Growing up in Lelant: The teenage years 




Copyright 2010 Ian Olds


3 September 2010



I did what was expected of me in the eleven plus, failed, having been told two to three years before that I was not grammar school material and I was destined to go to St Ives County Secondary School, commonly known as the Belyars. In our family the first thing to be done in these situations is recognisance, a trip to the school during the summer holidays to meet teachers and to have parentsí minds put at rest as to how responsible and dedicated all the staff were, and to be reassured that their offspring were not going to be mollycoddled or bullied by staff or other children, and yet discipline would still be maintained.


My mother, being very keen on lists, went armed with pen and paper and scribbled throughout the event in shorthand. Having worked in her younger days as a secretary in a government department in London, this was something she was very good at. She was more than a bit miffed at the end of the event when she was given a typed sheet with all that had been discussed and lists of things that would be needed. On returning home she made some acid comment to my father, maintaining that if she had been given the list to start with she could have checked things off as she went round and this was just typical of a Ďsecondaryí school. From then on I had to cope with this discrimination on a regular basis from most of the family.


Listed were the uniform and games kit required and amongst blazers 1, grey trousers 2, white shirts etc was rugby shirt yellow. Now donít get me wrong, yellow is not a colour I would wear, not that I was that fashion conscious in those days or even now - but yellow. The reason for this shirt was school house affiliation; I had for no discernible reason been put in Trelyon house and the house colour was yellow.


The presence of these lists signalled a shopping trip to Penzance was imminent; on the list we were informed that Simpsons on Market Jew Street would stock the St Ives school uniform. We arrived in Simpsons to find that the store had been basically raided and, although they had the items required, their range of sizes was limited. Now, one would think my mother would have been upset by this, but in reality this scenario play directly into her hands. As I was growing at an alarming rate she had the opportunity to buy sizes I could grow into. If I tell you that I actually played my last game of rugby in my school shorts, albeit very faded school shorts, when I was twenty four that will give you some idea of how the day went.


The first day at St Ives School started at the post office bus stop in Lelant. There were two of us from Lelant starting school that day and we both looked new boys. I think the other ladís mother had got to Simpsons after us as he only had half the uniform. He did have long trousers which I did not, which was something which would blow up into a big issue very soon. There was an older boy from the village whom I knew by sight and he was very helpful that day and, although I didnít see him much at school as he was in the third or fourth year, he would walk with us back to the bus stop after school and often put us wise to things in school.


Lelant became a haven to which I would return: it was safe and it was familiar and comforting because of it.


When I was at school in Lelant, other children from Carbis Bay and St Ives would often come to play in Lelant.Like me, these friends now attended St Ives School and it seemed I was expected to go to St Ives to see them. During my first summer holiday on one of these visits to St Ives a gang of us were playing on the harbour beach when somebody suggested that we should dive for pennies from the bandstand. Not wanting to be left out, I joined in. Up until then my experience of swimming was from the beach in Lelant; frankly I donít think I had ever been out of my depth. So when I jumped off the bandstand into fifteen feet of water I was taking a leap of faith, putting theory into practice. I am still alive to tell the tale but I never made much diving for pennies even when we would shout to the crowd to throw silver coins as we could see them better, which was a blatant lie, they were just worth more. But I did learn to swim.


It was about this time my dad thought it was a good idea that I learned to play golf. I got free lessons funded by the Golf Foundation with Mr Learmonth. He was a Scot with a rollup cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth and a flat cap. Jock, as everybody knew him, had a series of colourful phrases which explained the golf swing and associated actions. He soon got me hitting the ball well enough to play with dad; in fact a little bit too good for my dad sometimes; he was not a very good looser when it came to me. Golf was something I never mentioned at school as I would be likely to be teased about it. I spent many a happy hour on West Cornwall golf course; I try to get a round of golf in at Lelant when I return to Cornwall now on holiday or to see friends. I find it a wonderful place to relax with fantastic views and there are parts of the course that are very tricky. I remember my grandmotherís younger brother, uncle Herbert, coming to visit Lelant from Melbourne, Australia. While he was over here there was an exhibition match at West Cornwall with Peter Allis, Di Rees, Peter Thompson and John Jacobs, We followed them round and John Jacobs got into the marram grass near the ninth green and ended up chucking his ball onto the green by hand. It was a beautiful day with quite a strong wind off the sea. There was quite a crowd, a great event and the professionals were very complimentary about the course. A couple of days later dad, uncle Herbert and I played West Cornwall course together. I only saw Uncle Herbert a couple of times more and never played golf with him again, but when he died he left me his golf clubs, not very practical now, but a nice thought.


There is a public footpath from the golf club that crosses the road at the top of Tyringham Row and joins Skidney Lane, which ran adjacent to where we lived at Brush End, and itprovided a short cut to the golf club but also for joining the road to St Ives.This was very useful when walking or hitch hiking to St Ives as we used to do when we were teenagers. There were some people in Lelant who, to put it politely, observed peopleís movements in some detail which could be the basis for future gossip; these were usually the same people who made up what they didnít know. As teenagers then and now donít like to be observed doing teenager things, I and my friends could avoid observation and the attention of the gossips.††††††††††††


Lelant did not provide a great deal for teenagers and in the sixties the nature of the Ďteenagerí was changing. Keeping teenagers occupied and out of trouble became very challenging. There was a gentleman (I forget his name) who lived in the village and who started a youth club in about 1960. When I was about thirteen or fourteen I was allowed to go on a Friday evening to the village hall. There was table tennis and a record player. My parents donated our half size snooker table which had wooden covers to convert it back to a large table when not in use. The baize was not damaged but the cushions where worn out. The table had been at Brush End in a playroom with a rocking horse, card table and a dartboard for the use of guests and of course my sister and me. For the last year or so my train set had occupied the snooker tabletop.Knowing the table, at first I played quite well at the youth club, until everybody else got to know the table. When I actually played on a full size table at the golf club that had good cushions, I realised how useless I really was, and by the way, still am.


There would be about fifteen to twenty attending the youth club and we got involved in village events. There was the village fete. That was usually held in the garden of a local doctor and pillar of the community. I remember a fund raising event held in the village hall. I ran a game that involved a half crown at the bottom of a bucket of water which a competitor would try to cover with a penny (old pennies where about the same diameter as a half crown). If they covered the half crown they won it; it was a complete game of chance but some people took it very seriously and one person lost fifteen shillings trying to win two and sixpence (75p to win 12 Ĺ p). Luckily there were no winners of the half crown and I grossed about £12 in wet pennies.


Because of my valiant money raising effort that day Mrs Rushbrooke gave me permission to use a little rowing boat that her family had on the estuary any time I liked. About a month later I arrived at her daughterís house overlooking Brewery mooring with a friend who was about three years older than me to collect the oars and rowlocks. The estuary was a little bit choppy that day and it was windy; we had some difficulty launching the boat and managed to scratch the bottom which we did not realise had only just been varnished. We were not very popular with the family from then on, being labelled as careless and irresponsible. Well, we were teenagers.


My sister and I both attended St Ives judo club. I think my parents believed it would give us confidence rather than the ability to hurt people. They were right; it was a very good confidence building exercise. The club met once a week in the old school at the far end of Island Road. It was affiliated to the M.O.S.J. This stood for the (not sure of the spelling) Matsuo Otani Society of Judo, and was not part of the B.J.A. (British Judo Association).The relevance of this was that Mr Matsuo Otani would visit the club to do the graduation and awards of belts. He was a tenth Dan black belt. He was Japanese, quite old, a very diminutive figure who relied on technique and not strength. When put into contest, which was often the way the grading was done, he proved to be very difficult to beat but fascinating to watch.When Mr Otani visited, the club would often take over the guildhall in St Ives and do exhibitions to raise money for the purchase of equipment. I remember the club getting new proper judo mats, and also remember getting thrown about didnít seem to hurt so much on them.


After a visit with a friend to St Ives youth club which was also held in the old school at the end of Island Road, I was seduced by the bright lights of St Ives and all it had to offer. I very rarely went to Lelant youth club from then on.


It was about this time that I started to take an interest in music. As my mother was at one time quite an accomplished pianist, she was keen to encourage this interest. My sister had piano lessons and, although offered, I chose the instrument of the age, the guitar. Brush End by this time had been converted into mainly holiday flats, a couple of which had permanent tenants.One guy came to live there with his wife and young child; he was an ex-professional folk guitarist and was working in St Ives as a commercial artist. He started giving me a few lessons but I lacked any natural ability. A friend of mine from school also took lessons from him and showed an amazing talent which in later years led to the enlistment of two other friends to form a band. As I had a problem with trying to use four fingers on my left hand controlling six strings on a normal guitar, I was nominated as the bass guitarist as it only had four strings. I was not much better. We agreed with my mother that we would practise at Brush End. The house had a very large cellar, which being under the house, she didnít think would disturb anybody especially during the winter when the house was basically empty with only my mother and I living there. She did not know anything about modern amplification. That was the first shock. The next conflict came when our taste in music collided; my mother was a Chopin, Mozart and at a push Wagner and Beethoven, although she thought last two were too loud and a bit radical. We of course tried to emulate the Beatles, Jimi Hendricks, Cream and the Rolling Stones. And the only way we could get the right level of distortion was to play at very high volume. In the end it didnít come to much, I think we only played in public a couple of times. We enjoyed the experience and a couple of the others went on to become accomplished musicians but I was completely devoid any kind of skill or talent. I still have a guitar and a bass guitar but only really play them to keep the arthritis in my hands at bay.


Sport played a big part in my life at this time. I enjoyed playing rugby; it helped that I was quite a fast runner and had a good turn of speed. My golf progressed but I seemed to lose interest; it seemed to go in fits and starts; I would play at every opportunity and improve then stop playing and have to start all over again. Lelant was a good place to get fit. I would often jog down to the beach and sprint fifty, walk fifty up to Hawks Point (tide permitting) and then do the same back to the ferry cafe; or run back through Nut Grove over the railway line, along past the Links Hotel, down golf road to the golf club and home across the fields. This fitness would stand me in good stead. One year a group of us decided to take part in the St Ives feast silver ball event. This involved the mayor of St Ives throwing a silver ball from the church wall above Lambeth Walk as we knew it, the youth of the borough scrabbling to retrieve the ball which had to be handed back to the mayor at the guildhall a couple of hours later. The person returning the ball was given a reward. I believe it was a crown. It was never supposed to be a team event but a little organisation wasnít a bad thing and helped. My part in the proceedings was to retrieve the ball from the initial scrimmage and break out with a sprint. All went to plan and I threw the ball to the long distance runners in our gang who headed off across the harbour, up the steps on Smeatons Pier, cutting through downalong to Porthmeor beach, up towards Mans Head and Clodgy Point, cutting back inland towards Hellesveor through Penbeagle, across to Knills Steeple down to the Cornish Arms and past Tregenna Castle back into the town. We had arranged a meeting place near The Malakoff. It was at this stage things started getting difficult; everybody knew our group had the ball but not the actual person; several decoy silver foil balls had been prepared and we used subterfuge and dummy attempts to get to the guildhall. Meanwhile the person who had the ball had been positioned on the steps of the guildhall next to where the mayor will stand. The rest of our gang were guarding the person who it was thought would be most likely to have the ball and a running battle broke out. When the mayor came out to receive the orb, the lad standing next to him produced it and received the reward; the rest of us nursed our wounds and compared bruises and had a good laugh about it. Isnít it nice when a plan comes together? If I remember correctly it was this same group of people who formed the core of the school rugby team who had a fairly successful season.


My year at school were to be guinea pigs, CSEs. In the fourth year we were split into groups related to our strengths; for example only about eight were selected to do CSE maths. My last two years at school I had summer jobs in local hotels and it had been decided (not necessarily by me) I was to follow a career in the catering industry so I, with several boys did domestic science. That was new, it was also considered to be girlie, and we got teased a lot. Itís strange that working as a chef in the industry was far more physically demanding than people imagine, working long hours in high temperatures under constant pressure and the work was regarded as girlie. The last two years at school flew past and the exams came and went.


After the exams and before leaving school I went on a school cruise to the Baltic. About thirty went from St Ives School. We went by train from Cornwall stopping at every station picking up people from every school in Cornwall. It was June; we sailed from Tilbury on the RMS Devonia. The first port of call was Copenhagen where visited the Tivoli Gardens and saw the Mermaid and for the first time in our lives we heard people speaking in a foreign language. On to Sweden and Visby on the isle of Gotland. An evening I remember, it may have even been midsummer eve, on a hill overlooking a bay with Swedish youngsters of our own age who, we observed, were far more mature in their approach to life than we were. We then headed for Finland and Helsinki which to our surprise was a series of islands joined by bridges. We were taken to the top of an eleven story building. The next stage of the trip was surprising at the height of the cold war we went to Leningrad as it was called in those days. Again very surprising, very hot. We took on an armed guard before going into the port. Armed Russian soldiers all over the ship, we had strict instructions not to take photographs on the approach to Leningrad harbour. I learned many years later the guy who played the drums in our band has a wonderful cine film of the submarine pens taken through a porthole. The ship returned through the Kiel Canal and headed for Falmouth where our parents would be waiting to greet us. It is said that travel broadens the mind. I did feel that we returned wiser and more mature.


In the early sixties Treva woods, which is the large area of woodland adjacent to Trevethoe, was sold. It had been private property which I had never entered although I knew people who had and been seen off by the gamekeeper. The new owners intended to develop a holiday village. Wooden chalets set in woodland with a clubhouse/bar, a reception office and a road network. My father was involved with the electrical supply to the site and the installation of a new sub-station as the eventual size of the development would be the size of a large village.The couple appointed to oversee the development had recently returned from Ceylon; they had two boys about the same ages as my sister and I. My parents had a similar background, my mother having been born in India, as my maternal grandfather had gone to India from the Dundee area following the jute trade.My father was working for GEC in India installing the electrical supply infrastructure before the Second World War. When war broke out he joined up and became an officer in the Indian Army Royal Engineers. He was promptly ordered to blow up all that he had been working on to stop it falling into the hands of the Japanese. When he married my mother he avoided being transferred to the European theatre of war and the D Day landings etc which he was always grateful for. In 1946 parents and grandparents had all their property and businesses confiscated by the Indian government and were thrown out of the country; consequently it was not advisable to ask my mother her views on India and in particular Mr Gandhi.


The family from the holiday village became family friends. The younger boy, the one my age, went away to school in Somerset so we only ever saw him during the holidays. I used to spend a lot of time up at the holiday village with the older lad and his friends. He acquired a Ford Thames van which we would drive around the woods on the old logging tracks and the original access roads and driveways that led to Trevethoe. Inevitably the van broke down. One of the gang of lads was a trainee mechanic so the van became a project. We all pitched in. A couple of them seemed to know what they were doing. The whole vehicle was stripped down and rebuilt. The body was remodelled: no bonnet, front wings or doors. A coat of silver paint and a number of red footprints made from sticky back plastic (I knew my time watching Blue Peter wouldnít be wasted) were placed up the side over the top and down the other side diagonally from the rear to the front. The rear doors were cut in half and eventually totally discarded as we couldnít work out how to fasten them. The engine was rebuilt and surprisingly enough no parts were left over but two small spanners were missing; the engine was re-stripped and the spanners found. We had decided the exhaust system would be modified to a pipe that came off the engine directed at the ground in the space behind the front nearside wheel and the bulkhead that formed the front of the cab. It was expected that this would be a little noisy. To limit the noise, a series of baffles were made of wire netting pods filled with wire wool. These pods were secured inside the exhaust pipe with a series of split pins through the pipe.


Finally the day came to try and get it started. Would it go? No. A series of protocols were tried which only had the effect of flattening the battery. This meant the only way to start the vehicle was to bump start it. A suitable piece of road was found and any available personnel were commandeered to push. The site foreman, an ex marine, was pushing on the nearside front door post when it fired, well, actually it backfired, shooting burning wire wool on to the right foot of the foreman whose trousers started to smoulder. He started hopping around on the grass. The guy who was the trainee mechanic wandered up to us having been left behind when the van got up a little speed on the hill and said, ďI think I know whatís wrong,Ē and went on to explain that the distributer had been fitted the wrong way round causing the engine to backfire and not fire. The foreman guy by this time had removed his trousers and was beating them against the ground. The distributer was re-fitted and the van was towed back up the hill by a passing JCB. This time the foreman with the singed trousers took up a position at the back. The engine started and on the first dip of the accelerator the rest of the wire wool was left smoking on the road. We finally got the exhaust noise down to a reasonable level. Many happy hours were spent racing that van around the woods until one day it just stopped in the woods. We went back a couple of days later to tow it back to the garage and found that someone had removed the brass radiator so it was left, never to move again. Several years later I walked through the woods and the rusting chassis of our pride and joy, the machine that we had breathed life into, was still there.


Through long term friends I had attended school with in Lelant and new friends at St Ives School, I met and became friends of the sons of a couple of the St Ives potters, writers, artists community.I often visited the homes of these friends and realised that I had a very conventional home life. I also discovered that there was an alternative lifestyle which I stepped in and out of through my friendship with these people. My mother of course did not approve of these friends and I was at one stage forbidden to associate with them. To me this was a red rag to a bull, I was not going to be dictated to on who I could or could not have as friends. This was the sixties. The main effect of this was that there was a breakdown in communication with mother. I respected her reluctance to allow them to come to our house so they never did, but I continued to associate with them.


On leaving St Ives school I worked a summer in a hotel in St Ives and started at Cornwall Tech, as it was known in Camborne, in the September on the general catering course. Camborne, was not the easiest place to get to from Lelant so a coach was laid on. It was known as the Marigold, run by a coach company of the same name and was painted in an appropriate colour. The Marigold had some problems with hills, some of which between Lelant and Camborne before the new road was built, were quite severe. The general catering course had two basic sides, food production and food service. I loved food production; having worked in kitchens for the last couple of summers it was familiar territory. Food service on the other hand put me out of my comfort zone and I hated it. In fact I hated it so much that on the food service days I voted with my feet. I would go off as if to catch the Marigold but catch the bus to St Ives instead and spend the day at a house of a friend. I would arrive home at the appropriate time as if I had been to college. I donít know how long I thought I would get away with this but it was not long before it all came to a head. I was persuaded to attend the food service sessions but hated every moment of it. This was a real case of leading a horse to water and not being able to make him drink. Any knowledge gained in that subject was due to osmosis or trickle-down effect. I had no interest in it at all. The food production I loved and did quite well at, so well that some six years later I was teaching food production in a college in the north of England. On leaving college I sat down at Brush End and started thinking what do I do now? I thought I wanted to work in hotels so I phoned the best hotel in the area at that time, Tregenna Castle. I was invited to an interview the following Monday and was offered a job. I started a week later. Years later I was talking to the manager who appointed me and he told me that I got the job because I had the courage to approach the hotel even though there wasnít a job advertised and I wore a suit to the interview. So much for training.


I still visit Lelant when I can, even though most of the connections with our family in the village have now gone. I enjoy a walk on the beach and just to walk through the village remembering who lived where and the happy times I spent there. I put flowers on my motherís grave and heed the warning by looking at the graves of my own generation many of whom are there. Which gives me grounding like electricity returning to earth.