We were waiting, as arranged, in the Sloop Inn for our friends to arrive from London. The place was busy and had a Friday evening feel about it – a blend of relief and anticipation – for this was a mixed crowd of locals relaxing after work and in-comers looking forward to their holiday activities. We, falling into the latter category, were settling in with a couple of drinks and listening to the conversations around us. The locals gossiped and swapped stories about their daily lives while the TV on the wall was tuned to a football match. A young crowd of visitors talked excitedly about parties, surfing and rugby, revealing a somewhat different set of interests. We were easily persuaded to buy raffle tickets so as to curry favour with the locals and encourage them to think well of us tourists. The couple at the table next to ours did likewise but, getting up to leave soon afterwards, generously offered to give us their tickets. ”We’ll not be here when they draw the raffle at nine o’clock” they said. “Thanks but nor will we” I replied, “Best give them to someone else”. I was to regret these words at five past nine as I watched the delighted recipient of the tickets collect the prize. Our friends arrived a few minutes later. Thus began our visit to St Ives, Cornwall.
Having been a few times before I already knew a thing or two about the place - enough, perhaps, to come in handy in a pub-quiz. You never know when you might be called upon to join in a pub-quiz, so here’s something new I learned about St. Ives, albeit on trust from my very good mate and entirely unsubstantiated otherwise. As we walked the few yards from the Sloop Inn to our beach-front apartment he assured me that the air there is full of negative ions which, despite what you might think about their negativity, are beneficial to one’s health. In particular they promote a good night’s sleep. On arrival we dumped our bags and slid open the glass doors to the balcony, stepping out to admire the moonlit seascape. A slumbering seagull was startled into flight as, with a greedy intake of the health-giving air, my mate urged “Never mind the painterly quality of the light. Get a lung-full of those ions!”
As well as such invisible assets, of course, St. Ives has many well-known tangible ones. Amongst these are two beaches, several olde world pubs and an important painting heritage (which includes an outpost of The Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth’s former home/studio, a beautiful 15th century parish church with an unusual ‘wagon’ roof - and a lot of pasty shops). Yes, all of these I have seen and marvelled at but, on this particular visit, they were mostly neglected, except for the pasty shops, which provided nourishment on more than one occasion. Principal among these was a walk along the coastal path to Zennor. The weather was unusually fine for the time of year and the scenic beauty of this stretch of coast is well known so it was an easy sell and the walk turned out to be a refreshing delight for our city-dulled senses. The extra-large, jumbo pasties, however, proved to be something of a “commitment”, according to my friend, and more than one seagull was grateful for the unwanted crusts.
Later, back at the apartment, the sun setting over the glimmering sea was to provide the backdrop for a perfect, traditional, English seaside dinner of local, freshly-caught fish. Unfortunately, however, we had left it too late in the day to get to St. Ives’ last-remaining fish shop, so we compromised on the menu, starting with Champagne aperitifs and continuing with Spanish omelettes, Greek salad and more French wine. The subsequent feelings of well-being and drowsiness were to be expected, although there were those among us who argued the effects were due more to the negative ions. Either way, it was unanimously agreed that the “St Ives treatment” should be available on the National Health, thereby saving untold millions in drug prescriptions for insomnia.
Post script. Pub-quiz question: who is the patron saint of St. Ives?