The Old Homestead

I didn’t really know what to expect when I decided to go and see the house where I grew up (ages 3 – 23). Given that Johannesburg has turned into a series of walled fortifications, I expected not to be able to see the house at all. Here’s an example of the security almost all houses surround themselves with these days:

…and mostly, the gates are solid wood or steel, to prevent “crash” robberies.

So my heart sank a little when I turned onto the old road, and saw this:

…but when I got to the old house, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the current owners have not succumbed to paranoia (or, to be cynical, prudence):

The place has changed quit a bit (and for the better, I think), as it now has a Mediterranean feel to it. When my father originally built it back in 1957, it was the height of 1950s architecture — i.e. pig-ugly by today’s standards — but now its design is almost timeless.

And having just come from the south of France, I like this far better.

Some details: it sits on a hectare (about 2.5 acres), and while some of the other places have been subdivided into two, old Number 7 hasn’t. The house is about 4,000 sq. ft in size, unless they’ve added on some more in the back, which I couldn’t see through the trees.

It looks quite lovely, and I’m glad I got to see it.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about what I’ve seen in and around Johannesburg.

 

I Could Live Here

“Here” is “anywhere along the Midi (Southern France coastline)”, where I spent last week. Never mind the usual tourist pics like this one:

…because to buy one of those houses you’d need to win not one but three or four large $100-million+ lotteries.

No; I could live in one of the smaller places up the hill such as in Beausoleil, La Turbie or especially Juan-Le-Pins, well off the tourist areas, where prices are not even close to California levels — as long as you don’t doing a bit of renovation. But good grief, the views:

Apartment rentals are not bad: depending on the quality of the place, about $2,000 per month for a small 2-bedroom apartment (in Plano, I was renting a 1-bed for just over $1,200). Here was the view from Longtime Friend & Drummer Knob’s place in Beausoleil, just outside Monaco:

The weather is just about perfect, the food is about the same price as the U.S. (if you avoid the tourist traps along the coast) and the towns look like this:

A few miles inland, by the way, are drives like this:

…and given the season, that’s about as ugly as it gets. Gawd knows what it’s like in summer.

I need to brush up on my French (which, by the way, is in a sad state of dilapidation after years of non-use). Amazingly, my halting Franglais (for so it has become) was met with sympathy and even friendliness — the people in the Midi do not live up to the reputation of the French as surly xenophobes; quite the opposite.

I didn’t take too many pics of my trip there, because I knew after about three hours that I would be coming back.

If you’ve never been to the south of France, you owe it to yourself to go. Start saving now; you will never regret it. (I would recommend April-May or September-October, to avoid the high season when prices and such are sky-high.)

Oh, and did I mention the food? That’s for another post.

The Midi

No time to post anything cultural today; I’m off to the south of France, e.g.:

…and tonight I should be dining somewhere like this:

Yeah, I’ve had enough cold weather for a while, although apparently a cold front has swept through the place, making the weather more like Hardy Country than the Midi. (I know, I know: First World Problems.)

Tomorrow: Monaco, or maybe Provence. (I’m in the hands of Longtime Friend & Drummer Knob, so I have no idea where we’re going or what we’re doing. Pics to follow, if I can get decent wi-fi access on the road.)

No Cottage No Cry

Got back to the Englishman’s Castle (i.e. farm) last night after a four-hour journey from Cornwall in the pouring rain (see: Britishland Weather, Normal Autumn Edition). Of course, after leaving the cottage at 3pm and this being Britishland Autumn, only one hour was completed in daylight and the rest in Stygian black dampness. Fortunately, The Englishman is well versed in the Dark Arts of driving a Land Rover in such conditions which is a Good Thing because as any fule kno, Land Rovers have totally inadequate and shit windshield wipers which, at any speed over 20mph, simply wave about feebly over the glass without making much contact. Being a Stout Bulldog, however, The Englishman didn’t seem to notice, even when negotiating the terror known as traffic circles (“roundabouts”) along the A303, which runs from Cornwall all the way past Stonehenge, ending I-don’t-care-where.

Of course, after such a journey some sustenance was needed, but rather than go to the King’s Arms (which could only have ended badly), we settled for a curry and a couple beers at a fine Indian restaurant in Devizes.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. This is.

Had my landlord called me earlier to say that the next scheduled guests had canceled their stay and would I like to stay in Boscastle for the next few days, I would have sung the Hallelujah Chorus. Why? Well, I like singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the best of times, but mostly I would have sung it because my stay in the cottage, far from being the ordeal I thought it might be, turned out to be one of the best times of my life. This was not just because Boscastle is beautiful (it is) or because the locals are very friendly (they are) or because I liked being on my own (amazingly, I discovered that I do).

It was a great time because of the cottage itself. I’ve not given a proper description of the place before because I wanted to do the place justice after I left. So here goes.

It’s called “The Old Store House” because that’s what it used to be back in the 19th(?) century. It’s a really old building, and lies smack bang on the banks of the river, just before it empties into the harbor and estuary:

It has three bedrooms and can house five people (two double beds and a single, across three bedrooms), and has two bathrooms upstairs — excellent showers and a bathtub. But that doesn’t tell the full story. The place, inside, is absolutely gorgeous: stone and tile floors downstairs, and carpets upstairs. Here’s the kitchen and the living room:

…and the pictures don’t do them justice at all. (By the way, in the bookcase are an incredible selection of dime novels in hardback; Loyal Readers will know of my love for the genre, and suffice it to say that I read four during my stay.) Simply put: I could live there quite happily for the rest of my life — and I should point out that my good friends the Sorensons (who took me there and stayed a couple days) are of the same opinion.

Enough of that. To my Murkin Readers I say: if you’ve ever thought of visiting Britishland, you have to visit Cornwall, you have to visit Boscastle, and you have to stay at The Old Store House. To my Britishland Readers I say: book your stay for next year (here). But I should warn you all that The Englishman has already booked out fifteen weeks (nearly four months) of next year, so do not procrastinate.

And I’m told that almost all the people who’ve booked their stay are “returners”, which should give you an idea.

This is not a plug of gratitude to The Englishman on my part — although I am pathetically grateful to him for getting me in there at such short notice. This post is a service to my Readers, because I promise you, you will love the place, both the town and The Old Store House.

If you do manage to get in, email me and I’ll give you all the inside scoop: where and where not to eat, tips about local beauty spots, and where to shop. Now get going.


P.S. “Sharon’s Plaice” [sic] just up the road from the cottage has the best fish & chips I’ve ever eaten. The fish comes from that morning’s catch, and fresh potatoes are likewise dropped off daily from one of the local farms. Last Saturday night there were about fifteen people (I among them) standing in the chilly rain, patiently waiting for their orders to be filled.

It was the third time I’d been there in five days.

Oh, and the Spar Foodliner across the street sells Wadworth 6X.

Disconnected

It says something for my state of mind that when I saw the headline “May and Hammond at war over worst budget build-up in history”, my immediate thought was “Why are Captain Slow and the Hamster arguing over their show’s budget, and where’s Jeremy Clarkson in all this?”

Of course, the headline refers to some nonsense about UK politics and the “May and Hammond” referred to are not James and Richard, but BritPM Wossname May and the Lord High Chancellor of Whatever, Philip Hammond.

Cut me some slack: I’m out of touch here in Nether Boonies, Cornwall, and the UK’s budget battle is about of the same interest to me as the love life of that fat comedienne who’s related to Chuck Schumer. (Okay, maybe the budget thing is a little more interesting, but you get my drift.)

Now: what’s for breakfast?

Solitude

My friend Doc Russia is a very intelligent man. When we got the final diagnosis of The Mrs.’s cancer — that it would be a question of months or even weeks, not years — Doc told me that he was not going to let me stay by myself “in some little apartment, looking at four walls” (his words).

So, true to his word, when the end finally came, he moved me into his guest room where I’ve been ever since — except for when I’ve been living with Mr. Free Market’s family and The Englishman’s family, that is.

Until now.

Now, of course, I’m staying in Cornwall in a lovely cottage owned by The Englishman, and for the first time since February this year, I’m completely on my own.

So how does it feel, this living by yourself thing?

Many people talk of how when they finally come to live on their own, whether after death of a spouse or divorce, that there’s a wonderful sense of relief — that being on one’s own means that all your time is your own, that you have freedom to do whatever you want, even that you find things exactly where you left them, and so on. Last night, for example, I felt a little tired so I went to bed at about 9pm instead of my usual midnight-ish bedtime. Big mistake. As I’ve got older, I’ve come to need less sleep — or, to be more precise, a measured amount of sleep: about six to seven hours — so going to bed at 9 meant waking up at, yes, you guessed it, 4am with absolutely no chance of going back to sleep. Shit.

After a while, though, a thought occurred to me: I didn’t need to go back to sleep. I had nowhere to go in the morning, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention. It’s called retirement, and I’m retired. Furthermore, if I were to feel tired later in the day because of my early awakening, I could just take a damn nap because I had nowhere to go, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention.

Having established all that, there was only one thing to do, of course: I fell asleep in seconds and woke up just after 9am.

Then I walked downstairs after doing my Morning Things (meds, etc.) and walking into the kitchen, to find everything exactly as I’d left it the evening before: tidy (I’m a tidy person by nature) but with stuff lying on the counter that I would need to make breakfast. I still needed a few things so I walked up to the little grocery store and bought them, and when I got back to the cottage I put everything away and made myself breakfast. Which is when yet another realization came to me: this will be the pattern of the rest of your life.

I also don’t have a car, which means I can’t spend my days driving around the countryside like a dervish, being too busy to think. Now I have to take my time, literally, and in that time, all I really have are my thoughts for company.

Let me get one thing absolutely clear, at this point: I don’t mind being by myself — or at least, I’ve never minded being by myself before. The problem is that when you’ve lived as close to someone as I lived with The Mrs. for over twenty years, you get used to being not alone; and when you love your companion, that constant companionship is not a burden, it’s addictive.

For the first time in my life I feel alone, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.

This won’t last, of course. At some point I’ll either get used to being on my own, or else a miracle will occur and I won’t be on my own anymore.

This post, by the way, is not a cry for help, nor is it a gloomy one. In ten days’s time, I’ll be driving along the Midi with one of my oldest friends, and after that, I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year in London with an even older one. My time in Cornwall is therefore just an interlude, but it may well prove to be the most important part of this sabbatical.

But Doc sure called this one right. At this point, having spent so much time in other people’s homes and having been so busy doing things like hunting, carousing, watching cricket and football and driving all over the place, the shock of February has pretty much worn off. Had I moved into an apartment back then and spent my days looking at the walls with a future that was going to be just that, I’m not sure I could have coped. No, let me tell the truth here; I would have fallen apart.

Instead, my friends, my wonderful, caring friends have given me the chance to recover, a time to heal and a time during which I could put my mind at rest.

Now I’m ready to move on, to face what the rest of my life may bring me, and I promise you all, I intend to live it to the full.