I don’t know if any of the good people of Penzance have noticed that a new sign appeared a couple of weeks ago at the Eastern entrance to the town, just by the three tunnels. This is a photograph of it.
Look at the sign at the entrance of almost any town or village and you’ll spot a phrase on a sign that goes something like this: “Twinned with <interesting-sounding place>, <country across the water>”. Maybe you’ve always been curious about that interesting-sounding place. Maybe you’ve visited, and met the people, possibly even had some fun.
Town twinning, as an official relationship-builder, started in Europe after the second world war. The idea was simple: repair damaged relationships between France, Germany and the UK. Find towns that suffered during the wars and pair them. Then encourage people from these areas to meet, mix and get along. That’s why town twinning – at its core – is a good and important thing.
The first recorded modern twinning agreement was between Keighley (West Yorkshire) and Poix-du-Nord in Nord, France, in 1920 following the end of the First World War.This was initially referred to as an adoption of the French town.
In case you cant read the sign above, at the entrance to a small town in the far West of England, the first town listed as being twinned with Penzance is Bendigo, Australia. I kid you not. AUSTRALIA!! I have had a look on Wikipedia and Bendigo does look like a nice town with some historic Cornish mining links but come on, its 12000 miles away. Not going to be easy to visit, “meet, mix and get along”!
The same could be said of the one at the bottom, Nevada City, California. Yes, CALIFORNIA! Again looking at that towns Wikipedia entry it looks a fine place with once again some links to Cornish mining going back to the gold and silver rushes of the mid 19th century. It is 5400 miles away! Not exactly touching distance.
According to the sign the middle two towns twinned with Penzance are , Concarneau Brittany, France, and Cuxhaven in Germany. Both of these are lovely little towns and are not very far away and are also twinned more in the spirit of the original post-war idea.
Now the point of my posting is not to knock the idea of twinning but I think if we are to be twinned with far flung places it is just pointless. The chances of reasonable numbers of Penzance people meeting with their “twins”, exchanging ideas and having fun are remote.
If the people who come up with these ideas are not careful things could quite easily get out of hand. In 2009, Swindon – the Wiltshire industrial town often used as a synonym for prosaic suburbia – agreed to twin with Walt Disney World in Florida. Seven years previously, Wincanton in Somerset went one stage further by twinning with Ankh-Morpork, an entirely fictional city that appears in the fantasy novels of Terry Pratchett. In that spirit maybe Penzance could be twinned with the mythical city of Atlantis or the destroyed city of Troy?