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My Holiday (2000)
By Fred Covins aged 68 ¾

We stocked the motorhome (hereinafter called the Womb) with all the essentials: whisky, wine, smoked salmon etc. Maggie insisted on a few non-essential elements like food and a change of underwear and we set out on yet another 'adventure'.

Easy ride down the M5 and A30 despite a couple of twitchy moments when the gear stick kept popping out of 5th gear, probably due to the level of oil in the gear box, but all was well that ended well and we turned into the drive of our friend's new home near Cheriton Bishop in Devon for an overnight stay.

I should explain, Janie and Geoff go back a long way in our history. A lovely, welcoming couple who are probably the most disorganized people we have the pleasure to know. Geoff is one of those extraordinary people who pops around the world doing things like chopping half a mountain down and dropping it in the sea to form Hong Kong's new airport. Janie, on the other hand, is an extremely talented artist and photographer who is too modest for her own good.

Their new home is set in 14 beautiful acres of Devon countryside and is a fairly modern very large bungalow. As their previous home was a 17th century Devon longhouse on a site featured in the Domesday Book it is quite a change. Except for the features common to both: cats everywhere and two dogs, an Irish Wolfhound called Seamus the size of a small pony and a small doe-eyed whippet called Brandon.

Maggie and Janie prattled happily away, as only women can, whilst Geoff and I set about the serious business of putting a litre of whisky into the past tense. I should add that the last time I got into a drinking session with this gentleman I threw myself at the bed… and missed!

We ate and talked well into the night and finally fell into the arms of Morpheus in the womb. (No, I didn't miss the bed).

We took our leave and proceeded towards Luxulyan and our goal of The Eden Project (more of that later).

There was a bit of low cloud, so low in places it actually met the road. We eventually found our caravan site very near to the Eden Project and settled into a beautiful wooded site and prepared to pig-out for the rest of the day. Fate however had other plans. Last night's whisky-fest finally caught up with me in the form of cold sweats and extreme exhaustion. I slept for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, awakening when Maggie went to the site shop. Feeling a little more human I started to get my writing materials out of the cupboard when Maggie returned, crashed through the door and screamed! She had missed her footing on the free-standing step and crashed heavily into the metal base sill of the door gashing her leg just below the knee. She said, "Oh, dear. Look what I've done." Or words to that effect, some I'd never heard before! However, several applications of TLC, Ibuprofen and Savlon later she felt well enough to talk rationally about that f…..g step!

We have just heard, via the radio, that the farmers and hauliers are emulating their French counterparts and blockading the refineries, thus preventing deliveries to the petrol stations. As a consequence there is a rapidly escalating fuel shortage. As we are about 200 miles from home this is a little problematical. Fortunately we have a full tank of diesel that should just about get us home provided we don't use the womb in the meantime - or we can carry on and hope it all blows over before we are due back. The radio is actually playing 'The Ride of the Valkeries'. How very appropriate.

Pig-out was right, we've just scoffed a mound of fresh tagliatelle with an onion sauce and 1" thick home-made turkey burgers…phew! I, rather circumspectly I thought, drank Dandelion & Burdock.

Then we played Gin Rummy (we call it 'read 'em and weep') and every time I caught her cheating she said, "But I've got a poorly leg." "What's that got to do with it?" "Ah, poor Maggie." Sometimes you just can't win.

Bad night, only managed twelve hours sleep. After bacon sarnies and coffee we moved the womb to a sunnier position. Now sitting outside in bright sunshine, reading the newspaper and drinking Murphy's stout. God, but it's tough on the road.

When we arrived there were four caravans opposite, today they left. Do you think they know something we don't?

Very relaxed day, read 'Tropic of Ruislip' by Leslie Thomas from cover to cover. Good read. Very acutely observed middle-class suburbia - a million miles from this place. Ventured into the Scotch territory again with no untoward consequences. Good books, food, sleep, what else could anyone want?

D.Day. Set out for The Eden Project - this is what we came for so what the hell. We were the first to arrive at 9.30am. Not open until 10am so was held up by one of the workmen on the new approach road. Within minutes the queue of traffic stretched out of sight behind us!

With only the vaguest idea of what we were about to witness it is fair to say that we, along with everyone else, were stunned! All we knew was it was £3 to visit a building site. But what a site! All the superlatives like Wow! Stupendous! Fabulous! Bloody 'ell! Proved totally inadequate.

The creator of the project, Tim Smits, says over a taped welcome, "'They' say it's the 8th Wonder of the World." I don't know who 'they' are but for my money they're too damned right, it is a wonder of the world.

'A set worthy of a living theatre mounting the planet's greatest drama'

Biodomes of geodesic design, the largest to house a rain forest that includes a forty foot waterfall. 'It has a script to die for: discovery, passion, intrigue, glamour, tragedy, comedy. It is the story of mankind's dependency on the plant world'

There are several biodomes, in a clay quarry 500' deep and the size of about 35 football pitches, ranging from warm temperature regions to tropical humidity involving 40,000 plants and trees.

The landscaping of the approaches is done in scimitar-like curves decorated with thin, vertical banners that flutter and echo the sounds of the sea.

Such is the pull of this place that it already has more visitors than the Dome, and it doesn't open until next Easter! The scope and concept is just breathtaking.

One of the measures of this project is that many people, from high fliers in the city to truck drivers, have given up well paid jobs, sold their homes and moved to Cornwall just to be part of this project.

We have become 'Friends of Eden', i.e., fee paying members of the Eden Project because we both believe it to be the greatest thing this country has produced in decades.

The Dome has made us the laughing stock of the world and will, hopefully, break this foolish government and those responsible for such a colossal waste of 'our' money. Had they backed The Eden Project they might have won world acclaim. Now I doubt the Eden Project would even want their support or their money.

You can check it out for yourself at: www.edenproject.com

Naturally Maggie just had to buy some exotic plants and we are now driving around with our own 'project'. Do you think I could charge for home? Even as a building site? I could leave the lawnmower and a spade out.

What struck me most about the Eden Project were the people, still pouring in as we left. Nearly all of them were late middle age or elderly, people who could still remember when Britain was Great Britain. Although there was wonderment and excitement in their faces there was also pride and hope, hope perhaps that what was once could be again.

The fuel crisis deepens. The economists say 8p a litre could be knocked off without damaging the economy in any way, the government squeals in fear at the thought of losing any income that might deplete its war chest for the next election and bleats ' we will never give in to force'. In the meantime the economy grinds to a halt and the police who were warned off the Notting Hill Festival for fear of creating a racial backlash are now invoked to arrest men and women who are simply protesting against a 33% hike in fuel prices since this government came to power.

Today, The Lost Gardens of Heligan (tomorrow, the world! Fuel permitting). We decided to hell with the crisis, this is what we came to do and this is what we're damned well going to do.

Heligan, meaning 'The Willows' in Cornish, was first mentioned in the 12th century as part of an estate owned by the Arundell family. The house was built in 1603 and passed through many hands, largely the Tremayne family. It remained a Cornish idyll until it was taken over by the War Department at the start of the 1914-1918 war as a convalescent home. The decay of the gardens began almost immediately, descending very quickly into a complete wilderness until 1991 when Tim Smits (remember that name - the Eden Project) and John Sheldon hacked their way through the undergrowth and discovered a remnant of gardens of Heligan, including two virtually dried up lakes. They put together a team to restore the entire 'sleeping beauty' to its former glory. For them it began as 'the rest of your life starts here'.

Judging from what we have seen both here and at the Eden Project that's exactly what it has been and continues to be.

During a metal detector sweep of the area they found hundreds of zinc/lead plant labels which when cleaned were as clear as the day they were made. From these they were able to replant much of what had existed in the preceding centuries.

The gardens are beautiful, from the Flower Garden, the Vegetable Garden, the Italian Garden, the New Zealand Garden to the Crystal Grotto and the Melon Yard. It really is like bringing the 17th century back to life.

We didn't venture down to the Jungle and the lakes 'cos neither of us has the knees for the steep climb back, but if the pictures are anything to go by it is just as bewitching.

We left there, hearts uplifted despite the deepening fuel crisis and the mile long queues we passed at any garage with fuel left. We drove directly to Penzance and Tescos, where we adopted a siege mentality and shopped accordingly. We are now safely ensconced on our favourite site at Relubbus and prepared to sit out the crisis.

A pilgrimage. We have been coming to Cornwall for nearly forty years, 12 or more with our children and nearly always to this one place, Praa Sands.

In those early days it was an 8/9 hour journey even in the 3.8 Jaguar that we bought BC (before children). Each year the kids would make a beeline for the beach and begin damming the little stream that flowed past our rented bungalow overlooking the beach and across the beach itself.

So experienced did they become that within a very short time they had created a vast swimming pool in the middle of the beach. This proved to be an irresistible attraction for every other child on the beach and they were soon all excitedly digging away and stemming the inevitable breaks in the dam wall.

The entire holiday seemed to pass in this way and the excitement never seemed to pall. It is also true to say that when in later years we revisited the place these two now 6' 6” louts they did exactly the same again!

Nice? Energetic day. So energetic that I began to look forward to returning to work! I'm not built for walking in/on soft sand and Maggie wanted to indulge in a little retail therapy up in the village.

The cold Murphys was a great restorative, as was the toast and patè. We then sat on the cliff top and got wind burned.

Now back on site with an even greater restorative Scotch and sitting in a far more sheltered spot.

Praa is much the same as it always was, pretty, unspoiled, despite attempts by some entrepreneurs to turn it into a Cornish Blackpool with theme pubs and flashy markets. But the beach is clean with a shallow shelf that makes it an ideal place for kids. And it was delightful to see that the stream had lost none of its challenges or excitements.

It's pouring with rain! But the fuel crisis is crumbling and tomorrow we might make a run for home. We should make Devon at least before we're running on fumes. Oh no we're not! Maggie says we're booked here until Saturday and here we're going to stay. Adding, "You've got a large writing pad there, so write a book." Like I've said somewhere in this account before - sometimes you just can't win.

Having munched my way through a box of shortbread biscuits, washed down with a cup of coffee I'm now looking around like a bored child to see what other mischief I can get up to. It's hell being grown-up and expected to behave sensibly!

Drank whisky defiantly all day.

It rained last night, which is a bit like saying the sun shone in the Sahara. It sounded like thunder on the roof of the womb.

One of the other campers asked me if I'd heard it. He seemed surprised I'd heard anything considering the amount of Scotch he'd seen me put away! Cheeky sod.

Out of bad comes good. The higher authority has decided we might as well go home.

With less than half a tank of fuel we headed northwards. The Devil looks after his own, we came across a petrol station with only a small queue. Ten minutes later, with a full tank, we completed our journey. As holidays go it was a wee bit different, but enormously rewarding.

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