Earlier this week, a survey (there is no sign of a recession in surveys) suggested that the most popular place for retirement was Devon. Not Cornwall (2nd) or Dorset (3rd), but Devon. And where am I? Slap bang in the middle of Devon, without, as it were, the option.
The question arises, why Devon? Can it be the lure of the palm trees in Torquay? The sheer cliffs down which it would be so easy to plummet if pushed by a loved one? The cream teas? Because it is about the only full rhyme for ‘heaven’? Because, deep in their hearts, oldies actually want to spend 50% of their life behind a tractor? Because of the rolling moors? Because of the high rate of council tax? Because it seems likely, after the sordid expenses-claim saga, that we will soon return to a situation – a state, perhaps – in which there are no Devon Labour or Liberal MPs, as was the case in the mid-1980s (to be fair, we had one non-Conservative, but that was David Owen of the SDP, and he was MP for Devonport, which all but falls into Cornwall), and retirees are naturally right-wing?
Sorry, that was a long rhetorical question.
It’s the perception of sun, isn’t it – that and the vague sense that the whole hog (Cornwall) might actually involve some unspecified cultural difference? There are Cornish poets, incidentally, and they sound great when declaiming in Cornish. It’s when they read their translations, which are in what sounds like early Victorian English, that you start to worry. Sun and peace and quiet. It certainly can’t be a financial imperative that drives pensioners to Devon, because it is quite expensive.
As I get older, the more I feel the urge to get out, and I know this is very ungrateful of me, because Devon has been pretty kind to me, has not exactly clasped me to its bosom, but has pressed me gently to its cardigan now and again. My children are Devonian, and, although they deny it, they do make statements which have rising inflections at the end of them? Like that, you know? They are very lucky indeed that American soaps also feature characters whose voices go up at the ends of sentences – otherwise, they might have been stuck with the hayseed-in-the-corner-of-the-mouth image which still existed when I first came here. The M5 changed that. Exeter became a gateway, instead of an obstacle (its ring road was once famous for its jams, and I don’t mean the strawberry ones).
But I am biding my time. I am not yet quite old enough. I am still enjoying being a stranger in a strange land, I suppose, and besides, I know all the back-roads, and the various dodges you need in the suburbs of what pass for towns, and the secret beaches, and so on. I do miss the grey, slightly chilly mists off the coasts of Durham and Northumberland. But I am also petrified of upheaval.
And besides, would they welcome me back?
That bit is easy. Yes.