Here at WASD we recently ran an article called ‘Torquay Peculiar’ on what made our town unusual. There followed a bit of legitimate criticism that we were being too negative. Admittedly, many of the things that we mentioned were problems of affluence: we die of age-related diseases because we’re living so long; heroin gets to the Bay because of international travel; some of us are obese because we can eat what we want.
We needed a balance so, without going over the top and focusing too much on “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” , here are some reasons to be cheerful in Torquay:
• You’re reading this. Average life expectancy at birth was about 35 years in the middle ages – only 50% of the people born reached that age, with 25% dying died before they were 5 years old. In 2015 life expectancy was 79 for a man in the UK and 83 for a woman. By 2030, the average life expectancy for women will rise to 88 – for men, it is predicted to increase to 85. Someone born today will probably see their 150th birthday.
• You can read this. In 1800 only about 60% of men and 45% of women could read.
• Your toilet is indoors and you don’t have to share it with 30 other people
• Torquay doesn’t smell of raw sewage. If you went back to 1830 that would be the first thing you would probably notice.
• A cut finger won’t kill you. For many thousands of years it could have done.
• You’re not likely to see a major outbreak of a fatal disease – 60 people were buried in mass grave called Cholera Corner in Torre in 1849
• We’ve already conquered many diseases. We may not be far off in finding ways to tackle some of the major killers of our time – cancer, dementia, heart disease and strokes.
• You’re not likely to be attacked from the sea by Vikings (who were in the Bay in the tenth century), have cannons fired at you (by Spaniards in the sixteenth century, the Dutch in 1690, the French in the seventeenth century), be sold into slavery by Barbary Pirates, or be torpedoed (by German U Boats).
• The Nazis won’t drop bombs on you. Between 1939-45 Torquay suffered 21 German raids causing 165 deaths and over 150 civilian casualties and ‘several military’ – at the time the numbers of military casualties were not revealed.
- You can vote – after a long struggle men got full voting rights in 1918, women couldn’t vote until 1928
• Torquay’s police shouldn’t victimise you or chase you out of town because of the way you dress – they used to
• You can be of any religion you want without fear of being persecuted, burned or hanged
• You can be an atheist without the authorities assuming you’re also a communist
• You won’t be hanged at Gallows Gate, or be branded or whipped if you commit a minor crime
• People don’t go to prison for being gay – they used to until 1967.
• You can question or be disrespectful to priests, politicians, the police and royalty without being beaten, jailed or disappearing
• You can get another job if you want – for a thousand years people were tied to one ‘employer’
• We’re on the verge of another technological revolution – boring, repetitive and dangerous jobs could disappear within a decade. We’ll have to figure out how people get their money but, for the first time in human history, a majority of us will have abundant free time
• You don’t need to sell your body to survive – in 1880 around 1 in 12 Torquay women was a prostitute
• You can get divorced if things don’t work out
• Women can have children if they want to and when they want to
• Rape isn’t a normal part of human relations
• You wont be sent to Newton Abbot’s Workhouse if you fall on hard times
• You’ve got 100 TV channels… there’s usually nothing worth watching but that’s not the point. You can also re-watch things you’ve missed, anywhere, at any time. The first consumer videocassette recorder was only introduced by Sony in 1971.
• You’re never going to experience real hunger in your life.
• You can eat what you like when you like. With refrigeration and modern shipping you don’t have to rely on what someone has carried by cart from Newton Abbot
• You can travel anywhere in the world. For most of our history the majority never travelled more than 50 miles from where they were born
• You can buy anything you want from anywhere in the world, instantly
• You can get to Newton Abbot in fifteen minutes
• You can live anywhere else in the world – but why would you?
… and here’s the incomparable Ian Dury with even more reasons to be cheerful: