This is for those of you with statuary limitations…a short intermission before the final episode of the Henry Moore visit. It’s a reminiscence brought on by talk of the Tate at St. Ives, Cornwall, thanks Lottie and Jenny.
Part 3 of Henry Moore to follow shortly.
About 35 years ago, Susan and I went to England for a summer holiday. I had been married before and have two children who lived with their mother in England at this time. My son was seven, and my daughter 8.
We thought it would be fun to take them to the West Country for a week. We booked a hotel on a cliff in Newquay pronounced ‘new key’ (it was nicer then, Newquay not the cliff). I had learned about avoiding holiday season traffic from my Dad. I told Susan and the children we would need to be on our way by 3 am if we were to avoid heavy traffic when we got towards Somerset.
Susan thought I was out of my mind. But, I persisted and we had the rented car packed and two sleepy kids safely stowed and off we set in the wee hours.
Like any red-blooded Englishman I had rented a car with a stick-shift. Driving country roads and hills in England really benefits from a standard rather than an automatic. Also, it feels more manly to be clutching and gear changing every few minutes. Especially if you wear driving gloves (which I confess I do not, might be my feminine side).
One unfortunate thing about all this. Susan doesn’t drive a standard. I know she could, she just doesn’t want to. So we rented the car with one designated driver. This meant I would be doing all the driving. We were both ok with this.
After a nice cup of tea (and a bowl of Weetabix for me) we headed out into the dark and pointed the car westward.
When we were close to the west country the traffic started to build up. “what are all these crazy people doing up so early?” Susan asked. “Avoiding the traffic” I replied ignoring the questionable logic.
Eventually our progress became slower and the traffic continued to build. Susan understood that later the traffic would be even worse and the bottlenecks and delays even longer. However, we did arrive at Newquay in reasonably good time, in fact a little early to check in at our hotel. We would have lots to talk about in the dining room, comparing routes with those who had travelled down from the North. It’s amazing how many driving route conversations and arguments are held in hotel dining rooms, even more than the weather. While we waited for check-in time, we had a look around Newquay. Susan and the children were impressed by the number and beauty of the beaches.
We checked into the hotel – a larger version of Fawlty Towers, balanced on a high cliff, it could have been named ‘High Cliff’ I really don’t remember. We dragged our cases to our rooms which were up a wide, wooden staircase that creaked through the slightly worn Axminster. The place had a slight smell of something old, last night’s dinner and furniture polish which made us anxious to find something to eat.
Cornwall is known as the English Riviera (at least by Basil Fawlty and other real owners of tourist establishments). Indeed, when I had stayed in Newquay as a boy, it had been wonderfully warm and sunny. Our first few days were certainly sunny – but warm would not describe the ambient temperature. The wind was bitingly cold.
The tide goes out an incredible distance on the beaches of Newquay, leaving miles of gorgeous smooth golden sand and fascinating tidal pools among the rocks.
The sea produced long high waves that provided hours of fun body surfing – or using the quaint curved, wooden surfing boards they had back then. They were about three feet long and the object was to catch a wave by holding the board in front then launching into the upsurge of the wave grasping the board by the neck and lying along it. This was fun if the wind wasn’t blowing a gale and emanating from somewhere with permanent ice and snow.
The beach was bitterly cold! We acquired a canvas wind break and deck-chairs from a vendor, and huddled behind the screen.
After a couple of hours of torture we decided to go and warm up in a cafe and have a coffee and hot chocolate. We shivered all the way to the cafe, and continued shivering as we sat down to order. The waitress asked the kids, “and what can we get you this loverly (sic) day”? I forgot to mention, the Cornish locals have very strong accents and don’t really consider themselves to be English.
After a little translating, the two shivering children replied “ice-cream cones please”. I had previously told them about the wonder of Cornish ice-cream. These were the same pair who several years later, we took on a four-day drive from Victoria BC to Los Angeles CA On arrival we went straight to Disney World (luckily Wally World was open), when asked which ride they would like to go on first they replied “The cars!”.
Meanwhile back in Newquay. We decided, given the weather, we should take a driving tour. The hotel provided us a packed lunch (Cornish pasties) and off we set. We were on our way to Lands End, Penzance and St. Ives and other parts of the South of Cornwall.
It’s a long drive with many very narrow lanes, sharp bends and steep hills to manoeuvre. The driving on the way there was great fun for me and we all enjoyed the wonderful scenery and lovely little Cornish villages. The cliffs were incredible and the clouds really skimmed along the blue sky overhead.
When we were in St. Ives, the tide was out and we decided to go look for crabs among
the rocks. The rocks, of course, were wet and slippery with seaweed. I gave the kids a stern talking to about being careful on the rocks. “These are slippery rocks, it is easy to slip off and hurt yourself” I warned them. My son went flying off over the rocks like a young goat on the steep slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
“Be Careful” I yelled into the wind. As I started out along the slippery rocks, showing the children how to step carefully from one rock to the next, balancing one’s weight, I slipped.
I slipped on a patch of sneaky seaweed. I was going down fast, so I did the automatic thing and put out my left hand to save myself.
Lets just say my left wrist made a funny noise and a rather interesting pain shot up my arm. I also made a funny noise. I think it was the spray from the salt sea that stung my eyes and ran down my cheeks. I remarked “oops, my that hurt a bit”. At least I expect that’s what I said. Of course the kids wouldn’t have heard as the wind was blowing in the wrong direction.
Soon, Susan was clucking around me and the kids were back to find out what had happened to poor old dad. I had, of course, sat down in the water, so there was pain and embarrassment to bear. I don’t think my son said anything about my instructions to be careful on the slippery rocks, but both he and my daughter had slight smiles on their faces once the initial concern for my safety was dealt with.
We ‘carefully’ retraced our steps. My left hand was a bit numb and it really hurt to move my wrist.
Now came the fun part. I couldn’t use my left arm to change gears. How were we to make the journey back to Newquay? Google says it’s only an hour from St. Ives to Newquay today – I am sure it was a lot longer then. I couldn’t change gear, and Susan couldn’t drive a stick-shift and wasn’t insured.
I had the solution, I would do the driving and have her change the gear when I depressed the clutch. We sat in the parking lot practicing the pattern of gear changing. Put it in first. Now slide it down to second. Now up and across to third and if we get far enough down to fourth. Changing down was just a matter of doing the opposite.
We tried it out in the car park. I reached the correct speed, pushed in the clutch and said “second”. Susan moved the gear lever from first to second and I slowly let out the clutch. It worked.
We spent the next 40 miles or so driving like this. I could balance my left arm on the steering wheel to help with the steering. “Changing down”, pressing in the clutch, “Change to third”, Susan manoeuvred the gears, I let out the clutch again.
There was an occasional grinding when we got the timing wrong but we did rather well.
We arrived back at the hotel, by which time my wrist was swelling beautifully, and really giving me some pain. I think I was probably being rather a pain too. The hotel called for an ambulance – “Ye canno drive like a that me boy”. It’s hard to write a Cornish accent. Anyway, the ambulance was a private car driven by a lovely volunteer. He was happy to take us to the nearest hospital with an emergency – I don’t remember exactly where it was. I was remembering my last trip to emergency with potato skin under my finger nail. It wasn’t a pleasant memory (see Mr Potato Finger). The hotel said don’t worry about the children we will keep them busy and give them dinner later. The nurse on duty was very nice. After examination and tests it was pronounced that I hadn’t broken any bones, but had a nasty sprain. A cast wouldn’t be necessary, but my arm was heavily bound in crepe bandages and put in a sling.
The kind ambulance man, who had waited all this time, drove us back to the hotel. Dinner was underway by the time we arrived. Everyone in the dining room seemed to know about the accident on the rocks. “People need to be careful on them rocks” was murmured around the room. “THOSE rocks, THOSE” I shouted in my head. The children saw my arm in a sling and were quite excited, then disappointed that I did not have a cast and that it was ‘only’ a sprain. They had been looking forward to drawing and writing things on my cast. Sorry I couldn’t give them that pleasure!
The rest of our holiday in the area was rather uneventful, but great fun. We managed to see all the sights we intended, including Tintagel and Clovelly.
I think my sprain must have healed quite a bit by the time we made the long journey back to Sussex. I Don’t remember any shared gear-shifting duties.
It’s time to return to the West Country. I love the softness of Somerset, villages of Devon and rugged coast of Cornwall – to say nothing of the wonderful cream teas, with real teapots, and scones and clotted cream and …ah! I feel much better now.
…back to finishing off Henry Moore Part 3.