Weekly Column

"Safe Cornish holidays before the storm"

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What a glorious week’s holiday we had- staying a mile or so across the golf-course from John Betjeman’s Daymer Bay home and paying tribute at his grave in St Enedoc’s churchyard with the wonky spire. JG with Betjeman GraveIn ‘Summoned by Bells’ he remembers his childhood holidays :Attend the long express from WaterlooThat takes us down to Cornwall. Tea-time showsThe small fields waiting, every blackthorn hedgeStraining inland before the south-west gale.The emptying train, wind in the ventilators,Puffs out of Egloskerry to TresmeerThrough minty meadows, under bearded trees. Can it really be that this same carriage came from Waterloo?On Wadebridge station what a breath of seaScented the Camel valley! Cornish air,Soft Cornish rains, and silence after steam......To far Trebetherick by the sounding sea.Oh what a host of questions in me rose:Were spring tides here or neap? And who was down?Had Mr Rosevear built himself a house?Was there another wreck upon Doom Bar?Safe in bed, While through the open window came the roarOf full Atlantic rollers on the beach.Then before breakfast down toward the seaI ran alone, monarch of miles of sand.I felt beneath bare feet the lugworm castsAnd walked where only gulls and oyster-catchersHad stepped before me to the water's edge.The morning tide flowed in to welcome me,The fan-shaped scallop shells, the backs of crabs,The bits of driftwood worn to reptile shapes,The heaps of bladder-wrack the tide had left(Which, lifted up, sent sandhoppers to leapIn hundreds around me) answered "Welcome back!"And spread across the beach. I used to stand,A speculative water engineer-Here I would plan a dam and there a sluiceAnd thus divert the stream, creating lakes,A chain of locks descending to the sea.Sweet were the afternoons of treasure-hunts.We searched in pairs and lifted after showersThe diamond-sparkling sprays of tamarisk:Their pendant raindrops would release themselvesAnd soak our shirt sleeves. all the singing grassBusy with crickets and blue butterflies.Ears! Hear again the wild sou'westers whine!It mattered not, for then enormous wavesHouse-high rolled thunderous on Greenaway,Flinging up spume and shingle to the cliffs.Unmoved amid the foam, the cormorantWatched from its peak. In all the roar and swirlThe still and small things gained significance.Somehow the freckled cowrie would surviveAnd prawns hang waiting in their watery woods.Nose! Smell again the early morning smells:Congealing bacon and my father's pipe;The after-breakfast freshness out of doorsWhere sun had dried the heavy dew and freedAcres of thyme to scent the links and lawns;The rotten apples on our shady pathWhere blowflies settled upon squashy heaps,Intent and gorging; at the garden gateEyes! See again the rock-face in the lane,Years before tarmac and the motor-car.The Padstow ferry, worked by oar and sail,Her outboard engine always going wrong,Ascend the slippery quay's up-ended slate,The sea-weed hanging from the harbour wall,Hot was the pavement under, as I gazedAt lanterns, brass, rope and ship's compassesIn the marine-store window on the quay.Safe Cornish holidays before the storm!That’s just how I feel as I get back to work – Drought, Leadership, fuel prices sky-rocketing; Ukraine; inflation and so much more. What an in-tray the new PM will have whoever he or she may be. And they will face it without the warm easy feel of a happy week in Cornwall behind them.

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James Gray
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Published Date
August 15, 2022