Karen and I are back. We have returned from a great three weeks around the south-west of England, mainly in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, although we also journeyed to Canterbury and Cambridge among other little jaunts.

We were both rivetted by many things: the sense of history, the tradition of conserving old buildings to portray that history, the scenic beauty of the Cornwall and Devon northern coasts and so much more. I hope we can say more about the trip at different times, but for now, let me outline one conclusion I reached by the end of the trip: that the English economy these days, particularly to provide employment for the masses, is based on what I have determined are the 5 Ps:

  • Preservation (of old castles, houses and churches, monuments, Roman bridges and roads, and even stonework to prevent or shore up erosion by the sea in harbours, cliff faces or perennially flowing rivers chewing at their banks
  • Praying (the system in vogue of being charged to go into so many of the larger and oldest churches churches these days to view them)
  • Parking (many small villages, with streets small and narrow, now have long- and short-term parking areas charging two quid or three quid for two or three hours, and quite often staff who take the money, direct traffic into bays and issue tickets to offenders)
  • Public Transport (buses which charge around four quid to travel both ways from those parking area to the towns, making a nice quid for the companies, who also employ staff to direct the buses when they are parking to let passengers off and stop traffic so they can)
  • Piddling (It’s now 30p to 50p per piddle in many toilets across the nation, which enables the employment a host of managers and cleaners to make sure things are up to scratch, so to speak.)

The notion of self-help is strongly embedded in the culture. I always recall associating it with Margaret Thatcher, of whom Ronnie Barker once quipped, “I understand our Prime Minister is committed to the new policy of ensuring prisoners in Her Majesty’s Institutions pay ten pounds a week for bed and board.”

But on a complimentary note, I understand that the policy of self-help has generated something like 60 000 volunteers to assist the National Trust. And the way in which the country preserves its heritage and encourages voluntarism is a lesson, if we care to take heed of it.