SURPRISE! A CORNISH ADVENTURE by Margaret Moreton 19.1.17
A handful of postcards, tossed onto our table – one surfaced and faced me, – it said “Cornish Adventure”. It spoke to me and demanded of me the revelation of tales untold…it strangely allied itself to surprise too, so …
Our Cornish Adventure began in Market Bosworth in 1958, with John’s appointment to the headship of Tolgus County Secondary School – a newly created school in Redruth. Building was still in progress and the opening was proposed for Easter 1959. So, on January 1st 1059 we said goodbye to Market Bosworth , our home and the familiar and took a leap in the dark – into completely unknown territory and for a ground-breaking new task. John took our car, with treasures not committed to storage and I, with a good friend, took our daughters [aged 2 years and 3 months respectively] by train. Anything that happened to me on that opening day, had to be a surprise. Although my mind was buzzing with immediate relevancies, there was an emptiness there – a readiness and a wondering for what was to come. I anticipated the unfamiliar, a strangeness and yes, surprises.
Crisis at Birmingham station. We needed to change trains from Snow Hill to New Street. In those days, there were porters in plenty and one kind soul took Anna, in a Moses basket, and told us to follow him. We did, but we lost him; near panic on both sides; reunited, there was joy unconfined – on both sides!
As the train rumbled on to the S.W, the meaning of adventure became a reality. What was to come, for surely an adventure is the unknown which will befall. There was a complete blank sheet ahead of us – no friends there; no family there and a school just 3/4 built to be equipped and staffed. All this with a very basic Cornish cottage – as yet unseen and in the middle of a field, to call home. Journey’s end, at Redruth station, with rain whistling horizontally, driven by a wind that cut to our very bones, I felt lost. Adventure? Surprise was the word foremost in my mind!
We did survive; we slowly began to integrate. It was not easy – we were the only non-Cornish family in the village and known as “they up-country folk”. Even our speech was different – not just accents but vocabulary too. We traded in the village shop [I asked for bread-cakes, they sold me splits] We went to the village church and John joined the local golf club.
Slowly, the school was nearing completion and John received a cheque from County Hall for £25,000.00, with which to equip this brand new, much talked of, establishment. The trust which that bespoke and the freedom it gave was immense. It heavily underlined the responsibility that was forever at the forefront of planning. Would it happen today? I doubt it. But psychologically it was a very clever, if normal move. “You will be judged by the results” it said. The spirit of adventure was rampant.
Rugby was very much to the fore in the Cornishman’s way of life. Supporters and well-wishers were vehement in their opinions and many a pound changed hands on a result. The P.E master at Tolgus school [appointed by John!] played number ten for Penzance and the school caretaker [appointed by John!] played for Redruth. He also helped coach the school’s rugby team, to well-deserved success. They both became stalwart friends.
The sea, of course played a great part in our life in Cornwall. After all we were a family of Midlanders and went to the sea-side once a year – if we were lucky. From our windows, high above the shore, we could see and watch the sea whenever we chose. It’s many moods and displays were always sights for comment and reflection. The sheer fathomlessness of ifs depths was at once magnificent and yet eerie and foreboding. There was adventure in the visions it encapsulated. What did it hold and where could it take one? One day, relaxing on the beach, we became aware of a man calling urgently to a swimmer. We wondered why, for all seemed calm enough and then we spotted a dorsal fin breaking the water. An all-time speed record was surely broken when the swimmer also saw it! It was a shark and it beached itself. What a phenomenon and what an interest. Willing hands kept it watered until ropes were found and it was towed back into the waters. That day was reported as “the day of the shark” and it opened the eyes of the children who came after school to see it. Truly, an unlikely adventure – but what it taught them.
The harbour in Portreath, in those far-off days, was functional as a harbour for business. Men went to sea from ifs shelter, to fish for their livelihoods and their boats were part of the back-drop there. Boats also came into harbour, on a regular basis, from South Wales, delivering coal, which every household needed. For those boats, entering that tiny harbour through ifs narrow entrance required skill and expertise of a high order. On a bad day, when seas were rough, they perforce must anchor outside the harbour and wait. Watching such manoeuvrings one marvelled at the sheer abilities possessed!
All that glorious, shiny Welsh coal was unloaded by hand onto the harbour floor and then reloaded by Donald Williams onto his cart for delivery throughout the village. That little pony earned many a carrot from grateful home-owners. He was rounding off what was a necessary adventure from a coal mine in South Wales, across often turbulent seas to a tiny harbour on the Cornish coast. Handling the coal, Donald always wore black – a trilby; a sweater; trousers and a leather apron – and a black face to match! On Friday’s and Saturday’s, scrubbed and polished and in his white he delivered meat for the local butcher. On Sunday*!, in pressed and tidy serge suit, he sang base in the chapel choir and on Monday’s – his day off, he visited Mary in the cottage at the end of the terrace! Bless him he’s long gone to a well-earned rest!
Though we made many seriously good friends, words often singled us out from the Cornish. “Oh, she’s west country” someone would say about a Cornish friend. “Of course she is” I would say, “she’s Cornish.” but to the Cornishmen, west country meant land south of Penzance! Again, one fine day, I thought I would take the girls through the woods to lllogan. I asked a friend about a safe route, “Oh, you just stick on the tram which goes by the stile and you’ll be safe.” There were 2 buses to Portreath each day, but a tram?? I was nonplussed. Much laughter and discussion later, I learned that a tram was an age-old track into the wood, a path to you and me!
My first acquaintance with a very old Cornish idiom caused John’s eye-brows to arch…His golfing partner had come home with him after a match and his greeting to me was “How now Margaret! You fit my lover?” Explanations quickly ensued and it was established that in Cornwall ‘lover’ was a special, endearing and familiar word, expressing affection and respect! Learning all these many more words was a real adventure. Could we use them or would that be presumption? That we understood them was necessary. Better for us to offer some of our Midland idioms in exchange and thus present an amiable and understanding front.
One day, when in the nearly-ready new school, I met the Director of Education who was there with John. “Do you know the Cornish, Mrs M?” he asked me. “I’ll tell you – they are 1/2 an inch of moss on top and all granite underneath.” How right and accurate he was. When you recognise granite as immovable, rock-solid and sound, you have the indigenous native Cornishman, who smiles happily and is as welcoming and soft as the moss, but who holds the granite in reserve to deal with any and all eventualities.
I’m glad I knew Cornwall when I did – then it was real and true to itself. It has an ambience of ifs own and was so very proud of it’s difference. I am not surprised at the dilution of that ambience; that erstwhile way of life has gone. It has become a modern holiday resort and the butt of an overwhelming wash of modernity. In the UK then it was far-flung and distant and it was an adventure to go there. I was surprised and stunned as I came up, close and personal to it, by the overwhelming beauty and power of the sea. I was surprised by the singularly lush, verdant vigour of the wild flora. I was surprised by the so often ethereal quality of the light – a photographer’s dream… all this and much more made Cornwall a place of charm, of intense interest, of adventure and surprises.
Fay responded to the trigger ‘Anniversary’ with a true story:
The Showroom, that night.
He suddenly realised he was cold as his eyes began to refocus on the papers he was clutching. Icy fingers trailed a pathway up his spine and he shuddered. He heard a thin scream, followed closely by the sharp sound of splintering glass and then a wraithlike shadow dropped, with a dull thud, onto the roof of a dark blue, A reg. Austin A40 and although he tried to stand up, he couldn’t.
For as long as he could remember David Dobson had wanted to be a salesman and he certainly had a gift for talking. His mother often said that he could sell anyone anything, so when he saw the ad in the Free Press for a trainee car salesman at Pearson’s Northbridge Garage, he applied and got it. Pearson’s was the main BMC dealership for the area and Dave soon realised he had found his calling when he was promoted to head salesman of their large showroom on the High Street, where he soon became known as Dependable Dave, a truly honest car salesman, something quite rare in the burgeoning car-owning, social revolution that was the 60s.
And the building had had a chequered history. Built in 1845 as a warehouse for storing wool and grain, with it’s original, deep ridged glass roof still in place, it was later used as council offices and because of the abundance of natural light, a lawyer had rented a large section of the ground floor during the late 1800s. Then a wealthy accountant leased most of the upper floor from 1910 until 1925 before it closed for a decade because of unspecified structural problems. It then re-opened as a Reading Room and a Miner’s Welfare Hall.
Jed Pearson bought it in 1950, as storage for new cars, then a showroom, when the vast floorspace and glass roof was fully utilised, and both Dave and Tom Dixon, the sales manager, often boasted that between them they could park 42 cars in what would normally be floor space for 38.
The worst part of his job was having to do the Tuesday late night stint, twice a month, especially when it was slow. It had been dark for hours and the pavement outside still twinkled with reflected Christmas shop lights as people scuttled by, on their way home from work or maybe just going out for the evening. He’d had only 2 callers, tyre kickers, he mumbled as he read with envy the logbook of a mint condition, racing green, Mini Cooper S, before putting his feet up, on the desk, then tipping his chair back, against the wall.
He was bored to distraction and couldn’t wait to lock up then head to Scott’s for some chips then the King’s Arms. His best friend John would already be there, enjoying a pint. Margaret, the new barmaid, had wavered the last time Dave had asked her out so he’d try again and maybe tonight, yawn, might be his lucky night…
Wow, what on earth was that? He thought as his eyes flew open and he glimpsed something falling, on the far left of the showroom. When he attempted to stand, the chair held him fast until the back legs suddenly went out from under him and he finished up in a heap on the office floor. He scrambled to his feet in a daze, steadying himself against the door jamb before gingerly zigzagging his way through the car filled showroom, towards the midnight blue, Austin A40.
Then he reached out, bracing himself against the bonnet of a red Morris Oxford, dreading what he would find.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes but saw nothing. No broken glass, no smashed car roof, no blood, nothing. He then systematically checked every car in the showroom, just in case he had missed something. Nothing was out of place. It was all exactly as it had been 2 hours ago when Tom had gone home and he was left on his own. He staggered back to the office, picked up the phone and immediately put it back. No! How could he explain this, they’d be sure to say he’d been hallucinating, dreaming, drinking or …probably more like it, going nuts. No! He’d make himself a strong coffee and think it through.
Scratching his head he checked the floor around the A40 several times more and then the whole showroom, again. He had seen something, hadn’t he? He wasn’t going mad, was he? It was now 8.53, he’d had enough and decided to go. As he drove slowly past the King’s Arms he could see his mate, John, leaning on the brightly lit bar chatting Margaret up, but Dave didn’t care. He was so on edge he felt that if had one pint, he would probably keep going until he was blotto and then he might blurt out to John what had happened and that would mean everyone would know and he’d be a laughing stock. The scene was replayed, over and over, during his drive home and much to his annoyance, his mother was in. Tuesdays were usually Bingo nights but tonight she felt queasy, she said, as she lathered butter on his toast and stirred his beans.
“Mum, what…?” he started, then changed his mind.
“What, what?” she answered, sharply.
“Oh nothing. Don’t worry about it.” He said, sitting down to eat.
“I’m not worried, or I wasn’t until you told me not to be. What’s up? Something happened at work?” “No mum, leave it. I’m tired, that’s all.” And he tucked into the plate of beans on toast.
But she knew her son, he had something on his mind and he would tell her when he was ready. He didn’t sleep well at all and awoke with a jolt around 4.30am. He kept hearing the harrowing scream and decided to get up and make a cup of coffee. An hour later his mother joined him and she asked again what was wrong.
“I think, I think I’ve seen a ghost, mum. Last night at work I saw and heard something weird and I don’t know what to do. It can’t be a ghost, there are no such things, are there?”
“I don’t know, son. I’ve never seen one but…your Uncle Percy reckons he saw one once when he was staying at Monk Fryston Hall… why don’t you ring him?”
So, he reckoned, if Uncle Percy had seen a ghost, told people about it and was Ok, maybe I will be too. He arrived early to work Wednesday morning, hoping to see Tom before the others arrived.
“Er, wwell, what sort of a night did you have?” Tom asked anxiously as soon as Dave walked through the showroom doors.
“Bloody slow one. Only a couple of tyre kickers all night. Late nights in winter are a waste of time, I reckon.”
“See anything interesting, did you? Something unexpected maybe?” Tom queried.
“Whaddya mean? You bloody lot weren’t play…”
“No, of course we weren’t but…you did see something, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did and I hardly slept. I thought I was going mad, I’m not, am I?” Dave pleaded.
“We didn’t want to tell you about it, just in case you didn’t see it because not everyone does, but… the 28th December is the anniversary of…well something pretty distressing. It appears that during the 1920s part of this building was leased by an accountant and his office was on the second floor, overlooking this glass roof,” he pointed over to where Dave had seen the…?
“The accountant had been working late and his wife and family, 3 sons and 2 daughters, were with him. His youngest son was playing with his Christmas present, lining up all his new tin soldiers on the window ledge, but the window was open and one of them toppled over. He reached for it, a bit too far, and fell. He smashed through the glass and then bled to death on the floor below, out of reach, in front of their eyes. His siblings struggled for years with what they had seen and his mother never got over it. His father suffered a mental breakdown, lost everything and finished up destitute.”
“Bloody hell. Have you seen the… the ghost, Tom?”
“Yes, I have and it shook me up, I can tell you, but it affected Billy the worst. He hadn’t been with us long and didn’t tell anyone what he’d seen so we all thought he hadn’t seen it. But he became so withdrawn, his mother told the doctor and it all came out. Pearson agreed to move him to the Worksop depot but he left there soon after and we haven’t heard a word since. If only the daft young bugger could have told one of us straight away, maybe he’d have been OK.”
“Well, you should have told me.” Dave was angry. “Not sure if I can do another late night because I’ll be waiting for it. We could change it though, to Thursday?”
“But that’s no good because the date was the 28th December and the day changes each year. My Aunt is a medium and she says the event would have been so traumatic, it was captured in the very fabric of the building and will continue until the time is right, and not everyone will see it. Usually the people who do are sensitive but the conditions have to be just right, too. Neither Pearson or his wife have seen it and only 2 of the service department. Are you Ok, Dave?”
“Yeah, but what about all the times no-one sees it? Every year that poor little lad falls out of the window, through the glass and onto the floor where he dies alone. He must wonder why nobody cares. How about we get together, every Dec 28th to show him exactly how much we do care, and you never know, it might even help.”
30 odd like-minded people were gathered in the showroom on the next anniversary of the little boy’s death and to everyone’s relief, he was never seen again.
Here’s Kevin’s piece from the 3rd March trigger ‘Gear change’
‘Crying out’ by Kevin Murphy
We were playing in the sandpit, Little Madam and me.
Somebody was crying.
I went to the back door. ‘Mamma. Somebody’s crying’.
Mamma came to the door. She could hear her.
‘Daddy!’ she shouted, ‘somebody’s crying, out over Jarvis’s.’
Daddy stands at the back door. ‘That’s “Help, Help” isn’t it? Sounds like a woman.’
He runs to the back gate. Mamma runs after him.
We run after Mamma.
Daddy can’t get the gate open. He throws my train. He throws Madam’s trike.
Daddy’s in the lane.
We are all at the gate – I stand against the post and Madam holds Mamma’s pinny.
All down the Lane, men at their gates, listen to the cries for help.
They run. The run across the lane, across the field, towards a point in the big hedge along old Jarvis’s farm.
The first one disappears in the hedge.
A shout. He runs out. The men all shout and run along the hedge to get to the farm-gate.
Mums and kids stand in the lane.
I cry for the poor lady.
Madam laughs at me.
I poke her.
Mamma lifts her up.
She looks at Daddy running.
The lady still cries, but we cannot see the fathers any longer. They have disappeared along the boundary fence and probably clambered into the farm. Mothers gather up the little ones and move together into huddles. There is some whispering and more attention and concern is displayed to the infants.
A mother sidles towards the side lane to improve her view of the men, to gain first impression of safety … or menace.
The rescuers reappear and the first couple give a wave to the gathering on the Lane.
The lady still cries out so the women look from one to another. I see Daddy and Mamma lets me run towards him.
I career into his arms. He gathers me up into his arms, laughing and kissing me.
‘Stop laughing at the poor lady, Daddy,’ I say patting his head.
‘What a ridiculous father you have Kevin.’ He looks around and shouts at the other men who are all panting and laughing and waving to their arriving wives and families.
‘We weren’t to know!’
‘Naagh, we couldn’t chance it.’
‘So frightening – real wasn’t it.’
‘ ’ark at the stupid thing – took no notice of us!’
‘Old Jarvis shoulda told us.’
‘Told you what, Daddy?’ asked Mamma.
‘That he’s been and gone and bought himself a blinkin’ peacock.’
‘What’s happening to the lady, Daddy?’
A true story. Mr Jarvis had a farm, now a scrap yard, across the field from Meadow Lane, on Jackdaw Lane, Oxford. My sister was actually called Madam by everybody until she got to secondary school. Clark’s got the idea for their shoe advert from her.
REMEMBERING WHEN … by Cynthia Smith
Mine was a very loving mother and I wish I had many more happy memories of her than I do. But, sadly, she was not always ‘my Mum’. Through no fault of her own, she was often that ‘other’ mother.
My earliest recollection, when I was probably no more than two years old, was squealing with delight as Mum puffed out her cheeks for me to ‘pop’ with my little hands, when she would blow a raspberry. She would only stop when I was in danger of being sick from laughing so much. I wish I could have stayed in that happy childhood bubble for ever.
My father was often bad-tempered. Mum told me it was because of the pain caused by his stomach ulcer, whatever that was. But he, too, was a very loving parent. He was fond of children and often good fun when my friends came round.
When we were quite small he liked to play ‘Peter and Paul’ with us. He would stick a little piece of white paper on the top of two of his fingers and recite:
“Two little dickie birds, sitting on a wall,
“One named Peter, one named Paul.”
Here he would wiggle the fingers representing the birds.
“Fly away Peter, fly away Paul …”
Here the two ‘birds’ would disappear over Dad’s shoulder and his fingers return without the birds.
“Come back Peter, come back Paul.”
Miraculously, as it seemed to us, the birds re-appeared on Dad’s fingers. There were delighted ‘oohs’ from us and no matter how many times he did it Dad seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. The birds ‘flew’ so fast that we small children could not see the sleight of hand.
One day our enthusiasm encouraged Dad to show us a new ‘trick’. He said he was going to take all his teeth out! Having seen dentistry in cartoons on the television, with the agony of just one tooth being removed, we were aghast at the thought of this. We knew nothing of false teeth, so there were gasps of horror as Dad removed first his lower and then his upper denture. With a theatrical flourish, he put them back, no doubt pleased with our stunned reaction.
Some people, however, are never satisfied. Tom from next door piped up:
“Now take your head off.”
A Visit to the Past
Although now retired I remain a coordinator for a Linkedin Group, the professional equivalent to Facebook. Each member produces a brief biography of themselves from School onwards. My own includes a brief mention of my first days at Prep. School. One of our members read my biog. and noted that his children now attended the School to which I had been an earlier pupil. He notified me and informed me that there was to be a reunion – ‘would I be interested’. I said I would. This resulted in a smart invitation to my wife and I to attend the reunion from the current Headmaster. As a result the past became the present.
Oh how strange and pleasant that Saturday seemed. We climbed the steps that I had first climbed some 62 years ago. Into the entrance, down the long corridor and into the main hall. It all seemed so much smaller than I remembered, but then I had grown a bit!
We were treated to a splendid display of athletics and a brief play and music by the current pupils, as well as a very pleasant tea. The Headmaster came and chattered enthusiastically to us and, clearly, I knew more about the earlier times than he did. Sadly, all my masters had either retired or passed on by now.
I had enjoyed my time at this School. It set me up really well for my future life. Here, I had passed my Eleven-Plus and gained a scholarship. More importantly I had gained an interest and some knowledge about life then, in the past and what may be in the future.
It transpired I was the only aged returner at the reunion, but for me it opened doors in my memory and this return to my past made a wonderful picture of life then, in a different World.
This brief visit to my past reminded how pleasant life had been. Just for a brief while the past became the present.