By Beryl Burton
I wish someone had told me just how beautiful St Ives is: when the sun shines. I would have gone there long ago. As it is, it took me until June this year to discover for myself why it is called the English Riviera. I arrived at St Ives station early afternoon and as I got out the train, I could not believe my eyes: right across the car park was the most beautiful beach. I wondered for a minute if I had taken the wrong train and had ended by mistake in Italy. The sky was blue without a cloud; the sea was turquoise and lapped on to a long, white, sandy beach. The sun was shining its heat tempered by a soft breeze.
I took it easy the first day. Early the next morning I went exploring. The beach was bustling, yet not overcrowded. I soon came to realise that in spite of its popularity, St Ives remains unspoilt. There are footpaths along the top of the beach so that I could walk the entire length of the town without losing my view of the sea. This was only one of the nice, thoughtful things about St Ives. I felt the council took a lot of care in pleasing their resident and visitors. For example, toilets were strategically placed, large and were well serviced. (Something of great import when one is walking around all day.) One was being serviced while I was in it so I thanked the person and let him know that at least one tourist appreciated all his efforts.
I soon set up a daily routine. Each morning I explored a bit of the town then had lunch overlooking the beach while I read a book. In the afternoon I returned to my hotel to relax, have tea and read in the beautiful garden.
I liked the narrow, winding streets of St Ives and enjoyed exploring them. One of the places I visited was the museum. This had a lot about the sea but seemed set up mainly to help those who were searching for their ancestors. In earlier days, fishing was an important part of life and as in all fishing villages saw a lot of sea tragedies. There is still a large lifeboat presence.
According to one of the newspaper clippings in the museum, when the most of the tin/copper mines closed in Cornwall, a lot of the miners went to Missouri where there were similar types of mines. Quite a few travelled on the ill-fated Titanic. There is a story of one woman who travelled with her two sons (one still a baby) and who had sold everything to pay the fare. She was one of the few people who survived the sinking of the ship. In an interview in a newspaper in the USA, she told how none of the passengers, as far as she knew, had been told anything about the disaster. (At least in the area her cabin was situated.) It was only chance that sent one of her neighbours up on deck as the life boats were being lowered. When questioned, the steward said there was no danger and kept on saying this, but this woman and those who were aware that something was wrong, all went on deck and managed to get into a lifeboat, although for someone reason her grown-up son was not allowed in, even though his mother said there was space. In my view, it seems from this that those in charge knew there were not enough lifeboats and were keeping them for those passengers they felt were important.
I also visited the very old parish church which I was told was being built at the time Joan of Arc was being burned at the stake. I later decided to take a couple of coach tours. I first went to see a play at the Minack Theatre. This is an open-air theatre, built above a gully with a rocky granite outcrop which juts into the sea. (The play? It was awful, not the acting but the story.)
On another day I took a coach tour to the Eden Project. I was impressed by it all, especially its origins from a disused clay pit. It is one large miracle. I was disappointed in one aspect, though. I expected to see Adam and Eve but no mention was made of them. When I enquired, I was told they had already been driven out.
One morning as I was walking along the sea front in St Ives, I saw stuck on the glass window of a small cottage a poster saying that ‘Soggy the Bear lives here’. It was obviously an advertisement for a children’s book. The next time I passed by, there was a man sitting on the verandah overlooking the path. I asked him if he was the writer of ‘Soggy’. He said ‘yes’ so I asked him where could I get a copy of his book and was told at the bookshop around the corner. I went and bought a copy, and on the spur of the moment also a copy of a 1930s thriller set in Cornwall recently reprinted by the British Library: The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude.
I took my ‘Soggy’ book to be signed by the writer, Philip Moran. As we got into conversation he invited me up to his verandah so we could better talk. I was glad because by now I was getting a stiff neck. I let myself in – the door was open – and went upstairs. Philip didn’t move from his chair and explained that he had recently been in hospital and so was not able to move about easily. He has led a very interesting life. He was a civil servant doing research all over the world until he retired at 50 years of age. He moved back to St Ives to his cottage on the seafront and spent his time fishing and running the lifeboat station. He said: ‘I stopped fishing at the age of 65 due to my fishing partner becoming ill and having retired from running the Lifeboat station at 69 ….got bored and started giving talks and stories etc. at schools and became very popular.’
His friend, Michael Foreman, a well-established illustrator, suggested he and Philip write a book together. As Philip was happy telling stories, Michael had to press hard to get the first book out of him. Soggy the Bear is based on a little stuffed bear Philip had rescued while fishing. He said it was amazing the amount of things he found floating in the sea or lying on the beach. Soon others started giving him toys they found and so his collection of rescued stuff toys grew and grew and now fills a chair in his cottage.
The first publisher approached refused to publish ‘Soggy’ because of its title. Now there are seven ‘Soggy’ books and I was just told there may be an eight. Philip says he puts in local characters in each book and also a little secret. Could this be part of the secret of Soggy’s success?