Cornish Antiques

 

 

I wasn’t particularly looking for Janner when I wandered into the Trevelyan Arms for a pint of Geoffrey’s old and filthy. I was actually having a hard time with the Telegraph crossword, not an unusual occurrence. In fact three or four of us would gather early doors in the ‘Trev’, ostensibly for a symposium on clues but in reality an excuse to swallow a few ‘heart starters’ and get out of the house quickly before our respective wives or bosses found us something to do.

‘Morning Janner’, I said, spying him propping up the bar, half perched on his favourite barstool.

‘Mornin’ my bird,’ he replied, swinging round and getting his size twelve sea boots caught under the brass foot rail. ‘‘T’is a bit quiet ‘ere this mornin’’ he spluttered, through a bushy black beard, compacted in beer froth.

‘Well it’s only half ten’, I said, ‘in half an hour you won’t be able to move’.

I knew what Janner was up to. He was short of money again. The tourist season was just starting down here in West Cornwall and tourists were the lifeblood of the community, in more ways than one.

‘Morning Kit’ panted the Landlord, wheezing with exertion as he appeared head first out of the cellar, blue veins bursting out of his forehead like a map of London’s underground. ‘…Won’t be a minute, just changed the barrels over’.

‘Don’t worry Geoffrey’, I said, ‘just escaped from Lara, she thinks I’m gardening.’

‘’scaped have ee’, mumbled Janner ‘I got my Elsie down Brent’s farm sortin’ bulbs. Keeps ‘er out o’ harm’s way’,

I knew what he meant. He could stay in the pub all day, spinning tales of Cornish folklore to any tourist that would buy him a drink while his long-suffering Elsie provided the wherewithal to live. Janner was a local institution, a kinder soul you couldn’t wish to meet; he’d do anything for you, especially if it involved the price of a pint or two. You could hire Janner for a days odd jobbing or to make up the crew on a fishing boat for the promise of a nights supping.

‘Usual Kit?’ asked Geoffrey, his face returning to a more normal, all over red ochre luridness.

‘Thanks, and put one in for Janner.’

Janner raised his glass in recognition. It was normal to buy him a drink…well why not? He’d provided us with years of entertainment. Perched up there on his stool, resplendent in a pair of tatty jeans, an old fishing smock covered in paint and yesterday’s breakfast, he was a tourists dream of a Penzance Pirate, which is what he is… a latter day one anyway.

‘Not a bad year for the daffs Janner’ I said, thinking of the tons of daffodils that Cornwall exported every year. ‘You done any pickin’ lately?’

‘Getting’ too old for that game my bird,’ he took a huge swig of ale,’ Plays ‘avoc with me ‘artheritits’’

‘Only thing what plays havoc with your arthritis is when you ‘ave to put your ‘and in yer pocket for a pint,’ quipped Geoffrey. This was true enough. Rumour had it that Janner did buy a round of drinks on his stag night, but that was lost in the mists of time.

The door opened and Janner looked round, sensing a victim. His hawk like nose ravaged by wind and sun, not to mention beer and rum, sniffed the air. It stuck out of a froth-encrusted beard that could have housed a flock of seagulls. The black Celtic eyes twinkled with anticipation.

Two girls in their early twenties gingerly walked in. They were obviously cyclists, mini lycra shorts and plastic head guards gave the game away. Un- hooking two enormous backpacks they both showed a remarkable amount of tanned thigh.

‘Can we ‘ave two cokes please?’ asked the taller and blonder of the two, in what was obviously a Germanic accent.

‘Of course my pretty,’ said Geoffrey, a normal Cornish greeting for anything on two legs… and sometimes four. ‘Would you like ice?’

‘Sank you’ said the other.

‘Now where is it?’ said Geoffrey after opening two bottles of Coke and pretending to look for the ice bucket. He knew there wasn’t any. There never was. ‘I’ll just get some from the kitchen . Won’t keep you waiting my lovers.’ …another old Cornish cordiality.

‘I’ll get it’ exploded Janner jumping of his stool, sensing an opening, ‘I’m going for a slash anyway.’

‘Don’t bother, I’m on me way.’ said Godfrey, walking through to the kitchen to look for the non-existent ice.

I got myself comfortably ensconced onto a bar stool and awaited what promised to be an entertaining half hour or so. I’d seen Janner perform before; his line of chatting up the opposite sex was always a masterpiece of pure theatre. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

‘You bin by-cyclin’ then’, he said, upon re-entering the arena. He was still battling with his fly buttons, which was a good start.

‘Sorry’, said the taller girl.

Janner reached into his fishing smock pocket and pulled out an enormous pipe, we called it a blast furnace. He wriggled onto his stool and started filling the thing with what looked like bits of old rope and ripe seaweed. ‘Nice bit of shag this.’

I swore one of the girls blushed.

Our Lothario lit the thing and engulfed himself in sparks and a cloud of satanic smoke. Nearly a minute passed before Janner’s nose appeared through the vortex. It was somewhat purplish. When his eyes had gained a semblance of control over their revolving, weeping balls, he spluttered ‘I see you got them new fangled ridin’ knickers and crash ‘ats on, so I sez to meself they two ladies be by-cyclin’.

The two girls looked at each other in bewilderment, a very pregnant pause and glazed eyes ensued. It was a regular occurrence for Janner’s victims, and typified a first encounter with this example of Cornish manhood. Janner watched intently searching his mind for the next gambit, bits of smouldering old rope hanging out of his pipe.

‘Don’t you take no notice of ‘im’ said Geoffrey, walking back into the bar empty handed, ‘’es an idiot.’

The would be Romeo sat back on his stool and scowled at the Landlord. He knew better than to argue, his credit would have been stopped.

‘Just you make yourselves comfortable my pretties and I’ll bring the drinks over when the wife’s located the ice.’

The two girls got the drift of this and sat down.

‘When she’s bin round old Trevor the fishmongers an’ got some off the bloody slab,’ mumbled Janner through a thick cloud of evil smelling smoke.

That was probably true I thought. Any drink requiring ice at the Trevelyan tasted of fish.

‘What was that?’ said Geoffrey.

‘I said can we have a drink on my tab’ replied Janner, quick as lightening.

Geoffrey knew when he was beaten and pulled two a pints of bitter.

‘Cheers Janner,’ I said, thinking this is one for the record books. I turned and looked at the girls. Janner’s smoke had crept across the floor and attacked them from below. The Kaiser would have been delighted to have had this weapon at his disposal on the Somme.

‘Geoffrey’, shouted the Landlady from the kitchen.

‘’Ah that’ll be the ice, won’t be a tick,’ said Geoffrey.

Janner heaved himself off the stool again and girded his loins for another frontal attack on the visitors. Taking his pipe out of his mouth, he crossed over to the girl’s table and poked his head through the smoke screen. He must have looked like a monster emerging from the deep. ‘Would you like a glass of water my birds’ he said.

The girls stopped coughing and rubbed their eyes, trying to focus.

‘Nasty old cough you be ‘avin…‘spect it be the sea mist.’ He swung his arms about to dispel the ‘sea mist’ and showered the girls with burning hot embers of old rope ends.

Janner walked behind the bar and filled two glasses with water from the tap and started back. ‘Where they gone?’ he exclaimed peering through the smoke.

‘Out through the door,’ I told him. ‘They were on fire’

‘Hell… just when we was getting friendly.’

‘Here we are girls,’ said a jovial Geoffrey, emerging from the kitchen, holding an old biscuit tin full of ice. ‘Where are they?’

‘Left,’ I said, ‘In something of a hurry’

‘What did you say to em?’ asked Geoffrey, glowering at Janner.

‘Nothin’ my ‘ansome. Think they got fed up waitin’ for the ice’.

‘Just seen an extraordinary sight,’ said a familiar voice.

We looked round, it was the Major, a retired old boy with a giant walrus moustache who lived in a delightful if somewhat derelict cottage almost opposite the pub.

‘What was that Major?’ asked Geoffrey holding a glass up to the ‘Famous Grouse’ whisky optic.

‘Two young ladies jumping up and down outside in the road doing some sort of Bavarian dance…you know, thigh slapping and all that.’ He took an appreciative slurp of whisky. ‘Thought they were on fire for a moment or two.’

‘Thought there were something funny ‘bout they two,’ said Janner, relighting his blast furnace.’ ‘Tis them ‘ats they got on…stops the blood getting’ to the brain.’

‘I expect your right,’ I said, not wishing to drop him in the proverbial. I watched Geoffrey placing the two glasses of Coke behind the bar ready for the next two confused customers that requested Coke.

The Major finished his drink, placed the glass on the bar which was swiftly placed underneath the optic again by Godfrey and unfurled his Telegraph which was carried underneath his armpit like a swagger stick, crossword half done and carried as a badge of office from pub to pub throughout the day. ‘Certainly a fine day,’ he stated in the clipped tones of a Parade Ground. ‘Expect beaches full of sun worshipers.’

‘Well they’re not in here Major’ said Geoffrey, pulling himself half a pint of bitter.

‘Most of the locals seem to be down at that new antique dealer’s shop in Chapel Street,’ said the Major, ‘Rum sort of chappie, looks like he’s buying up half of Penzance.’

‘What’s ‘e buyin?’ asked Janner, ears starting to twitch.

‘Surprised you’re not down there,’ said Geoffrey, ‘you got so much rubbish knockin’ ‘bout your place you probably fill ‘is shop in one go.’

‘Don’t know ‘bout that, my Elsie’s a right magpie she is, if ever I’d know’d one.’

‘When was the last time you looked in your loft?’ I asked him.

‘Damn funny thing lofts,’ said the Major, ‘found a couple of valuable prints in mine a couple of years ago, forgotten all about ‘em.’

The mention of lofts seemed to galvanise Janner. Pound notes flashed before his eyes. He gulped his beer down in one messy gulp. ‘See you later my birds,’ he spluttered, jumped off his stool and showered us all with froth. ‘Just remembered a bit o’ business.’

We all looked at each other. ‘There goes Cornwall’s answer to Richard Branson’ said Geoffrey, wiping the bar.

‘Extraordinary,’ said the Major, ‘I was just about to buy the fellow a drink.’

No he wasn’t I thought, he never buys anyone a drink. ‘Well we all know where he’s gone,’ I said, looking out of the window, just in time to see two cyclists peddling furiously down the road. ‘I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that antique shop.’ I finished my beer. ‘Better be off before Lara gets suspicious.’

Lunch was on the table. I didn’t recount the morning’s antics to Lara; she would get to know soon enough. Sure enough, after an hour’s snooze, I trundled back into the kitchen and had just sat down to drink a cup of tea when Lara walked in with a bag of shopping.

‘Just seen a funny thing,’ she said, filling the fridge with butter and eggs. ‘That fool Janner, carrying a huge parcel wrapped in newspaper into that new antique dealer in Market Jew Street.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I hear he’s buying up the whole of Penzance.’

‘Won’t be room for anything else if he buys whatever Janner’s got.’

With something approaching eager anticipation I wandered down to the Trevelyan just after six to find Geoffrey talking to two holiday makers.

‘Evening Kit’ he said,’ Heard about our boy Janner?’

‘Go on, I’m all ears.’

‘Well these two gentlemen been telling me about a bloke what walked into that new Antique dealer with a big parcel.’

‘That’s right,’ said one of the visitors, ‘We were just mooching around in this shop when this scruffy sort of chap lugs a huge parcel, wrapped in  newspaper and bits of string into the shop and plonks it down on the floor.’

‘We thought it was a sculpture or something’ said the other.

I paid for the pint of ‘old and filthy’ that Geoffrey had pulled, took a sip and conjured up a vision of Janner striding through the town with a priceless heirloom.

‘You listen to this,’ said Geoffrey, his eyes twinkling with glee

‘Well the Antique dealer asks him what he’s got there, and your friend says he’s not sure but it’s been in his loft all his life and his father’s before him, and it’s very old and must be worth a lot of money. So the dealer undoes the string and takes the newspaper off.’

“What do you think of that?” your friend says.

“Not a lot”, says the dealer.

“Why not?” says your friend?

“Because it’s a very rusty old bloody cold water tank!”

 

****

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Cornish Life Acceptance

 

 

 

      MY CORNWALL

Chris Chapman

 

Acceptance

 

“It’s a crate of bloody cauliflower,” I shouted.

“A what?” said Laura, my Russian wife as she pulled her dressing gown cord tight and walked into the hall.

I pointed downwards towards the open front door step.

“Cheort pobiri!” she muttered and took a step into the front garden, screwed up her eyes and tried to peer through the early morning mist towards the road that ran through our village.

“Did you order it?” I said, following her gaze, not bothering about translations.

“No!”

Neither had I. We had only been living in the village for a week and hardly knew anyone. In fact we had only been living in Cornwall for a month or two before we found this dream cottage and decided to end our roamings around the oceans of the world. We settled down to another sort of life, this time one of domesticity, between four solid Cornish granite walls.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’ and with a last guilty glance up and down the road, pulled the wooden slatted box into the hall.

Laura started mumbling away in Russian again, she often mumbled away in her native language when she was worried or agitated. Swore like a Red army latrine digger as well, when the mood took her.

‘I’ll go and have a pint at the local when they open,’ I said, giving her a sideways glance and waiting for that Russian trait she had of  blowing raspberries when she could see through my ploy…I wasn’t disappointed.

‘Open!’ she said after her lips had stopped reverberating, ‘They never close.’

‘Just to see if I can find out where it came from.’ I replied quickly, and departed just as quickly into the kitchen

Now, it is one of life’s’ unwritten laws, that when buying a house or settling down into a new community, one must, before settling on the residence of your

loved ones dreams, pop into the local pub and see what is what. After all, village

life revolves around the local. The focal point of activity and gossip is to be found

not, as in days of old, around the pulpit of the parish church, listening to

sermons of hell and damnation but leaning up against the font of mild and bitter eve- dropping on the drunken ramblings of local imbibers. After all, if one is going to fit into village life, especially in the far west of Cornwall,  large proportion of ones waking hours are going to be spent leaning up against the bar, and some unwaking hours come to that, so a decent beer and a genial landlord are prime requirements.

It was with this in mind that, at about ten thirty, I bade Laura farewell and beat a hasty exit out of the back door and sauntered up to the Trevelyan Arms, a walk of five minutes uphill, which turned out to be a blessing when coming down, as it was then down hill and aided the bodily parts that Geoffrey’s, the excellent landlord’s, beer had done adequate justice to.

‘Mornin’ me ‘ansome’, he said, by way of greeting as I strode over the Trevelyan’s threshold. He called out that greeting to everybody. It is a time honored way in Cornwall; everybody uses it to greet any man, or woman, come to that.

‘Morning Geoffrey,’ I said, not wishing at this stage in the proceedings to lapse into the vernacular.

‘Usual?’ he said, plucking a sparkling  tankard from a hook above the bar and not bothering to await a reply, started to pull a pint of froth, spit and spume into the proffered glass. ’Bugger it…It’s that bugger Neptune, ‘e’s not connected the buggering barrel.’

‘The bugger’, I agreed. Neptune being the cellar-man and rumour had it had been the cellar man since Lyonesse; the Cornish name for Atlantis disappeared beneath the waves. Looking at him I tended to agree, a long white beard, hair reminiscent of a virulent form of Japanese seaweed; all he needed was the customary trident. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’ll wait.’

Geoffrey bent down behind the bar and lifted a trap door, the entrance to the cellar. There followed a spouting of invective from our landlord into the bowels of the earth such as would have bought a blush to the cheeks of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by an equally informed reply as to what Geoffrey could do with his barrels, his pipes, his cellar, his pub and not least, the part of his anatomy that would accommodate the said fixtures and fittings.

Not at all put out, Geoffrey closed the trap door, filled his pipe with half a ton of shag and set about the laborious task of setting fire to it.  ‘Geoffrey,’ I said, ‘I found a crate of broccoli on the doorstep this morning…don’t know how it got there?’

He struck another match, at least the fifth in as many minutes and gave me

a hard look. ‘‘ave to ask Canute ’bout that,’ he said, ‘‘es the bugger to ask ’bout that.’

I was reflecting on these matters when a car pulled up outside. Geoffrey and I both looked out of the window. ‘Tourists,’ I said.

‘Hell,’ said Geoffrey, and tried the beer pull again. Nothing happened for a second or two, then, as he was about to burst forth with another broadside a torrent of  beer  shot out, rebounded off  the bottom of the glass and drenched Geoffrey from head to toe. ‘Bastard!’ he shouted, just as the first of a family of four innocent holiday makers wended their way into the bar.

He was, we found out later, a retired grocer from Wolverhampton and  was down in Cornwall looking for a retirement home for himself and his wife. At any rate he was well used to the saltier language of life and could give as good as he got. ‘And bollocks to you mate!’ he shouted across the bar, turned round and hustled the rest of his family out before they had even got over the threshold. I could hear him muttering something about Cornish hospitality as he frog-marched his bewildered family to the car.

‘I’ll be buggered!’  exclaimed Geoffrey staring open mouthed at the departing Ford Granada.

I was just thinking that he would have been if the man had been twenty years younger, when a terrific explosion rocked the foundations. Geoffrey seemed to levitate six inches. He stumbled sideways and resumed his normal height. The trap doors of the cellar that he had been standing on burst open and a cloud of white spume shot out, vaguely taking on the shape of a humanoid as it came to a shuddering halt.

If Geoffrey considered himself somewhat agitated, wet and bewildered, he was as calm as a vegetating parsnip compared with the now just recognizable Neptune. He stood beside his wide eyed boss, bosom heaving and dripping from head to toe in foam and best bitter.

‘…Hell!’ he shouted, as soon as he could form the word from his wildly gyrating  hole, now starting to resemble lips, in the top portion of this snowclad Yeti like figure.

‘…Hell!’  echoed a traumatized Geoffrey.

‘…Hell!’ said I, not wishing to be the odd one out.

We all stared at each other. Neptune stared through two slits in his foam at Geoffrey with death in his eyes. Geoffrey stared back with murder in his and I stared at the foam and beer covered ceiling that had started to drip best bitter on all three of us.

‘Bloody…buggerin’…bastard!’ spluttered Neptune, after a good bit of spitting.

‘I’m not accepting this,’ said a gruff voice from the door way.

We spun round, well at least Geoffrey and I did, Neptune attempted to, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed him spin instead into the open jaws of the cellar.

It was that family again, led by the erstwhile Wolverhampton grocer and backed up by his wife, a woman of undoubted strengths, none of which could be described as feminine. Anyway she was obviously made of sterner stuff than her husband… and wanted recompense.

‘He’s not accepting it,’ she squawked, ‘and we want an apology and then we want some food.’

I suppose its part of the job. Landlords meet all sorts of situations in their life behind a bar, and experience teaches them to deal with the more unexpected and traumatic ones. Geoffrey had been a landlord for thirty years, ever since he retired from the Merchant Navy. He had dealt with everything that life in the victualling trade could throw at him. And, what’s more he was the very essence of geniality whenever it hit him full in the mush.

“Certainly,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. I was very proud of him; the aplomb in the middle of all this devastation not to mention another bout of invective from the region of the cellar; it renewed my admiration of his steadfast calling. ‘Pasties suit you?’

‘Are they cold?” demanded the grocer’s wife.

“And bloody wet!’ shouted Geoffrey, picking up a handful of what was once

his wife’s pride, joy and unparalleled expertise in the art of ‘Cornish Pasty’ making, but now resembled soggy lumps of  cow pat and hurled them with full force in the general direction of the potential customers.

It normally takes about four and a half hours to get from west Cornwall to Wolverhampton. All speed records were broken that day, we know that because of the solicitors letter that followed in due course, itemizing in detail, dry cleaning and petrol receipts,  discrimination and loss of face …etc,etc.

I and a few of the early doors crowd that arrived shortly afterwards helped Geoffrey clear up the bar and surrounds. Neptune was told in no uncertain terms to clear his own mess up down below as it wasn’t on, ‘havin’ a buggerin’ dog and barkin’ yourself’. The best bitter was connected and sweetness and light once again descended on the Trevelyan.

Of course, as the afternoon wore on, the story circulated throughout the village and well after closing time the pub was  full of well-wishers, the curious and just plain drunks all embossing the saga of Geoffrey’s excursion into diplomatic relations between the Cornish and `up country’ peoples.

Neptune naturally turned his disastrous escapade to his advantage, telling everybody that  without his intervention Geoffrey and me would no doubt, have been dragged off to the  wilds of Wolverhampton and hung up by the thumbs on meat hooks until Geoffrey succumbed to offering the hospitality they so richly deserved.

‘I’m tellin’ you,’ said Neptune to Laura, who had come in search of her loved one. ‘I come out o’ that cellar like a rat up a bloody drainpipe when I ‘eard boy Geoffrey havin’ a spot o ‘other with they teazy up country tossers.’

“You were magnificent,’ she said.

An effervescent sort of glow came into his bloodshot eyes. ‘Aye,’ he muttered, ‘Never accept they sort ‘o people, shoutin’ an’ cursing down ere…never ‘ave, never will.’

‘By the way,’ I said, ‘we found a crate of broccoli on the doorstep this morning…Can’t throw any light on it can you?’

            Neptune grasped both Laura’s and my hands and gripped them with a surprising amount of strength. ‘Old Cornish custom,’ he said. ‘Means you bin accepted!’