Why being “officially” Cornish makes me happy and sad all at once.


A few days ago I was besieged with facebook messages from my friends at home. Then a phone call from my mother who was having a party.

“Finally! We are CORNISH NOT ENGLISH!!” She shouted down the phone. Then came a lot of stuff in Cornish that I honestly only understood bits of.

I’m glad that the Cornish have officially been declared a national minority. Mainly because I was fed up of getting into fights with English people about the fact that Cornwall is J.N.E. – Just Not England. Most of the people who end up moving to Cornwall feel the same… there is just something – something – different about it and it’s hard sometimes to define what. Even I find it hard and I am from there!

I think, speaking as a historian (HA!), that it has something to do with the Romans. They didn’t colonise Cornwall. They traded with us on St Michael’s Mount. Then the Anglo-Saxons. They didn’t really come down here either. We didn’t really get much of the whole invading thing til the Normans and even then – or so I’ve been told – they weren’t that fussed about us. I think it’s that which, every piece of Cornish revivalistic “language, flag and Gorsedh” stuff aside, really defines us as separate, because it is just in the landscape you experience everyday.

I also think my mother would kill me if I didn’t mention that we also have the stone structure that is the Cornish Hedge (a stone-faced earth bank which grows plants in it unlike its relative the dry stone wall). Some of them are older than the pyramids and they frame our landscape in something more solid and biodiverse than the ordinary English hedgerow.

And then there’s the people. Classless, fierce but generally all round lovely, the Cornish don’t do airs and graces well. In fact when I rang up recently to tell them I was getting decent marks at uni I got teased to high hell. And I wouldn’t have it another way. The Cornish are “straightforward” people as my mum puts it. It’s mainly the result of a hangover from the Cornish language – though it died out we kept a lot of its features in our dialect and accent. The main one being that, when speaking, the most important thing in a sentence goes first. Thus we get the golden greeting “Ello an’ a’right, are ‘ee?” shouted from every corner of the land. Sometimes it can make the Cornish seem brash and rude but it’s never intended like that (except when it is). Also the accent makes us sound “stupid” apparently which is why most younger people (myself included) don’t really have that much of a noticeable one out of shame…. though when I talk to my grandparents out it springs! That whole “slower pace of life” thing you hear so many tourists say about Cornwall is a direct result of its people and their word “dreckly”…. which is a version of the word “directly” and means “anything but directly”. Seriously, Cornwall is the only place where you can be called “boy” all the way through adulthood. You can be 95 years old and you will still be referred to as an “old boy”. That’s how slowly we approach life!!

So as you might gather I’m pleased that the distinction has been made, because I feel that Cornwall is a different place to England. I know it’s got some political power play behind it, like having a dig at Scotland, or trying to gain the Cornish nationalist vote for the Tories (which I’m not sure will work as they are, in the main from what I can tell, a fairly left-wing bunch on the whole). But I’m still happy that it’s been done because I have always been Cornish, not English.

But it still makes me sad. In the same way that a lot of nationalism makes me sad. Because I think it’s okay to be proud of where you’re from, in the same way that it’s okay to be proud of your family. But the idea that it means you have to almost hate other places grates at me. And it makes me feel weird, because I live in England now. I live here for university and will do for a few years now and I have a life up here that I think I want to keep. But I miss Cornwall, and being “officially” Cornish just reminds me that I’m in a place that is so close yet so far away from home.

Cornwall and Yorkshire are similar in a lot of ways. Especially the straightforwardness of the people. Love that. But I miss my home.

I miss the language – not necessarily the Cornish but the particular brand of English that’s spoken at home. I miss the farms. I miss the hedges. And I miss my mum going on and on about the hedges.

I miss pasties. And I mean real pasties, not the stuff you get in even the pasty shops up here. I miss my gran’s pasties. I miss the absence of Gregg’s. I miss Clotted Cream, the fact that every dessert comes with clotted cream,Roskilly’s ice-cream, and frankly anything made by Rodda’s. I miss my great aunt’s sloe jelly and my mum’s flapjack made with whatever she’s grown and whatever she’s got in the cupboard. I miss the incessant arguments between two sides of my family about whether the cream or the jam should go on first, and each calling the other side Devoners when they dare to argue back.  I miss splits, not scones.

I miss the sea and everything about it. I miss that the beach is only a short bus-ride away and that I can walk to the creek whenever I like. I miss stormy days when the waves crash and burst and bubble against the shore. I miss the sunny days, just before emmet season starts, when the beaches aren’t packed with people and you can relax wherever you like. I miss clifftop walks. I miss sea shanties. I miss the ever-present smell of the sea and the breeze that could render the hottest day sliiiightly too fresh not to take a cardigan out with you. I miss that a day by the sea with the right people will always end in some fairly inadvisable skinny-dipping that is ALWAYS FREEZING no matter what day it is.

I miss Trago’s. There’s similar up here but nothing quite as mental.

I miss the feeling that things don’t have to be done right this second. I miss people who are endlessly busy but still know that putting whatever you’re doing aside to have a cup of tea and some cake with a friend who’s “just called by on the offchance you were in” in is probably the best idea.

I miss the things that make me Cornish. And frankly, I’m not sure they’re that different to things that make people English, or Welsh, or Scottish, or any nationality. But I’d like to think that the way we do them is subtly, but significantly, different. Because I have a feeling we don’t do them on time and just tell everyone we’ll be on it dreckly.

Well I'll just sit 'ere an' enjoy the sun fer a bit, then I'll get onto bein' Cornish in a minute....

Well I’ll just sit ‘ere an’ enjoy the sun fer a bit, then I’ll get onto bein’ Cornish in a minute….


2 thoughts on “Why being “officially” Cornish makes me happy and sad all at once.

  1. Jacqueline Davey says:

    Your some bleddy maid, but you ,made me cry cause I miss you….flippin Cornish maid of mine! Love your Mummy xxx

  2. stephanieboon says:

    Oi JD, been thinking bout e loads bird, where’s my cuppa coffeeeeee?!!! xxx Missing you BOTH!

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