Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

'How was your journey?' I said. In summer, the place next door is let to visitors on a weekly basis. We share a driveway, and I generally get to meet whoever comes to stay. Last week's visitors were German. The father and the two teenage boys were tall, gangling and mild. I met them soon after they had arrived and were unpacking the car. Silent, gnomic presences in the background, the sons continued dutifully with the unloading, leaving it to their parents to interact with the inquisitive natives.

They'd driven from Germany, said the Dad.

Motoring across Belgium and France was easy.

From Dover to Devon was less so. It was an ordeal, frankly. Not the least of their trouble was that somebody had chosen to commit suicide by throwing themselves from a motorway bridge and they'd been stuck in the resulting jam for hours.

A few days later I encountered them again in the driveway as they unpacked the car after a day on the beach. They seemed dazed, perhaps by the blistering heat. 'How are you getting on?' I said. The narrowness of the country lanes was testing his courage, admitted the Dad. The beaches were very nice, though, interpolated the Mum, and the scenery was oh so nice. 'But the people are a little crazy, no?'

She explained that last evening the family was enjoying a quiet meal in a pub when a mass brawl had erupted at the bar. 'We thought the pub looked so nice, so quiet, and we were eating our fish and chips and suddenly everybody was fighting and throwing chairs, ' she said. Then the police came. The situation after that she described as 'very police'. The policewoman who took a statement from them was 'so nice, so beautiful'.

I encountered the family again early next morning. They were sitting in their car about to set off somewhere. Dad looked relieved to see me. He hopped out of the car to pick my brains. They were going on Dartmoor for the day, he said. Could I please give him directions avoiding the narrowest roads if possible, and recommend a nice place to head for? I most certainly could, I said, for little did he know that I am a mad evangelist for the place.

I ran indoors for my Ordinance Survey Outdoor Leisure map 28 held together with orange duct tape. I spread out the map on the bonnet of his car, put my fingernail under Haytor, and suggested he went there. It's a Mecca for day trippers, I said, apologetically. …

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