Coun­try Mouse

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Giles Wood

As some­one who usu­ally has reser­va­tions about ev­ery­thing in life, I found my­self strug­gling to be neg­a­tive about the sum­mer of 2018. The weather was glo­ri­ous through­out my en­tire lengthy break from the de­mands of broad­cast­ing on Gog­gle­box.

Now, while my pu­ri­tan­i­cal friends are get­ting back to their nor­mal work sched­ules, like a glut­ton af­ter a four­course meal, I’m go­ing back for more. A sum­mer savoury.

It was The Oldie’s late lamented Un­wrecked Eng­land cor­re­spon­dent, Can­dida Lycett Green, who praised the virtues of Corn­wall in Septem­ber. And it just so hap­pened that, Mary hav­ing gen­er­ated some good­will, a week in a clas­sic coun­try cot­tage, three min­utes from the beach at Praa Sands, be­came avail­able for us and friends to use with noth­ing to pay – ex­cept for the cleaner who would come in when we’d left. £150!

I must say I raised my eye­brows. But that was be­fore I clapped eyes on the tem­ple of clean­li­ness we bor­row­ers were priv­i­leged to stay in. Pale cream up­hol­stery through­out and pale cream, woollen car­pets, ex­cept where the car­pets gave way to an im­mac­u­late, ash-wood, plank-style, lam­i­nate kitchen floor, so clean you could eat off it.

En­tries in the vis­i­tors book re­peated the same phrases time and again: ‘well equipped’, ‘spot­less’ and ‘im­mac­u­late state of dec­o­ra­tion’. The po­lar op­po­site of our own cot­tage – although I do in­sist on a clean work sur­face when cook­ing.

‘We’ve stopped rent­ing it out,’ our ju­nior bene­fac­tor had con­fided, ‘be­cause Mum gets so fed up when peo­ple leave rings on the sur­faces.’

Rather than pack the eight-bed­der to the gun­wales with bois­ter­ous friends, we chose a low-im­pact, thought­ful cou­ple whom we wanted to get to know bet­ter. So there were now four of us in the mar­riage and, with the other two ea­ger to pull their weight, this light­ened the load where the tyranny of meals was con­cerned.

The weather con­tin­ued to favour us and we got into an agree­able rou­tine of pack­ing the cot­tage ruck­sacks (yes, the equip­ment even in­cluded guest ruck­sacks) with Tup­per­ware con­tain­ers of hard-boiled eggs, baby toma­toes and baps with cheese, not for­get­ting that pic­nic es­sen­tial, a twist of Cor­nish sea salt.

We all tucked in af­ter in­vig­o­rat­ing swims and sub­stan­tial walks on Na­tional Trust coastal paths. I can­not im­prove on the de­scrip­tion in the Bradt Slow Travel guide: ‘The sea is cobalt and turquoise, the coves shel­tered and the rocky shore­line is as ruggedly pic­turesque as any­thing you might find on a re­mote Aegean is­land.’

Bat­tered by the el­e­ments, we would trudge back to the cot­tage for our next daily treat – tea and toasted Cor­nish saf­fron cake and a well-earned 40 winks be­fore a sup­per of lo­cally caught fish. We left our sandy shoes in the porch.

But I was get­ting in­creas­ingly anx­ious that the bar of clean­li­ness was set too high for four bo­hemi­ans and found my­self polic­ing any­one head­ing away from the safety plat­form of the lam­i­nated floor with a drink in their hand. I had vi­sions of Jack­son Pol­lock striae of black cof­fee be­ing splashed about.

More­over, the house in­for­ma­tion book­let, like a Ja­panese Cd-player in­struc­tion man­ual, ran to 17 lam­i­nated pages and specif­i­cally warned ten­ants that, in the event of spillages, they must re­port in­ci­dents to a pro­fes­sional cleaner as soon as pos­si­ble, since botched at­tempts to re­move stains could make things worse.

Clearly the own­ers of this much-loved fam­ily hide­away do not suf­fer slobs lightly. Sim­i­lar in­struc­tions re­lated to the wooden work­tops which were start­ing to give me the jit­ters. Both my­self and my male friend have been likened to un­der­stud­ies for Sir Les Pat­ter­son and the same clear, mag­i­cal light that at­tracted artists to New­lyn was soon il­lu­mi­nat­ing a kitchen cov­ered in crumbs from toasted saf­fron cake, and a legacy of smears from our am­bi­tious bouil­l­abaisse were man­i­fest­ing on light switches and white door-plates.

Strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween the time I spent mop­ping up af­ter our­selves, cov­er­ing our tracks and ‘re­lax­ing’ was not an easy one. That Mary and I are in a mi­nor­ity of slobs is ev­i­dent from the sheer amount of aisle space given over by su­per­mar­kets to clean­ing prod­ucts.

Clean­ing is sim­ply not one of our favourite leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, but hol­i­day­maker-renters in gen­eral of­ten con­fess that they can’t help them­selves from spend­ing the whole week of their hol­i­day work­ing away with Spon­tex scour­ers and Vim, just as they do at home. It’s a pride is­sue, ap­par­ently.

Sir Les 2, our male guest, in­ad­ver­tently knocked a cake of Mar­seille soap off the wash­basin and onto the no-man’s-land be­tween sink and Wedg­wood-blue tongue-and-groove pan­elling. While we were out hik­ing, the soap did its worst with all the mal­ice of an inan­i­mate ob­ject. When I in­spected the area, I saw the paint­work had bub­bled up in the gap and peeled off in lep­rous man­ner.

Af­ter a life­time of cov­er­ing my wife’s and daugh­ter’s tracks, it came as se­cond na­ture to pop into one of the many artists’ ma­te­rial shops in Pen­zance to pur­chase a tube of un­der­paint­ing white and a small bris­tle brush. A few deft strokes and our rep­u­ta­tion may be in­tact.

With hind­sight, the £150 clean­ing charge was an en­tirely rea­son­able sum to main­tain the sta­tus quo.

What’s wor­ry­ing is the re­al­i­sa­tion that Mary and I will sim­ply never have the time or money, for the rest of what years re­main to us, to repli­cate these ‘nor­mal’ stan­dards in our own cot­tage.

‘Here come the Atoms. Don’t be­lieve a word they say. They make up ev­ery­thing’

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