04/07/2003
 

:claudia's column: england's exotic islands

 

   
       

Somewhere happened to me recently that restored my faith in the English people. I had started using my Italian or Russian passport since the war, so embarrassed was I of my British citizenship when travelling around Europe. It was requested that I make a recce to some remote Islands off the coast of Cornwall called the Scilly Isles, in search of a rare wild flower that completes the mystical scent of our perfume 'Sabotage'.

   
       
The Gamine scientists have been working terribly hard producing 'Sabotage' for our demanding public and have been finding it difficult to acquire all the necessary ingredients. One team has been sent to the Brazilian jungle to persuade a family of insects to spend more time copulating in order that we can collect their pheromones, which when added to the perfume give it that distinctive kick. Naturally wanting to do my bit, I accepted the mission - to locate this delicate flower and then charm the Duchy of Cornwall in order to procure some land from it, so that we can grow our blossoms in the unique climate of Scilly in which they are happiest. Quite unwittingly, I was about to discover a peculiarly exotic place.    
       

As soon as I boarded the Scillonian 3, the little ship that carried Nelson and I to our destination, I began to notice unusual behaviour from the passengers. Nelson and I sat at the bar of the ship observing these people and their dogs. Everybody was talking with one another most contentedly, passing each other little triangular-shaped sandwiches, which all seemed pleasant and fine until I overheard quite an elderly lady say, "... and which part of Derbyshire are you from?", and it dawned on me that some of these people had never met each other before, yet all were behaving in such a friendly fashion. As I marvelled at this, it then occurred to me that nobody was behaving towards me with the reverence I have come to expect, being in Gamine all these years. After engaging in one of these conversations myself, something more shocking became apparent. Most of these kindly people had no idea who or what Gamine was. So old fashioned and untouched was the existence of Scilly's inhabitants and its visitors that the Gamine empire had hardly made an impact.    
 

 

   

With missionary zeal, I set about enlightening these good people on some of the fundamental principles of our philosophy. While proselytising on the subject of glamour and illusion in Gaminism, the grey clouds that had surrounded our vessel since our departure, aptly lifted, revealing a sky of unabashed azure, and flashing a sea which the Caribbean had left behind a long time ago. Simultaneously, a heavenly scent that I recognised well from the fashionable ladies of London and Paris, wafted over the bow of the boat, and into view came the pink fields of sea thrift and mesembryanthemums, and the silhouettes of palm trees that protruded from the horizon of the islands.

   
       
All the passengers removed the anoraks they had been travelling in and disembarked into the sunshine, as did Nelson and I, trying to conceal our amazement. Giant lupins taller then townhouses loomed over little pebbledash cottages, and daisies the size of footballs made borders for stepping-stone paths. Robust looking, oversized pansies and chrysanthemums in colours that do not exist in mainland Britain, dominated chamomile lawns and crowded round the bottom of the red telephone boxes. If it had not looked so jolly I might have been very afraid. The other thing that made the little port we had landed in look so extraordinary, was the absence of any cars. This explained the apparent simplicity of the people on the boat. They clearly did not have any facilities to play our records and still thought music was fun with a harmonium. The Scillonians were living in a timewarp - I even saw some people still wearing those synthetic fleeces and clogs.    
       
Not someone who is usually that sentimental, I did find it charming. Here was the answer to that melancholy desire to escape the dour drudgery of Britain for those who cannot help being squeamish about all things foreign. A contradiction that I feel characterises the British proletariat and the bourgeoisie.    
       
Sailing around the islands for a few days, I became familiar with the ways and customs of the island people. They are uncommonly easy to understand, all speaking with the broad BBC accent of the sixties. Their manners are unaffected, they are not at all shy and will come up to you and try to talk to you at any opportunity, yet they are always dressed modestly, covering up their innocence. Like most island people they are proud and do not take kindly to new-fangled inventions, although they took to the Gamine doctrine with a voracity that could not have been anticipated. I suspect they had been starved of style and sophistication, the poor wretches.    
       
Suffice it to say, it was a successful trip, the 'Sabotage' flowers were found in abundance and the Duke of Cornwall is a soft touch, being an avid fan himself. I obtained a splendid tan, and Nelson and I had some magnificent hacks. I wanted to share this place with you, beloved readers, in case you were suffering from the trappings of modern civilisation in all its desperate, generic, avaricious objectives and wanted to return even just for a weekend to a simpler way of being. Although in the unlikely event of your wanting to escape from Gamine's omnipotence, I am afraid it is too late for the Scillies, you will find even the puffins squawking 'Westport Lake' merrily to themselves.