We left the car in Inner Hope, walked a short way to Outer Hope and started climbing the hill leading west out of town.
Once out of town and heading towards Bolt Tail, the landscape opens up offering a spectacular view of the bay to the north.
Up on Bolt Tail, my dad looking north-west towards the Rame Peninsula.
Looking directly north, Bigbury-on-Sea was hidden by the rocky outcrop of Burgh Island with its hotel so beloved of Agatha Christie fans...
And finally, looking back at Hope, our point of origin, in enough detail — just — to pick out our car in the car park!
Once we'd taken in the view and I'd finished taking photos, it was time to get down to the serious business of walking the path. We set off along the coast, pausing occasionally to watch a couple of yachts who seemed to have the dual misfortunes of being both headed and caught by the tide, and consequently were making very little progress.
In around an hour and half, we descended into Soar Mill Cove — something we'd avoided doing yesterday because we didn't fancy having to walk back up to get to the road. The bay looked absolutely beautiful by this time, with the sun on the water making it appear positively idyllic.
Once back out of the bay, it was short walk to the admiralty tower and time to turn in land.
Once passed the tower, we followed the same route through Soar as yesterday until we reached the main road. At which point, instead of turning right to go to Rew, we bore left following a footpath, and skirted a vast field of oilseed rape that seemed to stretch to the horizon.
We then followed an old track called Jacob's Lane which led us to Bolberry.
Once through Bolberry, where we saw someone rather optimistically trying to drive a vast, American Dodge pickup truck down the tiny winding lanes, we simply followed the road until we reached a footpath which ran parallel to the stream which finally led us back to Hope.
We had lunch at the excellent Cove cafe where I had a lovely feta and warm bean salad with plenty of pumpkin seeds and greens and a big chunk of bread. Suitably restored, we got back in the car and had an uneventful journey back to Exeter where my parents dropped me off and headed up to Bristol for supper with friends.
We set out on a walk that my dad called "unfinished business" — a walk that he'd failed to finish a few years ago before his hip was replaced.
The route followed the familiar pattern of the cliff path round to Starehole Bay and then on towards Soar Mill Cove.
Once we reached the top, my dad took the opportunity to consult the map on his iPad...
...while my mum used the same bench to fish out her bottle of water.
Rather than go all the way to the Soar Mill, we turned inland at the admiralty signal tower, walked along the road to Higher Rew — where we used to camp every summer we came to Salcombe when I was a child. The road ran parallel to the village of Malborough, high on a hill with its extremely distinctive church spire visible from miles away.
Taking the footpath that leads up through the back of the Higher Rew camping field, we reached Bolt Head air field — once an RAF station and once a regional seat of government, should a nuclear war wipe out the rest of the country. Walking the perimeter, we reached the new — to us — National Trust East Soar car park and followed the path it recommended round the southern edge of the airstrip and then through the woods to reach the back of Overbecks.
The gates of Overbecks House, complete with palm trees — something I remember from my earliest visits both to Salcombe and to the National Trust house.
We had lunch in the South Sands Hotel for old times sake before jumping on the sea tractor to catch the ferry to Salcombe itself. My parents were slightly surprised when the ferry went to the new jetty rather than the Ferry Inn steps and more surprised when the ferryman told them the destination had changed 15 years ago!
Salcombe was very much as it ever was: busy with people, although not quite a mid-summer levels, and full of very on-trend fashion shops. There were some survivors from way back when and I was amused to see that the Victoria Inn was not just dog friendly but even went so far as to offer a full-on canine menu, featuring such delights as pig's ears and roast bones! Once we'd done a bit of shopping — more precisely, once my mum had bought a pair of boat shoes and my dad had picked up a free sailing magazine — we walked back along Cliff Road, first to North Sands, and then to South Sands and the car.
We returned to Malborough and found our B&B, which proved to be a large house with a huge kitchen, games room, terrace, several suites of empty rooms, and, if my parents are to be believed, a limited number of working lightbulbs! We went out to try and get food in the village, failed utterly, and went to the Crabshell Inn in Kingsbridge. After a good supper — mum & I had pizza while my dad had soup and a burger — we returned to the B&B, still completely unoccupied, and went to bed, tired but happy.
Having come prepared for the brutally cold wind, we booted up and put on our cold weather gear and made our way up the hill to the tor itself. My mum brought her trekking pole with her and proceeded to wield it like a staff of doom; on several occasions she made a spirited attempt to impale my whilst shaking her wrist to try and activate the screen on her fitbit...
When we reached the top of the hill, we discovered a group abseiling down the side of the stones themselves. Then, when we went round the corner, we encountered a group of students in hi-viz vests and hard hats, apparently engaged in sketching the rock face. I was rather amused by their decision to wear construction-style hard hats rather than the climbing helmets that are more common up on the moor.
Bundled up in a down jacket, I braved the weather on the top of the tor to take a few photos. Another group climbed up after me and took a few selfies before heading down in a near-frozen state.
We then went on a circuitous walk that took us through Saddle Tor. Here we encountered a group of friendly Dartmoor ponies who, just as with the goats on Kalymnos, seem to have decided that the food provided by visiting humans was infinitely preferable to chomping their way through grass and gorse.
My dad, who has a tendency to stride out and break trail in front of the rest of us, often feels the need to telegraph directions to those of us dawdling behind. Here, his inner Prospero seems to be showing:
Rather than push on to Rippon Tor — further away than it seems, thanks to the hills — we looped back and started making our way down to the car park where we inevitably found ourselves walking into the boggy source of the River Sig. Rather than risk fording it, my mum & retreated back up the hill, while my dad valiantly strode on, ignoring the inconvenience of having to walk through a stream in order to get to the top of the ridge without having to retrace his steps.
After returning to Exeter, my parents settled into their B&B — they stayed at Raffles on Blackall Road, which they heartily recommend — before we met up again and went to the consistently excellent Curry Leaf for supper.
Then, late at night, he was woken by a pain in his now-very-tender shoulder. My mum was a loss for what do when sudden the shoulder popped and the pain went away; clearly he'd managed to dislocate it while he was asleep and managed to put it back into place after waking up. The next morning, they went to A&E where X-rays revealed that he'd sheered off part of his glenoid cavity — the socket that joins the humerus to the scapula — in the accident, presumably triggering the later dislocation.
The consultant who examined him has decided on an extremely conservative wait-and-see course of treatment: he has to keep his arm in a sling, avoiding any activities like cycling that might jostle his shoulder, and they will check in two weeks to see how it is progressing. They told him that if he'd been younger and didn't have complicating medical conditions, they'd've considered surgery; but in his case it just wasn't worth the risk...
It's not entirely clear what happened — the others say they can't find any obvious signs of blood on bits of metal — but to my untrained eye it looks like a classic avulsion injury. I suspect he must have caught himself on something sharp enough to cause the initial cut, and the rest was a tear caused by a combination of his bodyweight and the fall, opening his arm pretty much from elbow to wrist.
(There is a photo, but it's seriously unpleasant. Too unpleasant to embed behind a cut, so be very, very sure you want to see it before clicking through...)
After getting a good look at the injury, he conceded that it did need medical attention and he and my sister set off from Arki to Lipsi — a couple of miles south — in a friend's powerboat. They arrived to find that the doctor was a locum who was more than a little shocked to be confronted with a traumatic injury on only his second day in the post.
Fortunately my sister, an extremely experienced A&E nurse, was able to advise the doctor on the best course of action and to suture the gash back together; something that took 24 stitches to accomplish. She also ensured that the doctor sorted out a tetanus jab, prescribed the right course of antibiotics, and between the two of them, they put him back together.
In many ways, they were all very lucky. That the accident happened when my sister was there to help. That the injury was the posterior rather than anterior surface of the arm. That no bones were broken and none of the tendons seem to have been damaged. It's also good that, if it had to happen to anyone, it happened to my dad. As my brother-in-law said afterwards: he's one seriously tough bastard...
The post-Soviet stuff was pretty easy to do, partly because of Sarah and Valera's excellent interview in the ISA's Global Dialogue and partly because events are more recent, I know so many of the people involved, and because the research work, along with the various other ins and outs of ISITO, were perennial party topics.
The theoretical stuff from the 70s and 80s was much harder to deal with. Dating from the days before the web, I found there wasn't a great deal to crib from. When I asked my dad what he'd worked on for the first two decades of his career, he rather breezily replied, "Mainly social theory and political economy. It's all there on my publications page..." And it was indeed. In book form.
Skimming through some of it, I was surprised to discover just how readable the books are. (Having made exactly the same observation when I read parts of Marxism, Marginalism and Modern Sociology during my MA, it wasn't actually all that surprising) Yes, they all feature a great deal of technical jargon, but once you're past that, they're actually very clearly written and argued.
I was also surprised to discover quite how much I'd absorbed through osmosis over the years. I remember discussions about monetarism over the supper table, probably from around the period the books were being written. I also remember a much more recent conversation about crisis theory, during which I was given the potted summary, which I seem to remember as being: that Marx didn't systematise the theory, that the interpretation of what Marx had written was tangled up in history, and that the key thing to focus on was the inevitability of crisis, not the proximate causes of a particular crisis.
I'm not sure I did the wikipedia page justice. It would've been far better if someone with a proper background in this stuff had done it, instead of an armchair philosopher like me. But all the people with the right expertise are all busy trying to get themselves published, whereas I've got enough free time to tinker around with the wikipedia entry of an obscure academic and enough working knowledge to cobble something together...
My parents finally accepted that there was no way their trip to London could go ahead in its planned form: my sister, still ill with flu, couldn't be allowed near our 93 year-old grandmother; and with my sister and her youngest out of the running, it was expecting a bit much of my brother-in-law to drive his step-daugher, her boyfriend, and her son down there and back again in day.
Eventually sanity prevailed and they decided to take my middle nephew down on the train, as they'd always intended; to go on a boat trip on the Thames; and to stay with my uncle overnight before returning on Friday.
The guests — a few of my dad's fellow emeriti and a couple of other old friends — arrived bearing gifts and, in one case, delicious homemade beetroot humus. We had a lovely supper, during which everyone who'd retired said how pleased they were to be out of the politics and infighting of academia.
More helping out in the kitchen during the evening to set up the rhubarb fools, followed by a relatively early retreat to bed, leaving the oldies to their partying...
Presenting myself downstairs at a reasonable hour, I discovered we were still trying to decide whether to postpone pending my sister's recovery from what is now very obviously flu, whether to continue without her, or whether to abandon entirely. Eventually my parents managed to persuade themselves to go ahead without my sister — they were very keen to ensure that neither their friends nor my niece's two week old baby were exposed to the disease.
I spent the morning in the kitchen, preparing the veg — my main contribution being the cauliflower cheese — keeping an eye on the cooking times, and helping out with anything that needed it. Obviously I didn't do everything: I drew the line at handling the beef; fortunately I found someone else who was only too willing to do that bit:
We had a brief pause mid-morning when my brother-in-law and one of my nephews came by to help my dad open his birthday presents.
( Presents! )
While my dad was occupied elsewhere, my mum and my nephew used the opportunity to dress the cake with a few suitable objects: a small bike, some piratical candles, and edible writing:
Thanks to the good offices of my brother-in-law, we were able to dress the dining room with an appropriate set of helium balloons:
( Balloons! )
My niece arrived around midday with her son in tow. Here she is with her baby and her younger — but not youngest — brother:
Lunch was excellent and it wasn't a bad thing my sister wasn't there: there was barely enough food left to make up a plate for her. My cauli cheese was singled out for particular praise and S's merengues were, as ever, superb.
( The baby slept through lunch... )
The cake — a two layer chocolate one, filled with cappuccino cream, and topped with chocolate icing — was particularly fine and got to make a fairly spectacular entrance between courses:
( Happy Birthday! )
Everyone had a good time and we ended the day happy. Even the birthday boy enjoyed himself:
One day last week, she'd been about to get in the bath when the phone rang. She answered it. It rang again. She answered it again. She decided to make a phone call before she got in the bath. While she was on the phone there was a huge bang. So loud she thought someone had broken in. She went up stairs. There was glass everywhere. She went into the bathroom. The glass light shade had exploded. If she'd been in the bath, she'd been horribly injured. She might even have been killed.
As she said: the light has been there for years. It could've happened at any time. Weirdly, the bulb was still whole and the light fitting still worked.
While she was there, my sister said she thought her youngest might be going down with something. Then, later in the evening, she called to report that she too thought she might have caught some sort of horrible disease...
After checking out Coventry's medieval roots, we moved to the Herbert where we went to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. The photos were all outstanding and the sheer dedication required to get some of the shots was inspiring; some of them took hundreds of hours of patient waiting to capture, but the results more than rewarded the investment.
Once SM had left for the airport, the rest of us went to the Farmhouse for lunch: VY was determined to have curried okra before he left, so we dropped in on the way home for an Indian. The food was excellent — the tarka dhal was particularly noteworthy — and we had a very nice time, baring a minor glitch when VY got charged in dollars rather than euros — or possibly the other way round, I'm not sure — when the credit card machine defaulted to the wrong setting.
Starting close to the castle we went for a very gentle amble over the fields, walking a relatively short circular route in a couple of hours. I spent almost all the time talking to OC, who needed to unburden herself about the horrors of her current teaching position and the general strains of being an academic.
(One of things I've taken away from this weekend is just how terribly stressful academic life is these days. Despite being the brightest of the bright, most of them have to move from one position to another, while even those with secure positions are under constant pressure to publish, and in the right sort of journals. In rather glad my career has taken a different course)
We arrived at the pub just in time to order lunch before a group of twenty people arrived to populate the next table. Halfway through, I realised that although we'd arrived in three cars we only had two going back; MK's housemate had had an accident the night before and she went back to check on them rather than staying to eat. In the end we managed to squeeze eleven people in two cars. The back of my parents' car was a bit of a tightight fit: SM had to put her arm around me and we were alright as long as we didn't breath too deeply...
Once a representative sample of my dad's protégés had arrived, we all walked down to Ristorante da Vinci for dinner. I spent the first part of the evening talking to MK, currently researching the careers of mathematicians and computer scientists, before VY, our Master of Ceremonies, dusted off his Komsomol-imparted organisation skills, asking everyone to talk about their first memories of my father and to come out with an interesting story about him.
SA remembered meeting my father for the first time at Euston station, discussing potential PhD subjects with him on the tube to Victoria where he was catching a train to Dover. Then, a little while later, she remembered an all-to-typical story of near disaster at a mine in Kuzbas:
We'd arranged for the Chief Engineer to take us down the mine. He clearly liked a drink. [My dad adds: when we met him for breakfast, the Chief was busy opening bottles of Soviet champagne and vodka. The mine director walked in and said in English, "What are you doing? You know we don't allow drinking in the mine!" To which the Chief replied in Russian, "What do you mean? There's no way I'm going down there sober..."]
Anyway, when we got down the main lift, there were chairlifts to take us to the coal seams. The engineer was there, preparing to give his little safety talk when your dad, who'd done a lot of skiing, just jumped on. The Chief swore and he too jumped on a chair, leaving me standing there. I wasn't sure whether to follow them, but I didn't want to get lost in the dark in this mine, so I got on too.
When I got to the bottom I was in such a nervous state that my Russian stopped working and when the Chief told me to get off, I thought he was telling me to stay on so I didn't get off. He shouted at me again, but I stayed on. He must've realised what was happening because he grabbed me and pulled me off just before the chair disappeared round the corner where I'd probably have been ground up by the machinery.
[My dad added later: when we got to the coal face, there was a long conveyor with all the miners working on it. The Chief, who clearly hadn't been down there in years showed us the seam and looked around for something else, taking us round a corner, only to discover that it was a dead end. When he came back, all the miners were laughing at their boss and his ability to get lost in his own mine with a group of western visitors in tow]
The others had equally good stories.
NZ remembered that she'd been looking for potential supervisors at UK universities, and had picked my dad because he has a photo of his children and his grandchildren on his web page. My dad said that when she came for an interview, he and AP had immediately decided that she was brilliant and they had to take her on, even though her undergraduate degree wasn't in the right area. Then, when she arrived and discovered she didn't have anywhere to stay, my parents immediately offered to put her up until she found somewhere.our family Christmases.
RJ said that when he was searching for a PhD supervisor, he was after someone with a strong theoretical background who was also interested in Russia and China. He wasn't hopeful, but he found my dad's web pages and realised that he'd found someone who precisely matched his criteria and who was very close to his current base. After he'd approached my dad with a proposal, his current boss tried to scupper the whole arrangement, asserting that he had first claim on RJ's time. My dad's response was that this constituted a brilliant endorsement and made him even more certain that he wanted to take RJ on as a student.
VY remembered the Young Russian Sociologists boat trip on the Volga in October 1991 — notoriously the boat only had single lavatory which, in the finest Soviet traditions. He announced that they should give serious consideration to celebrating the 25th anniversary of the conference, although he didn't think it would be quite the same now that the Volga cruise boats have been upgraded to cater to Western tastes.
In the conversations that followed, RJ encapsulated everyone's feelings by talking about how much they all loved my father and how much the respected him; MK said she always enjoyed it when people mentioned on of his books at conference and she was able to say, "Actually, he was my supervisor..."
Seeing him in this light and in combination with their stories about him, I finally realised what makes him such a successful teacher and mentor: he treats his students like family, in that he always makes time for them and always wants them to do their best; and should they need a little more motivation, all he usually has to do is indicate that he's disappointed in them, and most of them put themselves back on the straight and narrow.
It was really nice. Not least because we were all able to put aside our usual cynical pose and talk about someone who means the world to us — and doubly so to be able to do so while they're still alive and able to appreciate it! — but it was wonderful to be able to think of my dad's protégés as siblings — although SA was always the sensible older sister when I was younger — albeit clever, over-achieving ones.
After the stories — and, more importantly, after the rest of Da Vinci's clientele had left! — there was singing: OC went for a traditional Hebrew song, while the Russian-speaking contingent (which included one of the waitstaff) opted for something that may just have been a gloomy version of happy birthday.
Very, very late, after an excellent evening of fantastic food and good company, we went our separate ways, some back to hotels, and more than a few back our place to fill up the beds and, in the case of my nephew, to crash on the sofa...