Most of my childhood holidays were spent in idyllic sands, beach breaking swell and rock pools that form the Cornish coastline. In particular, Harlyn Bay, a few miles from the now famous Padstow. However, this was a Padstow that was pre-Rick Stein. The locals and the ‘grockles’ both enjoyed the daily offerings dragged from the sea but this was 1977 when the deep fat fryer was king and most fish were battered within an inch of their lives and were accompanied by thick salty chips. This is when all our seaside towns consumed the majority of our post Cod- War quota.
You could eat fish and chips followed by the local fudge and wash it down with a couple of cans of coke, without even a pang of guilt. This was a pre-cholesterol nation. This was the year of gold bikinis, of brightly coloured socks with toes in and all things glitter, which included Gary.
This was my fourteenth year on the planet, when I got my licence to roam and my first independent thoughts.
Glam rock was dying, as was my childhood. Punk rock was calling, poking a finger up at ‘the olds’, enticing me to walk on the beaches and look at the peaches, even if I didn’t understand its meaning. Parental horror and secrecy nurtured my soul and the dark Cornish coves and craggy cliff faces formed the perfect backdrop.
This was the year that I had a foot in both camps. By day I was torn between lying on a towel with my bikini perfectly in place, soaking up the never-ending Cornish rays and occasionally cooling off in the seductively playful sea. And then there was the lure of those rock pools that had held my attention for hour upon hour in previous years, the small safe rock pools, not the huge one at Travone that I learnt not to drown in. These pools held the strandline’s secret circus. I loved the bearded ladies that paralysed their marine prey under water and appeared like engorged rock- nipples once exposed. Also the somersaulting sea shrimps that eluded my net, not to mention the ringmaster himself, the king of the pool, the clever crustacean who was the jewel in my bucket if caught and a total terror if he escaped.
Sometimes I would venture further a field and explore the rough cliff tops and watch a group of skinny boys jump into the surrounding sea from an exposed rock at high tide. I smiled last week when they reported the new craze of Tombstoning as I thought back to those foolhardy boys. Once I fell from those cliff tops and into the swell below, only to be pulled out by some random adult asking me where my parents were. I can’t remember how I regained my solitude without having to divulge information that would surely have clipped my wings for a few days, teenage cunning I guess.
Night and the light of the Cornish Cyclops transformed everything. Gone was the gold lame that was supposed to make my skin look pale and interesting. In came the more ‘up yours’ look of plastic punk, concealed in the black bin liner that doubled up as a dress and could be hidden in the toilet block furthest from the family tent. Out I would come, dad’s tie askew, pigtails at an oblique angle with enough kohl on my face to scare even Marilyn Manson, not that he was around in those days. Off I went across the cliff top in search of the older girls from the chip shop, the same girls that had put a shot of whiskey in my coffee the night before. We were off in the opposite direction from the one and only pub that our parents were hauled up in. We were off to the famous Cornish cliff top Hog Roast.
Even remembering the smell, all these years later, makes my mouth salivate. Words like succulent, pungent and aromatic come to mind and that was just the boys that came to these events! Not that we were to appear interested, that was not the ‘plastic’ way. Instead we ‘pogoed’ to the sounds of Plastic Bertrand with his ‘ Ca plane pour mois’ and Poly Styrene and her ’Germ Free Adolescents’. Only as an adult have I discovered how uncool these were to the real punks!
Later with our bellies full of applesauce and pork and our hearts full of disappointment, we would be drawn towards the shoreline. With the sounds of never swim at high tide or on a full stomach ringing in our minds we stripped off. How daring were we? Once in and only once in, we would shout at the passers-by on the cliff tops, what I can’t remember. Probably something along the lines of come on in the water is lovely, what we shouted wasn’t important because what we were actually saying was look at me look at me. Funny how the Facebook generation thought they invented that. Getting in was all well and good, getting out and into a bin liner whilst dripping wet wasn’t so much fun. Thank god for the nook and crannies and overhangs that the cliffs provided.
Back in the family tent just before the call for last orders, listening to the sounds of the adult revellers, I clutched my copy of My Guy. I looked at the hastily scribbled address of one of my new friends whose run at the chip shop was coming to an end. Pen friends forever: snail mail style, with a promise to meet up next year and do it all again. I scribbled 1977 Harlyn Bay forever and encircled it with a heart before placing under my sleeping bag.
As I slumbered I dreamt of the mad old women of Padstow who shouted at you if you sat on her step eating Tiddyoggy, wet days at the cinema and the boy I hoped to meet next year.
[Photo of Harlyn Bay from www.gosouthwest.co.uk/]