CORNWALL, ENGLAND. FEBRUARY 2015
Two worlds become one…..
Sunday 22nd Feb 2015- Stansted Airport
Feeling a bit nauseous having negotiated arrivals under construction. All over Stansted there are signs with ‘Please bear with us – we’ve got the builders in’ (Well I know that feeling). It’s been a funny old week.
Come to think of it, I’ve felt nauseous all week. Last Friday, before I left school I popped into Charlotte’s room in the Schloss on the first floor and said,
“I’m feeling sick…..it’s anxiety, nervous sick. I don’t want to go….”
“You can do this,” she asserted, “And we’ll have some fun at the same time”.
Fast forward 7 days we rocked up at Stansted, our flight from Munich having the desired effect of distancing us from a challenging half term. We found the hire car bay eventually and as I tried to work out the flight controls for the silver Astra turbo on the M11 in the driving rain, in the dark, Charlotte played with the radio and organized supplies.
“I got nuts, I got snacks – hell! I even got us a bottle of prosecco”
and with that tempting prospect at the fore front of my mind, somehow, I was sufficiently motivated to sit in M25 traffic for over an hour.
We got off the M4 in Wiltshire and, after a brief moment of excitement when I drove on the wrong side of the road, arrived at our Premier Inn, no hassles.
Now Premier Inns are not known for their glamour or scenic locations so I was more than a little taken aback by Charlotte’s joy and unconcealed enthusiasm at the lovely, compact, purpleness of it all.
“Hey look Sarah you get a kettle and 6 tea bags!”
“You do indeed Charlotte and there are enough towels to dry the whole family”
“Hey – check out the closet! I can get my boots and three coats in here!”
“And all of your toiletries and snacks. And look – glasses!”
Within minutes we had made the place our own and were settling down, showered and warm with a glass of bubbly in our hands.
I’ve travelled all over the world with this woman and should not have been surprised by her childlike reaction. Although Charlotte has stayed at some of the best hotels in the world (when her husband pays), I’d forgotten how much she loves a good bargain. And watching her woof her way through the massive buffet breakfast next morning then go back for seconds was surely one of the best recommendations for Premier Inns they could get. We then embarked on our long drive South West, to the most southerly point in Cornwall and to my home. Sun in my face for most of the way.
“Cows!”……“Oh look! Sheep”……..“There’s a flock of swans! Look Sarah there’s a flock of swans!!” I tried to ignore the sudden exclamations for fear of crashing the car. “Sarah it’s so beautiful – look at that big winter sky, like a water colour – and those trees there, look at the sun behind them!”
At the Clifton suspension bridge, on the bumpy old M5 near Bristol-
“God that’s amazing. Check out that bridge. You ever been to Wales?” and with Charlotte’s enthusiasm increasing with every mile that passed, dare I admit it, I found my good old English heart, swelling with pride. Seeing my country afresh through the eyes of my dear American buddy reminded me what a very beautiful place England can be.
In Cornwall, I found myself describing the stories behind so many breathtaking landmarks, each sight met with little intakes of breath by my fellow passenger. The vast expanse of Bodmin moor; the history behind St Austell and the Eden project (and the history behind EU funding to Cornwall); sign posts to all those gorgeous little places where no one, except my family, ever goes – St Agnes, Chapel Porth, Lanhydrock; the first glimpse of the sea as you near Newquay and of course the majestic windmills. Then, as we turned off the A30 at Truro onto the smaller roads we met the crumbling tin mines.
“What’s the story with them?” Charlotte asked so I told her why so many Cornishmen ended up State side.
When we hit the Lizard peninsula and Culdrose navy base complete with Sea King helicopters and long anonymous looking barns, Charlotte put her best mystery voice on-
“Bet you get some serious spy shit going down here, huh?”
“All the time Charlotte…spies everywhere, hiding in the gorse. With their life jackets on.”
The Lizard Peninsula is an incredible place with four different geological features: to the North East you have the green, leafy creeks – Daphne du Maurier country as the Helford river weaves its whimsical way to the sea: the East coast (my bit) sees pretty, sheltered
fishing villages, sandy coves and cliffs with exotic flora and fauna. At Lizard point, the most southerly point of Britain you can stand and watch in awe as the currents from the English Channel dance with the tides from the Atlantic. And then, if you head up the West coast to Porthleven you will meet high Drama with huge 400m rocky cliffs, strong enough to withstand the weather and sea that comes in from the Atlantic. The whole area is just 16 miles long and as you drive from the Culdrose roundabout the skies open up to the East and the West and you feel like you are approaching the end of the world.
The area in between these two coastlines is the same as it has been since Celtic times. It is rough, wild and primitive and only the toughest survive. Scrawny, thorny bushes lean over at 45 degrees, blown into their hunch-back by storm force winds, screeching from the Atlantic to the channel and back again.
We were half way across the moor when the massive, satellites of Goonhilly Downs loomed above us, revealing themselves, stark against the sky line,
“Holy crap Sarah! That’ll be where the Aliens land……”
These BT communication satellites do indeed look extra-terrestrial, all the more so because of their location. Thus, with our imaginations firing on all cylinders, we made the final approaches to my house.
We unpacked the car hastily, put on our hiking boots and were on the SW footpath “In a heart beat” keen to get out before dusk. True to form, as we walked down the lane to Poltesco and I gave the history of this house and that ancient building, this stream and that flower, Charlotte’s eyes just got wider and wider.
Oh dear (I thought) …This wasn’t part of the plan at all. She’s not supposed to fall in love with it like I do, every single time I come back….
We were able to catch the sunset from Enys Head. Possibly one of the most beautiful places in my world. The view from here stretches up the North East coast to Black Head (just round the corner from Coverack) taking in the glorious Kennack Sands on its way
and, in the opposite direction, Bass Point, a former coastguard station, was clearly visible. It was built in 1872 as Lloyds signal station and is where the first radio communication was made across the Atlantic. We continued on the footpath towards Cadgwith, steep cliffs dropping off sharply immediately next to us, to the sea below. Just before the little Pilchard Hut I changed places with Charlotte so she could walk ahead of me and get the full impact of turning into Cadgwith Cove.
Her reaction did not disappoint. She said nothing, just stood, almost expressionless and took in the sights around her: the ocean; the Cove; the boats and the village. We walked down the tiny, single lane and out to The Todden, a piece of land that divides the Cove into two beaches: one for fishing boats and the other for swimming. Here we sat looking out to sea, waves crashing to our left and right, little pilchard hut visible on the horizon. No one there but us. We sat in silence as dusk fell. Sharing moments such as these has been a key feature of our time travelling together. Right person, right moment, you don’t need to say a thing. It wasn’t long before the tears were gently falling from both our cheeks.
“Sorry Sarah – I just find this kind of beauty completely overwhelming”
We held each other and cried a little more. Then quite suddenly,
“Hell – Cornwall is always gonna be here. This place isn’t gonna change. If you still love it, you can come back and live here in 10 years time. This place just isn’t for you right now, that’s all.”
That was more like it….back on track. Throwing my own words, so clearly said by me, meant by me and planned by me in Munich over a long period of time, back in my face in England. Words I needed to hear in England by someone who knows me and loves me, in Germany.
I needed my two worlds to meet. Never mind about trusting the whole ‘process of life’ bollocks. When it comes to health care and pensions and mortgages and jobs, this shit is real…..I am a single woman and I cannot continue to finance my life as though I am still married. And I cannot, seriously, live in two countries. I have to choose one of them.
Then we went to the pub. It was Valentine’s night and the local folk group were in. After a slap up meal, several ciders, some Betty Stoggs real ale a bit of singing and some serious flirting with the musicians, we staggered our way out of the pub and up the hill in the pitch dark. At Ruan Minor Cross roads I turned off the torch.
“I have never, ever seen stars like those – not even on the boat”
whispered Charlotte and with the milky way very clear, we tried to make out the different constellations. Our hike 3 miles back to the house through the dark country lanes was not straightforward and involved a certain amount of ditch dodging. When, pausing to hit the blinking torch, a cow barely 3 feet from us snorted and stumbled, Charlotte screamed and we both walked a little faster! But we made it back in one piece.
The next day my brother David arrived, joined later by my daughter Beth and Grandson Danny. Charlotte and I had already started to tape up the windows and wash them down in preparation for painting. Over the next few days, as the house became the family home once more, Periwinkle cottage came to life. Now that it was re-built, Danny could run around and play in his own play room and Beth could relax for 5 minutes. I was able to cook wonderful meals, entertain and be mother/Grandmother/sister/friend. Between us we combined child care, painting and decorating and as much relaxation as we could squeeze in. We laughed and chatted a lot. We met Beth’s new boyfriend. We took Charlotte to some of our favourite family spots – Roskilly’s farm, Coverack and Lizard Point. It all just worked so well……….
So when the estate agent called, admired the fresh paint work, asked a few questions and gave a very positive response I was almost able to be cheerful as I instructed him to put Periwinkle Cottage on the market. And when I sat at the dining room table and worked on the letter to my builder, I was able to formulate the words,
”I will pay the final bill when you have completed the outstanding work. You have not done this as agreed, and your failure to complete the work within budget has devastated my plans. I can no longer afford to complete the project and will not be able to let it out as intended. I have just issued instructions to sell.”
I know I am not the first single woman to get stung in the rear by her builder (there is only one way to read that line) but I can’t help feeling a bit let down. God knows, I have had a love/hate relationship with this house in the 8 years that I have owned it and the 7 years that I have been paying for it. I always knew I would have to sell it sooner rather than later, whether I rented it out or not. But, this week as the moment finally arrived, I discovered it doesn’t matter how clear headed I am about my sensible later life objectives in Germany – in England the sensible decisions really, really hurt……..
CS Lewis once said, “The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it” ( ‘The Abolition of Man’)
I put Charlotte on the train at Truro.
“It’s just the end of a chapter. And the next one’s already written. Get on and read it…..”
and off she sped back to Munich. Beth cooked me a lovely dinner which I couldn’t eat and the next day, throat and head burning, I limped up the A303 feeling a tad sorry for myself. Not for the first time (and surely not the last?) I sought refuge with brother David in Wiltshire. After 24 hours sweating it out, and talking things through David pushed me back onto the M4 feeling a little more positive.
I hopped back into the Astra at 05.30am and headed back up the M4 in the opposite direction, ironically, still facing into the sun! I found 6th gear and gave it some turbo. I whacked on the music and sang, sang, sang.
Home is not about a building, or a country – it’s about people and the relationships created between them. Family will always be family but if you’re lucky, love, support, care and trust can be built between friends and these ties can be as strong if not stronger than some family connections. I am lucky to have both (family and friends) and after a week like this one, mindful of my need to be eternally grateful to them all, for so much……
Sarah Halliday – February 2015