Friday, 5 October 2007

Beach hut memories

Last week a London based businessman paid £91,000 for a beach hut on Teignmouth beach. For those of you who have travelled down to Cornwall by train, Teignmouth is the bit with a large, red cliff that sticks out, known as The Ness. It has a few pine trees on top, like tufts of hair. I know it well, for I was brought up there.

I used to have ballet classes in one of those beach huts, and they’re tiny. There was room for a barre, a mirror, our ballet teacher and three small girls to jig around in and that was about it, so what someone is planning to do with it baffles me. As I remember there isn’t a window either, or if there is it’s of postbox dimensions.

However, the situation is superb. This row of beach huts overlook the village of Shaldon opposite and Teignmouth docks round to the right. Just outside the beach huts a tiny passenger ferry trundles back and forth, linking Shaldon with its busier sibling. A long, beautiful iron bridge spans the river Teign, linking Shaldon with the rest of the world, and in the distance the estuary winds its way up to Newton Abbot.

I arrived at this idyllic spot as an 18 month old baby. We rented a cottage in Shaldon which was apparently damp but picturesque, and my parents made lifelong friends with the couple next door. Mum had had a bad time with me as I’d been very ill at birth (in London) and we were both closeted in Intensive Care for months, so coming down to Shaldon must have been like a sigh of relief.

Not used to babies – I’m the oldest – Mum was naturally nervous, but help was at hand. An elderly fellow used to run the passenger ferry which trundles back and forth, taking kids to school, people shopping, tourists and walkers to and from the beaches.

One day when Mum was at her wits end with a screaming me, the ferry man said gently to her, ‘Ere, love. You give Curly to me. I’ll look after her – you have some time to yourself.’ (In a broad Devon accent.)

A red eyed Mum handed over her baby and, with several backward glances, went off with her friend for a few hours. Apparently I slept, woke and gurgled, and slept again. Life on the ocean wave, that was for me.

So ever after that, whenever Mum needed a break, she’d hand over her daughter to the ferryman who delighted in his tiny, curly haired passenger.

What a shame that nowadays he’d be branded a paedophile, and I’d be taken away by Social Services, my mother reprimanded for being incapable, neglectful, at fault.

I wish I could remember back that far. I bet I delighted in the attention, in the gentle lapping of the waves, the cry of the gulls overhead. The shouts of the other boatmen, the swish of the tide running fast, the steady chug of the engine, the deep satisfying rumble of the boatman's voice. What better start to life?

I hope that whoever bought this beach hut – which is a piece of history, after all – will treat it as a place for quiet contemplation. I hope they will walk outside, sniff the autumn air and clamber aboard the little ferry. They will watch the water eddying around them, see the beach huts recede and the Shaldon boats beckon. On a quiet day, you can hear the happy gurgle of a child.

23 comments:

Casdok said...

Sounds wonderful. So i hope it is cared for as well.

Flowerpot said...

we'll see... i will go and have a look next time I'm there!

Lesley Rigby said...

I loved that post. You were truly blessed to start life in such a beautiful place and to still live there now.

I would have loved the ferryman "To bits" if he had looked after my first child for a few hours - I can say that as it wasn't Graham. First babies do terrify you!

I recognised the ballet shoes in your photograph as I had some just like them. Weren't they wonderful?

Em said...

You paint a wonderful picture. I'm now horrendously 'homesick' for Devon/Cornwall - my Dad's from Plymouth and we have/had Cornish rellies so came down every summer during my childhood. If I hear a Devon accent I pretty much relax instantly... haven't been down this year :'(

Frances said...

I understand someone buying there, it is lovely. I remember when we were trying to buy a few years back, we looked at Lyme Regis and there was a derelict public toilet for sale at some exorbitant price, and it was sold!

Flowerpot said...

lesley - glad you enjoyed it, though I dont live there now - I'm over teh border in Cornwall! But my mother doesnt live far away. I remember teh shoes - I went on to proper pink ones later for the ballet lessons!

Em - sounds like you're in need of a south west trip. Do get in touch if you come down - teh two mollies can meet up as well!

frances - yes, I was very lucky to be brought up there. We mvoed when I was 11 and it wasn't the same...

Lesley Rigby said...

I do know that you are living in Cornwall now but I was thinking of the SW. coastal area generally. I probably didn't word it very well.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Lovely blog, Flowerpot.

You could be right though, not sure in these days I would even give my baby to someone else to look after! It just shows how times have changed.

Crystal xx

laurie said...

what a great image that is--the gentle ferryman taking care of the little babe.

my sister's nickname was Curly, too, when she was toddler.

Flowerpot said...

lesley - yes I realised that later! Having always lived here (apart from 15 working years in London) I dont know that I'd wnat to live anywhere else. Both my brothers moved away a long time ago though. I'm the only one who's come back.

Flowerpot said...

Crystal - it was somewhat uncharactertistic of my mother to hand me over - just shows how desperate she was! But no I dont expect people would now - certainly not to a ferryman! Sad really.

Flowerpot said...

laurie - almost biblical isn't it? And glad to hear there's another Curly out there - or was anyway!

Rebecca Taunton said...

Sounds like a wonderful upbringing FP. Such a pity that few (if any) will experience it nowadays. Idyllic. You're very lucky.

RT

The Rotten Correspondent said...

What a beautiful post. And what lovely memories.

And what a nice ferry man. It sounds like he enjoyed it as much as you did.

Flowerpot said...

RT - yes nto that i can remember that far back but I had a very happy time in Teignmouth.

correspondent - I like to think he thoroughly enjoyed it. Surely he wouldnt have offered otherwise? He probably wasnt very old, but perhaps his child had died. Or his wife couldnt have children. Or didn't want them. Or something. You can see why I write fiction....

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

What a lovely childhood to look back on. And you didn't have to pay £91,000 for it.

julia said...

I know what you mean about being reluctant nowadays to let a ferryman look after a baby. It really is too bad that an entire gender of people has to be suspect. I'm sure he was a wonderful man or your mother wouldn't have left you with him. I love your descriptions of the area!

Akelamalu said...

Sounds a bit steep for a beach hut but maybe the buyer has similar memories of the place as you?

What a lovely story about you and the ferryman. As you say though today he would probably be branded a paedophile. My Dad has always loved children and cannot resist talking to them wherever and whenever he gets the chance, but he get's funny looks now - it's such a shame.

Flowerpot said...

wakeup - good point! It'll be interesting to see what they do to the beach hut - I shall ask my mother to go adn investigate.

Flowerpot said...

julia - yes I'm sure he was a sweetie. Probably reminded mum of her father who;d died by then. But perhaps that's me being whimsical!

Flowerpot said...

Ak - yes hope the buyer had similar memories, or has read a Westcountry based book and wants to establish some roots or something. If hes based in London it'll be good to get away fromo teh smog and be able to breathe awhile...

Eurodog said...

Would they get planning permission to extend the beach hut???

Flowerpot said...

eurodog - it was sold, apparently, with planning permission for a two storey chalet. The only way they can extend it is upwards as it's in a row of beach huts!