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An English summer- more scones, less ignorance please

Aug 6 • 3073 views • 5 Comments on An English summer- more scones, less ignorance please Travel

Ahhh… Devon in the summer. Seagulls cry overhead in a blue sky wisped with white and I’m instantly transported to childhood holidays by the sea.

Salcombe, Devon, home to childhood holidays

Salcombe, Devon, home to childhood holidays

Grockles* crowd outside the cake shop window drooling as they peer in at the homemade Victoria sandwich cake and the giant date slices. The rounded peaks of the Lemon Meringue pie make me think of Ena Sharples’ hat circa 1970. My stomach is groaning after the huge English breakfast I’ve just wolfed down but we agree to return for that most English of afternoon snacks: a Devon cream tea of scones and clotted cream. I wipe the imaginary dribble from the shop window as we head uphill.

I admire the order in Totnes Public Library; I breathe a deep sigh of satisfaction at the chronological placing of each and every book, the dust-free environment, the sense of certainty and purpose: a place for everything and everything in its place.

We pass the day walking up and down Fore Street. I’m happy to just window-shop. After so long in Uganda, it’s reassuring to see favourite knick-knacks still on sale. (At the same time though, I do wonder whether I will ever be able to afford to live in the UK again).

Every Tuesday Totnes, in south Devon, holds an Elizabethan market and I swoop on the second-hand book stall (you don’t have that much choice in Kampala). “There are travel books this side of the table” the lady says. I ask if she has any books about Africa and she replies: “There’s nothing to write about Africa.”

“You’ve obviously never been there then,” I spit back at her.

“Yes I have, I’ve travelled the world,” she says indignantly.

Reeling, I explain that there are many books about Africa but that there is a lack of awareness, and that I am in fact thinking of writing a book about Uganda.

The bookseller has been to Kenya and Zanzibar, beautiful and popular tourist destinations where it is possible (I imagine) to pass a holiday without meeting any Africans. (This woman’s narrow-mindedness has made me as judgemental as her). Amazing how you can ‘travel the world’ but still return home with exactly the same attitudes intact.

“I wouldn’t travel to that country on my own if you paid me” she said, oblivious to the fact that Africa is a continent of many countries not just one homogeneous fearful country. “Actually I feel safer in Uganda than I did in London,” I tell her “and they say Ethiopia is one of the safest countries for a woman to travel on her own.” “Oh no, no, no ….” she wouldn’t let me finish her sentence. She’s having none of it.

There are things about the UK I miss, and I love coming home to get my British ‘fix’ but I can’t bear this particular type of ignorance.

It’s after 4 o’clock when Ana and I walk into the teashop but alas!  – just as we take our seats, the last two fluffy fat scones are whisked away to the neighbouring table. So near but yet so far. We settle for a pot of Earl Grey tea and an enormous slab of fresh moist Bakewell Tart. The almond taste reminds me of my first ever cross-country road trip, many moons ago,  with my Socialist Worker friend Phil. We travelled in my Morris Minor along all the B roads, through the Peak District from Warwick to Sheffield ‘to see how the other half lives’ as he said. I have fond memories of that trip: the driving, the Derbyshire bakeries, my stay in his mum’s ‘two up, two down’ terraced house overlooking the redundant colliery.

Back in Totnes, our “Ghosts of Totnes” walking tour takes us onto the walled ramparts, past the Guildhall, up Lepers’ Walk and down to the wells. Few history books hold my attention but our guide Bob gives us a very human and comical introduction to local history. His stories make it easy to imagine the tin merchants and pilchard fishermen inhabiting the Elizabethan houses, the humiliation of petty thieves in the stocks – and worse.

Whether the Trojans really set foot in Totnes, who’s to say? But we enjoyed the story.

I was reassured to hear that the ghost that frequented the rooms above the ‘King Bill’ pub (the King William IV) where I am staying has moved on! If there were any ‘bumps in the night’, I certainly didn’t hear any, nor did I notice any flying furniture (although Dave the landlord very kindly offered to make some spooky sound effects for me).

Back on the train, I can’t help but stare at the first black man I’ve seen in several days.

The train clings to the edge of the River Teign, and I gaze across the water at the jetty and the pastel painted fishing cottages lining the waterfront. The river is mooring point for hundreds of pleasure boats, redundant on a weekday. It’s a beautiful sunny day.

As the river joins the sea, I’m mesmerised by the wide expanse of water that is Babbacombe Bay. I miss the sea.

At Teignmouth, a black Labrador swims out from the beach. Yellow buoys mark the safe swimming area and a boy walks along the sea edge with a metal detector. Girls in sunhats walk along the cliff’s edge as the train heads towards Dawlish. What a treat to enjoy the sea and the sand for a few minutes as we whizz onto Exeter.


* A ‘grockle’ is an informal and often slightly derogatory term for a tourist, first popularised in a film set in Torquay, another Devon resort.

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5 Responses to An English summer- more scones, less ignorance please

  1. Jan Sharp says:

    When I lived in Dorset they called tourists grockles. I then moved to Cornwall where they call them ‘Emmits’. When asked what do we call tourists in Liverpool I flippently replied ‘Victims!’ Sorry to all Scousers, but it did make me laugh!

    Love the descriptions you write. I’m sitting by the window on a miserable cloudy Saturday and yet I can still see that train ride from Totnes to Exeter in the sunshine, and it made me smile.

  2. This brought back memories. The sunrise over that amazing stretch of railway was like balm to the soul on Monday mornings, after a weekend working in Salcombe, among the grockles, on my way to spend the week studying in Exeter.
    I agree, sadly travel in itself is not enough to combat ignorance. It’s certainly the case here in Beirut.

    • charliebeau says:

      Travelling is a mindset not a passport full of border stamps. Oh well aren’t we the lucky ones Georgia, that we can open our eyes and minds to the different lifestyle possibilities? But still trip back home to enjoy the odd Devon Cream Tea of course 😉 I love Salcombe (out of season!)

  3. powpow says:

    Hi Cha

    Terrific writing and couldn’t agree more. It always irritates me how often people dismiss (orsometimes even praise) “America” on the strength of a trip to Disneyland or a shopping trip to New York, say. Just as it does when I heard a Kiwi say “well we all know none of you Brits use soap!”

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