FRANK SOBEY: What community do we want?
THOSE of you who regularly read my rambling rhetoric may remember that I did actually welcome the arrival of Gordon Oliver's huge bushy palm tree that is now strategically planted in the middle of the Kerswell Garden roundabout.
It brought a smile to my face at a time when I seemed to have so little to smile about.
Yes, it was expensive and, yes, there were doubtless many other things that might have better used the funding, however it really is a very powerful image for the English Riviera.
I certainly thought so when travelling back from Exeter one misty evening and came upon the beautiful floodlit image before me.
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In an increasingly lacklustre world it made me suddenly tingle and gave the feeling that I was arriving at a special place.
It really was quite a statement and, as I say, it made me smile.
It did, therefore, sadden me when some brainless idiot stripped the bark from one side of the palm.
Why would anyone want to do that to a beautiful living tree?
The bark will not grow back and the scar will become a tragic sign of these troubled times.
You may also have noticed that the bushy palm has a warm winter coat to guard against the cruel northeaster winds and now stands proudly rampant like a giant stalagmite reaching crookedly toward the distant sky.
It has now metamorphosed into a hugely powerful signpost for the English Riviera Global Geopark.
How clever is that?
Nick Powe, of Kents Cavern (the English Riviera Global Geopark champion), must be jumping up and down with gleeful excitement at this new monolith.
Perhaps this seasonal image adjustment was always part of Gordon Oliver's master plan for Torbay or is it simply just another happy accident? Answers on a postcard!
Oddly enough, I have always been intrigued by the mysterious Kents Cavern.
Have you been there? It really is quite a special place and I am so very grateful to Nick Powe for showing me its hidden secrets a little while ago.
At one point during the journey he turned off all the lights.
I found myself in total darkness and complete silence.
Now numerous readers may well think that leaving me in a dark and silent cave is a good idea. Hmm. No postcards please!
But it's not just the darkness of course but the feeling of being trapped underground in a rocky hole.
Years ago I used to go caving on the Cotswolds and have done the darkness bit before but I still find it rather scary.
With Nick as a guide I always felt safe but those years ago exploring caves I felt anything but safe.
We always seek that light in the darkness.
The thing about Kents Cavern is that it is a journey through time and when you reach the deepest point you know that this is indeed a very special place.
It is a moment when, perhaps, you can truly connect with your ancestors.
I found myself reaching down to touch a large stone and immediately wondered about the many hands that have done exactly the same for thousands of years.
It gave me a sudden spiritual lift and perhaps a brief glimpse of eternity.
I think it is something that we should all experience and when you reach that deep subterranean place free your mind.
Touch that distant time as you run your hand over the smooth surface of that ancient rock and feel the endless energy that perhaps connects us all.
Now here is something to think about.
Having done the Kents Cavern bit, it is worthwhile taking a good look at where we are now and how this community has developed.
This whole area is steeped in history and by understanding that social journey we can, perhaps, start to make sense of where we are going.
What sort of community do we want?
What sense do we want to make of our town centres and the neighbourhoods that surround?
My worry is that we are all so busy rushing around that change may happen that isn't for the greater good.
The dislocation of community is a possible consequence as our once vibrant main streets give way to the proverbial tumbleweed.
This is not helped of course by the relentless onslaught of bright blue parking meters sending out an unwelcome message.
Do we really welcome visitors to Torbay or is there a more sinister meaning to be derived from Gordon Oliver's digit on the Kerswell Garden roundabout?
Keep the smile!