Sunday was a very lazy day, where we cooked, cleaned, lolled, watched TV and stayed in out of the rain! Today was a different matter, it was a warm and sunny day and as I so often am, I was drawn home………….to Fowey. Above, Dearly Beloved, being silly (and why not – he’s on holiday) is walking down one of the back streets ; yes reader! streets! of Fowey. Fowey is full of steps and it’s what kept us fit as kids, we lived at the top and the shops were at the bottom and errands were better run on younger legs. My own history is around every corner!
The Lugger was a rough as rats fisherman’s pub in my youth, the sort of pub with a blue formica bar, dusty optics, country and western on the 10p a song juke box, black and white lino on the floor and loos that smelt of Jeye’s fluid. The landlord and landlady were just known as ‘mother’ and ‘father’ (father with the hard Cornish vowel), mother with her gravelly 40 a day B&H voice and father who used to keep tuned into the ship to shore radio, giving us shipping and smuggling news. Fishermen ran a-fowl of customs and they caught as much Moroccan as they did mackerel! There were nights when easterlies blew a squall into Fowey, a roaring tide held every boat hostage and yet the lifeboat went out when the maroons boomed and lit the night sky.Half drunk pints were left on the bar and local men went to the call willingly. ‘Father’ keep the radio open until the lifeboat returned; if they were long returning then more and more locals would turn into the Lugger to see what ‘father’ knew. Hours would pass and a waiting ambulance on the quayside would indicate the returning Severn Class lifeboat that would return with an injured seaman often lifted from a passing coaster and too ill to continue, or injured by machinery on the boat he worked on. No one was a stranger if they needed rescuing off the Cornish Coast.
Just past the shadows and on the left is the tiny house I lived in as a single mum with my son Rik. Me, my boy and our cat Mog. Mog was the most hilarious cat who would take himself to the fish shop, the town quay and would take up residence anywhere. Fowey received a new gas main and the entire street was dug systematically from one end to the other. Mog thought it was the biggest cat litter tray he ever saw, he also thought prize winning window boxes were litter trays too! They were tough times for Rik and I. We had nothing and often would find a bag of logs, sometimes a sack of coal, a bag of fish on the door handle or a sack of spuds outside. Nothing was said but people knew we needed them.
Here is Sams – it was a burger bar when I lived in Fowey and Sam was a young man, adventurous and turned a dusty old cafe into one of Fowey’s greatest success stories. I’ve been back and eaten a few times, it seems unreal but I wish him the continuing success he so deserves. The tiny road it is on is the actual main street of Fowey, when I grew up there was: Clark’s shoes, Boots, WH Smith, Timothy Whites, several fresh food shops, hair dressers, shops that sold school uniform, bakers, several butchers, chandlers, sail merchants, DIY shops and now there are very few food shops and mainly tourist ‘shabby chic’ and surf wear emporiums – time moves on.
Here is one of Fowey’s many jettys. It wasn’t there when I was a child. However, I learnt to sail mirror dinghies at Gallants sailing club, that used to run a 20p a night youth club that also incorporated sailing lessons. Mr Rudge, a local teacher used to teach us how to sail, to capsize and right the dingy and then we would follow him to the mouth of the harbour and sail the little boats ourselves. My son learnt to sail here too! He learnt to sail in toppers, this time in wet suits and life jackets and his lessons were still cheap and a local teacher still used to volunteer his time. Fowey was a real community.
I learnt many of life’s lessons on that river, to this day I am very wary of the sea as it can be so unforgiving. As teenagers we would ‘borrow’ any boat not chained to its mooring and take it to Polruan where we would drink underage and generally behave badly. Too many of us tried to come back in one boat one night and we capsized the boat in the middle of the harbour. It was pitch black, past midnight and locals heard kids screaming in the water.
We knew we were in trouble when the maroons were launched and we heard the engine of Fowey lifeboat crank up in the distance. We were all over the place, getting colder and colder and desperately trying to keep afloat…………..the lifeboat came slowly towards us, along with other local boats with search lights picking us out one by one. Jan Phelps, pulled everyone of us out of that water and slapped everyone of us around the head until we were nearly concussed! We were unceremoniously thrown onto the town quay to be beaten publicly by our parents, my mother especially could punctuate every word with a slap around the back of my head as I was escorted to the car and then home. The sea is a hard teacher!
Readymoney Cove and the white washed cottages, one once the home of Daphne Du Maurier and where I spent hours of my life as a teenager. It seems so small and so safe but it’s where I learnt to water ski (never really did learn!) where I snorkeled and sunbathed. I worked in the Fowey Hotel when I first left school. I worked as a waitress and lived in and it was my first experience of living away from home. I ate steak and lobster for the first time. Polly, my room mate and I used to pilfer more than we earned and used to take the half finished bottles of wine, left by diners for ourselves and by the time I was 17 had the taste for only the best chateauneuf du pape. I used to work split shifts and this beach was where I caught up on sleep I had deprived myself of after burning the candle at both ends.
The bus stop at the end of my road. I left home when I was 16 and never spent another night under my parents’ roof. Like my own wayward and adventurous daughter, I was going to cut my own groove, make my own way and my own mistakes. I left Fowey for good but it always lures me back.
Here I am below in the same bus shelter I waited in 29 years ago, from where I left Fowey. The bus shelter is lovingly tended and painted by a local lady and makes me smile every time I see it. It was a poignant place to rest a while with mum today. Thank you for coming home with me today.