Some of you may recognise my name from the other North Devon weekly newspaper I have migrated from, but thatâ€™s enough of the â€˜Jâ€™ word! It is a privilege to write for you - and indeed with you - in the relaunched Gazette, which will continue to reflect the pulse of life here in this beautiful county.Â
As a 14-year-old, I delivered newspapers daily to Ilfracombe Road and Ilfracombe Avenue in Southend-on-Sea, not imagining for a moment that decades later I would be settled in that very town, one that was far away, and of which I knew little: nothing, in fact.Â
The dreaded day then was Thursday, when the Southend Standard was published, a paper avidly read by everyone in the town, but was so heavy that the paper round had to be done in two parts.
It was broadsheet size, with nothing but classified ads on its front page. The Standard printed a letter from me once, demanding traffic lights at a dangerous junction near my school, and do you know what? Yes, they were installed within weeks!Â
That convinced me of the power and influence of the local press. The Observers, Advertisers, Mercurys and Echos are always pored over and read by local councillors and MPs, particularly the letters pages, because that is a reliable way of interpreting the mindset of the people they represent.Â
Ilfracombe is a great town to live in. It just feels safe. My insurance company classifies it as urban/rural, but given that there are cows grazing just three minutes from my front door, and that I enjoy a panoramic view of the Bristol Channel, I would add coastal to the description.Â
I can see, too, without shifting from this keyboard, the cruet-set shapes of the Landmark Theatreâ€™s roof. It has an unfortunate nick-name, but letâ€™s not dwell on that.Â
Instead, we rejoice at the tremendous productions staged there by both professional and amateur actors and musicians, particularly from Studio Theatre, now busy rehearsing its Christmas programme in its alternative venue at The Space.Â
Community theatre only thrives when there is a community interested enough to support it. Â
Ilfracombe has a not unenvied reputation for its neighbourliness, but that doesnâ€™t mean everyone is popping in and out of everyone elseâ€™s homes, a lÃ¡ Coronation Street.Â
Instead, there is a sense of ownership of our surroundings. At about this time of year one regularly hears the comment, â€˜Isnâ€™t it nice to have the town back to ourselvesâ€™, and itâ€™s mainly from dog walkers or those who like to sit in solitude on our windy seafront facing an angry, green, winter sea, watching it crash against the sea wall and spraying the benches.Â
Michael Portillo loves the place. He stood high above the harbour on Hillsborough, gasping at its picture postcard vista. Itâ€™s the home of Verity, our controversial, much photographed lady holding aloft her sword of truth and justice. Will Damien Hirst please let us keep her?Â
Now, nobody is stuffing banknotes into my pocket when I add that among our many family-owned businesses is a department store of the old-fashioned kind that will be celebrating its centenary next year.Â
Like Stanley Hollowayâ€™s ditty celebrating â€˜Petticoat Lane on Sundayâ€™, you can get anything in Chas Pedlarâ€™s emporium from a battleship to a bee. If itâ€™s not in stock heâ€™ll get it for you. I borrowed his old, brown, paint spattered shop-coat once, when I played the greengrocer, Mr. Miller, in Goodnight Mr. Tom.Â
Pedlars exemplifies the personal service we appreciate so much in a High Street comprised mainly of small traders.Â
Ilfracombe is, of course, Victoriana par excellence, solid and built to last, as anyone in this town who has attempted to put up some shelves will tell you. You need the kind of drills theyâ€™re using to bore Crossrail through London.Â
Like our capital, Ilfracombe must expand, but letâ€™s hope not too much.
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