PEOPLE and CURRENT ISSUES
Five kinds of people live around here:
1. Those who were born here. These are all grand folk. They still have the vendetta and they have a bush telegraph which makes the internet look pathetic. They are rarely academic, but don`t let this fool you into thinking they are daft. Bred from a long tradition of survival in a hostile and isolated place, they just prefer to concentrate on the practicalities of life. There is no modern technology they cannot master. Also they will weigh you up in a trice and treat you with courtesy despite what they think of you.
2. Those who work in tourism. These are the ones who will take your money, and they include some from above and some tourists who wouldn’t go home. They are like small businessmen everywhere. They always have a bad season and always buy a new car every year and go on at least one long-haul holiday. Within the community, however, they are generous to a fault. Ambleside is famous for its support of charities and these people are second to none in giving. They give away goods for prizes, they give donations, they give their precious time (out of main season). The jobs they provide are all we`ve got.
3. Those who came here to die. These are a mixture. They have time on their hands, if not on their side. Some are totally brilliant. They do voluntary work and the brainy ones join the University of the Third Age. Some of them are community minded. Others are very concerned to “protect” the area and do the National Park Authority’s job for it. They derive their income from elsewhere and some of them would like tourism to contract to the point where they didn`t notice it, regardless of the effect on others’ livelihoods. They campaign for olde worlde lamp posts and the restoration of dangerous cobbles, and they idealise the Lake District of 150 years ago when lots of locals were starving, emigrating and living till they were 40.
4. Tourists. These are the lifeblood of the town and we are glad they continue to arrive. We also wish they`d go away, such is the lot of those who can never call their territory their own. This contradiction causes us to have personality problems. Tourists are made very welcome except when they come in vast groups and all arrange to meet in the same tiny pub at the same time. We work very hard to give them what they like in the way of food, accommodation and things to take home. They sometimes ask silly questions, which makes our day. Like “Is this the ferry for the Isle of Man?” at the lake pier. They are all made very welcome, until they threaten to stay.
5. Students. These study education at the Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria (previously St. Martins College, and Charlotte Mason College) and live in the second homes which have been converted into bedsits by their owners to pay the mortgage. Some work in pubs and cafés. Their nose and navel studs provoke comments like ‘would you want that teaching your kids?’ from locals who know from experience that some of them get to like Ambleside so much that they will remain here after their courses and try to get jobs teaching our children. They represent a welcome influx of fresh style and talent from outside the area.
For the interested outside observer, it is useful to remember that most of these groupings dislike each other intensely. If you imagine that you are going to find a haven here of peace and harmony among the tranquil valleys, forget it. Born and bred locals resent offcomers who prosper while they don’t. Business interests resent the interference of the retired conservationists who try to dominate amenity groups and the local councils, in order to object to development. Retired conservationists hate everyone who commits the sacrilege of trying to promote tourism in their chosen paradise. Everybody smiles with one face at the tourists as they take their money, and smirks at them with the other as the rain pours down. So it’s no different from where you live, unless you’re holed up in a city and you don’t even know what your neighbour looks like.
These are many and are mainly caused by the five categories of people above plus those who don`t live here but think they know what`s best for the Lake District. They really mean what`s best for what they think the Lake District should be and they sometimes forget about those who actually live here and need to make a living.
- Here are some issues:
- overpriced housing due to holiday home market
- high cost of living, due to high rates caused by inflated property values and lack of large discount retailers
- no diversity of employment, due to draconian development restrictions, causing over-dependence on tourism and its usually low wage levels and working hours which disrupt family and social life, causing talented young people to emigrate.
- Lack of adequate car parking, due to the National Park Authority’s policy of making life difficult for motorists in case more come. (More still come.)
For a serious examination of these issues, read People in the Park, which argues that the National Parks Act discriminates against local residents.
These are only three of many fascinating imponderables:
- Is it true that ewes are a temptation for virile shepherds in high and hidden places?
- Does cock-fighting continue in lonely secret barns on wild dark nights?
- Is it true that unlawful liasons (historically necessary in small isolated communities) still go on behind the closed doors of remote dwellings?
Regrettably, because of the insatiable desire of travel writers and promoters of tourism to turn every facet of Lakeland life into an Attraction, we cannot supply the answers to these questions. It is said, however, that the nearest thing yet to total chaos is Ambleside on Fathers’ Day.