Tag Archives: St Ives


It’s my last night in St Ives. I’ve somewhat fallen in love with the place, and with much of Corwall (all the bits not Newquay). There is a storm coming in, and I’m sat on the headland overlooking Porthmeor beach, where there are thunderous white waves smashing onto the rocks and sand.

This week has been a retreat of a kind. I have had the week entirely to myself, without a face to face conversation of more than a few sentences. And I’ve had a really excellent week. I’ve spent some time thinking about work, writing and life. Buy more importantly I’ve spent time not thinking about much of anything at all.

Through the week I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s Buddhism for Beginners. I’ve developed a system over the years of learning things backwards – starting with advanced texts and working my way backwards to introductory ones. I’m not what I would have made if the aeries of talks in Buddhism for Beginners I I had listened to them in isolation, but hearing them they hav helped to crystalise many ideas I’ve been slowly absorbing.

I’ve been reading about Buddhism for much of the last year, and have had the slowly growing realisation that it’s become more than something I’m examining from a distance. Instead I find many of the ideas are becoming part of my day to day thoughts and practice. Part of my reason for coming away this week was to have space to consider some of those ideas in depth.
I’m not exactly sure what that means yet. I have a good friend who often says I seem to be looking for something. I guess Buddhism and it’s ideas may be a part of that something.

Tommorow I have a two hour bus journey to Newquay, then a flight then another bus journey to get me back to the East Mudlabds in tune for Alt.Fiction on Saturday. Maybe see you there!

Hepworth Sculpture Garden

There is a conflict being played out in the Hepworth Museum. The entrance space is occupied with a display on Barbara Hepworth’s life, each major step in the process of her growth as an artist expalined and illustrated. It was a process of discovery and loss, the apparent permanence of her sculpture contrasting the transient nature of her relationships and life, which ended in a fire in her studio.

The museum occupies the house and studio where Hepworth lived and worked. It is a clean and crisp white space, laid out much like a gallery of her work, but there is still much evidence of the artist – pieces of her furniture, her mantelpiece still in place.

(As I write a middle aged Yorkshire couple have stormed through the main gallery, looking cursorily at the pieces whilst muttering ‘It escapes me’. Likely not an uncommon response to Hepworth’s abstratct style. They do not give a lot away, and there is very little or no meaning for the mind to latch on to. But if you can manage to stop thinking for a while and let your consciousness take them in, their real beauty starts to appear. Watching the other visitors is always half the fun of galleries and museums for me. The responses to art are as revealing as art itself, from the knowing nods to the angry frowns.)

The sculpture garden itself is a zen Buddhist paradise. Hepworths monolithic forms are so fascinating to the eye that a few moments gazing brings on a trance like state of wonder, accompanied by the ever present screaming of the gulls that saturates St Ives.

(The gulls are in no way adorable, being thuggish creatures that only let the human population alone because we are bigger than they are. If I ever need to put myself in the mind of a pterodactyl, I will think of sea gulls.)

All of the sculptures have large signs nearby shouting PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH. All of the comments left by children say such things as, ‘Dear Miss Hepworth. I love the scultures but was terribly tempted to climb all over them!’ and it’s not just the kids, wherever you look you see hands being consciously restrained from touching the appealing stone and bronze surfaces.

At the far end of the garden is Hepworth’s main sculpting studio, which has been preserved untouched for over 30 years, although from it’s cleanliness we guess someone hoovers out the cob webs now and again. The artist might have just stepped out for a few moments to by a new chisel.

But how long can these sculptures, finished and half finished, remain preserved? What catastrophic event will bring time back into this space? Or will it be a thousand small events, each chipping away another piece of the whole. The life that created these sculptures was as transient as all lives. They came from that place of imagination where nothing is the same from one moment to the next. And yet here we all are, desperately trying to cling on to these things.

Which might all just be a roundabout way of saying I think they should give over a few of the big sculptures for kids to climb on.

St Ives

In St Ives and wonderfully lost. All the winding cobbled streets are idosyncraticaly identical, and any attempt to navigate to any specific place is doomed to failure. The best solution I have discovered is just to wander randomly and enjoy what you stumble upon. And you always end up back at the harbour eventualy.

I’ve found a great room, right over Fore Street which is the main stretch through the town, for only £20 a night! It’s run by a real old Cornish couple who are incredibly sweet. However, at such a bargain rate I’ve been wondering if perhaps they lure unsuspecting Outlanders, butcher and sell them for meat. Unlikely, but should this be the last you hear from me then you have some clues as to my fate.

I cheated and took the bus to St Ives. Even if I had stayed in St Agnes it would have been way to far to walk in one day. I’m glad I did, I like St Ives a great deal and I’m glad I’ll be able to spend a few days here. Also, my terrible, unwaterproof Merrell shoes are still soaking wet.

My family has a history with St Ives. My mother, at the age of 19, worked a season as a maid in a hotel in the town. I imagine it was hard work but she rembered it fondly, and when I was about 10 we (my mum, my big sister and me) came for a holiday here two years running. I remember Porthmeor beach being enourmous, but it is really quite dinky, and certainly dwarfed by the magnificent Perran Sands. Because they are golden sand beeches however, when the tide is in the sea is glittering turquoise like a tropical island. When my mother came here to work (that would have been around 1959 / 60) St Ives was an artists haven. A far flung outpost of bohemia by the sea, which would have suited mum very well as she would have just finished art college then I think.

(Coincidentaly, I am part way through reading the account of Duncan Thaw’s time at art college in Lanark. I’m finding the novel keeps giving me prickly moments of recognition as parts of what Gray depicts resonate with my own life experiences.)

St Ives is not quite bohemia any more. As often happens, artsists give a place bohemian cool, people come to experience it, prices shoot up and the penniless artists have to find other places to be. (I think this could happen in Leicester over the next decade or so, in a very different way.) The art in St Ives now is beautiful, decorative and safe. Now it’s really a tourist town, and sells the kind of art tourists like, in which regard it reminds me a great deal of Sorento.

I’m going watch the sunset on the beech now and maybe write. Tommorow another cliff walk on a circular path perhaps.