Summer in Cornwall Was The Pits
Working illegally in Cornwall was the worst decision of my life.
Cornwall is the southwestern leg of the United Kingdom that juts hesitantly into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known for the patchwork farmland that blankets the windswept cliffs that map its coast. Newquay is its renowned party destination: a cramped town with castle-like hotels edging into the small web of central streets that lead from the beaches to the pubs, breathtaking views down the coast and summer days that look warm but never really are.
The seagulls are also ginormous and everything smells slightly of cheesy chips and ale.
I got a job in a bar that turned into a nightclub on the weekends, smelt like semen and sweat and was usually heaving before the sun even went down.
Going to Cornwall turned out to be a pretty questionable choice in the first place. I’d flown into London from deepest darkest Africa a week after the British had voted themselves out of the EU, and figured that despite this, UK summer would be an ideal time to make some cash and continue with my aimless wandering of the earth.
The 70 quid it cost for the train from London to Newquay was the first blow. Then, after being booted out of the house I was freeloading in for apparently doing live sex chats in the upstairs room (I wasn’t, but this was not a bad idea), the 11AUD I was putting away each hour started to feel less than worth it.
The place I worked was in the middle of town and seemed like a respectable venue at first glance. But I rapidly discovered that being behind the bar there was the equivalent of being a polar bear at the zoo – a very sexually harassed polar bear.
There was this one afternoon, well before the acceptable hours for old men to get their hassle on, that a middle-aged guy approached the bar.
“Aye you,” he beckoned. “You have got to be the prettiest barmaid I have ever seen.”
His Cornish brawl was barely decipherable. I smiled. Who doesn’t love a sexually driven compliment at work? I approached to offer him a drink.
“I bet you have a nice vagina,” he barked, looking at his friend for affirmation.
Vomit lurched into my mouth. I turned my back, no idea what to say.
When knock-off time ticked around, I pitched back and forth in my borrowed 75-pound car, first and second gear failing to engage. Eventually, I crawled along towards the home I was still freeloading at with the woman who’d accused me of sex chatting.
All of a sudden, lights flashed behind me. It was the cops.
I’m fine, I’m fine, I told myself.
They told me I was driving with no insurance and that this was illegal. The moonless summer night seemed extra dark as they ushered me into their police car.
“You have the right to remain silent,” the officer in the driver’s seat began.
“Am I arrested?” I asked in alarm.
“No, you’re not arrested – you can leave at any time,” the elderly officer in the passenger seat offered.
“What will happen if I leave?”
“We’ll arrest you.”
My attempts to flirt my way out of the situation fell on deaf ears, and when they finally handed me a court issue and a warning to pass onto the car owner, they indicated for me to hop out.
“We’re seizing the vehicle. You can only pick it up when you have bought insurance,” Officer Number One announced.
“How am I supposed to get home now?” I asked defiantly.
“Walk…” Officer Number Two’s voice faded out.
I prudently explained that it was the middle of the night and highly likely that I would get mugged. If this were the case, they would have to drive out anyway, so they may as well give me a lift. Officer Number One looked perplexed, shrugging as he reluctantly agreed to drive me.
“Ah, one more thing,” I began. “I have a surfboard in the car that I need to take with me, and I don’t think it will fit in here.”
They stared at me, until Number Two proudly told me that his son was a surf coach in Portugal and quickly called the police van, putting my board neatly in the lock up and helping me into the front seat.
The driver of the van nattered to me as drizzle licked the windscreen.
“I’m glad Brexit happened,” he said. “I don’t want all these foreigners here… except for the Polish. I really want a Polish wife.”
“Don’t worry,” he turned to me. “You’re going to get a fine in the mail – don’t pay it. Just leave the country and never come back.”
I laughed nervously and was relieved to be pulling up at the comfort of my sex-chat house. What a weird day.
I took his advice. I quit my polar bear job the next day and booked the next flight out of there.
Spanish summer would become a whole different story.
Cover by Dylan Burnside-Smith