I was three when I first went to Singleton; since then it has always been my favourite place.
Singleton is a large house that sleeps twenty people, situated in an acre of land, five minutes walk to Daymer Bay in North Cornwall, facing Padstow on the Camel estuary. This was Betjeman country: he lived in a house opposite our driveway and we experienced “sand in the sandwiches”! As children our family, three girls and a boy, were taken to Singleton for summer holidays. My father would sometimes stay in London working for a while and Mum would bring her friend, Mary, and her two children, Jonny and Moppy, who enjoyed playing with us. During these early years I remember we took a picnic for lunch and later my father employed a cook, Rose, who used to make a meal for us when we got back. Rose adored my mother; my father said it was because Rose’s mother, like ours, was called Lydia…
To get to Singleton from London it involved a long journey. Lucy, the youngest of us was a baby who sat on Mum’s knee; we three older children were cramped in the back seat of our Alvis which was a very fine green car with a roof that could be taken down and plastic windows for us back-seat travellers which you could hardly see through. I can’t help remembering its number-plate was FKU 112 – Mum never understood why we thought this was rather rude. The road in those days was not very good, the M4 and M5 had not yet been built, and Mum always said we would be grateful when the Hammersmith flyover was completed. I seem to remember that, when we got to Ilminster (or was it Ilchester?) we used to ask if we could stop for a beefburger, which we did sometimes.
I remember I used to suck my thumb and sniff my woolly-doolly, Jessica used to complain about feeling sick, and Oliver was trouble, as he always was… Just before we arrived Dad would turn right into the driveway to Singleton and make us all get out of the car with the suitcases because, otherwise, the bottom of the car used to scrape on the road. Then it was a quick drive along a short path to Singleton.
Some years it would rain and my mother called it horizontal rain, which I now understand is rain blown by the wind so it doesn’t come straight down. The house was within easy reach of Brae Hill which we often climbed; it was also near St. Enodoc Church that nestles in the sand dunes; and it is near St. Enodoc golf course so that when my father did come (he never liked sunbathing or swimming) he could play golf. On one occasion Dad invited a friend of his to stay and my mother was so worried about the friend’s wife, who was an alcoholic, that she decided to take up golf which became a lifelong pleasure to her.
One winter my parents decided to take us for the Christmas holiday; this involved buying a Christmas tree and Dad found some candleholders. Unfortunately one day the fairy at the top of the tree caught fire, causing great excitement. It may have been the same year that mum told me that in the excitement of packing the presents, my presents had been left in London. I, aged eight or so, was noble and brave about this and later I remember opening my clarina.
One year my father decided to ask his father to join us in Cornwall. Grandad was never a very nice man and, one day, my mother said he had been so horrible to my father the night before that she made up that one of Dad’s patients had rung up to ask Dad to return to London to help him. I remember thinking that this was very clever and scheming of my mother! It is a pity that Grandad was the only grandparent I ever knew; his wife was called Mary and I think that helped Dad to particularly like me.
When I grew older I used to make a proclamation that I was going to swim in the sea every day; in those days we didn’t have wet-suits so it was a pretty valiant effort. When I was in my teens I had a friend called Vivien and she and I had many happy holidays at Singleton; one year we slept in the hut which was beside the house, and, as we only came out for meals my mother said we hadn’t done anything but read our Agatha Christies and talk in the hut and she felt we should be out walking or swimming. Of course, this behaviour is typical of teenagers.
When I was a bit older my Uncle Michael was staying, with his new wife, Philippa, and he told me that as I was waiting for Adrian to arrive I should go up to the house, comb my hair and put on a nicer shirt; the outcome was that Adrian soon arrived and about two years later we were married in the nearby Church at St. Minver. Dad had banned the idea of me getting married in St. Enodoc as it would interrupt the golfers!
When I was twenty I decided to apply for Exeter University as it was the nearest one to Singleton. My plan was to meet a minor-public-school bloke who had a car to take me to Singleton, about an hour’s drive. At the Freshers’ Ball I met Tony who had a Mini which took me and various friends to Singleton. At that time my father put the electricity on a meter! Ever since then it has continued to be a place which friends – students, parents, all sorts – have loved and enjoyed being there. Our four sons enjoyed it when they were children and now that they are older, in their thirties. We have friends to stay with their children and so they also have warm memories of Singleton and of the pub called Pityme which sold delicious meals, and the Rock Bakery where we bought bread and pasties when we were there.
Now I am disabled and confined to bed or a wheelchair by MS, I still have, in my head, many happy memories of Daymer Bay. I can’t now swim or build sandcastles or play in the rock-pools with my grandsons but I have these activities in my mind. When people talk of going to Toad Pool, the Fairy Pool, Lundy Bay or Brae Hill, though I can’t go there literally, I can in my mind.
Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony when he was deaf; he was able to imagine the sounds that the various instruments of the orchestra would make; similarly I can enjoy Singleton in this way. My mixed feelings come about because I do love the place and it still hurts when I can’t go to places any more, but I have learned to enjoy my memories of those places.