This is a classic, traditional, touristy tea towel: a map of the county of Cornwall, highlighting towns and villages of significance, with a few sketches of places to visit. It doesn’t actually matter which year I bought this tea towel in, because I have been back many times to Cornwall and it always takes me back to those times. In fact, I bought it in 1986, on yet another holiday there, because I already owned many tea towels of towns, gardens and industrial sites in Cornwall, just needed a more generic tea towel.
When I was a child, my parents took me on holiday to Cornwall, three years running, from when I was six years of age. We always stayed at the Veryan Bay Hotel, in the last week of July and the first week of August, the only time my Dad’s boss would allow him holiday. Christmas was the start of the annual argument between my parents, with my Mum telling Dad to demand holiday at a different time and with him refusing to do so. I was never clear when she actually wanted to go on holiday; I think it was the principle of it. The place he worked didn’t close down for the summer holidays, so other people were having holidays at different times. Veryan Bay Hotel was very nice, quite luxurious in parts, but the best bit was the dining room. There was a large bay window, which stretched the full width of the dining room and overlooked the sea. Every morning, we would get up early so we could sit in the bay window and my Dad would say “People would pay a million pounds to have this view every day”. After the first morning, my mother and I would beg and plead that he would not say it again, and yet he did, every day. 25 years later, when he was very ill, he still remembered Veryan Bay Hotel and the “million pound” view, and the “million pound” quote.
Recently, I have been looking through my photograph albums, with a view to scanning all my photos, and came across pictures of my Dad, sitting in a metal-frame, folding deck chair (very uncomfortable, I imagine) on the beach, with a transistor radio by his side, listening to the Test Match, while I made sand castles and my mother read a book. I am always fascinated by the way the memory works, about what we retain and what we forget. My other memory of the Veryan Bay Hotel was of the meals, not mine but my Dad’s. My Dad was a ‘meat and two veg’ sort of a person; he didn’t particularly have a ‘sweet tooth’. For breakfast, he would always have mushrooms on toast. When we returned home, my mother would make him mushrooms on toast, which he ate reluctantly, and asked her not to do it again. “Why?” She would ask “you eat it every day on holiday” and he would say that mushrooms on toast was a holiday treat, not something for at home. I, sort of, know what he meant. Mushrooms on toast was reserved for the holidays; I follow his example devilled kidneys, tomatoes on toast, haggis and needs are for special occasions, holidays, not for everyday eating. The other thing I am reminded of is that at the end of dinner, you could either have a pudding or a savoury. My Dad always chose the savoury dish. His favourite was Scotch Woodcock. I could never remember what Scotch Woodcock was at the time and, more than 50 years later, I still have to resort to Mr Google to remind me. (Scotch Woodcock is basically scrambled eggs on crust-less toast, with cayenne pepper, capers, Gentlemen’s Relish and strips of anchovy over the top. Sounds gorgeous. But what is Gentlemen’s Relish?).
I distinctly remember the narrow roads, my Dad driving a Vauxhall Velox (which were big cars), not being able to see over the high hedgerows. Years later when I recall this, I also remember it was those memories that encouraged me to read the Derek Tangye ‘Minack Chronicles’ and wish myself back in time.
After our three holidays in Cornwall, we travelled elsewhere: Jersey, Isle of Man, Lake District, Majorca; still the last week in July and the first week of August. But Cornwall is still the most vivid; I can still see that “million pound” view. Twenty years later, I cycled through Cornwall, from John O’Groats, to Land’s End. Those were the days when you could walk to the edge of the coast without paying a penny, when you could stand on the rocks, alone, not surrounded by tourist attractions.
My memories of my childhood holidays must be part of the reason why, between 1982 and 1987, John and I spent a week each year in Cornwall, not staying in the same place necessarily but mainly on the north coast of Cornwall. (I am sure you have read the Tea Towel Blogs of Bedruthan Steps, dated 25/9/16 and that of St Agnes dated 30/6/15 and there are many more to come!!). There were usually certain things we always did: paddle in the sea, somewhere; I have many photos of me walking along the beach in bright yellow wellington boots. We would always look for a National Trust property or two to visit, especially if there was a garden (and I have several tea towels that I haven’t yet blogged about) and always look for some ancient monuments, standing stones, burial grounds and settlements. I remember walking for what seemed like miles, over moor and field, to find Men-an-Tol (the stone with a hole in it). It was well worth the walk; it was beautiful on a stark landscape, who carved it?, who designed it?, for what purpose?, how many footsteps walked to it? It was good to just relish in that ancient landscape. We found Madron Well and Chapel, an old well in creepy woodland, concealed in shrubs and undergrowth, a ground level natural spring, a Cornish Celtic sacred site. The well is said to have had healing properties; people still leave ‘clouties’, or strips of coloured rag, from the surrounding trees to appease the spirits within the well.
We discovered Chysauster Ancient Village, a late Iron Age and Romano-British village of between eight and ten Courtyard houses. We found Chysauster before there were entrance charges, before temporary roofs were put on a couple of the houses, before areas were cordoned off so you could no longer wander through the whole site, before the Fogou (underground passage of no known purpose) was sealed off so you could climb down into it. We went to Tintagel, stood against the walls overlooking the seas and thinking this would have been a great site for Camelot, even though there was no evidence that it was there.
Cornwall was always a place for discovering things, whether it was Iron Age burial grounds or industrial revolution tin mines, fabulously landscaped gardens and even more recently, the Eden Project. For me, Cornwall is a victim of its own success: too many cars on too narrow roads, too many tourists, too many tourists things to do rather than leaving people to enjoy the beauty of the coast and landscape, too many opportunities for entrepreneurs to make money. When a feature like Lands End becomes a tourist attraction that you can’t visit without paying money, you know things are a little off-key. But as I use this tea towel, I know that the wiping up will take three times as long as it should because I will be distracted by memories, good times and a yearning to return.
PS: Mr Google tells me that Gentlemen’s Relish (also known as Patum Peperium) is a type of Anchovy Paste, created in 1828 by John Osborn. It is, apparently, strong, very salty and slightly fishy in taste. It can be used on jacket potatoes, in cucumber sandwiches and fish cakes, among other things. This is something I have to try, along with Scotch Woodcock!!!