This is the second post of author Ellen Hawley who has enjoyed a wonderfully varied career before leaving the United States to settle in Cornwall. I love Cornwall and its unique place in our history and also its determination to retain its language and customs. So I thought you would enjoy this post as much as I did.
A Cornish mile and a Cornish saint (2016) by Ellen Hawley
Let’s start with the asking around bit: According to J., it’s one of those flexible distances people use when a car stops and the driver rolls down the window and asks how far it is to Saint Whoosit.
Cornwall has lots of towns named Saint Whoosit, and Saint Whoosit is always a mile from wherever that car stops. At least that’s what J. tells me. Or else the turn to Saint Whoosit is a mile away, right by the bent tree (we have even more of those than we do of St. Whoosits), and St. Whoosit itself is a mile after that.
And ten minutes later, when the car still hasn’t gotten to St. Whoosit, the turn, the tree, or another person to ask? It’s traveled a Cornish mile.
Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: Flower from our back yard. The bee’s blurred, but if you look closely you’ll see where the snails hide–something I didn’t know until I looked at this on the screen.
On the other hand, according to Wikipedia (never mind a link—the contents will have changed by now), the old Cornish mile measured 3.161etc. to nine decimal points miles. And in case you need to know this, a Cornish gallon was 10 pounds, but a Cornish apple gallon was 7 pounds.
How do you measure a gallon in pounds when you don’t know if it holds a gallon of water or a gallon of honey? It’s a unit of weight, not volume, that’s how. You have to admire the English language. It’s not only inventive, it’s downright hallucinatory. Maybe it was something in that honey they were weighing.
The entry also defines a Cornish lace, which is 18 square feet. Or 18 feet square. I can’t see why there’d be any difference between the two, but since I’m mathematically incompetent we shouldn’t trust me on the subject.
According to the Financial Dictionary, though, a Cornish mile is 1.5 miles. Why a financial dictionary’s defining an out-of-date measure of distance is beyond me, but it may tell us something about economists that its definition doesn’t match the other definitions. Not that everyone else’s agree, but they might want to report that other opinions exist. (I don’t seem to hold Wikipedia to that standard, which tells you something about my expectations.)
The two sources do agree on the Cornish gallon, in case that’s relevant.
The Cornish mile could also be (and sometimes is) taken to refer to any number of places in Cornwall where road signs tell you it’s, let’s say, 3.5 miles to Saint Whatsit and then a mile or so later you find another sign saying you have 3.5 miles left to go. Exactly what that tells us about the length of a Cornish mile isn’t clear, but it’s one of the things people talk about when the topic comes up. Some can even cite exact locations for the signs. I can’t, but I did find one when Wild Thing and I were on the way to Saint Whatsit last year.
On the VWT4 Forum (no, I have no idea), Lord of the T4s wrote, “At the junction at the top of Port Isaac, the village which is used for the Doc Martin TV series, there is a signpost on one side of the road which reads, “ ‘St. Teath 5 miles’ and ‘Wadebridge 9 miles.‘
“Don’t move from where you’re standing and look to the other side of the same junction, and another signpost indicates that it’s now 5 1/2 miles to St. Teath and 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge.”
Two comments down, Maude explains it all. “It’s basically 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge from there—but if you hurry you can do it in 9.”
Maude, whoever you are, I love you.
St. Teath, by the way, is pronounced teth, not teeth. She lived in the fifth century (and once again I’m drawing from Wikipedia) and was recognized as a saint in Cornwall and Wales. She was also known as Saint Tecla and Saint Tetha, as well as by a variety of other names (Tethe, Thecla, and so on to another nine decimal points). She was a virgin (why anybody had any business asking I don’t know, but folks back then did seem to be obsessed with a small and useless bit of the female anatomy) and one of the missionary companions of Saint Breaca, who jointly brought Christianity to Cornwall. She may have been the daughter of a Welsh king, which also says that she may not have been. Unlike some of her companions, she wasn’t martyred, and according to one theory her name was inserted into the list of companions by accident.
If you’re considered a saint but you got saintified by accident, are you still a saint?
Regardless, it’s still pronounced teth. And she got a town named after her. Take that, all you other companions of Saint Breaca.
What does this have to do with a Cornish mile? Not a thing, but I felt like I owed you a few more paragraphs.
@Ellen Hawley 2016
About the Divorce Diet
“Food and love and loss and resilience . . . are Hawley’s recipe for a slyly entertaining and heartening novel” (Daniel Menaker, author of The Treatment).
Abigail is sure the only thing standing between her and happiness is the weight she gained along with her beloved new baby. Until she instantly loses 170 pounds of husband.
When Thad declares that “this whole marriage thing” is no longer working (after commenting about how she’s turning into a bit of a pudge), a shell-shocked Abigail takes her infant daughter, Rosie, and moves back to her parents’ house.
Thrown for a loop as a suddenly single new mom, she hunts for guidance in her latest weight-loss book, treating its author as her imaginary personal guru. But as Abigail follows the book’s advice, she begins to rediscover her love of cooking. Her diets have pushed her toward fat-free, joy-free foods, and her mother’s kitchen is filled with instant, frozen, and artificially flavored fare. It’s time for Abigail to indulge her own tastes—and write her own recipe for a good life . . .
Bitingly funny and wise, with bonus recipes included, this novel is an ode to food and self-discovery for any woman who’s ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet—to find what true satisfaction is all about.
“Revenge is sweet. Reinventing yourself . . . is even sweeter.” —Cathy Lamb, author of If You Could See What I See
One of the reviews for the book
The style of this book seems simple and repetitive at first glance, but I was never bored. The style put me into the reality of Abigail as she goes through having been rejected by her husband and dealing with her new situation. The humor sprinkled in liberally made me laugh out loud more than any book I can recall. I knew from the author’s blog that I enjoy her humor, and I was not let down with this book. The style is very different and very good for this story. It leads the reader through this time of change with the crazy thoughts, the fears and trials, and the tenderness of love that holds her together. I felt it along with her.
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LEU4QX2/
Also by Ellen Hawley
Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW
And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW
Also available at Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Ellen+Hawley
Read more reviews and follow Ellen on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/567079.Ellen_Hawley
About Ellen Hawley
Ellen Hawley has worked as an editor and copy editor, a talk-show host, a cab driver, a waitress, a janitor, an assembler, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours, a receptionist. She has also taught creative writing. She was born and raised in New York, lived in Minnesota for many long, cold winters, and now lives in Cornwall, U.K.
Connect to Ellen
My thanks to Ellen for allowing me to access her archives and share with you. Many more posts to enjoy on her blog. Thanks Sally.