Thursday 20 June 2019

On this trip I am the very model of modern motoring granddad

Distant childhood memories lay behind the long road trip to Penzance, writes Dermot Gilleece

Charlie and Harry Osborne at Land's End
Charlie and Harry Osborne at Land's End

Dermot Gilleece

Having staunchly resisted all this sentimental slush about bucket lists, I eventually succumbed. It meant making one of the longest road trips of my life, to the extreme south-western tip of England.

The genesis of this piece of gentle lunacy had to do with my earliest childhood memory, back at the tail-end of World War II when I was growing up in Blackrock, Co Dublin. Images remain clear of myself as a child of four, holding my father's hand at the back of the auditorium in CBC Monkstown.

Having rejoined active service from the Army reserve, he was dressed in his captain's uniform. Meanwhile, the focus of our attention was the school's performance of The Pirates of Penzance in which my eldest brother, Colum, was playing the female lead of Mabel.

At this remove, there's always the danger of over-indulging one's imagination, but throughout my life I've thought of his boy-soprano coping admirably with the demands of Poor Wandering One. The importance of the performance in the life of our family gained rich emphasis through an enduring friendship with the late Malachi O'Gorman, who played the major-general.

Indeed, he corresponded with me from his home in the West of Ireland as recently as a couple of decades ago, 50 years after the event.

All the while, I wondered about the capacity of this place called Penzance to create such romantic thoughts. Indeed, the appeal of that particular area in Cornwall was later enhanced by Jamaica Inn, situated on the A30 between Launceston and Bodmin and celebrated by the author, Daphne du Maurier, in her book of the same title.

The chance of making some sense of these random thoughts came courtesy of the new school holiday in the second week of May.

With their father at work, wouldn't it be a wonderful trip for the boys, my wife suggested, referring to our grandchildren, Harry (12) and Charlie (10)? So it was that I set about planning a suitable itinerary.

It resulted in the five of us, my wife Kathy and myself, our daughter, Tara, and her two boys, heading for Rosslare on the evening of Sunday, May 6. From there, Irish Ferries took us on Monday morning to Pembroke Docks, where we arrived at 12.45pm.

We then headed for the Severn Bridge en route to a Premier Inn in south Bristol, a drive of about three hours on a hot, sunny afternoon. With their iPods and iPads fully charged from the boat trip, however, "Are we there yet?" never crossed the lads' lips as we ate up the miles.

From Bristol the following morning, the M5 and later the A30 brought us to our destination in deepest Cornwall, a journey of about three-and-a-half hours on splendid roads. And with some wag having removed the letter 'Z' from the signpost to our destination, we wondered what delights lay in store in 'Penance'.

Though I had no preconceived notions of Penzance, it was still something of a surprise. For a start, there was no apparent exploitation of the great gift bestowed on it by Gilbert and Sullivan. In other words, there wasn't a pirate in sight, not even on a shop-front.

Also unexpected was that all the shops, including some charming tea-rooms, closed at 5pm. Still, we enjoyed The Honey Pot at the end of a steep walk from the Queens Hotel on West Promenade Road, up through the Morrab Gardens which were utterly delightful.

The tourist season, we were told, didn't really begin until the end of May and peaked in July and August. And unfortunately for the lads, this included the Jubilee Pool, a sea-water facility dating back to the 1930s and refurbished after the damaging storms of February 2014.

Having been given repeated explanations as to my reason for making the trip, Harry and Charlie had to be satisfied with the notion of pirates being attracted to the place by the opportunity it afforded of looking out to sea from seriously elevated terrain at likely ships to plunder. Otherwise, it would be necessary to settle on a 50km trip to Newquay and its heavily advertised Pirate's Quest - a new adventure for this year. "Embark on a voyage through Cornwall's pirating past," it urged. Why, I lamented, couldn't it have been in Penzance.

After two days at the Queens Hotel, we headed early Thursday morning for Land's End, about nine miles away. Among the first to arrive there at 10am, we found a prime position in the car-park on payment of £6. As it happened, the morning was glorious, and down from the cliffs, the Atlantic sparkled in brilliant sunshine.

The lads loved Land's End, especially its signpost to faraway places. And unlike Penzance, there was no shortage of souvenirs at reasonable prices to bring home to their school pals.

From an adult perspective, there was the history of the Cornish Pasty which, we were informed, was a 19th-century invention for local tin-miners combining as it does, the ingredients of a midday meal of meat and vegetables encased in an easily portable fold of pastry.

The only curious aspect of this predictably tourist facility was the attitude of the locals. In what I learned was typically Cornish, they seemed reluctant to engage with us as visitors beyond the normal, commercial courtesies.

Approaching midday, we felt we had seen enough and soon we were back in the car, heading on the A30 towards our next destination of St Mellion. Located on the border of Cornwall and Devon, this is the leading golf resort in the area, with one of its two courses having been designed by Jack Nicklaus, no less, 30 years ago.

The following morning, we made an early start on the longest leg of our journey. This involved a four-and-a-half-hour drive, mainly on the M5 and M4, back to the ferry for a 2.45pm departure from Pembroke Docks to Rosslare.

After a round-trip of more than 1,500km, I had knocked a significant item off my bucket list when delivering the lads and their mother back to their home in south Dublin at 8.40pm on Friday.

And to butcher the words of WS Gilbert, they seemed to agree that in the process I had shown myself to be the very model of a modern motoring granddad… or something.

Sunday Independent

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