Orwell's England

May 23, 2010 Great Britain by Steve Martin Edit

St Michael's Mount

If I thought Ho Chi Minh was everywhere in Vietnam, Uncle Ho has nothing on George Orwell and his fears of a society under government scrutiny. In England the cameras are everywhere. They track cars, control speeds, read number plates, read faces and impose themselves into every corner of the country that we've been so far.



The overuse of CCTV is a real eye opener. You quite literally cannot wander down the street without being tracked and photographed. Nobody seems to mind or notice until you ask them about it. Then you discover that the locals hate it. Several say it's too great a price to pay for a secure society that is really no more secure than most western communities.

"Do they work?" we ask our driver on the way from the airport. "Do they stop crime?" He just laughs and says "Not for a minute". He says the crime goes on regardless and gives a few recent examples of things that have happened. He also regales us with tales of people who have beaten the cameras with fake car rego for years on end.

I do wonder if the system can tell who I am? Street cameras have facial recognition and if you are in the system, the cameras tell the police who you are and your exact location. Because I have an older passport I'm not sure if my face has been put into the system or if I show up on the computer screens as a mystery man. I just hope I don't look too much like a local criminal.

Somewhere I didn't notice the cameras was St Michaels Mount near Penzance. Penzance is of course the home of the pirates in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. The town does trade on its fame, but is also a lovely industrial port town and local centre. The High Street is a maze of shops and side alley's befitting a town of this age and history.

Just along the coast and in view from our lunch table is St Michaels Mount. The site has a recorded history dating back to the 8th century, with the monastic buildings dating to the 12th. Apparently it was once 5 or 6 miles from the sea. Now at low tide you can walk from the mainland along a stone causeway.

The site is magnificent and the climb up the mountain is worth the strain. The main buildings sit atop a sharp hill with 360 degree views. As castles go it has all the prerequisites; battlements, cannons, towering walls and the odd secret passage.

While Jo and I want to take our time reading the sign boards and inspecting the castle, James and Emily have other ideas. They want to race from room to room, touch everything and yell short sharp howls in any room which has the slightest echo. The challenge of two small children in a place like this does take a little of the gloss off, but as I say, it's worth the effort.

Our other main outing has been to the very bottom of the UK... The locals call it Lands End, but I think Arse End suits it better. The spot has shops and cafes and telescopes as you'd expect, but it doesn't feel too touristy. It does feel appropriately windswept and end of the worldish with a ragged coastline and steep cliffs.

Once again while Jo and I soak it up and take in the view and soak up the idea that we are standing on the other side of the world, it's lost on the children. They are more impressed with the shape and colour of the rocks on the pathways. They've collected several, all as presents for Mum.

We've been using a farm cottage near Newquay in Cornwall as our base for the last week. It's a godsend to have a small house with separate rooms and acres of grass for children to run and roam. The Property is gearing up for a Pony Club event this weekend, and sadly we won't be here to see it. We are off to Stratford Upon Avon on Friday morning for another week in another holiday cottage.