Just back from a short gad around Cornwall on the occasion of my birthday. Trained down to Plymouth, picked up a hire car like we did three years ago. This time it was a K-reg Vauxhall Astra, which I pretty much fitted into and which was much easier to drive than the Meganne(though I found it a bit unresponsive in reverse).
Hadn't driven in three years and was just wondering if I could still remember how as we hurfed into the Plymouth traffic. That was fun.
One we were over the Tamar it was all a bit of a mystery. Was a bit apprehensive as I ulled into the steep, grand drive of Tregrehan house and gardens, but it turned out the Dr had hired us what I assume was once servants' cottages or stables. What a terribly dignified place to stay.
The weather to begin with was appalling; we were soaked to the skin in seconds and had to dry our clothes by the electric fire, even on Midsummer's Eve. Worse, the fog was so thick that cars - even with lights on it - seemed to just fade away maybe 50 yards ahead of us.
The Dr explored Par beach - and got soaked - on Saturday while I endeavoured to do some work. Then up to see Suetekh, who already had Scott et famile staying. There was much excitement in the construction of a mammoth chocolate cake; the two year-old assistant chef was much taken with the edible glitter.
We delayed the watching of Droo while small child was put to bed. Me and Suetekh ventured out to Bugle to fetch the take-away, only to discover that despite the heavy rain and fog some kind of contest for marching bands was determined to go ahead anyway. We sat in traffic for half-an-hour watching soaked, thick-coated people insist on enjoying themselves, though even up close the rain snatched away any sound of the bands.
Back to Chez Suetekh to eat, and to discover that the Sky box has fritzed and not recorded Droo. Scott and I are much teased as various frantic efforts are made with laptops and iPlayer and such. But our main concern is that we'd rather wait to watch it properly than see it popping, clagging bits where the connection's not there. After a great deal of effort, it all works out in the end and we sit mesmerised and excited.
After, I check through the various texts from people who watched it on time. "They stole the Time Travellers!" comments Codename Moose. "Holy fuck!" comments everyone else.
We roll home through fog-shrouded, eerily quiet roads. Then next day, with the sun daring to peak through the clouds, we walk the half-hour to the Eden Project. Cor. Just cor.
It is a lunar or Martian spacebase, just a practice version. Suetekh and the Family Scott joined us after the Dr and I had done the domes. We listened to live music, explored the gardens, dallied with ice-cream and Eden's own beer. I bought too many books about the architecture and things, and generally just blissed out. The science and pillow-like hexagonal structures are based on what they've learnt from 200 years of greenhouses and railway stations.
On Monday we went to Charlestown, which the Dr thinks was used as a location in Mansfield Park and Poldark. The local shipwreck museum was keen to tell us that shipwrecking happened all round the country rather than being a specifically Cornish trait. We liked the accounts of local protest about livelihoods when it was suggested making wrecking illegal.
But the museum is a strange hodge-podge, with displays of jewels a bit like Kate Winslet's in Titanic alongside a severed human foot. The Dr muttered that there was "no narrative".
Then we went for a walk, following the coastal path (apart from the bits that were blocked off because the path was falling into the sea). This was, probably, a mistake, because after Porthpean the path didn't seem to go anywhere but steeply up and down. After one climb of 172 steps we emerged onto a Y-fork in the road. And taking the left fork we ended up - some time later - emerging from the right. It is just conceivable that I should have listened when the Dr suggested we turn back.
We stopped off in Charlestown for beer and cheesy chips, and much replenished but bone-tired and sore we wearily made our way home. Stopped off at Tescos for steak and beer, and then I made up for my earlier Neanderthal pig-stubbornness with Neanderthal fire skills on the barbecue.
Tuesday was the actual birthday which began with a good haul of presents: a huge book of castles from the air; The New Five Doctors and Flight of the Conchords; a mammoth book of Icelandic sagas, with a lovely coarse cut to the edge of the pages so in profile it looks a bit like crinkle-cut chips...
Drove to Fowey where we peeked in the bookshop and stopped for coffee. The coffee shop included signed menus and photos from when Tony Blair visited - including one above the toilet in the gents. Then we clambered back up to the car park and snaggled along to Looe to visit the Dr's relatives.
I'd done Looe hill in the Meganna last time, so we parked in the main car park at the bottom and then walked up - which is about just as daft. Relatives were baffled we hadn't driven and couldn't believe we don't own a car.
Poked about the Looe shops looking for saffron cake, but there didn't seem to be any. It seems Cornwall has been quiet of late, and saffron is expensive. One baker explained that they only baked saffron cake on one day of the week.
Having seen off the relatives about six, we made our way back to Suetekh's for tea. The sunny day greyed into rain the nearer we got to her, so it ended up being an indoor picnic. I'd been fed by two separate sets of Dr-relatives, both keen to show their love in cooking, so I picked rather bloatedly at the fantastic spread. New potatoes dipped in hot Camembert is not easy to resist.
And too soon it was gone 10 and we had to be moving. I struggled to turn the car round and got us back out into the fog, and we cruised back to our lodiging without incident. Though as we pulled into the quiet car park another, parked car flashed its headlights. Didn't think much of it until we'd unpacked all our goodies and got back into our flat. And then I wondered if the other car was there for dogging, or to guard against it.
Yesterday we got up reasonably early, packed up our things, washed up and hoovered, and then idled round the gardens where we were staying before falling back into the car. A quietish journey back, with a successful stop-off for saffron cake, and then onto the train. Where, in the seats behind us, a very dull pair of suits discussed their company accounts loudly for the whole journey home.
Tired and with baggage we fought our way onto the Tube and bypassed the rush hour by going to the Antelope, where Terrance Dicks was addressing the BSFA, interviewed by Tim Phipps. Lots of laughs, some beer, some pub grub, some good chatter with mates - how nice to see Paul Cornell well past the worst of his car crash. But soon me and the Dr were both seriously flagging and tried to slip off quietly...
It seemed to take forever to get home, where the cat and many presents and cards were waiting. The cat-sitting sister had been an exemplary guest; washing sheets, hoovering and leaving flowers. I unwrapped presents, got my new sonic screwdriver working (it doesn't make the Dr's clothes fall off, even when used at the same time as the Master's laser screwdriver), and breezed through several hundred emails, mostly saying happy birthday.
And then, at last, sleep. I can feel today in my neck and shoulders how little I enjoyed the driving. It's less the driving itself as the apprehension of other people on the road. But so much done - work and play - and such an expertly judged break. Now I merely have a whole gamut of big projects to get finished, including the small matter of rebuilding the top of our house...