Out of Season

Land's End to Giant's Causeway, marshes to highland coast, seaside towns out of season are pretty much the same everywhere. Deprived, depressed, shabby. Bleak streets, boarded-up shops, cheap hotels, garish signage promising nowhere, hopelessness. Fish-and-chips, cooking oil, sweet tea. Noodles, kebabs, old beer. Cigarette stubs, life's detritus, in the gutter. Cornwall. Newquay. Homeless souls huddled in draughty huts, unemployed hooded men. Ferocious gusts, morning fog as dense as a pea-souper, massive Atlantic breakers. Chill factor 5C thereabouts. Going back to my room in the evening, black sea to my left, wet tarmac to my right, bending before the wind, rain sheeting through the lamplight, a girl runs towards me, wearing no more than a thin white dress, hair flying behind her. Running, I thought, but then weaving and rolling, going too fast for her feet to catch up. She makes the pavement, then tumbles head-first, curled into a ball. Nobody to help her. A young man in a mood, bony and hard, crosses the road. Do they know each other? I turn. But she's gone, lost among the arcades and slot machines. Where, you wonder, will her pillow be for the night? 

© Tom Last

Relics, long closed tin mines, loitering youths, the tragedy of the foot-and-mouth slaughter here fourteen years ago, harsh reality is the taste this Cornish visit leaves with me. 'There's not much money in fishing now' commented Betjeman in 1969. I see little of the halcyon Arcadia the pre/post-war poets or painters projected (my mother in the fifties thought we might live in Polperro, home once to Kokoschka), still less the saccharification favoured by modern television programme makers. Those with jobs dig deep. Occasionally even cheerfully. A single-plaited, red-haired, Demelza-like waif, flitting between customers at the local pizzeria, catches my eye as much for being slaved off her feet as her eternally seraphic smile ... and the delicate precision, the artistic pride, with which she so carefully sets her tables and places her wine glasses. Yet even she is not without her furrowed moments, standing by a window, looking vacantly beyond, deep in thought, profiled in candle flame glinting off her tresses. A film director's gift.

Newquay 28 March 2015

'Census figures from the Office for National Statistics show 266,625 people were eligible to work in Cornwall in 2021. Of them, 19,325 (7.3%) had no qualifications whatsoever ... the Cornwall workforce ranks 19th in the South West and 164th across England and Wales' ~ Andrew Dowdeswell, Newquay Voice, 3 March 2023.