Tag Archives: Cornish

The Gwelhellin Experience

trumpet sil 3Weeks ago I was contacted on my other blog by a singular human being by the name of Jonathan Xavier Coudrille. Coudrille introduced himself and sent me a photograph that I, with my fondness for eccentricity and facial hair, could not have resisted even if I was inclined to try.

Coudrille saw in my blog a chance to promote the work of his band Gwelhellin, and after some chat, he invited me to a lunchtime gig they were playing at Amelie’s in Porthleven, and despite the fact that I have no particular attachment to jazz, rampaging stallions could not have kept me away from a place where bonkers moustaches would mingle with hats and cups of tea practically on my own doorstep.

Did I live to regret my hasty decision? I did not. And nor did my family who I forcefully dragged along with me. Gwelhellin are a revelation. They describe themselves as ‘an eight piece trio’, partly for the sake of absurdity, but partly also because between them they play at least eight instruments during a three hour set, and they do so with heart bursting aplomb. NOW I understand what jazz is all about. Clearly it’s not a genre designed to be listened to on the radio – it’s all about being there. Dangerous (“yes, that’s why they hide me at the back”) Dave, the gentlest drummer you could ever imagine, held everything together unassumingly in the background; Tony Apple, an accomplished jazz musician (even I could tell that) was doing that gently weeping guitar thing that excellent musicians can do, and when he wasn’t beaming all over his magnificent beard, was resurrecting Louis Armstrong right there on Porthleven harbour with his emotion seizing vocals. And the star of the show, of course, was Coudrille himself who is one of those human beings you only get one of. Ever. “He won Melody Maker International Soloist of the Year, once you know”, whispered Dave like a proud father. “And he lived with Cossacks for years – that’s where he learned to play the balalaika.” And play it he does – wondrously. He energised the whole place with the force of his personality and the speed of his blue-fingernails on the strings of the balalaika, banjo and his beautiful guitar. AND he wears Russian boots and changes his accents and hats at intervals throughout the set, AND he plays the trumpet with one of those muffling things on the end, AND he sings Cossack songs in Russian, AND he tells genuinely amusing anecdotes, AND he sang me a romantic song like an olden days troubadour (I am far too British to know how to deal with that of course, and my son found it too much to handle, but it was great fun).  Not bad for someone 23 years older than me – I have to have a bit of a lie-down after a particularly strenuous conversation. Not only that, Coudrille is an extraordinary Surrealist painter, too (it’s obvious there’s no God, because if there was he’d have shared the talents out a bit more evenly).

So, I can’t recommend seeing Gwelhellin enough. Frankly, it should be made compulsory for the sake of the nation.

Harry Potter and The Black Swan Inn, Gweek.

Foreword: I’ve had such fun with this post and all the ensuing chats with the lovely people of Gweek, and I am reliably informed that this pub is now under new ownership, and is being run by the best people you can possibly imagine so this story will never be repeated again. Hoorah!

* * *

If you don’t count man’s inhumanity to man, the education system and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, there’s not much that makes me angry. I’m one of those people who can placidly cruise away from driving situations that would cause many to pop a socket, and I generally smile understandingly when faced with rudeness, in the possibly deluded assumption that the poor perpetrator must be having a bad day and their attitude is nothing whatsoever to do with them being fundamentally a horrible human being.

So it’s odd that I can’t seem to let go of my simmering irritation at something that happened a short while ago in a beautiful Cornish village called Gweek. http://www.oliverscornwall.co.uk/gweek.jpg

This tiny village is the home, not only of the eveningy loveliness you see in this image, but also of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, and it was there that my good friends and I decided to take some lovely visiting Bristolians on a cold day earlier this year.

The sanctuary was, as expected, an enjoyable experience despite the bitter sea winds and the fact that I couldn’t see over the fence when the biggest fattest seals were being fed. The enjoyableness was caused by the fact that there were baby seals and otters and penguins to gawp at. Everything is always better under those circumstances.

Here is a picture of brown spaniel and a penguin encountering each other.
penguin and dogAfter all that semi-aquatic creature admiring we turned our attention to the now pressing issue of afternoon tea and cake and were delighted to find an attractive pub in the centre of the village. Here it is:

The Black Swan describes itself here as providing a “a warm and welcoming atmosphere”, and I think it’s this that makes me want to stomp around booting things instead of just laughing it all off, because when we pushed open the door of this inviting but almost empty establishment we came face to face with three men who have since transmogrified in my memory into Draco Malfoy and his two lumpen henchmen.

Malfoy was sitting at the bar, looking quite a few years older than he did in the Harry Potter films, but with exactly the same sneering look on his draco-malfoyface.

It was clear from his proprietorial air that Malfoy was the pub owner, and Crabbe and Goyle, despite their now-long hair and more wizened faces were still the same simpleton henchmen laughing eagerly at Malfoy’s every word as they had been in their Hogwarts days.

goyle-draco-crabbeI noted Malfoy’s sneery face immediately, but in my Polyanna-ish way I decided that the landlord was probably one of those people whose face falls into a negative shape when resting, so I began the conversation with a perky, “Hello! Is it OK to bring a dog in?” The conversation proceeded like this:

Malfoy [in a sardonic tone]: Depends on the dog.

Me [assuming this was a joke]: Would you like to inspect him first? [displaying dog in magician's assistant fashion]                                                                                       

Malfoy: Spaniel’s OK. [henchmen snigger]   [Spaniel shakes water over floor]                       

Malfoy: I’ll get you a mop                                                                                                       

Me: Yes, I’ll do that. Sorry.

Malfoy: No you won’t. [awkward silence]                   

Me: OK. Erm. Do you have any cake? [Henchmen laugh. Clearly cake is preposterous]

Malfoy [not making this any easier]: Kitchen’s closed.                                                        Me

[beginning to wish I'd never started this 'conversation']: Oh, OK. Do you do tea? [all laugh again - tea is preposterous too]                                                                      

Malfoy: Not really, but I suppose you could have some.

Me: Great. We could get some cake from the shop opposite.

Malfoy: You could, but you’re not eating it in here.

Me: Right. OK. Is there anywhere around here that sells tea and cake?

Malfoy: This is Cornwall, luv. It’s Sunday.

Me: [relieved to be about to escape] OK. We’ll be off then.

Malfoy’s strikingly inhospitable attitude and hilarity at our expense didn’t make too much of an impact at first, until I began to wonder if that’s how he treats all his customers. We decided we’d do tea and cake at my house instead and crossed the road into the shop, laughing at his awfulness as we inspected the bakery section. One of the customers in there overheard the conversation and said, “Oh him. He’s a dick.” But we didn’t have a chance to follow up that interesting remark because Crabbe or Goyle suddenly appeared in the doorway, clearly sent over, like in a children’ playground scenario, to find out what we were saying. (I don’t know why they didn’t use extendable ears like the Weasleys did in The Order of the Phoenix, but maybe they didn’t want to use magick around Muggles). As he skulked into the shop Crabbe or Goyle joked to the lady at the counter, “don’t wind them up,” and pointed at us. This is how the next conversation went:

Me: Wind us up how?

Crabbe or Goyle: “Well… you’re all emmets, aren’t you.”

[note: 'emmets' is an uncomplimentary slang term for holiday makers in Cornwall]

Me: No. I’m from Redruth, she’s from Bodmin and these two are from St.Ives and Hayle.

Crabbe or Goyle: Oh. You don’t sound like it.

Me: But even if we were on holiday, that’s a bit of an odd way to run a hospitality business, isn’t it?

Crabbe or Goyle: You’ve taken it the wrong way.

Me: Yeah, right. Thanks.

So the moral of this story is that the target market for The Black Swan in Gweek is quite niche. If you are hoping to be spoken to in a friendly way in that establishment, you need to:

a) not be on holiday, and

b) have a Cornish accent to prove you’re not on holiday.

My friends and I have a habit of scouring the county for tea and cake, and this is the first place we’ve ever been from Saltash to the Lizard where anyone has been less than brilliantly friendly, so don’t think this is a Cornish thing. I think it’s an extra-specially Black Swan thing. When I got home later I was still ridiculously irritated so I looked at the pub reviews on Trip Advisor expecting to find some tumbleweed and raging, but I think they must have written all the reviews themselves because they are glowing. Either that, or Malfoy’s wife completely changes the atmosphere when she’s in charge. Or maybe since those reviews were written, Voldemort has taken residence in the basement and the dementors have been doing their business. Or all those customers had Cornish accents and lived in Gweek. Whatever the reasons, those reviews depict a place completely unlike the one we visited.

To top it all, turns out that Malfoy and Mrs. Malfoy aren’t from Cornwall themselves, and that their aim is “to provide a high level of customer care and service.”. Laugh.