Saturday, 26 November 2016

Black Friday Cornish Pastiche

I'm down in London as I write this. I drove south from Blackpool yesterday ('Black Friday') and had arranged to kick the week-end off by meeting a friend I hadn't seen for nigh-on 25 years for a couple of beers in a pub in Greek Street.

Black Friday quite literally lived up to its billing, as by the time I arrived in Soho at approaching 6pm the whole area had been plunged into stygian darkness: power-cut - no street lamps working, all the traffic lights out, shops expelling customers and closing early, cars inching warily through thousands of people milling around using the light of mobile phones to navigate in the blackness. It was chaotic and very spooky.

I eventually found the pub, which was serving only hand-pumped beer in plastic glasses by candle-light, to be paid for in cash (there being no electricity for pumps, card-machines or dishwashers). I was worried that in the gloom I wouldn't recognise the friend I hadn't seen for a quarter-century. In the end it wasn't a problem. We sat out at a table on the pavement and enjoyed pints of ESB, the zombie-like madness on the streets and the camaraderie that this sort of 'crisis' engenders. It was fun - and power was restored to the area by about 9pm.

All of which has got almost nothing to do with the theme of this week's blog, pastiche. This will be a challenge!

A French word deriving in turn from the Italian pasticcio, a pastiche is an eclectic work of art in which the creator references or imitates the style of another artist (or indeed more than one other). It's a metaphorical pate or pie-filling made up of diverse ingredients. It differs from parody in that a pastiche celebrates rather than sends up that which it draws on.

By a tenuous mental link (the like of which I am fond, as you've probably realised by now), metaphorical pie-fillings put me in mind of pasties or oggies, which in turn led to thoughts of Cornwall, traditional home of said foodstuff, and tin miners, for whom the oggie is supposed to have been devised. The idea for this week's blog was born in the Soho gloom: Black Friday Cornish Pastiche!

Pasties ('hogen' in Cornish which gave rise to the word 'oggie') were what Cornish miners would eat for lunch (see the photograph below).

Cornish tin miners on their pastie break
They were an early form of convenience food, wrapped in a D-shaped pie-crust for ease of handling and considerations of hygiene - no knives and forks required and, wrapped in paper, there was minimal chance of contamination by the mineral dust in which the miners worked. Pasties were filled with diced meat and vegetables, whatever was seasonal and to hand. Sometimes they got a bit sophisticated and had a savoury filling at one end and fruit (apple or mince-meat) at the other - two courses in one pie-crust. You just had to know which end to start at!

Anatomy of a pastie

Cornwall has long been famous for its mines and mining tradition. Tin (along with arsenic, copper, silver, tungsten and zinc) was mined in the region from as early as 2150 BC and the last working tin mine closed less than 20 years ago. After the forced closure of South Crofty in 1999, the following graffiti appeared on the wall: "Cornish lads are fishermen and Cornish lads are miners too, but when the fish and tin are gone, what are the Cornish boys to do?"

It is obvious enough that tunnelling deep into the earth in search of mineral ore was hard and dangerous work, often lethal - a long metaphorical black Friday, powered by pasties! Do you see where this blog is going?

So now you get two poems. I hope you enjoy both.

The first, Unknown Shores, looks to the skies. It is by the brilliant Cornish poet D.M. Thomas and is itself a pastiche of sorts, being an affectionate reference both to the work of an earlier French poet, Theophile Gautier, and to the science-fiction stories of Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke for which Thomas, born in Redruth, Cornwall in 1935, had a bit of an obsession as a young man growing up with the nascent space age...

Unknown Shores
Okay, my starsick beauty! -
blue jeans and tilting breasts,
child of Canaverel -
where would you like to go?

Shall we set course for Mars,
or Venus's green sea,
Aldebaran the golden,
or Tycho Brahe's Nova,
the moons of Sagitta,
or Vega's colonies?

School-minching, bronze Diane,
bane of the launching-pads -
I may not ask again:
wherever you would go

my rocket-head can turn
at will to your command -
to pluck the flowers of snow
that grow on Pluto, or
Capella-wards, to pluck
the roots of asphodel?

I may not ask again:
where would you like to go?

Have you a star, she says,
O any faithful sun
where love does not eclipse?
...(The countdown slurs and slips).
-Ah child, if that star shines,
it is in chartless skies,

I do not know of such!
But come, where will you go?

                                          D.M. Thomas (1968)

The second, The Stannary Pieman's Legacy, peers down into the earth. It is by the not so brilliant Lancashire poet S.G. Rowland (moi) and is a freshly baked pastiche of Thomas's work - which you wouldn't have realised if I didn't include the original inspiration...

The Stannary Pieman's Legacy
Oggie for you, pale-skinned hearty! -
with hard hat and swelling breast.
Man-child of Cornwall -
where were you used to go?

You'd set your course for Hades,
searching out copper's green seam,
cassiterite's dull gleam
deep beneath the barren hills
of Kernow.

Pastie-munching subterranean,
thane of the underworld -
what else was there to do but mine or fish?

Wherever you would go,
your pick-axe head you'd wield
at will with skilful hand
to crack the rocks of Zennor,
to mine rich veins for tin, or
St Austell-wards, to chip out
tungsten ore from granite folds.

And when the minerals were all brought out,
Come, then where could you go?

Have you another mine, you said,
O any gloomy tunnel to a vein
where ore can still be hewn?

- Ah, man-child, I replied,
if there be such it lies beneath
another's heartless skies.

Cornwall's mining days are done -
be thankful that it's pie lives on.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you a great week, filled with diverse interests,  S ;-)


Anonymous said...

That is f*cking brilliiant, my friend. Power to your oggie blog.