The Cornish relay delivery system

Not long ago, someone asked if I could return a handful of leaflets to someone in Truro. Or to someone else in St. Austell. The problem was that I live about an hour from Truro and, oh, 40 minutes or more from St. Austell. I didn’t want to make either drive just to hand over some leaflets, then turn around and drive home.

An aside here: P. told me long ago that time’s an American way of measuring distance, but I swear it’s the only way that makes sense here. Speed depends on the road, and Cornwall’s full of back roads, so distance is only going to tell you just so much.

The solution was to employ the Cornish relay delivery system. Wild Thing and I were meeting with someone relatively nearby (around here, nothing’s truly close) the next morning, and he was meeting with someone else in the afternoon—in Truro. So I gave him the leaflets and asked him to pass them on to the next person, who I’d emailed and who had agreed to either drop them off where they needed to be or let someone pick them up.

Irrelevant photo: Spot the direction of the prevailing wind.

Irrelevant photo: Spot the direction of the prevailing wind.

The same system delivered a leg of lamb to our house a few years ago. Wild Thing—the household meat eater—had bought a leg of lamb from A., who raises lamb, but when she went to pick it up, it had already left. J. had stopped by and was on her way to see a neighbor of ours (let’s call the neighbor J.2 for the sake of either clarity or confusion, take your pick). As far as A. was concerned, it had been delivered. Only we didn’t have the meat.

We went home and Wild Thing called J., who’d stopped by our house, she said, but we were out, so she left it with J.2, who stuck it in her refrigerator.

Are you still with me?

Wild Thing went to J.2’s house, collected her leg of lamb, and stuck the meat in the oven.

We thought it was all very villagey and—here we go again—quaint until we used the same system ourselves. Then we thought it made perfect sense.

39 thoughts on “The Cornish relay delivery system

  1. I’ve been in the UK for nearly 15 years, and I still measure distance in time. It is the ONLY thing that makes sense. Just try explaining to a Midwesterner that it can take two hours to go 60 miles. In their mind’s eye, they don’t see the single-carriageways or the villages you can’t avoid, but rather a 4-lane highway, or at least a 2-lane highway with miles and miles of straight stretches that make passing easy.
    Oh, and I like your ‘relay system’. :-)

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  2. Love this. Makes me want to visit the UK (my husband is dying to take a trip, but we both acknowledge it will be something that we do when our kids are grown.)

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  3. I absolutely DO follow. My husband’s great aunt lives about halfway between his parents house and our house, and as such, it’s frequently a drop zone.
    I also measure distance as time, certainly for car travel. I was told it was Midwestern, heh.

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    • Maybe it is Midwestern. I can’t remember ever doing that in New York, but then most people didn’t drive when I lived in New York. And even if you did, you couldn’t predict how well (or, more accurately, badly) the traffic would be moving.

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  4. I studied 1200km away from home and my mum regularly employed a similar method to get care packages to me. Now she lives twenty minutes away (yes, we also measure distance by time in SA) and we still sometimes send stuff back and forth via intermediaries.

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  5. We do that in our household but on a larger scale and I refer to it as the Filipino system. My partner originally hails from the Philippines and has family and friends literally all around the world. Things get passed to person to person from country to country until it finds it’s home, sometimes months or years later. So yes, I totally understand and can appreciate your system. :) Cheers.

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  6. I once read about some famed cheese being sent through intermediaries and when it reached its destination, it stank so much, there was no better place to put it than in the dustbin- it didn’t get delivered to its purported owner.

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  7. I wonder if the relay system is a rural thing. When I lived in Argyll, we were always passing things along via other people and sometimes things would be left in a shop for us to pop by and collect. I think it rather makes sense in a small community dispersed across a wide area. It is putting the village grapevine to better use than gossip.

    Despite being thoroughly, dyed-in-the-wool Scottish, I also measure distance in terms of time. As you suggest, timings take account of road conditions and traffic in a way that per mile distance does not.

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    • As a matter of fact, since commercial deliveries regularly get left with neighbors around here, we have met some we didn’t know–and found out what they’re building, and why.

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  8. You have answered one of the questions I’ve been wanting to ask you but couldn’t find the appropriate place. My mother’s family comes from Truro and I was wondering if you had ever been there/heard of it. I figured Cornwall wasn’t all that large, so you would probably know whether it still looked as quaint (sorry, couldn’t think of another word) as it did 100 years ago. Thatched cottages, country lanes, etc. Thanks

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    • Truro’s a big city–for Cornwall: a cathedral, a harbor, a hospital, the center of government for the county. Big honkin’ buses running back and forth from the park and ride. Beautiful in places, not in others. I don’t know the area around it well, but not too far away is a beautiful, old Quaker meeting house at a place called by the seriously Quaker name of Come to Good. That’s thatched. Beyond that, I don’t associate the area with thatched roofs particularly.

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