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Rowena Cade - Build it and they will come…

 

So, once upon a time (1989 to be precise) they made a film about a man who built a baseball diamond in a field of corn. Yes, that’s right.  And, hard though it may be to imagine from the basic plot alone,  Field of Dreams became one of the biggest films of the year cementing Kevin Costner’s status as the 1980s thinking human’s heart-throb (it was because of his eyes, you see).

 

There were a lot of important life lessons to take away from this film – and chief among them was that following your dreams is the most important thing you can do with your life. Even if it does mean you will have to put up with your brother-in-law shouting you’re an idiot all the time. Because, people, as long as you have sexy eyes, an understanding wife and James Earl Jones for a mentor, you can do it!  Come on, people – follow your dreams! 

I don’t want to come across as flippant here. Let’s be quite clear, I walked out of the cinema with eyes puffy and bloodshot from crying and I didn’t even care who saw me. That’s how inspiring the film was. I wore my blotched cheeks like a badge of honour.

But no, my first human isn’t Kevin Costner. Though it’s true he’s not been celebrated much of late, I still feel he’s had more than his fair share of celebratory fizz in his career to the point that his cup is still tipping over   So, no, sorry Kevin, maybe another time – if things ever feel slow – but only for your eyes’ sake.

My first human did, however, have the conviction and passion, just like Costner’s everyman, to follow her dreams and she ended up building something truly magical.

This human though didn’t just knock down a field of corn and turf it over for a mere baseball field (sorry baseball fans, but seriously, in terms of physical graft, just how hard can that actually be? Especially if you already happen to have a tractor in the shed because you’re a farmer). No, this person carved an open air amphitheatre pretty much with her bare hands out of a granite cliff overlooking the sea. 

Did we all get that because I think it bears worth repeating: she built a theatre with her bare hands out of a granite cliff overlooking the sea. Theatre! Cliff! Sea! What’s not to love here?  

Apparently she had a very understanding gardener who helped her haul up all the sand and driftwood she needed from the beach below. And there surely must have been a mate or two who pitched in every now and again for a mug of sherry.  

But basically we’re talking about a feat done singlehandedly. No men in hard hats and high-vis jackets and clipboards. No tractors or big trucks. No super fancy technical winch or drilling equipment. No. We’re talking a bucket, a rope and a wheel barrow.   

Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve not had the pleasure before, please meet Rowena Cade and her magnificent Minack Theatre.

  

  

The photos tend to show her as a spry if elderly lady spooning concrete into a post.  But in actual fact she was in her late thirties when she started to build it – Kevin Costner’s age in Field of Dreams.  And it became a life-project. Something she continued to improve and expand and refine for fifty years until her death at the age of 90.

Of course, women over the age of 40 don’t exist in Hollywood or in the newsrooms of the BBC so no wonder neither of these institutions has made a film about her yet. She’s become invisible. They just look at the photo and all they can see is a post with a bit of concrete in it, rather than a remarkable woman clinging onto the cliff face with a bucket of sand in her teeth as an Atlantic gale threatens to sweep her off the edge.

Ever since I visited the Minack theatre ten years ago, I’ve had a postcard of her, first on my fridge and now above my desk.  In it, she’s on the edges of rugged cliff, reading a book, sitting in a wheelbarrow.  I can’t see any cushions. It’s possible they’re hidden from view; it’s also entirely possible that she’s simply leaning back on bits of chipped off granite.

Tough, windswept, absorbed and resourceful. And full of passion and drive.  One day, I hope I’ll be like that too.

So seriously, Hollywood and BBC, get your art together.

Rowena Cade: a human worth celebrating.