Saturday 22 August 2015

Guest Post - Cassandra Parkin on Perranporth, Cornwall - Cornish Week

Some places are so beautiful you forgive them for occasionally trying to kill you. For me, that place is Perranporth Beach in Cornwall. Two miles of tawny sand. A saltwater lido built into the rocks. The kind of surf that even Australians admit is worth a trip. Mysterious caves that bleed into the old mine workings. A cross-current that will have you halfway across the bay in a couple of minutes. Towering black cliffs with the occasional sign saying things like “DO NOT CLIMB THESE CLIFFS”, “NO, REALLY. DO NOT CLIMB THESE CLIFFS” and “IF YOU CLIMB THESE CLIFFS YOU WILL DEFINITELY DIE, YO”. A tide that, with the wind and the full moon behind it, pours up the beach in a great foaming rush, faster than you can run. 

My dad’s a Cornishman, and my whole family spent every summer of my childhood with our grandparents in Falmouth. Every day my brother and I were five minutes from the beach and six minutes from the ocean, throwing ourselves in and out of the waves, digging terrifyingly deep holes, going to chapel on Sunday mornings with our grandparents - immersed in these glorious Other Lives we’d somehow been lucky enough to be given. And - because we were kids and contractually obliged to be ungrateful - we spent really quite a lot of time nagging our parents to take us to the North Coast, so we could go to Perranporth and look at the caves and go body-boarding and get lost in the beauty and occasionally almost die. 

The sea off Perranporth’s had quite a few things off my family over the years. Once we slightly misjudged the speed that the tide was coming in, and had to run all the way up the beach to escape the surge, and the sea took my best bucket as tribute. (For the record, it was an excellent bucket. Bright yellow with a green handle, in the shape of an actual castle, with windows and a door and crenulations and everything. I hope the mermaids were grateful.) Once it took my bodyboard – just ripped the tie right off my wrist, I’ll have that thank you, and then it rushed off towards the horizon and my board was gone for ever. The biggest thing it ever tried to take was my mother, when she was climbing round the rocks on the headland and a giant wave nearly washed her off the rock. She was saved by my brother, who grabbed her as the water went over her head - so we compromised on her shoe, which the wave slurped off her foot as it retreated. It also stole a decent chunk of my heart, which – along with my bucket, my bodyboard and my mother’s shoe – now lies somewhere in the North Atlantic, just off the Cornish coast. 

Experiences like this leave their mark on a person. For quite a long time, my life-plan looked like this:
- Grow up
- Become a writer
- Build a house on Perranporth beach
- Live in house on Perranporth beach for ever

Obviously, houses being expensive, this house wasn’t going to be big. (I wasn’t completely clueless.) But since there was only going to be me living in it, that wouldn’t be a problem. Then one day I saw a beach hut, and thought, Yeah. That looks about right. I’ll live in a beach hut. Excellent.

In the years after the deaths of my grandparents, I felt as if my roots had been cut. Cornwall, and the ocean off Perranporth, became hard to visit. I was just a tourist. I felt bereft. Then my parents retired and moved back home to Falmouth, and suddenly I was connected again. My parents moved in September, by October I writing The Beach Hut and by November I was back on Perranporth beach, going for an out-of-season swim in the North Atlantic.

There are no lifeguards outside of the season and the waves get noticeably bigger and if you’re not acclimatised (which I wasn’t) the shock of the cold water can literally stop your heart; but I’m an idiot, so I didn’t worry about any of that. I just wanted to be in the ocean. And once I got past the first panicky minute of oh-my-God-this-is-it-this-is-how-I-die, it was magical. The water felt warmer than the air. I wanted to hide beneath the surface so the wind wouldn’t blow on me. As long as I stayed in the water, I thought I was invincible. My husband had to force me to come out. For hours afterwards I knew I was cold, but I was so high from the endorphin rush I couldn’t feel it. I could only deduce it by noticing that I was bluey-white all over and I couldn’t move my fingers or toes properly. 

Experiencing that urge to do something that could literally be the death of you, because it’s also glorious and you can’t bear not to, was how “The Beach Hut” began. It’s about a brother and sister, Finn and Ava, who build an illegal beach hut on a Cornish beach in the autumn, and the journey that led them there, and it was inspired by a moment that combined danger with a deep sense of coming home.

Thank you very much Cassandra, for your interesting account of Perranporth. It has been a pleasure to host you on Rachel's Random Reads for Cornish Week.

About Cassandra Parkin:

Cassandra Parkin grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011), won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories. The Summer We All Ran Away (Legend Press, 2013) was Cassandra's debut novel and nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars 2014. Her work has also been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. 

The Beach Hut (Legend Press, 2015) is her second novel.

The Beach Hut by Cassandra Parkin

Amazon UK
It is autumn time and on a peaceful Cornish beach, Finn  and his sister Ava defy planning regulations and achieve  a childhood dream when they build themselves an illegal beach hut. This tiny haven will be their home until Ava departs at Midwinter for a round-the-world adventure. In the town, local publican Donald is determined to get rid of them. Still mourning the death of his wife, all he wants is a quiet place where he can forget the past and raise his daughter Alicia in safety. But Alicia is wrestling with demons of her own.

As the sunshine fades and winter approaches, the beach hut stirs old memories for everyone. Their lives become entwined in surprising ways and the secrets of past and present are finally exposed.

1 comment:

  1. My grandad lived in Summercourt for a while and I always wish my parents had been able to afford his little thatched cottage when he moved to Southend. Perranporth is my favourite place and I've been most years since I was born.


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