Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Pasties Galore

So yes, I spent last week reminding myself of how appallingly bad Cornish builders are, and how they have been since about 1650. Basically, if it isn't made of granite, then it will fall to pieces in the harsh environment within about 10 years or so, if it ever held together in the first place.

Have you ever wondered how all those UPVC, double-glazing companies kept afloat in competition with each other during the last 30 years or so? Well I can tell you - it was all due to the seemingly bottomless market of North Cornwall, where literally about 90% of all houses are fitted with them, plus an obligatory UPVC conservatory tacked onto the side of their already ruined houses, at an extra cost of about £10,000. That's a lot of money from a lot of houses. The market has stayed bouyant due to the built-in decrepancy with which these hideous, white plastic structures are made - they cannot even put those together properly, and they usually fall apart about one day after the 10 year guarantee has expired, so that you can never open the French windows again if they were closed the day before, or never close them again if they were open. If - outside of the booming tourist trade - the employment market in Cornwall has been in the doldrums for the last 20 years or so, then I think you can blame the local builders for just about all of it.

Maybe I am being a little harsh on these Celtic odd-job men. It is quite possible that the extremely poor quality of their handiwork is deliberate policy, in order to punish the 75% of the populace who were not born in Cornwall, and whose forebears have despised Cornwall and the Cornish for generations - certainly since Henry Tudor kicked the cardinals out of Lambeth Palace and executed Sir Henry Moore. (I am surprised that the current Pope did not pay a visit this time, just to thank the Cornish for their unfailing loyalty to Rome for the last 400 years or so. I suppose he had too much on his plate.)

Things almost came to a head in the eighteenth century, when Cornwall sided with the French during the revolution, and the constant and bloody battle with English customs officers was at it's peak. The Cornish did themselves no P.R. favours either, when the 'wreckers' built false lighthouses on dangerous headlands in order to drive confused ships onto the rocks so that they could plunder the goods on board, regardless of the loss of innocent seafarer's lives. The Duchy of Cornwall (currently headed by own own Prince of Wales, and whose officers meet in Bath every year for a pep-talk from Charles), was founded by Henry Tudor, in order to sweeten the local gentry upon whom favours were bestowed in return for allegiance to the Crown. Much good it did him.

But it goes back even further than Henry Tudor, when - as their Gallic counterparts across the water were fighting against the despised Roman invaders - the Cornish were happily enjoying prosperous and peaceful lives in their rocky and far-flung outreaches, by trading tin for other luxuries with Rome as the rest of England were being whipped into submission by the Legions.

The Cornish have never seen themselves as English, so have been viewed as perfidious and treacherous heathens by the English since they first arrived in the barren, western landscape about 5000 years ago - reputedly from Mesopotamia. It is the other side of the coin when we secretly and wistfully admire the independent Cornish spirit of rebellion, as we hand the money over for a coastal trip on the Sabre Marine Diesel to the lad with the tousled hair in Newlyn Harbour, and wonder how much of it is seen by the Inland Revenue headquarters at Somerset House, all those miles away in London.

One thing that the Cornish are really good at though, is place names. Many of them relate to ancient Celtic spirits that still haunt the rocky moors and gorse lands. Bucca is one, and this spirit was still feared and revered at harvest time up until just before the First World War.

The non Celtic names are extremely inventive too - Indian Queens commemorates the passing through of Pocohontas (I think) on her way to London, having landed on Cornish shores from America in the 18th century. There are countless little places with charming names which - without local research - you would never guess their origin.

I was looking at a map of the St Ives area and pawing over a stretch of uninhabited moorland, when I came across a Tor crag called '12 o'clock Rock'. I wonder if Elvis passed through too?


  1. Look what came up as an advert after I had posted this!!!! :

    UPVC Windows & Doors
    Local Double Glazing Company Free Quote, Low Prices

  2. Vinyl windows are the norm here, unless you own a heritage home which are few and far between.

    I come from a Cornish family. My uncle wrote a book about our ancestors called The Harveys of Chacewater-A Cornish Inheritance....

  3. I wonder if - like the Scots and Irish - that there are more Cornish outside Cornwall than there are in, Raz? The whole of Bath is (at the moment...) a world heritage site, so the only UPVC you see in town is on the hideous re-builds sanctioned by the Council planning office. This is why I say the we are a world heritage site... at the moment...

  4. Just this morning I visited a small local town where I was shocked to see a beautiful old house completely surrounded by brand new white UPVC fencing.

  5. Hehe! I think Elvis must have!

  6. It may fall apart, Cro, but it doesn't rot. It will still be there in 15000 year's time, when the house has vanished.

  7. P.S. That boat in the picture is the Finnish icebreaker, 'Nordica' which spent the entire week creeping around the bay, lit up like a Christmas tree every night. My German friend who stayed with us suggested that they needed so much light at night to prevent the crew from getting depressed like they do in the winter up where they live. We went hunting for 'Absolut' bottles washed up on the shore, but I think the tide was against us.