Saturday, 12 May 2012

24 Hours in Cornwall

This past 24 hours has been, without doubt, the most absurd, surreal and hilarious time i have ever had with a bunch of complete strangers. The Cornish are so eccentrically English that it seems at times they are doing a cliche of themselves, but for their amusement, not yours.

It started with a hellish dawn wake up and a trip across London to start my 5 hour train journey south. Once again, I seem to have a knack for encouraging the worlds  worst passengers to sit around me. The first was an American businessman with one of those truly hideous contraptions known as Bluetooth, like a giant hearing aid strapped to the side of his face. Every few minutes he took, I'm sure, incredibly important calls. After hours of listening to him, I still could only hazard a guess at what his business involved. He talked a lot but said absolutely nothing  "ah ha, yeah totally, we are on the same page with this.  Yup yup, looking at the spreadsheet now, Brad it's fine, just on a train, can you hear me, no i can speak up. So i'm gonna put you on speaker a moment so i can input the data, sorry Brad, can you repeat that?" half the carriage at that point nearly yelled out what Brad had said! Then I had the 4 year old "why?" child, which begun irritating his Father so much that he threatened to leave him on the train if he said "why" again to one of his explanations. Then I had the music through the earphones too loud; the annoyed older couple complaining about British Rail; the drunk stag do (at 10am)....and finally, two girls in Ugg boots and fake tan, flipping through gossip mags announcing loudly which celebrity they would either shag, marry or avoid. That was quite funny actually and I had to stop myself joining in! But you name it, it was sitting near me! 5 horrendous hours. So at least my pre ordered taxi from the station to Fowey had no hiccups. Truly, nothing went wrong.

I got to Fowey and was greeted by Michael and Celia, the Bed & Breakfast owners. I went up to have a little nap before I met the Festival organisers and suddenly became aware of the church next door. Or rather the church bells... Ding dong dingaling dong ching ling dongalong dong ding dong ding ding ding bloody dong. EVERY 15 Minutes! Oh my god! Then I heard Michael whistling downstairs. One of those piercing bird impression whistles coming at me through the floorboards. Oh and the house is 410 years old so those floorboards ain't soundproofed! After the whistling came the joke telling! God knows who he was telling it to but he repeated the same joke 6 times: What do you call a door that's not a door? A jar. Now I am 43 and I have heard that joke a zillion times... Michael is about 83 and he was laughing so loudly each time he told it that I have deduced he is most probably a bit mentally unstable. That, or he's had his head in a box for 83 years! No one else was laughing and I discovered later, from his wife Celia, that he was probably just telling the joke to himself. Okay... Insane! I went downstairs to wait for Lesley, the festival organiser, and realised I was standing in a room full of old telephones. Michael came bouncing in and told me that the house was the old telephone exchange so he'd traced all these old phones and bought them on eBay! Not so out of touch after all. In mid sentence, whilst telling me the story of the house, Michael bursts into song. I jokingly said he should be the town crier with that voice (booming) and he laughed and said "but I am the town crier my dear, however did you guess?" ha ha. Then he showed me all his town crier photos. When I mentioned the church bells he said "oh I don't hear them anymore" and so I asked innocently, "oh why, where's your bedroom?" He screams up the stairs... "Celia, this young lady just asked me where my bedroom is!" and looked at me and said "we don't do all that bed swapping here you know!" This man is a total loon.

So Lesley finally turns up on Cornwall time (about half an hour late) and takes me up to the festival area. The literary festival consists of one large marquee tent, a beer tent (this is Cornwall after all), a tea tent (ditto) and a mini book shop. All the other events take place dotted round the village. Lesley then says in a very blasé manner: Juliet I've been so busy I haven't had time to plan anything for you. I haven't even put your story on the festival website yet, we haven't got time for you to read it out either and i can't seem to find a celebrity to give you your prize. It probably won't be on stage either but we might be able to get one of the organisers to shake your hand.  Wow, talk about coming back to earth with a bang! But I remained ever so positive and thought, oh it's fine. I'm here, I'll just enjoy having a wander round and Fowey is beautiful. So I did. I began walking back down to the village and suddenly heard a violent beep behind me. It was a large blue mini van full of old ladies. The driver leant over, wound down the window and said "are you the young lady from London staying with Michael and Celia?" um, yes. "Hop in" he said. He was the local bus driver but because Fowey has such narrow streets, they have a van instead. Everyone knows everyone here so I can only assume Michael must have mentioned me. I got in and had a little drive around Fowey as he dropped off all the old ladies. Then he took me back down to the village as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

I bumped into Lesley again who asked if I wanted to see a dress rehearsal for their am-dram play that evening as I was only here for one night. So I did. Completely hilarious... all the big village characters on stage, in various states of undress. Once they'd found out I'd done a bit of acting too I was suddenly asked for feedback. I also got asked to help with the costumes when they found out I could sew and I also babysat one if their children for an hour! Totally normal. What was even funnier was that they all forgot my name but as I had already met half the town of Fowey, I was referred to as that "young lady from London who's won some sort of writing prize but there ain't no prize" and they'd all have a good old laugh! After the play this chap walks up to me on the street and says "I own 2 restaurants in Fowey and I can do fish and chips for you if you like. Do you fancy a drink at the yacht club?" My God, your business really is everyone's else's. I had mentioned to one if the actors that I fancied fish and chips and asked him about the yacht club. Suddenly he tells someone else and it's common knowledge. As I was about to say yes to the drink he was accosted by some fisherman chums and I was bade adieu.

So I decided an early night was in order, the early start and sea air had made me super sleepy so I retired at ten o'clock. My nights sleep was appalling... Bells all night, weird scratchy sheets, freezing cold room and then 6am start as Michael whistled his way through preparing breakfast. Breakfast was an old fashioned heart attack... Fried white bread, fried egg, fried tomatoes, fried sausage, fried bacon, fried mushrooms, fried potatoes. He looked so offended when I left the fried potatoes and bread... "you'll waste away young lady!" he said. I love this man! I decided to dress up for my handshake (black tea dress, fitted jacket, silver brogues) just on the off chance they'd found a celeb for me overnight. I made my way up the hill to the festival, bleary eyed and stuffed full of fat! I had bought a ticket to see a wonderful author called Patrick Gale, read from his new book. He was lovely, funny, intelligent and a great reader (some of the best authors make the worst narrators, just look at JK Rowling!) So a very enjoyable two hours later we came out into the sun and suddenly I was pounced on by Lesley and two other organisers. Behind them was Patrick Gale's partner and agent and behind them was the Cornish press, all one of them! Whilst I had been inside they had organised an interview with the Cornish Guardian, lots of photos, a chat with Patrick Gale, lots of photos with him, all very lovely, tra la la and then he gave me my cheque, more photos! I have to record my story for radio in a few weeks time and maybe help judge next years competition. I was over the moon. Couldn't have asked for more... Well apart from being able to read my story out loud but hey, beggars can't be choosers! I am now sitting on the train back to London, happy, very tired and looking forward to writing my new short story... About an eccentric B&B owner called Michael. He is a gift! 

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