Is this the most important post of all?
After 30 months and 40,000 miles ArchieVan rolled back into St Just on October 5th.
Rolled is pretty accurate, the turbo was playing up constantly. Every 20 miles we’d lose power and need to switch off to re-boot the engine.
It didn’t matter. For so long the van has been home, and then it got us home. Just before it failed.
Two days later those months of travel began to feel like a dream.
The 28 countries are each fresh in my memory, but they exist in a parallel life.
There are several thousand photos that will keep that memory alive.
We’re in St Just now, and for a while this is our life.
When we talk about the road it all comes flooding back, yet real life is all around us. It’s cleaning the house. It’s catching up with friends. It’s finding out who is well. It’s finding out who has died.
Many chats begin with “I haven’t seen you in a while.” They’re thinking on the scale of a few Saturdays rather than 130 weeks.
Everything is different. Everything is the same.
I have to note the idiosyncrasies of this queer place before it becomes normal again.
Phil Wilkins has retired and now his estate agent’s office is an ice cream parlour – in St Just? Posh ‘tis too! All black signs and old fashioned modern lights. Or is it modern old fashioned lights?
Cultural life now revolves around the queue outside the Coop. Two in at any one time. Checkout operators retrained as Covid security guards.
There’s no live music at The Star.
No performances at the town hall.
The quiz has stopped at the Kings.
Even the fighting has stopped. Social distancing.
That, and the masks aside, so much seems so similar.
The same walkers walk the same dogs along the same routes.
The people are a bit older. The dogs are a lot older. The grass is longer. The paths unkempt.
Polly remembers her old enemies. Straining at the lead to snarl at a particular Norfolk Terrier while his owner and I exchange pleasantries. Three years of truce ruined in a bark.
Every season is precious here.
For now my best days are the ones when I rise early and walk Polly through the unfolding dawn. The reds of the bracken strong against the fresh greens of well watered fields. Leaves holding on in the valleys, while on the tops they’re long gone.
The fields are getting smaller on Ivan’s land west of the estate. All of his 91 Devon Rubys went to sale in July. Without the cattle to graze the hedges those hedges have started their march across the previously improved land.
The opposite to one of us who might scrub up well, a scrubbed up field is taken first by brambles and bracken then hawthorn and blackthorn suckers spread under the soil to send up new shrubs in the spring. Seemingly dead elm sends its reincarnation out from its roots, we hope the new are more resistant to the Dutch.
Christine drives her horse and trap to town, incongruous, but safe in her hi-vis coat. The visitor in his Porsche is baffled at this country behaviour, and frustrated as she stops to chat with every other local on the road.
Cypriot Stevie G has been robbed of his stage at The Star, so now he sings his hymns to Brexit as he cleans the windows of the town.
We knew that the electric scooter would eventually make it from city to St Just. We were surprised that the first we saw was Johnny Mac, scooting from his star job as a retained fireman to his star job as landlord of… The Star. Scooting as if it was normal.
Striker Paul has a ‘new’ TR. His summer was spent stripping, cleaning and preparing a gorgeous TR5. Now when the sun comes out the beautiful 1960s sports car roars up Market Street, it’s exhaust note echoing in the confined space.
The house required work. A hammering by a young family for the best part of three years had left it functioning, but in need of love.
Giving that love was a lesson in the value of strong contacts.
In poorer countries we were impressed by the networks that exist among those without government services. Everyone knows who to ask for what, and people are ready to help each other.
Here too a few calls brought excellent people to our door.
Emeritus St Juster Michael Renshall came in a couple of days to replace rusted out wiring.
Emeritus St Juster Nick Rawlinson followed to cut out knackered floorboards and replace them with good.
Will The Sweep scared the dog with his blackened togs, but cleaned the wood burner’s tubes and that night the fire roared as it should.
At the builder’s merchant my call is answered with my name, and even though a machine may have provided a prompt, I’m delighted to be back in the fold.
Terry took the van and stripped it of its turbo, lending me his Fiesta while ArchieVan was out of action. The Fiesta is old, but feels like a go-kart after years nursing our camper up the hills and round the bends.
We’ve been well looked after in every foreign place we visited, but it’s so much easier to ask in English.
St Just is a seasonal place. Through the winter we have it to ourselves. Just a few wise visitors brave the colder months, though the weather is no worse in December, and February offers days of bright crisp tee-shirt sunshine. Then suddenly it’s Easter and the car park is full. Full with clean cars. There’s a queue at the Coop, and at Jeremy’s, the chip shop, too.
By October it’s dead again.
But not this year.
The town is busy. The roads are busy. Eating out demands booking ages in advance. The Commercial is full, the Wellington is full, our studio is booked out for weeks.
On a sunny Wednesday we made the foolish mistake of going to St Ives (my fault). The first, second, third, fourth and fifth car parks were all full.
We began to get the message.
After abandoning Fiesta on The Stennack we poked our nose past the cinema and a look down Tregenna Place told us all we needed to know.
St Ives was heaving, distance impossible.
We didn’t stay.
We forged our way through to Pengenna’s for a pasty, then beat our side street retreat.
They’re crimped down the middle. Always have been. ‘taint right.
£4.35 for a pasty? ‘taint right either. But they’re bleddy good.
On Friday I visited mother and Peggy served up a pasty too. I wasn’t complaining. Hers was even better.
Signs are necessary, some are even fun. But nonetheless I dislike the mess of signs that has increased dramatically in this time of Covid.
Home printed signs instruct us on our behaviour at the pub, at the shop. Giant barcodes to track and trace. Council signs tell us to keep our distance, but the space the signs take in St Ives forces the crowds closer together.
The National Trust has got in on the act and has littered our countryside with signs telling the world it’ll be shot for overnight stays, or for leaving dog mess.
It’s better than advertising though. There are areas of France ruined by the march of huge advertising boards.
Many friends have been swimming this weekend, but I’ve let them down. I’ve softened after so many months of Greek winter when even on a cold day the sea was OK. I must try harder.
Other than a Long Rock dog stroll we haven’t been to the beach yet.
The time will come.
On Sunday 18 October our little Coop closed its doors.
At 5pm the team of six workers marched as one from the store carrying off as much booty as they could manage.
In normal times the Pendeen Silver Band would have played.
It’s not gone for good.
Before the year is out it should be back. Refurbished. Bigger. Better.
Now is the time for our wonderful greengrocer Stones to make hay. And for the Premier to host the Covid queue of hungry shoppers.
Two rear tyres for the MOT. I knew that.
A new turbo too. I dreaded that. The turbo is over £1500 without factoring in the oil and filter change, or the labour.
Total bill over £2500.
The Wanderers will be church mice nibbling lentils for a few months. But as Minty says – it’s a whole lot more expensive to have a van that doesn’t work.
We’re back in St Just.
It’s a delight.
But we’d happily hit the road again tomorrow.
Before that there are things to do. There are projects to get underway. Dreams to dream. And memories to share.