Dad’s Scilly holiday jokes
THE perfect shag. She was wild and alluringly beautiful. She was alone and seemingly unattached, and was certainly not going to hang around. It had all been so quick. She left almost before I had time to gasp more than a murmur of my appreciation.
Afterwards, I felt a compulsion to tell my wife, who was in India on business, about this irresistible force of nature that I had experienced while I was on my own in the Isles of Scilly. Well, not exactly on my own: I was with our three young children. And also, of course, with my wild, wonderful and totally unexpected shag. The children had witnessed it, too. ‘‘ You must tell Mummy,’’ they shrieked. ‘‘ Shhh,’’ I said, as by then they were really shouting. I didn’t want them to share this moment of natural passion quite so volubly with the world at large.
It had seemed rather an intimate few seconds. But then everything changed and it became exceedingly public. The captain of the Firethorn of Bryher, our ferry, boomed out on a loudspeaker the news that what everyone thought a shag was in fact a cormorant. Both are black and beautiful and they are apparently often and easily muddled .
‘‘ Sorry, guys,’’ I confessed to the children, ‘‘ I got the wrong bird.’’
‘‘ Silly Daddy,’’ said my six-year-old twins in unison. ‘‘ No, just in Scilly,’’ was my lame riposte.
What was beyond doubt to all of us was that these islands off the coast of Cornwall are truly beautiful. Untouched, wild coastline with perfect white sandy beaches. Hill walks among wildflowers as colourful and exotic as it gets, with white harebells and anemones, and all unpolluted by modern pest control.
In Scilly it seems as if time has stood still since the 1950s. No cars. Bicycles and front doors left unlocked. A small village store. Enid Blyton-like innocence blended with SwallowsandAmazonslike adventures tailor-made for young families. Crabbing, seal-spotting, birdtwitching, exotic palm-treed gardens, walks across Bronze Age settlements: everyone entirely reliant on the wind and the wave for arrivals and departures.
Scilly is one of the last untouched landscapes in Britain: wild, wilful and wondrous. Tresco, the second biggest island, is where Diana, princess of Wales, and the princes came on secret holidays. Jude Law, and recently Brad and Angelina, came and left before anyone could even say the word paparazzi. And, of course, it is where to look for the perfect wild shag as well as puffins.
There are 46 islands and there is a sort of inverse snobbery with the wilder and more remote ones. Frequent boasts over kipper breakfasts go along the lines of, ‘‘ We saw no other person over a threehour walk.’’ What makes this so remarkable is that these islands are so close to the English coast (just an hour’s flight from Bristol on a Biggles-like De Havilland taking just 18 passengers), yet so far in feel from the mainland.
Nothing jars with the idyllic, ’ 50s timewarp feel. No satellite dishes in sight and certainly no high street brands or logos. It is like being in a private fiefdom, but one where the community and landlord have worked out a mutually beneficial balance of power.
The islands’ cut-flower industry may have crumpled, yet tourism is booming. Modern intrusion is avoided, yet this is no Luddite backwater. Wireless reception is available at the excellent Tresco Island Hotel, as is a chef who would give any top London restaurant a run for its money.
Flash does not exist. For instance, a tractor with a trailer meets hotel guests off the stone pier. Its sister hotel, Hell Bay, is cool modern within Bronze Age rugged terrain. Crashing waves, white beaches, perfect service. It is exactly where Agatha Christie would have a murder mystery unfold. Very, very English but with a wildness as palpable and beautiful as . . . well, as the perfect shag. The Spectator Geordie Greig is the editor of Tatler .