The following is a (slightly) tongue-in-cheek little rant about some ‘up-country’ attitudes to Cornwall and the Cornish……. I should first say that although I have lived here in Bude for 15 years, I‘m not Cornish born, despite having ‘proper’ Cornish relations in the far west who’s surnames begin with the prefix ‘Tre’. No, I’m a North Downs lad from rural Surrey, and very proud of it. That said, I think we’re all much the same anyway, we are all descended from multiple blood lines, however much some of us like to put labels on ourselves, such as ‘Cornish’ or ‘Londoner’.
I get a little irritated by the lazy journalism of a largely London based mainstream media. I feel that Cornwall in particular, and Devon, Dorset and Somerset to a lesser degree, have long been lumbered with an up-country/mainstream media image that condescends and patronises. They love to portray Cornwall as a ‘quaint’ place and its people as little more than simpletons.
According to most Cornish themed television programmes of the last thirty odd years, the likes of ‘Doc Martin’,’Jamaica Inn’, ‘Poldark’ (the original series) and ‘Wycliffe’ for example, the county is positively heaving with people who like to say “Ooooh-arrrrgh” and “Tedn’t reet, tedn’t fitty, tedn’t proper, Cap’n”. Entertaining and amusing programmes like ‘Doc Martin’ and ‘Wycliffe’, (well the ‘Cornish’ accents are hilarious if nothing else), have an underlying subtle propaganda message. They seep in to our collective consciousness and gently remind us simple Cornish folk that we need ‘specialists’ from “that there Lunndunn”, (you know, detectives, surgeons, and the like,) to help drag us all in to the 21st century by the collars of our fishing smocks. What would we do without those clever, sophisticated, fashionable London folk?
This under-lying patronising attitude is evident in the type of questions I am sometimes innocently asked by people I know ‘up-country’. It is as if they have a default position that states that the ‘London way’, in all things, is what we should all aspire too. Well count me out. I love Cornwall. I like the Cornish. (Well O.K., I don’t like all of them. Some of them are bastards. London hasn’t got a monopoly on them either!)
I love the Cornish way of life. I love the laid-back, friendliness of the people. I love living in a small beautiful Cornish coastal town where I know so many people, if not in person then at least by sight. Just driving up Belle Vue hill is an experience that backs this up. One day I was waved at by at least ten different friends from the Triangle to the post office. (At least I think they were waving, my eyes aren’t as good as they once were!) It makes you feel a valued part of this lovely little community. Bude is a special place where your neighbours will stop and chat and people care for their environment.
Even members of my own south-east based family and friends will sometimes ask, without realising how condescending their questions sound…. ”Have you got any super-markets in Bude?” Or “Make sure you fill-up with petrol before you drive home,” (from Surrey to Cornwall). The implication being that we don’t have petrol stations in the West Country. They might just as well say “Have you got electricity down there yet?” and have done with it.
If I should tell them that Cornwall has one of the leading tourist attractions in the World, (The Eden Project), or that towns like St Ives and Bude are regularly voted to be the towns that most English people would love to move to, a glassy eyed stare usually overcomes them, and they start talking about the London-Eye or Lego-land. They just don’t want to hear it. My words are about as welcome as a fart in a lift.
Television production companies continue to make their cheap, throw-away, twee, glossy, no substance shows about Cornwall. (Take a bow Caroline Quentin, come on up and collect your Oscar!) One recent series featured opening shots of the sea crashing on to the cliffs….in Devon. Many of these shows feature affluent incomers with double-barrelled surnames. (I know the sort of double-barrel I would like to introduce some of them too, ha, ha!) They delight in showing off their barn conversion holiday-lets, or their luxury Yachts moored down on the Fal estuary.
They play for our sympathy by telling us, “We gave up everything, yah? We took a huge risk when we moved down to Cornwall, didn’t we Hugo?” Yeah right. Of course you did. The rest of us ordinary folk who moved down never had a farm in Oxfordshire to sell up. The only sacrifice these wealthier in-comers made was to take young Tarquin and Sebastian out of their posh public school or make Lena, their pretty Polish au-pair redundant. They soon get their money back anyway when they sell us their crappy memoirs…’A cow in the kitchen’, ‘A badger in the scullery’, ‘A blackbird in the fridge’, ‘An adder in the f****ng larder’, you know the sort of thing.
Their sleeve cover notes should read. “The story of an ex-public school publisher from the city who gave it all up to buy a quaint little cottage in a deserted little Cornish coastal town, (the Cornish having all already left because they can no longer afford to live there). The story of how she and her family struggled to survive, and how she eventually had to learn to pass other cars on our lanes, without scratching her B.M.W., or stopping and freezing like a deer in the bleeding headlights in the middle of the bleddy road when another car approached her”.
If these ‘Hello’ level productions ever do deign to speak to an ordinary ‘local’, they usually pick the village idiot. They like to film him eating a pasty whilst he loudly holds forth, (bits of pasty flying everywhere), on how all Cornish people love to spend every night in harbour-side pubs drinking ‘Rattler’, wearing stripy tops and fishermen’s caps, and singing sea shanties! True there are some that do that, I’ve even done it myself, but that’s like saying all English people eat jellied eels, speak in Cockney rhyming slang and go Morris dancing every weekend.
But, surprise, surprise, there is another side to our dear Cornwall. Most of the residents here are very well educated, much travelled, intelligent and cultured people, and they really don’t need to be patronised by anybody.
The Cornish culture is ancient, and without their early development of steam technology; (the fruits of which were passed on to the Northerners), we would not have had the industrial revolution with which the wealth of the old British Empire was built! Have these patronising media people never heard of Richard Trevithick, Humphrey Davy or the Holman Brothers? (No, they’re not a band!) So come on Quentin and the rest of you, move over, and let’s make way for the real Cornwall!
Mark Anthony Wyatt
What some friends said about “There’s a blackbird in the fridge” (on Facebook)…...Dave John Pritchard… “Nice piece – cage rattled ha, ha, well played.” Jane Baker… “Brilliant! I love you, well said. So when’s the book of rants coming out?”…Ado Shorland... “Good piece Mark, I liked it before I read it!” Angela Westaway…. “Bleedy brilliant! Love it. I’m living with the ex-London Journalist who came down here to buy the f***off barn conversion. His ex wife took it all so he’s forgiven.”….Derek Thomas… “Nice one Mark!” Kate Bates… “Brilliant Mark! So good I read it twice! May I share it please?”
All written work by Mark Anthony Wyatt of Bude
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