Maid in Devon: Pat Keenor talks about Devon’s visitors

Pat Keenor

Pat Keenor - Credit: Archant

This month our columnist PAT KEENOR ruminates on the wrong attitudes from a certain kind of visitor who is not entirely welcome…

I like to think I’m a woman of the world. I occasionally go on holiday abroad, I read widely and after more than 30 years working in the media there’s very little that surprises me. So nothing annoys the hell out of me more than people making assumptions about me on the basis of my age, the way I look, the way I talk or where I live.

Us locals down yer in Devon suffer from this a lot. If you have any kind of an accent you are immediately labelled a carrot-crunching village idiot with straw for brains. As George Bernard Shaw said: “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”

I am, of course, being a little hypocritical because it works the other way. If I never hear another braying woman wittering on about the authentic pashmina she bought for Jocasta while on holiday in Kashmir, it won’t be a day too soon.

My friend, born and bred on a Devon farm, was chatting in the village pub to a couple who had just moved into the area. The conversation turned to food and the different varieties of bread. “We like ciabatta,” said the woman, “but I expect it’s really difficult to get around here.” My friend answered dryly: “Not that difficult. I bought some in Tesco the other day.” The woman smiled but continued to chatter on about bread, giving detailed descriptions of focaccia and sourdough like a teacher lecturing a class of ten-year-olds.

Even so, we simple country souls have no problem with incomers, recognising the contribution most of them make to the local community. We might be galled at the plethora of second homes with weekend visitors buying their provisions from a little delicatessen in Notting Hill and ignoring the local shops but we do draw the line at being treated as simpletons. Or worse, a different species.

They corner us in our natural habitat, the pub on a Saturday evening, and capture one of us, usually the oldest and scruffiest, and force him to perform. For the price of a drink they expect ‘the local character’ to entertain them. Old George may decide to play up to the stereotype and tell exaggerated stories in an impenetrable accent. He’ll take the role in exchange for free cider all night. He’ll then go home to running his agricultural business which employs 200 staff.

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This is harmless enough but there are those who expect to tame one of us and take us into captivity. They want their own ‘little man’ or ‘little woman’ who they can train to perform menial tasks. They can then tell their friends, “I’ve found the most perfect little gardener. Of course, I can’t trust him with my azaleas but he can do the small stuff.”

They leave a long list of tasks that if performed properly would take the best part of a day, but pay for two hours. They treat the cleaner like a Victorian downstairs maid. If they had a range, they’d be making her black-lead it. The under gardener and the downstairs maid have bald patches and dodgy knees, what with all that tucking of forelocks and bobbing curtseys.

My partner makes bespoke furniture; he’s cabinet maker, a craftsman, justifiably proud of his work. But some people, charging hundreds of pounds an hour for their professional expertise somehow seem to think he should charge minimum wage for his. Not only that but he should abandon a £25,000 job to pop round and fix a faulty hinge – and be grateful for the work. They look askance when the reply is: “Sorry, mate, I’m a bit busy.”

This may sound like we’re an unwelcoming, insular bunch, but we’re not. Our pubs are full of people who have moved here from other parts of the country. They have settled in and made friends - because they try to join in without taking over and because they are, I don’t know, just NORMAL people not trying to put on an act. We are a peaceable tribe on the whole. It’s just that we can spot a phoney from the other side of a swede field.