|How I think I look (left); how I actually look (right).|
YOU see those ads for genetic tests all over the TV. One gob of spit and someone can tell you that your ancestors are a mixture of Outer Mongolian, Native American, Australian aborigine with, I'm pretty sure in my case, the lion's share of Common Peasant.
I live in Devon in the UK, a county that shares a border with Cornwall, so I was surprised to read that genetically I have little in common with my Cornish cousins. I have more in common with Anglo Saxons than Celts, which upsets me because I have always believed that underneath my short dumpy exterior was a tall, red-headed, feisty warrior woman trying to get out.
Unfortunately, what I actually am is a stumpwort to the bone. This is a term coined for the local people by poet Sylvia Plath when she came to live in Devon with husband and later poet laureate Ted Hughes. It doesn't sound a very flattering term but it is a wonderful word! I’m not sure what was in her mind but in my stumpwort brain it conjured up people who were short, dark, didn’t mind living in inhospitable places - and were possibly poisonous. That’s OK. I can live with that.
So what, I wonder, are the characteristics of us Devonian stumpworts? From personal experience I should say our good points are that we are, generally speaking, hard-working, stoic and loyal.
We stumpworts are not given to wild outpourings of emotion but espouse that stiff upper lip - far better in my opinion than that kind of emotional diarrhoea that makes people bare their most private souls on TV and the internet these days. No, give me a stiff upper lip any day. I much prefer repression to expression and I don't care that psychologists say that "keeping it in" is bad for you. I believe that letting it all out is even worse. Every day I am subjected to some private outpouring that I think would have been much better kept behind closed doors.
If I'm sounding like a killjoy, let me get on to the stumpwort's dry sense of humour with deadpan comments delivered in such a way that no one quite knows whether you are joking or not. The trick is to say the most outrageous thing and immediately follow it up with something mundane, without cracking a smile. The listener is left wondering, “Did I really hear that?” But we are not as witty as we think we are which is why a teacher once wrote on my school report, “Patricia suffers from a misplaced sense of humour.” My parents laughed out loud at that one, their sense of humour being somewhat misplaced as well.
Then there is the stumpwort's complete refusal to be impressed by anyone, which is why celebrities like to visit or make their homes in Devon. I reckon Angelina Jolie could walk into our local and all that would happen is that someone would look up and say "aye, aye," in greeting and get back to their cider and discussing the farm-gate price of milk.
So I'm proud to be a repressed, self-controlled stumpwort. We may not be the most beautiful things that God ever made but we have our uses.
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