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Being an outsider, Peter had to improvise his way into fishing but there was a limit to which he could pursue this strategy. If he was to really make the most economically of the fishing grounds he had discovered through diving he had to learn the techniques fishermen had in the past used to exploit them. There were no texts or formal courses of instruction to which he could go to access this knowledge – it lay in artefacts and as oral and physical knowledge in the minds and bodies of the aging local fishermen. Access to either one alone wouldn’t have been sufficient to learn the craft. In order to acquire this knowledge Peter not only had to demonstrate commitment and expertise and earn the fishermen’s respect but he also had to gain their trust. Years later Peter himself became an important conduit for this knowledge to the next generation and was able to bridge the potential rupture between father and son created by the father’s early death. More significantly perhaps, this form of fishing had actually ceased since the outbreak of the war and it took an ‘outsider’ to revive it. Therefore whilst the story so far illustrates the importance of intergenerational transmission of knowledge, it also shows that this can proceed in unpredictable and diverse ways and may be stimulated by migration and extension of the boundaries of kin relationships.
Another young fisherman to whom Peter taught cray fishing was his crewmember, Richard. Peter explained that Richard had never got on very well at school.
At twelve years old, has got his own fourteen-foot punt in St Ives. So when the sun shines, he walks out of his class, gets into his punt and goes mackereling. If it’s a fine day he doesn’t go to school at ALL! So he doesn’t do the schooling, but he became, or is now, one of the best mackerel men there is. So he’s very successful. And he was walking through the town one day, when he was a grown man, a grown boy shall we say, when he came across his old headmaster. And he said to him “alright sir, remember me?” “Yes, yes I remember you”. He said, “I’m the one who would never amount to anything”. “Yes, yes, I know that.” “How much did you earn this week?” “Well what’s it got to do with you boy?” “Well I made a thousand pounds, what did you do?” And this would have been back in the fifties [laughing].
In fishing, there’s, you’ll always get the king, he’s the top man, and, but it changes.
But that’s just amongst ourselves. And up the line, they call him ‘the man’. Down here you’re ‘the king’. There are men who are like Richard – fishing is in their blood.
They are fishermen, they’re born fishermen. And then there are people who come into it, as it has come now, to go fishing because they got no opportunity. As they become unemployed and they get their redundancy pay, they buy a boat. Think, oh, I’ll go mackereling. They do so very well, and they follow on behind the main ones. And I mean one family down here, Pascoe’s, their father and his brother; no one could ever, ever touch them. No matter what. If you were mackereling, they’re boats there, your boats here, and they’d have twice as much as you. Because they were fishermen, and you weren’t. Now that fishing’s failing, well not failing, it’s the expenses really, ‘cause all these who follow other people, who aren’t fishermen, are falling by the wayside. I was lucky, but, it’s got to be in you, I became a fisherman, some of them are born fishermen. It’s in them, and you find out that their family go back to 1500, they can go back that far. You know, “And that was my great, great uncle Joe, you know” [adopts exaggerated rough Cornish accent] “lived up there” and all that stuff.
The account of Peter’s young crew-member Richard illustrates the class dimensions of the disposition towards formal education amongst fishermen. Fishing attracts young men (particularly, but not only, those from working class backgrounds) often because they prefer being outdoors and at sea to being in a classroom or office and are driven to learn fishing more than pursue academic and other ‘bookish’ or desk-bound career paths. Part of the motivation is the thrill of the catch and the possibility of being able to earn some cash. Fishing boats, harbours, coves, fish lofts etc constitute spaces of learning as well as production, where markets and the domestic economy, private and public interact and novices learn their trade through observing and practicing the material culture of fishing. There’s a large net store on the quay at Newlyn where this process continues. These places also constitute alternative sites of education to more formal sites like schools, and throughout my interviews there are distinctions made between formal education and forms of knowledge, and informal, practical education and knowledge acquired outdoors and ‘on the job’. These distinctions sometimes have a political slant, making contrasts between ‘our way of life’, and influences from ‘outside’, such as the state or class interest. But they are also distinctions rooted in particular experiences of place – in other words, they have a geography.
However as well as this emphasis on informal knowledge acquired through practice, Peter and other interviewees also emphasised transmission through the language of blood and kinship. How can these different forms of transmission be reconciled? Are they really after all two distinct notions of transmission? On a sociobiological level, perhaps indeed they are. It is entirely feasible that there may be some underlying genetic inheritance, amongst several or many individuals in fishing communities of long standing that predispose them to a high level of competence in fishing. However such a proposition is neither particular relevant or verifiable in the context of my inquiry. In terms of learning, identifying an individual as having ‘fishing in the blood’ is actually a metaphorical way of saying that an individual has grown into fishing from a very early age. The language of ‘blood’ and birth (drawing on kinship as a ‘core metaphor’ in Schneider’s (1984) terms, is a way of describing how a child or a young person in a fishing environment literally incorporates valuable skills into their physical habitus through the all important activities of ‘messing about in boats’ and other forms of ‘peripheral participation’, as evoked also in the Stevens’ interview.
Learning (2) David Stevens and son David (Senior):...It’s a bit like farming.
D(J): It’s a very technical job.
D(S): I mean they would come in aboard the boat, even when I was in the Rose of Sharon, back in from ’83 when I went back in her and what would you have been then, what eight/nine?
D(J): Ten, yeah something like that.
D(S): And they would come in if we was landing, or if they wasn’t at school, or if we landed in a Saturday. They’d come in to help us to land, and clean the boat up to have the weekend off. And they would clean the wheelhouse up and brush it up and things like that, pull the empty boxes around, so it was like farming, you was learning small things from a very early age.
D(J): Like tying your knots, you know, and we used to keep crabs when we were younger, me and Alex, we used go to sea with them, you’d feel sick and that but you know, you kept your crabs, and me and Alex would make sure we got up, done the work, help the fishermen, as much as we could, we weren’t that much help, but we were interested more than anything.
D(S): They would get pocket money, by helping.
D(J): We would then nick the crabs, keep them and we would come in and sell the crabs you know.
D(S): So you know, it’s like farming, you grow up in it don’t you?
David and his son explained that underlying their family history was the influence of religion. His grandfather, originally a Methodist, broke away to join the Plymouth Brethren and David described him as ‘very, very strict’; on Sundays the only permissible topic of conversation was Christianity and he firmly disapproved of the youngsters watching television or reading comics. He was also very money conscious and did not believe in spending out on new technologies like getting a radio on the boat. However as David (senior) described him ‘he was a smart fisherman and he could do anything with his hands’. After retiring he built himself a small boat, made a little trawl for it and he would go out in St Ives Bay and catch a few fish. David remembered being astonished at the amount he was able to catch in that small boat. It was a tradition in St Ives on a Good Friday for the boys to sail their model yachts. The grandfather made David a four-foot yacht, ‘with a solid block of wood, dug it out, lead keel mast, made everything, sails, everything. That’s the type of person he was’.
It is the influence of this ‘protestant ethic’ – an attitude to work and money – that
David (senior) believed had been passed down through the family:
David (J): What do you think he passed down to your Dad?
David (S): I think.., he passed onto Dad, the same as I’ve done to you – work ethic.
That you don’t get something for nothing, in life. And to get where you want to get, you got to work.
D(J): Cause that’s what he literally had at one time – nothing. They had nothing didn’t they...
D(S): Granddad had nothing. The whole family had nothing. When the fishing was dying and they went to Darwin and come back, they didn’t have anything. It really was a leap of faith, wasn’t it? And they all built themselves up. I mean Granddad and my Dad was the top fishermen in the fifties and early sixties.
David (Senior)’s father was more open and less insular then the grandfather, never forcing his religion on anybody. David felt that his experience of the Second World War influenced him as a young man. When David left school in 1965 and joined his father’s boat the men never talked about the war directly with him, but some nights they would be coming in from sea and David would turn in to bed on the boat before they were due to land and the men would start talking amongst themselves about their experiences. David (junior) felt that there must have been a lot more ‘loneliness to being a man back then... you had your camaraderie with other men, but they wouldn’t have talked about that with their wives back then’. The other place (other than the boat) that men talked amongst one another was the fisherman’s lodges and there were four in St Ives dotted around ‘the Isle’, of which three remain today.
D(J): Women weren’t allowed in there. That was man’s time, man’s talk, you know.
A bit like the men’s working club, you know.
D(E): All the old fishermen used to smoke a pipe. And they’d be in there cutting up their pipe ‘backy and you know, it was mostly for the retired fishermen, or if it was poor weather...
The Isle is a huge granite outcrop that dominates St Ives town and the bay. At the top there is the chapel of St Nicholas, to the east St Ives harbour, to the west Porthmeor beach, and between a warren of alleyways, houses and studios that used to be the residences, cellars and sail lofts of the fishing community. The fishermen’s lodges by this account are spaces where fishermen can gather and recreate the atmosphere of life at sea, specifically the talk amongst men in smoky cabins. I commented that it sounded like a ‘man’s world’ and David countered that it wasn’t, because women were very involved in fishing labour and economy, through making the nets and suchlike.
Innovation (3) Peter Pearman Further on in the account of his life story, Peter drew me back towards the importance of innovation. For example, he highlighted the importance of fine-tuning his gear. This included lures made by a disabled ex-fisherman, which he’d first brought at a car boot sale.
My gear was all very special. You got to look for the edge all the time in fishing. You got to be up with the.., because of our minds, be prepared to accept the lure and look at it and wonder and that is it, and so you just develop it as it goes on and it changes and my gear’s the best now, and nobody could touch me because they didn’t have the gear.
I liked the idea of the unassuming lure catching Peter’s eye and this simple handmade object becoming part of his finely tuned assembly of fishing technology. As Peter said, ‘You got to look for the edge all the time in fishing’, but clearly the principle is adapting to purpose, which may involve elements of makeshift, and combinations of ‘old’ and ‘new’. There were other reasons beside his gear that set Peter apart from the rest. Every time he put a set of nets in the sea, he recorded the latitude and longitude of the position, the depths and the species of fish caught there.
At the time he was looking for crayfish, but he would record information for other species like pollock. Later when he gave up netting because of ill-health and went fishing for pollock, he had thousands of places he knew he could try.
All I had to do was get out my books, over forty years of fishing, and look where all the ‘Ps’ were. I got four hundred and fifty good ones. I call it ‘the milk round’. Only go there once a year, maybe twice if I can’t do anything else. So the ground is rested and I take fish of it and I go away and leave fish.