Thursday, December 23, 2010


A merry place you may believe, tiz Mouzel 'pon Tom Bawcock's Eve.
To be there then who wouldn't wesh, to sup o' sibm soorts o' fish.
--Robert Morton Nance, “Tom Bawcock's Song” (1927)

In a small corner of Cornwall, in a seaside village called Mousehole (pronounced MOWZ-el), the villagers celebrate a local hero, known as Tom Bawcock, whose abundant fishing nets saved their ancestors from starving during one particularly stormy winter. As Tom’s boat returned to them on December 24, they mark the night before, December 23, as “Tom Bawcock’s Eve,” with a lantern-lit parade and a local delicacy called “Stargazy Pie.” Today, then, we shall toast to Tom’s memory by recalling a Cornish virtue, Annedhy (Providing).

"Annedhy" (pronounced ANN-eh-thih) can be translated both as “to provide” as well as “to dwell in,” i.e. “to furnish.” The word captures the sense of nurturing, as well as of creating a home. To me, the word brings to mind a similar value we recently explored, the BaoulĂ© virtue of giving one’s talents back to one’s family and community, N’giouele.

And Tom Bawcock's tale teaches us something about Annedhy. The story has it that, once upon a time, the Cornish fishermen of Mousehole were (ahem) holed up due to brutal and relentless storms. The people (and cats!) of the village were starving. None of the captains would take their boats out, but one man, Tom Bawcock, braved the dark and icy waves, accompanied by no other men, just one scrappy cat.

One version of the story says that Tom’s cat magically calmed the waters; others say Tom just got lucky. Either way, he returned with nets full of seven kinds of fish, sufficient to feed the people (and their furry felines!) To this day, to celebrate his Courage, Faith, and Selflessness, the children of the village parade to the water’s edge on Tom Bawcock’s Eve, singing in his memory:

One of the seven fish Tom brought back were pilchards, also known as sardines, and so Mousehole cooks this time of year make a fish pastry of pilchards served whole. I’ll let you guess the origin of the name of the dish (hohoho): 

A Kentish lad named Jeff Hickmott gives his recipe for this treat here. The folks at Practically Edible also divulge more details of the story.

I’m sure many of us this week heard the stories about Operation Santa. This year’s volunteers have found that children are asking not so much for toys, as for necessities such as clothing--for themselves, and for their parents. It brings to my mind the Cornish villagers, surrounded by a harsh and forbidding sea, hungry and anxious.

Some say “Tom Bawcock” refers not to an historical person, but symbolizes a sort of Cornish Everyman: records show the term “bawcock,” meaning “fine fellow,” being used as far back as Elizabethan England.

And so, if Tom signifies “Everyman,” what do we make of his familiar calming the waters of the ocean, so that he could feed his starving kith and kin?

We, too, sail the stormy dark waters. We are the villagers. But when we put aside our concern for our own safety or well-being for the sake of others, we achieve Peacemaking and Abundance. We achieve Providing and Homemaking. We are Tom Bawcock. We achieve Annedhy.

May we see the gates of Annedhy, and perhaps make a home there.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rick, thanks for posting a link to my site on your wonderful site! Hope you had a good holiday, and I wish you a stellar New Year! Cheers once again. All the best, Jeff