It’s the annual family excursion to Cornwall and we are back in our rented house opposite Dawn French’s gothic mansion. But alas! After last year’s ‘Dawn Watch‘, well-placed sources inform us that Dawn is currently on a world tour of her stand-up show.
Still, this does not stop my father training his binoculars on her house every five minutes – ever hopeful that the cheery comedienne might make an appearance.
Luckily, there’s plenty of other fixations to keep the parents happy. Namely, my father’s new boat. I say ‘boat’ but really its a souped-up dinghy – the type of inflatable that one might use to get from one’s yacht into the harbour (for my father, the dinghy IS his yacht. See previous blog here).
In fact, the husband and I have been known to disembark the dinghy and wave vaguely at a fancy vessel in the distance, on the pretence that we’ve just popped ashore on our tender.
So, my father finally invested in a new dinghy this summer – after spending six months meticulously checking out potential boats in a shop in Garstang. On his fifth visit, he finally decided to commit to the purchase (much to the weary shopkeeper’s relief).
Let me introduce… Chrismick III (and a rather ungainly image of the husband’s backside).
One might think that this would mean that original Chrismick I (purchased in 1973, gnawed by mice in the garage, and covered in puncture patches) and Chrismick II (purchased circa 1985, world’s most well-travelled dinghy, and part of many a childhood adventure) might have been resigned to the scrap heap.
But, oh no, father is now smugly driving around with not one but TWO boats folded into the boot of his car, while Chrismick I languishes in the garage at home – per chance it might be called upon to sail the seas once again (in the unlikely event that the parents should ever require the use of three dinghies simultaneously).
As we cruise down the River Fowey on board Chrismick III, my mother likes to recite a series of her favourite stories: the time her and my father got stranded in Polperro when a drunk ferryman never returned to collect them; how the trees down the river used to be covered in white China clay from the huge ships that entered the estuary; the time my father ambitiously headed out to sea in Chrismick I, where ferocious waves lapped over the dinghy and she was forced to frantically bail out water with a milk carton.
Another of the parents’ favourite hobby horses is tide times. My father has an unhealthy pre-occupation with the tide and studies his tide times book several times a day. When the tide is coming in, it’s possible to travel all the way up the Fowey estuary to Lerryn and Lostwithiel – as long as you’re in a small boat. (No problem there!)
My mother has a series of oft-used phrases to explain tide times, such as, ‘it was like someone had pulled the plug out!’ and, ‘it was nothing but mud flats!’. The parents occasionally like to run the gauntlet with the tide, claiming it’s all part of the fun. Nothing pleases my father more than chugging up to Lerryn, having a pint in the The Ship Inn and racing the tide back to Fowey again (following the route of the channel on his special Ordnance survey map)
On one such visit to Lerryn this week, my father was delighted to find it was an extra special Spring tide, meaning the car park was flooded and water was lapping rather worryingly at the front doors of some of the pretty cottages lining the river.
There’s also a little bridge going into the village of Golant; at high tide the gap between the bottom of the bridge and the top of the water is pretty slim. Everyone has to duck on the count of three. It’s all part of the fun.
The Fowey Hotel is a slightly down-at-heel Victorian residence teetering grandly on the cliff above the estuary. I have fond memories of enjoying cream teas on the lawn there during those endless childhood summers where there was never a cloud in the sky.
The parents first visited the Fowey Hotel in 1973, after a friend recommended it to them. In those pre-internet days, they simply drove down to Fowey, having no idea what it would be like.
They were so taken with the Fowey Hotel and the area in general, a love affair was born. They even sent my grandparents down the following summer.
But after driving 350 miles, my grandfather arrived to find the Fowey Hotel had closed down and all the furniture was being auctioned off!
Luckily, it re-opened sometime in the late 80s/ early 90s (with a much higher-price tag) and though in latter years my parents couldn’t afford to stay there, they would check-in to strange Keith’s B&B on the road above and visit the bar each evening for their supper.
Now, the parents love nothing more than having a drink in one of the large windows, as they reminisce and watch the boats come and go from the harbour below.
As time has gone on, I’ve grown to love the Fowey Hotel too. Not least because of its air of slightly naff old world glamour, the rattling original period lift and framed yellowing letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son (he reportedly wrote Wind in the Willows at the hotel) in the lobby, and the seemingly never-ending stream of quirky guests.
On leaving day today, my mother pushed the button on one final obsession: the need to eat up everything in the house.
As the daughter of a post-war disciplinarian, she simply can’t bring herself to throw any food away. Last year, she was left with a tub of margarine that hadn’t been fully consumed and she actually toyed with the idea of buying some bread just to ‘use it up’.
This morning, my mother managed to empty the fridge, save for a pint of milk: first, she forced my Uncle Stephen to drink a glass. She then drowned my father’s Weetabix in twice the normal amount, and stood hovering nearby, desperate to whip the bowl and spoon off him to wash it up.
Satisfied that the milk was gone, the cupboards were bare, and the ‘boats’ were safely packed back in the car boot, it was time to bid farewell to beloved Fowey for another year.