant to you with some sage and onion stuffing that would make Bill Oddie go quite ashen.

Anyway, off to Cadgwith to get the rowing boat. Which we'll then saw in half. Oh yes.

All the best, Mont

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Absolutely the best thing that's ever happened in the history of everything anywhere.......

........was taking baby Isla for her first swimming lesson today. I was definitely being a rather good, very hands on dad throughout. But before we recount this historic event, we need to back track to yesterday, when I was a bad dad. Oh yes, a very poor effort indeed.

Basically Tam had left me in charge of the little one for an hour. Giddy with responsibility, I took her to the local baby clinic where we had her weighed (she's an absolute chubber - she's about the same size as George Doors from Shooting Stars), and I had a surreal conversation with another mum about the difficulties in breast feeding (which is something I've REALLY struggled with if I'm honest). We then left the clinic, drove home, I changed Isla's nappy, and we chatted away merrily for ten minutes. All was very much under control. I was daddy daycare. It was splendid.

Such was the pink fluffiness of the moment that I decided to take her back into her nursery for some toys. This I did at a brisk walk, neglecting to notice as I carried her that the doorway (narrow) was somewhat smaller than Isla (not narrow). The resultant clunk of me using her head as a mallet on the door frame was not a popular move. It was even less popular when Tam came back, and I spent the rest of the day on the metaphorical naughty step, being glared at by the women in the house, one of whom was sporting a lump the size of a pea on the side of her newly formed bonce.

Redemption came in the form a swimming lesson today. I just can't tell you how much fun this was. This was particularly apt as everyone else present was either a) a baby, or b) a lady who had just had a baby. This made me feel slightly like a slightly seedy uncle with wandering hands and a lazy eye, but all was swiftly forgotten as the class commenced. The culmination was singing "The Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round" whilst running in a circle with your baby and splashing a lot, which was THE BEST THING EVER. Isla looked faintly bewildered throughout, particularly when it came to the dunking under the water bit - a key part of the first lesson I hasten to add. Having dunked her, she came up looking absolutely livid. It was very much a "First you concuss me, then you hold me under water. What are you thinking man?" I subsequently found out she had poo'd herself during the session, but - let's face it - we've all poo'd in a swimming pool at some point haven't we? Haven't we?

Right, the shop. Got the keys today! Off in a moment to measure it up and get cracking. Have decided that the rowing boat counter is still a good idea, but now we're going to use the rest of the rowing boat as shelves. Genius. Essentially the shop layout at the  moment is a smashed up rowing boat - wonder what Mary Porter would make of it?

I'll post some pictures at the weekend.



Thursday, 16 February 2012

A travelling circus.....

Sorry for not blogging for a while. We've been on the road!

No-one tells you that when you have a kid you need to buy a larger car or - even better - a lorry. Dutiful newbies that we were to the parenting scene, we toured a Mothercare warehouse several weeks before before Isla appeared. We stared wide-eyed at the bewildering array of things that are apparently required to keep a small, brand new, dribbling person contented and safe for any length of time. The snag in all this is that you feel like you're being criminally negligent if you don't buy the computerised car seat or the helmet mounted feeding bottle with infra red sensor. It became a competition - we shouldered aside other couples to be the first to buy a pram that (evidently) had been designed and built by elves, came in a range of materials (platinum, titanium, or simple gold), and was powered by swans.

Anyway, we bought everything we were advised to, and then set off on a bit of a road trip last week. I had talks to do in various places, which are always good fun, but in this case required pretty much a lap of southern England over four days. We loaded the car, which proved to be too small (as it was only a massive Land Rover), so we took Tam's car as well. Everest expeditions in the 1920's needed less kit than we did it seemed, and by the time we were done the cars were filled to the gunwales. This left a space for the dog. Well, a dog. A very small dog, one of those novelty toy breeds that are carried round on a velvet cushion by histrionic ladies who write romantic fiction. Not something the size of a well nourished polar bear (i.e. Reuben). Nonetheless he was crammed in, and off we went, with any drivers who happened to follow us being treated to the sight of what gave every impression of being a travelling circus.

Of course when you get anywhere you have to unload everything. Then feed everything. Then pick up poo. The latter is one of the real pleasures of dog ownership of course (Reuben is a big dog, that's all I'm going to say on the matter, aside from the words "bin-liner"), but now we have the added joy of dealing with Isla's as well. I don't mind her doing it of course - she is, after all, only eleven weeks old - it's just that she looks so delighted every time she does one, cackling in glee and waving her plump little fists at me as I change her. You wait, I think, in forty years or so the roles will be reversed and let's see if you're quite so chirpy then. Aha.

Anyway, we made it, having done a talk in Bristol, in London (at the RGS - well done Bazza, you stole the show....), and in Falmouth. We also went back to lovely Cadgwith - what a place, and took Reubs on a cliff walk. Wonderful. And now we're back home.

The shop is - at last - being finalised and we take it over on Monday. There were three solicitors involved, and although I always think you can obviously never have too many solicitors involved in anything, it has dragged on a tad. BUT we're there now.

"There" being a shop that will be a base camp for diving the south coast of Devon, for wildlife filming courses, for shore walks, and - we hope - a haven for divers and wildlife enthusiasts who just want to chill out in a place with lots of good coffee and plenty of like-minded folk.

And so we begin! I'll post at least once a week from now on, and show you the images as the project progresses. I've just had an idea for an old rowing boat as a shop counter, so I'm off to look for one of those right now! As you do.

Take care all.

Monty, Tam, Isla and Reubs