Keen to dip my toe into the new world of staycations, I went down to Cornwall for the first time since 1996, thanks to a very kind invitation from my sister-in-law, Hilarie.
My first impression was that the weather has improved immeasurably in the past 25 years. My distant memories of sitting on a rain-swept beach shivering in a Barbour and sou’wester have now been replaced by idyllic recollections of sunshine, golden sands and clear turquoise water.
‘Just like Croatia,’ a fellow holidaymaker remarked. We felt it was actually more like Greece, but we weren’t about to quibble, the important thing being that it wasn’t like England – at least not like the England of my distant holiday memories.
The food has improved out of all recognition too. No more fish pie made with instant mashed potato or fish pie still frozen in the middle when you dig your fork into it (they were both sent back to the kitchen in 1996, I remember). This time we had wood-fired pizzas, timbale of local crab and sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream … a cardiologist’s nightmare, I feel sure.
And you can’t beat a glass of Rick Stein’s very own champagne, or a G&T made with Cornish gin.
Good old Tarquin … although with a name like that, he sounds more West London than West Country.
And on to to my brush with celebrity.
We’d spotted a large banner outside the local church proclaiming Songs of Praise, this Sunday at 2.30. This could be our big moment, we thought, filmed by the BBC singing our hearts out in a picturesque Cornish country church. So we dressed up in our best church-going outfits and headed off.
When we arrived, it seemed very quiet. Where were the crowds? Where were the cameras? We were ushered out into the graveyard behind the church, where there were about 20 people sitting on folding chairs, a portable organ on a very long extension lead and a young vicar in a baseball cap and shades … it seemed that it wasn’t actually Songs of Praise, but rather an opportunity to sit in the sunshine and sing some songs of praise.
So we buried our dreams of stardom and had a really lovely afternoon, enlivened by the vicar a) having trouble with the wind and b) finding it difficult to turn himself on, and then by another member of the congregation performing an expressive dance with her arms to every hymn – rather like a seated, solo version of Pan’s People.
Looking around the churchyard later, we spotted Rick Stein’s parents’ grave in a beautiful setting looking out over the fields towards the sea –
What a wonderfully peaceful spot they chose for their eternal resting place, I thought. I just hope they weren’t too upset by our singing.