Tuesday, July 26, 2005

26 July 2005: Plymouth

"Characterless, tacky, depressing and disappointing" are just some of the criticisms leveled at the city.

So says a BBC news article reporting the disappointment of visitors to the historic, beautiful city of Plymouth. *cough*. Beautiful, really.

Apparently some foolish people have been trying to attract tourists on cruise liners to Plymouth, attempting to sell its natural harbour and naval history. And the tourists, perhaps understandably, have been less than impressed. "We still have an image of a quaint seafaring town with lots of history and character. What we get is none of that. Instead a moderately impressive natural harbour and not much else," says another visitor.

This is because Plymouth is a city where people live and work, a city bombed to pieces in World War II and rebuilt on a very low budget afterwards. Some of the most striking parts of the city are those that were not repaired (Charles Church, for instance), but unfortunately most of the city was. The naval heritage means not only does Plymouth boast a large nuclear naval base (oo, let's visit that, mommy) but that Union Street is famous for providing 'entertainment' for visiting sailors down the years in the form of both licensed premises and of course the world's oldest business. The dockyard is the mainstay of the town's industry and financial income, although the current 'tourist' push is attempting to add a second. Plymouth is dirty, smelly, over-stretched and has a chav scene rivaled only by Portsmouth.

But here's the thing. It's home for me. I remember the smell of fish in the early morning down at the Barbican, fresh catches from the little trawlers that used to populate what is now the Marina. I remember playing with the remote-control boats at the park up on the Hoe, how you could get five minutes for ten pence and how I never thought it was long enough. I remember lunch at Perilla's chippy (or the restaurant, if we were feeling posh or it was my birthday), Ivor Dewdney's large traditionals (which frankly have got smaller over the years, and it's not just me getting bigger), Christmas shopping followed by afternoon tea at La Croquambouche (sugar frosting on tall glasses of coca-cola, mmm!), nights out with friends that ended with a visit to Cap'n Jaspers or a stroll up to Devil's Point to watch the boats in the Sound and August's shooting stars.

It's all changing, of course. The Barbican is much improved since the development of the Marina and the Aquarium, and even Cap'n Jaspers has moved from the little caravan to a more permanent kiosk. The Drake Circus shopping centre, a shameless rip-off of West Quay except without one of its key bookends since Allders went bust, promises to offer you shopping in exactly the same stores as before, except now they're all in one place and under cover. Plymouth Argyle have three-quarters of a very good-looking all-seater stadium, and council leader Tudor Evans has promised news on 'Phase Two', the replacement for the Grandstand and Mayflower, before the start of the new season (better get your skates on Tudor, Aug 6th approaches fast). And all of it designed to take Plymouth away from its post-war look and into something more befitting the city of Francis Drake, Michael Foot and Trevor Francis.

But no matter what they do, the tourists will be disappointed. Partly because there's no beach (really, there is no beach, although you can go swimming at Tinside if you like), but mainly because Plymouth isn't - and can't be - the quaint fishing village and tall ships harbour that visitors want it to be. It's home to a quarter of a million people with strange Janner accents and that isn't going to change.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Footnote: thanks to Rob for the original link, what were 'ee doing looking at a Plymuff page, mate? You'm finkin' uv goin' down vere an' tryin' a foo pasties?

1 comment:

Nick Gibbins said...

For what it's worth, I liked Plymouth. Then again, I was born in darkest south Essex (Romford, to be precise), so my tastes are probably somewhat warped.

Still can't stand Southampton, though.