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Home > Culture and Society

Darkie Days: It really is PCGM

7 March 2005

'The rough music - an infectious noise - resonates through the winding lanes, but it's hard to tell where it's coming from. Then you turn the corner, and-there they are! Two dozen men, women and children done up as surreal stereotypes: Cornish approximations of Aunt Jemimas, Jim Crows, Uncle Toms, Sambos, Mammies, Pickaninnies and Rastafarians, all with burnt cork or greasepaint smudged onto their ruddy white faces.'

- from True Brits by JR Daeschner


For 363 days of the year, only one in every thousand people in Cornwall is black. But on Boxing Day and New Year's Day, there are a couple of dozen more. For these days are Darkie Days, when, according to tradition in Padstow, North Cornwall, men, women and children black themselves up and parade through the streets playing their accordions, singing their songs and raising money for worthy local causes.

The tradition is generally believed to be an amalgam of 'mumming' - where poverty was made palatable by cunningly combining begging with street entertainment - and American minstrel music - which was wildly popular from the 19th Century right up till 1978, when the BBC axed it. There are those however, who maintain that it has its roots in ancient pagan festivals which were later stamped out by sissy Christians, long long before political correctness had begun to show even the first symptoms of any kind of mental disorder.

Nobody is lynched on Darkie Days. No property is destroyed and no incitement to violence is voiced - indeed, in an effort to make it quite clear that no offence whatsoever is intended, the word 'nigger' has been excised from some of the licentious tunes. Nowadays Darkie Days seem to be nought but an excuse for a town party, where people dress up, sing, dance, get a bit merry and manage to get the local church roof fixed in the meantime. It is enormously difficult therefore to dredge up any sympathy for the ongoing police investigation into this year's Darkie Days on grounds of racial hatred.

But this week, evidence from two days' filming was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for their expert analysis. None of which is welcomed by the locals. One darkie told the press: 'I felt it was very intrusive to have them filming down here. My wife doesn't black up and she was being filmed as well. I feel it was infringing on our civil liberties. If this goes to court it will be laughed out.' So it would seem. But you can be sure that the full two months it took to prepare the 'evidence' of a couple of days filming were not wasted. And if Darkie Days are done away, you'll know that those subliminal cuts of Roots, Romper Stomper and the Brixton Riots did their job.

But then maybe the Cornish Festival police don't actually need to resort to such ludicrous lengths. Maybe they know something we don't. Maybe the reason they're investigating in the first place is because they're already well aware that beneath the benevolent funsy façade of all the mummery and minstrelsy, Padstow is actually an active hotbed of malicious Aryan zeal, where asylum- seekers are welcomed with open arms, then chopped up and put into pasties.

Hmm. It doesn't seem likely. Rather, it's true what they say. It really is PCGM. Next they'll be having a pop at Rag Head Week.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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