Look, I get it. You’re angry. I’m angry. We’re all pretty angry right now. There’s anger to spare.
But you’re angry about something very specific. Something that’s not necessarily particular to Covid-19. Apparently, some second home-owners aren’t respecting government advice and staying in, well, their first homes. They’re packing up the kids, hopping into their cars, filling up at Exeter services, and invading our towns, our villages, our beaches and our local pubs (or at least they would be if they were open). They’re potentially taking up our hospital beds and breathing our air and ohmygod could they just please control their bloody kids and put their dogs on leads while they’re at it?
The vitriol for tourists is heavy at the moment. It’s an ever-sizzling bone of contention for the residents of Cornwall and Devon and its had some serious petrol tossed over it lately. The current pandemic (you may have seen something on the news…?) seems to have dissolved all civility on the subject. The flood gates are open and locals are in uproar. You cannot move online at the moment for long, ranting posts stuffed with phrases like, “Stealing our fresh air!”, “Nicking our hospital beds!” and “The county borders should be patrolled!” It’s all rather…unseemly.
Obviously, second home-owners need to stay put just now, same as the rest of us. That’s an indisputable fact. I’m not here to argue it. But could we possibly stop ragging on non-residents – who love this country so much that they decided to buy two homes here – like they’re the scourge of our green and (mostly) pleasant land? Like they’re worse than Nazis and Al Qaeda and Piers Morgan all put together? Could we, while we’re at it, also admit that we don’t actually have the authority to reject outsiders because we don’t actually own the countryside or the coast? Because, in fact, no one does?
A chap in red trousers driving a Range Rover with kids called things like Quinoa and Belarus might be a nice, polite friendly person…or they might be a complete knob. That’s not really the issue here. If they happen to be a knob, then they’re a knob who’s pouring money into the local community they’ve elected to holiday in (it’s the least they can do after calling their child “Belarus”). The pubs, the restaurants, the cafés…they all rely on tourism. A trade that is getting a SPANKING right now and is going to need all the help it can get once this nightmare is over. You might like to think that we don’t need tourism, but we do. Lawkes-a-freakin’-mercy we do. How much money do you, as a local, spend on riding that beautiful steam train from Dartmouth to Paignton every month? Yeah…
If people don’t buy second homes in Devon and Cornwall, then they’ll go elsewhere. Abroad, in all probability. Fantastic! I hear you cry. Good riddance! But – and I’m only going to say this once – coastal counties cannot survive on local trade alone. They just can’t. And the fact of the matter is, even if you do think of this gorgeous little corner of the globe as your own private slice of paradise (don’t we all?), it actually belongs to everyone. By publicly campaigning against second home-owners or tourism in any way, you’re demonstrating a woefully naïve sense of both commerce and community. You do not have the power to withhold access to a beauty spot to a certain sub-culture because you don’t personally care for them. Similarly, a Chelsea-born socialite with millions in the bank and a tiny dog tucked under her arm may not campaign to ban the anorak-clad tourists from the King’s Road. It’s a big world and we have to share it. It’s not optional.
I, for one, love to see that lovely Big City money lining the pockets of places like Britannia @ the Beach, Cafe Alf Resco, Dartmouth Eats, Kendricks, Rock Fish, Venus Cafe, Beth’s Bistro, JackSpeak, Dartmouth Butchers, The Green Dragon, Bert & Buoy, Radius 7, Saveurs, The Dolphin and all the other small, independently-owned, brilliant local businesses who are hanging on through this pandemic with guts, bravery and sheer bloody will power. I will put up with a lot of Hooray Henries sharing my bit of beach and hogging one-and-a-half parking spaces if it means saving a few of these local gems. The hard truth is this: we are going to need those out-of-towners to come back when all this is over. If these gutsy, gorgeous local businesses fail, the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s and Tesco are there, just waiting to snatch up those prime spots on our local high street.
So please. Be nice, yeah?