Brussels and Trafalgar Square

Two contrasting events from yesterday (Tuesday 28th):

First, Nigel Farage having the perverse temerity to turn up in Brussels to a session of the European Parliament and throw insults. ‘…virtually none of you have done a decent day’s work in your life’. Some of us would be inclined to level the same charge at Farage. Matched against a Scottish MEP, Alyn Smith, who begged MEPs to help Scotland stay in the EU. ‘I want my country to be internationalist, co-operative, ecological, fair, European …Scotland did not let you down. Please, I beg you, cher colleagues, do not let Scotland down now’.

Now, which side do we want to be on? The mean-spirited or the open-hearted? Europe is an attitude of mind. The Leave side claim to be European, but only if you believe in a Europe where we retreat behind our national frontiers. As part of that narrative the EU itself has to be pilloried. I like what I saw of the EU parliament yesterday. Not something I’d always say: no-one argues it’s a perfect institution! But you don’t leave an institution like the EU. You change, you reform, you build, you work together.

One addition: Quentin Letts, in the Mail, had this is today’s paper: ‘The parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, whose only previous job was running a bookshop, appealed for hecklers to desist.’ One could write a whole article about the idiocy of that remark. Running a bookshop is a far superior occupation to that of journalistic hack. I’ll leave it at that. I know booksellers, having been in publishing all my life. And I can recognise a hack at fifty yards.

The second event: the Colliers, Chris, Ben and Rozi, in Trafalgar Square for a pro-EU demo. Also Rozi’s best and oldest friend Lucy. My ex-wife Kathy was I’m sure with us in spirit. An international event, it’s London after all, and one I’m proud to have been a part of.  And I’m proud that our family though no longer together in one sense is so together on this. We all did something right over the last 30 years.

I had to leave the demo and head off to an evening class. In the rain, a 1/2 hour walk. I arrived and the tutor was in full flow… on the subject of the EU. Pro-Remain, but believing we should go along with the result. The class then got my riposte. ‘No pasaran,’ as they say in Spanish (they shall not pass), or ‘no lasagne’, as my mobile phone spellcheck suggested to me last weekend.

The emotions all this brings out are surprising. My plan had been for a quieter mretirement!

I learnt later that the demo had moved on down to the Houses of Parliament. Maybe not so much a demo as a celebration. Being a European, a citizen of the world, is a good place to be.

The anger is still there

Four mornings on and the anger is still there. Meeting a friend last night, I’m greeted by ‘hello’, followed by ‘I’m angry’. To take one instance.

Cameron gave a statement in the Commons yesterday. Questioned whether the infamous £350 million a week would all go the NHS, this was ‘a matter for his successor’ was the gist of his reply, and he sat down with a slight smile.

It was the slight smile that worried me, angered me. This was politics at its very worst, playing games at a time of crisis. In the absence of any plan from the Leave side we are heading into an abyss. The Tories would like to delay the negotiations until a new PM is in place. The EU on the other hand cannot afford to delay – uncertainty and contagion are their big concerns. Hollande and the Italian PM Mario Renzi have both emphasised that exit must be processed quickly so that the EU can focus on what should be the biggest issues – fighting terrorism and strengthening borders (and, I’m sure, the wider issues associated with the refugee crisis).

If our government delays the likelihood is that the EU will draw up its own terms and present them to the UK on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. In any negotiation, any normal negotiation, you put your case down, coherently and cogently – and early. Get in there first. Stake out the ground. The way this is playing out it is we who will get staked out.

What I would have thought (and hoped) is that Cameron, playing the statesman not the politician (and taking into account the legacy he’d like to leave), would realise that the only option open to him now is to announce to parliament that the UK will continue to be a member of the EU. Given the referendum result we, the UK, would be seeking further reforms (the referendum result  has given him a powerful mandate) but we would remain, not leave. He should remind the House, and the nation, that the result of the referendum is not legally binding, and parliament in all matters is sovereign. There will be an awful lot of flak, more like heavy shelling from some quarters, but the country would be spared a long-drawn-out disaster. All that we’d suffer would be loss of face.

His justification would be watertight: the Leave camp have no plan, economic indicators are dire, our reputation in the world is at serious risk of being terminally damaged, above all the welfare of each and every citizen, of all of us, is threatened if we continue as we are at present.

There have been arguments from the likes of Digby Jones (ex CBI chief) that we could manage very well in the world outside the EU. Up to a point, that could be true. We could function OK, at a lesser level than now, but we would function. But that issue is theoretical.

The real issue is where we are now, and the imperative of taking action now to avoid the chaos ahead.

Another day 

I read the Economist’s latest thoughts and prognostications before I went to bed, and I didn’t sleep for the next two hours. That was a mistake. See Anarchy in the UK for the link.

On the BBC website this morning there’s little suggestion of crisis: the BBC’s perceived need to be even-handed eviscerates their commentary, takes out the drama, compromises truth, as it did during the campaign. George Osborne, still hanging on as Chancellor, is putting on a brave face about the economy this morning, as he has to do – and all power to him. I have yet to see the Telegraph, but I’m expecting more of the triumphalism that characterised Saturday’s paper. (Well, almost – front-page article by Boris, ‘We must be proud and positive.’ Though ‘anxious and scared’ might come closer.)

Where lies the truth? You can guess. The only one of the above not in some way beholden to someone else, by way of caution (Osborne) or position in society (BBC) or ownership (Telegraph) is the Economist. Theirs is probably the most cogent analysis I’ve seen. (Do Leave have a plan? ‘There is no plan.’) Articles by the likes of Nick Cohen take in important aspects of the crisis, but the Economist provides a wider focus.

Also this morning – a Labour leadership crisis to match the Tories’divisions, and all at a time of national crisis.

Attention now has to be on the Commons. My question – how best can the pro-Remain majority make clear its refusal to countenance any Leave legislation, and its opposition to invoking Article 50? Parliament is sovereign – not referenda.

That of course begs a multitude of questions. Not least, how would the public respond?

Short term there’ll be an almighty bust-up. Longer term, government must be more inclusive if it’s to win over the protest voters (as opposed to hardliners).

Taking my local area, Spelthorne, just outside London’s boundaries, but very much in its orbit, as an example. It came out strongly pro-Leave. 65%. How much of that vote might be considered protest? While there are areas of deprivation they’ve not been left behind as other areas have. But that dividing line just 400 yards from where I live, between inner and outer London, marks a real boundary in outlook and expectations and perceptions of the world.

I could put it down to fear of immigration, stirred up by the media: that’s one reason, but too simple. We’ll be getting closer to a full picture if we link it to proximity to the instruments of government, parliament, civil service, especially the City. Closer still if we take into account the greater numbers of young people, of voting age, within London’s border, and its corollary, the greater number of retired people, suspicious of the modern global world, beyond that border. Why do older generations and the retired feel so alienated? Does it have to be that way? I’m still looking for answers.

The referendum – for the record

Musings I put on Facebook before and after the referendum result. (Read in conjunction with my last post:  24th June – the day after.) Plus a quote from a brilliant post by my son, Ben.

8th June

I came back on Monday from Spain to find – no surprise – good old England more than ever entangled in the referendum debate. My trip underlined, as did walking across Spain on the Camino last summer and autumn, what we’d endanger by voting to leave on the 23rd.

On the one hand we have a remarkable trading bloc, an open market which in all previous ages would have been inconceivable. And on the other we have – we share – a common European mentality, a sense of a common European heritage. It’s not just a British heritage but a European heritage that we, as seen by non-Europeans, present to the world.

Are they small achievements?

We have 28 countries all working together, with many a disharmony – as you’d expect – but still working together. It is unprecedented. Don’t take it for granted. It didn’t just happen.

One market with its four freedoms – free movement of goods, capital, services and people – requires the same trading conditions across the continent, and agreement has not been easily negotiated or easily won.

Europe – the EU – is unique in world history – nations after centuries of conflict finding a remarkable level of common ground, and working together, and presenting one face to the world – not just a trading bloc but an exemplar to the world of cooperation, decency and integrity – a collective advocate of social justice and equal rights – a model for the world of how a continent can put past enmities behind it.

I hope and pray we don’t have the too easy cop-out of a ‘plague on all your houses’ influencing the vote on 23rd June. Or that too many of us have recourse to a ‘close borders and close minds’ attitude. Yes, there’s much wrong with Europe, with the EU. But we should be working to put it right, to make it function in the interest of all Europeans.

By that I mean public servants, teachers, children, employers and employees, professionals, artists, musicians, charity workers, the retired, the unemployed, the disadvantaged, immigrants – and those who feel their lives are threatened by immigration.

All Europeans – anything less than that and we will continue with the same problems, the same tensions we have now. And given the impossibility of closing borders in our modern world, they will get worse.

24th June

I was a counting agent for Stronger in Europe last night, in a west London borough, and as early as midnight I could see how the Leave votes were piling up. Sometimes there would be a run of as many as ten Leave votes before a Remain vote or two showed up. That brought it home. We can’t easily take on the Mail’s bile and bitterness but we can take up the standard from Jo Cox, be proud of Britain (and in her case Yorkshire as well!), proud of Europe and what it’s achieved and where it’s come from over the last seventy years, and be open and open-hearted toward the world. That’s a challenge, and one I think with the young people if not the old fogeys of Britain on our side (a generalisation of course – I am by some definitions an old fogey!) I’m sure we can rise to. What happens over the next few months is all highly uncertain. The Tories need a majority in parliament, and as we’ve seen recently there are Tory MPs like Anna Soubry who do understand the issues and will continue to fight for the cause. 52% is not a done deal.

25th June – from Ben Collier’s post

It’s not about us. ….It’s about the union we’ve just left behind when we should have been part of leading it. It’s about the years of progress we’ve just undone for purely selfish and narrow-minded reasons. It’s about the fact that there are bigger issues to solve in this world than our own day to day problems…

26th June  – in response to a post from a UKIP-supporting friend:

Tony, I agree, we shouldn’t let friendship suffer. I remember the great solidarity shown by UKIP supporters at the Spelthorne count on Thursday night. They were good people. But I believe passionately they were wrong. When someone says to me they cried for twenty minutes when they woke in Friday morning and heard the news – I understand why. For so many of us, so many millions of us, we can see no good reason for leaving, we see only damage to ourselves, to the wider world, and to our place in the world. The EU has brought Europe together after centuries of conflict, and created a single and highly efficient market. We accept that it needs reform – and we want to be part of that process, not watching on the sidelines. In the end it’s about how we see the world – and I know that’s what you’d say as well. We may profoundly disagree – but it’s important we listen to each other. All best, Chris

Extract from Tony’s post:

Trying so hard not to open or read messages that are negative about our leaving the EU. It is upsetting that once good friends and family members are falling out…

27th June

My last post on the referendum result. We have, so many of us, expressed our consternation and shock over the result, and we’re united in arguing for an open, open-hearted, outward-looking, international Britain. That will guide our future actions – will guide mine. My aim, one I share with millions – to see the result overturned.

At the same time – the Leave vote was for many a protest vote, against marginalisation, elites, the ‘establishment’. And that needs to be immediately addressed. One starting-point would be to scrap HS2 without further ado, and switch investment to developing infrastructure nationwide. Can we seriously imagine HS2 bringing any benefit to the North-East?

Social media and Facebook. Why were so many of us so surprised by the result? We couldn’t have imagined 52% for Leave. Could we? The danger of social media is that it’s all too easy to exist inside our own cocoons, linking up only to those who share our outlook on the world. AC Grayling has argued that the Leave vote was irrational: I don’t agree. There were reasons, and we need to understand them.

An extension of this argument: don’t let the referendum vote undermine friendships. Which is the point made by the exchange between Pooh and Piglet that I shared yesterday. Keep talking. Don’t let either side patronise the other.

Having said that when it comes to Faragian misanthropy, and all its various manifestations in the media – there is no shared ground. Likewise, for me, the neo-liberal agenda which has hijacked the debate.

And finally, there has been much good stuff, many wise and passionate posts and articles written over the last few days. I shared one such last Friday – from my son, Ben Collier. If you missed it, do scroll back to read it!

In Ben’s words, ‘It’s not about us. …It’s about the union we’ve just left behind when we should have been part of leading it. It’s about the years of progress we’ve just undone for purely selfish and narrow-minded reasons. It’s about the fact that there are bigger issues to solve in this world than our own day to day problems …’

24th June – the day after

Many responses to this absurd nonsensical vote for Leave. Anger, anxiety, recrimination. Being ashamed for the country, ashamed at the way we’ll be seen by the rest of the word, ashamed maybe that we didn’t see it coming.

A sense we’ve let down young people across the country, who voted by a substantial majority for Remain. We being the old fogeys.

What we must not do now is acquiesce, accept that the people have voted, and imagine we can’t challenge the vote itself and its consequences.

Just how constitutional is a referendum in the first place? It was established by an act of parliament so it is clear by this simple fact that parliament takes precedence over referenda. We don’t have a written constitution but the supremacy of the House of Commons is clearly established. It can make legislation, and it can remove legislation.  We shouldn’t assume, mustn’t assume, that yesterday’s vote is forever.

Referenda

The referendum expressed ‘the will of the people’, it will be argued. But did it? The will of the people at one moment in time. The will of the people as directed by a popular press which has been pursuing an anti-EU agenda for many years, and an anti-immigrant agenda. A popular press that plays on prejudice and seeks to portray isolated instances as widespread patterns of behavior – that looks to disparage, mock and scorn at every opportunity. The damage all this does to public debate is immeasurable. And given the importance of maintaining a free press there’s little we can do about it.

‘The will of the people’ …  in theory it exists, in practice it is easily influenced, ever-changing Next week, next month, it could express itself very differently.

Parliamentary democracy is arguably Britain’s greatest gift to the world. We elect representatives, they divide into different parties and groupings which debate and pass legislation which has at least been fully considered and argued in a (usually) sane and calm environment. Elections are open to populist rhetoric, and they can be divisive, but they elect parliaments which balance opinion and establish consensus in a remarkable way.

Why in earth should we want to subordinate a parliament to a plebiscite-based democracy?

Referenda polarize opinion too readily, as they have done this time, encouraging wild statements and mis-statements, sometimes total untruths. They give some kind of equivalence to both sides, however untenable the position one side might be. (I’m thinking of the BBC.) Opinions in the country are now so divided, tempers so frayed, that rifts engendered could take years to heal.

That said, now our ire has been roused we must act on it. At a more trivial level by keeping up the pressure on Boris. Boris found himself faced with a hostile crowd when he left home this morning. I hope that continues to happen. He needs to be aware of the consequences of his actions.

The next stage

Cameron will resist pressure from the EU to quickly invoke Article 50. So he should. There’s a big Remain majority in the Commons and they must ensure that no precipitate action is taken before we have not only a new Tory leader and prime minister (and I’d hope a new Labour leader) but also an election.

If the Brexit mood is maintained, then Tory MPs who’ve voted Remain may succumb to local party pressure and agree to vote for Brexit legislation in the next parliament. If they don’t, they may find themselves de-selected. But if they hold out, then the new parliament is likely to have a pro-Remain majority. In which case, back to my argument above – which should take precedence – a parliamentary majority, or a referendum vote? That could of course become an election issue in itself. Feathers will fly.

We can’t know how this will play out. But it will be interesting.

The Brexit vote

Some of us feel angry and ashamed. But rightly or wrongly, there were and are strong emotions on the Brexit side. I was very aware of that observing the count at my local council offices on Thursday night. A roughly 65:35 Leave majority.

Why so many? It’s important to know, and we must deal with their anger without indulging our own too much. Resentment at elites, suspicion of authority and expertise – a legacy of the financial crisis, and the expenses shambles. A related sense among many of being left behind, forced into part-time work, low pay. Among the more fortunate a sense of others on the gravy train, doing better, and unfairly so, than they are. Immigrants: if jobs are still there wages are lower than they would otherwise have been. And often a simple fear of immigrants, even when they may never see more than one or two in their locality.

Much of this has been played upon and wildly exaggerated by the UKIP and the media, but there is some truth here. If there is resentment, we have to address it. If government austerity measures have exacerbated feelings of being marginalized, we must deal with that too. It won’t help if we disparage and cry foul. If towns  in the North-East feel that all the focus and investment is down south – they’re right. (Please divert HS2 finance into a network which serves everyone, including the North-East.) We have to get to the root of the matter. It won’t stop the Mail or Sun seeking out incidents they can exploit, but we have to limit their opportunities to do so. And we must be, in two words, more inclusive.

Brexit leadership

Several strands. All need to be addressed head-on, for what they are.

Immigration – UKIP and the closet racist agenda of Nigel Farage, making racist attitudes somehow acceptable, attempting to link the refugee crisis and Eastern European immigration in the popular mind.

Arguments about sovereignty and accountability, EU extravagance, sclerotic administration.  (Mostly specious, but can be made to sound convincing.)

The neo-liberal agenda, which the Tory right has managed to squeeze through under the radar in the guise of reducing regulation.

More broadly, looking inward, looking back, shades of Empire, and a belief we can go it alone. The fairy tale land Boris would like to inhabit.

Our response

We can take up the standard from Jo Cox, be proud of Britain (and in her case Yorkshire as well!), proud of Europe and what it’s achieved and where it’s come from over the last seventy years, and be open and open-hearted toward the world.

That’s a challenge, and one I think with younger generations on our side I’m sure we can rise to.

52% doesn’t have to be a done deal.

The New Tate Modern opens

Why a post on the New Tate Modern? (It opens this weekend – I went to a preview.) In a Zenpolitics blog?

In one sentence. The New Tate Modern is international, diverse, a little bit crazy, inclusive, outward-looking, subverting, fun – and free.

The Tate is a big big institution, and has its downsides. Not least that it’s tied in with the international art market, and its absurdities and over-valuations. But at a time when we’re busy looking inward and being nostalgic for an old order it’s great to see London flying the flag for a different more positive, more optimistic take on the world.

**

The entrance is round the back. Not where I expect. Up a broad flight of stairs, to the second floor…

Tony Cragg’s Stack – a stack of material from everyday life-  instantly catches the eye. Its crushed content intrigues. Louise Bourgeois’s vitrines enclose a private tactile world, with connections to her own and other lives, and her paintings lining the walls are bright ribbons of colour.

Helio Oiticica’s reconstruction of a Rio de Janeiro favela (without the macaws on the day I was there) is colourful and curiously quaint. Ana Lupas’s wreaths began as straw, inspired by the Romanian countryside, they’re now encased in metal, and there’s a photographic record around the walls: it’s a 50-year project, and age gives it resonance.

The sheer variety of exhibits in the new Switch House is impressive. They need space, space so we can walk around exhibits, as in the case of Tony Cragg’s stack, or Louise Bourgeois’ spider, or simply because of their size, or because they need room to breathe. Few galleries on earth have this amount of space, and none in big cities, unless MOMA in New York has something planned. Normally in galleries you hug the walls. But the Switch House is not about painting or specifically wall-hung art. Walls are just one mode of presentation. Roni Horn’s block of pink glass sits in the middle of the floor, a line drawn discreetly around it. It may be visual but it seems it’s not intended to be tactile. Carl Andre’s bricks re-appear, and Rachel Whiteread has the underside of a wooden floor – the underside.

Where it gets more claustrophobic is one floor up, the space is called “Performer and Participant’. Tropicalia greets you immediately, and Ana Lupas. Women and Work is a collective exhibit examining just that – women and work. They intrigue. They ask questions. They subvert our ordinary ways of looking at things. They’re out of context – they create new contexts. Tropicalia includes simple evocative poems, wall-hung, and Women and Work displays the daily working life schedules of a number of very ordinary men and women.

The question is – where does this take us? To Brazil, to Romania… But does it really take us somewhere different, somewhere unusual, does it help us question our lives or environment? Is it just easy gratification, fun spaces, history lessons? Conceptual art does of course have a conceptual base, and often that’s one simple idea painstakingly worked out, sometimes over decades. It is art as project, rather than art as aesthetics.

There haven’t as yet been many reviews of the New Tate Modern. One, in the FT, is lyrical. It’s a game-changer – ‘the most cohesive narrative in any public institution so far of the paradigm shift since the 1960s, when minimalists, conceptualists and performance artists ditched expressiveness and set out to move audiences physically rather than emotionally.’ That is quite a statement.  ‘Move audiences physically rather than emotionally.’ And she, the reviewer (Jackie Wullschlager), is right – there is little emotion here in the New Tate Modern. A tinge of fear in a room full of Louise Bourgeois items, though the little boy sitting under the spider and having his photograph taken rather softened any apprehension we might feel! Bourgeois’ colourful ribbon paintings also elicit an emotional response. And that’s one reason maybe why she stands out. She’d been around too long: she subverted this divide between the emotional and the physical.

But otherwise – we walk through, we enquire, we even stand inside an exhibit, we have our notions of space and colour and presence challenged.

And it’s mostly a pleasant experience. Oak floors as yet unstained by use, and natural lighting often complementing the gallery lights.  From the bridge (between the Boiler House, the old Tate Modern, and the Switch House, the new) you can look down on Al Weiwei’s skeleton tree, and it has an eerie presence.

But emotion is limited to frissons of disturbance. Pleasure as a response to be encouraged is disavowed. And so too is art as an aesthetic experience. It depends on how we define aesthetics of course. But if the definition is ‘relating to pure beauty rather than to other considerations’, then it’s certainly not about aesthetics.

But then is art – should art be – about aesthetics? Once upon a time it was, but that definition has been smashed and subverted. Art is now best defined as an original and challenging interpretation of our environment – making the ordinary extraordinary – undermining conventional approaches – playing a little but not too much with the psyche – getting into our minds. And by and large we’re OK with that. We enjoy this different take on the world. And if we want aesthetics we can go to the Tate Britain. Or to displays from earlier 20th century periods in the other Boiler House section of the Tate Modern. There’s beauty, even spiritual content, in Mark Rothko. Max Ernst and Salvador Dali are pleasing on the eye as well as searching out a deeper response. Picasso transforms the vision of Cezanne: it’s a radical but still an aesthetic response.

The FT review quotes Richard Morphet as saying in 1976 that  ‘Carl Andre’s [bricks[ will in time be generally accepted as among the most important art of its period’. In a sense he’s right. That sensibility, or intentional lack of sensibility, has established itself. Nicholas Serota has championed it, and his vision has won through. Whether I’m on side with it – I keep an open mind. But am I intrigued? Do I want to visit the Tate Modern? Am I moved to write about it all? Yes, I clearly am. And that speaks volumes.

One final point, back to the FT article. The New Tate Modern as a ‘game-changer’. ‘For an economically divided London it is a huge, important statement about inclusiveness and connectivity. In a cultural climate threatened by the nostalgic insularity of Brexit, it displays art radically, putting geography [artists are drawn from across the world – this is no best of British display – no kowtowing to Britart] before history, space before time.’

And, as she says, in a world of wildly inflated values  – it’s free.

It’s also fun. You’re free to enthuse or disdain. We walk through quietly but we’re not constrained by hush. And you can take photos. There is nothing precious here.

So almost three cheers. And oh yes – there’s the view London 360 degree from the top…

From the Camino to Cornwall

Last week I was back on the Camino – and walking through Castrojeriz, a mile-long village, on an early June day. The wheat and barley still a vivid green in the fields, and poppies popping up everywhere, along the field edges and sometimes mixed in with the crops themselves. There is magic here – there’s nowhere that walks and winds quite as Castrojeriz does, with its castillo above, and cafes, albergues, churches and the Hospital de Alma where the music plays ethereal, and the messages are peace and love. The destination may be Santiago, but it is also, simply, the journey.

And then, a week later, walking, just one day, the Cornish coast path from Portloe to Gorran Haven, which runs east of Falmouth and west of Mevagissey. It drizzles and mists and then rains hard and I slip and slither. Where is that promised sun? Round about 2pm it shows itself, and the Cornish flowers – campion and fox glove and ox-eye daisies and it could have been a hundred others – line the paths. Grasses and clover, buttercups and hawkbit, fill the fields. Take a step or two back further from the path and we’re back to big fields and fertilisers, but not here.

Walkers are few and they are wet, and the temptation to take short cuts and get to shelter is powerful, but short cuts aren’t easy. Certainly not to my right as I walk – the sea is up to 300 ft and cliffs sometimes sheer below me! A few seagulls, only the occasional blackbird and chaffinch. Maybe the wind blows too strong here.

At Dodman Point a cross looms in the rain and mist, built we’re told as a navigation aid by the local vicar (not much use today). He inscribed on its base his belief in the sure and certain hope of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Built back in 1896, and built strongly as it is, it might even survive that long.

On the Camino you’re open to a different kind of eternity, sometimes the landscape could be the ocean, spreading great slow waves across the landscape. The pull of the earth is powerful, yet the sky is close. Whereas on the coast path you’re on the edge, the divide between ocean and earth. Both have aspirations to eternity, but the one seeks victory over the other. You can walk with only your boots and your thoughts on the Camino. On the coast path you have to walk with your wits. Beyond every stile or bush or dip in land there could be a surprise. A moment of danger, or a moment of joy. The Camino plays a longer game.

This shows in the villages as well. Towns and villages on the Camino grew up because of the Camino – Villafranca a place name that recurs and reminds us the many Frenchmen who walked the Camino and built settlements along the way. On the coast path they grew up because sailors sought a livelihood from the sea and wherever there was a likely cove they’d stake a claim. At East Portholland the cottages are right up against the sea, with their outer storm doors. Layers of concrete secure the beach against erosion – though would they, could they, break the might of winter storms such as we had three years ago?

Along the Camino countless walkers have journeyed before me. Fewer on the coast path. But out to sea, out into the Cornish sea – how many have journeyed, how many have been drowned or shipwrecked? On other days, clear and sunny, I’ve looked out to sea, and emptied my mind. Today I must concentrate. I slip, come a cropper, three times…

Could I rent, even buy, one of those cottages in the tiny hamlets such as East Portholland along the way, and write stories? At Hemmick here’s only one cottage in the cove.Sadly, I don’t think I have a plot, or a cottage, just yet! For stories, better the Camino? Take almost any one of those countless pilgrims, and walk with him or her, and their memories and aspirations. There are stories in abundance. But who knows what I might yet find among the Cormish cliffs? Who might have fallen there – and never been discovered?