Saturday, 11 March 2023

at home

When I had looked out my west window after dark last night, I could see bright lights that I should not have been able to see. Today’s daylight showed that our boat shapes and the styrofoam boat had blown over in the wind, along with the sides and back of an empty compost bin.

Allan fixed it, with some help from me holding it in place while he fastened it.

Although still deeply affected by having finished The Minack Chronicles, I returned to real life and used a pleasant afternoon to enjoy the garden…

…and to plant some new plants from Far Reaches Farm, Digging Dog, and Cistus nurseries.

I want a tapestry of interwoven but not competing plants, hard to achieve.

Skooter helped.

The greys had no interest in being outdoors.

volunteer gardens

We did some more tidying of the east strip at the Ilwaco fire station…

…and at the Ilwaco post office.

9 March 2023

The Evening Gull begins with Derek driving to Jeannie’s funeral. Then Derek made a champion effort to be strong, to take care of himself and not let anyone see him falling apart.

Some passages and the thoughts they inspired…and would-be conversations with Derek. If I had been one of his neighbours, I would have asked if I could volunteer to help out with his garden during these last years.

It becomes even more clear how Derek and Jeannie’s experiences in World War II had influenced their decision to move to the Cornish coast. I am now reading Went the Day Well. his mid-war book of memorials of people who died in WWII, from soldiers to airmen to women volunteers in English cities, and it brings it home even more strongly.

From The Evening Gull: “…we were living in a vacuum. There were so many, much less fortunate than Jeannie and me, who felt the same. During the war, everyone had a worthwhile, selfless purpose, and our lives were virtually governed for us. The war had to be won. We were all together. Now we had become flotsam and jetsam, floating aimlessly along towards nowhere.”

And oh, how I wish someone would release Derek’s actual diaries. However, in The Minack Chronicles Revisited, John Nash wrote about how a trustee was charged with going through all of Derek and Jeannie’s papers after Derek died and destroying anything of a “personal or sensitive nature”. So I wonder if the diaries still exist. I would love a series like Christopher Isherwood’s diaries, which filled up a winter for me a few years ago.

I agree with Derek’s assessment of life. He would be so horrified by the cruelty of modern social media (especially since 2015).

He remained impassioned about the preservation of wildness and the character of Cornish villages. This was years before Walmart and Home Depot and other massive chains that we have in this side of the pond.


When I first moved to the Long Beach Peninsula in 1992, a local literary journal called “From the Woods of the Lost Corner” well described the feeling here. I was told I should not move here unless I could entertain myself (not a problem!). There was plenty of cheap and shabby housing for artists and dreamers (and service workers!), and there were still some old-timers who, it was said, had never left the peninsula in their entire lives. We called ourselves eccentrics and “end of the roaders” who had gone as far west as possible and then settled here.

I fear the same thing has happened to our area as happened to Cornwall, but with one big difference. A lot of dreamers have moved here and want to change some of the anti-environmental traditions such as driving on the beach, which has now gone way beyond the old days of some trucks driving along to pick up driftwood for their wood stoves or to dig some clams. The beach is a busy thoroughfare of tire tracks now, and maybe the incomers can get it preserved for wildlife and nesting birds (like the threatened snowy plover).

John Nash’s biographical chapters in The Minack Chronicles Revisited reveal that Derek was remembered kindly by people who had worked for him. I like that he wanted to give one worker proper credit for his work:

There were some very interesting revelations about Jeannie and Derek’s relationship in the books published after she died. I remembered my former spouse, Robert, when we were working full time as gardeners, laughing about the idea of an open marriage, “When would we find the time?”

Derek wrote, “...our happiness had not been built on a placid life. We had our rows, our anxieties. We were not always virtuous in the conventional sense. We had learned…that frustration threatens happiness. Satisfy frustration, therefore, and happiness endures. We lived, therefore, dangerously and did so because deep, deep down we knew that we belonged totally to each other, and that we were each other’s harbour. We had learnt, too, that unsatisfied frustration can turn small incidents into major ones.

Perhaps when I finally get the biography called Tangye, all will become clear. Allan ordered an affordable copy on eBay (like most of these books, it was out of print and some copies cost over $50). Its tracking number showed it arriving at our post office, where it simply disappeared and did not make it into our post office box. My frustration knew no bounds. We now have another, more expensive copy on the way…I HOPE it makes it all the way into my hands this time. [Update as of March 26th…the first copy never turned up, the second copy has been stuck for several days in New Jersey, and I have now ordered a THIRD copy which hasn’t even been packed yet!]

That olearia that I wanted, because Minack had it, did not make it through the winter after Jeannie’s death. (The Veronica bushes were hebes, perhaps.)

Quite to my surprise, Derek had decided that he hoped for a new relationship. He wrote of it in the way in which he had written of “men” and “girls” back during the war (girls being adult women), and he still had that habit in the late 1980s, when he was in his late 70s; he wrote that there might be a “girl” in his future. But, really, he meant “I was seeking a Jeannie. Now I could only look forward to steppingstones leading me nowhere. I was not, however, as despondent as I sound. The steppingstones might be delightful. Jeannie would be glad.”

Speaking of “men and girls”, AKA adult women, Derek wrote about Jeannie’s freedom from needing equal opportunity in Jeannie and does it again with this: “her laughter…sparkling fun…long dark hair, slim exquisite figure, her ability to enchant anyone who came to see her, operating in a man’s world without any need for Equal Opportunity laws to make her job secure, relying on her femininity, her common sense, her expertise, her sex appeal.”

Oh, Derek. Do women who could not simply enrapture their way through the working world the way Jeannie did not deserve equality? And the chef who “chased her around the tables”…he says Jeannie thought that was just a bit of fun, and sexual harassment was not a problematic thing. Yet in my world, going back to the mid-1970s, my friends and I were entering the traditionally male trades. I went to printing school, other women friends were electricians or welders or carpenters and faced intense hostility and harassment both sexual and life-threatening (deliberately caused would-be accidents to women workers). I went in 1977 for an interview for a printing job with the Environmental Protection Agency and the men stuck pornographic slides among the images in a slide show about the company. (I walked out of that darkened room while they laughed.) Printing jobs suddenly turned to receptionist jobs when I walked in the door. Those women I knew persevered and fought on to have successful careers at the top of their trades. Many women (like me) can’t “enchant” our way to equality and have to rely on skill and hard work. I couldn’t even enchant my way into a printing job.

I have a feeling that, despite the many ways that I like Derek for his eloquent love of animals and nature and gardens, he might not have liked me (“femininity” and “sparkling fun” are far from traits of mine and I am every bit as outspoken as Derek was), and that makes me sad, since the world of Minack does enchant me so very much.

10 March, 2023

Skooter and I read the next book.

Derek had visitors who had not heard of Jeannie’s death. Especially, I would imagine, Americans, because even now British books are published here months later, if at all. He had to break the news about Jeannie’s death to any visitors who came hoping to see her before they had read Jeannie. Biographer John Nash described it as the “agony” of telling them; sometimes, visitors would burst into tears (as I would have). He continued to be welcoming of visitors, who often said things like “I feel very nervous arriving here uninvited. I feel sure you must get tired of people calling and interrupting you.” He wrote, “I endeavour to be natural by saying what I truly feel… that it is an evergreen privilege to share Minack with those who, though living far, far away, have become involved, and are prepared to come nervously down the winding lane, and across Monty’s Leap.”

So I continue to come down the winding lane with conversations I so wish we could have had.

Derek remained insecure. He had gone to a posh school but had failed all his exams, he had two brothers who were successful at school, and even in his appearance some years before on Desert Island Discs, he remembered a schoolmaster telling him he was useless to society. He wrote, “…when I write about emotion, I feel inhibited. I have an irking sensation that someone is looking over my shoulder laughing at me….And it is a quirk in me that I vision the someone to be very clever, someone of high intellectual ability, who has the qualifications of …the influential elite.” Again, I feel so akin to Derek. This blog is full of passages that I have written and then deleted, although they secretly linger in earlier drafts. I don’t envision the laughing ones being intellectually elite as much as mean bullies, though, who scoff at sentiment and insecurity. A revelation: When I think “Derek wouldn’t like me!” it ties right in with my motto, borne from experience, of, “The more you know me, the less you’ll like me.”

Derek’s thoughts on the afterlife: “Our personal attitudes also shared the theory that for a departed one to tie themselves to earth life because those they left behind are wishing to remain in contact could be like the break-up of a love affair…the one who wants to break away, the other tries to maintain it.” (On the other hand, Jeannie said passionately that her spirit would stay at Minack and protect it, and they felt that the spirit of all their beloved, departed animals were there.). But about the afterlife, Derek “remains puzzled.” Letters from mediums saying they had been visited by Jeannie came from afar. He thought, smiling to himself, “What was Jeannie up to? What was she doing dropping in again on a complete stranger and discussing her private life? So unlike her.”

I just think that the Minack books were so compelling to people (like me) that the ones who fancied themselves to be mediums wanted for Jeannie to contact them.

Another topic: Derek had a canny understanding of how the news cycle works:

He had been a journalist in his thirties and had, in fact, quit a job when his editors wanted him to write acidic gossip about society figures. I remembered how my former spouse, Robert, told me about taking a photojournalism course. The teacher said if you see a truck with a big dog in it, you must walk up to the window and make the dog snarl and bark to get a good photo.

Like Derek, I find it a huge relief in recent years to not have to do anything for holidays. Pre-pandemic, social occasions called, and I always wished I could just be at home: “I was happy on my own on Christmas Day. I enjoy being solitary. I did not have to make a jovial effort, wear a paper hat, pull crackers, all very happy-making for most people, but not for me. I instead had the soothing pleasure of Creation around me. I walked around, saw the first green bud of a daffodil, heard curlews calling….smelt the sweet scent of the heliotrope, listening to the dancing gull on the porch roof, no man-made sounds…peace.”

After the cat Ambrose had died, his only steady companion was little Cherry, whom he describes so beautifully here.

I now had the very last book to read, my second book of the day. I did not want it to be over.

The Confusion Room had even more repetition that previous books and was somewhat longer, revealing, I think, that even though Derek refused outside editing on his books, Jeannie must have been an editor. He had described in a previous volume how she didn’t like his original ending of The Cherry Tree and he had changed it for the better. There is one social problem that he goes on a tangent about twice in this last book that I think she would have completely kiboshed, at least the second time, so I do think she had a gentling influence. [I read later in a biography that his editor did remove a couple of political passages from this last book, so I am wrong about no editing.]

The title refers to a room in the stables where Derek stored all his old papers and letters and documents, which he hoped to get all sorted out. In the early days of the flower farm, it was where Jeannie and Jane and Shelagh bunched the flowers, so many different kinds. I can just picture in my mind the Cornish posies and wish I had been one of the women bunching them.

As he braves The Confusion Room, I can relate to his thought of “How was I to secure order out of chaos?” I have only six boxes and a filing cabinet to sort through and have been putting it off for years.

That is what I will do. Next winter. I swear.

Here comes another of those mysterious revelations of Jeannie and Derek’s relationship….to which I wonder, living in deepest Cornwall, when did they…find the time?? In my distant past, in the anonymity of city life, and with more free time, I had a couple of relationships like that, so I am intrigued. Just one more thing I would love to have had a conversation about in his later years.

He goes on for a couple of pages without really explaining what he means. Of course, I am nosy. I can’t help it, after having read 15 memoirs out of 18 that said nothing of outside “casual friendships”. I am emotionally invested by now. I can only hope that Derek would be pleased to know he made me so curious.

And not longer after, he quotes one of Jeannie’s favourite sayings (which would be perfect for the inside of my front gate, since I prefer to not leave my property): “To be happy, never go beyond the garden gate.” Or as Prunella Scales said in the wonderful telly series, Great Canal Journeys, she “didn’t like to open the front door to put the milk out!” Who would want to leave this:

And then the end of the book came…which caused me a strong emotional pain and recurrent tears for two days. And even now, thinking about it, I truly can hardly stand how sad it makes me feel. I also think it is such a shame that most of these books are out of print and, one biographer suggests, are increasingly hard to find.

Derek did not intend The Confusion Room to be his last book. When he died a couple of years later, without leaving Minack even at the end, he was already making notes for a book called Shadows. Somewhere I read that it was to be a memoir about his time in MI5, now that the story could be told. Later in Echoes from a Cornish Cliff by Pauline Ruffles, I read that it was to be about the circle of life and “the spirits of Minack”, his loved and lost animal companions and Jeannie. There is so much more I want to know. Were his last two years contented ones? Did he have a cat with him or was it just him and the donkeys, and how could a cat lover stand to live alone without a cat? This question bothers me, and I hope that biography that I am STILL waiting for answers it. [In Echoes from a Cornish Cliff, read from March 21-23, I learned that he only had one catless year after Cherry died. And he did manage to die at Minack, resisting all efforts to convince him to move to a nearby care home. [As of March 26, I am still waiting for the biography simply called Tangye. When I finally read it, I will likely write one more book post about the three biographies, two of which I have read by now.]

Meanwhile, I comfort myself that Jeannie and Derek had over thirty years together at Minack Cottage, and as she often said, they were so very lucky in that. The beginning…from A Gull on the Roof

9 March 2023

I had come to the last book of Jeannie, which I imagine that Derek wrote as a way to process his grief; it was published a year after the previous book, instead of the usual two years. It was somewhat longer than the other books and was comforting in that most of it was about their last year together, along with the usual memories of their past life in sophisticated London.

Some light was cast from reading, over a week later, a biographical essay by John Nash in a book called The Minack Chronicles Revisited (which includes a fiftieth anniversary reprint of the first Minack book, A Gull on the Roof)….It was Jeannie’s memoir of her years as publicist for the Savoy Hotel (Meet Me at the Savoy) that brought much needed money to the Tangyes, money that paid for the digging of their water well.

Some favourite passages and the thoughts they inspired:

I loved how kind she was to the visitors who found their way to Minack cottage.

It had become clear to me as the books progressed that the deaths of their many friends during the war (like one man who said to Jeannie, looking out the window of her office at the Savoy before his next flight over Germany, that he knew he wasn’t coming back this time) had a lot to do with their desire for a quiet country life.

In the scene below, I would be Jeannie, talking about Long Beach, and Derek would be Allan, saying we can’t keep doing this forever just so tourists won’t be disappointed. (The Scillonian was the ship that took folks to the Isles of Scilly.)

But the joy of making passersby happy keeps me going.

(Derek shared some correspondence with an Irish writer named John Stewart Collis, I added another book, While Following the Plough, to my list of obscure (on this side of the pond) books. Collis was popular enough at the time to have a biography written about him. My budget is going almost as much to books as to plants this year.)

Jeannie often said to Derek, “Aren’t we lucky!” She knew that they had been fortunate to make the move to Cornwall while it was still affordable.

It is the same about moving to the coastal community on the Long Beach Peninsula; it has become unaffordable for many people to either buy or rent. I made the decision to move here in 1992 and be a gardener at the same age, 38, that Derek was when he and Jeannie left London. I did it just in time, while it was still affordable here. I didn’t find their kind of a dream home, though. It would not have existed at any time here, since any view of the beach would include vehicles using it as a highway. I pondered whether anywhere in Washington would have a place with as much privacy as they had, and thought no, not without a million dollars. Then I remembered Markham Farm, which does have that peace and privacy and non-driving beach that Minack offered, and which was acquired “in time”.

Jeannie contains two pages of excerpts from their gardening diary, back when potatoes were their second main crop. OH how I wish someone would just publish a book of these diaries:

Jeannie never faltered in their mission even when they didn’t have money for even a postage stamp.

I share Derek’s thoughts about Prince Charles, in this story about the cats having saved the tulip planting from being eaten by mice.

Also speaking of fey eccentricity, I think Derek and Jeannie would have enjoyed the “cottagecore” movement on, say, instagram (even though Derek had such a thing against “the computer age” even back in the 60s). Minack would not have been such a quiet existence with social media and Google earth; back then, followers had to make a real effort to find it.

I love Jeannie’s view of what the nature reserve they had managed to acquire next door should be like: NOT a place for tour groups and busy sightseers.

I wish I had Jeannie to help me save the frog bog next door to us. (And I do think nature programs can make us feel; Springwatch, and Autumn and Winterwatch definitely inspire emotion.)

After the description of a very good year, came the inevitable for any reader who had done some reading outside of the books. I knew it was Jeannie’s last year. Biographer John Nash suggests in The Minack Chronicles Revisited that Derek might have been in denial about her illness, and indeed, he describes being shocked when doctors said to him that he was about to experience a terrible blow. I think maybe Jeannie knew more than she told him, because the way she handled it is the way I think I would.

I could hardly bear the rest of it, which Derek handled by simply sharing his diary entries from those weeks.

Their neighbour, David (John Le Carre) wrote the eulogy for her funeral.

Jeannie’s ashes, and later Derek’s, were placed in the Honeysuckle Meadow, part of Oliverland. Derek had described it earlier in the book.

When I came to the end, with a deluge of tears sliding down, I found taped into the back cover of the book the obituary written by David after Derek himself died ten years later. I had been unsuccessful at finding it online, so thank you so much to whoever owned this book before me.

Now I have but three more books, the ones that must be the saddest, the years without Jeannie.

photo from the wonderful website, MinackInfo.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

With surprising good weather turning a planned reading day into a work day, we made the first visit of the year to two gardening jobs.

Diane’s garden

Shortly after we started to weed, our good friend Holly came running…but passed us and ran next door across a big field to the Red Barn. Soon she returned to where I was weeding the septic vault to get the biscuit that I had ready in my pocket.

Diane then appeared; she had been at the barn and “wondered what Holly was so excited about!”

After finishing the vault tidying…

I tidied up the containers around the back porch and then joined Allan in the front garden, clipping and weeding..

Stipa gigantea

We will return after St Patrick’s Day to plant sweet peas along the picket fence.

The Red Barn

We clipped and tidied the garden…

..and saw our good friend Cosmo for the first time in three months…

..and our good old friend Bentley.

Quinn stole his biscuit! But he got another.

I made a new friend, a darling black Labrador, who sat on my foot.

Holly came back for seconds.

Someone left a message for Skooter.

Cosmo might have liked to come home with us.

at home

Back home again, I deserved a nice cuppa Builders.

the work board tonight

The Cherry Tree

But could there be a day without a Minack book? No, there could not. I had been longing all day for the next book.

Derek wrote about the cherry tree where a tiny black cat appeared (and of course, Jeannie fed it, and then he did, too). He mentions that the garden there included an Olearea solandri. Now I simply must have one; I hear perhaps Cistus Nursery has one (but not mail order-able).

As the books progressed, so did Derek’s compassion for the inequities of life.

…treasure their luck.

This passage about fog reminds me so much of life in the tiny house where I lived, west of the boatyard, mostly in the shade, from 1994-2010.

Derek then goes on to describe how they had slugs in the house! At least we were spared that, except for tiny ones that rode in on the cats’ fur.

I think many bloggers will have experienced the connection with others that Derek’s memoirs brought about. And I feel, oh how I feel, for the man who was made redundant. I could describe how he felt from my recent experience with work. (None of it having to do with the Long Beach job, which is fine.)

I was ever so pleased when Derek began to write at length in this book, and in later ones, about how both he and Jeannie were untidy. Further soul-mate-iness betwixt me and them.


Sadly, Beverley Nichols had died and would no longer be visiting. They reminisce…

Another story of Beverly, when visiting their mutual friend, Marion Spring (who wrote a gardening book, out of print, which I have now ordered); he was shown a doll house belonging to Marion:

Derek, a former disliker of cats, who had grown to love a succession of feline companions over the past 20 plus years (Monty, Lama, Oliver, Ambrose, and now Cherry), had learned to understand feline ways.

By the way, if our cat Nickel does this to you, he truly does want a good long belly rub. If Skooter does, maybe you could risk trying, but if Faerie does, beware!

I had finished The Cherry Tree by bedtime…

…and tomorrow and the next day rain was promised. Four more books to go, and the next one is the last of Jeannie’s life on earth. I finally fell asleep with a feeling of sorrow.

7 March 2023

[I was thinking how much I would have liked to talk with Derek and Jeannie, whose many visitors are quoted in biographical information as saying how kind and welcoming they were to visitors. I just realized as I proofread this post on March 23rd that these posts are my way of having that back and forth conversation that I missed out on in real life.]

At last, my next Minack book arrived. But who would place a sticker over a cat’s face? At least I managed to reveal Ambrose’s eyes.

What it should should look like…

The book is dedicated to Beverley Nichols (cat loving garden writer; I have all his books).

The value of keeping a diary…


That value was clear to me when I read my diaries of 1976-1978, and found out there were things I had completely forgotten, and now, I can hardly remember anything but a few highlights of years 1981-1984, when I kept no written record at all.

As you must know by now, if you have been following my obsession, Derek and Jeannie operated a daffodil farm on Cornish cliffs, and the books have a wealth of information about my favourite flower.

There had been more plant thievery from the daffodil fields, reminding me of when I had 100 plus daffodils in bud at our boatyard garden, only to show up to weed the next day and find every single one had been picked overnight.

Jeannie and Derek still persisted in not having a telephone.

I am soothed by the nature writing and love of cats, donkeys, birds, foxes and badgers in the chronicles, yet I think what sparks my obsession is also the flaws I share with Derek.

In The Ambrose Rock, the peace of Minack Cottage is threatened by an ugly development right next door (I can relate to that!).

Never before had my worries been so precisely echoed by the Tangye’s current crisis:

Although I will say that if housing for the homeless were to be put next door to us, I would not object, because it is just about the most important need in the town where I live. However, it would have to be an environmentally aware and non-destructive build to keep me on its side.

Now this could be a scene from my own household:

(Jeannie speaks, and…)

Right after that, Derek fully reveals what has been hinted at, that he and Jeannie each have their own separate cabin for writing (Derek) and for writing and painting (Jeannie). And again, they know how lucky they are.

While it would be hard to choose a favourite of the chronicles, The Ambrose Rock with the tale of the possible development next door would be at the top if I could only read, say, three of the books.

I immediately opened the next book. (They are less than 200 pages each.) How I would love a truly quiet year…not likely to happen here.

This is one of the three I had brought back from a visit to the UK but had never read, because at the time I couldn’t get hold of the rest of the series.

Again, Derek tells the story of how they came to Minack. (The books were meant to be read two years apart, as published, not two a day.)

Here on the SW Coast of Washington state, we almost old-timers see new people move here and then express dismay and astonishment about the rain and the winter storms. Some of them do last only a year.

Derek and Jeannie “sometimes hadn’t the money to buy a gallon of petrol”, and for the first eight years, they had no intention of writing about their life in Cornwall, so their only income came from their market farm. [Later, I learned that Jeannie’s memoir, Meet Me at the Savoy, written during those years, financed the digging of their well.]

I love that Jane, who used to work for them (see A Drake at the Door) was a self taught gardener who ended up with an excellent horticultural career.

I have read online that Jane, who must be older at least fourteen years older than me, is the person who lives at Minack Cottage now.

I love when Derek waxes on about the daffodils.

More of Derek’s flaws, with which I identify, and would love to have had a long talk with him about it. (I also wish I knew another Minack reader and that we could have long discussions about the books.)

Because our next door frog bog is under threat (the latest thing we’ve heard is it will be “put in a culvert”), I appreciate when Derek tells a good frog story.

Derek speaks of weeds:

I would like a garden bed with all the same plants Jeannie and Derek grew. I sometime grow arctosis (African daisy), especially the ones with spoon petals. I can’t find anything online about Ascania violets, which he often mentions; I do grow alyssum and tobacco plants and daffodils, of course. I finally figured out, from a biography that I read later, that their “verbena bush” was a lemon verbena; he used to give fragrant leaves of it to visitors. One of his dislikes, which I share, is the pushiness of orange montbretia.

I now had five more books, only one left before Jeannie died (at just two years younger than my age now, intolerable!). This was causing me emotional distress, like physical pain, to think of her fate, and of Derek without her, and also to think of being done with the series. By tomorrow evening, I expected to come to the end of Jeannie’s life….but dry and sunny weather intervened. This may be a relief to anyone who is tiring of my one track mind about Minack.

The weather was good enough to get some weeding done in the front driveway garden. To do so, I rather reluctantly emerged from my reading retreat.

Lots of weed grass in the driveway bed.

Iris reticulata in the concrete vaults:

Next door, deer were lounging about in Alicia’s back garden. They like the secret willow cave.

I read a book in the evening, acquired by interlibrary loan, about a storm I learned about in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Hurricane Agnes, a bringer of much destruction.

It has the compelling scenes of volunteers trying to sandbag the banks of the Susquehanna River, without enough bags, a futile effort, but they gave it their all.

The volunteers ran as the sandbagging failed…

After the flood…

…the description of a lost garden was especially poignant to me. (I often picture what my garden would be like after a tsunami.)

Has anyone reading this heard of the storm called Agnes? The book is so obscure that Goodreads doesn’t even have it registered.

Tomorrow, my next Minack Chronicles book will arrive by 11 AM and then I hope waking life will be all Minack all the time until I finish the series…I have seven to go. (On the other hand, blog readers might be falling away in droves as they wish I would get back to pictures and words about gardening.) I do take a break from reading when we have our late dinner and we watch, these days, Great Canal Journeys and some old episodes of one of my favourite shows ever, Ground Force; I’ve found a treasure trove of them on YouTube.

2 March, 2023

After my last Minack book till the next one arrives, I read an interlibrary loan of the memoir of the darling Miranda Hart, about her life with a canine best friend. I enjoyed all of it, but this one passage perfectly described my current mood about life (all brought on by an unfortunately work situation, maybe some of it also because of related thoughts about getting old).

The rest of the book perked me up. In fact, the sad paragraph perked me up because it described my feelings so perfectly and yet made me laugh.

3 March 2023

Oh joy, the next book in Mark Wallington’s travel memoirs had arrived. It was almost as funny as 500 Mile Walkies.

If you google up an image of Mark Wallington and Boogie, you will find that Boogie was a larger and handsomer dog than the book covers suggest.

Along with the humour of taking a little boat and a big personality dog on a quest for the source of the Thames, Wallington has a knack for describing nature.

And as a former jobbing gardener, which he wrote about in The Day Job, he has an ear for a good gardening chinwag.

4 March 2023

The next day, I went on another excursions with Mark Wallington and Boogie. It was as funny and charming as the first two books, although 500 Mile Walkies does have the edge of being set in Cornwall.

More garden talk:

I immediately followed with Mark’s next travel book, this time without Boogie, who must have been gone by then…a sad thought. What a dog! He would not have had a good time traveling on this spontaneous one man ukulele open mic tour.

Although the book was as full of the so satisfying Wallington humour, there was one moment that took my breath away. There had been a poem that I had found some years ago and shared on Facebook because it got to me so much. I had been trying and trying to remember it; all I could recall is that it mentioned some sort of sound (bells?) and some locations (villages?) but no…it was birds, and counties.

Traveling by train….

I immediately knew that I had found the poem I had sought. I tried to read it to Allan but started to cry too hard to get the last four lines out.

Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform. What I saw

Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

No whit less still and lonely fair

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

I was pleased when Mark visited Conwy Castle on his journey from open mic to open mic. I have been there and remember it well, although I don’t remember tourist guides in costume.

What I do remember is how interesting it was to look down into surrounding gardens from castle walls.

And I have been in Skipton.

I feel so fortunate to have discovered the Mark Wallington books, all because Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path memoir mentions 500 Mile Walkies as an inspiration. I do hope he writes another memoir, with or without a dog. There is one more, without Boogie, about a trip to Lapland (or so the title suggests), which is on its way to me.

5 March 2023

I had from the library the sequel or companion book to the amazing Life After Life.

Like Life After Life, some of the book takes place in WWII, this time not so much the London Blitz but the experiences of a bomber pilot from the same family. It was mesmerising. Another part of the book includes nature columns written by one of the characters, just wonderful. Kate Atkinson can write anything!

There are quite a few enjoyable excerpts from the nature column.

When one of the characters was…

…I got choked up because, what I haven’t been able to stand to write about yet, some gardens I love (and made) are under a vague threat of being dug up, and I WILL mind.

But wait, look, there is Adlestrop again!

So if I hadn’t found it in The Uke of Wallington, I would have found it here and would have recognised “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire“. Amazing.

Two images of death were chilling, and then comforting. “She was preparing….

And this, which is the way I think about it most of the time. “A handful of heartbeats…that’s

Just as with Life After Life, there is a page in this novel where something happened that so surprised and asoptunded me that my head rose off my shoulders and floated around the room. You will know when you get there.

Allan said to me, re the blog, “There hasn’t been much gardening lately.” The snowdrops and allotments from books do count for something, though. And I did take a walk around the garden to show just how very reading-friendly the weather has been.

1 March 2023

I had been feeling rather alone in my obsession for the Minack Chronicles. There are multiple Facebook pages, although some seem to mostly have posts from a few years ago. And then, while searching for a quotation about what a dream the books are, I found this, a record album based on the series! I have to figure out how to order it, not being familiar with acquiring digital music. It was released in November 2022, proving to me that the series is still winning hearts.

My next book had arrived.

It has a pleasing cover featuring the donkeys, first introduced in the earlier book, The Donkey in the Meadow.

The passages from the book that drive me most to want to talk to you about them tend to be the ones about more personal aspects of the books and don’t give the best idea of the joy of reading about the donkeys, the foxes and badgers, the many birds, and or course the cats that share the Minack with him and Jeannie.

For example, I am drawn again to how Derek knows how lucky he and Jeannie were to have found the place back when it was still affordable. A young woman had come walking up the lane, one of many pilgrims who visited because of the books, and asked the rather strange question, “Have you lost what you achieved? Have you lost the first vision?”

Just a few days ago from when this post will publish, I had a birthday. Feeling very non-peopley because of the recent work frustration about a certain job, I didn’t want much of anything to do with birthday greetings so I reset my Facebook so no one could post a greeting (only those who already knew about it, as I had my birthday itself hidden). Derek was a bit of a birthday curmudgeon himself.

As for curmudgeonliness, Derek complained again about strikes, but had gained insight into why they happen, because of bad bosses. Toward the end of this passage, he bothered me with his thoughts against equality. One runs into difficulties sometimes in reading old books.

Fortunately, I can tell you that in a much later book, his idea of equality has transformed into the realisation that not everyone is born with the same advantages. I think Jeannie may have talked to him about that. I hope I have saved that bit so I can share it when the time comes. Moments like these I just wish I could have had a good talk with him.

I think he was beginning to understand, since he talks about missed opportunities in his own life and then segues to words that explain for me why it is good to take a break from blogging in the winter.

They were still living with no telephone. (Sometimes I might as well not have one, since I don’t turn the volume on, but I wouldn’t like to have to go a mile to a phone booth to make an emergency call.)

Ah, frogs in the big Orlyt greenhouse, where Jeannie had propagated a host of geraniums that she would not sell:

I have a new name for the back patio! Must make a sign!

How very much I relate to Derek’s stories of daffodil thieves! Ive had 100 buds in the boatyard garden (a garden now lost to me) and had them all picked overnight before they could bloom. Derek was a supporter of the Coast Path, which opened in 1973 and made public the little paths that he and Jeannie used to maintain for walking the donkeys, and they were friendly to the ramblers, unless…


And Derek took them!

In years past, when I would catch someone with a big stolen bouquet in Long Beach, I took the flowers away (at least twice) and took them into city hall to put in a vase for more than one person to enjoy. I wouldn’t dare to that now; someone would Yelp about how a crazy gardener ruined their vacation.

As it happened, I had gotten a hardback copy of the next book, which I started immediately after finishing The Winding Lane.

It was like living two lives at the same time, one day to day real life and, in my mind and my dreams, the life of Minack Cottage.

Again, Derek wrote of how their life on the flower farm did not come easily, was not entirely idyllic.

This is one reason that I am so obsessed with this series. Their experience echoes mine of moving here, at just the same age as Derek was when he moved, and becoming jobbing gardeners. Robert and I were indeed so poor that postage could be a challenge.

The flower and produce farm was impressively hard work.

Once again, I got to vicariously enjoy a visit from another favourite writer of mine.

I also very much relate to the personality revelations that Derek shared.

I always had the suspicion that the reason people hired us was because we were cheaper, usually $20 an hour cheaper (the two of us) than other local gardening businesses. This theory seems to be proven correct from a recent work situation that has, I think, made the Minack Chronicles an even more wonderful escapist read for me.

I also love the descriptions of living in a seaside tourist area; Minack Cottage was near to the towns of Penzance and Mousehole.

We often hear the same thing from locals when the weather is bad: Oh dear, this is very bad weather for the people on spring break, or clamming, or a festival.

Good, windy summer weather brings Oh good, some wind for the kite flyers!

And this, so true, We used to love working at the homey and personable garden of Klipsan Beach Cottages, before Mary and Denny retired. Now I think a good, personal touch place to stay would be at our friend Wendy’s cottage, which used to be her father’s and for which she has great sentiment, Pacific Alder Cottage. She likes to spend time there herself. And I still love the Sou’wester Lodge, because I like vintage trailers; it also has four cute cabins. (I sent a friend there who, it turned out, is claustrophobic in trailers, oops!)

Our area of seaside towns has the same problem as Cornwall did when Derek wrote this in about 1979:

The vacation rental problem is a great dilemma here, where workers cannot find affordable places to rent.

He mentioned the Merry Maidens again…

…and again, I mourned that when I was there in 1975, I did not walk down the winding lane, just a little over a mile to Minack Cottage. I must share this again: upper right circle is Merry Maidens, lower middle circle is Minack Cottage with its view of the Barn Barges rocks. (The other circle is where their helper Jane lived years before.)

When I finished Where the Winds Blow, I faced at least five days wait for the next book, the only one I didn’t have. When it arrived, I would be able to read them all. In one sense, the wait was a reprieve, leaving me four books still to read before Jeannie’s death, a loss (albeit though it was over a quarter century ago) that I dreaded. I had some other good books lined up, so at least the predicted perfect reading weather would not be wasted.

1 March 2023

Rainy cold weather continued, and I continued to read. I didn’t mind that I didn’t have the next in the Minack Chronicles, because I had received a copy of Mark Wallington’s The Day Job, which I had learned about it in his hilarious memoir, 500 Mile Walkies. I had been eagerly waiting its arrival. It seems to be actually still in print, so you could buy it new and put some money in his pocket!

As a jobbing gardener myself, I was not disappointed.

Mark started the job with little experience and, when asked for references, realized that he needed a mentor. He was fortunate to find a lovely client, Mrs. Levenham, to help train him up. I hope I am as lucky as she to find someone just learning, if I become too feeble to garden, who will work at an affordable elderly discount for the sake of gaining knowledge.

He worked for many elderly clients, giving them a price break if they were poor. Which I also used to do, before I decided to focus on public gardening.

That is probably one of the main reasons I keep working: respect (when I can get it). Mark charged people more if they had fancy cars or houses so that he could afford to work for the poor elderly. I should have figured that out long ago; instead, I pretty much quit working for wealthy people because I, well, felt they were annoying, with just a few exceptions.

But when he got a reference to take to the well-to-do woman who’d asked for one, she told him “I’m being done by Powerflowers!” That was another aspect that is relevant to something I am going through right now, because of VIP in charge of a job that I thought we were going to take back (after having been asked to do so!) all of a sudden said that he thought they were going to have to go with “one of those businesses from Astoria that does the Fred Meyer parking lots once a month.” (So much for respect and appreciation for years of work. More on this in a later post!)

The continuing saga of Powerflowers vs. lowly jobbing gardeners was of great interest to me.

Below, I am reminded of the joy of first learning about gardening, which in my case was years before it became a career.

You probably know about compost, so it should be no surprise that my favourite story was of the client who was moving all his precious compost to a new garden.


The compost piles, it turned out, had something to do with why he was moving house and how his composting methods led to his divorce.

When Mark took on some jobs in public gardens, he experienced what we often do: working with an audience.

It is a wonderful book. I am going to suggest that our local bookstore, Time Enough Books, get a copy or two to sell…although maybe it is a only a select audience, the jobbing gardeners, who will find it as funny and downright enriching (like compost) as I did.

While I read, cats snoozed.

The got a special mail delivery, the box being the favourite part.

Allan actually left the house and had a look at the swans on nearby Black Lake.

In the late afternoon, another eagerly awaited book arrived and I returned to the dream world of Minack Cottage.

late February 2023

While waiting for the next book in the Minack Chronicles, I read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Wonderful, and my head got floaty when I suddenly figured out the whole premise of the book (after feeling confused). A reviewer correctly said that within the book is the best Blitz novel ever written.

And then the next Derek Tangye book arrived.

I loved every bit and will share my favourite parts. As always, he recaps the story of how he was won over to liking cats.

Derek and Jeannie left city life to be flower farmers on a Cornish cliff.

By the time he left college, he had “come to…

Of course, I identify with his awkwardness in groups. I have been hopeful at times but never succeeded.

The year in which he wrote A Cat Affair seems to be when pilgrims began to arrive at Minack Cottage, and it was the year when I was only a bit over a mile away one day at the Merry Maidens stone circle but didn’t know anything about the Tangyes.

I love the fondness for frogs, as the story of the tadpole in the tea is shared again and expanded.

Derek wrote again of his liberal grandfather…

…and in one of the books around the middle of the series, I found out why Derek would often surprise me by being adamantly anti-strikers: He and Jeannie relied on the early spring crop of daffodils to get them through the year, and often when they got to the nearby train station to ship them, there would be a strike which meant the daffodils would wilt unsold.

Based on what I have read of English history at the time, Derek would have understood, I think, if he knew more about working conditions that weren’t anything like what his grandfather provided.

If only David Kynaston would finish his next book in his history series, Tales of a New Jerusalem, which may travel into the 70s. I have been waiting…and waiting…and hope I (and he) live long enough to see it. Then I will know much more in scrupulous and personal detail (he often quotes the average citizen) about the strikes of that era.

Derek mentioned another local author, Marion Spring, and I have managed to order a book by her called Garden Memories (on its way). He describes giving her a sprig from the “verbena bush”, oft mentioned. I finally found out that it was a large hebe!

At the cottage, as Lama becomes elderly and is protected by Derek from being usurped, a young cat named Oliver is hanging around and Jeannie feeds him outdoors. Derek builds him a comfy outdoor home.

I was always pleased when Beverley Nichols came to visit (and I hope to be rereading his memoirs next winter.)

Lama was too dignified to accept such blandishments from visitors, much as Beverley tried.

In a later retelling of that story, Beverley says at the bedroom doorway, “We have had words.” (It occurs to me that when I read his memoirs years ago, I had the same sentimental tears as I do over Minack.)

Looking backward, Derek reminisces about the rocky start of the daffodil farm, and how when he and Jeannie were invited to Claridges in London to celebrate its 25th anniversary as special guests (because of Jeannie’s starlike former employment at the Savoy Hotel), “we were unable to accept. We had too many debts. We hadn’t the money to pay our fare to London and back.” So fie on snide amateur reviewers who have assumed that they were able to move to Cornwall because of wealth.

The following page and a bit about what noisy people fail to appreciate, reminds me of the horrible fireworks week or more here on the peninsula every July, and what it would be like without them.

About little black cat Lama, and their first cat, Monty, just one of the passages that makes me tear up so I cannot see the page, and, like Derek, I value that depth of emotion, even now when I read it again to share:

Due to rainy weather and the brevity of the Minack books being under 200 pages, I could sometimes read two a day. I took a brief moment to look out the door.

I could not make myself go out into the cold but potentially productive sunshine. I had to read on.

This next book tells more of the peaceful daily life at Minack with no greater suspense than whether or not Derek will keep his New Year resolutions. (He does part of the domestic work of the household but resolved, among other things, to do some cooking, which was Jeannie’s domain. As the years passed, he did more of it although…well, read and see if he succeeds on this particular year.)

He also tells Jeannie that he has resolved to sort out his “oceans of notes and letters and papers” that are kept in a big cupboard. “Jeannie was laughing.” I suspected he would have about as much success as I have had with my to do list item called “filing cabinet”.

He continued to resist the kind of sophisticated humour that makes fun of people and that ridicules the sentimentality that he treasured. It reminded me of in-person groups in my past and even of reading things nowadays among Facebook friends and wondering why people I like are spending their time making fun of what people wear or scoffing at mistakes celebrities have made.

When a close friend who is a deputy leader in the Labour Party visits, Derek has a discussion with him about Cornwall:

So true, and, since Derek was far from retired at that time, I appreciate that he as a middle-aged person had sympathy for older folk.

When Derek and Jeannie were struggling in the early years of the flower and produce farm, his mother helped them out. I would like to give credit to my mother for doing the same at one particularly critical juncture when Robert’s and my van broke down (on the way home from visiting her two hours away) and we had a huge towing bill and then a huge repair bill.

Again, thank you, mom.

Here is an astute description of cat behaviour:

They, and especially Jeannie, grew all sorts of flowers in their cottage garden…

…although by that time, they were, I think, no longer growing many flowers other than daffodils for the flower trade. In summer, they grew and shipped tomatoes. When they used to grow flowers, before larger farms with huge greenhouses started to compete with the cliff farms, among them were:

Beauty of Nice stock, Persian carpet wallflowers, Bournemouth gem and Governor Herrick (little scent)  and Princess of Wales (good scent) violets, Ascania, the original Cornish violet, and Wedgwood Iris. 

They grew and sold Pilot and Homeguard potatoes, also May Queen, Sharpe’s Express, and Duke of York Cornish new potatoes, but gave up the potato trade after several years of being blighted by storms.

They had purchased three greenhouses and grew and shipped Maascross tomatoes with a label extolling that they were “grown for flavour.”

Having been farming veg and flowers for twenty plus years, they were friends with the old timers.

I share with Derek this labelling problem.

I loved the art on the paperback versions that I was buying used. The hardbacks had photographs, and I particularly enjoyed this one of the book I had just finished, the view from Minack Cottage with Derek and Jeannie in the garden.

Reading weather was set to continue for another week or more. I had received a book that I was so eager to read that next, I was going to emerge from the world of Minack into the 1980s London life of a jobbing gardener.