Memory cul-de-sac

A friend posted something online the other day, about her local beach. She has moved back home after living in London for years, and that ‘home’ is Cornwall, and that beach was my grandparents’ local beach, and they lived just above it in a modern (for those times) purpose-built bungalow that Grandpa built as a retirement place for them both, aiming for a nirvana setting where family would come and relax and enjoy the sea air and the stunning views. And that is just what we all did when we went to stay there, or visit for the afternoon: my sister and I spent a good deal of our childhood adventuring on the lawn with our two older boy cousins. Those were the days.

My sister went back there years ago; I think she was shown around, but this was quite soon after we had sold it. I also took a walk down the back path but I couldn’t see much, and what I could see I didn’t like so I didn’t hang around. Again, this was years ago. So my friend’s post made me instantly go online to see if my grandparents’ bungalow was still standing. You can do anything, go anywhere these days, without having to leave the house. Thanks to the wonders of online science, this time I went right up to the front door and on inside, all from the comfort of my Singapore dining table, to find that the place is now a rental holiday home, a four-bedder with stunning sea views, pictures of which appeared everywhere.

The views are precisely why my Grandpa bought this bit of land and built the bungalow right there on the cliffside, a house nesting in its own dreamy thicket of green, approached by driving down a beach road, then a cul-de-sac, then down an almost vertical drive. It had three bedrooms, an orchard, winding pathways going in and out of trees and an olympic-sized lawn that followed the cliff’s slope down to a gate. When we drove over to visit from our own cottage on the north coast, we would chant ‘I can see the sea’ as our old VW beetle nosed ever south towards the little front parking area. The prize once we had bunny-hopped to a stop was the unlocking of the big 1960s wooden door, a huge bosomy hug from Granny, and an apple-scented one from Grandpa, appearing from the orchard greenhouse to chuckle out a hello. Then us girls would sprint off to the garden to roll down the lawn and gawp, panting, at the stunning sea view. This ritual is the kind you find in magical childrens’ books, and the garden was the kind of prize that even small children appreciated – a piece of land so stunning that we never wanted to leave.

When we were little, passers-by walked the cliff path at the bottom of the garden, and would peer in through the iron gate, nosily entranced by the enormous upwards sweep of green. We would dance and twirl on the lawn, ostentatiously aware of onlookers, and enjoying showing off ‘our’ garden to the tourists. On that huge bit of grass, with borders of lavender and hyacinth, we sat and ate biscuits on plastic summer chairs during school holidays; we creaked the double swingseat higher and higher, and took turns on the proper single swing with its faded pink metal guard-poles (the one that couldn’t quite take Granny’s scone-happy weight so that she fell off, once, with a bump; she was fine, she couldn’t get up for laughing). This is where we watched the grown-ups pour tea, dark scented liquid making a pleasing bubble sound as it went into the china cups. It’s where we dutifully passed around the scones, and where the cousins chased us with pretend guns. Where water-play sessions got our frocks soaking wet and where, one rare snowy winter, we toboganned down the slope – and in all weathers that sweep of sea, gunmetal grey or glittery azure, could be seen from almost any room, any angle. What a clever piece of land.

So there I was, visiting online, musing about how it must be around 25 years since I was last there in person. No wonder, then, that changes have been made. They involve concrete, a lot of it, totally covering the old patio and (wince) half the garden. Inside, the moss-coloured carpets are gone and so is the pearlescent sliding room screen. The rooms are uniformly a pale Farrow & Ball shade of ocean grey, and there’s a little woodburner at the back where once a round brass-framed fisheye mirror, fixed high up on the wall, had me staring endlessly at the distorted reflection of my bulging face. The neat fireplace halfway down the wall of the sitting room – with a mantelpiece that had carriage clocks, and a chair on either side for Granny and Grandpa – is now just one big space, oddly huge. Four bedrooms, says the blurb, but I couldn’t work out quite how, and I also couldn’t find our old twin bedroom, a bed each for me and my sister and a high-up shelf full of china teapots in the shape of houses.

Oh, it’s OK. I suppose I can manage the change, and in any case it was my fault for snooping. I didn’t have to go inside the place to know that over the years things would be different. And if I ever visit the friend who lives nearby, I bet I’ll be tempted to take a walk along the beach path again to see what I can see. No doubt there’ll be no little girls twirling in their party frocks on the lawn…

There are two positives that I can take from this, and they are: 1) at least the place is still low-rise, still vaguely the same shape and still boasting the same vistas. And 2) I reckon Grandpa, so very modern-thinking in his design for the original bungalow, would probably be chuffed with this shiny new version.

Oh, and 3) you can’t take away a great view, so it was worth the online snoop just to see the sea once more.

My cousin, and one of those amazing sea views