From scroller to stroller - from the Monkey Wrench blog 3rd Sept 2019

If you’re not already familiar with it there’s a fantastic blog called Monkey Wrench (monkeywrench.org.uk) and it focuses on ethical, sustainable, mindful living. It’s curated by the brilliant Dr Alexandra Jellicoe and is always an insightful, compelling, often entertaining and likewise shocking read. I was fortunate enough to write for the Monkey Wrench blog recently and wanted to share the piece with those followers who hadn’t seen it. Special thanks to Daisy-May Chivers-Black and Toni Chapell who helped me with this piece.

I wasn’t going anywhere, literally or metaphorically. I was starting to feel like an insatiable couch potato.

2018 was a challenging year for me in the investments industry. Twelve months were taken up with a single project: a system upgrade the likes of which my company had never experienced before. Then twelve months became thirteen, fourteen… I played a big part in executing the task and as a result sacrificed many of my own hours, weekends, brain space and energy. My workout routine (one I’d been perfecting for years) fizzled out early on and as the eighteenth month approached, recovery time-outs became an increasing necessity. I was so exhausted I couldn’t bring myself to exercise - or do anything that required particular effort - save for sitting at home for long periods, flicking through my phone, tapping on colourful images to get my dopamine fix.

Too much of this is not a good thing. Photo by Charles @ Unsplash

Too much of this is not a good thing. Photo by Charles @ Unsplash

It’s amazing how much time you can lose while flicking through your phone, and it’s equally amazing how quickly you can spend money while barely conscious. There are fifteen apps on my phone via which I can shop directly. There are a further five apps that while not specifically built for shopping are nevertheless laden with advertisements to entice me to spend my money. On one of said apps I can discover my heart’s desire in the morning, and have it delivered to me in the afternoon. This is why I have the same water bottle in two different colours for different occasions; a pair of running shoes to suit every terrain; and four of the same white t-shirt so I can get through a week without troubling the washing machine. It may also be why my savings look so neglected despite me having a well-paid job. According to a study by uSwitch, twenty-five billion pounds will be spent via smartphones in 2019.

Enough. The little whisper that had been floating around my head increased to a deafening crescendo and insisted ‘GET OUT!!’ All at once my withered muscles and tired bank account had rallied and I was inspired to remove myself from the sofa. One Sunday, I suggested to my wife that we go for a walk. We strolled for 3 hours. We left our front door, turned right, picked some pathways neither of us had traversed before and let our imaginations guide us. And something magical happened: we talked more than we had for ages. It seems we are not alone. According to the Ofcom report, A Decade of Digital Dependency, 54% of people admit that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with friends and family. All it took was getting some fresh air to lift our chatter to a level we hadn’t experienced for an embarrassingly long time. We discussed food, drink, friends, hopes and dreams. It was wonderful.

Yellow Cliffs near Hive Beach Dorset

Yellow Cliffs near Hive Beach Dorset

During those three hours I did use my phone a couple of times to check our location and to take photos. I don’t regret these minor tech intrusions. But I didn’t do any mindless screen-tapping and I most certainly didn’t make any financial transactions. The only money I spent that day was about six pounds at a pub we discovered during our little quest (a pint each on a hot Sunday is surely allowed).

Eventually - buoyed either by the endorphins or the romance of our new common ground - we got onto the subject of walking itself in the great outdoors. We decided we should do it more often. A few weeks later, we are members of the ‘South West Coastal Path’ group and are working our way around the coasts of Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. We’re getting more exercise each weekend than we have for a long time and the sights inspire new conversations with each mile. 

It’s not just about the sea. The inland scenery just off the coast is often breathtaking. This land is just North of Dunster, North Somerset. Can you spot a very tiny lady?

It’s not just about the sea. The inland scenery just off the coast is often breathtaking. This land is just North of Dunster, North Somerset. Can you spot a very tiny lady?

At the time of writing, we have walked approximately thirty-three miles of the six-hundred-thirty mile path that skirts this area of the country. Our first walk was just over four miles and we’re now up to eleven per outing. Being the rebels that we are, we’ve chosen not to follow the path section-by-section from Minehead to Poole, but instead are picking off sections at random. The scenery is fantastic. Yesterday, we picked off the section that is meant to be the starting point - Minehead to Porlock Weir - which happends to be the bit of coast closest to Taunton, the town where I was born and raised. The crazy thing is, I had never walked this path before and though I started off with low expectations for the scenery, it turned out to be the most breathtaking section so far. The sea; the cruel, rocky inclines; the neon greens, purples and yellows of the ferns and heathers; the eeriness of the salt marshes with their ghostly, petrified trees. All contributed to a journey that was a little like walking through Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings stories.  I am completely humbled by the beauty of my surroundings here in the UK. It feels as if, previously, I’d been walking around with my eyes closed.

Don’t be fooled, there were scary, sheer drops on this beautiful stretch. Minehead to Porlock Weir.

Don’t be fooled, there were scary, sheer drops on this beautiful stretch. Minehead to Porlock Weir.

So far, the cost per walk (made up of fuel, parking, taxi to return to the car, food (including a main meal at the end of the walk)) is on average £37.50 per person, but considering we’d have to eat anyway, the twenty odd quid spent on the rest of it is worth every penny and (embarrassingly) significantly less than I would be likely to spend online if I was sat at home for the day.

The plan is to get better at using buses and trains so that we can cut down on using the car, and we’ll also be graduating soon to two-day sections. I cannot wait!

Just a man standing on a cliff feeling brilliant (that’s me, Tom Corneill). Minehead to Porlock Weir.

Just a man standing on a cliff feeling brilliant (that’s me, Tom Corneill). Minehead to Porlock Weir.

Gear review: Asics Alpine Xt Road Running Shoes

I’ve been a runner for many years and have been through several pairs of trainers. As you’ll have read in my blog though, I’ve recently taken on a new challenge - walking the entire Southwest Coastal Path - and that has brought with it the need to try something new.

‘TURKISH TILE/INK BLUE/LEMON CURRY’. Apparently. Whatever, they look good.

‘TURKISH TILE/INK BLUE/LEMON CURRY’. Apparently. Whatever, they look good.

Until now I have favoured Nike Air models as they were recommended to me as a shoe that suits over-pronators (my foot lands with the outside heel first) and also because I have relatively flat feet (some trainers are better for arch support and therefore agony if you don’t have any arches). They’d always been absolutely great for the mix of running I do, mainly on roads with the odd bit of grass thrown in. But the coastal path is not a road or a pavement, it’s a tough combination of gravel, shail, sand, rocks and plenty of fields thrown in for good measure. Sadly, upon commencing my new quest, my favourite Nikes fell apart pretty quickly.

So, to Google I went, in search of the perfect, versatile, track running shoe and immediately I was met with more options than I could click through in a year. So how did I narrow it down? I picked the ones that looked coolest, obviously.

The Asics Alpine XT - colour listed as ‘TURKISH TILE/INK BLUE/LEMON CURRY’ (yes, that’s just one colour, apparently, and others are available) - arrived quickly and looked great. I had been warned that these came in slightly small and was pleased to find they come in half-sizes too, so I went for a 10.5 instead of my usual 10. Despite this, the first pair were still super tight so I sent them back and went up a full size to the 11, which were perfect. Lesson learned: Asics come up small. I took them for a few quick, local runs and all of the signs were good. We were all set.

Not looking too bad after 11 solid miles on tough tracks.

Not looking too bad after 11 solid miles on tough tracks.

I’ve completed 2 stages of the coastal path (a historic walk skirting the coast of the Southwest of England) in the Asics; an 11 mile stretch from Abbotsbury to Ferrybridge across mainly dry country tracks and a very different 11 miles from Minehead to Porlock Weir up and down scree tracks, across rocky beach sections and through the obligatory English green field. The pictures featured in this review were taken after 11 miles and I’m pleased to tell you that at 22 miles the only difference is a layer of trail dust. They’ve proven to be super robust, keeping their shape and tread perfectly so far. In terms of support: they’re slightly better than the Nikes, coming up marginally higher to the ankle and with thicker cushioning - the only thing I would add on this point is that due to their height, they do rub your ankle if you’re wearing trainer socks, so it pays to wear a decent sports sock. They’re comfortable and didn’t need any breaking in. I only wish they kept their electric blue a little longer (it’s still under there but I now have 22 miles of costal dirt for added authenticity).

It’s early days but they’re looking pretty good so far, and given the terrain I’ve worked them through already that’s a win. I’ll keep you posted.

TC

Don’t judge me on the socks. I regret nothing.

Don’t judge me on the socks. I regret nothing.

One man and his village

I wrote this piece earlier in the year for a rather wonderful publication (news will follow in due course) but I realised I haven’t yet shared it with you. So here’s a beautiful story of a man, a camera and a bunch of people in a tiny, old village.

Resident: Academy Award winner Peter King who also owns the skittle alley.

Resident: Academy Award winner Peter King who also owns the skittle alley.

“It's just after 6pm on a Friday evening and today happens to be the first bank holiday of the year. The sun is still shining, welcome after a chilly spring and the little village of Carlingcott - a tiny, hidden spot in the Southwest of England - has something of a buzz about it as I wander up the narrow country lane, bumping into locals as I go.

Resident: musician, Clive Massey.

Resident: musician, Clive Massey.

I had discovered Carlingcott seven years ago after moving to a house in the next village and I had been disappointed to learn that The Beehive pub, it’s emblematic sign still swaying in the breeze, had been relegated to residential status some twenty years ago. I would later find out that it is home to notorious party-throwers Peter and Sarah who still ensure the drinks flow freely on celebration nights and that the village spirit is kept intact. Tonight is the opening of their 'skittle alley', which has gone from functioning alley to derelict outbuilding to the now beautiful, fully fitted office, screening room and party venue. Tonight it has one extra special purpose and that is to act as gallery for the 'Village Photography Project', creation of Paul Osborne, resident of 6 years.

Photographer and resident Paul Osborne.

Photographer and resident Paul Osborne.

Paul worked for many years as a manager for a technology company but spent much of his time distracted by something a little more creative; his love of photography. As a friend and neighbour I've been given access to his full catalogue. Looking through his work I see a project devoted to sheds (yes, the lowly, broken, wooden structures that punctuate gardens), lots of travel (he sailed the world as a boathand and still loves to capture the everyday lives of other cultures) and a smattering of live music; he’s a huge music fan and even as I flick through his work I am observed by Ian Curtis whose image decorates Paul’s kitchen wall alongside bandmates as part of a series of shots captured at a Joy Division gig. But a few years ago he decided to do something a little different. More personal. He wanted to capture a portrait of every village resident who lived there at that moment in time.

Resident: Animal lover Jasmine Nash and Douglas.

Resident: Animal lover Jasmine Nash and Douglas.

Carlingcott is believed to have existed as a settlement since the nineteenth century when most of the existing houses were built. The area was a thriving part of the Somerset coal mining industry and each village records a history of strong community, although this has fizzled out in many surrounding villages.

Chatting with Paul he explains that Carlingcott isn't just a collection of old buildings, it is a hive of creative activity and harbours a host of wonderful, different souls that needed to be recorded. So 4 years ago he set about contacting each occupant with a view to including them in his project, the idea being that he caught just one image of every resident in their everyday environment. And so begun a quest for 20 mins of everyone's time and the difficult task of capturing everyone's best - but most natural - side, around the village and in their own homes. Before beginning the project he says he knew perhaps a quarter of the village and the endeavour has put him in contact with almost everyone, which has elevated the undertaking to something even more personal than he'd anticipated.

Resident: local legend, Ted Ford.

Resident: local legend, Ted Ford.

Carlingcott has all the tranquility of your quintessential English country hamlet and yet it is rarely silent. It is home to screenwriters, chefs, musicians, healers, teachers, potters and an Oscar-winning makeup artist to name but a few. It's a melting pot of talents and passions and suddenly the desire to distill this varied tapestry makes complete sense.

While we chat, Paul points out that two longstanding villagers have passed away. He says that this sad news makes the task even more important to him. It certainly does add poignancy to an already moving project.

Resident: ceramicist, Kara Leigh Ford.

Resident: ceramicist, Kara Leigh Ford.

And so on this sunny Friday evening with hot air balloons rising over the horizon a little before sunset we gather in this beautiful, shared village space to share stories, drink wine and take in the fruits of Paul's labour. Captivating black and white faces hold us in their gaze as we tour the new-old space; all ages, different races and even family pets get a look in. Paul has captured a community at its most authentic and it is really quite magical.

As the sun disappears over the Westcountry hills a common thread unites the village once more.”

Photographer and resident: Paul Osborne.

Photographer and resident: Paul Osborne.

Huge thanks to all of Paul’s participants and especially to Paul himself and to Sarah Swords for help putting this article together.

TC



What does an eco warrior request for their birthday?

I know, it sounds like it requires a topical punchline doesn’t it. But seriously, in a world where we’re rapidly discovering our every move will kill a penguin, what the hell are we supposed to ask for?

I’ll start by saying - as I have many times before - that it’s ok to want things. If you and your family ‘don’t do presents’, that’s fine. But I do do presents and that’s ok too. More than ok, I feel passionately that any gesture of happiness - no matter how big or small - is more important than ever in this often overwhelmingly bleak age of discovery. So I give presents and I ask for them too (from some people, not all!). And so back we go to the question: what on earth should I ask for?

Male grooming set by Paper Plane. Rings from Ganesha, Bath. I don’t know where the cat came from.

Male grooming set by Paper Plane. Rings from Ganesha, Bath. I don’t know where the cat came from.

I turned 36 recently and - as is customary in my family - that meant I was in line for some presents. Brilliant. I bloody love presents. I love giving them and I love receiving them. I love that someone has taken time to think of me. I love the thrill of unwrapping a gift. I love the thank you hug or kiss that follows and I love keeping my newly begotten treasures about me in the days that follow. It doesn’t have to be much, it could be as grand as new clothing or as diminutive as a charity shop book or tie that someone saw and thought of me. But since late last year my brain has kicked into overdrive where sourcing and packaging are concerned. The sad fact about this realisation that we have to do more if we want to save the planet is that it’s a one-way ticket. You cannot acknowledge that your discarded plastic bag may suffocate a dolphin and then then pretend you didn’t know, continuing to take bag after bag at every supermarket visit. So when I was asked this year “What would you like for your birthday?”, the question troubled me.

A quick side note - you cannot save the world with one birthday’s worth of gestures, nor can you expect to get it right with every decision, nor should we feel ashamed for what we’ve done. We are a product of the culture we were born into. But each little action could be a step in the right direction and we can’t afford not to try.

Men’s rings from Ganesha, Bath.

Men’s rings from Ganesha, Bath.

So let’s look at the products I wanted. The shortlist was: some new smart-casual boots, a little bit of bling (what can I say, I like shiny things) and some new cologne. Failing all of that, just some nice new ‘smellies’.

I have given up beef and cow’s milk and am seriously cutting down on leather and milk products. So that’s fucking helpful when it comes to footwear, cosmetics and…well, surviving. The milk and beef bit was easy actually, but the by-products are harder to eliminate. That is to say that remembering not to turn to leather by default is hard, however finding alternatives turned out to be the easiest thing in the world. It’s called google. I googled ‘vegan boots’ and tons of options came up. Now, the ‘leather alternative’ industry is still relatively young so there are some amateur finds out there but also some very cool, great quality pieces. Among the websites I found was nae-vegan.com, which was so good I filled a basket in ten minutes flat. However, KLF - my wife and chief adviser - reminded me that I’d been talking about reverting to my punk days and donning some Doc Martens, so when I remembered that the Doc also has a purely vegan range I decided to go old-school and visit the high street. I ended up opting for some fantastic, black ankle boots (guilt free!!) and I’ve barely taken them off since. Except at bed time.

Male grooming by Paper Plane and Revered Beard

Male grooming by Paper Plane and Revered Beard

Now, I’m a man who likes a ring on his finger. Every finger. I’m more Johnny Depp than…well, someone who wears less jewellery. I used to wear tons of it but many years in the corporate world has phased that out somewhat, so I’ve recently been on a mission to bring back ‘me’, complete with all the trappings. For me, jewellery is one thing that should not come out of an envelope in the post. If not given in giftwrap it must be something that I have held and perused. So you know what I did? I walked into another shop. Another actual shop, with walls and windows. This particular shop is called Ganesha and it can be found down one of Bath’s beautiful alleyways. Did I mention I was in Bath? Here’s the thing: I take that for granted. I live just outside Bath and I work there a few times per week which has been the case for around 16 years. But after a while you stop looking up at a city’s beauty and it exists merely to serve you when you absolutely have to visit. Well, this alleyway was a favourite of mine when I first came here and Ganesha has been on this corner for as long as I can remember, incense wafting out into The Corridor as you approach. There was a tray of chunky rings in the window so I went in, asked a human being some questions, had an actual conversation, laughed when I couldn’t get a ring off my finger (I wasn’t laughing inside, it was sheer terror). And I purchased two beautiful pieces, one of tiger’s eye and one of turquoise. When I put these rings on now I’ll be reminded of the sights, smells and plain happiness of that day.

Now I just needed to make myself smell handsome. This last part is fraught with earth-challenging obstacles because not only do so many beauty items come in plastic packaging but much of it also contains animal materials and/or is tested on animals. I’d recently managed to find some great world-friendly beard oil by Revered Beard but that was about it. I began googling ‘cruelty-free fragrance’ and - again, very quickly - found a website that had done the work for me (crueltyfreekitty.com) but unfortunately just about every brand I knew and liked was on the ‘we test on animals’ list. It turns out that China insists on cosmetics being tested on animals so all companies choosing to sell in China put themselves on the naughty list by default (come on cosmetic firms, the answer is simple!!!). But I was relieved to find that Molton Brown and Penhaligons were among the companies that have taken a stand against the baddies and are absolutely cruelty-free. Better still, they both have shops in Bath! So after much sniffing I opted for some Molton Brown ‘Oudh Accord & Gold’ which is absolutely stunning. When I arrived home, KLF presented me with the icing on the metaphorical cake: some cruelty-free smellies. I opened up a beautifully presented package containing a shampoo bar, soap bar and beard conditioner bar by Paper Plane, all wrapped in - you guessed - paper. Thou shalt smell nice and thou shalt not harm any precious creatures in the process.

Oudh Accord and Gold by Molton Brown

Oudh Accord and Gold by Molton Brown

So, a year older, a whole lot wiser (or so I tell myself) and all spruced up for the guilt-free ball, I am stepping into 36 a happy man. And it turns out that actual shops with actual people behind the counter are pretty cool. Who knew? Now I just have to find cruelty-free pressies for my sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, dad, cats…

Speak soon.

TC