It’s probably once in a lifetime that your holiday in Spain ends with your Spanish neighbour joining you on the street to help your friend contain a drunk, elderly Russian man on crutches who has pulled up outside your villa in his car. I’d say it happens once in TWO lifetimes that the neighbour is wearing only a bath towel, and once in three lifetimes that there is a handgun tucked into the back of it. Frightening enough, but what happens when your Russian friend kindly ups the ante by starting to rant about Spanish fascists? My knowledge of the Spanish civil war is limited to what I learnt from watching Pan’s Labyrinth and reading Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, but it doesn’t take a war fact enthusiast to know that a Spanish man with a gun might get a bit pissed off at a Russian man calling him a fascist outside his own house at 2am. Our randomness rating reaches the lofty heights of once in four lifetimes when the neighbour, once satisfied with your friend’s ability to manage the Russian man, tells him he’s heard us all making noise and hands him a huge amount of weed so we can ‘keep quiet’. Jim says I happen to run into weird situations, but I never really thought he had a point until looking back on that holiday gem.
To put this into context I should tell you that at the end of July, immediately after my contract finished for the school year, I joined in on a plan hatched by my friend to hire out a villa on the Costa Blanca in Spain. Seven people originally from Perth ended up going, with people arriving and leaving at different times throughout the week. We hired a villa set into a steep and rocky hillside, with an amazing view over Pueblo Mascarat. It took around 6 hours for me to get from the airport to the villa via buses and taxis, but the long journey was worth it and I did some light exercise to help with the nerve pain caused by sitting down for hours on end. The setting was idyllic and it felt like we were starring in some holiday special of Bold and the Beautiful. The seven of us settled easily into each others’ company, despite some of us not having seen each other for years. Some of our group still lived in Perth and were on short holidays, one of us had been living overseas for years and was quite used to catching up with transient groups of Australians passing through the UK and Europe. The rest of us were in various stages of being or becoming emigrants. After being on the move for so long and meeting lots of new people, it felt really good to be around familiar folk who you don’t have to ‘try’ with. I think because most of us seemed to be at a transitory stage of our lives, we managed to bring enough prior knowledge of each other to feel comfortable without including presumptions or rigid expectations that sometimes come with long-term friendships. We swam, drank, played games, explored, ate good food and enjoyed the sunshine; the stark landscape with its tough scrub and bright reflections reminding me of home. At the end of my four days there I was feeling more optimistic than ever about returning to Perth and seeing everyone.
Previously I mentioned that Jim was going to show me where he spent every summer as a child, and that we had already bought a car hire voucher from STA when we bought our tickets to Australia. About a week after I returned to London, we put aside 9 days to brave the wilds of Cornwall. We had a rocky start, both of us traipsing to Kings Cross from our respective homes via public transport, me laden with the camping gear not already transferred to Jim’s flat. We arrived at the car rental place only to be told that our insurance policy was a bit dodgy and that we should cancel it. Terse phonecalls ensued, my anxiety rising due to memories of paying 800 pounds excess thanks to a dented wheel arch the last time I hired a car in the UK . After all of that was sorted and I was certain that I wouldn’t pay a single pound even if I somehow managed to completely demolish the car due to my own stupidity, I stood waiting to be handed the keys. Then the man behind the counter asked for my passport. Which was in a drawer. At home. Around an hour and several tube rides later, we finally hit the road. We cleverly avoided the congestion zone and slowly and terrifyingly made our way to Jim’s house in Queens Park. We threw armfuls of CDS and the rest of the gear in the car (sans bedclothes thanks to someone!), and set off again towards the motorways. We suffered the same communication issues as any couple would when one person doesn’t drive, one person hasn’t driven in over a year and all they’re armed with is an incomplete google maps printout and an iPhone3 that is rapidly going flat. However, we managed to talk about why we were both a tad snappy using excellent ‘I feel…because…’ phrases and finally ended up barrelling down the M5, blood returning to our knuckles and jaws gradually unclenching.
Driving in central London was already a tense reintroduction to the joys of driving, but as the weather grew worse and we drove deeper into Cornwall, I was challenged anew by the narrow, winding lanes, impatient local drivers and eventually the thick fog that descended upon the claustrophobic landscape, decreasing my vision to zilch. Somehow we made it to Wadebridge alive, where Jim’s Uncle and his wife had left a home-made shepard’s pie and a bottle of french red for us on their dining room table, over which we finally unwound and realised that we were far from London. Due to the weather and the welcome insistence of Jim’s family, we extended our stay with them from two to three nights. Jim and I went on day-trips to Lanhydrock and Padstow after long breakfasts with Chris and Anne, returning in the evening after they had left for their night shifts. One of my favourite nights involved wandering down to The Swan pub after our early dinner, once again kindly provided by our hosts. We drank a bottle of Chilean Sauv Blanc and played rounds of rummy, and I FINALLY beat Jim at something, ha! On day four of our trip we bid Chris, Anne and their (literally) braindamaged cat Gandalf goodbye. Gandalf had fallen off a balcony as a kitten and as a result, moves like an unpredictable, malfunctioning rubber robot with seven legs. I am the least cat-friendly person (mostly due to being allergic), and had avoided him all the more after finding out he’s a biter. Anne loaded us up with food and wine and we set off for the southerly village of Coverack.
Jim was facing the particular problem that I’ll be facing in December – how do you recreate the nostalgic experiences that you hold so dear for someone you love? To show them the way things are done, to let them inside your past and hope that they accept it at the very least, or at best love it too? Do you try to stick to the formula and make the new fit the old, or create your own new memories on an old stomping ground? In the end I think our conclusion was to have a mix of both. It was so much fun camping again, and we had some sweet gear thanks to my friends Bi and Nick. Amazingly, another family who Jim saw every year as a child were continuing to camp there every summer, so we spent some lovely time with them as well as doing our own thing. Cornwall is such a unique and awesome place, and it was a really special trip for both of us. There’s so much to say about what we did (I literally have a whole noteboook full of things and this is long enough already), so I’ll just list my highlights:
– BBQ on the beach at sunset with Jim’s family friends and walking back to town with headtorches in the dark
– Huddling in our tent as it poured down with rain, eating freshly cooked whole crab from Cadgwith Cove
– Walking to the pub in the evening as bats swooped for insects overhead
– Feeding some horses mandarins (if horses could say WTF, these totally would have)
– Eating Roskilly’s icecream
– Watching everyone in the village have fun at the Coverack Regatta, even though we didn’t win the raffle
– Seeing Jim so happy about showing me this special place