Dom Joly: An evil cradling in deepest Cornwall

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The Independent Online

I've often banged on about some of the weird things that happen down here in deepest, darkest Gloucestershire. However, since my recent visit to Padstow I feel that, in comparison, I live in the very epicentre of normality. The idea was for Stacey and I and our friends Adi and Jake to get away from everything and have a luxurious weekend stuffing ourselves silly on seafood. For those of you who don't know (it means you don't watch TV) Padstow is the Cornish fishing village that has now been turned into a Rick Stein theme park. There is a Stein restaurant, fish and chip shop, deli, bistro, hotel, cooking school; they might as well rename the place Steinstow. When the trip was first mooted I was a little loath to return as I had been down there once before for a disastrous weekend with an old girlfriend. This was way back, fairly early on in Rick's TV career when, having watched some of his programmes, we thought that we might go down and eat the cast.

Unfortunately, so had about a hundred other London couples. The place was like some sort of non-stop Valentine's Day, everywhere jam-packed with couples staring at each other awkwardly over vats of oysters as Rick and his accountant rubbed their hands with glee. The girlfriend and I spent the entire time arguing and ended up trying to drown each other on the town beach as the tide roared in.

My daughter, Parker, was very jealous that we were off to Cornwall as, apparently, most of her classmates go there for the summer. She thought that it was some foreign country thousands of miles from anywhere and, in a way, she wasn't wrong.

Despite the thousands of tourists tramping about the place there are still tiny spots where locals can hang out. We found a sweet little pub just behind the port that seemed to be very "local" and had a bit of atmosphere and a welcome dearth of ye olde fishing nets. It definitely didn't seem to belong to Rick Stein, so we dived in happily. I was recognised by quite a few people in the place and, as the booze flowed, so did the conversation. One person told me that I was very approachable "not like some other famous visitors we've had down 'ere". When I enquired as to whom she might be referring to, she astonished me by saying "that John McCarthy". Now, I've never seen John McCarthy as a shameless attention-seeker and one might think that five years chained to a radiator might have made him a tad introverted, so I felt that he might be entitled not to be too chatty. Despite this, I nodded in a cowardly way as though agreeing that he was a real bastard not to have done a naked pogo round the bar.

Then an enormous man dressed as "the only gay in the port" in a pair of red-leather hot pants and a matching oh-so-tight bodice accosted us and introduced himself as an off-duty policeman from Bristol. To prove it, he flashed us his police badge that he kept cosily up his hot pants. Despite his peculiar attire, his views on race and sexuality could not really be described as that enlightened. Obviously, we didn't challenge him but nodded like muppets while looking for the door. Before we left we were asked whether we were going to be around the next day as, apparently, it was "Darkie Day". This is when all the locals "black up" and parade around the port getting drunk. Apparently, a lot of "politically correct" visitors object to this practice but they were not going to let outsiders tell them what to do. Quite right too, I replied, there had been some talk in my village of trying to stop me burning the big crosses high on Poacher's Hill but I wasn't having any of it.

There was a roar of approval from the bar and more drinks all round. This was definitely a "local" place for "local" people. We drove fast out of Cornwall the next morning having had a fish and chip breakfast at Rick's place. He was not around for "Darkie Day", as he was apparently sunning himself in Australia. Can't say that I blame him.

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