After the misery of going abroad for the summer holidays for the past few years, I’m now happily back in Cornwall. Caroline took some persuading. We used to come every year, but the combination of bad weather and cramped accommodation became too much for her. After a bad experience in a mobile home three years ago, she vowed ‘never again’ and we spent a week in Portugal in 2014 and then ten days in France last year. That was purgatory. The last straw was being un-able to order fresh fish at a seaside restaurant in the Languedoc.
To get Caroline to reconsider, I had to splash out on a luxurious ‘chalet’ overlooking Gwithian Beach near St Ives. I say ‘luxurious’ but in Cornwall that translates as furniture from Ikea rather than MFI and, in truth, it’s more of a hut than a chalet. Still, there’s enough room for all of us, provided the youngest sleeps on the sofa, and its proximity to the beach means we don’t have to faff around looking for somewhere to park each day.
The other factor that persuaded Caroline to return to Cornwall is that it meant we didn’t have to put our dog in kennels for a week. I was rather dreading Leo coming with us — he’s a one-year-old Hungarian Vizsla with the temperament of a show pony — but it has turned out to be a blessing. Dogs are only allowed on Gwithian Beach before 8 a.m., so he’s forced Caroline and me to get up at 7 a.m. every day to take him for his morning walk. Watching him run around with the other dogs in the lovely dawn light, jumping in and out of rock pools, has been a-heartwarming sight.
As we’re on the north coast, the main leisure activity here is surfing, and three of my four children have enrolled at Gwithian Academy of Surfing. I went along on the first day to keep an eye on Freddie, who’s only nine, and had a go myself. That was a mistake. Not only did I fall off the board, much to my children’s amusement, but I landed awkwardly in the shallow water. The following morning I woke up with immobilising chest pain and, for a few moments, thought I was having a heart attack. At 52, I think I’m too old to take up surfing.
One of the nicest things about the Cornish seaside is that it’s genuinely classless. You’re as likely to bump into David Cameron as you are a van driver or an insurance salesman, although this does mean you’ve got to be careful not to come over as too posh. I slipped up on this front when I bumped into a friend from Oxford who happens to be a local landowner at the Jam Pot, our nearest café. Unlike most of his fellow Cornishmen, Martin is a bug-eyed Europhile and, to tease him, I launched into a parody of the Remainers’ arguments for ignoring the referendum result. The votes of younger people should be weighed more heavily than those of older people because they’ve got longer to live, as should the votes of Oxford and Cambridge graduates because they’re the only people intelligent enough to have understood the issues.
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, which I mistook for a sign that my satirical arrows were finding their target. I continued, but with even greater volume. Affecting the insouciant drawl of a member of the Notting Hill set, I launched into a tirade against the ‘Cornish dimwits’ who’d failed to grasp that, as residents of England’s poorest county, they are beneficiaries of the EU’s largesse to the tune of £60 million a year. ‘I suppose they think that Boris, that people’s champion, will come down here and start handing out £50 notes after he’s masterminded our exit,’ I said. ‘Poor deluded fools.’
At that point, a kerfuffle broke out at a neighbouring table. I glanced over and saw a red-faced man glaring at me, being restrained by his wife. Other members of his party were looking over, too, none of them friendly. ‘I think perhaps we ought to leave,’ said Martin.
‘No, no,’ I protested. ‘They’ve clearly misunderstood. I should go over and tell them that they’re quite right to resist the EU’s dishonest attempt to bribe them with their own money.’
‘No one’s misunderstood you,’ said Martin through gritted teeth. ‘I know that man. He’s a neighbour of mine. He works for the Financial Times.’
We did leave, but I hope next year we’ll return to Cornwall. Nowhere on the Continent can compare to this beautiful part of England.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.