Monday, May 25, 2020

Letter to Cherilyn Mackrory, MP for Truro and Falmouth, about Dominic Cummings

Below is the text of the letter I sent yesterday to our Tory MP, Cherilyn Mackrory, in case it helps anyone to write their own letter.  (You can do so easily at

I don't think this is the greatest letter in the world, but I found it quite tough to work out what I wanted Cherilyn to do. There's no vote on anything coming up, and she hasn't done anything wrong herself, so I focused on how Boris Johnson's words have undermined her own efforts to keep her constituency safe. I hope it will help put pressure on the PM to sack Dominic Cummings.

Sunday 24 May 2020 

Dear Cherilyn Mackrory,

Since lockdown began, you have been asking holidaymakers and second homers to stay away from Truro and Falmouth, to avoid bringing the coronavirus here and risk putting extra pressure on our hospital at Treliske.

Just three days ago you tweeted to overnight campers:

This evening we have heard from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that it is in fact perfectly permissible to travel hundreds of miles during lockdown, while knowingly infected with Covid-19, to visit relatives and stay in a second home.

There is now likely to be widespread confusion across the country about what travel is and isn't allowed during quarantine and lockdown.

There is also likely to be a feeling that if Dominic Cummings and his family can travel to a different county while infected with Covid-19, with no repercussions whatsoever, then there is nothing to stop anyone else doing the same.

The Prime Minister's words don't just completely undermine the work that you and Cornwall Council have done to keep people in this constituency safe during the coronavirus outbreak. They also create a serious risk that people will now feel free to travel to Cornwall, and in your own words "risk [the] health & wellbeing of our coastal communities w/ a second peak of #Covid_19".

As a constituent of yours I urge you to raise this issue with the Prime Minister and to let him know the risks his words and actions have created for your constituents, for Cornwall, and for our frontline NHS workers who are having to risk their own lives to battle the virus.

 Yours sincerely,

 Fiona Campbell-Howes

Saturday, December 08, 2018

A Letter to Sarah Newton MP About Tuesday's Brexit Vote

This the text of a letter I've written today to our MP, Sarah Newton, ahead of the "meaningful vote" on Brexit on Tuesday. I hope it doesn't come across as being too smug and boastful. There are a million reasons why I think Brexit is a horrifically bad idea for the UK, but to have a chance of influencing our Tory MP I thought I'd better focus on the economic benefits that EU membership has helped me bring to her constituency here.

I can't imagine it'll hold any sway at all, but I'd be disappointed in myself if I didn't at least try.


Dear Sarah,

I am writing as one of your constituents and as the leader of a business employing 16 (soon to be 17) people in your constituency. I want to urge you not to vote for the proposed Brexit deal in the Parliamentary vote on Tuesday.

Now that it seems clear that there are other ways forward, including a second referendum on the deal, and the revocation of Article 50, I would ask you to please consider very carefully what the best outcome would be for residents and businesses in Truro and Falmouth.

My view is that there can be no better outcome for Truro and Falmouth than for the UK to remain in the EU if we possibly can.

I started Radix Communications Ltd in Falmouth in 2007 and since then it has grown to employ 16 people, now in Penryn. Over that time the business has generated very nearly £4m in revenue, almost all of which has come into your constituency from outside of Cornwall.

The jobs I have created here are skilled, permanent and full-time jobs, with an average salary above £30k. I have employed talented local residents and graduates who would otherwise have had to leave Cornwall to forge a rewarding career.

I have brought a new industry sector (enterprise technology copywriting) to Cornwall and put Cornwall on the map as a global centre of excellence for that particular service.

We have a client base that spans the globe, from Brisbane to Seattle. We are producing work every day for multinational technology brands like Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle and Sage.

We are doing all of this in Penryn and we are proud to be based here and to be contributing to the local economy and community here.

I’m saying all of this not to boast, but because this business categorically would not exist today if it weren’t for the support of the many EU-funded programmes that we have had access to over the years.

When I lacked the confidence to hire people, I found it through the Enterprising Women programme run in Truro in 2011 by YTKO.

When our business hit a rough patch in 2013, it was advice from Oxford Innovation’s Grow Cornwall programme that enabled us to keep the jobs we’d created, stabilise the business and start growing again.

Whenever we have needed to grow our team, Unlocking Potential has been there to help us find, interview and subsidise new, talented recruits.

I am sure you know that extraordinarily few startup businesses survive through to 10+ years and are still growing at that stage. Radix is one of the lucky few, and we owe our survival and growth in large part to the EU’s Objective One and Convergence programmes.

Your vote for the proposed Brexit deal on Tuesday will deny that support to the businesses starting up today and in the future in Truro and Falmouth. They will have it tougher than we have, and many will not survive. That means the future holds fewer jobs, less money and more hardship for this constituency. Please think about that when you vote on Tuesday.

Lastly I’d like to remind you that Truro and Falmouth voted to Remain in 2016. I have no doubt that your constituents would vote the same way today. I urge you, as our elected representative, to do the right thing by your constituency and vote against the proposed Brexit deal, so that Truro and Falmouth – and the country as a whole – can have another chance to vote on the best way forward.

Many thanks,


Monday, February 07, 2011



Mr BC and I are in bed preparing our characters for a new season of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, because that's the kind of saucy stuff we get up to these days.

ME: My character is going to be massively gung-ho and macho, but I can't think of a name for him.

MR BC: Call him something Pictish.

ME: Great idea, I'll borrow a name from the (largely fictional, history fans) Pictish king list. I'll call him ... *thinks* ... Brude Urpant.

MR BC: You could call him that, but I must warn you, people may laugh.

ME: WHO DARES LAUGH AT BRUDE URPA.. Oh OK, I'll change it to something else.

A couple of minutes pass.

ME: I've got it! I'm going to call him Ben MacDui.

MR BC: (Outraged) You can't call him that!

ME: Why not? Not Pictish enough?

MR BC: Ben's a well-known Jewish name.

ME: Yes, but it's also Scottish Gaelic for 'mountain'. Like 'Ben Nevis'. And Ben MacDui is a cool mountain, it's the second highest peak in the United Kingdom, you know, and it's supposed to be haunted by a ghostly Great Grey Man, although that's pretty much discredited now, and most people think it's probably just a Brocken spectre, although Brocken spectres in themselves are pretty cool, they're like a giant shadow cast on the-

MR BC: You can't call him Ben McJewy, it's racist.

ME: Not McJewy! MacDui! With a 'd'! And a 'u'! And, for that matter, an 'i'!

MR BC: I'm just saying.

ME: Brude Urpant it is then. All hail Brude, Eladrin Druid, occasional shapeshifter, and part-time forklift operator in a Feywild basket warehouse.

MR BC: Sometimes I think you don't take this nearly seriously enough.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The New Old Library

It seems that Penryn Library is about to fall victim to Cornwall Council's £110m cost-cutting initiative, details of which were made public today.

Reading between the lines it looks as though the library will either be closed or handed over to volunteers - if any suitable ones can be found.

Of course my immediate thought, apart from "bastards" and "where will the Blue Kitten get her Turn-the-Wheel with Spot books from now?" and "what kind of civilisation closes its libraries, for fuck's sake", and "there goes another community focal point" and "how can we expect standards of literacy to rise if this is the kind of thing we let happen?" was "well, this poses a problem for Penryn's microtoponymy and no mistake".

You see, just around the corner from the library is a very handsome bow-fronted building, whose name is The Old Library. Here it is, resplendent in today's autumn afternoon sunshine.

The Old Library was once the actual library, but it's someone's house now, a bit like The Old Fire Station*, at the other end of the street.

Which made me think: if the current library goes the way of the Old Library, will the owners of The Old Library have to rename their gaff The Old Old Library?

And as the economic downturn continues to bite into Penryn, where every other shop is now empty, will we soon see a raft of similar name plaques springing up as abandoned emporia are turned into private residences?

'The Old Pet Shop'

'The Old Off-Licence'

'The Old Sex Shop'

And so on, until the whole of Penryn is just a collection of houses whose names preserve a blueprint of how the town used to function.

Which is a neat post-modern concept, but a rubbish reality. I'd rather have the library than The Old Library, any day.

* Which, as James points out, looks like it's built from Lego. In fact this actual Lego fire station looks more like a real fire station and less like Lego than The Old Fire Station does.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Semantics Of Anti-Ageing Creams: A Monograph

Regular readers will no doubt remember my pioneering discovery of Garnier's Law of Mascara Names, which dictates that the product names given to fancy eyelash gunk will double in hyperbolicity every two years, irrespective of any corresponding technical development in the product itself.

I had long suspected that this same law must also apply to other areas of the beauty industry, but lacked the time and wherewithal to investigate further. But a fortuitous combination of circumstances yesterday led to a major discovery which I feel I must document here for the benefit of future generations.

Those circumstances were a) the good fortune of my being on maternity leave, and therefore having more time at my disposal to explore evolving semantics in the cosmetics industry, and b) the chance arrival of an email from Homes and Gardens magazine, inviting me to enter a competition to win a supply of L'Occitane anti-ageing products.

Now the anti-ageing business is not something I profess to know a lot about, being of the opinion that it's all a scam to sell expensive goo to ladies rendered suitably insecure by half a lifetime's exposure to idiot-rags like Grazia and Closer.

However, having time on my hands I duly clicked the link in the email, only to discover - to the delight of my scientific and enquiring mind - that unlike, say, Moore's Law, Garnier's Law of Anti-Ageing Cream Names appears already to have reached the limits of its potential.

Naturally, as Ben Goldacre will tell you, you can't make an assertion like this without first conducting an exhaustive survey across the whole field of enquiry. Before publishing my astonishing findings to the world, I first had to investigate the names given to anti-ageing creams from other companies. Not knowing any off the top of my head, I turned to Twitter for advice. Sadly this elicited little of use, unless you count 'jizz', suggested by @Lfbarfe, or 'Tesco Value French Mustard', suggested by @Nibus.

So, like all serious scientists, I turned instead to Google.

Here I discovered that, by comparison with mascara names, prevailing naming conventions for anti-ageing creams are actually quite modest. L'Oréal, for example, offers us 'Revitalift' and 'Renoviste', hardly the stuff of fervid dreams of long-lost youth. Garnier, meanwhile, prefers 'Vital Restore', which sounds more like a business continuity procedure in a midsize accountancy firm's data centre than a face cream. Elizabeth Arden has come up with the mysterious 'Prevage', which makes me think of André Previn, who makes me think of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, which we can't exactly chalk up as a metaphoric triumph.

This surprising reticence could be indicative of a number of things. Perhaps in a rare moment of marketing sobriety and self-awareness, these companies acknowledged that none of their products *actually* has the capacity to halt the ageing process, and are therefore a bit circumspect about making hyperbolic claims for them. Or perhaps, unlike their impetuous colleagues on the mascara watch, their branding executives are aware of how much time lies ahead, and how they must not gratuitously squander the precious finite resources of the English, French and Franglais lexicons.

But among all the reticence and linguistic frugality, one company stands alone, on a lavender-scented hilltop, throwing circumspection, restraint and Garnier's Law to the marin and the tramontane. Ladies and gentlemen, that company is L'Occitane, who have seen fit to name their anti-ageing range 'Immortelle'.

Immortelle. You don't have to have GCSE French to figure out what they're getting at there. "Buy this face cream," whisper L'Occitane seductively, "and you will become immortal."

It's a bold claim, and not one that I fancy would stand up under the brutal spotlight of scientific scrutiny. It's also not one that I find particularly comforting. Linguistically, 'immortal' is synonymous with 'undead', which conjures up images of hordes of desiccated liches stalking the earth, draped in grand clothing yet showing all too well the weight of years; decay and corruption their constant companion.

On balance I think I'll take my chances with soap, water and death.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Love The Smell Of Permethrin In The Morning

Of all the wars in which this nation is currently engaged, the least covered in the media, discussed on Twitter, or made controversial reference to by the Deputy Prime Minister during PM's Questions is the War of the Fleas.

This is because the War of the Fleas is a comparatively small war, being fought on quite a localised front, id est down the posh end of Broad Street in Penryn.

(All of Broad Street is *quite* posh, but this end is posher due to its being situated opposite The Square, which is the poshest bit of Penryn by far, and doesn't really take kindly to being overlooked by the scuzzy-by-comparison houses that comprise The Posh End of Broad Street, but there we have it, that's how the medieval town planners laid it out in 1259 and there's no going back now.)

And when I say 'down the posh end of Broad Street' I really mean 'in our house', aka Casa Patroclus, or, if you prefer, Blue Cat Towers.

If one were to follow in the mighty footsteps of A.J.P. Taylor and cast about for the origins of the War of the Fleas - for its inciting incident, if you like - one would be hard pressed to identify anything as definitive as, say, Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939. No Archdukes were bitten outside no. 42 during any of Penryn's many parades. No tiny aeroplanes emerged from the Western skies to destroy the yuppie flats in the recently-gentrified Inner Harbour. The fleas are not - as far as I can tell - evolved robots returning from hundreds of years in exile with a nebulous plan to annihilate the human race. I have no idea how it started, or how it got to the point I am about to describe.

For readers, I am ashamed to tell you, earlier this summer the situation reached a low ebb for the motley band of human and feline fighters whose wretched lot was to strive valiantly, day in, day out, against the indefatigable hordes of tiny, biting invaders. There were casualties, many casualties, on both sides. Hundreds of fleas were teased from their hiding places among the cat's fur to meet a boiling, salty, watery end. Hundreds perished in sweeping aerial attacks of R.I.P. Fleas. Biological weapons designed to annihilate the fleas' children and their children's children, yea even unto the tenth generation, were strategically, then indiscriminately, deployed. A sheepskin rug had to be thrown out.

To no avail. Like H.G. Wells's Martians, still they came.

Your human and feline heroes had to change tactics. High-tech weapons had failed. Blanket bombing, carpet bombing, bathmat bombing, all had failed. A short-lived offensive which involved transporting individual fleas to Falmouth in the car, then depositing them in Church Street Car Park, proved to be environmentally and logistically inefficient. It was time for something new.

Enter the parcel tape.

Parcel tape, as it turns out, is a pretty effective anti-flea weapon when deployed judiciously. Favourite tactics include:

1. Sticking strips of tape across the carpet, then removing the lot - and any adherent victims - in one satisfying wrench.

2. Watching, waiting, watching, waiting for a nasty leaping beast to get on to the cream-coloured sofa, then swooping from above with a pre-cut section of tape. Result: instant sticky death.

3. Romantically scanning each other's limbs and clothing for errant fleas, then either a) leaping into action with a pre-prepared section of tape or b) wildly shouting 'tape! tape!', in the knowledge that one's other half knows by now exactly what is signified by this stirring war cry, and will respond by passing the nearest roll. (N.B. not to be undertaken while guests are present.)

It has been quite a miserable summer, all told, not helped by being heavily pregnant for most of it. But now we have reached if not the end, then perhaps the beginning of the end. For today the War of the Fleas entered a new phase, marked by the emergence of an exciting new game that may soon be sweeping the nation. I will spare you the intricate detail of Dirt or Dead?, but suffice it to say the winner is the player who can most accurately distinguish between a) a small piece of black fluff and b) a Corpse of the Fallen.

The cat, meanwhile, has taken to living a shadowy twilight existence under the garden table and refuses to set foot in the house. But soon, all will be back to normal. I hope.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Walk In The Park

Opposite our house is a little park, and it was to this park that I yesterday decided to take the Blue Kitten during a break in the seasonal Cornish rain.

While the Kitten is used to going to the park with her dad, an afternoon outing with me is a bit of a rarity, given that I'm one of those Daily Mail hate-figures; a full-time working mum.

Still, it all started off very successfully: we managed to navigate the crossing of the road OK, the Kitten obediently held my hand until we were safely inside the park with the gates closed behind us, and the planned game of kickabout with the plastic football unfolded in frankly impressive style.

(Indeed if Fabio Capello were to send a talent scout down to Penryn, he or she would undoubtedly return Up Country raving about a tiny blonde bombshell, the quality of whose dribbling and running-forward skills cannot be disguised even by the wearing of one-size-too-big Dora the Explorer wellies.)

Not only that, but we had a great game of peeking at each other through some of the new and slightly perplexing municipal exercise equipment, and I successfully dissuaded the Kitten from shredding the poppy wreaths around the war memorial (the park wasn't always a park; until May 1941 it was an impressive Georgian terrace flanking a three-sided Georgian square, brought to an untimely end - along with 18 of its residents - by a stray German bomb probably intended for Falmouth Docks).

There followed a chase around the path and a gaze through the railings at the Bowling Green, which, I informed the Kitten, had been there since the sixteenth century at least; the sea captains domiciled in Broad Street playing endless rounds of bowls while waiting for favourable winds and tides to take them to fight Spaniards, or loot Spaniards, or sell granite to Spaniards according to the prevailing politico-economic circumstances of the day.

(Today, the good citizens of Broad Street and Quay Hill stay indoors playing Fallout 3 and Bioshock 2 as they wait for favourable calls from literary agents, television commissioners, organisers of international sculpture exhibitions and artisanal tea-growers, but the Bowling Green remains, its clubhouse very much a terrestrial departure lounge for Penryn's elderly residents if the frequency of its flag flying at half-mast is any guide.)

This is where it all starts to go wrong. Wearying of my fascinating local history lesson, the Kitten makes a dash for the wrought iron gates, furiously shaking them in an effort to escape the park and go and do something more exciting, like rolling about in the road. In rapid pursuit, I gather up the football and discarded jacket and catch up with the Kitten just as she manages to wrestle her way out on to the pavement. Here, she decides, will be a good place to lie on the ground shouting 'DEATH!' and 'Six Six Six!' for the entertainment of passing motorists. Nothing will persuade her otherwise.

There is no option but to pick her up, temporarily abandon the fallen-off Dora the Explorer welly boot, and bundle her home (which is only on the other side of the road). Heroically, I gather up Kitten plus football plus discarded jacket, and the mission is close to being accomplished.

Except that I can't get up. At eight and a half months pregnant, I am stuck squatting on the pavement opposite my house clutching a wailing two-year-old, a football and a jacket, and I can't move. Something has to be jettisoned, so I let go of the football, which trundles forlornly into the road. A passing motorist slows down, picks it up and throws it back on to the pavement, but there's nothing I can do about that now. I am the worst mother in the world, unable even to go across the road to the park without getting into difficulties and endangering the life of my own child and that of sundry passing motorists. I try not to imagine the Daily Mail headlines.

Seconds later, the Kitten and I both arrive home in floods of tears, much to the bemusement of Mr BC, who thinks we only went for a nice stroll in the park. I dash back out to recover the lost welly boot and the football, only to discover two lost wellies, one of which is in the middle of the road being studiously avoided by passing motorists, and one of which is on the pavement opposite.

There is no sign of the plastic football. I imagine it rolling away down Quay Hill, gathering pace as it approaches the junction with Commercial Road, causing a multi-vehicle pile-up outside Jumblies Day Nursery before bouncing nonchalantly on to Exchequer Quay, rolling towards the edge, falling into the Penryn River and commencing a maritime rampage across the Carrick Roads, causing multi-yacht pile-ups as it bobs merrily towards Falmouth Bay and the wide blue ocean.

In due course it will wash up, faded and deflated, in a lobster shrimp net along Louisiana's BP-blighted Gulf Coast, its historic role as the first football of England's legendary female 2026 World Cup striker unrecognised and uncelebrated.

Today the Blue Kitten's dad will take her to the park. It's by far the best all round.