Help. Someone has kidnapped me (husband, I suspect), and I don’t know where I am. I feel no evidence of tranquilizers or jet lag, and yet I am pretty sure we could be in L.A. It’s sunny, there’s an ocean view, and the woman at the table next to us is wearing pink designer sweatpants and sipping matching pink champagne. Then I notice the lighthouse in the distance and the white clapboard house on the cliff above, and suddenly it’s all seeming a bit more Cape Cod. A Victorian hotel catches my eye, and the thought crosses my mind that this could in fact be Sydney. The Amalfi Coast? Cannes? I’m looking at the clapboard house again, which I see is flying a black flag with a white cross. The waiter informs me this is the Cornish standard, and I realize we are in deepest, sunniest England, a mere four hours from the Cotswolds.
Since our arrival in the tropical pastoral of Cornwall my brain has been issuing a constant “does not compute” message. I recognize the hedgerows and narrow lanes, rolling hills and grazing cows, all familiar enough from Gloucestershire. But as we edge in and out from the coast on the winding seaside road, the familiar periodically gives way to sheer cliffs and scrub vegetation. It’s Malibu with cows.
The names of Cornish villages are as alien as the landscape. My favorite English village names (pre-Cornwall) read like the cast of characters in a traditional farce, with my dream panto production starring Somersal Herbert, Old Sodbury, and the Cold Slag. Cornwall adds two new roles: Goon Gumpas and Goonbell. There is also scandal to be found in these parts: try Watergate Bay, Ventongimps, or just plain old Cocks. And to balance out all this tawdriness, England’s southernmost county hosts a bounty of lost saints: St. Ives, St. Agnes, and St. Tudy among them. (What miracle, I wonder, is St. Tudy known for? Is it as bubbly as her name and did she moonlight in an eighties sitcom called The Facts of Life?)
I never made it to St. Tudy, but St. Ives was the site of our geographically perplexing lunch and the revelatory white clapboard house. While admiring the house’s Cornish pennant, I couldn’t help noticing its glassed in patio decorated with flea market chic precision (straw hats and antique portraits in oils). A woman sat at the desk in the center of the patio overlooking the Atlantic, no doubt putting the finishing touches on her eighty-seventh best selling novel. At that moment I decided I’d have to kill her and take over her life.
This is a phase I seem to go through every year with a woman whose life I decide is highly covetable. My last target was the proprietress of the Cotswold Ice Cream Co., whose life of dairy creativity on a hilltop farm seems pretty near perfect to me. Now I coveted Cornish. Luckily for the lady from St. Ives I subsequently found the house from St. Agnes. It is perched atop a cliff overlooking Trevaunance Cove, and when I climbed the path to take a closer look through its mullioned windows I noticed a sign advertising the house for holiday rental. This is a house where even I might be inspired to write a book. It’s also an excellent excuse to return to Cornwall soon, not to mention St. Tudy.