Posts Tagged ‘Cornwall’

I was surprised to wake up on Monday and find myself still alive. I had confidently expected to be bopped on the head and written off by that lump of space junk heading for Earth.

A hefty chunk of burnt-out Chinese space station landing on my noddle would have rounded off my week nicely, but in fact it headed not for Dorset but to the South Pacific A wise move, and in this present climate I think many of us might well head in the same direction.

It seemed right that I’d be the target for a bit of space debris since for a week I’d been living life dangerously, albeit without intending to. For some reason, so many things I tried to do ended up in chaos: broken, dropped, mislaid, snapped in half, or any number of other calamitous denouements.

The disturbing trend started with a tooth, or, more accurately, an ex-tooth in the form of a crown, which suddenly decided to jump out of position and land on my tongue. Now it had cost me a great deal, both in money and in courage, to accept that little devil into my life and I was affronted, to say the least, to find it had made this bid for freedom.

The fact it did it while we were away in Cornwall added an interesting little complication. With Easter and long shut-downs approaching, and the knowledge that we’d be seeing all the grandchildren and I really didn’t want to terrify them with a witchy smile, I realised I had to do something about this vacancy in my lower left jaw, and quickly.

Long story short: a delightful and efficient dentist called Lily reunited me with my crown.

I will never fathom how NHS dental practices work, but I learnt that even though I have my own dentist in Dorset, I am now also registered with Lily and her practice in Cornwall for the next two years. I am sorely tempted to drive all the way to Cornwall next time I need dental attention. She was wonderful.

It turned out, as the days went on, that the leaping crown was only the start of my mini-dramas. There was the large carton of yogurt that I could swear leapt out of the fridge of its own accord and spewed all over the kitchen floor until it achieved at least twice its original volume; the cake mixture that, for reasons best known to itself, spread half in the cake tin and half across the worktop; the driving directions I gave so confidently to Geoff that took us 16 miles out of our way; the museum lift buttons I pressed that delivered us three times to the wrong floor; the wine glasses that came out of the dishwasher in pieces; the purse that performed a remarkable disappearing trick for several heart-stopping minutes, only to reappear from its hiding place, exactly where I’d put it.

And so on. It pains me too much to try and remember any others, but there were quite a few more. It was not a good time. Geoff was particularly nervous and kept looking at me a bit sideways. I don’t blame him.

Maybe it was to do with being in Cornwall, the land of pagans, piskies and pasties, where oddness is positively ordinary. However, the incidents continued even after we’d returned home, prompting Geoff to suggest the calamities could be happening just because it was me. After all, I was the common factor.

Of course he’s right, but I would never tell him so.


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I suppose grey skies and hour after hour of rain have to be expected in this country, but somehow, when I’m on holiday I am rather affronted by it.

Even so, being footloose in Cornwall is a treat in (almost) any weather and Geoff and I are making the most of our pre-Easter break in a lovely house near Falmouth. It’s the holiday home of friends who have kindly insisted we would be really helping them if we would give it an airing. Happy to oblige. Very happy, in fact.

It’s the second year we’ve been here, back in the beloved county of my childhood, but last year we were a month later and managed to go out and do a great deal of exploring.

This year, with rain falling like icy needles, we have been less adventurous, although a sunny day in Fowey was an unexpected treat within 24 hours of our arrival.

We went there to meet friends for serious nattering and lunch. OK, and tea. And cake. Geoff had a scone, making sure he put the cream on top of the jam, the proper Cornish way, thus not running the risk of being drummed out over the border into Devon.

After regaining our car from where it was parked near the top of the mountainside from which Fowey tumbles down so prettily into its harbour, we restored our lungs and other organs to their correct positions. The effort of the climb up a near-vertical hill takes its toll.

While Geoff dealt with the mess on the car left by a seagull with tummy trouble, I checked my phone. Among the emails, one caught my eye as its subject line was ‘Fowey’. But I’m in Fowey!

The email was from a London friend, Isla, a work colleague from years ago, who owns a holiday let in Fowey. I’m at the flat, she wrote, and the French guests I was expecting have just cancelled. Would you like to come and stay?

I called her from the car. You won’t believe this, I said, but we’re just down the road! She did believe it when we pulled up outside her flat two minutes later.

There followed almost two hours of wall-to-wall chatter as we caught up on each other’s news and she showed us round the flat: three bedrooms, each with an ensuite, large, light-filled rooms, beautiful gardens, a heated indoor pool – definitely the stuff of holiday dreams. Maybe next time, I thought to myself, but didn’t dare hope.

It was strange seeing Isla so far from where we normally see her, which is either in London or at our house in Dorset. Here she was, in an altogether different domain, wringing everything out of life in her recently adopted county. Like me she feels passionate about Cornwall and is undaunted by the long journey west, chugging down the A303 in her campervan as often as commitments allow.

When we’d arrived at her flat she was busy sorting bits and bobs to take to a charity shop. You wouldn’t like my old 12-string guitar, she asked, and so now Geoff has a new addition to his stable of instruments. He had the good sense to draw the line at accepting Isla’s father’s old set of bowls, or I might have had to administer some firm kind of punishment with those as my instruments of torture.

We headed back to our beautiful holiday-house-in-the-rain grateful for the joy that friends – and the occasional extraordinary coincidence – bring to our lives.

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Geoff suffers from a complaint (although I’m the one complaining, not him) that goes by the name of selective hearing.

His tendency is to go all unresponsive and distant just when I am saying something important. I may be saying it for the 14th time, but if he had listened on one of the previous 13 occasions he needn’t have to put up with me being, well, just a little tedious in a stuck-needle sort of way.

As it is, I talk to myself so much that I get bored with the sound of my own voice. It would be nice to share my witterings, especially when they are informative and life-affirming. You’re missing so much, I tell him. He catches that without a problem and gives me a disbelieving, sideways look.

The selective deafness has built up over the years and gets activated especially when I talk about Cornwall.

Geoff has visited a few times and come away with the impression it is inhabited by people he can’t understand and ribboned with narrow lanes lined by stony banks that leap out and scratch the sides of his car. In other words, he hasn’t always had the happiest of experiences, and if it weren’t for the lure of Cornish pasties and saffron buns I might never have got him to my native county for five days last week.

“You’ll love it. I can tell you all about it,” I enthused. “I’ll even sing you some Cornish songs and explain some of the customs and give you the lowdown on the different types of boats the fishermen use and point out some of the features of Bodmin Moor and you wouldn’t believe how many famous writers and artists are from Cornwall, and . . .”

Of course, I lost him on the first corner – mention of the Cornish songs would have done it –  and he went into selectively deaf mode.

I sang the songs under my breath as we headed west, every mile taking me closer to my homeland and the ridiculous joy I knew I would feel on crossing the border.

That joy stayed with me for the duration of our visit, and I’m happy to say it infected Geoff as well. By his own admission, he fell under Cornwall’s spell, seduced by its uniqueness and pride, its breathtaking landscapes and seascapes, its happy people, its excellent food (not all pasties), its pretty towns and villages and its excellent roads.

I resisted the urge to say “See, I told you so,” and also managed to resist singing ‘Lamorna’ when we visited beautiful Lamorna Cove, or ‘Goin’ Up Camborne Hill Coming Down’ whenever we saw a road sign to Camborne.

In fact it was the road signs and signposts that held a particular charm for Geoff. He cherished some of the more outlandish names, exclaiming over such places as Mawnan Smith (“Surely that’s a greeting, not a village”), Gweek, Perranarworthal, Praze-an-Beeble, Mousehole and Indian Queens.

Having grown up with them, they didn’t tickle me as they did Geoff, but as a grockle (a visitor to Cornwall) he was entitled to be charmed. For me, they simply acted as accelerators of my emotions, flooding my nostalgia reservoirs as my mind flipped back and forth across the years.

The selective deafness was fully engaged as I droned on in my riveting way about “Friends who’d lived down that road,” or “I went to a party in that village.” Poor Geoff. He did enjoy it, even though his hearing problem seems to have become markedly worse.

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Everyone suddenly seems to be talking about holidays. Perhaps it’s the approach of spring, the relief that comes with longer daylight hours, the early-morning birdsong filling our hearts; who knows, but whatever it is, I keep encountering people who say they are crossing off the days until they get away.

I can’t bring myself to say ‘until they escape’, because, really, the notion of ‘escaping’ from this beautiful part of the world does seem far-fetched. We have it pretty cushy here when you think of the many other places where people are trapped and their lives, let alone their happiness, depend on escaping.

Costa Rica is emerging as a favourite destination among those who are keen to tell me where they are going. Why, that used to be just a hottish, steamy-ish tropical place on my school atlas, memorable (to me, at least) for its place on the rote-learned list of Central American countries squashed into the waistband between Mexico and South America.

Now, it would appear to be the go-to country for the more adventurous, its beautiful green landscape and relatively sophisticated economy possibly eclipsing the cachet that Mexico once had. Besides, it might be necessary to acquire wall-climbing skills if you’re going down Mexico way, and that’s not a 100% fun holiday activity.

Hot-spots like Dubai, Cuba, India and Thailand are luring friends away, while another couple we know are currently in the first of three months holidaying in Bali.

They’re SKI-ing – otherwise known as Spending the Kids’ Inheritance – and, by all accounts (so far, we’ve received four enthusiastic communications, including photos) they’re having the time of their lives. Good for them, I say.

Depending on the weather outside our house at the time, I either envy this couple with a passion as the rain beats against our windows, or think smug thoughts along the lines of ‘You’re welcome, I’m happy here, thanks’ as the early-spring sun illuminates the garden and the sky is a breathtaking, brilliant blue. Eat your heart out, Bali.

I give thanks for our temperate climate that means we don’t risk being bitten by a sneaky insect whose dimensions could be anything from ant-sized to elephantine, and I am also grateful for the fact I’m not over there on those amazing beaches feeling I ought to be out surfing all the time. It’s bad enough having to fit in a daily walk and remembering to go shopping sometimes, but going surfing, too? No, you can count me out. All that discomfort and, well, those great big terrifying waves. You don’t have to contend with those on the River Stour.

Naturally, Geoff and I have started holiday discussions of our own. It’s hard not to feel it must be our turn now when we learn of yet another bunch of friends heading off to exotica.

We don’t yet feel the need to hit an airport – nor can we muster the enthusiasm or the strength for such an assault on our senses – so we’re taking a couple of staycations this spring. That’s newspeak for not going too far afield. We’re going to Rye, in East Sussex, later this month, for three whole days, and to south Cornwall in late April for four whole days.

Both destinations will enable us to explore, to walk and to catch up with friends. All we need is some decent weather, but we’ll be filling the car with boots and rainproofs just to be on the safe side.

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I USED to be a dedicated follower of rugby, enjoying the heroic physicality of the game as much as its gentlemanly observance of the rules.

The statistics appealed to me as well, and I would study the points for and against, as well as the home and away records, to weigh up the chances of our local lads finally coming good in their obscure minor league in wild and woolly Cornwall.

They rarely did. I would consider this mediocrity to be deeply bad luck, failing to grasp the blindingly obvious fact that success was never likely to be easily won by 15 gasping chaps whose idea of a healthy lifestyle was to refrain from downing a beer for the duration of the match.

My interest in the game diminished when my rugby-playing boyfriend of the time went to work abroad (I don’t think it was entirely because of me) and so I was no longer required to cheer him on from the touchline. Not that my feeble cries could be heard from inside the 20 layers of foul-weather gear necessary to prevent me from being drenched or frozen – or more often both.

The legacy of those youthful days is a repertoire of songs, not one of which could ever be reprised in decent company. Sometimes the odd line springs into my mind and I have to kick it into touch lest it pops out and I get odd looks. It is an ongoing regret that I can recall the rugby players’ version of The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck while I consistently fail to dredge up any useful detail of the English literature that I have drip-fed into my brain over the intervening years.

My enjoyment of the game has never really left me, but has been reignited to the highest level from time to time through such tournaments as the Six Nations and, of course, the World Cup.

Thus it was that last Friday I took my seat on the sofa with Geoff to watch the opening game of the World Cup between England and Fiji at Twickenham, full of eager expectation and ridiculous nerves.

The occasion was made extra special for us as we have recently found we are related to one of the England players. Well, perhaps not exactly related, but pretty close: Mum’s chiropodist is the mother of Mike Brown, double-try scoring hero and man of the match. We have spent the week basking in the reflected glory – and long may it last. Understandably, we thought it wise to practise our autographs.

Now that we are hooked, Geoff and I are no longer governed by the Gregorian calendar but are operating entirely on Tournament Time, with a re-scheduling of our lives to fit in with as many of the televised matches as possible. At least, that is the theory. In practice, we don’t seem to be all that well organised and we have already fallen into a habit of either forgetting there’s a match on or nodding off at the crucial switching-on time.

We have a pact now that as long as we watch the England games, anything else is a bonus. There was a huge panic when we realised we were going out for the day this Saturday, the day of England’s next match. Please don’t let them be playing in the afternoon . . . they’re not. It’s an 8pm kick-off. We’ll be back by then. What a relief.

We couldn’t forgive ourselves if we missed Mike, our new best friend, in action.

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IT sounds wrong to say we went to the beach on Sunday. Having been brought up in Cornwall, I know I should really say we went ‘down beach’, but since Sunday’s outing was to a Devon beach perhaps it doesn’t matter so much if I break the old habit.

Cornish beaches, so often nestling tantalisingly at the foot of cliffs (think Poldark) almost always require mountaineering skills to get to them. Such efforts were well-rewarded for our family when I was a child: a cove of our own, rock pools, egg sandwiches, six swims, elaborate sandcastles, and sometimes the shocking joy of seeing bookish, sensible Dad, transformed by flapping swimming trunks, run into the sea, perform a handstand and run back out again to the sanctuary of a towel and his place on the rocks beside Mum. “That’s it for this year!” he’d tell my sister and me when we begged him to do it again.

Later, the trek back up perilous snaking paths lined with tufts of pink sea thrift, occasionally pausing to look back wistfully at the shimmering blue below, seemed an interminable, aching, effortful way to end a perfect day.

There was no such effort involved in Sunday’s outing ‘down beach’, where, thanks to the geographical differences between dramatic south Cornwall and gentler south Devon, there were no cliffs to negotiate, no ‘down’ at all, as we were able to park the car within a level walk, all of half a minute from the beach.

This was just as well, as mountaineering is not yet in the suite of accomplishments of my grand-daughters, toddler Poppy and her newborn sister, Clemmie (aka Drinky). In fact Clemmie stayed for the most part firmly anchored to her mummy’s front in a sling contraption, only occasionally testing her lungs in competition with the gulls.

Poppy, on the other hand, scampered and capered as only two-and-a-half year-olds can when given the freedom of a beach and access not just to her daddy on a rare day off but also to her granny who fancies herself as an ace builder of sandcastles.

In fact, Poppy and I built more roads than sandcastles, using large flat pebbles to pave a route between Camp Baby and our chosen play area some distance away. It was when excavating for tiny pebbles for her collection – milky white and humbug-striped  ones being particularly favoured – that Poppy found real pirate treasure.

“Look at this!” she exclaimed, pulling out a shiny 10-pence piece, for all the world a modern-day doubloon, albeit more silver than gold. I shared her excitement as we dug for more. Never mind that our efforts were in vain. Finding one piece of genuine treasure was quite enough to make Poppy’s day.

I blessed whoever had let it slip from their purse or pocket. They can never know how much their loss meant to a little person who likes nothing more than an adventure with a happy ending.

For us adults the day had a happy ending, too, because this lovely beach proved to have everything a family could want or need for seaside comfort. (Everything, I noticed, except the hat, scarf and gloves I could have done with to augment my three layers and wind-proof jacket.) The shop, selling every size and colour of bucket, spade and much else, is next to the café offering exceptionally good locally produced food and in front of a block of loos that deserves prizes for cleanliness.

I was terrifically uplifted by the whole outing – and I hadn’t even been the one who’d found the treasure. Or perhaps I had.

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ONE of the few benefits of suffering galloping birthday syndrome is that the business of having babies and bringing up children is down to the next generation. They are so welcome.

My sisters-in-arms and I, whose ‘Been There, Done That’ slogan T-shirts cover the physical and emotional scars of motherhood, can now sit in comfort on our privileged perches, dispensing wisdom and applying magic cream to life’s hurts when grandchildren come to us for comfort. For us, it’s a win-win situation.

Three times over I’ve known the absolute, the most unalloyed, thrill of becoming a grandmother. There can be few more life-enhancing rites of passage.

The little people, aged 5, 3 and 2, have between them brought so many new dimensions into our lives.

Could it get better than this? Yes, amazingly it could! Last Friday, three became four. I’ve four grandchildren now: two boys (my daughter’s), two girls (my son’s). The latest is a blue-eyed girl, fairer than her big sister Poppy.

Most births involve their own mini-dramas, tales of high emotion, physical endurance and even courage beyond the call. This one, already 11 days overdue, was stamped all over with the size-11 footprints of my son, who unwittingly almost stole centre stage.

He had run a fever and was suffering bouts of sickness and nausea, so his poor labouring wife had to hold out a sickbag for him while he drove her at high speed to the hospital.

It was touch and go whether they’d get there in time as they hared up the length of Cornwall (they’d been staying with her parents – no, I wasn’t sure of the wisdom of that, either) and into the home straight of rural south Devon. They made it, with less than 30 minutes to spare, and baby arrived into a curious scene where a sickbag was being waved around as one of the props.

We learnt the story when Geoff and I travelled west to congratulate the parents and meet the baby, as yet unnamed but known to us all as Drinky. The curious nickname, given to her mummy’s bump by Poppy months ago, has stuck so fast that I am sure whatever names are eventually chosen, she will always be known as Drinky.

At the start of our journey we called on our niece and her husband to meet their newborn, an enchantingly pretty girl called . . . Poppy (not to be confused with our grand-daughter Poppy, who is often called Pops nowadays). This little sweetie had been due a week after Drinky, but obligingly arrived six days beforehand.

For a good fortnight there were texts and emails flying around with messages along the lines of ‘Any news of Drinky’s arrival?’ and ‘No news of Drinky, I’m afraid,’ ‘Baby Poppy’s arrived! All well,’ and ‘Where’s Drinky then?’

Well, Drinky did finally make it and she is, of course, quite gorgeous. I think she must have taken those extra 11 days to prepare herself for the scrutiny of her public, in particular her big sister, Pops, because she looked extremely calm and composed when we saw her at two days old.

Pops led me over to see this sweet baby, lying there looking all cute and adorable in her Moses basket. “This is my little sister. She’s called Drinky,” Pops said, looking up at me, winningly. “We’re just borrowing her.”

Now that’s a misunderstanding no granny should have to deal with. I’m leaving that one to the parents.


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