I grew up in Fowey. I am a Fowey girl! Sometimes I feel as if I’m a race apart. The Fowey so many of you know is not the Fowey I grew up in. Every one, to coin a Cornish phrase lived on their ‘beam ends’. A ‘beamer, is a Cornish beam trawler, not specific to Cornwall, but to fishing community, a beamer is a dangerous beast. They drop nets from either side, like two arms and trawl back. There’s little or no fishing from Fowey that I know of, but in my childhood, plenty of people made their living from the sea. Everyone’s dads ‘work a’ trawler’. ‘down the docks’ or ‘way at sea’. No one had any money and fish was something you ate day in day out because it was cheaper than meat. Pollock was the length of the kitchen table, still steamed when gutted and filled the freezer. Fowey may be ‘Michelin’ starred and five starred now, but I loved the salty rough as guts Fowey I grew up in. If you lived on your ‘beam ends’ you were barely getting by.
I’m feeling really sad for bits of Fowey today as two Fowey boys, who left their mark died yesterday. Both on the same day. Both from terminal illness. Both before their time, but after a full life. Here’s how they left their mark.
It was the late 1980s, I had left a terrible marriage and was renting a tiny house in Fowey; on my own with my pre-school son. I lived on single parent benefit and we barely got by. The beam trawler men were the gentlemen of the sea compared to the scallopers, who dragged chains (I know, get off my back, it’s environmentally disastrous, but they were less enlightened times and poor people had kids to feed) and dredged up the scallops. They lived in mud and would come ashore, looking like swamp monsters. After a three day trip away; Fowey fishermen would drink the Lugger dry and Fowey pubs were beer swilling, smoke filled and uncouth…………and I’m being complimentary here. One such scalloper, who I knew as a school friend, felt sorry for me and my boy. If he dredged up sea coal, I would find boxes of it on my door step. If he had flat fish, usually Turbot, I would find a bag of them on my door step. Sometimes, I would have a net of scallops. There is something particularly moving about a benefactor, who gives without expecting anything in return, because they know someone is skint and having a hard time. He left this world yesterday.
Another part of my life, which happened some five years before that, also in Fowey. Teenagers have always been trouble and Fowey teenagers in the early 1980s were no exception. Summers seemed longer then. We drank more. We were reckless.
The river Fowey has fierce currents and is no place for drunk, reckless teenagers to be in, in the dark, after midnight, when no one was around. We’d got the passenger ferry over to Polruan, been to the sailing club disco, were all worse for wear and had missed the last ferry home. Stranded, we (almost eight of us, boys and girls, all of 17 and 18 years old) had ‘borrowed’ a couple of rowing boats, which we piled in and started to row back to Fowey. If we were sensible, we would have behaved ourselves. We were not. The dingy I was in capsized in the middle of the river and we were adrift, in a running tide, in the dark, with no one around.
The water was freezing and we soon lost sight of each other. Screaming must have been heard from the harbour side as the maroons flew into the sky. Within minutes, the Fowey lifeboat was looking for us. We were hauled on board by some very angry lifeboat men, none of whom wanted disturbing from a ‘lock in’ by stupid pissed up teenagers! I don’t know who was the most furious; the crew or my dad. The man who pulled me out of that water that night, died yesterday. Two people who touched my life, one to bring me food and warmth when I had nothing and one who saved me from almost drowning, died on the same day, in the same Cornish town that shaped the person I am today. They leave their mark.