Saturday, September 29, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Jump in a Lake

If you’ve ever seen the BBC show Doc Martin, you’ve seen Port Isaac.

I’m not much on watching television recently, for reasons that I’m not actually too sure of since there are any number of objectively good shows running these days that I somehow cannot bring myself to watch, but I have seen a couple of episodes of Doc Martin.  It’s funny in a very British way, and I know I should watch it more often even though I know I probably won’t because that’s just how it goes.

But we decided that since we were maybe a mile or so from Port Isaac as the crow flies (though rather further on the roads) and since it is indeed a lovely place, we would go and take a look around.

All of us went except Magnus, because he is a teenaged male and getting up in the morning is not something that comes easily to that demographic.  I remember that stage of life fondly, and now that I have cruised past the half century mark and can no longer comfortably sleep past about 9am even when the cats allow it I confess that I miss it.

We piled into the cars and headed off toward Port Isaac.

Driving into the village itself is legal but really not something you’d want to do if you had any sense at all, so we found a carpark (which is a much nicer way of putting it than the “parking lot” that is the common term in the US, I think) on the outskirts of town.  You have to get there early, because otherwise it fills up and your next option is to go back home and walk from there.  Once you park there’s a little trail that goes through some green spaces and then onto the sidewalk by the main road into the village.

Like most places in Cornwall, Port Isaac is built at an angle that you will rarely find in any American city outside of San Francisco.  We have enough land in this country that we generally build things elsewhere rather than deal with those kinds of hills.  American cities tend to be geographically rather dull that way.  Building at that kind of angle does have the advantage that it’s really, really gorgeous when you’re done, though.

You walk into the outskirts of town and take a left at the main intersection and follow the road steeply downhill until you are walking along the side of the harbor.

It’s a narrow street – they all are in Cornwall, really – and you keep going down until you find yourself where there’s a break in the buildings and you can actually get to the salt water without jumping off the cliffside.

This is the touristy area of town, and it’s lined with nice little shops.  There’s even one plainly labeled, “May Contain Nuts,” which was a handy way to let us know that we needn’t bother going inside and we could spend our time and money elsewhere.  I ended up with another keychain, and Lauren got a wool hat in Cornish black.  Hey – we’re tourists, and if we don’t buy these things then the terrorists win, or at least the local economy will be just that much less well off.  Either way, we felt kind of virtuous having made our purchases, and we now had nice things we could take back home so it seemed like a win all around.

Once you get to the bottom of the hill you turn right and walk past the entrance to the harbor, and then turn right again to go back up the hill on the other side.  You get used to this kind of thing in Cornwall, I found.


And then suddenly, there you are.

It’s not the grandest of houses and if you didn’t know it was Doc Martin’s you’d probably just walk right by it, or you would if you could catch your breath after all those hills.  It does have a nice flat area right out front where you could sit and rest a bit so maybe you’d stop there even if you didn’t know about Doc Martin.  It’s also apparently a rental property so if you were really a fan of the show you could hire the place for a week or two when they’re not filming and get the Full Doc Martin Experience.

They’re not even paying me for this, folks.

Having made our pilgrimage, we headed back down about halfway toward the waterfront, to a lovely place that not only sold tea towels, clothing, jewelry, and other mementos of your stay in Port Isaac but also – and here was the part we were most looking forward to – served a cream tea.

Cream tea, for those of you not up on your British meals, is not just tea with cream in.  It does have tea, and you could in fact put cream in it, but that’s not all.  There’s a scone, which is not pronounced the way you think.  No two people pronounce it the same, so all you can really be sure of is that you are not pronouncing it correctly.  The only person who can isn’t speaking to anyone at the moment so we will just have to wait until that gets resolved to find out how it’s done.  But you also get both strawberry jam (or fig preserves, in the “savoury” version) and clotted cream to put on your scone, which makes it tasty no matter how you say it.  Most of us went the cream tea route, though Richard and Lauren opted for a Small Cornish Breakfast, which made me really interested in what a Large Cornish Breakfast would be because frankly that was a meal and a half by the looks of it.  You start your day off right in Cornwall.

Sated and happy, we headed back the way we came – which was far trickier, since this time it was uphill most of the way.  Gravity and all that, you know.  Eventually we made our way to the carpark which was now entirely full and infested with latecomers prowling about following people returning to their cars so they could pull into their spots the moment those spots became available.  We ended up getting separated by the carpark traffic, but everyone made it back to the cottage safely anyway because we are intrepid drivers yes we are.

We picked up Magnus and headed back toward Port Isaac, though this time instead of parking or turning left at the main intersection we drove in and turned right, toward the neighboring village of Port Gaverne, which is just down the hill from Port Isaac.

Did I mention that the roads in Cornwall are narrow?  Because they’re really narrow.

This is actually a pretty good-sized road in Cornwall.  There are many others that aren’t this wide yet are also designated for two-way traffic, and the widest road in the entire area – the A39 – is roughly the size of the residential street I live on here in Our Little Town.  I thought the roads in Wevelgem were narrow until I got to Cornwall.

Some of this is also the fact that English roads generally have no shoulder. You really notice just how little space you have when the hedges and the stone walls come right down to the asphalt.  Sometimes it’s the buildings that narrow things down as well, and sometimes it’s a combination of a lot of things.  There’s a town we passed through a couple of times on this trip with the unlikely name of Delabole, and like most small English towns in my admittedly limited experience it’s basically one long street with houses strung tightly along the roadway on both sides.  We never stopped there so I can’t really say what attractions Delabole has.  It seemed like a decent enough place, anyway.  The main thing that sticks with me about it, though, is that the one main road through it was maybe 1.75 cars wide, carried two-way traffic, and had on-street parking, and when you add all that up what you end up with is a mile-long automotive slalom course as cars bob and weave looking for open space or come politely to a halt while oncoming traffic squeezes by.

There are very few minivans in England, I found, and almost no pickup trucks.

All of this means that driving in England is a complicated dance of manners, where you’re constantly on the lookout for a) oncoming traffic and b) anywhere the road widens sufficiently that two cars can actually squeeze by each other while retaining all of their paint.  Sometimes – where the hedges or stone walls flare out a bit like a snake’s belly after it has swallowed a pig – that means one or another of the cars will have to back up until you’re at that widening.  And sometimes – if there is an actual shoulder or at least some unobstructed ground – one of the cars will simply have to pull over and let the other one try to wiggle by.  I can’t imagine anything like this working in the US, where we drive like rutting elephants and every third car has a gun in it.  No wonder American civil engineers devote so much space to wide roads.

We were supposed to go ocean kayaking in the little bay by Port Gaverne – or, rather, many of us were supposed to go ocean kayaking, while others were going to sit quietly on the shore and alternate between reading their book and watching them sail by – but the weather forecast for this day had predicted high winds and waves, so the kayaking place canceled those plans.  But they substituted other plans that worked out quite well, so it all worked out.

They had us jump in a lake.

There were two guides – Hugo and Anna – and once we had maneuvered our way to the main shop, paid our bills, and then maneuvered our way back out of the bonsai center of Port Gaverne while retaining the full paint jobs on our various automobiles and those around us, we followed them a couple of miles out into the countryside to what had once been an open quarry but was now filled with water.  This meant driving along even smaller roads than the one in Delabole or the one that led down from Port Isaac until we got to the little cabin where we could park and get changed into wetsuits (which I came to understand is standard swimming attire in Cornwall, even in mid-August), and then walking down the paths past a campground, carrying our paddleboards and kayaks and first aid supplies and pretty much everything we’d need for a full-scale invasion of the place, until we found the lake.

And then we jumped in, for certain values of “we.”

It has to be said that they didn’t just toss us in the lake and leave us there.  For one thing, we’d brought along those paddleboards and kayaks after all.

For another, Hugo and Anna stayed with us the entire time, putting the group through a whole afternoon’s worth of activities.  They were really good that way.

Kim and I stayed up on the shore to watch, which was fun in itself.  I’m not much for boating really.  We found a bench by the dock and kept an eye on things while campers from the campground we’d passed through would come down, swim in the shallows by the dock (or just jump off the dock – the lake got deep quickly once you walked away from shore) and then go back to their camps.  None of them had wetsuits and the water was fairly cold, so they didn’t stay long.

At one point Hugo and Anna herded our group over to the end of the lake closest to where Kim and I were and then it was Rope Time.  They stretched a good-sized rope across the narrow end of the lake from shore to shore and the goal was simply to inch your way across it.  But of course it’s never that simple.  If you got sufficiently far without toppling over, Hugo would come down and try to knock you off.  It’s a lot like life that way.

They also had our intrepid group climb up the rather steep side of the quarry and jump in.  There was a short jump, which you could get to by climbing directly up, and there was a long jump that you had to go around by the trail behind the lake to get to.

Finally they gathered up everyone over by the other shore and had them make a raft of all the kayaks and paddleboards.  This seemed to involve a fair amount of pulling people into the lake, and at one point there were multiple people standing on their heads on their paddleboards, which worked about as well as you’d think it would but everyone involved seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway.  Somewhere in there Richard ended up with a black eye, and we were all glad for the helmets at that point. 

Once rafted, the group paddled over to a small platform where gladiatorial combat took place.  There can be only one.

After a couple of hours of this it was time to pack it up and head back to the cabin to change out of our wetsuits.  They’re not that easy to remove, it turns out – peeling off wet rubber is a trick!  who knew! – so this took some time.  Some finished earlier than others, and naturally Lauren found the local chickens while she was waiting.  She has natural chicken magnetism.

After some Emergency Snacks we walked up to where we were told was a coffee shop for something to warm up with, but it had just closed.  There was a wedding pavilion going up right next to it, though, and they had plenty of wine and other beverages, but we had no luck with them so we went back to the cars and returned to our cottage to hang out for a bit.

A hot shower after a cold lake is a marvelous thing.  So are a comfortable chair and a book, a functioning coffee pot and/or tea kettle, and a table full of people companionably playing solitaire together.  There were also laundry facilities there in the cottage, so those got a workout as well.  Those aren’t as marvelous while you’re doing the laundry, but having clean clothes isn’t too shabby either.  And when all is said and done, it’s nice to have some downtime.  You shouldn’t need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

After a while we got up a round of Mysterium, which is a discussion-based card game where you try to solve a mystery based on clues and dream images, and it is precisely as bizarre as it sounds and a fine way to spend an evening.  We got most of it done before it was time for dinner.

We’d been making our own dinners back at the cottage while we were there, but this night we decided to try dinner at the Longcross Hotel.  It was a pleasant walk from St. Endellion on a clear evening, and I just want to point out that yes, that’s a two-way road as well.

Our reservations were fairly late in the evening, which made us feel very elegant even if it was mostly about not being particularly hungry until then.  We sat out on the enclosed terrace and were taken good care of by an Italian waiter who seemed to regard us as either part of his family or projects to be improved upon or possibly both.  We ate and watched the sun go down over the ocean, and turns out that Tabitha likes venison.

One of the things that I found surprising on this leg of the trip was the popularity and complexity of gin and tonics in England at the moment.  G&Ts are not the most complicated drink, really – the name pretty much says it all – but it turns out that not only are there a myriad of possible gins that one can add tonic to, there are also any number of varieties of tonic to be added, many of which have regional appellations as if they were wines.  I’ve never been much of a G&T drinker, but I did sample the ones that were at the table and they were surprisingly good. 

By the time we were done it was dark, and there are no street lights in Cornwall.  The walk back along those narrow roads was therefore a bit more adventurous than the walk to the restaurant, except that we all have phones with flashlight apps so we were clearly visible to the cars that squeezed by us every now and again.  It was a good evening to be out for a walk.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Party Boy

Just last year the Republican Party was trying on its new identity as The Party of Pedophiles.  This is how they ended up with Roy Moore as their candidate for the Senate in Alabama.  They nearly managed to elect him, too, because apparently if you’re conservative enough you get a free pass on having sex with children.  This is the same group that wants us to think they have “values.”

They also gave being The Party of Nazis a spin, which makes a certain amount of sense given the party’s increasingly overt embrace of white supremacism and its accelerating slide toward authoritarianism.  “Fine people,” said der Sturmtrumper about the Nazis in Virginia, and the right wing fell neatly into line behind him.  Think about that.  Only three generations after several hundred thousand patriotic Americans died in order to eradicate the grotesque evil of Nazism from the earth, the rodeo clown in the Oval Office was cheerleading as actual fucking Nazis paraded through the streets of the United States and killed an American citizen and his supporters, minions, enablers, and sycophants were cheering right along with him.  George S. Patton should rise from his grave and slap the lot of them silly.

Earlier this year they experimented with being The Party of Child Abuse, ripping toddlers from their parents, storing them in cages, forcing them to testify alone in court, and then deporting their parents.  There are still – more than two months after a federal court ordered it to happen – over a thousand children who have yet to be reunited with their parents after having been kidnapped by the US government.  I can’t tell you how appalling it was to see so many moral black holes pretending to be Americans who saw nothing wrong with this, and who even defended it.  Such people need to be wrapped in tin foil and exiled far from civilized society.

So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that as we head down the stretch toward the end of this year the Republican Party is reverting to its 2012 form and reinventing itself as The Party of Rape.

You remember 2012, right?

“Some girls, they rape so easy.”  (Roger Rivard, GOP-WI)

“Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.”  (Rick Santorum, GOP Presidential candidate)

“Rape is kinda like the weather.  If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”  (Clayton Williams, GOP-TX)

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  (Todd Akin, GOP-MO)

Yes, they actually said that – all that and more.  They truly thought these were acceptable things for grown-ups to say in civilized company, and maybe among the GOP base they were correct but that’s clearly not the same group of people.  It revealed a dark and tubercular stain on the x-ray of the right wing.

Which of course brings us to the current debacle surrounding der Sturmtrumper’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Mr. Brett “Party Boy” Kavanaugh.

It has to be said that even without the mounting and credible allegations of his rapeyness toward multiple women who have been brave enough to come forward – to risk the unhinged rage of the frustrated right-wing white male, to be doxxed and driven from their homes, to have their lives threatened, to have their names dragged through the mud by the feral children of the right-wing press – there was no way that Party Boy should be put on the nation’s highest court.

For one thing, that seat belongs to Merrick Garland.  The GOP, in an unprecedented display of hyperpartisan greed over Constitutional responsibilities and American values, refused even to meet with Garland when he was nominated and kept the Court seat vacant for more than a year on the grounds that Garland wasn’t a right-wing meat puppet and they weren’t about to allow anybody with an actual intellect or respect for the law to take Antonin Scalia’s seat.  So we ended up with Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing caricature who at the very least does not seem to have been a sexual predator, so we’ve got that going for us.

Garland is still out there waiting, by the way.

For another thing, this nomination has conducted with naked disregard for Constitutional safeguards, precedent, and transparency.  Despite stalling for over a year on Merrick Garland, the GOP is now in a panic to get him nominated quickly without releasing any information to the public or, more damningly, to the Senators who will have to vote on his confirmation.  Both of the justices appointed by Obama released over 90% of their documents on file to the public.  Party Boy has released less than 10%.  These are public documents, owned by the taxpayer.  The GOP has no moral, legal, or Constitutional right to withhold these documents, and the fact that they are doing so taints the process irredeemably and strongly suggests that their nominee has an awful lot to hide.

Finally, there is also the simple fact that Party Boy is an unadulterated partisan hack who has committed serious crimes in the pursuit of raw power for his masters.

There is now, for example, convincing evidence that he perjured himself before the Senate in 2004 and again in 2006.  He was deeply involved in the theft of private computer files from six Democratic Senators between 2001 and 2003, serving as a go-between linking the actual hands-on thieves (led by a GOP Senate staff member named Manny Miranda) and the Bush Administration’s office handling judicial nominations.

In all likelihood – experts disagree, and when experts are quibbling over the fine legal details of something you know that it happened, even if it might have fallen just outside the line of prosecutable – he also perjured himself during his testimony this year in front of the Senate.

The list goes on.

David Brock, who knew him well in the days before Brock turned his back on the shady world of right-wing agit-prop, is unequivocal: “I want to tell any senator who cares about our democracy: Vote no.”

“Brett and I were part of a close circle of cold, cynical and ambitious hard-right operatives being groomed by GOP elders for much bigger roles in politics, government and media,” Brock said.  “… Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign.  And after decades of that, he expects people to believe he’s changed his stripes.  … I can promise you that any pretense of simply being a fair arbiter of the constitutionality of any policy regardless of politics is simply a pretense.  He made up his mind nearly a generation ago.”

For any normal nominee in any halfway competent administration, this would have been more than enough to have his nomination withdrawn.  He’d be a forgettable footnote in a world that has moved on to better things.  Does anyone really remember Harriet Miers?  But this isn’t a normal nominee and der Sturmtrumper’s circle of insanity is literally the laughing stock of the world these days, and so Party Boy soldiers on.

Which brings us back to The Party of Rape.

The allegations made by California professor Christine Blasey Ford are disturbing, disqualifying, and utterly credible.  She told all this to her husband and her therapist years ago, so it’s not something that was suddenly created for the occasion as the soulless right wing wants you to believe.  She’s taken an FBI-administered polygraph test and passed, and you can argue all you want about the value of those tests but the fact is that she was willing to do it.  As Lawrence O’Donnell points out, lying to the FBI is a crime.  She’s already spoken to them.  She would like to speak to them again.  Party Boy does not want to speak to them, nor does his friend and, according to Ford, the witness to Kavanaugh’s attack.  “They all know lying to the FBI is a crime,” notes O’Donnell.

There have since been several more women coming forward to tell their stories of being sexually assaulted by Party Boy over the years – five now in all.  That number puts him roughly a quarter of the way toward the total number of credible accusers who have reported being sexually assaulted by der Sturmtrumper.  You can see why he picked the guy.  Birds of a feather.

Imagine!  A president who openly bragged about sexually assaulting women has chosen a sexual predator to put on the Supreme Court specifically to strip women of control over their own bodies.  Who saw that coming, right?  I know!

Now it’s one thing for a nominee to be an asshole, a criminal, and an altogether reprehensible waste of space, time, and oxygen.  That happens sometimes.  The normal human response to this is to withdraw from the criminal in dismayed horror and begin prosecution immediately.  It’s not like the Federalist Society hasn’t got a dozen more Kavanaugh clones – many of whom are not sexual predators! probably! – waiting in the wings should either der Sturmtrumper or the Senate take the hint and deep six this guy.

This has not happened.  And that’s the real problem here.

The real crime here has been the reaction of the GOP.  They see nothing wrong with his long history of sexual assaults.  They don’t understand why anybody else finds it horrifying.  They certainly don’t see why a history like that should disqualify him from advancing their partisan agenda under the guise of jurisprudence.  They can’t imagine why sexual assault is a problem.

Rod Dreher, who writes for the American Conservative, complained that he didn’t understand why attempted rape at 17 would disqualify a man from the Supreme Court.  Former GOP Congressman Joe Walsh added that if that was the standard “every male politician in Washington DC would fail.”  They get all worked up about how this would ruin Party Boy’s life, as if he hadn’t already done that to others.  And on and on.

I swear if I hear one more Republican tell me anything along the lines of “boys will be boys” I will go full nuclear.  I was a teenaged male once, at roughly the same time as Party Boy too.  I went to an elite private college, just as he did – at least once, in fact, I was probably visiting a friend on Yale’s campus at the same time that Party Boy was there.  I don’t recall sexual assault as being something that was considered normal.  Nobody I knew – not even the people I actively disliked – thought that was acceptable.  Even way back in the 80s, even at bastions of privilege, we all knew that this was beyond the pale.  What unshriven barbarian didn’t know this?  What moral failure still doesn’t?

The guy’s a thug.  He should be standing in front of a judge’s bench awaiting trial, not sitting on it passing judgment.  And his supporters – the people who look at his actions and say, “Yeah, I can live with that in a Supreme Court Justice” – are worse.

The GOP Senate remains poised to ram Party Boy’s nomination down America’s throat regardless.  They have made it crystal clear that they don’t want an actual investigation into these crimes.  They don’t want us to know.  They’ve known that there were multiple accusations for a long time now – even as they were trying to paint Ford as a lone crazy person with a vendetta, they knew that this was a lie.  They continue to lie.  They will have a committee of white men – many of whom voted against the Violence Against Women Act the last time it came up for renewal – sit in judgment to render a verdict they’ve already written out, one that protects their boy and advances their political agenda.

“Don’t get rattled by all of this,” said Mitch McConnell, the Least Honorable Man in Washington.  “We’re gonna plow right through it and do our job.”

As Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama, the guy who sent the pedophile off to retirement) responded, “I’m a former US attorney.  If a judge/juror made a public statement that their mind was made up before all testimony was in, the trial would be prejudiced & I’d move for mistrial & have the judge removed.”

The Party of Rape will have its predator, though.  They’re going to shove him through the process, civilization be damned.

Rape.  Pedophilia.  Child abuse.  Nazis. 

Evil fuckers, the lot of them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Surf in Cornwall and Visit King Arthur, Not At the Same Time

One of the things we discovered about the cottage during our first night there was that whoever designed the electrical system didn’t really think things all the way through.  Oh, they got most of it right – and when it comes to retrofitting what may well have been a centuries-old stone barn into a comfortable guest cottage that’s a significant achievement indeed – but one thing that escaped their attention is that the bathroom fan came on whenever you turned on the light and then stayed on long after you turned the light off.  It was on some kind of timer that was set for A Very Long Time Indeed.  During the day this wasn’t much of a problem but at night it meant that things got loud if anyone had to visit the facilities.  And since the bathroom itself had no windows you had to turn on the light to see where you were going in the pitch dark, so avoiding the fan was not an option.

We got to know that fan pretty well.  It was our buddy.

Nevertheless, we emerged into the daylight rested and ready, to find Richard and Ginny already up and playing cards.  This, it turned out, was something of a running theme throughout are time there.  Whenever we had a free moment, you could always count on two or three people sitting at the table playing one form or another of solitaire, which can be a very communal game if you let it.

Query: What would you take with you if you were stranded alone on a desert island?

Answer: A deck of cards, because as soon as you lay out a hand of solitaire somebody will materialize as if from nowhere to let you know that yes that black ten can be played on that red jack.

Once we managed to get ourselves ready for the day we piled into the cars and headed down the road to Polzeath (Pol-ZETH), a lovely little town by the sea.  You can tell it’s by the sea because it has the syllable “Pol” in it.  All towns in Cornwall are required to have either Pol, Pen, Tre, or St. in their names somewhere.  Pol means pool or body of water, which the ocean certainly qualifies as one of.  Pen means headland or hill.  Tre means settlement.  And St. just means there’s a church nearby, which is a pretty safe bet anywhere in the UK to be honest.  Surrounding St. Endellion are such places as Treburgett, Tregellist, Trequite, Trewethern, Trelill, Trewetha, Trelights, Tredrizzick, Pentireglaze, Penmayne, Pendoggett, and of course Polzeath.  There’s also a town called Pityme, which we didn’t go through because really who needs that kind of whinging when you’re on vacation?

No, I did not make any of that up.

Polzeath is, as far as we could tell, the surfing capital of the UK.  I am not sure what they had to do to win that title, but whatever it was Polzeath has earned as far as we are concerned.  I found it to be a good place to hang out and just watch people surf, though, because I certainly wasn’t about to do it myself. 

We drove into town, parked the cars in the little lot by the beach, and wandered over to the surf shop to get outfitted.

Well, Ginny and Lauren got outfitted.  The rest of us were not so brave.  For one thing, this is definitely the UK and not Hawaii, which means that the water is rather cold.  Definitely wetsuit territory here, in other words.  Very few people out in bikinis and speedos in the Cornwall surf.

Tabitha and Magnus took the opportunity to retreat to a nearby cafe that offered free wifi and tasty food, while Ginny and Lauren headed into the waves.

Richard and Kim and I watched as they went in and out.

Mostly out, as it happened. 

The tide was heading rapidly away from shore when we got there, and over the hour or so that the girls were surfing it retreated a good hundred yards or so.  Maybe more.  You’d be standing there, watching them scurrying around the waves, in and out, and suddenly it occurred to you that they were a lot, well, smaller than they were before and since they were clearly not shrinking this meant that the perspective had changed which in turn meant you needed to walk a bit forward or lose them in the distance.  It’s like you’re one of those little sea birds that scuttle about in front of the waves, only with a camera.

Eventually they got cold, and out they came.

At this point we all went to the little cafe to warm up a bit, even though it was pretty open to the street.  One of the things we liked about the place is that not only did they have wifi and reasonably good food, but they were also pretty calm about letting you bring food into the place as long as you’d ordered something from them too.  So I headed up the street and found a place that sold pasties, because I figured as long as I was in Cornwall I should get a pasty.  It was good, and eventually both Lauren and Kim headed over there as well.  If you’ve not had a pasty, well, you should fix that.

There was also a little grocery store next to the pasty place and we had a good time there as well.  I like grocery shopping in foreign countries, seeing the things that people eat.  We had some shopping to do for dinner that night, and we spent some time just picking out random tasties for snacking on.  It was here that we found the only chocolate in Europe that does not contain nuts – a brand called Kernow, which is apparently Cornish for “Cornwall.”  It was good chocolate.  We brought our stuff up to the little checkout counter and presented it for the cashier who turned to me and said, “He puts all the cold stuff together!  He's good at this!”  So there you go – I am a grocery pro.

We went back to the cottage and let Ginny and Lauren shower off the salt water before climbing back into the cars and heading in the other direction toward Tintagel.

We’d been to Tintagel before, when we visited in 2012, but it’s such a lovely place and so close to St. Endellion that we decided we wanted to see it again.  And you know what?  It was worth it!  Yes!  You can repeat yourself and still have a grand time!  Who knew?

We parked on the outskirts of town, in a big grassy field that, like everything else in Cornwall that is not actually covered in water, was pitched at a surprisingly steep angle.  From there we could walk through town – which is how we got to the ruins of the old castle last time – or we could head out through the pastures and come at the ruins from above.  That sounded much nicer.

Take a good look at the second photo.  See those little white clumps in the grass?  That’s wool.  England, for all that it is an amazingly gorgeous place, is basically an agglomeration of stonewalled sheep enclosures, one after another until you hit salt water or London, and everywhere we looked on that walk there were tufts of wool just laying about.  Kim thought this was marvelous, pulled out a white plastic bag, and stuffed it full of wool.  On the one hand, this prompted much disbelief among the assembled crowd.  On the other hand, that bag of wool has sat in our living room for the last month since we got back.  It is Midgie’s favorite toy.  She sleeps on it.  She scrabbles at it and pulls the wool out.  We put it back in and the process repeats.  We can never get rid of that white plastic bag full of wool now, or there will be feline rebellion.  Sometimes you just have to wonder how you end up in places, and here we are.

We continued walking through the sheep pastures until we came upon an old church.  This is the thing about Europe – you find these amazing little places just on the way to the place you were headed! They’re not even the main goal!  For the historian, it is a target-rich environment full of things you didn’t even know you wanted to see until you see them. 

Eventually we came up to Tintagel from the back side.

There have been people at what is now Tintagel (Tin-TAH-jul) for millennia, and it is the place where the 11th-century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth insisted that King Arthur was conceived, although how he came to that knowledge is not really clear and this is probably for the best.  The ruins that currently occupy the site date from the 13th century, when Richard, Earl of Cornwall, put up a castle here.  It’s a great place for a castle, really – isolated, easily defended, and basically impregnable.  It juts out into the sea, and you can only get to it with some bobbing and weaving.

Just for scale, please note that there are people winding their way up the trail on the right side of that photo above.

We walked past the little English Heritage booth where you buy your admission tickets, and then headed down the trail toward the ruins.

And then back up again.

And eventually, there we were.  Again, note the people for scale.  It’s an impressive place.

The first thing you come to when you finally make your way up to the top of the promontory is the castle itself, or what’s left of it – piles and piles of flat grey stones, still giving you the rough outlines of the structure and providing you with some really beautiful views of the coast.

By this point we’d gotten widely separated – we all walk at different speeds, and really where were we going to go?  There’s only one way in or out.  It’s not like we wouldn’t find each other again.  And everyone is now old enough that we didn’t have to worry too much about the strange but pronounced English aversion to handrails or safety barriers of any kind, way up there on the top of the big open rock while the wind blasted us at pretty much gale force.  Really, it was astonishingly windy that day, and perhaps we should have worried but we didn’t, so there.

We wandered around for some time, looking at all the remnants there.  There’s a lot of them, some of them medieval and some of them Dark Ages.  Sometimes we just walked.

 And sometimes we just took shelter.

One of the really impressive things that they have added since the last time we were there is a new statue of King Arthur (all grown up – I’m not sure I’d want to see a statue of him at the moment of conception).  It’s way up at the highest point of the whole place and thus buffeted by the winds and weather, but you can go right up to it and get your picture taken and, being tourists, we did just that.

Eventually the winds got to us though and we headed down, down, down to the beach.  It’s not the sort of beach where one goes swimming, but it’s a great place to walk around, hang out by the waterfall, and see the ruins from below.

That big hole at the bottom of the rock is Merlin’s Cave.  I’m not sure why it’s called that – perhaps that’s where Merlin lived, though it seems rather damp for that.  At any rate it’s a fascinating place to wander inside and look around, and unlike when we were there in 2012 there was no New Age Drum Corps banging away inside of it to make you realize just how much better it must have been to live back in the Dark Ages when all you had to worry about was infectious disease, starvation, random violence, and dying before you turned 14.  When it’s just the cave, it’s actually really nice.

We made our way back up to the gift shop level where we found the little cafe and had a very nice meal, though not a cream tea as we had hoped.  One of the things that I most enjoy about Europe in general and the UK in particular is that it is full to the brim with hard cider – really, really good hard cider – and you can get it pretty much anywhere.  It made my meal just that much better, truly it did.

We also made a stop at the gift shop, of course, where I bought a keychain for my Christmas tree and discovered a Thing: apparently, at some point in the recent past, the British government decided that they would use the 50p coins as blank slates to put interesting designs upon.  Oh, the obverse is the usual portrait of the queen (who has been poorly served by her designer this time around, truth be known), but on the back there were all sorts of designs from children’s books – Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddleduck, and so on.  I am not sure what made them do this, but I am all for it.  It’s so much more interesting than the current Tourist Attraction Quarters over on this side of the Atlantic, for example.  We got a few of them in change, and eventually I started asking for them wherever we went.  Most people were more than happy to dig through their registers to help me out.

From there we had to walk back to the car, and this is where we discovered that for all the climbing one does when one is actually at the ruins, the larger site is actually located at the bottom of a deep well and getting back to the town of Tintagel is an exercise in Alpine climbing.  Fortunately it was a nice day, although we did look with some envy at the Range Rover shuttles that were operating along the roadway.

We went back to the cottage where we were met by a friendly farm dog and the world’s most curmudgeonly cat.

We played a round of Spyfall 2, made ourselves a nice dinner of pasta and pancetta, and settled down for further games, reading, and general hanging out, as one does on vacation.