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.
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.
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
Good to see you back! I love Cornwall – have a lovely time!
Thanks, Suzie 🙂 Last day today, then on to new adventures tomorrow, like staying upright in high heels and not burping at the wedding.
Sounds like SO much fun.
It is. I’ll be taking some sherbet lemons home with me to keep smiling and let myself down gently.
Thanks to you I could now kill for an Arbroath smokie….how those tastes take you back and recreate the world of which they were part…and how welcome that world is when things go a bit pear shaped!
Fun to see things through your daughter’s eyes…the ‘lead’ made me laugh as I used to be attached to mother by reins once I was mobile in public places and was at eye level with the real dogs on leads – though no bones or chocolate were on offer from mother.
Enjoy the wedding….no one will hear a burp under the inevitable showrs of happy tears and murmurings of ‘isn’t she lovely’….but watch those heels!
Good to see you again.
Oh dear, I’m sorry. No smoked herrings in Costa Rica, only red ones? I’ve been time travelling with fish and chips, pasties, chocolate bars, and (ooh) jelly babies. The kilos I have gained will return to real life with me next week.
The kids on leads were almost as amazing as the parenting that went with it – I was stumped by parents talking to them using the conditional tense, and third person for themselves. All very strange.
I will no doubt be blogging about the wedding. I will stand out as a hatless wonder – I’m not a hatty type, and the only ones I saw recently looked like overpriced dustbin lids with feathers stuck in them. Little My said I looked like the Mad Hatter, so I happily gave up my quest.
There’s nothing more satisfying than a trip home when you’ve been gone too long. And taking your child with you? Priceless. Love piece. I can hear the seagulls and smell the sea.
Hi there, Marilyn 🙂 Yup, a girl trip is definitely the way to go – Little My is positively beaming.
Oh, what memories you’re making with Little My! Sounds absolutely delightful. P.S. Burping in heels will only make the whole adventure more memorable. Have a blast … (was so happy to see an MM post waiting in my inbox after work today – perfect end to the week!)
Yesterday a breathed in the crumble on my steak and ale cobbler at the pub, and coughed non-stop for five minutes. Can’t be any worse if I burp at the wedding, huh? 😀 Big hugs to you, Miss Motivation. Hope that you are stlll firing away on all cylinders!
Burping in heels is way cooler than coughing up french fries 🙂 Hope you get loads of sunshine on your sister’s big day. I am the picture of motivation these days … except for the old bod … it’s more like a picture of dilapidation! Huge hugs X
Ah, you’ve been sorely missed !
I know exactly how you feel
I don’t go back to Scotland as often as I would like but when I do my mood changes as soon as I see that ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign as I cross the border
my spirit soars to be back home and I wander around with a joy in my heart, a spring in my step, and a big stupid grin on my face 😆
P.S. one of my earliest childhood memories is going to visit, with my parents, my maternal granny, me on my leash – our dog on his 😆
Duncan, I’ve missed my blogging. I hope that things will get back to normal when school goes back – family life in France has been very complicated since Papounet’s death. Fingers crossed. So you were on a lead too? I was such a fury, I’m surprised my mum didn’t muzzle me too.
Scotland is gorgeous – I lived in St Andrews for a year, and didn’t want to leave. DO you know this song? It makes me cry when I’m homesick… Here’s the live version. Grab a hanky 😉
Nice to see you again MM, I’ve missed you 🙂
It sounds like you’re having an amazing time-may it continue for the rest of your trip.
Oh, and if you want to go to a shop that’s more like the service you’d find at home, visit an Aldi (They don’t have to be nice to customers there and rarely are!) 😉
I’ve missed you too 🙂 hmm. Do I want to break the illusion? Not sure. And the people in my local Aldi in France are actually nicer than the ones in the “real” supermarket!
Off to the south coast today to continue our journey and see what the world looks like when perched on high heels…
Have a fabulous day missus. Looking forward to reading about more of your travels xx
Glad to hear you’re having such a lovely time. I hope the wedding goes well – weather is kind, etc. I used to like aniseed balls, especially the poppy seed in the middle which was all crunchy and nutty. 🙂
Yoh, Sarah 🙂 The weather is looking unstable for this weekend – I hope that lil sis will have a touch of sunshine for her photos… I love aniseed balls – I have some in France. Maybe we could put one in the rosé glass, a bit like a franco-british version of strawberries in champagne?
Ooo, not sure about that… 🙂
I remember I used to have phases where I would just like one thing all the time, then go onto something else. I loved Revels, Yorkie, that powder that spat on your tongue (Space dust?), Refreshers, fruit gums, and pastils, etc. 🙂
I can’t really eat them any more as my taste buds cringe at all the sugar!
By the way, I think you’ll find this nicely appropriate to this particular post:
You’re back! Hooray. I’m glad you’ve been able to get back to the hearth. And to walk with your daughter through your childhood…
Tastes, smells, sounds – so primitive and so immediately healing.
Much love to you.
Hi there sweetheart. How’s life? Healing it is, right down to the last gulp of Doom Bar beer. Onwards and forwards for the next adventures!
Great to hear, MM.
Ah yes, we always feel the draw of home don’t we! When I lived in the States for a few years in my late 20s/early 30s, as much as I loved where I was living, I would scout out the shops that sold British food and buy things, even if they weren’t things I liked back home! And I would watch anything that came on BBC America, or I’d visit places that seemed British. But it was all fake and pretend, it wasn’t really England! You have to go back and visit for it to be real.
You just reminded me of a funny story there that a friend told me a while ago – a wealthy couple who were friends of his used to frequent a French restaurant in London. The maître d’ there (who was French) got to know them and would always be very charming to them, and one day they came in and he went up them all smiles, gestured at her dress and said “Ah madame! Mutton dressed as lamb!” thinking he was paying her a huge compliment! 🙂
I know that feeling. I was very peeved to see that the only British TV the French seemed to appreciate and air in the ’90’s was Benny Hill. Ugg. I wrote about the food hoarding in a post called “The Squirrel Reflex”, if you have time to waste.
I love the Mutton dressed as lamb anecdote – that was unfortunate, to say the least! Poor man 🙂
Brilliant! Little My sounds absolutely priceless! 🙂 I kind of have the opposite reaction to customer service when I go home though – I want to weep and hug people for just saying hello and thanks 😉 Enjoy the rest of the trip!
Little My is a pearl. She keeps wrapping her arms around me and getting all emotional because we’re doing simple things that she loves, like eating fish and chips on the beach, and playing pool. She seems to have understood that the best things in life are both easily obtained and priceless.
”She seems to have understood that the best things in life are both easily obtained and priceless.”
Oh, oui. Love this.
Welcome back MM! You’ve been missed!
Surfing the past in your childhood stomping grounds sounds like it has been the perfect balm for your soul … especially with daughter in tow. I’m sure she will have stories to tell – her version 🙂
Yeah! Hi there, Jo! I dread to think what she’s going to say to her brothers when we get back. The worst of her mother’s behaviour has uet to come: alcohol + exuberant nature + high heels = dangerous equation. Watch this space.
I am confident there is always an entertaining story up your sleeve 🙂
Mmmm beer and pasties… now i want to be in Cornwall too! It’s good to see you back and I’m glad you’re both having such a great trip!
Yoh, Italia Daddyman! Hope parenting is treating you well and that the house is coming along nicely. We loved our trip. Currently trying to keep eyes open until our taxi arrives at 3am for the trip home. After a day hotfooting it around London, it’s not easy at all…
I’m in the next door but one county, but because I didn’t spend my childhood here, it holds no memories for me. Know what you mean about customer rules. I’ve been subjected to ‘professional niceness’ by everyone involved in probate, funerals and wills. It’s quite hard to stomach after straight talking Turkey.
I hope that you are managing to find time for yourself too all the administrative procedures after a death are time-consuming and sad. I do understand your feelings – French efficiency made the whole experience colder so I was less prone to bursting into tears than I would have been with overly nice people.
I love the traditional sweet shops – I find it hard to pass one by without buying something that reminds me of ‘the olden days’!
I thought of you every time I saw a packet of Midget Gems -I forced little My to take a photo for you.
What a star she is!
What a gorgeously funny, touching and nostalgic post, MM. I’ve really missed your writing recently. Your trip home sounds to have been a complete success for both of you, with Little My now having a bit more insight into the reasons for some of her dear Maman’s little quirks. I hope your teeth have survived the boiled-sweet fest. 🙂
As for the wedding, one of my nephews got married last Saturday. I couldn’t be there, but I can just imagine the super day you all had.
Thanks, Miss P. I had a fabulous time, and I’m back home with a new vision of life. Here’s hoping that the new improved MM gets organized enough to blog more frequently 🙂
I still have some sweets left (says she, stuffing another pear drop into her gob). We also got our bag searched at Gatwick by a man who was stumped when he found the source of their suspicion – two blocks of cheddar wrapped in a pile of Little My’s underwear.
I love Cornwall, went there myself last month for a week’s holiday and didn’t want to come back! I have always felt more at home there than anywhere else, I didn’t grow up there but ever since going on holiday for the first time years ago I have always imagined living there at some point in my life. All those childhood sweets you mention are still in my weekly diet! We take it in turns to buy sweets at work and things like sherbert lemons, pear drops, rhubarb and custard, cola cubes etc are always on the menu! 🙂 You’ve had a wonderful trip down memory lane and shared some lovely moments with Little My which she’ll treasure always I’m sure. Great post!
For somme strange reason WP won’t let me sign in with the right account. Gnnn. Try again. You are so lucky – sherbert lemons every day. Sigh. Have you stamped on the Hamley’s bear’s toes for me yet? I’ve been scarred for life. Sob.
If you have a Leader Price near you, they sell a decent mature Cheddar…
You’re a hero! MM charges off to find the closest leader price…. I’ve got years of deprivation to catch up on!
Our two nearest Leader Price stock it as “Scottish Cheddar”. More akin to Cathedral City. Au moins c’est afiné…
I’ll have to check if they stock it in their branches here. Fingers crossed…
Hope so. Where are you? I’m 30 miles south of Paris.
In the Hérault, not far from Montpellier.
We were in Hérault last month 🙂
Stop it! When in France buy French and save the cheddar to savour on trips back to blighty. My Beau Pere (who had the first episode of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Food Heros’ dedicated to his cheesing guru-ness) will be turning in his grave at the notion of buying Scottish Cheddar in Leader Price! Love the post btw … full of nostalgia and laughs 🙂
Hi there 🙂 I buy loooooads of Frebch cheese – preferably the stinky stuff that takes thé enamel off your teeth. I would have got on with your beau-père…. but I can never resist adopting a piece of home when I find it lurking in a French supermarket… 😀