Greetings once again from Cornwall, this time from the middle class tourist ghetto of Padstow. This insanely picturesque fishing town is also known as Padstein, owing to the shauls of Rick Stein endeavours swimming its cobbedly streets. Within a square mile radius you’ll find the Stein Seafood Restaurant, Cafe, Deli, Patisserie, Fish and Chip Shop and soon-to-be Bar. Thanks in no small part to this profileration of Steineries, all offering exquisitely tasteful decor and exquisitely fresh food, Padstow should also be known as Padsmug. The yummy mummies and their organic rattan husbands just can’t get enough.
Small boys named Ezra and Moss, in baggy combats and wistful curls, request balsamic vinegar for their artisan chips. City types in country garb huddle, North Face ‘rak to Rip Curl gilet, in the windows of estate agents, dreaming of leaving London, relocating to Padstow, and thus making the seamless move from tourist to one-who-grumbles-about-tourists. I heard one couple- surely from Islington- breathe in wonder “cod, chips and buttered bread for £9.50!” outside Stein’s fish and chip shop. I had just baulked in miserly fashion at the same offer, and set off to find a more reasonably priced pasty or similar. In short, everybody just seems so awfully pleased with themselves for being here.
I’m here as part of my effort to transform a long working weekend into a Cornish minibreak for one, aka Bokker’s Celebrity Chef Tour of the West Country. I ate at the Stein Cafe last night (haddock so beautiful that when the waitress asked if everything was OK, instead of nodding politely I mumbled “insanely delicious”. Yes I did), and on Tuesday I’m booked into Jamie Oliver’s place in Newquay with a colleague who’s arriving tonight (note: expensive dinners are not coming out my programme budget). Of course, there’s the small matter of filming and 5am starts and wading through fish guts and, you know, working. But in between unpleasant bouts of labour, it’s better than a slap in the face with a perfectly filleted fish.
And it is beautiful here. The harbour is flanked by fingers of land reaching out beyond the estuary, topped with green and edged along the bottom with golden sand. Since I arrived yesterday, the views have changed constantly, as showers sweep through, ushered out to sea by intensely sunny spells, and the tide breathes its way in and out of the harbour. I’ve been for a walk (slight boofus moment when I found myself in a deserted shingley cove complete with spooky cave and suddenly started to think about the Point Horror books of my youth), pottered around the pointless but delightful shops, and drunk in the gorgeous air.
But you know that saying: if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it fall, does it make a sound? I feel the same way about my solitary adventures. The more painfully perfect my surroundings get, the more lonely I feel. Last night in the Cafe, I felt I would be insulting the food by reading a book while enjoying it, and couldn’t think where to look instead. Unfortunately there was a large painting of a naked surfer girl (not as vulgar as it sounds, I promise), the derriere of which was directly in my eyeline. Lest I look like a perv as well as a loner, I therefore had to spend the whole evening with my eyes darting around the room, landing anywhere but on the bare bum. I swung between trying to cultivate an air of dignified mystery and wanting to shout “I’m working, OK!”.
And on my own, I don’t do well with choices. With so many beautiful things to look at and enticing little nooks to explore, I get sort of flustered and end up frozen to the spot, on the verge of throwing my hands up and going back to my hotel room to eat the free shortbread and watch T4 instead.
I’m quite accustomed to being on my own for work, but usually in god-awful places like Romford. I’m not used to all this pleasantness and it’s throwing my solitude into sharp focus. Still, ever the stoic, I’m just off to buy some handmade fudge and smug about a bit on the harbour, and try to feel awfully pleased with myself for being here.