Having reluctantly graduated from the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, with more horror than honours, I have had the alarming realisation that I am definitely an adult. I am no longer a student. I’m legally able to drink in America. I have a council tax bill to growl about. My childhood is gone, forever, the end. Thankfully, embarking on a family holiday in Cornwall (near Fowey) immediately after graduating meant that my to-do list for the week comprised of a series of decidedly un-adult tasks: paddling in the sea, going exploring, fishing in rock pools, making sandcastles, and generally having a bloody lovely time on the beach. On a literal level my head is the only part of me that I would object to burying in the sand but on a metaphorical level, oh boy.
However, despite my best efforts to recapture the lost innocence of my youth, grim reality keeps creeping in. The following sad tale of criminality, death, and sunburn is a particularly good example of the world nudging me gently away from the rose-tinted, strawberry-lemonade-flavoured fantasy land in which I prefer to wander and back towards the safely monochrome monotony of actual life.
One grey morning I had decided to explore the fields above our little holiday cottage because I had a feeling there was a wild flower meadow to be found and, hopefully, dark green fritillaries to be seen. I happily trudged up the hill with a smile on my face, a song in my heart and a Penguin bar melting in my pocket. I meandered past hedgerows and horses and humans being walked by their dogs, quietly content listening to the sound of crickets chirping, bees buzzing, and a cacophony of birdsong. All was well in the world.
And then, suddenly, I realised that I was mildly lost and seemingly stuck in a field surrounded by barbed wire. A sensible person would probably have turned back the way they came, but in a decidedly uncharacteristic feat of bravery I found a slope and vaulted the wire – only to find myself in yet another field surrounded by barbed wire. I read too much of The Famous Five as a child to not be concerned about trespassing on the land of potentially angry farmers, and whereas The Five often managed to defuse the situation and be invited to the farmhouse for high tea with scones and freshly churned butter and a lovely joint of ham, the adult part of my brain was very sceptical that this would happen to me. Just as I was preparing to run from the angry farmer – who, I have to tell you, was no less scary for being imaginary – I spotted an escape route. Scrambling through brambles and edging past stinging nettles I suddenly found myself overlooking the way home one way, and a tiny cove the other. The sea was sparkling, the sun was shining, and I couldn’t resist.
There you go, thought my inner romantic, it was all worth it for finding this lovely beach. As I climbed down a path that was really more cliff than anything else the same voice was saying, A private beach for you to eat your Penguin! And that is what I did. The clouds cleared and I stripped off to my bikini and sat watching the waves feeling quite smug about my poor sense of direction. This is perfect thought the voice except it said, slightly less enthusiastically, what is that smell? I had assumed the not-so-nice odour was wafting from the seaweed or the nasty green slime which covered the ‘path’ I had come down. To be honest I had been a little too enthusiastic about the idea of a private beach and might have brushed over the treacherous and quite disgusting access method. A private beach was worth it, I thought. And then, turning around, I realised that my private beach was neither worth it, nor private. Lying behind me was the previous occupant. Flesh rotting, spine exposed, staring at me unseeingly through empty eye sockets, was (at least from first impressions as I was unwilling to investigate more thoroughly) a dead sheep.
The romance was over. The Enid Blyton voice in my head was silenced. I was done. Not even stopping to put my jumper back on I bounded up the cliff path so rapidly that I was probably at risk of ending up the same way as the sheep.
There really couldn’t have been a better metaphor for the obvious loss of my childhood innocence. Feeling like an adult, I ran all the way home.