Cornwall is a romantic place.  Its dramatic coast, exposed to the fierce will of wind and waves excites passion; its sheltered coves offer shelter and security.  The palm trees and bougainvillea of Mount’s Bay reach towards the Iberia and the Caribbean.  Too far away from London to care, the Cornish littoral has been invaded by tin traders from Carthage,  adventurers from Rome,  pirates from Ireland,  arab slave traders from the Barbary Coast and surfers from Australia.  In 1595, Mousehole was sacked by Spanish soldiers in revenge for the defeat of the armada.  Two centuries later, the French destroyed Porthminster, then the larger part of St Ives.  Cornwall still attracts adventurers, freebooters, romantics who come more out of hope than strategy to find a meaning. 

 

It worked for Malcolm.  He is a gentle bald-headed man of about fifty.  He worked in computer retail near Bristol.  After his first marriage failed, he retired and moved to Cornwall.  He now cares for his grandson, who has learning difficulties while his wife gets her excitement from driving emergency ambulances.  The role reversal seems to suit him. ‘I am a carer. I don’t enjoy excitement. I leave that to my wife.’     

 

Guiseppe,  a large gentle Italian man, left his home in Ischia in the Bay of Naples in the 1970’s.  He couldn’t settle in London and soon gravitated to Cornwall.  The rocky coast and isolated communities reminded him of his home.  He met his wife here.  They bought a restaurant in Mawnan Smith and raised a family.  They are all in the business.  His wife, who has an inner peace about her, is front of house, his daughter, tall,dark and beautiful is a waitress.  It is the best place to eat for miles.  His crab soup is to die for. 

 

Linda and Ciro Ziana have imported the classic style of Italy to their Regency home in Penzance.  The Summer House is an exotic haven for modern day pirates.  The rooms are an inspiration of design.  Customised by Ciro’s large canvases, with plants, pastel paint and the most modern fittings, they impart style and cool comfort. The terraced garden with its terracotta pots and sculptural plants create an oasis of quiet contemplation.  Like the décor, the food is simple and stylish; fresh vegetables straight from the market and fish fresh off the boat. 

 

But things don’t always work out for ‘the incomers’.  So much depends on attitude. Tony and Carol live in a cottage not far from the centre of the village.  The garden was overgrown, the house almost hidden by vegetation. Carol, her hair singed grey by smoke and barely suppressed rage, had trained as an artist at Winchester.  Her husband was a photographer.  His gaunt face with its deep furrows and dark shadows expressed disappointment.  Pictures of an artistic eminence, that might have been, hang on the walls.  Now Tony coughs but still tempts fate by smoking and drinking to excess while Carol complains about  the neighbours, the tourists, local entrepreneurs and of course, their guests. Running a bed and breakfast is hard work.      

 

The ancient inn, just a mile from the wrecker’s coast is owned and run by Carla, a one-time opera singer.  Tired with constant rehearsal and performance, she bought the inn as with her husband as a romantic hideaway.  They were very successful.  Then he died of a heart attack.  Cut adrift, she carried on.  What else was there to do?  There is a world weariness about Carla, a sense of ennuie.  Singing for your supper is one thing; providing meals and accommodation quite another.  Her famed smugglers’ tunnel is now blocked by the rubble of renovation, the food has lost its bite and the beer is flat.  .

 

Charlie had only recently retired.  He was sales manager for small company that manufactured electrical components.  Gwen was his secretary.  They came from South Wales. Their affair destroyed his marriage.  They escaped to Cornwall, built a house on the north coast, but their money ran out.  They had to take in paying guests.  The rooms may have been comfortable but their company was not.  Gwen was too anxious to please; Charlie resentful.  They seemed ill at ease with the bed and breakfast business. Looking out of the window just before breakfast I saw them sitting in the garden.  They were smoking cigarettes.  Gwen held her head in her hands and looked away.  Charlie was talking in an ever-so-reasonable monotone.  Their breakfast greeting was a little too effusive.  

 

For many, retiring to Cornwall represents the dream of sunny days, beautiful scenery, relaxed days of golf and sailing with their convivial new friends.  Unfortunately the reality never quite lives up to the dream and the disappointment may be unbearable.  For much of the year, the persistent wind and rain lashes the coast in a fury and turns the moors into a boggy grey wasteland.  Most of the neighbours are disgruntled ‘foreigners’, like themselves.  The loss of income and high mortgages propel them into taking on bed and breakfast. But paying guests can be a constant source of frustration.  They arrive too late or too early or don’t turn up at all.  They never want to stay more than one night – so rooms have to be prepared anew every day. They complain.  They make too much mess   Too busy to enjoy the summer, too lonely in the winter, all the hope they invested in their retirement just a few years ago drains away with the persistent rain. 

 

 

It’s lunch time in ‘the Five Pilchards’.   The bar is packed.  There is a fug of conversation and steaming wet clothes.  I peel off my Goretex top and leggings and sit down at the nearest table.  My companion stares into his half empty pint and to my polite enquiry, replies, ‘Oh, I’m on the scrap heap.  I was once manager of a textile works up north.  Now I just go shopping with the wife and take the dogs for walks.  I left any meaning in my life back in Bolton’.     

 

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