Pasties, folk, dogs, and rain: What I learned in Cornwall

In honour of my friend Jenny, who is from Durham and Devon, who I first met years ago at Cambridge, and who has randomly but rather happily ended up living in Cornwall, and who gave me an exceptionally cosy and beautiful place to stay this weekend. 🙂

1. Dogs are awesome. Guys, meet Jimbo

Jimbo!

Jimbo (and sneaky decorative cello)!

OK, so I already knew this. But when you’ve played, walked, fussed over – and shared your bed with (HAPPY FACE) ‒ a straggly, lazy, docile dog, who is there every day, needs attention every day, runs, plays, sleeps, sighs and watches your every move, you can’t stay too depressed.

Even if it’s raining and horrible, you will leave the house with this dog, because seeing his excitement when he hears the word “walk” is worth any amount of rainfall. You will love bed even more than normal (rather than seeing it as a dark place in which to hide from the world) because there is a dog on the duvet, warming it up, waiting for you to get in so he can snuggle (albeit disinterestedly, and only if you’re warmer than the sofa, but still).

Jimbo is a fabulous, wonderful, cute, quiet, non-smelly, clean, happy and watchful Greyhound-Lurcher cross. With the hair of Bob Dylan in his wilder years, he has neither the looks nor the intelligence of say, a golden Labrador, but he makes up for this a million times’ over for his genuinely patient temper, total house-friendliness, ability to entertain himself for a few hours while you’re out of the house, and complete and utter gorgeous ridiculousness.

Playing with Jimbo :)

Playing with Jimbo by the sea, casual 🙂

He can’t eat a snack without taking it to his rug across the room. His neck is seemingly double-jointed, resulting in hilarious angles. He takes rain in his stride but secretly longs for his favourite, quilted coat. He only barks and jumps up when the word “walk” is mentioned, he sleeps like a human, and has eyes for which the description “puppy-dog” was invented.

Although I adore Jimbo, I also hate him, because he proved to me even more than I already knew just how much I’d love to have a dog, and highlighted how much that isn’t possible for me right now. One day, one day…

2. A folk night will make you throw out your fake nails. Yes, really

You can’t sit for too long in a cosy pub behind a door made from an actual barrel, among a group of random but ridiculously talented people playing folk songs and sea shanties, without thinking that maybe, your excuse that you “can’t really play a D chord on the guitar” because of the length of your false nails, might be a tad dumb.

I’ve been trying to learn the guitar – intermittently ‒ for months, and always get frustrated because I struggle with holding the strings down enough to get a clear sound.

Although I’m told this is a normal complaint for beginners, it doesn’t help that for over seven years, I’ve perennially had little bits of plastic stuck to my nails, in the pursuit of beautiful talons where otherwise I have unappealing stubs, ruined by years of biting and false nail glue.

IMG_5836

Look! Accordions! And guitars! And mini pasties!


In that pub – The Famous Barrel in Penryn ‒ where the men and women were unashamedly, ridiculously talented, able to join in to a song together (on the pipe, guitar, mandola, and even accordion) at a moment’s notice, I realised that my desire to learn guitar was stronger than my desire to have perfect nails. I KNOW. Finally.

Even though it’s making me genuinely anxious, today starts Operation Grow My Nails, to the point where they’re long enough to be acceptable in public, and short enough so I can hold down four strings at a time. Let’s see how long I last.

3. You can unlearn months of healthy eating habits within days

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Espressini’s finest (click to go to Espressini’s website) 🙂

I have lost over half a stone in a month and a half (a good amount, given my track record).

I have counted calories, kept a journal, exercised nearly every day, learned about nutrition, which brand of coffee place I can grab a healthy lunch in, where does good low-calorie snacks, and which drinks to have without screwing up my diet. I have restricted my carbs, fat and sugar intake, and learned how to eat this way without feeling horribly unsatisfied.

And yet. In the space of three days in Cornwall, I ate a packet of cookies, a packet of chocolate buttons, a whole pizza with chorizo on it, a big salad covered in dressing, a massive steak pasty with potatoes in it, two roast potatoes in a pub, a massive box of fish, chips and a battered sausage, a bagel with full-fat cream cheese and salmon, two milky cappuccinos, a hot chocolate, a bowl of Shreddies, one cocktail, and more than a few gin and full-fat tonics.

These are all things I generally never eat or drink. And I didn’t even feel that full, or bad for it.

SO. Today, I’ve gone back on the usual diet, because, between you and me, I’m a bit scared of what I’d eat next if I didn’t. Just goes to show, the carb monster in me isn’t dead. It’s only sleeping…

(Meanwhile – let me just reassure you, in case you didn’t know: proper Cornish pasties are EXCELLENT.)

4. London rain has nothing on Cornwall, jeez

It isn't raining here. This was rare :P

It isn’t raining here. This was rare 😛

Of course, it rains in London. A lot compared to some places. But wow. Here, it rains for maybe half an hour, an hour, and then stops. It can stay grey and miserable, and shower on and off, but generally perks up in between. Not so in Cornwall.

One day, it rained for literally hours and hours on end. One day, it was so rainy – and, down the windtunnel-like streets, so gusty ‒ that I actually gave up on the umbrella, and decided to resort to the coat hood, surrendering with stoic acceptance to whatever fate befell such a decision.

In fact, even though I felt damp for days, I saw hardly any umbrellas in Cornwall – everyone’s got sensible coats with hoods and waterproof bits. Clearly, umbrellas are for pansy Londoners. Having said that, it is pissing it down here at the moment, so maybe I’m just in denial. (Update, 10 minutes’ later: it’s now quite sunny here. So nuh.)

5. I don’t mind people – but I do mind when they’re taking up all the space

The Stable - one of my favourite non-London restaurant groups, and one of the places we ate at

The Stable – one of my favourite non-London restaurant groups, and one of the places we ate at (photo from The Stable website)

The most obvious contrast in Falmouth was that going out was SO MUCH LESS EFFORT.

I am not someone who normally complains about crowds in London (like, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen – or you, know, out of my way), but in Falmouth, we went to the pub; restaurants; out for dinner; into shops; cafes – and not once did we have to book ahead, struggle to get a table, worry if there would be space and if we should check out somewhere less good as backup.

We never had to queue, wait, hover around a door, yell over the noise, decide on somewhere and then un-decide ten minutes later when it’s clear we’ll be lucky to even get a hello out of a waiter, let alone a seat.

When we wanted a taxi, there was one, and it cost less than a tenner. None of this bartering, trying different companies, being charged extra because you wanted a cab at the same time as everyone else. It was, in many ways, bliss.

And yet, although it was amazing, it also felt strangely weird. A little like being in a pub on a Tuesday afternoon. A little reckless, a little eerie. Although it was so much easier, it was also so much emptier. The Londoner in me distrusts places without crowds; the lazy git in me adores the calm, the seating, and the space. I can’t decide which I prefer.

[Photo by Luke Gattuso/DogWelder on Flickr.com]

Admittedly, it also made me feel a bit sad about London. This city sometimes feels like the world’s best Christmas tree sat behind thick glass; you can see it, it has presents and lights and wonders and discoveries galore, but you can’t access any of it, because you’ll have to smash something in the process – namely your time, money, elbow space, and, most probably, entire vats’ worth of patience.

I don’t think I’ll ever feel that shutting an entire high-street at 5.30pm is acceptable, though.

Some of us have office jobs, and also like to walk through the street at 6pm without feeling like a character in a murder mystery novel. Long live shops being open till 10pm!

6. My desire to get my own place mainly boils down to having colourful bits of crockery and French-inspired posters on the walls

I have very little desire to get a mortgage – it sounds boring, scary, too-adult, the financial equivalent of straitjacketing myself, and what’s more, bloody expensive (plus, as a single person living in London, I may as well try to launch myself into space, for how attainable it is).

I do, however, desperately want my own space and place, simply so that I can fill it with beautiful things like colourful coffee cups, vintage travel and advertising posters, gorgeous textures, paintings, and fabrics. (The other reason is this place.)

Jenny taught me that happiness lies this way at University, when her room was a design-led, Art Nouveau, blue and white, coffee-drinking haven (compared to my room, which was very lovely and cosy, yet completely Aladdin-meets-Turkish-Indian-French-bazaar-slash-explosion in a junk shop).

Colourful coffee cups make me happy

Although she doesn’t yet own her place, when I finally get the chance to put my mark on more than just a postage stamp bedroom somewhere more permanent than either my parents’ house or a random flatshare, it will be inspired by Jenny, and her colourful coffee cups, posters, multiple coffee machines, exposed brickwork, and…random cello in the corner. Because, why the heck not?

Here’s to Cornwall. Have a pasty and a cider on me.

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