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Cornwall 1983

Such a beautiful summer should not be forgotten.  From July 7, when we arrived in the midst of a London heat wave with Knightsbridge looking like a scene from Gandhi, until the end of August when we left, there was not even a small cloud.

We arrived at the Hotel Cadogan where they had, of course, given up our rooms because we were late, so Barbara found herself imprisoned with the children in a garret room, but she soon escaped to Harrod’s.  Harrod’s was having its annual sale, and the heat and crowds were so great that the police had to be called out to limit the number of people going into the store, and none of us stayed long there.  When we had generally recovered from this we took a trip to the zoo, where the animals and crowds were mostly somnolent, although we did encounter a scoutmaster eagerly leading his small troop.  “Today, boys,” he said, “we will see the humming birds and the woolves.”  On another day we went to Hampton Court with friends of Bill & Barbara, who told us about their very aged neighbors who have become keener gardeners with each increasing year until now they can be heard raking gravel and clipping hedges in the middle of the night.

The Cadogan is a pleasant hotel on Sloane Street, once the home of Lily Langtry.  The dining room has a long row of pretty Victorian casement windows through which the sun comes during breakfast.  Our rooms, at the back, which looked down on a long, attractive mews, was big and had an immense bathtub.  (These tubs are all very well, but do not lie back for fear of submerging.)  In the mews was a woman with a very large dog.  When Timothy wanted to pat it she said, “Yes, dear, go right ahead.  He loves children.  Hates men.”

To Barbara’s relief we soon left London, and Timothy began to enjoy England.  He hadn’t much liked the garret room or a cow that nudged him at the zoo.  We boarded the train at Paddington, which is still an immense glass enclosure but not what it was in Bill’s train-spotting days when filled with steam and noise from the big coal-fired engines (now gone) that were like great industrial beasts.  On the train we met Grant, a young English boy of about 13 whose father ran a pub.  He was quite taken with Meg and asked her if she had seen the latest theatrical hits.  These he described as “brilliant”.  He had brought along comic books and a large lunch which he shared with everyone.  In the excitement of the arrival at Truro we left all our raincoats (never needed) on the train.

We then drove to St. Just-in-Roseland, as romantic as its name, with tropical gardens going down to the sea in some places and lovely steep pastures in others.  The pastures were golden in color, and a new kind of baler had been used to wrap the corn in cylindrical bundles that glittered in the sun.  The houses near us all had grand views, but our landlord had grown unfortunately large yew trees, so it was necessary to fix a chair on a nasty gravel walk and look from a particular angle to glimpse the sea at all.  In fact, all entrances to places with views were blocked by bogs, nettles, hedgerows, and so on.  One could just see the water by standing in the middle of the road.  However, the house was comfortable, if one ignored the narrow beds with damp plastic sheets—all English holiday houses have damp sheets—and the cows that coughed under Barbara’s window. 

At the top of the hill was a hotel where we went to use the telephone, as there was none in our house.  It had a ferocious owner who drove me out of the bar one day, saying, “Look here, lady, you can’t just walk about here like this.  This is a private hotel.”—to me a new concept.  His wife was especially pleasant, and I suppose their life goes on with her being particularly kind to guests because she knows he is going to shout at them. 

Near the small and rather dank harbor below us was a fine medieval church with a crenellated tower and small boats, moored or pulled up onto the shore beside it.  The church also had a strange little stone well, covered with moss and fuchsia, that seemed a combination of sepulcher and well.  In the churchyard which rose very steeply beside the church were the startling blue hydrangeas found, I think, only in Cornwall and a tombstone which read, Surgeon acted wrongly.   We got dressed up and walked through the pastures to the Sunday Service, where Amanda (seven) inadvertently took communion.

To leave this peninsula we always went by a car ferry, named The King Harry Ferry, and this made coming and going both dramatic and romantic—dramatic because one was bound either to just miss or just catch the ferry and be driven into a hedgerow by someone trying to beat one to it, and romantic because of its river setting with an old inn on one side and, on the river as far as one could see, immense tankers, anchored there for storage that dwarfed everything in the landscape.  One was named Methane Princess and another Methane Progress.  There were wonderful views of pasture and sea on all sides although usually hidden by hedgerows.

Other than the children, the sun, and the beautiful landscape, the greatest blessing of our stay was the housekeeper, Mrs. Cadby, who made Shepherd’s Pie and Raspberry Crumble which were so delicious that we were inspired to talk entirely about (apart from methods of revenge on Mr. Preston, the innkeeper) food, such as “rated-best desserts”.  The girls made fresh raspberry jam.  The food in Cornwall ranks, I think, with the best in France, particularly the small new potatoes and delicious butter.  We got suddenly quite fat—all except Bob, that is, who never does.  He made a big effort to keep a private, hidden supply of bananas for his breakfast, but the girls always found and rehid them.  Timothy ate some of every banana he found.

Meg, Amanda, and Barbara went riding (looking tidy and chic with their hair up) and said the views were really very fine when one could see over the hedgerows.  The stable boy who arranged this was known to Mrs. Cadby as “Brian, the disaster”.

Timothy made endless soups in a dishpan on the front terrace, solemnly stirring soggy leaves and gravel while Meg urged him to “stirra vera gooda”, and we shopped a lot in St. Mawes (five shops), a small and extremely beautiful fishing town with dark umbrella pines at the top of the pastures, which again sloped steeply to the harbor and half-timbered houses on a small street by the sea.  Such towns sometimes look merely quaint in photographs, but they are not so because of the grandeur of the rocks, sea, and vegetation. 

From there we often crossed the bay by passenger ferry to Falmouth to use the launderette, buy knitting wool, and go to Cabaret, a shop which had ludicrous wooden mechanical toys, carved by the Falmouth shipwrights.  These included jumping-jack flashers, an anubis cowboy embalmer practicing his getaway on a camel simulator (a carved half-camel mounted on a box attached to an electric motor), wave machines (wooden rollers, painted blue, which moved small boats up and down), a sheep box which baa-ed (one could turn up the volume), and a large skeleton which opened (when you put in 25p) to show moving figures falling through the abdomen to hell, where they all seemed quite domestic and comfortable, and ascending to heaven, where they all seemed pious and bored.

Timothy’s greatest pleasure was to be left alone in the car to push all the knobs and switches and generally “drive.”  When left there he seemed very surprised, as if he couldn’t believe his luck.  We thought it a good place to keep him.  When we later drove off in the car, everything was activated: washers, wipers, parking lights, headlights, turn-indicators, radio—nothing overlooked.

As the weather was fine we didn’t worry as much as we might have, had there been gales, about the Felicity crossing.  We had just one message, when Bill in mid-Atlantic managed to get a ham radio operator in Tennessee who put Sydney (in San Francisco) on the telephone line, and she then called us.  At this time, I believe, they had just reached the Gulf Stream, where the temperature of the water was 70, and they all had a swim.  One of their eerier moments was at night when they could hear a big ship and voices speaking Russian but couldn’t see anything.  The crossing took only 22 days, so they did have a good bit of wind, and they sailed all the way across on the same tack—the first time they came about was when they reached Falmouth Harbor.  Sydney arrived, driving from London, and that evening we had another message, via Mrs. Cadby who delivered it in person, that they were 40 miles offshore and would arrive the next morning.  That message we were glad to get.  It was a beautiful evening with a full moon shining on the sea.

So we were all up at dawn to drive a long route to Falmouth, as the King Harry Ferry didn’t operate that early, and to wait on the rocks by Pendennis Castle and look for them in the morning mist.  Finally we saw them, a tiny speck, a long way out.  When closer, we waved—Barbara, a pennant, and Meg, her skirt—but they didn’t see us, so we jumped into our cars and drove to the harbor.  As they came through the middle of the harbor, looking very sleek and beautiful with ensign flying, they finally saw us but were generally too busy to pay us much attention.  When we reached the pier, we didn’t serve champagne to them—they served it to us, with hot muffins.  They soon sent a cable to Garney reading, “Have reached the other side.”  (During World War I she wrote a song titled, Cable When You Reach the Other Side.)  Then the sun broke through the mist, of course, and the next days continued beautiful.

We stayed with Jeff and Sydney at the Hotel Tresanton in St. Mawes, a marvelous Mediterranean-style hotel overlooking harbor and town, with terraces down to the sea.  Jeff and Sydney toured Cornwall, and Bill and family started to move onto the boat.  On the last day we crossed to Falmouth by passenger ferry and, after a short cruise out of the harbor aboard Felicity, sailed back to St. Mawes, where we said goodbye for a year to Bill and family. 

Our intention had been to start immediately toward London, and the car was packed and ready at the pier, but we discovered that Bob had by mistake handed in his rental-car keys, instead of Bill’s, to the Harbor Master in Falmouth.  The last passenger ferry had gone, so he had to be driven the 40 or more miles to Falmouth and back via the King Harry Ferry.  In time Mrs. Cadby came to the rescue, only one example of her great kindness to us. 

Meanwhile I thought I would have a late-afternoon swim in the harbor, but my bathing suit was locked in the car, so I bought an Indian cotton shirt and went swimming in that.  Bill and Barbara, coming by later in the dinghy (Timothy rowing), were quite surprised to find me still there and swimming about in such a strange shirt.  Meg, who had been counting up points against Bob all summer when he made errors, opened the telephone booth where he was trying to reach the Harbor Master in Falmouth and said, “Robert—100 points.”

Finally, in the dark, we left for Bath on the way to Heathrow, where we would fly to Sweden.  Jeff and Sydney began a long drive to Scotland, where they at last met up with rain, so they returned to London and went to the theater.  We were very sorry to leave the sea, sun, and family. 

Washington 1983

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