Magazine article The Spectator

Cornish Loathing

Magazine article The Spectator

Cornish Loathing

Article excerpt

Cornwall is the poorest county in the British Isles. This is because the Cornish of which I am one quarter - loathe everything except sloth. They heartily dislike the English, whom they regard as foreigners, even more than the Welsh do, or the Scots. The Cornish have no desire to work, possessing less ambition to better themselves than a rich woman's poodle, the rich woman being the EU which keeps them raking in the soggy chips by way of outrageous farm subsidies.

But on a fine summer's day Cornwall is the most beautiful place in Britain, unsurpassed by Derbyshire or Oxford. My father's family on the maternal side were brought up in Cornwall near the Lizard, a mile or two from the stone village of Cury. The family house, Bonython Manor, was built of granite. In the summer, the sun played mercilessly upon the grey stone until it took on the other earthly hue of whitened bones. At the bottom of the lawn, the sea lapped like spilt Indian ink.

Part of Cornwall's allure is its defiant primitiveness. I was down there over the weekend staying at Olga Polizzi's Tresanton Hotel in St Mawes (this is not a plug, I promise). The hotel, a melange of pastelpanelled walls and mosaic floors, is anything but primitive. But once in the village the smells and sounds and tastes, particularly the tastes, are utterly BC (Before Conran). Aside from the Tresanton restaurant and Rick Stein's fish establishment in Padstow, Cornwall is one of the last redoubts of Spam and tinned fruit.

Conversely, this is why I love Cornwall, in such a whimpering-simpering way that listeners frequently want to hit me. For one thing, it must be the only seaside destination in Western Europe that has avoided Disneyfication (and that includes Blackpool). All over Europe and America are prissily pristine holiday hamlets crawling with anodyne rustics. Whatever happened to the Mediterranean peasant who never descended to the artifice of the toilet, swore rudely and stank of garden herbs? Every modern Italian peasant wears Ralph Lauren Sport and attends classes for Pilates.

But in Cornwall, thank goodness, there is less sweetness and more spite, or rather spit. Expectoration is still very much to be expected. …

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