Dabbler Diary – The Tesco at the End of the World

There are two kinds of beach holiday: nice relaxing ones in hot countries; and British ones, with children. A British beach holiday with children is a series of logistical problems, and if pleasure is to be found for adults it is in the sense of achievement afforded by overcoming them. Three times in the last week we erected our windbreak and beach tent in different problematical conditions: at Woolacombe in sunshine but while trying to manage an overexcited three year-old and a just-crawling baby; at Croyde in the teeth of a sou’westerly gale; and at Saunton on unexpectedly rock-hard sand. But there is a profound satisfaction in huddling together in the tent, safe from the British elements (if the sun is too weak to burn you then the wind will instead), cradling a coffee and watching the kids go mental against a sublime backdrop of cliff, sea and cloud-spattered sky.


Children seem to be instinctively happier when amongst extended family – as if they like to be in a clan – and when they’re very happy, they express this through bloodcurdling screams. At Croyde once my father and I decided to count how frequently a horrible scream could be heard on a crowded beach. It was every three seconds.


Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton are the holy trinity of North Devon beaches, in an area that has largely avoided uglification (I discount from that assessment the grisly Damien Hirst-cursed town of Ilfracombe) and in many ways is much improved in recent decades. The village where my parents live punches well above its weight in pubs and grub and now boasts two really excellent bistro-style restaurants. Otherwise it is mostly known to tourists for the constant holiday-season traffic jam, resulting from its location around a key crossroads on the route from the M5 to the resorts. Locals have talked for years about the possibility of a by-pass to alleviate the Braunton Jam, but I suspect it would be the death of the place. Without the free advertising provided by the leisurely crawl past its surf shops and cafes and excellent bistro-style restaurants, it seems highly unlikely that any would survive. Those tedious traffic lights are like a net to catch visitors and the village depends on them.


I discount also from the above assessment of non-uglification the giant wind turbines that now dominate the landscape above the Taw and Torridge estuary near Barnstaple. There are no words to express how much I hate wind farms. I have also privately vowed that I will punch squarely in the face the next person I hear say: “Well I think they’re quite pretty actually.” It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks they’re quite pretty: the point is that they irrevocably and wholly transform the look and feel of the landscape, which will have been the reason that many residents chose to live there in the first place. The aesthetic argument therefore only cuts one way. My vow extends also to politicians or celebrities who utter the ‘quite pretty’ sentiment on television while I happen to be watching. Obviously I might not be able to punch them squarely in the face immediately, but one day, and when they least expect it, I will be there, ready, with my fist, to punch them squarely in the face.


Talking of violence, I assume that the frog perched in the tree with a long lens taking pictures of our future Queen is the final straw personified, and we will imminently be declaring war on France. This phoney ‘peace’ has been going on for far too long, it ain’t natural.


I’m currently reading Corduroy, an ill-titled but thoroughly absorbing account of agricultural life in 1920s Suffolk written by Adrian Bell (father of white-suited protest-MP Martin). It’s a beautiful paperback edition published by our friends Slightly Foxed and is highly recommended. The central tension in most rural writing, it seems to me, is that between the convenience of progress and the rhythms and accumulated knowledge of traditional ways of life. Because the human lifespan is so short, these ‘traditions’ seem ancient if they’re a few generations old, but the reality is that everything is always changing – either growing or decaying – and at any point in time you choose the older generation are lamenting a lost world.


If you walk down Braunton’s Field Lane in the dying light of a September evening – the end of the holiday season – you will pass a row of cottages long-weathered by the wind that carries the salt of the Atlantic and the sand of the Burrows across the medieval farm-strips of the Great Field. You will experience existential sadness and sweet melancholy. You will also pass the weary cricket club (where in a testimonial match once I saw Graham Dilley begin his run-up on the boundary; and where a young Graeme Hick meanly refused to give me his autograph) and the utterly exhausted Sea Scouts hut. You can then pass through a gate into a jarring new-build housing estate consisting of those very tall but tiny-roomed town-houses they put up everywhere these days. And if you pass through that estate you will suddenly encounter, hard against the lonely Field with the dunes and the ocean beyond, battered by the salt and sand and rain, a bloody great Tesco. It is like the Tesco at the End of the World. My father goes there a lot, it is very convenient. He informs me, with amusement, that they recently had scaffolding up on all the new build houses: the roofs were leaking already.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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16 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – The Tesco at the End of the World

  1. Worm
    September 17, 2012 at 09:28

    Corduroy sounds good – I have another book by Adrian Bell called Men and the Fields, I didn’t know that he had written any more, but MATF is a very good book, extremely similar in theme to Blythe’s Akenfield. (My copy has a foreword by Blythe and illustrations by John Nash) That era of ye old ways rural writing is part of that big wave of 1930’s nostalgia for the Edwardian/Victorian era (as is the case that every cyclical wave of nostalgia always harks back to a point exactly 20 years previously, ergo current fashion mirrors Grunge)

  2. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    September 17, 2012 at 10:07

    Ah dear boy, If you think hauling sprogs along the golden sweep of the south west’s sandy strips problematical, consider the unfortunate Northumbrians. Bamburgh, a splendid shell strewn edifice used as the backdrop in movies and ads for motors, yummy I hear you say. However, the summit of the Dent Blanche has less inclement weather, in winter. We will not even mention Druridge, that spume flecked eastern edge of the Radar North open cast coal mine, the majestic roar of dragline excavators ever in ones consciousness.

    The dastardly frogs, what can one say, brings a whole new meaning the term royal knockers.

    • Brit
      September 17, 2012 at 21:31

      I guess there’s always someone having a worse British holiday than you, eh….

  3. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    September 17, 2012 at 11:58

    Corduroy sounds like it is in the tradition of John Stewart Collis’ ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’. All heavily inspired by the desire to forget the horrors visited upon us by modernity in the form of the Great War.

  4. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    September 17, 2012 at 14:46

    Well I think they’re quite pretty actually…

    • Brit
      September 17, 2012 at 21:30

      Prepare your face for a square punching, JJJJnr. It could come at any time in the next 20 years.

  5. davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
    September 17, 2012 at 14:46

    To tie two of your disparate threats together, we had the clan over yesterday, 18 of us all told including five five and under. A niece decided she needed Mommy NOW! My son, 19 and in college, had his first “woe be unto our fallen modern mores” moment. Undoubtedly he remembers with bitterness our constant stifling of his natural exuberance and compares it unfavorablly to our new lax discipline evidenced by our less-than-admirable failure to swat the offending niece on her diapered rear.

    I remember it differently, of course.

    • Brit
      September 17, 2012 at 21:32

      And I’m sure it won’t be his last such moment. Good lad.

  6. philipwilk@googlemail.com'
    September 17, 2012 at 15:34

    Adrian Bell wrote quite a lot. After Corduroy came Silver Ley and The Cherry Tree, both in the same vein (continuing what Penguin, in their early editions, called his ‘Yeoman Autobiography’) and both worth reading though not perhaps quite as good as the first book. There are several other books that I’ve not read, including Apple Acre, about farming during the Second World War. Maybe there is more scope here for Little Toller Books, who have reissued MATF, to do new editions of some of these.

  7. philipwilk@googlemail.com'
    September 17, 2012 at 15:36

    Doing things in the wrong order as usual, I just looked at Little Toller’s website. They are reissuing Apple Acre.

  8. Brit
    September 17, 2012 at 21:36

    Thanks Philip.

    Further to Worm and Recusant’s comments, the Bell of ‘Corduroy’ seems to primarily want to escape modernity in the form of Bohemian life in London.

    And apparently the book was popular with soldiers in WWII, because of its nostalgic and comforting view of rural English life.

    • Wormstir@gmail.com'
      September 17, 2012 at 22:06

      Thanks for extra info Brit, I can well believe Bells books to be popular for Tommies far from home. I have heard similar things about Robert Gibbings’ ‘Sweet Thames Run Softly’ that came out in 1940 at the darkest hour of the war and which sold by the bucketload.

      Is there a word for ‘pre-emptive nostalgia’? Where people dose up on nostalgia for something before it’s gone, just in case they don’t see it again?

  9. alasguinns@me.com'
    Hey Skipper
    September 18, 2012 at 02:49

    20 some odd wind turbines recently erupted from the island about a mile off Anchorage.

    Directly in the way of one of the most majestic views anywhere.

    And since their backers’ projections are so optimistic as to make even Pollyanna blush, we will be shoveling great piles of money at them until the end of time.

    A blight that never stops giving.

  10. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    John Halliwell
    September 18, 2012 at 07:28

    Lovely stuff, Brit. What a wonderful lead-up to ‘a bloody great Tesco’; poetic: like caressing Meryl Streep while she whispers a Shakespeare sonnet in your earhole; leading you to think you’re in with a chance of ecstasy, then being kneed in the goolies. I mention the great actress simply because during a holiday based near Chardstock in Devon I felt an overwhelming urge to visit Lyme Regis and walk along The Cobb in the footsteps of Meryl. What with the wind and wet rock I thought at one point I might be picked up and thrown over the side; those hooded cloaks and long dresses are a bloody menace when a sou’wester gets up.

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