Back to Index


About Us

Contact Us




'Downshifting' by Sally Parkinson

Photo: Sam North

My first experience of Cornish village life came the morning after I had moved. I went to the local garage shop, helpfully signed 'for all your grocery needs'. Finding the milk with ease, I enquired as to where the rice krispies where kept. The old man behind the counter fingered his beard and eyed me with the suspicion a 'foreigner' deserves. "Rice Kerrispies you say. No. We don't have none of them round ere."

And so begaan my battle with Cornwall, the interminable love-hate relationship that has consumed me for the last four years. That's right, Cornwall. You might of heard of it recently. That was us making a PR disaster of the eclipse. I can't decide if I am lucky or unfortunate to have moved here.

Having spent the first two weeks mesmerised by the gorgeous beaches, I realised that there's nothing to do but look at them. The niggling realisation hit home when I began to question the inherent pointlessness of going for walks. You walk to the beach. You stare at the beach. You come home. Maybe that's why so many people here have dogs; it's a justification for indulging in the obligatory cliff path trek. Face it, The National Gallery houses some beautiful works of art, but you wouldn't want to live there, would you? Visiting is good, being locked in indefinately is much more questionable.

Try as I might to locate the natural calm side of me that is nurtured by the cry of seagulls and the crash of waves on the shore, it's far too well hidden beneath the consumption driven side of me that yearns to be able to buy guacamole, let alone sushi, from my local Tesco. And how I wish the joys of Ikea were accessible.

Friends don't tend to visit so often once they've realised that Cornwall isn't "just outside Exeter"; one trip down the 100 miles of A road that link us to civilisation is usually enough. More importantly, I live in constant fear of a family emergency now that my grandmother is seriously ill with cancer, knowing that I'm a good 6 hours from the Midlands. God forbid that anything should happen on a Sunday, when the sum total of no trains at all run through Falmouth. Visiting anywhere out of Cornwall becomes a journey of epic proportions, not least because our train service is the much maligned Western Railway/ Virgin fiasco.

One new thing I've learned about the Cornish Riviera is that it's so tropical it even has a Monsoon season; for me the experience of horizontal rain is the eighth wonder and makes the Lake District seem Mediterranean in comparison.

Amazingly, the beaches are only cleaned for the tourist season and spend the remainder of the year littered with oil drums. I do remember how lucky I am to live here around May, when the sun starts to shine, but then the rest of the bloody country descends anyway! Although it does feel strangely reassuring when Brummie and Yorkshire accents drown out the Cornish lilt. The illusion of the natural beauty of the beach is shattered somewhat when around March a large council truck pulls up and deposits a suitable number of tons of sand for the summer.

But never mind the scenery. I had always thought that living in Cornwall would mean endless perving at handsome surfer types as they straddled their boards and rode the undulating swells. The truth is, any man who can dominate the waves is unlikely to be able to do the same for you. My brief but painful research proves that far from being the rubber clad treat you would anticipate, surfers are either prepubescent 'dudes', or reality devoid thirtysomethings, who really ought to know better. Although they are all single. Alternatively, you might like to join them ; however, having watched a tampon bob yards from my face, I would strongly advise against such forays into the sewage ridden waters. There's always the tourist attractions, but these range from closed in winter, to vastly inflated prices in the summer. Take the seal sanctuary for example, at £7 each. When handing over that sort of money I would expect to eat a seal. Admission costs are supposed to cover the cost of caring for the seals, but it does prompt one to ask, what are they feeding them anyway? Caviar? One local girl told me, without a hint of irony, that Cornwall is a different country really, since it's "only connected to England by a bridge." And quite honestly, for all the contact we have with the rest of the country, it might as well be. Whilst the rest of the country's clubs are getting licence extensions to 6am, our local club cannot get a 2am license; come 1am the only open establishment here is the kebab van.

Political correctness has gone unnoticed; there have been petitions to close down the only gay club within miles, apparently it 'promotes paedophilia and perverted practices'! I have also been told that I lack a sense of humour by middle aged men in pubs for not laughing at their racist 'jokes', which inevitably hinge on monkey's swinging through trees.

Are the myths and charms of Cornwall so well established that this sort of behaviour can be forgiven? The Cornish certainly seem to be a law unto themselves, with their doing things "dreckly"; their phrase which depicts a timescale ranging from about three weeks to never. the slow pace of life isn't reflected in attitude however; there is a particular way of doing everything, and it's not open to negotiation. I had to leave the brief stint I did barmaiding when I realised that I not only couldn't, but I had no desire to remember whose 'pint pot' belonged to which local.

Maybe warning bells should have rung when I bought my house ridiculously cheaply off a couple who had moved here to retire a year previously. They had dropped their price in desperation because they missed the reasonable accessibility of relatives and shops. Thankfully, I'm not the only one pursuing this line of thought. Katy thought she was living the dream when, after working on magazines in London for nearly ten years, she fell in love with a man she met on a creative writing weekend in the lake district. "He was a poet and climber, and lived in Cornwall near the beach. We tried to see each other at weekends, which proved ridiculously difficult because of the distance, so when he asked me to move in with him I decided that I'd like to. "I became pregnant around the same time, so naturally cut my workload to the occasional appearance in the office in London, and lots of freelance work from home. After my daughter was born, I started to realise how much I miss London. I hate there being no decent shops within 100 miles".

In a lot of ways you're spoiled living in London, with all the best shops and restaurants just around the corner. I also really miss the immense concentration of friends in one small area; I seem to spend all my time now driving to see people. "Living here does give you the chance to get to know yourself, and I've been glad to do that. I'm no longer living on my nerves. Everyone here seems fatter, or 'healthy' as they call it! Unfortunately I preferred the 'me' then to the present 'me'. But now I've got two small children, who I don't want to bring up in London, so I'm stuck in this transitional situation."

Surely one of Cornwall's biggest drawbacks is the lack of jobs in the predominant media market that is growing in the rest of the country. With one of the most reputable art and media colleges in the country based in Falmouth, it seems a shame that all the graduates rush straight back up country. Or, maybe Cornwall should stay as it is. lt occurs to me that we need contrast in our lives; we can't appreciate one state of living without experiencing it alongside its binary opposite. So, living in London we do get tired of the endless noise, pollution, overcrowding and claustrophobic daily tube rides. But then when I live in Cornwall, I long for the almost comforting sound of sirens, familliarity of routine and that feeling that binds you to everyone else in the tube carriage who's lifestyle is so like your own. So, what's the answer if you can't afford two houses!? Commuting is not even feasible from Cornwall.

For me, living here to study has been a rare privilege, but ultimately I can't bear not to be able to spend my Sunday's queueing in a car park for 2 hours, then having fisticuffs over the last Poang chair before scraping a layer of paint off my car with an ill-fitting roofrack. You can keep the quaint one track railway, give me the chaos of the tube, although, of course, I'll be returning for my holidays.

© Sally Parkinson

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article