Thursday 26 June 2008

The curse of Tintagel

Tintagel Castle: legendary birthplace of King Arthur, a place steeped in mystery and romance, and blessed with rugged natural beauty. Tintagel Castle sits on a rocky perch gazing out across the sea, reachable only be a winding, perilous stair that crawls up the rocks and snakes out across the pounding surf. Even if there was no legend associated with the place you would have to invent one, so evocative are the ruins and their setting.
It's beautiful. It's mystical. It is, in fact, truly wonderful. And I can't stand the place.
You see, Tintagel Castle has a special lore surrounding it that is unique to our household. In many years from now, when my own exploits are as renowned as Arthur's, I believe the National Trust people will have to come along and affix a commemorative blue plaque to the cliff wall, which will read as follows: "This is the spot where, on June 12th 2004, Natasha Collins finally lost it."
I shall explain: a few months prior to Amelie's birth, Nini decided it would be a good idea if we book our Summer holiday - and scheduled it for 4 months after Amelie was due.
"Are you sure we'll be up to it? That seems a bit close to the birth..." I asked.
"Nonsense. Some people have babies and then trek the Amazon. We're only going to Cornwall."
"Yes, but most people have babies and then shop from Amazon. Mostly for books on how to cope with babies..."
"It will be fine." A steely look came into her eye as she uttered the immortal words: "Having a baby shouldn't stop us doing the things we want to do..."
Which is how, in the June of that year, we came to be standing at the foot of the winding stairs up the rocks to Tintagel castle, with a 4-month old Amelie asleep in her pushchair, looking at a sign that read: 'No pushchairs beyond this point'.
"You go up" I said. "You've been looking forward to seeing this place for months. I'll wait here with the baby."
"No. We can all go. You can carry her in the papoose." said Nini, with the steely look back in her eyes, though in retrospect that may have just been sleep deprivation.
So we tried. It was, without any question, an unmitigated disaster.
Amelie shrieked (not cried, not howled: shrieked) in my ear at close range throughout the five minutes I attempted to climb the steps with her strapped to my chest in her papoose. That was pretty much all the time we spent at Tintagel Castle: in pretty short order after that the wind picked up so it didn't feel safe, I started to come back down, people going up the steps starting tutting and making rude comments, and Nini burst into tears. It was utterly miserable, and our spirits didn't lift until Amelie had shrieked herself into an exhausted sleep and I was able to supply liberal amounts of soothing Cornish ice cream to my sobbing wife. We turned our backs to to the castle, and Nini had to glumly admit to herself that there was no escaping it: everything had changed now we had a child. (I think it's about that point that her post natal depression really kicked in...)
You may be wondering why I bring this up now, going on for 5 years after the event? Good question. It's because the experience has left its own peculiar footprint on our marriage: even now, when we get to some occasion or event that one of us has long been looking forward which is then subsequently completely ruined by our children, all we can do is turn to one another and ruefully say: "It's all going a bit 'Tintagel', isn't it?" and then pack up and go home, hoping there might be an ice cream on the way. Now, we go on holiday every year to Morecombe, on the North West Coast. There is an Art Deco hotel there, The Midland, that has just reopened after many years of refurbishment following many decades of neglect - it's a style icon that has featured in every broadsheet newspaper and culture magazine printed in the UK for months. They now serve a cream tea in the original Art Deco bar that can be enjoyed while looking out at the Irish Sea pounding the stone jetty pier: Nini has been aching to do this ever since the news of the hotels' refurbishment first broke. I believe she had been anticipating this treat for something like five years.
Can you guess where this story is (metaphorically) heading..? (Clue: it's a castle on the South West coast)
We finally made it to The Midland on our last day ofthe holiday, and our tea there is (thankfully) a bit of a blur: I recall that the decor was fantastic but not remotely suitable for a family like ours (choices: a line of bar stools, some tiny stools that brought your knees up to your ears when sat on, or a kind of slippery red leather banquette that Neve's bottom was unable to find any kind of purchase on). One half of the cream teas never arrived, because Nini's request for peppermint tea instead of normal tea threw the order process into disarray. At one point I took my eyes of Neve and when I looked round he had scaled a bar stool and was attempting to physically climb onto the bar itself. Amelie poured a bucket of collected seashells out all over the floor, and when she was told off she sulked miserably. She was given a napkin to draw on with a ballpoint pen, and with jutting lower lip sat and sketched a series of morose looking stick figures:
"Those are good, Amelie." I said, trying to lift her mood.
There was a faint sniff of disapproval from beneath her hanging fringe. I persevered.
"They are very nice. Who are they?"
"Princesses" came a sullen whisper.
"Princesses. They are princesses."
"That's nice. What are these bits here, coming off their faces?"
"They are tears, Daddy."
"Yes. The princesses are crying, because you have made them so unhappy."
I looked to my wife for support. She was gazing sadly out to sea, rocking gently and muttering to herself: "Tintagel. It's all gone a bit Tintagel. Again."
Neve upended her apple juice across the table, all over Amelie's pictures. Both began to wail. Neve picked up my half of scone, freshly coated with jam and cream, and threw it casually onto the floor. I decided to cut our losses: it was time to leave.
"Next time" I said to Nini, as some kind of pitiful consolation.
She nodded sadly. "Sure. We can try again next year. Or the year after that."
As we left, it began to rain. The ice cream shop was shut by the time we got to it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bless 'em. These special moments of their childhood make it all worthwhile, don't they?

One day you'll look back on all this, and you'll laugh and laugh...and then they'll give you your medication.