Recently the wife and I spent a long weekend in Cornwall to celebrate our fourteenth wedding anniversary. Imagine our surprise when one of the staff in the hotel's restaurant turned out to be a Malayali girl. Born in Vienna to parents from Kottayam, she was spending the summer waitressing on an internship for her high school diploma in tourism. I didn't know there were any Malayalis in Vienna, said the wife. No, no, said the girl. There are lots.
She told us she spoke Malayalam reasonably well, albeit mixed up with German, in which language she was most fluent. She did not say 'albeit.' She pronounced the word Malayalam with a rather exaggerated roll of the Ls. Her English was decent, even if with a noticeable accent. In her school, she said, English was obligatory, while French and Spanish were the other two languages she learned. Wowza, we said, five languages! She smiled modestly. Her Spanish was not good, she confessed.
We asked her how she spent her time off work. There was little in that Cornish village to excite a teenager. She said she would go for hikes. We said we went on hikes. She said she took boat trips to the local big town. We also took boats, we said, but had to admit we hadn't been to that particular town. She said she was looking forward to finishing her stint so she could visit London. We live in London, we said.
Remarkably, we had decent weather for three out of the four days we stayed. Long walks along the river brought us to medieval churches, each prettier than a picture. There were stately homes belonging to sundry ancient families. There were beaches. We were told we might see dolphins or basking sharks in the tidal estuary. We didn't. We trudged up headlands of peninsulas and down emblazoned paths. We also had some fine ice cream.
The food was mighty fine, I'm glad to report. Even the vegetarian couldn't complain. I had every variety of fish. Brill. Sole. Bass. Cod. Herring. I might even have had a pilchard or two. A crab gave up its existence to feed me. I salute you, crab, even if I'm no fan of crustaceans.
At one steep descent to a beach there was a sign saying that winter storms had eroded the path, which was no longer safe to use. A boy and a girl jumped over a gate and sped down to the beach. Their father was curiously unbothered. When I pointed out the sign, he said in posh tones, Ah, that notice is just a suggestion.
A little fellow, not more than three years old, came scarpering out and said to me, do you want to see something? He set off at high speed down a path and disappeared into the distance. I went after him and saw him climbing up onto a bench at a look-out. There was a gap between the bench and the roof of the look-out. He put one leg into it. Had he gone through it, he would have fallen a few hundred feet onto the rocks below. I would not have reached him in time. He changed his mind and came back down.
I'm still shaken, a week later.
The boy, staying back in London with his grandparents, said he missed us dreadfully, and called us twice a day. He asked if he could join us on our next trip to Cornwall, and insisted that we stay in the same hotel, so he could also enjoy the ice cream, the chatter with the Malayali girl, the hikes, and the dolphins. He was not pleased to be left behind, he said, when his parents were having fun by themselves. We are a family, he said, and should enjoy ourselves together.
On our way back to London our train developed a fault with its brakes. So in addition to the inexpressible tedium of any return journey was added a wholly frustrating half an hour delay. To boot, I ran out of books to read. So I spent some time typing out this post on our decrepit iPad. It is no fun typing on an iPad, I can tell you that much.