Cornwall Life: Getting soppy about lifeboats

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The Independent Online

A unique Cornish property will fall vacant in the next three years. It stands on Trevose Head overlooking Mother Ivey's Bay, with spectacular views to distant Bude.

A unique Cornish property will fall vacant in the next three years. It stands on Trevose Head overlooking Mother Ivey's Bay, with spectacular views to distant Bude. The property has its own beach and its own funicular railway. It has been the Padstow lifeboat station since 1968, but the Tyne Class lifeboat Sir James Burrough, which it currently houses, is approaching the end of its natural life, and the station isn't quite big enough to accommodate its zippy replacement. The building is earmarked for demolition, but I will be surprised if some canny developer doesn't make the Royal National Lifeboat Institution an irresistible offer. Maybe Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen will be tempted across the Camel estuary from his holiday home in nearby Port Isaac, to offer advice on how to convert the macho control room into a lavender boudoir.

In the meantime, the lifeboat station remains open to the public every weekday between 10am and 4pm. I took the children last week, and they were fascinated by the handsome wooden boards which, in matter-of-fact language, record the extraordinary human dramas that the Padstow lifeboat has attended since 1827. "1869, Jan 15th, Brigantine, Thomas, of Poole, lives saved 14." I tried to explain what terror and what bravery those few simple words evoked, and was aided by 32-year-old Michael England, who has served as mechanic on the Padstow boat since he was 17. It is, he told me, the only job he ever wanted. His father also served on the boat, as coxswain, as did his father's father, and indeed his father's, father's father. Four generations of Englands, in what is emphatically one of England's noblest institutions. It's enough to make a chap feel a bit tearful. I suspect I am not alone in getting soppy about lifeboats. Mr England isn't quite as lantern-jawed as Barbara Cartland might have made him, and seemed, if he will forgive me, to be hiding more of a Party Seven than a six-pack under his T-shirt, but that didn't prevent him cutting a heroic dash as he walked down the steps to pat his beloved Sir James Burrough.

I suppose it's all wrapped up with the romance of the sea, although there is added poignancy in the fact that the RNLI is sustained entirely by voluntary donations. I slipped the children's ice-cream money into the contributions box, and, to be fair, the howls of protest were relatively muted, especially when I pointed out the inscription recognising the generous gift to the RNLI in memory of Simon Richardson and Mark Johnson "who led an expedition under sail to the Antarctic in 1977 and did not return". For five-year-old Jacob, this was akin to his own sacrifice in forsaking a medium 99 with chocolate sauce. As for nine-year-old Joseph, who was captivated by Channel 4's excellent drama Shackleton a couple of years ago, he was amazed to learn that two men failed to return from an Antarctic expedition comfortably within his father's lifetime. However, I later realised that the conclusion he drew was not how dangerous Antarctica is, but how superannuated I must be.

Sausages à la Stein

Last week I promised to report back from my latest visit to the Seafood Restaurant, the flagship of Rick Stein's ever-explanding Padstow empire.

There are some who criticise the Seafood Restaurant for not being worth the adulation it attracts. I know several foodies who are decidedly sniffy, although I suspect they went determined not to be impressed. There is sometimes a calculated perversity at play in slagging off something that everyone else raves about; it can make you seem more, not less, of a connoisseur.

To my mind ­ and I won't be going for at least another 12 months, so this can't be construed as some sneaky wheeze to get a free aperitif, and besides, it's hardly as though the place needs any more good publicity ­ the Seafood Restaurant is matchlessly classy. It's bloody expensive ­ most main courses are a twitch-inducing £27.50; some are dearer ­ but I love everything about it, from the stylish artwork to the easy charm of the staff.

Then there's the grub. Jane and I have eaten there every summer since 1997 and every meal has been wonderful. This time we had something to celebrate, so we pushed the boat out further than usual. And Padstow, of course, is just the place for boat-pushing. Jane had a starter of oysters and sausages, although not sausages as Mr Wall would recognise them, and I had hot shellfish. She then had lobster simply grilled with herbs, and I had turbot. With a couple of excellent puddings, two glasses of kir royale, a bottle of white burgundy and a glass of dessert wine (we got a taxi back to the hotel), there was almost enough change out of £200 to pay for five cheese rolls the following lunchtime. Now, £200 is an awful lot of money for dinner for two, but not too much, I would daringly assert, for an evening out that we will remember happily for years. Stein himself was tucking in at a neighbouring table, incidentally. They say it's a good sign to see Chinese people eating in a Chinese restaurant and I suppose the same is true of seeing Rick Stein eating at the Seafood Restaurant, although there were doubtless some who would have preferred to see him striding purposefully towards the kitchen, with his sleeves rolled up.

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