Load up the Range Rover, Tarquin – we’re off to Cornwall!

Bollinger

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The rich are different than you and me.”                                                                                   Ernest Hemingway: “Yes, they have more money.”

I should have known better, I really should. There, in the contents section of the Style magazine that accompanies the Sunday Times, was an article entitled ‘Go West: Why Cornwall is our coolest county’. The fact that it was sandwiched between articles on ‘Sloane Ravers – The New Party Posse’ and ‘AA Gill on How to Wear Sunglasses’ (I’d always assumed you just balanced them on your nose and ears but apparently, if you’re posh, there’s much more to it) should have been sufficient warning. But no, I had to go and read the article anyway, with predictable, blood pressure-raising results.

So apparently, ‘For the new breed of wealthy holiday-maker, Cornwall is now de-rigueur.’ Wealthy visitors are drawn to our corner of the world by chi-chi hotels, haute cuisine and a desire to re-live the halcyon holidays of their childhoods. Seaside holidays are terribly fashionable in a retro and doubtless slightly ironic way at the moment, but these are not like the ones you and I remember. These are seaside holidays in 10,000 pound a week serviced houses (with personal chefs) or luxury boutique hotels, complete with an ‘adventure butler’ to arrange quirky activities for you to brag about at Chelsea dinner parties when you get home. If you have your own second (or third or fourth) home in Cornwall, it will, of course, have ‘monogrammed linen, cinema room and a heated pool by the beach’. And you will go to the same hotels and restaurants as all the other DFLs (Down from London) while you’re here. Have you noticed, by the way, that there appears to be a checklist of hotels and restaurants that journalists are obliged to mention when writing about Cornwall? Watergate Bay, Tresanton, Idle Rocks, Scarlet, Nathan Outlaw, Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein. Check, check and check again. Yup, they’re all here. Full (bijou, waterfront views) house.

I was so irritated by the article that I immediately sat down to write a blog post, but then I paused. Was I walking into a cleverly laid trap? This must surely be a spoof, packed as it is with clichés and cardboard cut-out characters. Home-county hooray Henries and Henriettas roaring around Cornish country lanes in their Range Rovers, all the while bemoaning the lack of a Waitrose delivery service but jolly excited to be going to the Veuve Cliquot sponsored ‘Polo on the Beach’ at Watergate Bay. As satire, it would have been brilliant. But then I noticed that it is full of quotes from real people and I realised with horror that it was actually serious.

So this is where I launch into a rant about the iniquities of second homers and the hypocrisy of spending tens of thousands of pounds a week in pursuit of the ‘simple’ joys of a seaside holiday, right? Well actually, I detect something much more sinister lurking below the surface. In the article, the director of an upmarket estate agency describes Cornwall as a ‘playground’. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t a playground somewhere children go to amuse themselves? The rich, it seems, view the world as a series of playgrounds which they move between during the year. Places exist only as backdrops for their playing and partying, with the locals providing the colour and, of course, the discrete, waited-upon-hand-and-foot service which is so essential to getting ‘back to basics’. The head of Visit Cornwall (the Cornish Tourist board) appears to concur: “Nowadays the top-end holiday-maker might have a week in the Seychelles, a week skiing and a week in Cornwall.” So there you have it. Cornwall is just another name on the list of playgrounds for the wealthy to enjoy. Even more alarmingly, those who are responsible for selling Cornwall as a visitor destination seem to agree.

But spare a thought for these poor little rich people. It’s not easy being affluent in 2013, apparently. 40 or 50 years ago, the newly rich didn’t have to pretend that they were after anything other than a good time. They could drive their gold plated Rolls Royces and frolic in baths of champagne with an “I’ve got loads of money and if you don’t like how I spend it you can get stuffed” attitude. Now though, it’s imperative to be tastefully rich, and that is such hard work. These people abhor old-fashioned vulgarity, they want to get ‘back to basics’, they crave ‘authenticity’.

Dismantling the ‘back to basics’ idea makes shooting fish in a barrel look difficult. Back to basics, it seems, is the new ostentation. The owner of a luxury hotel in St Mawes, ‘with it’s own helipad, Nepresso machines in every room and the scent of fig electronically pumped into the air’, who has “loads” of boats moored in the harbour, says that “We live such a false life in so many ways – this is a way of getting back to reality.” I hope he has recovered, since (I assume) his tongue must have been so far in his cheek when he came up with that gem that he risked causing himself permanent injury.

The authenticity angle is even more disturbing. In conversation with the proprietor of yet another boutique Cornish hotel, the author of the article comments “It’s this authenticity that makes it so right for now”. So ‘authenticity’ is trendy, its zeitgeisty, it’s now. What kind of people are we dealing with here, people for whom authenticity is just another fad that will be here one day and gone the next? The real irony of course is that people like this aren’t searching for authenticity at all, at least, not in the sense that mere mortals would understand it. They want their version of it, a sanitised, idealised, version of reality. Their lifestyles and their ‘need’ for luxuries actually erects a huge barrier between them and anything approaching authenticity.

And here’s a thought that will have them choking on their organic asparagus. The best comparison I can think of for this achingly trendy set is with the first wave of English holidaymakers who ventured overseas in the 1960s and 70s. These pioneers flocked to places like Benidorm and Torremolinos. Why? Because the scary prospect of going somewhere ‘foreign’ was made less frightening by the presence of English beer, fish and chips and lots of other Brits. Replace the pints of bitter with glasses of Bollinger, the fish and chips with dinner at Rick Stein’s and the Sharons and Erics with Cressidas and Ruperts and the mindset is exactly the same. This is just another group of people who want to go somewhere superficially different, but crave the comfort of the familiar things that their tribe deem essential to civilised living.

Which brings us full circle to the idea of ‘authenticity’. I wouldn’t expect holiday makers, whatever their social class, to want to learn about the real Cornwall. The fact that as well as its undeniably beautiful landscape, Cornwall also has an industrial (and post-industrial) history that makes it unique. That its peripherality, which is part of its attraction, is also potentially its biggest drawback when it comes to providing jobs for its young people. You don’t come on holiday to hear about that sort of thing. But it really does stick in the throat when journalists paint Cornwall as just another place for the affluent to go to spend their cash. “Look – you can have the same things you’d find in your ski chalet in Switzerland or your boutique hotel in the Maldives!”. They want homogenisation. A very upmarket version of it, but homogenisation nonetheless. And the biggest irony? It may have the sheen of wealth and class about it, but ultimately ‘Polo on the Beach’ is just a more exclusive version of the conga around that hotel swimming pool in Benidorm.

Let’s leave it to the ever-pithy Ernest Hemingway to puncture the pretentious bubble surrounding wealth and taste. He is reputed to have retorted to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s awe-struck assertion that the rich are different to the rest of us with a withering: “Yes, they have more money.”

Hopefully, before too long, some new destination will catch the eye of the style gurus at the Sunday Times and their ilk. Then Tarquin and Annabel will dutifully load their equally absurdly named children into the Range Rover and roar back up the A30 to the next newly-discovered playground. And we’ll be standing at the Tamar to wave them off.

 

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4 Comments

  1. I love it when Cornwall Now gets angry! I was idly looking at properties in Falmouth (fantasising about moving) and noticed that all affordable houses or flats are described as ‘potential second home or investment opportunity’. Grrr.

    Reply
  2. CornwallNow

     /  July 16, 2013

    Well, if I can’t get even, I suppose i’ll just have to get angry! Wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to read an article in the national press about Cornwall that didn’t treat it like a giant theme park for the affluent residents of S.E. England? As for property prices, I suppose we have to credit the estate agents with finally acknowledging that most property in places like Falmouth is now only affordable as an investment or second home.

    Reply
  3. Ian

     /  July 17, 2013

    Excellent. Well observed.

    Reply
  1. What about Cornwall? | Flip Chart Fairy Tales

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