Monday, 2 May 2011

Torquay not for me

Torquay, Queen of the English Riviera - or so the locals would have one believe. I have actually been to the town three times but it is now a place I avoid. My memories of the town itself are not unpleasant; in fact, I have quite enjoyed my visits. But, despite my memories of the town itself not being unpleasant, the mere mention of the place certainly does give rise to memories that are less pleasant.

It was Friday's royal wedding that made me think of the town again. No, that's not really the case. It wasn't so much the wedding itself, but the fact that yesterday's news was that William and Catherine have postponed their honeymoon. I didn't spend my honeymoon in Torquay - well, not all of it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My first visit to Torquay was more than fifty years ago. I was just 12 and had been seriously ill with pneumonia. I think it was pneumonia that time: it might have been pleurisy - I had that as well - but I think on that occasion it was pneumonia. It had been bad enough for me to have been hospitalised, except that by the time it was realised I was that ill I was too ill to be moved. Quite why it took so long for the doctor to realise I needed hospital treatment I don't know. I was, in any case, too young to even think the question let alone ask it. Anyway, he - the doctor - told my mother that I needed a month on the French Riviera to convalesce. France was right out of the question on the grounds of cost but the English Riviera was accepted as a substitute. My father was at that time in the Navy and there was no chance of him taking a month's leave, so my mother, younger brother and I went off to a guest house in Torquay for pretty well the whole of May.

As far as I can recall, the weather was mainly fine and we spent much of the time on the beach. As a change, we would sometimes go into Tor Abbey Gardens where we might feed the ducks. The gardens were quite a long walk from our guest house and I certainly didn't enjoy that walk back after I had fallen into the duck pond one day.

I mentioned my honeymoon earlier and it was during that holiday that I visited Torquay once more. Torquay is on the south coast of Devon and we were spending our honeymoon in a village in the heart of Exmoor, which is in the north of the county. As I had sold my car to buy furniture, I had hired a car for the week we were away. The weather on one day was not good but we learned that it was fine on the south coast and we decided to drive across the county to Torquay. There were, of course, quite a few years between visits but I remembered a reasonable amount of the town despite the changes which had taken place. We drove on through Dartmouth and decided to take a route back to our village across Dartmoor.

We never did reach Dartmoor. We were driving along a narrow lane just outside Dartmouth when a lorry coming towards us pulled in to one side. In doing so, the driver managed somehow to bump the back of the lorry on the hedge or wall or whatever and it swung across the road, smashing in the bonnet of our hire car. We ended up leaving the car where it was and hitching several rides back across the county. At the end of the honeymoon we caught a train back to Brighton.

Years passed again before I went back to Torquay. This time I had not only a wife but three young children as well. We had for several years taken our holidays in a village close to Westward Ho! in north Devon, but the lady who provided bed, breakfast and an evening meal had given up so we had found a farm in south Devon that year. It was the sort of place we like - stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bus perhaps once a week. One day we decided to take the children to a larger town and decided on Torquay, some 30 miles or more from the farm. The children quite enjoyed the day, until we were on the Exeter bypass heading back to the farm, still 20 miles or so distant. It was then that the gearbox in my brand new car (just 3,000 miles on the clock) seized up. I got the car towed into a garage in Exeter and borrowed the telephone directory. Back then I was a Scout Leader so I looked up the local Scouts to ask advice on a suitable car hire company. The chap I spoke to insisted on leaving his meal and driving us all the way to the farm. This was kind of him, but it did mean I had to get somebody else to drive me back to Exeter the following day to hire a car. Once again I left a car in Devon only this time I had to go back for it two weeks later after it had been repaired.

I'm not prepared to risk Torquay again, nice as the town might be.

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