Where better to be in early summer than Cornwall? I have come to spend a short holiday at Trescothick Bay and am pleased to report that the Jamaica Guest House fully justifies the praise it receives in the pages of Wainwright’s West Country Marginals. It has a dinner gong, which in my experience one only finds in the finest such establishments. The Well-Behaved Orphans are romping on the sand, investigating the rock pools and exploring the cliffs. “They’re better than a chimbley!” one little mite excitedly exclaims as he climbs.
Talking to the locals in the Jolly Tyler, however, I learn that the local economy is in a bad way. Cheap fudge imports from the Far East, the failure of the clotted cream crop and the decline of the tin mining heritage interpretation industry have hit the county hard. So it is no wonder that the people of Cornwall add to their modest incomes by making and selling pasties. Yet when I attempt to introduce this subject to the conversation, I am met with dark looks and mumbled entreaties to remain silent.
I soon discern how the land lies and tap my nose in what I like to think is a knowing manner. Later, as if by chance, I introduce the subject of Leicestershire’s occupation of Rutland and how we used to run pork pies to avoid the excise duty.
As I am making my way back to the Jamaica Guest House, a local accosts me with a dreadful leer.
“Does ee want to help the pastymen?” he asks – I flatter myself I render the local dialect accurately. “Then look ee for a remote cove.”
I resolve to spend the next day looking for that cove.
After breakfast, I leave the Well-Behaved Orphans on the beach and, stopping only to entreaty them to “Watch the wall, my darlings, while the pastymen go by,” I set off in search of the remote cove.
All morning I stride the cliff tops on my quest and, though I am wearing quite the lightest of tweeds, I have worked up quite a thirst by lunchtime. So I allow my steps to wander towards the Jolly Tyler. Sipping my pint of the local wallop, I see a man sitting at a table. He is staring into the distance and ignoring those around him.
I sit down next to him, saying: “You must be the remote cove”.
The remote cove’s name turns out to be Black George. He signals to me to come outside, and we wander out into the Cornish countryside until there is no danger of our being overheard. I am told of the suffering of his people and am surprised to learn that even the most respectable of them are involved in the fight against the Pasty Tax.
“Be on yonder cliff tonight with a dark lantern, a pistol and a cutlass and ye shall meet Squire Rogerson and Parson Gilbert.”
I have fought too many by-election campaigns to be afraid of fisticuffs and am no duffer with an orchard doughty (that sturdy club beloved of Rutland gamekeepers), but I am not accustomed to being quite so ‘tooled up’ – as Violent Bonham-Carter used to put it. Still, I walk up from the harbour, with its smells of tarred rope and rusted chain, armed with pistol, cutlass and so forth as requested. I reach the cliff top and await the arrival of the pastymen.
One by one, figures appear through the chill mist. I recognise the remote cove and also discern a prosperous-looking fellow (who turns out to be Squire Rogerson) and a fellow in clerical garb who, sure enough, is Parson Gilbert.
We spy the lines of a trim brig out at sea – and then those of a second ship that rounds the headland. “It’s the Revenue,” growls Squire Rogerson, “they’ll be no shipping of pasties tonight.” He allows his lantern to flare for a moment and immediately the signal is answered from onboard the brig.
With that we find ourselves rather at a loose end, so we repair to the Jolly Tyler. My new companions turn out to be a friendly bunch. Parson Gilbert, for instance, proves Sound on any number of points of doctrine (though in Cornwall they no longer cleave to the back-foot no ball rule as we do in the Church of Rutland). Even the remote cove begins to unbutton a little.
“The trouble is,” explains Squire Rogerson (a capital fellow at standing his round), “we have twenty bushels of pasties ready to go, but there we shall not be able to load them aboard the Saucy Robin Teverson as long as the Revenue men are watching.
“I may be able to help you,” I reply. “I happen to have one of Rutland Motors’ finest charabancs parked outside the Jamaica Guest House. Why don’t we fill it with pasties? No one will suspect a peer of the realm of breaking the law.”
“Wasn’t there a lord in Essex...” begins one, but I fix him with a stern eye and he is quelled.
“The only problem,” I continue, “is what to do with the Well-Behaved Orphans.”
“In my experience,” returns Squire Rogerson, “there is nothing as good for orphans as sea air.”
And so it was that this morning the driver and I were waved through Cornish customs and took a charabanc laden with pasties over the Tamar into England. We delivered it to a warehouse owned by a fellow called Gregg (who appeared to be doing Terribly Well in the baked goods business) and were given a cheque in return. This, of course, I have already mailed to Squire Rogerson – less my expenses, petrol costs et cetera.
All seems right with the old demesne, despite my absence. The Reverend Hughes Church Lads Table Tennis Club (credited with single-handedly reducing crime in Rutland to a statistically insignificant level) is meeting in St Asquith’s Parish Hall as I write. It is true that Meadowcroft has been complaining about the Elves of Rockingham Forest taking plants from his glasshouses to make their elixirs, but he is prone to grumble and, besides, these elven remedies are the only thing to ease my wound from the Aylesbury by-election of 1938.
The only problem was explaining to Matron what I had done with the Well-Behaved Orphans, but the gift of a bottle of Nicholson’s gin smoothed things over eventually. She will be with me tomorrow morning when the Saucy Robin Teverson ties up at Oakham Quay.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South West 1906-10, opened his diaries to Jonathan Calder
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