«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
As Stewart and Strathern have noted (2003), the anthropological study of identity has largely shifted from a focus on community (for instance Cohen 1982), towards identity as linked to place/landscape and memory. Casey (1997) has argued that the reason the language of place is so evident in narratives about change and life movement, is because places happen, they are an event. Similarly I regard memory as a trace of change and transformation and not an attempt to recreate things as they were, in a static way. Landscape or place is evoked in the narratives discussed here is neither in the sense of an aestheticised rural scene, nor an object of romantic nostalgia. I have found Bender helpful (1993) in pointing towards Naipaul’s use of landscape in his meditation on his experience of rural Wiltshire The Enigma of Arrival. Naipaul uses landscape to explore ‘the worlds contained within myself, the worlds I live’. The phrase recalls the Freudian influence on our conceptions of human mind and self as layers of place, time and experience (Pine, Kaneff, and Haukanes 2004). The way these narratives evoke place reflects the way that landscapes (or seascapes) accumulate within memory, like the grain running through wood, or the sediment of a river. Harbours, coves, fishing grounds, boats, the ebb and flow of the seasons – these all constitute the ground of being for a fisherman, which is endlessly distilled and conjured up through stories.
Bender reflects that ‘Naipaul never resolves this conflict between an imaginative (and romantic) sense of time past, one that enlarges appreciation and that is part of the process of change and flux, and a fear of contemporary change – something unfavourable, disruptive, symptom of decay and decline rather than flux’ (1993: 5). I see my informants as wrestling with a similar tension as I also am in my interpretations. As he becomes more familiar with the country, Naipaul has to question his assumptions about ‘the rootedness, the antiquity of the English countryside’ (ibid: 6) such as identifying the character of Jack, the farmhand and cottage-gardener, as a survival of a timeless agrarian way of life. This resonates with my own experience of conducting fieldwork. My interviewees repeatedly state the importance of evolving, adapting and being flexible, whilst also themselves reaching back through memory to establish links between themselves and men now past. Part of their experience of decline is witnessing their way of life become increasingly marginal – in the political or economic life of the nation, and in making the local environment productive. This has not merely been a squeezing out of a way of life from the outside, but also a transformation from within – the decline of industry in Britain and the contraction and concentration of labour and capital in fishing.
Gender and space The narratives I discuss are from men and in these narratives female presences are mostly absent. The emphasis is very much on a male domain – ideas of masculinity, and influences from father to son. However it would be a mistake to interpret such an emphasis as the age-old values and practices of the fishing way of life. They do present a picture where the marginal and demanding physical environment of the sea and the task of fishing is one that is constitutive and rewarding for tough, committed and adaptable men. Skills, practices and forms of association understood in masculine terms have become the primary way of expressing anxiety and frustration connected to isolation and political and economic vulnerability. However this perspective is arguably a contemporary development as much as the decline of fishing is. Part of the detachment of fishing from communal life in the twentieth century has been that it is no longer as common for the wives and partners of fishermen to have labour roles in the fisheries. Although there are female employees in some aspects of the business, management and processing sides of the industry, it is no longer necessarily a family affair. This contrasts with earlier periods where the wives of fishermen would have almost certainly brought in an income from fishing, both from gutting, curing and packing and making and mending the nets, and combined this with a number of indirectly related and/or flexible forms of labour such as textiles and agriculture.
If the idea is pervasive that fishing is a male enterprise, because men roam the wild seas hunting the prey, then it is a modern one. As we saw in Chapter Three, up until the twentieth century it was common for a newlywed wife to make her husband a set of nets without which it would have been difficult for a property-less deckhand to progress in his career. The fineness of her fishing craft would have been an integral part of the success of the enterprise, much like the way Bodenhorn (1993) argued that Alaskan Inupiat women sew to attract the whale. This led her to assert that in that case ritual and not labour is gendered – ‘Whales, not men, make community’ (p.201). As in Bodenhorn’s example, different kinds of fish in Cornish fishing (such as pilchard, herring or whitefish) also have been connected to different labour and market structures at different times. Bodenhorn questions the assumption that labour and space is necessarily gendered and the conventional semantic pairing of female with the household /domestic/private domain and male with the economy/wild/public domain. I think we can similarly challenge this binary in the context of Cornish fishing, in its various past and present forms. Not only have male and female roles regarding labour and the socialization and care of children and youth cut across gender divides, but also it would also be difficult to categorise any particular space as part of a distinct ‘public’ or ‘private’ sphere. The case that the task of fishing at sea is a private one and that public life is largely constituted on shore and through the house, could arguably be made, as much as the inverse.
David Warwick, trawlerman, and crew-member Jack I was sleeping aboard the Valhalla when at 3.00 a.m. I heard footsteps as the skipper and his mate boarded the boat. The engine was started and we slipped out of the stillness of Mevagissey harbour cloaked in the darkness of a warm summer’s night. The skipper and owner of the boat, David, is from Boomer in Northumberland and has fished all his life. He told me he couldn’t wait to go to sea as a boy – fishing was all he wanted to do. He started out on his father’s small boat potting and netting, then went to Scotland for a few years and became a trawlerman. Now living in Cornwall, he moves around fishing grounds a lot but tries to stay close to Mevagissey and his family. However when catches are not so good there he will visit other parts of the southwest coast and harbour at Newlyn, Plymouth, Brixham or the Scilly Isles. He enjoys the annual summer trips to the Scilly Isles, when they will spend up to ten days sleeping on the boat and he ‘knows a lot of the boys over there’.
In fact he said he knows just about every harbour-side pub and nightclub from Newlyn, to Milford Haven to Scotland. I had joined David and his young deckhand/first mate Jack to experience a day’s trawling.
As we steamed towards the fishing grounds which that particular day were about five miles from Mevagissey and three miles from land, David and Jack had to change over some of the fishing gear appropriate to the ground we would be trawling. The Valhalla is a 10.7 metre wooden stern trawler. There is a two-drum winch at the rear of the shelter deck, connected via towing warps to a trawl net which is towed from behind the vessel and near the bottom of the seabed. Two metal ‘doors’ or ‘otter boards’ are attached to either side of the net. As the water drag positions them horizontally they hold the mouth of the net open. David allows about four hours for each ‘trawl’ of the sea. Our first of the day started at 4.00 am. Jack went down below for a sleep whilst I chatted in the wheelhouse with the skipper. At about 8.00 am we were hauling the net. It was exciting waiting for the net to break the surface and speculating whether there would be a large catch of fish. A flock of seagulls descended above the net, with guillemots diving in their midst – a good sign. The net was drawn close to the stern and then winched over a hopper and the cod-end released. It was a very good haul – mostly haddock and some large cod. It took David and Jack about an hour to grade out the discards and gut and store the fish, which is done immediately to keep the fish as fresh as possible (Fig.66).
They worked with speed and dexterity, with precise, quick movements of the hands. Jack had only recently started on David’s boat, having been employed previously as trainee gamekeeper. However he had clearly gutted fish plenty of times before and he said he had always worked on fishing boats, through school and afterwards, on his father’s boat and others. It looked a demanding job to do in poor weather and sea conditions – in the cold, wet and a rolling sea. Jack then passed down the baskets of fish (thirteen in total, about sixty-five stone in weight) to David who bedded them in boxes of ice in the hold.
David was very happy with the catch and had high hopes for the day. He got on the phone and started arranging delivery to Plymouth market. However the next haul came up practically empty and David was dismayed to find a large hole in the net created by an obstruction on the seabed – a common and inevitable problem in trawling. He did a quick repair job on the net (with a beading needle), and we towed again – but the mend did not hold and four hours later the net was brought up empty again. This time David decided to do a more thorough patch-up of the net, and once again demonstrating dexterous and nimble hands, he fixed the net on the deck (Fig.
65) assisted and closely observed by Jack. Jack later said that it was a privilege to work with David and learn from him, as he was a highly regarded trawlerman. I asked Jack whether his friends in the village had also gone into fishing after school.
Most of them had. ‘There’s nothing that beats it, money-wise’ he said. The sense of optimism both he and David conveyed about fishing and about the future of fishing at Mevagissey was a refreshing contrast to the outlooks conveyed to me about Newlyn.
Despite the bad luck with the net, David felt the day had got off to a promising start and he and Jack decided to go back out that night. We returned to port about
6.00 pm, landed the catch and David gave me a lift to the train station. They would be go back out to sea at 7.30 pm and work through the night, having already worked seven days at sea, two of which they had also worked right through the day and night. David and Jack had demonstrated some of the skills and knowledge-sets required to be a successful trawlerman – good seamanship, a sound knowledge of the seabed and the technical ability to set up appropriate kinds of gear, the ability to mend nets – but clearly this way of life also requires the ability to work very long hours, in demanding conditions, with little sleep. David said that he was happy with his new crewmember because he was young and keen to earn money – willing to go out day after day, night after night and make the most of a good run.
Stefan Glinski, ring-netter Stefan Glinski is a highly respected fisherman at Newlyn who has been instrumental in reviving the pilchard fishery. I had heard that he was the son of a Polish refugee and intrigued, I asked him about this. He replied that it was a long story but his father had been in a Siberian gulag camp making skis for the Russians, escaped and crossed Siberia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalaya to freedom in British-controlled India. I knew instantly he was referring to the story of one of my favourite books The Long Walk 63. His father sought refuge in the UK and later worked as a labourer on the land. The search for work brought him to Cornwall where he worked on a country estate close to where I grew-up, eventually settling in The Long Walk (Rawicz 2007, originally published 1956) is a ghost-written story about the escape of Slawomir Rawicz from a soviet prison camp and subsequent journey to India. In 2009, Witold Glinski came forward saying that the story was true but that it is actually an account of what happened to him, not Rawicz. The veracity of both Rawicz’s and Glinski’s account has been questioned by a number of different sources.