Coffee in a Cornish secret garden

Mrs TD and I had planned a party last weekend to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Friends and family were coming to us from as far away as Spain. It had to be cancelled, of course, because of the current restrictions – a big disappointment. We were able to see a couple of friends for a socially distanced mini-celebration, but it wasn’t what we’d been preparing for months.

This week I finished reading Stefan Zweig’s novel The Post Office Girl, but have yet to summon the energy to post about it. So today, the last day of July, scheduled to be the hottest day of the year in England, an aside about coffee with friends.

These old friends live in a lovely converted water mill just a few hundred metres along the country lane behind our house. They came for socially distanced coffee with us in our back garden a couple of weeks ago, on one of the rare days this month when the sun has shone in Cornwall, and it was our turn today to visit them.

Igor the Siamese cat

Igor the Siamese cat

We were greeted at their door by their imperious Siamese cat, Igor (named after Stravinsksy). In all the pictures I took of him he has his eyes tight shut – perhaps because of the bright sun, or maybe just out of feline disdain.

Our friends’ garden is a delight – a secret haven tucked out of sight down a private driveway, bordered on one side by a trilling river, and fringed on two sides by tall trees. There were butterflies – orange fritillaries and peacocks in particular –   attracted by the lilac and other flowering plants. A petrol blue-green dragonfly also perched briefly on a leaf near us, before zooming off like a psychedelic helicopter.

The old watermill wheel at the side of the house

The old watermill wheel at the side of the house

Over our coffees and biscuits we talked about the mill and lovely garden, the pandemic, inept politicians, local people, and books. When our friends  last visited us they recommended a book by a Cornish vicar of the pre-WWII era, Bernard Walke. I was able to pick up yesterday in our newly reopened city library (click and collect reservation service) a paperback reprint – post will follow when I finish it.

Igor sat contentedly on his own cushion beside the garden table, eyes still inscrutably closed. After a while he was joined by his dainty sister Phoebe, named after the Scots artist Phoebe Traquair (1852-1936).

Igor and Phoebe

Igor and Phoebe



Self portrait of Anna Traquair

Self portrait of Anna Traquair (By Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I came away with a borrowed copy of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, a work I’ve always intended reading, and a sumptuous book about the painted churches of Cyprus. We’d discussed my postgrad research into St Mary of Egypt, and there are a number of frescoes depicting her and the monk Zosimas, who disseminated her story, in Cypriot churches.

I’d lent our friends a copy of Barbara Pym’s novel

Phoebe Traquair's murals at the Catholic Apostolic Church, Edinburgh

Phoebe Traquair’s murals at the Catholic Apostolic Church, Edinburgh

Some Tame Gazelle (not a huge hit, sadly – though I understand why she might not be to everyone’s taste); in return I’ve been lent a copy of her autobiography. So: a fruitful literary exchange.

Around noon, in typical Cornish fashion, the scorching sun was lost behind a bank of thick, sea-misty cloud. The thickening air encouraged flying insects out, followed by swooping flocks of twittering martins, gleefully picking them out of the sky. Back home I witnessed the annual emergence of hordes of flying ants from the cracks in our driveway.

As I write this, it’s started raining. The Cornish heatwave was short-lived.


16 thoughts on “Coffee in a Cornish secret garden

  1. I’m sorry to hear that your plans for an anniversary party had to be cancelled (or radically reshaped) due to the pandemic. That’s such a shame… Good to hear that you were still able to mark the occasion in some way, albeit on a much smaller scale. Maybe you’ll be able to do something next year, depending on how things go over the winter…fingers crossed.

    • Thanks for the kind thoughts, Jacqui. Yes, it was disheartening to cancel – it would have been the first time our scattered family and friends would have been back together for some time, and we’d so looked forward to the celebration. Still, many others have had to make far graver sacrifices. My brother had to cancel his wedding! As you say, maybe next year.

    • I’m not a massive fan of cats, mainly because of their depredation of birds (my neighbour’s – which is very stand-offish, sits under my bird feeder hungrily), but these two were lovely – and so friendly.

  2. Lovely post and pictures.

    I’m sorry you had to cancel your plans and even more sorry for your brother’s wedding. What a nightmare it is, this year.

    I really enjoyed Some Tame Gazelle but when we read it at our Book Club, opinions were reserved on this one. (Excellent Women was better appreciated)

    • Thanks, Emma. Yes, it’s been a sad year for so many people, having to curtail contacts and social ties with loved ones. Maybe I’d have been better to lend my friend a copy of Excellent Women, on reflection.

  3. Wow. So much in an off-the-cuff post. First, I enjoyed The Post Office Girl, so I’m curious if you will, too. I liked the ending, but I’ll say no more.

    Igor and Phoebe are cutie pies. Would it be o.k. if I made an online jigsaw puzzle of Igor’s picture? It’s for the jigidi website. Did you know Warren Zevon did a small bit of piano study with Stravinsky when Zevon was a kid, and Stravinsky lived in L.A.? Now is the time for my Stravinsky story (no, not an in-person story). I wanted to buy the LP of The Firebird conducted Ozawa and when I went to the counter to pay for it, the clerk started laughing and laughing. He apologized and said a customer had come in about a week earlier asking for The Sacred Printer. He was all Huh??? And the guy said, you know, The Sacred Printer by Stravinsky. Hee.

    I enjoyed The Hare with the Amber Eyes. I love netsukes. The book is more about family history than specifically about netsuke, but that family history is also fascinating.

    Those murals are gorgeous

    So sorry about your party being cancelled and condolences to your brother, as well. This year is just a complete disaster. My brother was supposed to visit from Costa Rica, and while he could leave CR, he wouldn’t be able to go home again from the U.S. When he first bought his tickets, CR had zero covid-19 cases. So, they locked down pretty tight. They say they’re opening for tourism in August, but if I were them, I’d still keep US citizens out for a while. Too many covidiots here.

    • Paula: I did enjoy the PO Girl, but need to reflect on my response to it: there are several aspects I’m not sure about. Cats usually come second with me to dogs, but these two were just gorgeous, and so friendly. My neighbour’s cat won’t let me near her, and she regularly eats mice and birds in my garden, which doesn’t endear her. I didn’t know about that W. Zevon connection. It’s very sad that so many people have had to postpone or cancel family and other events this year – but it’s for the greater good. We’re fortunate to live in a semi-rural location, with lovely walks on our doorstep, and a garden. So many people have cramped accommodation with no outdoor space, so that lockdown is like a prison sentence. It seems that there is a resurgence of cases in places where the virus had been presumed suppressed, so we have to remain strong and vigilant. It’s weird to have to socially distance with family and friends, but necessary.

  4. Congratulations on your 25 years! The Spouse and I celebrated ours a few years ago, and we celebrated in a restaurant with 25 friends and family who were there at the wedding, so I know exactly what you mean about the lost pleasure of bringing together scattered friends.
    But, for reasons I won’t bore you with, I have, for a number of these significant celebratory occasions, decided that the day and the date don’t actually matter. It’s the occasion that matters, and it can be celebrated any time. So my advice would be to start making some plans for your silver anniversary to be celebrated at some future date. It will give you and all your scattered family and friends something to look forward to.
    Because this is not going to go on forever. The Spanish flu pandemic petered out, and so will this.

  5. Only saw this now, Simon. Wishing you a belated happy anniversary, albeit in restrained circumstances. I do wish in a way we could toss away this year and start over again next year… but the situation may not be all that different by then.
    Still, the Cornish garden does sound lovely (and I am a cat person, so I fell in love with those well-behaved Siamese).
    I tend to start people off on Barbara Pym with Less Than Angels. It is funny, acerbic, and a quick read, although perhaps not quite as subtle and deep as some of her other work.

    • Thanks, Marina Sofia. You’re right, Gazelle wasn’t maybe the best choice to start out with Pym. Still, my friend said he enjoyed it in the light of her autobiography, so it wasn’t a complete failure! As for this horrible year – it looks set to get little better for a while. Crowds of visitors are arriving here in Cornwall – good for local economy, worrying in terms of public health.

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