A Devon councillor claims pessimistic weather forecasters are ruining tourism in the UK – but visitors are more likely to be put off by Britons themselves
Among the most atrocious of English marketing excuses is the atrocious English weather. Whenever retail figures disappoint, it is the weather that is to blame. It was either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. The urge to shop, it seems, is a climatic phenomenon.
Others, too, castigate the weather for their misfortune. Farmers have more excuse than most, though you will notice that the skies are never quite right for their purposes. Racehorse trainers – and those eternal optimists, the punters – have a ready explanation for misfortune: the going was either too soft or too firm.
Now, in a creative twist on a familiar theme, the tourist industry in the West Country is blaming not the weather, but the weather forecasters for a disappointing number of visitors this year. Local authorities in Devon and Cornwall claim tourists are being kept away by warnings of wind and rain that turn out to be false.
Humphrey Temperley, a Devon county councillor, says modern forecasters are “unnecessarily depressing” in their outlook. “They have got to think about the economic impact of what they are doing,” he adds.
A couple of weeks ago, he says, the forecasters predicted bleak weather for the region, only for it to be bathed in glorious sunshine – in the rays of which basked and frolicked an insufficiency of grockles.
There is plainly a marketing problem here that needs to be addressed. It is a challenge made in heaven – or in the heavens – for one or more of London’s contingent of exquisitely manicured PR girls. The weather in the West Country needs an image makeover so that whatever the forecasters might predict, the tourists will turn up. It is not for me to prejudge the methods of the PR girls or to pretend to comprehend their skills and arts. Even so, I would guess that no major facelift of this magnitude could be contemplated without the co-operation of some lovely celebrities. Station platforms throughout the country could be lined with posters of much loved personalities such as Rosie Boycott, David Miliband and the gorgeous Carol Vorderman, each grinning from beneath an umbrella and saying: “Come on Down to Lorna Doone Country, the Water’s Lovely.” And: “Wind and Rain are what Huddles and Snuggles are made for. Go West to the Home of Huddles.”
Devon and Cornwall would need to be rebranded. The Gold Coast, perhaps. Or the Peninsular Paradise, Home of the Meat Pasty. To get the weather forecasters onside, the bulletins should be sponsored by those sons and daughters of fun, the hoteliers and landladies. Which raises a problem far greater and more intractable than bands of precipitation sweeping in from the Atlantic.
If I may intrude a personal note, I once holidayed in the West Country. My recollection of that dismal week is not the awful weather but the awful welcome. Devon and Cornwall was a land of prohibitions, bans and interdictions. The beautiful country lanes and villages were disfigured with notices, each forbidding some or other activity. No parking. No Stopping. No Picnicking. Keep Out. Private. No Right of Way. Keep Off the Verge. Do Not Walk on the Grass. No Thoroughfare.
It was impossible to escape the conclusion that tourists were a bloody nuisance and that in an ideal world, they would introduce their money to the region but not themselves. I have sympathy with that view. The most persuasive reason for holidaying abroad is not to escape the English weather but to escape the English. Were I resident in the West Country, I too would view an annual invasion of tourists with horror and foreboding.
One of the myths in which we as an island race have cloaked ourselves is that we are a diffident, private people, not given to displaying emotion. In truth, we are a loud, foul-mouthed, boorish, ill-mannered, drunken and potentially violent lot, whose children are disquietingly miniature versions of ourselves. Not only do we act like savages, we look like them. We are fat, tattooed, shaven-headed if male, dyed if female. In summer, we wear a uniform of three-quarter-length shorts (tassels at the hem if we are dressing up) and a football shirt. In winter we wear tracksuit bottoms and a football shirt.
There is an irony here. Many observers believe we are what we are because of our weather. We are embittered by our northern climate and lack the easy grace of the sun-tanned southerners. There must be many inhabitants of the West Country who nightly sink to their knees and pray for a bad weather forecast.