Thursday Thought: Come to the aid of King Arthur! NOW.

Do you long to visit Cornwall?

In your heart of hearts what do you want to see, to experience? The picturesque fishing villages? The historic tin mining country? To walk the rugged coastal paths? To visit the great houses and country estates? To delve into the ancient spiritual energies?

King Arthur

King Arthur

But here is the key question. Do you value the authentic, the historic, the unspoiled, the original? Or would you settle for a commercialized, ersatz, Disneyesque reproduction — of the kind you can see in any local theme park?

The travel section in Sunday’s The New York Times led with an appealing article “The Weird, Mystic Pull of Southwest England” recommending “a pilgrimage to sites steeped in Arthurian lore with weird and mystical stops along the way.”

Proposed Footbridge

Proposed Footbridge

However, here is the horrific breaking news. The English Heritage organization is planning for King Arthur’s castle in Tintagel on the north Cornish coast the same fate they delivered to Stonehenge: despoil and commercialize this irreplaceable historic site with inappropriate contemporary excrescences.

I plead with you to raise your voice to prevent this disaster (especially those of you who learned of King Arthur and Tintagel in my recent lecture series on the history and lore of Cornwall, and who heard from Councillor Bert Biscoe of Truro bertbiscoe@btinternet.com)

Write to the Cornish councillor in charge and strike a blow for the once and future king!




Thursday Thought: Our Gang and Other Warfare

I am currently giving my lecture series “CORNWALL: History, Mystery, Mansions, Mines and Modernity” to OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Cincinnati).

They are fascinated with what it was like growing up in England during the Blitz in World War II. You can read my “Memoirs While Memory Lasts”  of a little boy in Cornwall getting through this troublesome time here. My story is titled “Our Gang and Other Warfare”.  Read more here.

Barrage Balloons

Barrage Balloons


Thursday Thought: Nadelik Lowen Ha Bledhen Nowyth Da!

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” Now that is a very useful phrase, if not in everyday life at least at this festive time of year.
I had fun describing Christmas traditions in The Miner & the Viscount, and the insatiable curiosity of the miner’s young son Jemmy.
“Why do us put ‘olly in the ‘ouse at Christmastide, Mum?”
“Us be rememberin’ the birth of the baby Jesus,” explained Lizzie, “an’ people saythe red berries be ‘is drops of blood when ‘e were crucified.”
“But why do us put up stuff loike the crucifixion on ‘is birthday?” Jemmy asked.”Don’t make sense. Wouldn’t put a coffin on my birthday table.”
“That’s just what people say,” said Lizzie.
“What people?” pressed Jemmy.
“Well, I ‘spect it says so in the Bible,” Lizzie tried.
“Where in the Bible?” Jemmy persisted.
“You’ll ‘ave to ask Reverend Perry when you see ‘im down chapel; he’ll know for sure,” parried Lizzie.
Read more of Chapter 37 here.

Thursday Thought: Dydh Grasow ha Lowender dhis

I know you can’t wait to greet your family and friends for Thanksgiving in the Cornish language! So here we go, straight from Maureen Fuller, Grand Bard of Cornwall. She explains:

With Grand Bard Maureen Fuller & Sarah Hoskin Clymer

With Grand Bard Maureen Fuller & Sarah Hoskin Clymer

“Happy Thanksgiving Day in Cornish is Dydh Grasow ha Lowender dhis (to one person) or Dydh Grasow ha Lowender dhygh (for more than one person). Translated literally it is Day Thanks and Happiness to you. Phonetically said, using English sounds, it is Deeth Grasso ha Low-ender thees (for one person) and ‘thoo’ for more than one person.”

I have just completed 8 lectures on “CORNWALL: History, Mystery, Mansions, Mines & Modernity” for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) associated with the University of Cincinnati. So enjoyable! We learned a lot about Cornwall’s amazing global contributions, exchanged ideas, and even learned phrases in the ancient Cornish language.

Students want to see the mystique and beauty of Cornwall for themselves. so Sarah and I are exploring ideas for designing a unique tour inside private places and meeting fascinating people.


Thursday Thought: How much did the ancient Celts influence English?

The first lecture in my new course to the OLLI group in Cincinnati stirred a fascinating discussion. OLLI is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Cincinnati. (For a description of the course, click here.)  Were the Celts pushed to the fringes of Britain by the Anglo-Saxon invasion? Or did they remain and assimilate into Anglo-Saxon society? And what effect did they have on the development of the English language? — Contact me if you would like more details.

Message from Student (retired English teacher)

“I spoke to you yesterday about the hypothesis that Celtic influence on later English is more profound than many linguists admit.  John McWhorter has been an exception to this trend and has given solid bases to his premise that the Celts of pre-Anglo Saxon Britain were not pushed to the edges, as is often stated, but rather blended with the new populations and helped create a language far different from the other Germanic tongues that the invaders brought with them.
“Thank you for the course.  Tuesday’s class was fascinating.”

Response from a leader in Cornwall

“I think that the truth of what happened with the Celts when the Saxons (and others, including the Angles, who gave their tribal name to ‘England’) lies halfway between the ‘expunged to the fringes’ and the ‘stuck around and blended’ schools — I suspect that some stayed, and some went!

The survival of, and evolution into Cornish, Welsh (and Breton) ‘dialects’ of British, in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany clearly demonstrates that these places were predominantly colonised by Celts. The Patagonian colonisation also shows that there is an instinctual motivation in these Brythonic groups to protect their culture and its attritbutes by seeking a degree of insulation, and that ancient links and fraternities survive the passage of time. So, one can find in the exceptional diaries of Harold Nicolson (September 1941, from memory) a description of Nicolson being sent by the Ministry of Information to witness a speck in Kernewek, commissioned by the British government, to welcome and make feel at-home Breton refugees who took refuge in Cornwall after the scuttling of the French fleet. The irony is that Churchill found Kernewek an expedient in servicing wartime alliances (and brutally necessary acts) but his successors have only reluctantly acknowledged the existence of the language and remain cussed in their denial of resources to support its development. As I say, ancient resonances endure.

It is true to say that there is strong Celtic influence in the English language. We should never forget that monasteries were also seats of learning and that the beginnings of scholarship, writing and linguistic development happened here, and that monasteries were as much repositories of the ancient as they were developers of the new. So the blending may have had as much to do with monkish predilection as with the movement of peoples.

I would commend to your correspondent the career of John of Cornwall, widely credited as being one of the founding fathers of the English language. Irony abounds! A search of the net might throw up a second hand copy of Julian Holmes’ translation of John’s prophecies of Merlin. Nuts!


Thursday Thought: Wimbledon

Dick Savitt Wimbledon champion 1951

Dick Savitt
Wimbledon champion 1951

Another great Wimbledon championship and for me extraordinary personal memories. In another Memoir While Memory Lasts I recall the time I brushed shoulders with tennis greats sitting in the competitors gallery right on the baseline opposite the royal box on Centre Court.

I was not a competitive tennis player myself. How on earth did this come about? Here is the end of the story:

Nowadays whenever I watch Wimbledon on television I feel nostalgic for the much more vivid and intimate view I once had in the competitors’ box. But whatever the venue, an unmistakable tickle of gin and tonic tantalizes my nostrils.


For the story behind the story go to http://wp.me/P4LySx-6I



Thursday Thought: A story

N.R. Phillips

N.R. Phillips

I just have to share with you another story from the delightful Cornish author N.R. Phillips. This is A Sweetheart Remembered from his collection of stories and poems Rainbow in the Spray. It is a charming tale—and I bet you will be surprised by the ending.

Link to it here: http://wp.me/P4LySx-L


Thursday Thought: Brexit

I do not make a habit of discussing politics on this blog. However, I love my native land and especially my native county. The stunning vote to leave the European Union begs discussion.

Will we see the end of the United Kingdom?

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

The demographics of the vote are significant. Scotland wishes to remain. Will this reignite the drive for independence? The Irish are talking of reuniting their partitioned country. The young see Europe in their future. The working class old, especially those once employed by coal and steel,  are despondent and voted heavily to leave. Cornwall and Wales, the Celtic regions that gained most from European subsidies, voted to leave.

The Remain campaigners were complacent and in the end unpersuasive. The Leave campaigners were energetic, passionate, free with their facts and well funded. (Who provided the money??? Who has really gained from their victory?)

David Cameron, Prime Minister and Conservative leader of the Remain faction, has resigned effective in October or possibly September. Will this allow time for a rethink? Have the crash of sterling, Britain’s credit rating, and the financial markets (now somewhat recovering) caused some voters to regret their protest against different issues? The referendum requires to be ratified by parliament before becoming law. And then there are the lengthy and complex negotiations with Europe.

Asked his plans for implementation, Boris Johnson, the eloquent leader of Leave, was vague. And now he has removed himself from consideration as Cameron’s replacement, apparently lacking the confidence of influential colleagues.

Aargh. Are there lessons here for American politics?




Thursday Thought: Cornish Humor!

N.R. Phillips

N.R. Phillips (Photo by    Tom Tregenza)

Last summer I met Cornish author N.R. Phillips while I was speaking about The Miner & the Viscount at the Penzance Literary Festival in Cornwall. We chatted a while and he kindly gave me an autographed copy of his book Rainbows in the Spray. Since then we have corresponded and Roy has given me permission to share some of his delightful stories and poems with you.

To introduce you to this entertaining writer, here is his hilarious dialect story Coleus.

Do you keep house plants? This is about an indoor gardener whose enthusiasm got away from her!


Cresmass comes but once a year. The trouble is, the way they’re going, they’ll soon last ’leven months. They’ll have us hangin’ up our stockin’s on Good Fridays d’reckly. Mark my words, we shain’t know whether they’re full of chocolate eggs or shiny balls. Mind you, it d’ take that long to decide what present to buy some for people. And the closer you are to people, the more difficult it is. Somebody up country, they that you hardly ever see, you can send them a voucher for a book, or something to heave in the bath, or smother on their chacks, and that’s that.

The Cresmass before last, I honestly did not know what to get her. . . Some have green fingers, what they d’ call, and some don’t, and I’d never gov her a plant before. It might have meant the end of a beautiful relationship, like they d’ say. Well, I tell ‘ee what… she was delighted. Said she’d never seen anything like it in her life. Over the moon, she was. We put ‘n in the kitchen winda and it was like a thing grawed there. 

Read the rest of the story here.


Thursday Thought: Revolution!

I greatly enjoyed a visit with my daughter Tori and her family last week. They live in Pennsylvania near Valley Forge. She took me to Washington Crossing where the general crossed the Delaware as he positioned for the battle of Trenton.

Durham boat

Durham boat

I was fascinated by the Durham boats, 42 foot long replicas of the original 65 foot boats that George Washington commandeered to carry his army across the river. They were sturdy freighters, mainly carrying iron ore with the current down river to Philadelphia and rowed back up empty. The great oars were some 16 feet long, stout and heavy. It amazing that one man could handle an oar — particularly since Washington had few mariners in his army.

I learned that the famous painting had a major inaccuracy. The horses were taken across on a ferry that was a raft, NOT in the boats. Altogether an amazing feat of leadership.

I’m working on a sequel to The Miner & the Viscount. The working title is Rebellion & Reform. I wonder if Washington Crossing will play a role?