A Cornishman would no more refuse a pasty than pickle his penis in potassium.
There is only one possible answer to the question “Pasty, ur no?” if asked of a Trevaskis, a Polglase or a Penberthy. We all know the ingrained antipathy of the Western Celts towards those who’s natural bent is to reach for the cream first. ‘Drekly’ is also an automatic response that bypasses conscious thought when we are confronted with a request to know when something might come to pass. It matters not if the request is immediate, urgent, merely pressing or ‘madder do ‘ee?’ It is taken for granted that we know what ‘Spingo’ is, no further explanation is required. To those unfortunates who happen to be permanently domiciled east of the Tamar, whose lives are blighted by having an indirect, at best, access to pastry encrusted meat and potato based products and having no knowledge of Camborne let alone its famous hill, to those is denied the knowledge that Spingo just happens to be one of the finest Ales on the planet. How happy is the man or, in this day and age of equal opportunity piss ups, woman who after 3 pints of Special finds themselves singing Trelawney in a bout of close harmony singing with the Rugby club in the back bar of the Blue Anchor. Trelawney is known to the heathen hordes up country only as a beer due to the successful marketing of St Austell ales. However, unless they are ardent students of history, the eponymous old squire remains a mystery even if twenty thousand Cornishmen know otherwise.
The Cornish just know that the ‘orses stood still, and the wheels went around’, and they know that Cap’n Dick applied his knowledge of Boyle’s law to a new form of locomotion. The importance of saffron is not lost on women of a certain age in Treskillard, Treswithian and Tregony, although it is possibly the case that old culinary knowledge is beginning to fade. It is common knowledge that Camborne, Redruth, Bodmin and St Austell formed the backbone of industrialisation which was then taken up later by the English around the world.
We know who Denzil Penberthy is, we know that Mousehole had a cat and that Zennor’s mermaid lured a young man into the sea. We know that ‘Tuss, Zackly and Gisson’ is not a solicitors firm.
If asked what nation has a black flag with a white cross on it, most of the English would not have a clue. We however, fly it everywhere. Unlike the red cross on a white background, which has been hijacked by the minority stupid in their quest to expel those who are of a slightly duskier hue, St Piran’s banner is not seen by some as symbol of fear, but of pride. Rugby is our game and the Black of the Zawn and Gold of our gorse is our colour.
These are things we just know. We ‘kent membr’ how we learned it all. They’re just part of our hearts, our souls and our history. They are part of the air we breathe, the soil we tread and the sea of which we dream. They are woven into stories, jokes and poems. They are found in tin mines, china clay pits and fishing nets and they will evolve and change while remaining the same.
As you walk down a Cornish country lane in late spring, you can’t help but notice the riot of colour of campion, bluebell and wild garlic in the dense hedges that flank its edges providing an ecological sanctuary for all manner of birds and bugs. The trees are adorned with a newly budded and unfolded fresh green canopy that allows the sunlight to dance between its gaps to throw a mottled, dappled motif upon the lane. As you pass a gate you notice the rolling fields dappled with sheep or cattle and a church tower poking up from a far away valley.
The lane then breaks out of its cover and onto the cliff tops upon which the dense carpet of variegated heather and low gorse lead the eye across to the blue horizon, across the blue sea under a blue white fluffy clouded sky. If you are lucky you will see an orange billed and red legged chough. But you will hear it first as you will the gulls, the jackdaws and the crows. Overhead a kestrel will patrol the cliff edges while the lark ascends, the blue tit quips and the robin stands his ground. In the far west, you will note granite sentinels of old mine stacks pointing skywards as reminders of the cost of human ingenuity and sheer bloody back breaking work.
The land is wind swept, often mizzled and rain soaked. The granite faces the western storms and symbolises the grit of the people who once had to eke out a living deep in the dark or out to sea in perilous conditions.
We know who Cousin Jack is and why Mexico has a ‘paste’ and why Australia has Cornish place names.
All of this is culture. It feeds into and nurtures the matrix of unspoken social rules, ways of speaking and of dressing. It directs what we eat, where we eat and when. Culture never sleeps. It changes, it adopts and adapts, it shapes us in ways we are barely aware of.
It is at the extremes of cultural boundaries that we begin to notice it. The differences are intuitively felt and can’t always be articulated or understood. The key is to listen and hope that through word, gesture and action you can begin to know the other. This takes putting one’s long standing assumptions to one side, not that you have to accept the other, but at least to understand.
What would a Saudi make of Redruth?
Being served a pasty without a skip sized portion of rice to go with it? Wondering why the churches do not call their congregations to prayer five times a day? Wondering why young people fall about in the street at weekends? They might think we are rude and aggressive for not taking time to enquire about one’s family before getting down to business, or in the preliminary sentences in an email, or expecting action straight after the meeting. Time appears very short in the west, when it needs to be drawn out, decisions thought about after tea and dates. Why the rush? I have little insight into the Saudi culture, all I can see are some of the outer differences. It would take quite some time to begin to work it out.
I know about the sharia punishments but I don’t feel at threat of an imminent flogging or stoning. I am aware of watching what I say about the prophet and Islam in part due to fears for personal safety but also about trying to understand. I cannot go about comedic offending until I know the culture. I can see how migrant workers are the backbone of the service economy and yet appear to be treated as second class citizens. What would a Saudi say about our care of older people, or of family relations in Camborne?
This country is on the brink of a cultural revolution, radical islamism is feared and hunted out, women are slowly gaining wealth and influence if not formal power. Cornwall over the past 250 years has changed radically….bringing the pasty with it. Old religion has died, the consumerist individualised ‘new religion’ is still evolving. Young Saudi’s are the driving force here in a way that the over 60s in Cornwall are. According to one source, two thirds of the Saudi population is under 35, while half of its workers are also under 35. That is a cultural and demographic time bomb. In Cornwall currently 25% are over 65 but by 2036 this will be 33%.
We know who Jethro is. We have no idea who Mohamed Bin Salman is.
Would a Saudi refuse a Spingo, preferring to pickle his penis in potassium? Apart from its strangeness, there is no reason to think he would not. The alcohol ban in public spaces is under threat, and I am reliably informed that many a Saudi household has a well stocked booze cupboard. Visitors to Bahrain and Dubai will notice the bars and brothels have their Saudi clientele enjoying the fruits of Haram as if Satan himself is merrily fellating the imams who cannot stop themselves enjoying it. Hypocrisy? Since when was that a sin we have ever worried about in the West.
When you get stuck into a ‘large steak’ and wash it down with sugary tea, you are merely continuing ancient Cornish custom, over which you have as much control as a Saudi has over his racing camel on heat.
One thought on “Culture Clash?”
Bloody hell, that left me feeling very homesick. You describe Cornwall beautifully Ben. Thank you.