Magazine article The Spectator

Devon Occupation

Magazine article The Spectator

Devon Occupation

Article excerpt

Of the 35 wedding guests, one other person, I noticed, was wearing a suit.

On the strength of our being the only men in suits, I went over as the cake was being cut and introduced myself. He was an elderly man with ascetic features under a gigantic pair of spectacles. He lived in the house opposite, he said. He was an exslave. Ukrainian by birth, he was enslaved by the Nazis for three years during the second world war.

I was green with envy. At least you knew where you stood in those days. 'Of course, I was terribly homesick, ' he said. 'But apart from that it wasn't too bad. In the Ukraine we were more terrified of the Russians than we were of the Germans. I was sent to France, to work in food production.' More worrying for him these days than the advance of the Red Army or the Wehrmacht, however, is the occupation of this part of Devon by the newly enriched.

They join the Art club, of which he has been secretary for 25 years, and lecture him about what makes good art. 'They preach their opinions about art with the zeal of missionaries, ' he said sadly. Then, brightening considerably, he said, 'Doesn't she look lovely?' He was referring to the bride, my boy's mother, who was passing among us and doling out lumps of wedding cake. It was true. She looked really lovely in the low-cut peach-coloured gown she'd lost nine stone in six months to get into.

Not yet ready for wedding cake, I went outside and queued at the barbeque for another burger in a bun. The man flipping the burgers had one of those increasingly rare rich Devon accents. 'How be you then, my buck?' he said, as I presented him with my halved bun. 'Clinging to the wreckage. Yourself?' His leg was hurting, he said. He'd been kicked in the shin by a bull. He bent down and rolled up one leg of his chequered blue chef's trousers to show me the blackening hoof-shaped bruise. 'The bastard, ' he said, reminding me again how these amiable Devonians are no less affronted by a kick from a domesticated beast than they would be by one from a fellow human being.

My boy's mother had earlier been joined in marriage under a polythene gazebo in the back garden. Afterwards it was too cold in the northerly wind for anybody to remain in the garden, and those guests who were too polite to smoke inside the house congregated in the narrow alleyway outside the back door.

I stopped here, beside a plastic bucket half-filled with tar-coloured water that served as an ashtray, to eat my burger. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.