Posts Tagged ‘Minack Chronicles’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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late February, 2023

I continued with the next of the Minack Chronicles, reentering the Cornish cliffside world of Minack Cottage, with its flower farm, cats, donkeys, and wildlife. If you would like to see an old television show that was made about Derek and Jeannie’s world, broadcast in 1971 around the time when these books took place, here is a video that I was thrilled to find.

I own all of Beveley Nichols’ books and must reread them to see if he ever mentions his visits to Derek and Jeannie Tangye. (Note the praise under the title, above.)

Meanwhile, I was googling and google-earthing place names and found out about the Friends of Minack and that they were having their final annual get together on the very weekend when I was reading about Minack, the end of February, in Penzance. If I had discovered the books last autumn, I truly might have finally gotten my passport renewed and Allan and I just might have taken the risk and gone. I like to think so anyway. [Later, I think I might have read this last gathering would be at the end of March. But I still do not have a current passport.)

I wonder if some of the early daffodils would have been out on the cliffs. In A Cornish Summer, written in 1968-9, Derek wrote of the ones they were harvesting, starting with ‘Magnificence’.

As I read through the series, I noted down the daffodils which they grew. I put a star next to the ones that I have in my gardens.

California aka Pentewan

Obvallaris *

Joseph McLeod (their favorite)

Magnificence first to bloom 

King Alfred *





Carbineer (It may be that Jane grew these in her own garden; she won a flower show prize with them, one of Derek’s favourite and oft repeated stories)

Golden Harvest

Whites :

Early Bride


Barrett Browning *

White Lion*


Ones that didn’t sell, now in hedgerows, joining ones that were thrown into hedgerows in WWII when the cliff meadow gardens were turned to vegetables: 







Coverack Glory 

Scilly Whites


Soleil d’Or (this one perhaps only grown on the Isles of Scilly; here, we grow them on a windowsill as they are tender)

Another called Sunrise grew byDerek’s writing hut.

Of course, I want to have all of them and will be on a quest.

Derek’s problems with worrying are ones I strongly share.

These philosophizings are a recurrent theme throughout the more than thirty years of the chronicles. I have to say (a phrase which pops up in a lot of the British gardening shows I watch…Do I “have to say”? Maybe not but I will) that I share a lot of his feelings even though I am not sure they are correct; many people thrive in social groups. We will get to more of Derek’s thoughts on this topic in later books, including the feeling that I share about thinking later that one has talked in a group too much, too loudly, too downright ridiculously. At this point, he seemed to be writing from the point of view of feeling that loners were better than more social people.

I am a terrible failure at group dynamics, whether it be a coffee klatsch or work group. I’ve given up trying but I do not feel superior about being a loner.

Here is when I first got a strong glimpse that Derek and I would have had political disagreements.

Oh, dear. I was surprised, because many of his friends from the city were Labour politicians. When I was in feminist political groups in the mid 70s, there was much discussion about whether those who moved to the country were escaping their political responsibilities. (I didn’t think so, even though at the time I liked city life just fine.). Before long, as talk of feminism entered the media, Derek’s writings in future books revealed he didn’t like feminists, either. Oh dear, oh dear. I think Jeannie would have liked me, but I am not sure he would have.

I was further surprised when I read in the next book about his admiration for his grandfather’s labor relations with his employees. Below: From Cottage On a Cliff, and Derek often repeats this story in later books. Yet he also repeats his disapproval of strikers who were surely striking to have working conditions of the kind his grandfather provided. I could not understand but figured out some of why later on, when he wrote about how there would often be a train strike at the time when he delivered their precious daffodils to the “flower train” and the daffodils, undelivered, could mean a season of no income.

Did Derek’s possible conservative streak, if that’s what it was, stop my Minack obsession in its tracks? Most decidedly not. The cliffs, the flower farm, the reading, the thinking, the walks with the donkeys and the cats, the love of nature and books, and the passion for the preservation of nature, still held me there in my heart. As did the delightful relationship between Derek and Jeannie. (She was also a writer, of Meet Me at the Savoy, a memoir of her employment at the Savoy Hotel, followed by a trilogy of novels about a hotel, all of which I have not yet tracked down to buy. But I will. When she worked at the Savoy, guests were smitten, including Danny Kaye.)

Both Derek and Jeannie were staunch environmentalists.

By now, they had electricity and running water and a chicken coop turned guest room, but Derek did not have a telephone till the very last years of his life.

I identify with their work struggles, similar to what I went through as a gardener. We would just get ahead when another crisis would take us back to poverty (a vehicle breakdown, a broken sewer line, and worst of all, Robert’s heart attack in 2002).

Some who have commented on the books have said that Derek and Jeannie were privileged to have moved to the coast. They were well aware that they were lucky to have moved at a time when it was affordable to get a longterm lease (they never actually owned the Minack Cottage property!).

I found a photo of them in their small cottage, about the same size as the fishing shack that I lived in from 1994-2010.

I am sure that their books, before they were gifted a room dehydrator, had the same slightly damp smell that mine collected during my tiny house years.

Meanwhile, in Penzance, on the very weekend I was reading this book, the annual meeting of the Friends of Minack was in session. The group was ending its annual convention because most of the members had gotten quite old and they couldn’t find younger folks to run the group. I found some photos of a previous convention. I would have loved to be there.

Ohhh…,they were looking through the Minack archives. How I yearned to join them. Now, surely there is a group I could have fitted in with…I like to think so.

When one reads quite old books, it can be hard to even find someone to talk with about them.

The flowers on Shelagh’s grave (she died of a heart attack at age 20) brought tears. (Photos from the Friends of Minack Society Facebook page)

And I must share the photo of this cake (I hope the friends wouldn’t mind; they do ask that readers share their love of the books so that the series might be revived and reissued, as most of it has been out of print for years).

Jeannie died at my age, 67 (maybe 68), a tragic event which I am already dreading in the memoir series. She loved her life so much.

After my envious perusing of past Minack gatherings, I returned to the book, where I found this passage rings true of the coastal tourist area where I and many retirees live.

By this time, Jane had moved away and they had a new helper, Geoffrey. Six books had been published over the course of 12 years and folks were showing up at the door to meet Derek and Jeannie and the cats and donkeys. This was years before Google Earth, and these fans had found their way through the countryside and down an unmarked lane, or along the cliffs before the Coast Path was opened.

I love Derek and Jeannie for being kind and welcoming and deeply interested in their guests even when they were busy.

Later, Derek wrote several times about how when he needed help, the kindness would be reciprocated when a plumber, a carpenter, or a lawyer who loved the books showed up and offered help at the perfect moment.

I immediately turned to the next book.

More about living in a tourism economy…so familiar to me.

I spent more time with Google Earth looking up various landmarks mentioned in the book and trying to figure out just where Jane’s cottage had been.

A much later book revealed that Derek’s friend John Le Carrè had purchased those three cottages and made them into one. As “The John le Carré house”, it shows up very readily on Google Earth.

As for the Merry Maidens, I had been there in 1975, not knowing about the chronicles, and I figured out I had been only a little over a mile walk down “the winding lane” to Minack Cottage, where I could have joined other pilgrims who visited there. My heart yearns… Perhaps it’s time to say that for some reason, I spent a lot of time weeping sentimentally while reading this series.

The circle at upper left is the Merry Maidens, where I stood in 1975, the blue line follows the winding lane to Minack Cottage, and the arrow points to its view of the Carn Barges rocks, and Janie’s cottage, later the John le Carré house, is to the lower left.

Friends and relations visiting were a different story from the comparatively quick visits of polite pilgrims.

Let me just say, houseguests of a working gardener in summer (not a problem for us because we no longer have to work as hard as we used to….and we don’t have a guest room!), must let their hosts get on with their work.

This amused me about taking walks…

I have quite a few elderberries of varying sorts in the back garden. Now I think I will put one in the front of the house.

Now I had finished Cottage on a Cliff and was in a terrible state because the next book in the series had not arrived, and was not due to arrive for several days. I was loathe to break the spell but would have to read something else, as reading weather continued.

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late February 2023

I have owned this book since a trip to the UK in 1990, where I bought three of them but had never read them. I had realized they were a series and am always determined to read a series in order. They were hard to find here before internet buying and so had languished on a shelf. Now, reminded of the series while reading the Cornish setting of The Salt Path, I had read the first two books, A Gull on the Roof and A Cat in the Window and could finally read this one that I had owned for decades, one of the most beloved of the series that delves deep into the workings of Derek and Jeannie’s daffodil farm and off-the-grid life in 1950s coastal Cornwall. They had left a high society life in the city for country seclusion, without even a road to their cottage. Jeannie had been a publicity director at the very fine Savoy Hotel; Derek had been a journalist and a member of MI5. In the books, he always give her credit for giving him the courage to keep working their rural flower farm even when it seemed that it might not succeed.

Derek’s wife, Jeannie, and their helper, a teenager named Jane, were tadpole rescuers.

This was twenty years before the Coast Path walked by Raynor and Moth Winn and Mark Wallington. (When the path did appear, Derek and Jeannie were supporters of the idea, as long as cliff farmers were asked which route would be best to pass their cultivated fields.)

Thoughts of Monty, their beloved orange cat who had turned Derek into a cat lover (although at that time, he thought he would never have another, that Monty was the pinnacle of catdom and none other would do.)

Meanwhile, Skooter and the Greys snoozed away the reading day on a comfy chair.

Derek’s thoughts about animals were exemplary, something that increased in him after he moved to Minack (and had learned to like cats as well as dogs). Boris is the drake of the title.

The passage below reminded me of the infuriating moment when a drone flew over my head while I was turning my compost.

I liked the idea that Jane had of how to deal with such problems (in this case, Dutch bulb sellers who had sold them daffodils that were not good sellers in the flower markets).

(…an imaginary bow and arrow). That might be the only violent (imaginary) scene in the entire series, other than some real life memories of World War II.

I appreciate the candor with which Derek ponders his flaws. This was a continuing theme throughout the series, as was, in the early books, the financial difficulty of depending on flowers and veg to make their living, while at the mercy of coastal storms. They never regretted having left their glittering city life even during the early years when, as he revealed in later books, they didn’t even have money for enough petrol to go anywhere else.

Imagine picking daffodils for market while bent over in a gale..

It makes my job look easy.

Having now read three Minack books, I was entranced and eager to begin the next one. I couldn’t stop then to make a blog post about how much I loved the latest book because I couldn’t leave the feeling of being at Minack while reading. Even though I did stop for some telly with dinner in the evenings, the rest of the time was reading. Because each book is about 180 pages, I could sometimes read two a day, and as I read, I could hear the coast wind and imagine how it would feel to be picking the daffodils.

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Thursday, 2 February 2023

at home

I continued planting, mostly perennials today instead of shrubs, from Secret Garden Growers. I hope the weather doesn’t change back to freezing nights. It very well might not. If it does, I might be out covering these with pots.

The gold saxifrage went into the new deep path end bed, bottom centre.

A golden brunnera went by the rhododendron path. It and some others will need an application of Sluggo.

I put a new primula by the new bridge.

And another new primula by the deep swale.

I wonder if I will regret this plant:

I put it here, where it won’t interfere with anything delicate.

A new to me grass went into the bed that borders the north side of the Deep Path.

That’s just around the corner from this view…

I finished out the daylight with some very focused weeding, including the center bed.

Allan made me a new garbage can lid planter.

In the evening, I read the first of Derek Tangle’s Minak Chronicles, memoirs about leaving a sparkling high society city life for a flower farm, off the grid, in Cornwall. I have three paperbacks that I bought in a used book store in the early 80s, before it was easy to look up what order the books were published in. And I have now learned there are 19 or 20 in the series which appeared from 1961-1996! So I’m getting the first two through interlibrary loan but may buy the rest. I have the third one from my decades old purchase.

book one, 1961

It was simply wonderful. I want to read them one after another but must wait for the second to arrive. (The only regrettable thing is that this American edition is edited to replace pounds with dollars, as if Americans of 1961 had to be coddled that way.)

This passage reminds me a bit of Ilwaco, which, compared to Long Beach, is more of a community than a strident tourist town.

The Lizard Peninsula was home to many flower farms.

This passage happened to Robert and me when we vacationed here in 1991. We fell in love with the Long Beach Peninsula, and a bartender at the Heron and Beaver pub was one of the locals we talked to about moving here.

He told us his story of moving to Seaview with $100 to his name, into a house with no hot running water and holes in the roof. (Housing was different here back then, and even places with solid roofs were affordable.) We made an offer on a house in Ocean Park but it fell through (the seller went out fishing and while at sea, he changed his mind). Due to various unfortunate health problems, it took another year before we arrived…and then we had to prove that we were serious and meant to stay. Even now, locals say that newcomers tend to leave after just one stormy winter.

Oh, how very much I relate to this story of ditch digging on the new property!

Even though we did not live off the grid, our 360 square foot cold and leaky little shack was a challenge.

When I reached this passage, and another in which Derek and his wife Jeannie go to a pub in the village of Mousehole, I realized I had been so very close to their house in 1975. I had been to Mousehole and to the Merry Maidens!

Their cottage was near Lamorna Wink on this map.

my photo from 1975

What a thrill to realise this. Cornwall is my ancestral home, and distant cousins on my father’s side had taken me on tour of the area that day.

In other entertainment news, we’ve been watching the mystery series Endeavour at night, and last week we followed it with a British comedy series called Miranda, which I loved so much that I moped around the garden sadly the day after we finished it. I will miss her! Nature loving friends might join us in viewing Winterwatch which, if you don’t have Britbiox, you can find here.

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