“See you Dreckly”,said the owner of the smokie Joes cafe to Alfie.Of course,they both knew that that goodbye could mean any number of things as us Cornish are apt to indulge in reductive language,partly due to our laziness,and perhaps as a way of finding out wether people can be trusted,you know,”Are they of our sort”.As Alfie walked down that narrow cobbled street in Padstow,he reflected on what it had meant to him as a person who spent his formative years in a very small village in Cornwall,then being able to branch out and move “up country ” as it were.
By way of context to the last few sentences,Alfie knew that Cornwall had affected him in many ways,but as he indulged in a little more introspection as he strolled out of Padstow,he had to be honest and say that Cornwall no longer defined him.To elaborate,the people of Cornwall,of which he was a proud singer of their anthem “Trelawny”,captured his interest,but he now wondered wether his soul was truly in the area.As he walked the coast road,along sme of the most beautiful scenery that he could ever had seen,and to his way of thinking,ever really see,he also understood that Cornwall and the Cornish had to grapple with that age old question of diversity.Alfie lived now in the South of England ,in an affluent area in many ways,but had been a teacher in some of the more unsavoury areas of the Bournemouth and Poole areas.He had grown attached to this area,and to its people.He had been accepted,he had been helped,he had found something.Now,the contradiction that Alfie experienced with his kinsfolk was that ,to them at least,he hadn’t “gone up country”and made something special of himself.You see,the Cornish,and by extension,Alfie,seemed to have that pride in themselves that was out of kilter when their reality.Granted,many Cornish had done rather well in a material well,or educational,or scientific sense.However,Alfie was,and always felt this about himself,that he was an ordinary guy who wasn’t bad at music,and good enough to get by.That,my friends didn’t really fit in with the schema of Cornishmen leaves county,makes his fortune,then comes back home to save his local village from being subsumed by invading hordes from England.As Alfie thought of himself more of a European with liberal tendencies ,well,this didn’t fit in with the plan.
This cogitation by Alfie appeared to take up so much of his time,but in reality ,it probably was only an hour.Nontheless,that hour produced some forward momentum along his route,and Alfie felt a sense of accomplishment as his cadence remained true and his progressed assured.He was heading for Wadebridge which,strictly speaking,wasnt part of the Atlantic coast road at all,but was part of Alfie’s teenage years,and he had a soft spot for the town.Wadebridge was the main town at the gateway to what was ,and still is,North Cornwall,and he hoped to site a pub that would give him and Tricksy a room for the night.Wadebridge during the period of his teenage years was a place where he would purchase records and indulge in underage drinking.This activity ,though at the time was considered reckless for a young church organist,could hardly be described as “living on the edge”,but ,at the time,it was a clandestine part of Alfie’s life that he kept from his teacher who ,Although a serious drinker himself,thought nothing of counselling Alfie on the evils of a young men drinking under age.
Now,as Alfie was on the cusp of his 59 year of life,it struck him as a salient observation as we as humans are sometimes guilty of talking about a problem that we think a person has, only to realise that we are just as guilty of that problem ourselves.Alfie wondered a little about that as he passed through St Kew Highway.He had ,indeed made good progress and Wadebridge was now only a few miles away.As anyone who knows Alfie will testify,technology hasn’t really sold itself to him that much,and his relationship with it is one of suspicion.So,although he might have heard his pupils talk about Goggle maps and the like,it wasn’t a concept that Alfie really understood.So,being the devoted Luddite that he was,Alfie relied on his trusty map to locate an “Inn of convenience “,where he could indulge in some “over age drinking” as he liked to call it.
Looking back,he must have last visited this town some 40 odd years ago,give or take one or two,but he was confident that the place wouldn’t have changed much.This town was steeped in the agricultural tradition,with a sprinkling of patronage from the two Slate quarries in the vicinity .Delabole slate ,with the biggest open cast quarry in the country,and the smaller Trebarwith rustic slate company along the happy valley towards Tintagel.Those were the industries ,or main employers in the area .Yes,slate in the sense of roofing had peaked and been replaced by composites that were cheaper,but there was still demand for aggregates and stone used in buildings .Alfie remembered working at the quarry in his summer holidays to earn money to live as such,and he remembered with affection those days working with men,singing songs,and generally having a bit o f banter with them.He knew that long exposure to slate wasn’t a smart move for a pianist,but he also knew that he had to eat and had to have cloths,so he just got on with it.In those days,things were a means to an end for Alfie,and he rationalised things like that.
As he meandered down the steep hill into the centre of Wadebridge ,he liked the fact that very little had changed really.Yes,Banks had different names,there were probably far too many charity shops,too many betting shops,but,on the whole,the place was so very similar.As Us Cornish can be quite tribal,he reckoned that many of the men who had worked on farms or in the quarry would have had children who would have followed their fathers in the same types of jobs,he somehow knew that things would be as similar as the Cornish could make them.Yes,as has always been the case,house prices had rocketed in this area too,and that would have put a strain on many a local person with a Cornish family,but they were resourceful people and the Trudgeons,Tamblins ,Polmounters,Orchards,Truscotts and Rouse’s would have probably survived.As Alfie was part of the Craddock clan,he knew the pseudo power that names had to the Cornish.It was like a calling card to them,a card of intent,reputation,prestige.It was something that didn’t matter to Alfie now because he preferred to blend in,he didn’t think of himself as being from a Cornish family with a name.However,as he gave his name to the landlady of the Red Lion in Wadebridge,he observed those Cornish Brain cells going round and round.Yu know,I wonder if he’s such and such,or does he know such and such,or,and maybe this is the real golden cog.”What’s he doing in town ,I think that my Dad would know him.Of course,because even Cornish towns are still quite small,chances are ,she probably is right about her Dad,or uncle or aunt or such like.
,I get told my room is up the stairs,first on the left,and as there are only 5 rooms in the inn,I feel that intimacy that is,on the one hand,but,on the other too intense.As I enter the room,I make sure that if there is a fire,I can’t out quickly,and I also make sure that the locks are working properly.Tricksy is use to my obsessive checking of exits by now,and settles down in ther favourite place,on the bed.Well,it’s been a long day,with inland walking for Alfie,but it was important to return to this place. There are no demons here,but glimpses of things ,some good,some very good,some feral things that he would try to elaborate on again as his journey to abide progressed.
As he was early for dinner,but too late for lunch,he decided to find a subeway like place in the town to get a bite to eat.He didn’t feel that the high street had lost too much of its old Cornish charm,but inevitably,change happens everywhere.The sheer sounds of the Cornish dialect intrigued him as he retuned his ears to their frequency and listened to their voices and observed their stares.Of course,he would stare at people too,it just was a different thing to be a foreigner amidst your “so called own people”.
Passing the Lamb Inn,he thought of its namesake in Ringwood,near where he lived and wondered about the patrons at each place .He thought about the abrupt nature of many who viewed him with suspicion,and it probably was because he had ordered red wine.Now,it’s no use explaining that you have had a serious bowel condition,as that wouldnot cut it with the locals,you were a prime target for the jibes,”What sort of drink is that”?Now,Alfie thought about how in France the workmen would work inquarries just like these men ,but would somehow accept him and he realised that he had changed.Now,had he changed for the better,well you,dear reader,will have to judge for yourself.
Alfie knew where the exist was,he always did.Too many years playing piano in grotty places had always taught him to spy out the exists if you want to keep your face in shape.!!!
Thank you for your interest in Alfie’s return to Cornwall.