I’m writing this in Cornwall, curled on the sofa with a view of the sea in the distance. Being Cornwall, and being summer, you can barely tell sea and sky apart, they are just slightly different shades of rather forbidding grey. My husband has been coming on holiday to the Penwith peninsula in the far West of Cornwall every year since he was a small child. We got together when we were eighteen, and since then I’ve joined in with the family tradition, and our daughter came down here for the first time when she was just three months old. This is now her sixth Cornish holiday.
One of my favourite travel experiences of all time is arriving at Paddington Station to take the express train to Penzance. Just the list of stations – Lostwithiel, St Austell, Truro, Redruth, St Erth – is intensely romantic. Well, to me anyway. Maybe I over-dosed on Daphne du Maurier at an impressionable age. I love everything about this region – the sea in all its moods, the dramatic cliffs, the uncompromising granite buildings, the plethora of vivid wildflowers. When I did antenatal classes before my daughter was born, our teacher suggested we envision our own ‘happy place’, somewhere we could take ourselves mentally, where we would feel serene and tranquil, and therefore distract ourselves if we were scared or in pain. My happy place was Penberth Cove and, much to my surprise, it worked. As I lay in a strange and sterile operating theatre, being prepped for an emergency c-section, shaking violently all over from a combination of nerves and reaction to the anaesthetic, I took myself to Penberth, listened to the waves crashing onto the shore, saw the million different shades of blue, green and grey in the swirling sea, and felt miraculously calmed.
I say all this to prove my credentials as someone with a genuine love for, and loyalty to, Cornwall. However, I do have a few itsy, bitsy complaints, related entirely to the weather. It is late May. We are in the far West of the West Country. Was it unreasonable to imagine that we might get some sunshine? This is only Day Three of the holiday, but the answer so far is a resounding yes, the evidence I’ve amassed over the past fifteen years should have indicated to me that a week of unbroken sunshine was, at best, improbable. It’s all so resonant of my childhood.
It’s funny – in many ways my husband and I had very different upbringings. He was the only child of bohemian parents living in a fifth floor flat in inner London. My childhood was classic 2.4 children territory in suburban Liverpool. However, one set of reminiscences we share is childhood holidays. The Eighties was when many British families discovered the joy of the cheap package holiday – apartments in Benidorm or Majorca with balconies, pools and, most crucially of all, guaranteed sunshine. Not something we ever experienced. Our childhood holidays were all about cottages in Wales or Devon or Cornwall, about board games and dominos, the dreaded car picnic, about gazing out of the window with desperate optimism saying things like ‘I think it’s brightening a little bit over there’, about beach days where the children wore wellies and sweaters over their swimming costumes and the adults huddled shivering behind windbreaks. (I’m sure only the British have windbreaks. In other countries, if the weather is such that you need a windbreak then you wouldn’t be on the beach). The sun did shine sometimes, of course it did. And at that point, safe sun messages being another decade away, we’d get our shoulders and noses burnt and spend the rest of the holiday being slathered with calamine lotion.
And now here I am, aged thirty-three. On holiday with my daughter. In Cornwall. In the pours of rain. Yesterday, lacking even the car for a car picnic, we ate our lunch on the harbour front at Porthleven. Huddled together, waterproofs on, hoods up, in a race to eat our pasties before the paper bags they were in disintegrated into mush. Anna was wearing a long sleeved t-shirt, a tunic dress over leggings, wellies, a thick woollen cardie and a waterproof coat. ‘Why didn’t we bring my mittens, Mummy?” she wailed. Why indeed? Because it’s May? Every now and then one of the adults would look up and say “I think it might be going off a bit”, and Anna would just raise a sceptical eyebrow.
We’re clearly programmed to recreate our childhood experiences for Anna but, frankly, she could do a lot worse. I’ve now travelled fairly extensively over Europe, although sadly not much further afield, and I still think West Cornwall is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, with those other childhood favourites of North Wales, Pembrokeshire and Devon not coming far behind. There are fantastic walks, an abundance of wildlife, friendly people, quaint harbours, unsurpassable beaches and the gastronomic delights of fresh fish, pasties, cream teas and Cornish ice cream. And, you know, I think it might be brightening a bit over there. I’d better go and find my wellies.