Father Tooting used to joke, when returning to his South Wales motherland, "ladies and gentlemen, you are now arriving in Glamorgan. Please set your watches back fifty years." He joked about it, but it irritated him too. He was irked that a part of our small country could be so neglected that it's allowed to stagnate. In his mind, that nothing changes, and everything stays the same, that groceries are still delivered by John the Van once a week, and that banking is done in the front room on Maggie the Bank every second Thursday, that buses only run to Neath twice a day, is only negative.
Today I'll be on the 6:20pm from Waterloo to go to Devon for the weekend. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to East Devon. Please set your watches back fifty years." And it's only positive.
Since I was seven, the first two weeks of August have been spent in a small fishing village in East Devon. We used to stay in a B&B inland, but only for a couple of years. Now it's all about the village. Mother and Father Tooting have been there since last Saturday. By now, there will be a fridge full of half portions of this, and slices of that, and a half done jigsaw on the table. Cakes bought at the W.I. bakesale will have been plundered and the tin of sweets saved each year from Christmas will be down to only the orange creams and the toffee pennies. I know this, because it's the same every year.
Tomorrow morning, I'll be woken by the sound of sea-gulls ark-ark-arking as they wheel past the window. Pa will have first shower, then pop to the bakery whilst Ma has her shower. Once the hot water tank is empty, I'll be given a slot in the bathroom ...
I'll walk out the back way to be able to see a little more of the village, then down Fore Street, lined with thatched cottages and with a brook running between the road and pavement. The house on the right will have a stall at the side selling second hand books with an honesty box. The Big Man's Shop on the right will have some 8XL (no exaggeration) T-Shirts reduced to clear. There will be a Brownie & Guide tombola at the Mariner's Hall, at which all the prizes will be grubby and second hand. The old cake shop at the bottom of the street, run by a lady who turned 80 at least five years ago will have as many wasps in the window as Chelsea buns.
And the beach will be a beautiful arc of smooth grey pebbles, punctuated with the odd fishing boat and some well ordered rows of deck chairs. Tea will be served in a china pot, and milk in a mis-matched jug. Slices of chocolate sponge will stand six inches high in the middle, and will be served with clotted cream, whether you want it or not.
And I will sit in my deck chair, with my feet on the railings, reading a book, watching the tide creep in, and out, and listening to the chatter of old friends who also spend the first two weeks of August revisiting a village where time stands still.
I'm back on Tuesday, folks. I'll bring you back some fudge.