Roots are funny old things. Even the most hard-headed, independent expatriate girl needs to get back to her sources from time to time. And when MM’s boat started navigating through choppy waters a few months ago, the auto-pilot button for home started flashing. I needed space. My parents and siblings. Littlest Little Sister’s legendary English breakfast. Crumpets. Hugs. Family. My mum’s cooking. Laughter. Beer. Marbles and hopscotch. Fish and chips. Seeing reasonably priced cheddar and baked beans on the supermarket shelf and knowing that I wouldn’t have to hoard it all away because it would still be there tomorrow. Waking up to the sound of seagulls screaming insults at each other on the roof. The smell of the sea, the sight of grey waves crashing over the Cornish coastline. Sherbet Lemons. In a nutshell, the reassuring, familiar flavour of childhood. So I gave in to the temptation and got tickets, and Little My and I jumped on a Ryanair flight and headed for home.
We’ve been back in Cornwall for ten days now. MM is rolling unashamedly in family and familiar surroundings, and is driving her daughter up the proverbial pole with comments that all include the words “when Mummy was your age…”. I’m drinking too much beer, eating my weight in pasties and cheddar and am still running out of the front door to listen to the seagulls. I’m talking all day and sleeping all night. And loving every minute of rediscovering my old stomping ground.
My childhood, in a paper bag.
Just cross the English Channel, and you change worlds. Since we got off the plane, I have gone back 30 years in my life. This was best illustrated by the sweet shop, where Little My saw her mother melt into a quivering, nostalgic heap before feverishly purchasing armfuls of pear drops, barley sugars, love hearts and lemon sherbets from a bemused shop assistant. Little My was happy to oblige by sharing a taste-bud revival of my childhood with me, although the flavour didn’t evoke any memories for her. One day it will. Tempted by time travel? Forget the Tardis, and embrace the sherbet lemon. I rocketed back forty years in the blink of an eye. As we sucked on the sweets, I showed her around my home town in a delirious sugar and nostalgia-induced frenzy. The place where her aunt broke her arm waving to the train as we played on the swings. The places we used to play tennis until I invariably lost all the balls in the freezer centre gutter. The pier where I went crabbing with my sisters. The river where I sailed every Friday. The path that skinned my knees and battered my best friend’s bike again and again until I finally managed to cycle in a straight line. The pub where I downed many a pint-too-many.
They can’t come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.
Getting back to your roots matters – right down to that greasy, emotional reunion with fish and chips on the rocky shore, hunting for prawns in the rock pools, and taking pics of my favourite winged bad boy, the seagull. I even had the pleasure of an impromptu Punctuation Police intervention with MM’s Mum (aka MMM). Our eyes locked with a malicious glimmer, and we licked our fingertips and banished an army of greengrocer’s apostrophes from a restaurant’s chalkboard menu.
As I relive my childhood memories, Little My is no doubt building her own. This experience will perhaps be one that she will repeat to her children one day. The very same mundane everything days that comfort me are making my daughter grind to a sudden halt with surprise. Like the tinny ice cream van music, echoing across the valley on our way home from the shops. “What’s that?” she asked, startled. “It sounds like music from a creepy film.” The hot chocolate, marshmallow and whipped cream creation she only thought existed in fairy tales. The women striding confidently around town with their hair dyed bright shades of pink, blue, red and green, like something out of a Dr Seuss book. The mother with a buggy who thanked my daughter for letting her past with a cheery Cornish “Thank you, my darlin’!” and was greeted by a quizzical stare from Little My, who muttered in French, “Only my mum’s allowed to call me that”. The great Cornish conjugation of the verb to be: “I were/ you wuz” made her raise an eyebrow, too.
We started off with a day in Plymouth, or “Big P”, in our family jargon. We first raided the charity shops for appropriate wedding attire – Little Sis is getting hitched at the weekend. The pickings were rich, and I tried on several numbers under Little My’s expert eye (if in doubt about being mutton dressed as lamb, always check out your choice with a pre-teen, whose tolerance level is generally on a par with that of Genghis Kahn with a sore head). After negotiation about skirt length, we chose a simple but feminine knee-length red dress that most definitely puts the “cat” into “catwalk”, then stomped off for more aventures.
As we strolled through Plymouth city centre, it became clear that local behaviour is a far stretch from that of our French locals. Little My tugged on my arm, and I looked down to see incredulous eyes. “Mum !” she hissed, jerking her head sideways. “Why’s that kid on a lead?” I realised that she had never seen a child harness before, and explained the reasoning behind it. Little My looked back at the child as if he was an abandoned labrador tied to a tree at a motorway lay-by. “Poor kid. He’s not a dog.”
We were both bemused by the predominant need to please customers in shops – so much so, indeed, that customer care seems to have become customer scare since the last time I visited. At the building society, an apologetic bank clerk a with highly visible name badge nervously asked if I would « mind terribly » if she made a phone call whilst I waited for another bank clerk to bring me the paper I had requested. A cashier at the local supermarket asked if I wanted help packing my bag, and carefully passed me each article, one by one. This is a far cry from my experiences in France, and it actually made me uneasy. It was as if the shopping world’s sword of Damocles was teetering above their heads. Then I realised that it was indeed the case – the British customer is king, and has the eerily disconcerting right to drop whoever they wish in the doo-doo. Your shopping receipts all include an invitation to answer the question, « How did we do today ? ». Just a phone call away, eager beavers man the lines and are ready to take your complaint and set up an enquiry, just for you.
Anyway. Enough rambling – I’m off for a pub lunch with the gang. MM management apologizes for the erratic posting of late, and hopes that you enjoyed today’s contribution to the worthy cause of worldwide time-wasting. Please feel free to comment below, and win £1000 of shopping vouchers
the right to come back again next time.