Brian Viner: Cornwall Life

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The Independent Online

It would be stretching a point to suggest that a good book equals a good holiday, but by the same token I can't remember really enjoying a holiday when I haven't had a good book on the go. This is partly because I don't read books at home. Writing them takes up most of my spare time these days, and two daily newspapers account for most of what's left. That said, I usually have a sports biography stationed by the side of the loo, which reminds me of what a friend of ours, Liz, said when her husband protested that he couldn't do two things at the same time. "Not true," she said, "you can poo and read." Jane thought this such a funny comment on the male species that she reported it to another friend, Sue. "That's not true either," said Sue. "They're only reading."

Anyway, to get back to the importance of holiday reading matter, we had an enjoyable week in France earlier this year rendered especially memorable thanks to The Blue Afternoon by William Boyd, swiftly followed by Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes. Similarly, a holiday in Sardinia three years before was lifted out of the ordinary by William Boyd's Any Human Heart. I always remember holidays less by the hotels or villas or campsites we stayed at, more by the books I read.

What I have always resisted, however, is reading the particular book that a particular holiday seems to demand. You won't find me in rural Andalucia getting stuck into Driving Over Lemons, and definitely not in Paris ploughing through The Da Vinci Code.

We stayed at a hotel in Cyprus a few years ago and there must have been eight people by the pool reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin, not that Cyprus is anywhere near Cephalonia, but it was stuffed-vine-leaf country and that was obviously enough. I remember thinking how naff it looked, and resolving never to do the same thing myself.

All of which brings me to Cornwall, where I have accidentally broken my own rule and started The Promise of Happiness, by Justin Cartwright. Jane - who reads prodigiously, although never on the loo, oddly enough - recommended it a while ago and so I brought it down here to begin once I'd finished Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. I had no idea it was partly set along the Camel estuary, and, having first checked that there is nobody else on the beach reading it, I have much enjoyed the many references to St Enodoc church, John Betjeman's grave, and even to Rick Stein and his Seafood Restaurant in Padstow.

On which subject, last week we made our usual annual pilgrimage to the Seafood Restaurant. As in the case of all famous restaurants, there are those who think it irredeemably naff to eat there, naffer even than sitting in the cafe at the Louvre reading The Da Vinci Code. One man's naffness, I suppose, is another man's pleasure.

Jane and I love The Seafood Restaurant and consider it just about our favourite place on earth to eat, albeit only once a year. But when we tell some people we're going for the umpteenth time, they look at us as though we've just confessed to a fondness for flock wallpaper.

It's interesting how the place polarises people: of those who have been, some adore it and some think it vastly overrated. There aren't many inbetween. Anyway, this year we went again with our friends Lynn and Angela - fellow guests at the hotel we're staying at - and we all thought it as splendid as ever. Angela was even heard to utter the word "reasonable" in connection with the bill, and while I'm not sure I would go that far, I would go a long way to eat there. And do.

But back at the hotel the following morning my father-in-law asked me what I'd had and when I said deep-fried gurnard, he said it sounded too much like deep-fried gonad for his liking. I can forgive irreverence towards The Seafood Restaurant when it makes me laugh, and since Stein has reportedly had an acrimonious encounter with his ex-wife recently, we all cheerfully decided that his gonads, deep-fried, might just be her dish of the day.