Anyone remotely interested in Victorian fiction has, at some point, to read a Wilkie Collins novel.  The books are standalone, ingenious and make use of innovations of the time (railways, telegraphic communication and the increasing scale and speed of the postal system).

Characters are often quirky (who can forget Miserrimus Dexter of The Law and the Lady?) or have dark secrets, or both.  Stories are narrated from different standpoints through the use of letters or diary entries, for example. The Moonstone, is often thought of as the first detective novel.

Armadale presents the reader with a fascinating tale, which has three core characters who are connected as a result of events committed in the past.  In the present day of the story, the characters have been thrown together (by chance in one case and deliberately in another) and a battle of good versus evil begins.

A large part of the plot is focussed on a dream that is described by Allan Armadale to his friend Ozias Midwinter and the extent to which the events of the novel go on to prove to the superstitious Midwinter that the dream is a premonition of future events. Different characters interact with Midwinter and Armadale regarding the rationality of this point of view.

The three main characters present opposing characteristics. Armadale is headstrong, emotional and unthinking. Midwinter is neurotic, conflicted, deeply affected by his hard upbringing and haunted by the knowledge of a crime that his father had committed in the past. Contrastingly, the author hands all calculating, unemotional, villainy to two female characters: Lydia Gwilt and her abominable accomplice, Mrs Maria Oldershaw. Miss Gwilt is a beautiful, vicious, money hunter with a murderous, bigamous past and a laudanum habit.

Overall, a good read.

Editor’s Note
The Victorians were interested in dreams which probably explains the prominence of Allan’s vision in text. The British Library holds a copy of The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams, about which it notes:

‘… Published in 1865, Frank Seafield’s The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams is a major 19th century contribution to dream theory. Drawing on anecdotal evidence, or ‘case studies’, classical sources and some contemporary scientific research, Seafield presents a history of dreams that attempts to explain their causes, effects and meanings…’

Real life, ‘sensational’ cases of female poisoners of the time almost certainly had an influence on the development of ‘Miss Gwilt’.

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Writing Popular Fiction

If you’re interested in understanding the winning formula behind successful popular fiction then head over to BBC Maestro’s website and watch Lee Child’s excellent Writing Popular Fiction course.

Presented via a series of 20 minute videos, Mr. Child gives a comprehensive overview of key components required for any such book, to be stand out successful in this market.

He gives a fascinating insight into the whole action/thriller writing process and it’s delivered with real passion and professionalism. Throughout the whole, there is a genuine desire to encourage people to write, especially anyone who is a significant consumer of the printed word.

I’ve never read any of Mr. Child’s massively popular ‘Reacher’ books, but now I know more about him and his work, I feel I owe him a shot. Killing Floor, is now on my reading list.

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Independent, but for how long?

With the news that Russia has now gone ahead and launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine, it’s hard to see when, and how, this sad state of affairs will be resolved. However, the immediate and short term impacts of these actions are clear: large numbers of people will be needlessly killed, a huge refugee crisis will be created as thousands attempt to flee fighting and economic hardship will be inflicted on a grand scale. Add in existing gas supply problems, rising inflation and a somewhat un-coordinated response from the West and you have all the ingredients of a major and spreading, international disaster.

Is this really what the Russian people want? Will Putin stop at the Ukrainian border or does he have ambitions further to the West?

China will watch the responses to its ally’s actions over the coming weeks, before taking the decision to invade Taiwan in a similar ‘land grab’.

These are dark and troubling times.

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George Butterworth

Some things don’t change

If you happen to be in Falmouth, have a spare hour and the price of entrance to Pendennis Castle in your pocket, pop along and see the fabulous collection of original George Butterworth cartoons they have on display.

Butterworth began his career as a sports cartoonist, but when Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, he switched employer and focus, publishing razor sharp political cartoons for the Manchester based Daily Despatch.

These beautifully drawn, satirical compositions soon came to the notice of both Hitler and Mussolini, who were mercilessly lampooned and earned him a personal listing on Hitler’s ‘death list’.

Others also fell foul of his laser like dissection of their actions and motives.

Interesting to think how he would have interpreted today’s events. The picture above was produced on 28 September 1949 and shows his depiction of Russia’s activities in and around Yugoslavia at that time.

Sadly, still relevent 73 years later.

Want to find out more?

Butterworth: The Political Cartoons of George Butterworth 1938-1953 by Timothy S. Benson.

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The Newt in Somerset

Beautiful location, beautiful food.

Looking back at recents posts, I see that I seem to have turned into a rather uninspired, second rate restaurant critic, but that’s what a tough day job, a horse purchase that went to the dark side after two weeks and a wildly dysfunctional home life does to you. So, with those impeccable credentials established, I hereby offer up another serving ‘From the desk of the Armchair Gourmet’.

The Newt In Somerset is an amazing achievement. A beautiful house, sensitively turned into boutique hotel and restaurant, with gardens, cider (or cyder) distillery and more, set in an arcadian landscape. This then was our chosen destination for Saturday lunch.

With the Family Unit fully primed with details of The Newt’s many and varied charms, we set off with empty stomachs and high expectations for our rendezvous with the in-house restaurant, The Botanical Rooms.

Whilst a trip down the heavily traffic jammed A39 is not the most enjoyable of car journeys, the drive off the road and up the to main house at The Newt is a different kettle of fish. The driveway winds around through trees and parkland and you are treated to glimpses of the house. In the early afternoon sun of a late October day, it looks truly fabulous, with its warm coloured stone sunlit and glowing against the dramatic backdrop of the darker, surrounding trees.

On arrival at the main car park, we were met by a rather truculent individual who seemed rather affronted that we wanted to actually park our car in the car park, which seemed a bit odd, especially as we hadn’t arrived in my 17 year old, horse muck covered Toyota. Having parked our offending car, we took the short walk to the Hotel.

The Botanical Rooms occupies a large part of the ground floor of the building and additional glassed in space off to one side. Someone has done some serious thinking about all of this, as the new seamlessly joins with the old, without creating that jarring sensation that you sometimes get when something modern is grafted on to a classical structure.

We were soon seated at a good table with menus to mull over whilst we had a drink. The general atmosphere in the very pleasant dining room is relaxed, friendly, luxe.

If you are looking for a huge list of starters, mains etc., you won’t find it here and if you’re not sure, you really do have to ask, as the menu tends to describe the key ingredients of the dish, rather than what it is.

For example, my beautiful dessert was described as ‘Quince, Hazelnuts and Rosehip’. What actually arrived was a posset topped with hazlenuts and sliced quince, with rose hip syrup served at the table.

The rationale for this is a bit uncertain, unless it is to give the chef of the day maximum flexibility to do something different with a particular set of ingredients, on any given day. The menu also has that slightly annoying, modern curse of just listing the price of the options as 11.5 or 12, which always seems a bit pretentious.

However, all of this pales into insignificance when the food arrives. Imaginatively interpreted and beautifully presented, each dish looked and tasted tremendous. The Offspring (notoriously fickle where food is concerned) cleared every plate put in front of her. Something not seen for …… years.

So, would we go back? Yes, definitely.

Future trips will need to be planned to incorporate some of The Newt’s non-food activities, as the website indicates that anyone wanting to venture here now, will need to buy a £48 annual membership (or should that be ‘48’?).


Location / Facilities: Bit of a drive for us, but worth it. 10 / 10.

Food: 10 / 10

Want to find out more?

Date of visit

30 October 2021


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Emily Scott Food

Great food … eventually

The closure of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen at Watergate Bay must have been quite a blow for this little tourist hotspot. But is there a new contender for the Newquay culinary crown?

Emily Scott has picked up the gauntlet for the Watergate Bay Hotel at a new restaurant on the sea wall.

We booked lunch there today to take it for a test drive.

The restaurant is on the same level as the old Fifteen site and is orientated to maximise diners’ exposure to the view over the bay, which is spectacular. Today, the weather was calm, so the sea looked like a duck pond. This meant no distractions and we could focus on the food.

Our party ordered monkfish tempura and a beetroot dish. For mains, two portions of porcini risotto and a monkfish steak, with green salads and a portion of potatoes. Everyone had the tonka bean creme brûlée for dessert. The menu was fairly limited in all sections and there were spelling errors on the suggested wine list.

The food, when it arrived, was excellent, but heavens, the service was slow.

When I questioned where our main course was, the waiter denied we’d been waiting for nearly an hour. Not great. Who argues with a customer’s polite enquiry?

We finished our meal, with just one other table still occupied, at about 3.45pm.

Will we go back? Probably, but we’ll take a packed lunch to eat between the courses.

Overall scores?

Food: 7 / 10 (when it arrived).

Service: 5 / 10 (dissing a polite customer is just wrong).

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A Wild Drive and a Good Meal

The Family Unit is a mercurial collection of individuals. No statement ever passes without challenge. No opportunity to laugh at self or others is ever lost, but one thing we are all agreed on is that we like good food.

So, Tuesday night was eagerly awaited, as we all enjoy a trip to Michael Caine’s restaurant at Maenporth.

The Cove Restaurant and Bar sits in an enviable position, behind the beach. So, unless you are unlucky enough to be seated at the rear of the dining room, the views out over the sea are beautiful and it’s a great place to eat and watch the sun go down.

We booked a taxi for the return trip from Kea. The cab turned up 30 minutes late and the driver then attempted to ‘make up the time’ by some seriously dangerous, high speed driving. That put paid to any conversation during the journey, as we were all too busy praying and gritting our teeth. Arrival at the restaurant, then, was a relief.

We chose the tasting menu, as this gives a great opportunity to try things that perhaps you might not ordinarily consider and the selection on offer was a nice balance of meat and fish.

The only place where it went astray, for me, was the dessert, which was a very delicately flavoured pistachio concoction. This was served after a cheese course which contained strongly flavoured blue cheeses. I would have preferred the order to have been reversed (dessert before cheese) as the blue cheese flavour lingered on the palate and you couldn’t taste anything of the pistachio at all. In fact it was like eating cardboard; you could see there was something there and you were definitely chewing something, but …. no taste. Visually, it looked a bit lacking as well. My advice? Scratch the pistachio cake thing.

Overall verdict?

Family: Always good value for money.

Food: 6 / 10. Sorry guys, the pistachio dessert killed it this time, but we’ll be back.

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The Making of the President 1972

US political history of the last fifty years or so, is fascinating. And a thoughtful, balanced, contextualised, factual based view of past events (even if unpalatable by today’s standards), can lead to interesting and important reflections on current affairs.

The 1972 US Presidential election process is a good place to just ‘dive in’ and start looking around. I started from a list of four key books, that have given me a flavour of the times, the issues, the role and influence of the media in politics and gave a ‘wide lens’ view of events from differing standpoints. In no particular order, these are:

  • Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 – Hunter S. Thompson.
  • The Pentagon Papers – Katharine Graham.
  • All the President’s Men – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
  • The Making of the President 1972 – Theodore H. White.

White and Thompson cover the same events, but from diametrically opposed stand points: Thompson reports on a ‘fully immersive’ basis – he’s emotionally invested in McGovern and reports events and happenings, conversations and gossip as he slogs around the primaries. White is writing to complete a series of works on presidential campaigns, the first of which won the Pulitzer Prize. He’s a measured, fact checker, with a sneaking regard for Nixon.

Many of the issues reported on, still dominate headlines today: issues around race, America’s position on the world stage (economically and militarily), it’s relationship with China and inevitably, Vietnam.

The US administration’s actions and efforts to end the war are documented in White’s work, which highlights Nixon’s desire for ‘Peace with Honour’ (a young Joe Biden even gets a mention). The war is a major issue in the election.

For us in 2021, viewing the US led withdrawal from Afghanistan, there are interesting parallels with the American prosecution of the Vietnam War. Both required a huge investment from the US tax payer, saw significant loss of life and we’re ideologically driven.

To understand the American’s next move, we should reflect, honestly, on the past.

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This week, we’re staying quite close to Truro, so the logical choice for eating out (according to Trip Advisor) is Hooked!. Not surprisingly, Hooked! specialises in fish.

The restaurant occupies a rather unprepossessing building on Tabernacle Street, but whilst the outside and the immediate surroundings are not particularly attractive, the inside is warm, friendly and comfortable, with the decor picking up the ‘fish theme’ of the menu.

Our party ate off the main and vegetarian menus. Both were equally good. The courgette tempura and vegetarian Goan curry deserve special mentions, as being first rate.

Only one person had a dessert: the Hooked! Cream Tea. This proved to be a really inventive and well executed dish, which included a creme brûlée and a jelly sandwich. Needless to say, three spoons were required for this one!

If you haven’t been, try it. If you have, you’ll be going back.

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A Little Slice of Cornwall

Cornwall, when the sun’s out and the crowds are elsewhere, is truly hard to beat. If you’re standing on the beach at the National Trust’s beautiful Glendurgan property, with an ice cream in your hand, who needs the Caribbean?


View from the Glendurgan beach.
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