On Being Alone In Cornwall

Oliver Briscoe

There are few greater pleasures than in spoiling, seeing happy a girl in one’s company, but these thoughts are mere hints of a life I once shared with others.

Instead one learns to appreciate the great pleasure of talking to oneself or at least doing so in thought, to always have the exact conversation one wants, for as long as one wants. Being alone my thoughts have become so clear, honest. Invited to a couple dinners–for I have not met a single person who has followed the rules, despite the propaganda that we are all united and obedient behind our great leaders–I talk at length, as I were reasoning aloud with myself.

I have also come to hear a maddening ring that has always vaguely urged me; if it must be said instantly it most probably need not be said at all. The need to share, helped by the ease to share weakens our mind alone and spoils thoughtfulness. Ceaseless chatter, on-screen distraction needs to stop.

Some days here I speak only three or four times; to John the builder, Mark the gardener, Elizabeth the shopkeeper, the postman, and the odd word that slips from my thoughts. If I go to the shop I long think to wish Elizabeth a nice day, as I take my change and the dozen eggs. I find myself touched by the kindness answered with a smile.

John is doing a bit of work, so usually I get at least a word out talking once a day to him. A small, stout, honest and plain-spoken Cornishman with horny palms and nimble fingers, and a soft baby-face well worn in old age.  He works alone and does all sorts of agile jobs, with all the tools for them; a perfect builder.

He keeps a mane of white hair, flowing under a baseball cap upon whose brim is steadied the two rectangular frames of his glasses. With his faded cap, he wears a black fleece, tapered jeans, builder’s boots and sometimes kneecaps, and keeps for company a fat little old Russell bitch called Twig.

If a mullet sounds faintly like an aged rock star, it is because John is an aged punk rock fan; once he had heard live every ban you cared to mention on the scene, in the most obscure venues from the early days. Those, Hugo Ham-Bendall, who think themselves familiar and are too familiar for wealthy Londoners, call him by a nickname ‘punkey’. It smacks of false pastoral chumminess–Marie-Antoinette playing the shepherdess. We call him John. He does a good job and we are all pleased to leave it at that. Though in the friendly nature of Cornwall, he leaves his tools in our cottage and welcome to, takes beer from our store on a hot day.

The Cornish county feels small, it always has, as if within grasp, or for the man alone, looking out from the Celtic Cross, to be embraced. I look past the fields, the trees, the belfries and the turbines; over the hills, beyond the valley and I know what lies beyond. I have been there, I can see it in my mind, I know what lies is sea; vast but ending too, in Ireland, France and America.

There is such a difference between seeing nice weather from a window, seeing the trees shiver and sun thaw, and stepping outside to feel it; the breeze is fair and the world, one’s inner world, is alive out of the confines of man-made walls, man-kept heat; how much more comforting, pleasing is the shelter of a rock found or a dune or a hill, how much warmer does a wood fire feel. The naked foot against the ground is not petrified, cold, but free, light and breath is drawn clean, settled in the curious peace of natural wonder.

Some days are grizzly, some days the sun shines across this perfect county, and driving back from the coast I pass two or three people from the village. They smile and wave at me, I smile and wave back. In those moments I am at my happiest. Being alone is not to be lonely.


Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020