Commuting days until retirement: 487
No commuting this week: we are spending our Easter holiday, as we have for several years now, on Scilly, a group of islands 30 miles off the coast of south west England. And this break in the usual rhythm of my life is a chance to – among other things – think about the differing rhythms of some other lives. I believe the island where we are staying, Bryher, is the smallest inhabited one of the group – it has a permanent population of about 80, added to seasonally by people like us.
Imagine an island about two miles long, with the mildest climate in the British Isles. Its south-eastern end, sheltered, with palm trees and colourful flowers, has an almost tropical feel (Green Bay), while its north-eastern extremity consists of moorland covered in heather and ending in cliffs facing out into the Atlantic storms (Hell Bay). To live here is to be permanently surrounded by exceptionally beautiful, almost deserted, scenery. In order to enjoy this you’d have to accept being cut off from the mainland – in the sense that it requires an expensive boat or plane trip to get there. You have phone, TV/radio and the internet, of course (eagerly adopted by these islands when it arrived), but work here mostly consists of farming or servicing the tourist trade – in other words a lot of tough manual labour.
But there are other blessings: almost no motorised transport, apart from tractors, quad bikes and a few Land Rovers, and a complete absence of crime. Nobody locks their doors, and if you’ve ordered food from the shop it may be delivered while you’re out, neatly put away in your kitchen or fridge. It’s perfect for idle holidaymakers like us: there’s a hotel, two other restaurants, a well-stocked shop and, as of this year we discover, even a pizza takeaway open two evenings a week.
Commuting, where it exists, is of course something completely different – maybe by boat, between islands. Young children here commute to school by a short boat trip to the next island, and older ones board weekly at a secondary school on the largest island. But here’s a commute which I rate as the most desirable I have ever come across. There’s an artist who works on the island, and has what seems to be a good living. Paintings in his recognisable style appear in hotels and other settings around the islands as well as the nearby mainland. The island hotel has adopted a detail from one of his paintings as its logo, and he sells prints and merchandise to many of us tourists. In the picture below you can see where he lives and where he works. This is a commute that I could put up with indefinitely.