Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Return to the honey pot

Childhood holidays are always rose-tinted or, in my case sea-blue-tinted, with a touch of golden sand, sweet green pastures and woolly white lambs.
The Cornish farm and seaside holiday is a classic, and it had been mine all the years of my childhood. I will never forget the unconstrained thrill at the first sight of the sea – that surreal blue triangle between a dip in the land. And this was always after a long journey in the back of the car with two older siblings in pre-seatbelt times on the trunk roads of the early 1970s. In those days, we had to leave the London suburbs at two in the morning to get anywhere fast.
Decades later, I was desperate to go back. Cornwall has always been my promised land. But I wasn’t kidding myself. I knew it would be different this time round: they have theme parks and holiday parks and proper by-passes now. But in need of peace, quiet and time to contemplate, I booked myself into a little cottage near Polperro to see if past memories could still cast their spell.
I felt delighted as I drove over from Devon on the Tamar bridge but then had a moment of doubt. Cornwall was all grown up and, contrary to my dream, seemed at first glance to be no different to any other place.
But this feeling didn’t last too long.
Meticulously following the step-by-step directions, I turned off the A road, turned off the B road and immediately found myself in another world entirely. I journeyed along a tiny unclassified lane, trundling between high hedges from which birds darted quite recklessly in front of me. Every now and then I’d catch glimpses of sublime views through farm gates, driving like a nun out of courtesy to the pure beauty of my surroundings. The air grew sweeter, bird song louder, the 21st century receding with every yard I travelled. The lane narrowed, winding tighter, as if it had been laid out for the little people. I found myself deeper and deeper within a secret wooded valley. Trees embraced the lane, meeting overhead; thick moss, ferns and ivy clothed the dry stone walls that reared up either side, threatening to scrape the paintwork. Yet on I went, plunging through the green darkness of an ancient verdent tunnel.
And then I burst back out into sunlight. I stopped at the crossroads; a tiny settlement of granite-built cottages perched on the valley side. I was looking at a scene that had not changed for centuries. And around the corner, my destination: Old Lanwarnick, a Domesday Book-listed farmhouse and its cluster of converted cottages and barns.
I pulled up outside my cottage, named the Honey Pot, by a patch of wild pink foxgloves and switched off the engine. The first thing I heard, apart from the silence of deep countryside settling down like a comforting quilt, was the gentle buzzing of the bees. Life will be sweet in the honey pot.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Love letter to the city of Sydney

Dear Sydney,

How do I love you? Let me count the ways:

1. Inside your magnificent harbour, your sheltered beaches are shaded by gum trees and shallow waves lick gently at soft sand. Boats bob and set sail in the calm waters of inlets and bays, while ferries chug languidly from point to point.

2. Outside your magnificent harbour, along the rocky Pacific coast, your beaches are crashed by ferocious breakers and surfers float on their boards and wait, wait, long into the sunset for that last, longed-for exhilerating rip curl.

3. Your terraced houses of Paddington and Darlinghurst, with their pretty ironwork balconies, are cute, compact and very desirable. Palm and jacaranda trees line the narrow cobbled streets and trumpet-shaped peachy flowers drop onto pavements.

4. Your Federation houses of Randwick and Clovelly resemble Edwardian villas, slumbering in sleepy suburbs amid parakeet-song, the symphony of cicadas, and the splash of a thousand swimming pools.

5. Your Opera House and Bridge are icons to the world. Back-lit by fireworks exploding with Aussie confidence and optimism on New Year’s Eve, the spectacle brings smiles of wonder all round and tears to my eyes.

6. Your outdoor cinema in Centennial Park forces the film to become the side show. Lying on my bean bag as the sun goes down I watch beyond the screen as the dusky air turns pink and your orange city lights wink to the horizon. Huge fruit bats, black against the sky, flap silently overhead on the balmy evening breeze, becoming temporary citizens as they roost for the night.

7. Your Centennial Park in the dark, where a walk home is scented by fresh, astringent ever-present eucalyptus, the warm air alive with night creatures, their rhythmic chirping and mysterious rustling; and the ponds resounding to the piping, primeval frog chorus.

8. But there’s just one thing… the heat and violence of your sun is like a demon on my shoulder, difficult to cope with and likely to cause an argument. Factor 50 ruins my clothes and makes my face shiny. However, all is forgiven when in the late afternoon, your sun mellows and sinks a degree. Your light turns golden, slants through the leaves and sparkles seductively on the water.

9. Cafes, Cab Sav, markets, parkland, sailing, coastal walks, shops, sushi, swimming, wildlife, bars, Bondi!

Sydney, will our long-distant relationship ever last? No worries!

Love from Catherine