The Fairest of Small Cities (Day 163) September 7th
By Steph Bradley 9th September 2010
Lostwithiel, one of my favourite places in all Cornwall, has a resilient sort of feel to it. From its tourist leaflet I read of its many faceted past, how it has continued to fare well in spite of many setbacks and challenges; it was the ancient capital of the county, and then a stannary town, (as have been many of the recent places passed through; Chagford, Tavistock, and Liskeard, being given a royal licence to be responsible for the taxation on the tin being mined on the moors and then brought down to the towns for assessing and distribution) only to find its river silting up because of the activities used upstream to process the raw metal. Once the river silted up ocean going vessels were no longer possible but Lostwithiel was not deterred and started to make its fortune from other things; weaving and tanning, pottery and pewter.
Later, after being pretty much devastated by the civil war between the royalists and the parliamentarians, iron was found in the hills and Lostwithiel grew once again. The coming of the railway provided work, and later a creamery, but now Lostwithiel is concentrating its effort on its visitors and living up to its reputation, set by Edward Earl of Cornwall, who built its castle some 600 years ago, of it being the “fairest of all small cities”. For me this is certainly true; its river crossed by a medieval bridge, is a pleasure to sit beside, its narrow streets full of local shops a delight to meander through, and its ancient church has a presence all of its own. Industry might have helped the fortunes of this ancient settlement, but it has not apparently been allowed to leave behind it the devastation that it has in many places I have visited.
Over lunch I talk to Joe, and discover that not only is Plants for a Future, the amazing vegan community that has done so much on mapping plants is within in walking distance and that I can visit whist I am here but that it is run by a Brazilian woman and that her ex partner wants to do something similar in Brazil. I feel excited about the possibility of meeting them.
In the evening there is storytelling at the medieval bridge. The weather has faired up on us and we lay a tarpaulin and rugs on the grass. There is shared food and my mum, who has come with my dad to hear the tales, is delighted to have been able to bring her home grown tomatoes and homemade ginger biscuits.
Georgiana starts the evening off with her lovely tale of Story and Truth, and another, very transition tale about the joy of recycling clothes and how stories too should be recycled.
The audience consist of Anne Marie, Joe and Finn, my parents, a whole posse of Pollinators (storytellers whose function I think is to help engage the young visitors) from the Eden Project and various others, about 20 altogether,
and the group of teenagers who we have obviously displaced from their usual hanging out place who hover on the pavement curious though pretending not to care from whom eventually a couple come closer and obviously want to listen:
“it’s a story…”
They whisper, but the others tease them and they have to back off. I make eye contact with the couple and smile into their eyes and think we should come back here every 6-8 weeks and do this again and see if they might, like timid birds be tempted to come closer with each telling.
Anne Marie tells of Abundance in her softy spoken way enthusing all the listeners and the Eden folk offer use of their press and it turns out that the reason Anne Marie had been to the Eden Project today was to take apples to the press, and both are delighted at the connection between the two projects. The Abundance Project needs volunteers to harvest, distribute, pickle or press the fruit and to find out how to get involved go to www.transitonlostwithiel.org.uk .
Dave Saunders of the Grow Zone at the Eden Project describes the garden they have created out of planting high heel shoes, and other seemingly strange and wonderful containers and planters, designed to attract young people to get interested in gardening.
Daniel asks if I have ever been offered hospitality from a Hare Krisna and I say no, not yet but when I was told I would meet a Buddhist monk I did, and was offered hospitality for the very next night and then Daniel me a copy of a book “The Sacred Cow” and I realise that he is a Hare Krisna follower and at home later I realise the synchronicity of being given a book on cows! It is all about the giving of service to the cow, giver of milk and many other things, and not the other way around where we keep cows to be in service to us, in exchange for winter food and a place to sleep, and I am struck by back then, in the time of the Vedas (ancient Indian scriptures, far earlier by thousands of years than the bible) people served and venerated nature and the things she gave them in order that they could survive, and how now it is the opposite and we use and abuse nature and till she is unable to provide in the same way, and feel hopeful that in a transition world we will take the knowledge of both these times and understand we are interdependent upon one another, and that life is a continual cycle of giving and receiving.
Diana of the Story tells the tale of the tramp who travels with a bar of gold. He gives the bar of gold to an very poor old couple who have offered him their last cup of milk and when he has gone they start a-talking about how to make best use of the gold, and little by little, as they talk, they realise that there are things that can be done without any money and so it is that they begin to tidy up the cottage, repair the shutters, and make it pretty, and the more they do the happier they feel, and the more they do till pretty soon they are very happy indeed, and one day the tramp comes back to see how they are doing and asks what they chose to spend the gold on, and they look at one another in surprise, and go to the place where they have buried the gold bar, forgotten, under the trodden earth floor to keep for a real emergency, and take it out and the tramp takes back the gold bar, to take on to the next place in need of a bit of a lift, and walks on, a smile upon his face, to spread hope elsewhere too.
This seems like the perfect story to celebrate my journey and place to end the evening but then Wendy of the Song sings for us an exquisite old Cornish ballad. It is wild and free, and speaks to our hearts the way the newer music never could.
It seems the perfect song to celebrate this stage of the journey and place to end the evening with and then Jenny the Impersonator gives us her lamb impersonation and that is the perfect end, to sum up a journey that has been in many ways a voyage of discovery of our lost wealth, the sheep and their wool.
The rain starts and we fold away our blankets and give thanks that we had a perfect amount of time for our storytelling. I muse as we fold about the wonder of a place whose people still keep the traditions of the story, the song, and the bardic way, and of the shared heritage of the Welsh and the Cornish, and know that it is through these roots, our roots, that the journey back to ourselves as a people on this small island will be accomplished, and the way forward be lit. I get invited to tell my tales at the Eden Project, and feel happy. We walk back through the wet street s together and I think again how much I like this town and when we walk through an arch up a cobble street my whole body screams out with the rightness of this place.
Back home Joe asks where I will stay in Seaton and reminds me of Keveral Farm, and of course the story of this organic farm community that have been delivering fresh local veg to the area for years is a perfec tale to have in the story.
We end the night with tales of assorted things but I like Anne Marie and Joe’s tale of the Clangers discovering a telescope, and seeing the New York City skyline, and dismissing American Civilisation as not a good place to go at all http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HArUmqqiL0s best of all!