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’