Sad and terrifying.
It was still going to be boating but with a difference. I managed to find two holiday lets in Cornwall with use of a boat. This seemed like a good idea, we wouldn’t have to tow the boat, we would just take our own Seagull outboard motor. A week in each one, this would give us two different rivers to explore. The first cottage was at Mixtow, a couple of miles outside Fowey. It was off the beaten track a bit, but somehow we managed to find it. First snag it was on a 1 in 8 hill , narrow and with no parking places except for the garden of the cottage. The cottage was half way up the hill, rather a disappointment, but on the other hand it was beautiful inside and looked across the river. On the other bank of the river was the china clay reprocessing facility and a derelict tanker, not as bad as it sounds. When we went out in the boat we had previously thought that we could use the car to take the outboard motor down to where the boat was moored. At Mixtow that wasn’t possible, Ken had to carry it, and of course it was worse coming back up the hill. We nearly gave up the idea but he was keen to explore the river down to Lerryn, We managed it and it was beautiful the thick woods coming down to the waters edge. You needed to watch the tide, as when it was going out it left mud flats that you could easily get stuck on, unfortunately it meant we couldn’t land and have tea.
The nicest part of being at Mixtow was that we could go to get our shopping in Fowey using the boat, we landed on the hard next to the Bodinnick Ferry. It was rather special we felt quite superior.
Mixtow hill, more steep than it looks, ending at the quay with no parking .
At the end of the week we packed up our things and drove to St Clements, a village a couple of miles outside Truro on the confluence of two rivers. The flat we were staying in was part of a large house, within a hundred yards of the water. Naturally we went to see the river and the boat, it was a stunning area but just acres of mud. There were only very specific times that you could launch to get onto the River Fal, once you were on the river there was plenty of water, but you had to get there. In the event it didn’t happen. The narrow village road came to an end at the waters edge, this time we could bring the outboard motor in the car. It was a beautiful and historic village with good walks to Malpas along the path through the trees. There was a driveway to the house and I noticed a telephone box at the end of the path. The owners, who lived in the house, were polite but I noticed that they were not particularly friendly It was almost as though they were letting out the flat under sufferance.
We unpacked and then I cooked our meal. It was about 10.30 when we went to bed. A couple of hours later Ken woke up in huge agony, he was groaning, totally white and unable to move, I gave him Aspirin. I realised it was a heart attack and I had to think what to do. It was carrying that wretched outboard motor up the hill at Mixtow. I was afraid to leave him but I knew I would have to to get help. I had no torch, it was pitch black but I got to the telephone box , it wasn’t working. All the time I was worrying about Ken left on his own, I was internally shivering and shaking but externally quite cool and practical. In the end I had to go and bang on the door of the main house. They took ages to come, They were annoyed at first when they opened the door but eventually sympathetic and helpful when they heard my explanation. At once they rang for the ambulance. I went back to be with Ken who was in a bad way. I held his hand and reassured him that the ambulance would soon be here. To be there and not to be able to do anything feels dreadful, I felt helpless and could only pray that he would live till they came. It arrived in about twenty minutes. I followed behind it in the car to the Treliske hospital, Truro.I was shaking, they weren’t sure that he would survive, he had already had one heart attack before I knew him. I stayed by him all night except that I rang his three children. Andrew drove through the night and Penny and Susan came by train. By a stroke of luck our holiday flat had an extra room with bunk beds that they could stay in. The hospital gave me a little room where I could sleep. He was in a bad way it was touch and go but he survived. Once he improved I was able to sleep back at the flat with Penny and Susan. After a few days his children could go home. Andrew went first. They said that apart from the worry it was a strange experience for them because it was like sharing a bedroom when they were children. I have touching memories of his time in hospital. When he was in intensive care there was a TV in the ward. It was the Grand National (or maybe the Derby, one of those big races) they all insisted on having it on and they all had little bets. All these sick people were shouting ‘Come on’ and there was cheering for the one who won. Then they all went back to being sick again!
Eventually, as he began to recover, he was put in a little ward with six people, five men and one woman, all Cornish. I felt sorry for the hapless woman, they teased her for farting but she could take it and give back as good as she got. They were so irreverent and funny but like you do in hospital, they all bonded and wrote to each other for ages afterwards.. By this time we had compassionate leave from work. It took about four weeks. I couldn’t stay in the flat because it was let the next week. I thought it would be easy to get somewhere, but it wasn’t, everywhere was fully booked. Then I had a brainwave I’d try a caravan site. There was one quite close to the hospital. I phoned and they had a caravan free. Relief. As I drove in through the gate a young woman was driving out and I recognised her immediately as Bryher, one of my old students. What a surprise! She recognised me too. Bryher was a thalidomide baby and only had a stump for an arm, yet she was one of the most wonderful kind natured students that I ever had. I visited her on teaching practice once and by a weird coincidence there was a little girl in her class who also just had a stump. What that little girl learnt from Bryher was priceless. Her mother was a Scillonian from Bryher and had named her daughter after the island. I asked her what she was doing here and she asked me the same. It turned out that her parents owned the site. They wouldn’t hear of me having a caravan, they gave me, rent free, a beautiful little holiday house. Talk about serendipity. These were early days and I was still in emotional turmoil. In the hours when I couldn’t be in hospital, I found huge solace in the no man’s land at Chacewater close by the site. It really is the Wasteland, (though inhabited by mavericks) and it chimed so heavily with my heart that I went out most days photographing and drawing, that’s often what I do in times of trouble.
These images of the landscape sum up what I was feeling, bleak, afraid, tearful but still capable of planning and action.
We managed to go to Falmouth before we went home to Kent.
Ken eventually recovered and I was able to take him back to the little house and take him on some gentle trips. He wasn’t ready for the long journey back to Kent for a few days after coming out of hospital, he was quite frail. He retired soon after. The college was needing to cut back (it was one of those times) they offered voluntary redundancy money, the offer was only for a short time, I had to make a quick decision, I was fifty and I took the early retirement offer to be with him. Of course it meant that my pension wasn’t so great but that was the last thing on my mind. We had a few more years ahead of us.