Christmas in Cornwall

Sim Daley, builder of the acclaimed Daley Mandolins, and banjo picker with Cages Bend, shares this lovely remembrance of the Christmas season where he grew up in the south of England.

Sim DaleyAs some of you may know, in a former life I was a commercial fisherman in the small Cornish fishing village of Looe in the South West of England. I grew up in the village and as one of the predominant industries in the town, I naturally fell into the fishing trade. I worked on the boats pretty much from leaving school up to a few years before I moved to Nashville in 1995. I started off by crewing for other skippers & eventually worked my way up to owning and operating my own Trawler.

Christmas in Looe was always a special time of year for me. Not only did the fish market shut down for the Christmas holidays, around the 20th of December – which meant we could not go to sea until it re-opened again after Christmas – but the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Looe were reported to be the 3rd best in the whole of England!!

As I have said, it would all start off by the closing of the fishmarket. The next few days were spent mending fishing nets and give the boats a clean and scrub up. A good portion of our time spent ashore seemed to be spent in the cafe drinking mugs of steaming tea, eating big fried breakfasts and spinning yarns, or else in the pub for a pint at lunch time which usually developed into an all day session.

Christmas Eve was a tradition in itself. At lunch time everyone would descend on the Decker, one of the pubs in the town. They always had a local rock band called No Picnic playing live. Three or four hours later, and several pints of beer heavier, most people would stagger home to spend the evening lounging on the couch in front of the fire watching TV and eating Christmas goodies.

Christmas morning would start by unwrapping presents. Once this was accomplished, and a significant amount of chocolate consumed, I would sit and watch TV until the ordeal of Christmas dinner presented itself. To say the meal was big was always an understatement but somehow I managed to struggle through. As the inability to move subsided I would go for a walk down to the quay and if I was feeling really adventurous, an extended walk out to Hannafore Point. It was always nice to run into friends also walking their dinner off and spend time taking in the scenery and sharing good conversation.

Some of the boats did venture to sea between Christmas and the New Year as there was one market day where there catch could be auctioned. Generally I declined this and just enjoyed my time off.

New Year’s Eve, for as far back as I can remember, was a big occasion. When I was young the celebrations were contained to the numerous hotels around the Village. Eventually it out grew the hotels and spilled out into the pubs in the town. It has now reached such a point that people fly in from all over the world to see the New Year in in Looe.

Months of planning would go into preparing costumes. You could never find any books on costume making for miles around any time after September. It was always a thrill to walk down into the town clad in your bazaar attire. If the truth be known, I was always a little apprehensive. What if I had the wrong night this year and I burst forth into Fore Street dressed in my dragon outfit?

I never had cause for concern because there would be the whole town heaving with fancy dressed people. You could hardly get into any of the pubs for people celebrating. There are something like 23 bars and pubs in East Looe alone. Every one would be full to the brim as people made the rounds of the town.

It would all culminate in the countdown to New Year with hugs and kisses all around, and renditions of Auld Lang Syne to finally see the New year in.

Needless to say, the fist day of January was always spent nursing the excesses of the previous night celebrations. And so it was for another year………………