Brian Viner: Cornwall Life

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The Independent Online

This is our ninth successive summer staying for the same 10 days of August in the same room of the same hotel, the Treglos overlooking Constantine Bay, not far from Padstow. We always meet my parents-in-law here and we all troop down at the same time every day to the same beach, where we have the same conversations, set up a game of cricket on the same stretch of sand, play in the same rock pools and go at the same time to the same ice-cream van.

Not that we're creatures of habit or anything. Besides, there are lots of other people who've been coming down here for as long if not longer than we have, so we and the children have forged some cherished friendships, which resume every summer where they left off the year before. And the staff have seen our kids grow up. Our youngest, Jacob, had his first five birthdays here.

The staff, however, have changed fairly dramatically over the nine years. The old faithfuls, if that's not too evocative of dogs, or perhaps geysers, are still around. Notably Wally, the maître d' who has been boning Dover soles here since about 1970, and can tell by looking at the horizon while tugging an earlobe what sort of weather the day will bring. But otherwise things are different, and although we still describe this as a traditional English seaside hotel, with silver service and dress codes and an elderly man discreetly playing show tunes on a piano in the lounge, traditional English hotel staff have been replaced predominantly by Poles, as well as Latvians, Filipinos, Australians, South Africans and Argentines.

When we first started coming down here, practically all the waiters, waitresses and chambermaids were English. Now, hardly any of them are. Our waitress last night was Polish, and moreover seemed to have a disconcertingly blunt Eastern European manner. "You sober?" she said as she stooped over me to set out my cutlery. I had barely had time to answer before she was standing behind my mother-in-law, who was draining the last of her gin and tonic. "You pissed?" she said. It took us a moment or two to realise that she had asked, "You sorbet?" and "You bisque?"

After dinner I sat down with Wally and he told me that the foreign seasonals are far less trouble than English seasonals ever were. They have a formidable work ethic, and even though they party pretty hard, too, they always report for duty on time the next morning. That shouldn't be too tricky, as they are given accommodation on site, but it was beyond the English workers, apparently. Until recent years Wally always knew when there had been an all-night party on the beach, because hardly anyone turned up to serve breakfast. And whereas there's never been any trouble with the foreigners, he often tells the story of the washer-up from the north of England who, having been fired for persistent lateness and laziness, broke into the dining room one night, removed 2,000 silver knives, forks and spoons embossed with the name of the hotel, and chucked them all off the cliff between Constantine Bay and Treyarnon Bay.

I like to think that for months if not years afterwards, dads sat on the rocks along this coastline at low tide telling their children stories about pirates and smugglers and buried treasure, only for a glint of silver to catch their eyes: another Treglos Hotel teaspoon sticking out of the sand.

Anyway, the current multinational bunch all seem perfectly contented here (although there was a bit of friction during the World Cup, Wally tells me), not least because they are making far more money than they can in their own countries. There is a waiter from Indonesia who has worked here for the last few seasons and has sent enough home for his family to buy a house in Jakarta. He has also been able to set up a catering school there with his brother, and I have a pleasing image of lots of budding young waiters and waitresses in Indonesia being trained according to English seaside hotel tradition, learning how to bone a Dover sole while trying not to hum along to the distant strains of "Midnight".

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