A Wateringhole in the Storm
I’ve been posting SITREPs for a bar restaurant The Watering Hole on the beach at Perranporth, as terrible storms and high tides assail the West Country; while at the same time my son Will has fun on Dartmoor and Woodbury Common on the All Arms Commando Course.
When I was in Commando Forces, back in the 70’s and early 80’s, The Watering Hole was a shed hiring out deck chairs, which developed slowly with much struggling over licenses etc with the Council, into the “Beach Bar” selling ice creams from a small fleet of ice cream trucks, pasties – and other things like fishing trips. Its current owner was the prime mover throughout – the then Captain of the mighty Perranporth Brewers rugby team, Bob Job.
From the repeatable of a host of stories: Bobs’ brother Graham served a man with a speech impediment asking for fish and chips – which in those early days the Beach Bar didn’t do. It took some time and much frustration to establish that he was in fact wanting to book on one of the fishing trips listed on the wall behind the counter. Another was veteran ice cream truck operator Peter Dobbie, the Brewers stalwart hooker. A regular event was children buying ice cream cones, only to drop them in the sand. Peter’s calm response to the wailing that ensued was “Once you’ve paid the money, they’re yours. If you drop them in the sand, they’re still yours” – all said with a perfectly straight face and indisputable Cornish logic.
Whenever I was in the UK, I spent as much time as I could in Perranporth – and St Agnes, the next village south-west along the coast. I played for the Brewers, usually on the wing, and once at wing forward. ( This last was when my farmer friend Roger Opie, the prop on that side, decided to teach me lesson about life as a forward – it’s brutish…)
I took the 148 Battery amphibious ops teams down there for a memorable week at Penhale Camp. One of the lifeguard team, an international swimmer Duncan Newby, took us for a morning on the beach, teaching the guys about lifesaving in heavy surf – as an interesting diversion from boating and combat swimming. I’d explained to Duncan about how if we decided you knew what you were talking about, we’d do what you said. But Duncan, being a life-long devotee to the outrageous (mostly unrepeatable), forgot something so mundane.
Duncan asked one of the guys – I think Jacko – to swim out beyond the break, but then forgot about him. As Jacko faded to a dot, I asked Duncan whether he should stop now…. This took a lot of signalling from the lifeguard chair, shouting and I think maybe also the siren (if there was one), to prevent him entering Irish territorial waters. Duncan had an even more outrageous brother who, after the annual rugby match with St Just in Roseland, would dive off the front of the Mylor car ferry and race it across the Carrick Roads. There was Paul the artist- window cleaner who’d been Edgar Broughton’s roadie, Nick the house-builder telecom engineer who was/is a well-known cartoonist, and a host of legends like Snorky, Pat Cox, Jim, and Snowie. And forthright, beautiful girls.
Despite my being based in Poole Dorset – with a four-hour drive each way, being part of that close-knit, eclectic community was very important to me. I bought and re-built some houses, and for twelve years or so Perran was my home. I left the Army in 1989 intending to settle there.
But after getting married, life became complicated, and I somehow ended up not doing what I wanted to…. including living in Kent. Looking back, I wonder how that could have happened; but I’m not the only one to get married and end up like that!!
Back in Perran, there were tragedies among the people I knew, so that when finally, sixteen years later, the black shadow of marital restriction was lifted, I knew I wanted to go back, but was uncertain about it. More recently my harpist and raconteur friend Tony Silvey died.
Then Peter “Pork Chops” Lascelles – an Aussie international surfing champion who until the end was still a master of the long-board, died suddenly of an inexplicable heart attack. With his wife Mary, “Chops” had built up the best surf board making and accessories business in the UK. A month or so before he died, we’d been FaceBooking about me coming back down and meeting up.
Only I didn’t find the time, and now Chops is dead too.
So now, the gallant struggle to deny Perranporth’s former Beach Bar to the hungry waves has an enormous resonance with all my other emotions regarding this place and its people. From being a modest summertime shack, The Watering Hole is now a high grade restaurant where you can hold a large wedding reception (if you want to get married!). It’s also a music venue which brings in acts like Billy Ocean, Wheatus, Otis Reading Jnr, The Hoosiers and Grandmaster Flash.
Back in the day, Rod Stewart came down on holiday, endearing himself to everyone with a fine display of multidisciplinary laddish accomplishment, so this remarkable gig list isn’t surprising. It remains one of my musical ambitions to play there – maybe possibly a late February mid-week booking…? At lunchtime maybe… possibly?
But in any case, getting back down there has become a high priority aspiration, which I know is shared by many others. Some are genuine Cornishmen, exiled by circumstance, careers and marriages. Others are wannabees like me – ‘incomers’ who couldn’t stay. My current plan is to book myself in for a “Born Again Surfers Course”…
So a toast to a very special place in this world, and specifically to The Watering Hole as a symbol of resistance to all that is corporate, conformist, overbearing and dictatorial. May it survive its current dangers, and continue to ‘inspire’ and refresh all those lucky enough to know about it.
Vita somnium, et celat se a tempestate.
(all institutions seem to have latin mottos, so this is my suggestion).