Sennen Cove: the final frontier. These are the witterings of a West Cornwall shopkeeper. His seemingly interminable mission: to plumb new depths in literary rambling, to seek out the boring and banal, to boldly sink deeper than any Diarist has sunk before.
April 1st - Wednesday
It is something of a red letter day for The Diary. I had hoped for a few fireworks or party poppers going off and people dancing in the streets, maybe, so my timing could have been better. It is the tenth anniversary of the very first official Diary entry being published, although, of course, it would be another five years before anyone actually read it. I fleetingly thought that perhaps I might do a 'best of' book for the occasion but there were no publishers who wanted to print a book that small.
Who would have thought, ten years ago today, that we would have extended our readership by 100%, so thanks to both of you. Thanks also to those customers and readers who have been in contact to enquire after our well-being. We are all very well at present, thank you very much and keeping up the semblance of a well-oiled machine at the tin stope. We had yet another vaguely buoyant day thanks to our local benefactors dropping by for essential purchases. Ticking over, one day at a time.
A lady living at the other end of The Cove and alert to the green cone object on the beach dropped by on her walk to tell me that it had migrated to the rocks under the fish and chip shop. I still cannot get to it but was able to pick it out with my binoculars. It has suffered a bit on the journey and the bottom end had been scat off, which is a pity as I was hoping to see the metalwork that was there. Instead, it is clear to see a hollow part at the bottom of a relatively thin fibreglass shell and the upper part may be filled with expanded foam. There appears to be a panel on the side that may have some writing on it, but CB never mentioned it and it would have been obvious when she took the pictures, so it may well be nothing. I am hoping that it will migrate some more to the Harbour beach where I can examine it in greater detail so that I can say with some certainly that I have no idea what it is.
The air was still quite bitter when I headed downstairs and there was - I was about to say 'gentle' - breeze blowing. Gentle is a warm summer draft, laced with scent of honeysuckle, tenderly caressing the cheek; this was icy, rasping over the skin like a blunt razor. Fortunately, it had edged a little more to the north and was not such a pest behind the counter, although the first electric sliding door in The Cove was turned to automatic when the Missus took up residence for a while. The bleddy hound was consigned to lie in her bed behind the shelving unit at the end of the counter so that her nodding head did not set it off.
I had been on at the Missus to write a thank you note on the Face Page for those of our number helping us out by shopping with us during this tough period. She got her own back today.
We lost our blue sky for some of the day but it made a reappearance in the later afternoon. I suspect it was a swansong. The bleddy hound got taken down to the Harbour beach again just after the middle of the day. Last time she dug a twenty feet long trench, which she has not done for some time. Hopefully it means she is getting better movement in her legs or she just cannot help herself or, indeed, we have been too careful with her and we need to give her a bit more opportunity. I shall bear in mind the trench digging as we need a cable buried up at The Farm when I install the last of the solar panels.
It seems odd to say that we were so busy today that I did not notice closing time creeping up on us. If we were this quiet in a normal year, I would be climbing the walls with worry. As it was, it was quite satisfying seeing a higher than recent number of people using the shop. We know that tomorrow may turn the other way again, but it is quite handy to have a little boost every now and again. I will live with that for now.
I was going to end by quoting the first official Diary entry from ten years ago, but it was rubbish, so I will not. Instead, I will quote from Mr Lewis Carroll who enjoys the accolade of being the first poet I stole from in The Diary, which is actually quite apt.
Here from the world I win release Nor scorn of men, nor footstep rude, Break in to mar the Holy peace Of this great solitude.
March 31st - Tuesday
That fearsome chill is still with us along with the north easterly breeze that exacerbates it. There was a little less brightness first thing, but this improved a little on and off during the day. The wind stayed with us, though.
Part of the changes that have come upon us is that we are noticing things that perhaps we took for granted before. This morning's eye opener was the bin men running through The Cove. They are consigned to sit in a cab together, all three of them, which cannot be easy no matter how well you know your workmates.
Again, today we were blessed with more than a handful of people coming along to buy some fresh goods from us to keep the turnover going. I realise that it might be a tad tedious expressing this in the Diary on an almost daily basis, but we are really so grateful for this additional help. The people we are talking about probably have better options, which makes it even more special.
It has, however, turned up a change in the way we operate, and it is taking some time to get used to it. We have taken shopping orders in advance before but never quite so many as we are doing now. It is of tremendous help because it gives us some opportunity to call in stock that we perhaps do not ordinarily keep on the shelves. It also helps reduce waste by only ordering what we need. There are some limitations in that we must meet minimum order requirements but, so far, it seems to be working successfully. We are working on making our stock list available on the website to make it easier for people who are shopping with us this way. I am rather hoping that we do not start getting orders from people further up the line; the Missus might struggle delivering to Stoke-on-Trent, say.
One thing that I awoke to today, mainly as it is the day we get our bill from the Laurel and Hardy Newspaper Company, was the costs of running a newsagency. We are charged £40 for the pleasure of having our newspapers delivered each week, so we need to make £40 profit on our sales before we even start making any money on them. Our bill today demonstrated that we had just slipped into the black by £1.67 and I think that this was largely due to the little peak we had Sunday week ago when the world and his rocking horse turned up in The Cove when they should have been home behaving themselves. We will review this next week but if the Laurel and Hardy Newspaper Company are not prepared to drop the delivery charge a bit, and let us face it, £40 is daylight robbery, then we will have to stop doing newspapers.
The Missus headed up to The Farm as a bit of a reward for her efforts yesterday. There is much still to do up there and, sadly, we will not be able to get the planned greenhouse even started, let alone finished in time - it is already late. We may not be able to dig for victory quite as deeply as we had hoped.
Once again, The Cove became a deserted wasteland in the later afternoon. Closing early was clearly the right decision both for the business and my sanity. I had thought that the additional two hours would allow me time to concentrate on things like the website reworking and the stock list. Now that it has come to it, the time seems to disappear in a brief blink of an eye. Perhaps I should not blink quite so slowly.
March 30th - Monday
The wind had dropped during the night but the air was still bitter cold and standing about on the beach was not the brightest idea I have ever had. I might have got away with another walk around the block since there was not that much beach available but the bleddy hound was drawn to a couple of feral pigeons half way down the slipway and that was that. It was she who decided it was time to go home again, so I am guessing that she was cold too but most probably just wanted her breakfast.
I admit that I was somewhat concerned with yesterday's absence of trade. It was especially quiet and I was left wondering if those visitors who had been caught out here when the balloon went up had finally gone home and our local trade, small as it is, had more than enough after their kind efforts buying from us when they do not usually, bless them. It did not take too long today to dispel my silly notions as we were fair inundated with kindly customers picking up enough to allow us to order fresh again tomorrow. We even took some advance orders by electronic mail, which is very heartening as we now have time to order in things that we did not have.
The Missus took off to Tesmorburys with a shopping list or two of things that we do not normally stock or can easily get. She started with a list of half a dozen pent up pensioners, which has now grown to something like a dozen. Fortunately, they did not all have lists on this occasion and she ended up with six deliveries.
It was the normal older person's fare of hard boiled wren's eggs, sliced lark's tongues in aspic and pickled Peruvian lucuma fruit, which, I am told, Tesmorburys has in abundance. It is the reason why I am still a grumpy shopkeeper of a small shop and not some grocery mogul, listed on the stock exchange and enjoying an isolated mansion attended by toothless hags. Yes, of course, I would have preferred scantily clad maidens, but do you think the Missus would have worn that? Anyway, I thought that pensioners all lived on stale bread and dripping through the hard times and tea made from third use tea grouts. How times have changed.
Business in the afternoon dropped like a stone and the wind picked up. Once again I hid behind the closed first electric sliding door in The Cove, which today behaved itself. I do not recall what exactly distracted me, but I did not get to read a word of my book today, which reminded me why I did not read books when the shop is open.
The Missus was quite exhausted from her extended shopping excursion and left me to make the tea. I did not know that we had quite so much stale bread but, sadly, I could not find any dripping to go with it.
You will recall, dear reader, a couple of days ago my description of the green object on the beach that I had never seen. Happily, CB, a reader of this very parish and carefree wanderer it seems, sent me a picture with kind permission to reproduce it here for your delectation. I still think that it is some sort of drogue. A relationship to fishing is unlikely, since it is green, so scientific or military, maybe. She also sent me a picture of a dead rat, but we are still discussing reproduction rights over than one.
Green thing on the beach
March 29th - Sunday
It was half light when the alarm went off this morning. Last evening, I was basking in the thought of a lie in when the Missus reminded me that forwards with the clocks meant an hour less - I am easily confused. Everything else has been cancelled, they might have included the clock change, too. It did not fill me with much enthusiasm to leap out of bed for the day especially when that day was bleddy freezing.
The bleddy hound and I were pushed down The Cove on our way out and slapped in the face by the most bitter north east wind on the return journey. My hands were blocks of ice and I was very grateful when we got back home just to get out of the wind. There were dark clouds out to the north, but I think it was more a trick of the light with the sun having barely risen. If the light was shining above them it is likely that they were white cumulus.
Our newspapers were a tad late, which was to be expected as they would have started out at the normal time last night and had an hour to catch up on. It did not matter too much as we did not see our first customer until a good hour into opening; there is no reason to hurry or be early these days. It also took me less time to stuff them as I have reduced the numbers, for one thing, but also I am not bothering to read any of them, which I might have done before if an article caught my interest.
There was nothing for it but to turn on the first electric sliding door in The Cove - did I mention that before? - just to stop me turning into a snowman in short order. However, the door was triggered by something outside blowing in the wind. I brought in the windbreaks because I thought that it was probably them plus the fact that the rattle of the polythene that covers them becomes unbearably irritating after just a short while. The tiddler nets promptly fell over having removed the windbreaks and while they did not appear to be moving all that much, the door continued to slide open. After so long being startled by the sudden slide of the door I decided to bring the nets in, too. This appeared to work, although the door occasionally slid open as it was triggered by some unseen object floating past.
Just in case you are wondering, dear reader, why we are putting windbreaks and tiddler nets outside on display I should explain, as we are not actively pursuing trade in these items. When they are in the shop, they use up quite a bit of space which could be used for people trying to avoid standing too close to each other. We are thoughtful like that. Since there were not too many people abroad today, using up the space did not matter too much. We did have an encounter late in the day, with me trying to get back behind the counter and two other customers trying to avoid each other. It was a very strange dance indeed.
Apart from that incident, there was no need for acres of spaces today; business was exceptionally slack. I probably saw half a dozen people today. With that few I should have known exactly how many but there was so much time between each, I found it difficult to remember. It was so quiet I succumbed to picking up one of novels off the bookshelf. It is not that I particularly dislike reading but normally there is something else to do and I find I have not enough consistent time to read each day. I could just not watch the television but reading requires more effort than watching the box and at the end of the day, I am usually quite worn out and turning the pages of a book is just too much. Yes, of course it is an excuse, but I am sticking to it, thank you.
I was exceedingly glad to shut the shop at four o'clock and retire upstairs where the wind could not get at me. I left my book downstairs and watched television instead.
March 28th - Saturday
The fishers were out bright and early this morning; they were getting ahead of the expected northerlies, increasing later. I thought I heard the tractor start up while I broke slumber in the early light. They were out in the middle of the bay so I think that they must have been handlining for pollack or mackerel. The rules are that they can only sell the fish whole, so if I take any on I will have to brush up my filleting skills. I discovered later that it was mackerel they were after and if I had thought about it earlier, I would have taken some to smoke. The only snag with that is that I would drive the Missus from the kitchen for about a week while the smell clears. The Missus hates fish - even the smell of it.
I may have mentioned that our local community of more mature customers prefer to drop to the shop early to avoid the crowds. That would have worked very well if they had not all chosen the same day and the same time to arrive this morning. Still it provided some opportunity for them to see other living souls, even if it was from a safe distance.
We had some other big shops through the day, which is just what we need to keep us ticking over for our main purpose. There are a few visiting shoppers about, for whatever reason, and I do know that it is controversial for some. Frankly, my dear, and all that and we are most grateful for their help. All of them have worried that they might be taking away goods that locals might want but without them we would not have the throughput to keep the handful of local dependents in fresh food. I cannot reiterate enough how grateful we are to them and the other people who do not necessarily shop with us regularly for their help.
Word has certainly got around and The Cove was deserted again today. There was not a surfer in sight and for the time being the sport has been outlawed to avoid the risk of accident and unnecessary rescues. There were a minimal number of walkers across the beach as there is a minimal number of people here close enough to walk to it. The Highly Professional Craftsperson was one of those. He told me that there is a green metal cone, perhaps around six feet in height, that has been stood on end up near North Rocks; I could see it through my binoculars. Someone has made a bit of an art installation of it with a few sticks and standing stones around it. There is an eyelet on the top, so likely to be a buoy or drogue of some sort.
Odd items are not the only thing being driven onto the beach. I have always suspected that the easterlies and larger swell bring the sand back to the beach, but I have no scientific evidence behind that. Nevertheless, the sand is indeed coming back and the entrance to the Valley is now much restored. It would have been good news for the hordes who would have descended upon us this weekend for the start of the holidays. Just very sorry you cannot be here at the moment and I promise that we miss you greatly.
It was not long before I was aiming to go to bed that the Highly Professional Craftsperson sent me a text message to alert me to the 126 Tesla satellites that were traversing the sky at that very moment. The Missus and I dashed out and had a geek. At first, we thought that we had missed them but then we saw four spots of light move swiftly roughly west to east. We must have seen numbers 123 to 126 as there were no more after that. It was all very exciting - and cold. The satellites have been launched expressly to provide Internet access to Zennor, where telecommunications are sparse and the locals still communicate by banging on hollowed out logs. Someone out there must be very well connected is all I can say.
March 27th - Friday
We were blessed with another beautiful day, albeit with slightly hazy blue up above and a bit of a bitter breeze blowing through, largely from the north east. Although it was wafting through the door, it is a much better direction for us than the south east, which comes through the door straight at us relentlessly.
For all the good weather there was a far fewer people milling about in The Cove and the beach car park was mainly empty. For the last few days, it has been crowded with camper vans and surfer transport of one sort or another. Yesterday, one local lady told me, there were fifteen surfers out in the bay and today, hardly any. This was even before a police car appeared in the early afternoon and set up in the car park. Anyone who was left wondering, got the message, I believe.
The Aged Parent's greengrocer sent a very pleasant reply to our posted 'thank you'. They asked who the Aged Parent was and pledged any support that they could give. They also gave us the name of another group who are running around providing help for those that need it. I will pass it on to the Aged Parent next time we speak along with a lesson in how it is perfectly acceptable to ask for some assistance.
We were still seeing some customers through the day. Some are fresh faces but may well be local that we have not seen before. Once thing that I have noticed is that our collection box is benefitting quite favourably. We still take cash for smaller amounts, but no one seems to want their change anymore. It is either a change in the level of generosity or I am feared to be unclean. I may have to address my image as I suspect the latter.
The Missus came back early from working at The Farm. She is moving towards getting some sort of greenhouse going and to do some planting. If we are in this for the long haul, we may well need to dig for victory and she has at least got a spade. After some clearances up there of old and rotting buildings there was much wood to burn, which appeared to be the focus of the day. The bleddy hound stayed down in the shop with me as bleddy hounds and bonfires do not mix very well. She made herself very small in her bed and most people, few as they were, did not even notice she was there.
I was quite glad of some quiet today. If I lose concentration, I can sometimes feel like I am playing a game of Russian roulette with, particularly, the strangers that come in. Much as we need the custom, it was pleasant to have a day of relief and I never thought that I would hear myself saying that. Do not let that go around, dear reader, it would ruin a perfectly rotten reputation that has been nurtured over many years.
Time to settle into a comfortable easy chair with a beer and a pizza. It is Friday night, after all, and this is not a time to let standards slip.
March 26th - Thursday
We are living in strange and desperate times.
We have a lady who is a regular visitor first thing each morning. She was always very active, out and about with friends and family, doing things and running errands. Since this week she has been bolted up at home and her only trip out is to the shop once a day. She told me this morning that I was now the highlight of her day. Gosh, I did not think things were that bad. It took a little while for the cogs to wind around but then I thought, why was I not the highlight of her day before?
The main star of the day was the day itself; another spring rip gribbler if I am not mistaken. The light on the still stirred up sea was particularly alluring in the early morning light but at least the ground sea had diminished enough for the fishing boys to get out. Two, who have decided to collaborate at this time, were hanging about on the quay waiting for the tide to drop away so that they could get out. They have advertised on the Face Page thing and I know of at least a couple of people who have responded to the call. One gentleman was getting his first live lobster and wondered how he was going to kill and cook it. I pointed him at the instructions on the website, which have been tried and tested, so hopefully he will be eating well this evening.
Kindly light on the water
Lovely bit of morning sunshine
Mother was pretty much chuffed to pieces with her mention on Radio Pasty this afternoon, on the occasion of her birthday. She listens, almost religiously to the phone in show which has now been extended for the duration. The host is a celebrated live wire and handled the greetings to perfection. It was quite touching.
There are so many acts of kindness going on at present it is impossible to count them. There is much talk about communities coming together, even though I thought that they were not supposed to. The Aged Parent told me yesterday that he had called the local greengrocer - it is a bit more than that, but it is a small independent shop, so you will understand - to ask the solution to his conundrum. He is not allowed out, obviously, but wanted a small amount of fruit, just a couple of apples and an orange that did not amount to a hill of beans and wondered on the logistics of such a request. The shop immediately said that they would drop it around - it is a short walk, despite his protesting that it would be too much trouble. I have asked the Missus to write the shop owner a thank-you note on the Face Page as I cannot find another method of contacting them. "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers" - Tennessee Williams cannot possibly have imagined so many Blanche DuBois.
We continue to tick over, thanks to the help of people stopping by for a few necessities now and again. It is not life and death for the handful of people we are here for but makes life much easier for them. It is for this reason that we also put up with the occasional non-essential visit from people who really should not be abroad at this point. We do not judge and as my old pal used to say, 'smile and take the money'.
You know, I think I might just leave it there. We had a very sociable evening with the Missus's family over the wire, which lifted the spirits no end. It went down well with a beer or two and a scallop and bacon salad. I know, but sadly we have to rely on the shop stock for our frugal suppers and we had completely run out of foie gras and black winter truffles.
March 25th - Wednesday
Another blinder of a day right from the very off. I had to restrain the bleddy hound from leaping out of bed first thing because it was so bright and obviously long past when decent people should be out and about. I made her wait until I had prepared the shop for business, which actually took longer than I anticipated because the milk and newspapers turned up while I was down there.
We took a walk around the block in the crispness of the morning, but it was not overly cold and for the last couple of days I have done without a coat. We did not see a soul as we traversed the route, which is just the way it is supposed to be just now. The sea was in the Harbour, which drove us around that way, and it was still pretty stirred up with a heavy groundsea. There was white crashing sea over Cowloe and waves heading into shore being peeled back by the easterly draft. I spoke with one of the Cove fishermen later in the day. They had only just started collaborating to try and sell some fish and lobsters direct when the swell came back in again. They hope to go out again tomorrow.
Our oldies have chosen to come out shopping early in the morning. I know that some shops make it a rule that the first hour is reserved for them. I do not think we have a need since they are the only ones who can be bothered to get out of bed at that time in the morning. Our pasty man told me that we seem to be the only shop admitting people inside at present. The others are holding people at the front door and serving them from there, old fashioned style. I had a chat with the Missus about it and we agreed that that only really works if people know what they want and what we have. This along with the fact that we are not so busy that people are crammed in and next to each other made us think we would carry on the way we are. We can always change our minds if things change.
Someone we know is trying to change her husband's mind just now. He is a lorry driver and delivering for the supermarkets but is due a couple of weeks paid holiday. He told her that his country needs him, and he must answer the call, national hero that he is. She is not wholly convinced; he gets free latte coffee at one outlet chain and free sandwiches at service stations. He has said the roads have never been quieter and he does not get to mix with anyone as someone else loads and unloads the truck. At home there is a tribe of young children being home schooled, several dogs that need to be walked and chores backing up. She is climbing the walls. Hero or villain; you decide.
I can sympathise to some degree; the Missus has spent the last two days up at The Farm, justified as essential travel due to the bees, although they are only just starting to wake up. Also, it is the middle of a field and is highly unlikely to be spreading anything nasty apart from fertilizer. While I was working when she came home yesterday, today we closed at four o'clock. If I thought that I might have a couple of extra hours respite away from the tin stope, it was not to be the case. I found that tea needed to be prepared and the washing up put away, although she had said not to worry, which meant I should worry a lot. Thankfully there is no tribe to be home schooled. I was not very good at it when I was school schooled so heaven help any child that comes to me for an education.
The Missus cooked the tea. I told her it was very nice; she has a very good commis chef and KP.
March 24th - Tuesday
I was half way through the ritual of listening to Kevin the weatherman explain how lovely the weather was going to be today before I started wondering exactly why I was listening to the weather forecast. Nevertheless, it was a cracking good day and could easily pass for the season's first rip gribbler and made me wish that I had not put on my extra layer, which has been so necessary these last few days. Despite being told of high pressure, the sea decided that it was fed up and needed a good bang about, so it had one.
Rip gribbler ur no?
I watched the tail lights of a bunch of visitors heading for the hills this morning. It then struck me that the numbers, small though they were, were part of the reason we were still able to support the handful of local people we are striving to stay open for. It was in the midst of this thought process that the telephone rang and another resident close by asked if we could put together a grocery order for them. Another, very shortly after also called and asked for a selection and we saw others we might not ordinarily see during the day. It almost brought a tear to a grumpy shopkeeper's eye that such kind-heartedness still abounds, and we are unbelievably grateful. Hopefully word will trickle out that we would appreciate a bit of help. We are not looking to take business from the shop at the top or any other locally, but instead would like to hear from normally Tesmorburys customers, whom we can, at least, temporarily tempt away.
Some, however, are too far gone for any help at all. A couple stopped by in the middle of the afternoon for ice creams, but the lady supposed our Magnums were an exorbitant price. I asked her what she supposed an exorbitant price was and she told me that she could get four for £2 in Asda and would I sell ours for two for a pound. It was on her third attempt to haggle that I took her to be serious and suggested that she would be much happier heading to Asda, which is fifteen miles east of here, as The Cove was clearly not her best place to be. I was as polite as I could muster and it took much effort to restrain myself from suggesting that having reached the point fifteen miles east of here, she keep going. I was sorely tested.
I kept busy through the day. We were lucky enough to have some additional business from people who did not mind shopping with us, which as long as we can sustain it, is most welcome. Between times I dealt with some orders that had accumulated in the store room.
I have postponed many of our orders but there are some which contained bespoke goods. We feel that it would be an awful betrayal to turn these away as, after all we will rely on these suppliers in the future - we hope. We also had some grocery deliveries and later in the day we had some beer arrive - they did say necessities, did they not. If we come to a sudden full stop, we will have much to work through before it goes out of date. Let us hope for the best, then.
Also delivered, although it was yesterday and I forgot to tell you, the Missus had a big bouquet of flowers arrive to mark her birthday. I have to admit to this gross act of kindness that I organised before we opened for the season. The only greenfly in this particular ointment was that it is not her birthday - yet. I did query with the van driver the reason for this premature slip but I really could have worked it out for myself. The flower shop has had to shut, even before it would have been forced to today, because the majority of its stock comes from abroad. I commiserated with the driver and asked him to pass on my most earnest best wishes to the shop, as they are a good bunch - oh, I have said it now - and will, no doubt, find the immediate future very hard indeed.
We pottered into the late afternoon with the waves pounding over the Harbour wall and into the rocks under the sea wall along the front. Even at high water there were a few surfers braving the big waves and jumping off just before they were dumped on the rocks. Up the cliffs opposite, big lumps of white water, illuminated in the diving sun, reached up in slow towers against the granite. It was a perfect end to a perfect day if you put all else to one side for a minute.