5 March 2020 – World St Piran’s Book Day

Today I tried a tradition mash-up, and it didn’t really work. I’m sitting typing this wearing a blue dress for Matilda, a red and black stripy top for Minnie the Minx, and my hair in plaits for Anne of Green Gables (or Pippi Longstocking, except they’re not really flicky enough), having read the opening of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and a huge list of Cornish proverbs from Lean’s Collectanea Vol. I, an enormous red and beige tome. As a concept, combining World Book Day and St Piran’s Day just because I like Cornwall and reading was probably not my best idea.

But I’d forgotten how beautifully du Maurier writes: 

Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers. The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leaned close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church. 

Even though I know this is just a dream, it sets me on edge for the rest of the book, du Maurier successfully wrong footing me right from the very start.  

And I love Cornwall (Mandalay was based on the Menabilly Estate near Falmouth). We used to go there for our summer holidays when I was little, and then much later I’d drive up for New Year’s Eve, celebrate on a small beach up the coast from Padstow before driving home the next day. But one time, when I was on tour with the RSC in Plymouth, I escaped over the border to go in search of Excalibur and on the way I stopped at Jamaica Inn in Bolventor. I can honestly say I’ve never been in the company of so many women called Joyce, and where everyone was at least fifty years older than me. I didn’t stop long. 

Amongst other things, Vincent Stuckey Lean was a collector of proverbs. Although I only have Vol. 1 (itself already 509 pages) there are several other volumes of equal length. My book was is from 1902, so one of the first print runs and it smells almost juicy with must and dust and oldness.

Here are some of the sayings he collected about Cornwall:

Heat and pilchards

(a warm summer brings the fish)

All of a motion, like a Mulfra toad on a hot showl

(Mulfra, a small Cornish hamlet in Madron, but I couldn’t find a definition of showl, although I’m pretty certain it doesn’t mean ‘shoving my head on wall laughing’ as per the Urban dictionary, so I’m going with shovel)

Who whipped the hake?

(The tradition of giving a large hake a hiding to teach him some manners, then throwing him back to pass on the message to his friends)

and

I’ve now taken my plaits out, but I my heart will always remain true to The Minx. And while I never did find Excalibur, at least I got a story out of the adventure…


Resources

Baxendale, L. (creator) (1953) The Beano, Dundee, DC Thomson

Dahl, R. (1988) Matilda, London, Jonathan Cape

du Maurier, D. (1938) Rebecca, London, Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Lean, V.S. (1902) Lean’s Collectanea, London, JW Arrowsmith

Montgomery, L.M. (1908) Anne of Green Gables, Boston, L.C. Page & Co.

https://www.dumaurier.org/index.php

https://www.jamaicainn.co.uk/history

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