Tuesday 20th September
Back in 1997 or so I wrote a book called (in the UK) THE BIRTH OF A NEW MOON or (in the US) A DARKER PLACE. During the time I was putting it together, I happened to be at Barbara Peters’e2’80’99 Poisoned Pen Books in Scottsdale, Arizona, where Barbara handed me a copy of a book about the rebuilding of a garden in Cornwall. Tim Smit’e2’80’99s THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN recounts how this mad musician almost literally stumbled across an estate that had gone derelict since the Great War, and decided to restore it. We’e2’80’99re not talking about a nice one-acre patch of flower bed, we’e2’80’99re talking country estate–walled-in kitchen gardens and cutting beds, orchards and glass-houses with grapevines and pineapple, rides and lawns and vistas and pools, acres and acres of once-cultivated land left to the wilderness for seventy years.
I needed a remote and evocative estate for the book I was writing, and stole images and ideas from the Heligan project for the place my religious community sets up their sinister shop.
I hadn’e2’80’99t actually been there, however, until today.
They’e2’80’99ve worked on the place for fifteen years now, and it’e2’80’99s hard to imagine what it must have been like when Smit and his friends hacked their way through in the early Nineties. For the purposes of fiction, sometimes imagination is a better spur than hard cold fact. But this is a fabulous place, and one could only wish that the house itself was a part of it, and open to the public. Although again, perhaps imagination is better, picturing Calke Abbey to go with the gardens (Calke being the interior equivalent of an abandoned gardens, a great house gradually abandoned, each room left as it was the last time its door was shut, scattered toys and mouthwatering embroidered bed fittings alike.)
We stayed the night near Mevagissy, following a detour when I clearly remembered having booked a place considerably closer to Penzance and having to backtrack. Mevagissy was probably once a charming town, but between the parking problems and the number of ice-cream shops, it continued the theme of abandoned purpose. And if you ever go there, do not fall for the encouraging ‘e2’80’9cP’e2’80’9d sign that points down to the harbor. The only Parking you’e2’80’99ll find there is for residents, and you have to risk a fall in the harbor to find it, threading the car along a track designed for donkeys, with no wall between the tire and the water four feet below.
Many things in this country show the result of no judicial concept of punitive damages. If a city, a store, or a shopping mall can’e2’80’99t be sued for more than the costs involved in replacing a car or medical fees, there’e2’80’99s little incentive to get things fixed and accident-free. I’e2’80’99m not complaining, mind’e2’80’94I’e2’80’99m a great appreciator of the Darwin Awards, and think that a lot of stupid acts should come with capital punishment, to weed out future repetitions. It was merely a comment.