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The Tobacco Tin
Cadgwith is a tiny fishing village on the eastern edge of the Lizard peninsula. It was a beautiful day as we made our way down the wooded path and wouldn’t you know it, when I tried to take a shot of the scene the camera failed - batteries flat.
‘It’s a sign, we’ll have to come again.’
We looked in the tin church, built at the end of the nineteenth century to serve the fishing families and allow Catholic children to be baptised there. St Mary’s still has the feel of purposive use rather than ornament.
At the shop I asked about batteries - no luck. We walked on the foreshore - chains, seaweed, dingy smells - and a boat powered in and onto the pebbles; we took a small one for a memento; hope they won’t miss it.
There’s another inlet a few yards to the right, separated by a cliff where people stood and sat looking out at the tides and rocks. At the start of this bluff was a shack, occupied by Nigel. He’d been out on the sea that morning, and was now seated peaceably with a bottle of Betty Stogs in his right hand. No, he didn’t have batteries either but was willing to look for some; maybe the torch ones in the car would fit; I said it didn’t matter.
On the shelf at the back were old tobacco tins and ends of wood, with paintings of fishing boats afloat (‘only the small ones, not the big trawlers.’) A tube lay on the counter below, part squeezed and curled.
Where had he learned to paint? Self-taught. The wildlife artist David Shepherd used to own a cottage down by the shore, and had told him never to take lessons. Twenty years later he had returned and Nigel assured him he’d followed his advice.
I asked about the Cadgwith Anthem - had it been composed here? ‘Maybe from the Crimea.’ I suggested Afghanistan (what was the flower in the song?) He knew the Fisherman’s Friends from Port Isaac - there was a family connection with the former landlady of the pub here. Shame the group had had their fallings-out, but that was the way with bands.
Then I repeated my pet theory about King Arthur, that he made his wealth from tolls on exports of copper and gold from Ireland, controlling Bodmin as the overland part of the route upstream from Padstow and then down the Fowey and over the Channel to the Continent; Nigel was dubious.
I went out to fetch my wife and show her the miniatures. One was catching my eye; I asked her to choose, looking down so she wouldn’t get a lead from me; she picked that one - it’s often the same when we select fruit and veg in the supermarket. ‘What will I owe you?’ ‘A tenner.’
The anthem: ‘Kashmir - “the beauty of Kashmir lay drooping its head,”’ she said. Nigel told us Steeleye Span had covered it; we hadn’t known. Then he spoke of Ewan McColl and his recordings with gypsies and other travellers.
He didn’t live here, but at the Lizard; the old telephone box by his house is full of his firewood. His daughter runs one of the gift shops.
As we leave I put my head back in and ask if the wood was so he can make a trunk call. ‘He can’t resist a pun,’ said my wife.
We’ll come again.