Magazine article The Spectator

Second-Home Owners Are Local Heroes

Magazine article The Spectator

Second-Home Owners Are Local Heroes

Article excerpt

AS the proud new owners of an ancient farmhouse in Somerset, we are more overexcited than most about the big property news down our way. Briefly, a chap called Jack Ellerby, a planning officer with Exmoor National Park, has plans to thwart the sale of houses like ours (i.e. in the national park) to people like us (i.e. those who spend fewer than six months a year on Exmoor).

Before this bombshell dropped, we escaped from Somerset to spend a weekend with friends near St Ives. As you know, Cornwall is all beach-blonde hair, rippling bodies in black-rubber wetsuits, and weather. So, on the Saturday, my husband - who, far from being a surfer dude, never removes his shoes and socks on a beach - took himself off to the Tate Gallery St Ives, leaving his family huddled over pasties on Godrevy sands.

I invite you to imagine him: solo, contemplating an Anthony Gormley sculpture of a baby placed on the floor of a white, otherwise empty room. He has his shoes and socks on; he is blissfully sand- and child-free; he is - apart from a solitary attendant - alone and at peace for the first time in his two-week holiday.

Suddenly, the door opens. A head pops round, and then a trouser-suited body. It is - who else? - Cherie Blair. She is followed by a hunted-looking Tony with Baby Leo. They stand inspecting the Gormley sculpture of the baby. Baby Leo is shown the sculpture. After a while, my husband - once a lobby correspondent - reintroduces himself. They exchange pleasantries. My husband cannot exactly ask, `So, what've you been up to, then, since I last saw you at the Cohse conference in Bridlington?' or even, `What are you doing here?'

Everyone knew that the Blairs were in Cornwall on a busman's holiday on behalf of the British tourist industry. Their noses were being kept to the grindstone, as we heard on BBC Radio Cornwall, which was running a Blair Watch Project (callers would ring in to report where the First Family had had their cream tea that day). So it was left to Blair to pop the question.

`What are you doing here, are you living down here now?' asks Mr Blair. `No,' my husband replies. `I'm on holiday.' The Prime Minister looks sceptical, as if he suspects my husband of driving all the way from London to St Ives accidentally on purpose to bump into him by the baby sculpture. `That's right. On holiday with my family,' my husband repeats, to a slightly disbelieving Mr Blair.

When my husband told me of his sparkling exchange with the PM, I realised the following: holidaying in Britain is almost beyond the elite's frame of reference; so is living anywhere but London. One lives in London and holidays abroad; Umbria, the Hamptons, that sort of thing. …

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