I spent an hour in Torquay today. It’s never been a favourite place but I try sometimes to like it, after all thousands of tourists arrive each year so it must be okay mustn’t it? The pedestrianised town has some of the usual chains and an awful lot of hideous souvenir shops, selling the same tat they sold when I was a child. Do people really want to buy plastic dinosaur ornaments with Torquay emblazoned? Along the sea front sits a theatre where the annual pantomime is performed by F listed soap stars and in the next few months, The Dreamboys full frontal tour – spare me, and the Grimethorpe Colliery band – probably the most talented of the bunch! The beach itself is narrow, but nice for winter sunsets when you can’t see the kiss me quickers.
Tourist ‘attractions’ include a model village (very clever and a bit twee) and Kents cavern (beautiful prehistoric caves) which is listed as a wedding venue, presumably for those of us who would like to re-enact the Flintstones. Between lovely parkland and the esplanade there is a large balloon thingy that allows you to rise directly above the bay, for the views, while remaining tethered to the ground. The hotel used for filming Fawlty towers is somewhere in Torquay, can’t think of anywhere more appropriate.
Torquay has a darker side and I don’t just mean the troublesome night clubs. It’s the drug capital of the South West, filled with dealers who moved down from places like Nottingham and Liverpool, having spent their childhood holidays in the caravan parks. Until they become OAP’s (if they’re spared) and sit in deck chairs on the seafront, with their heads under tabloid newspapers, they will happily prey on the users they have hooked. These dealers have a hierarchy; very, very evident today were the scruffy, jeans sliding down, yobs in small huddles just off the main streets. More worrying are the big boys in their own sleazy underworld. Torquay has a very busy drug and alcohol service and there are hostels in what were once tourist hotels and are now crumbling dives. I found it interesting today to see one of the town councils attempts to deal with the problems, public toilets where 20 pence is charged to help them keep them clean and safe for ‘us’, no doubt it also helps to pay for the sharps disposal container provided inside.
My visit was brief this time. I didn’t stroll beside the marina with its berths full of very expensive yachts, or drive along the exclusive Ilsham Marine Drive, dreaming of a lottery win. Instead I came back, thankful that Exeter (though not perfect) with its clean streets, history and culture is home. It seems that a journalist in the Independent thinks so too http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/sick-of-the-south-east-then-emigrate-to-exeter-6282484.html?fb_action_ids=10150443679332742&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_source=other_multiline but I really wish he didn’t, maybe he could big up Torquay instead.