Two contradictory facts exist in the same time and space.
One: Plymouth is a calm place. Incredibly peaceful. Some might say sleepy. But there is always a sense of peacefulness running through the city. On Sundays, you have to time your trips to the city centre just right – go to early, and no one is open yet. Go too late, and they are already closed. This gives Sundays that old time feel – a day to relax, a sabbath, an island in time that deliberately and intentionally slows down the pace of things.
But the peace of Plymouth goes beyond just sleeping in on Sundays. On any given day, you can take a stroll around the Hoe or the Barbican – and even if there are activities taking place, you get a shot of serenity straight into your main arteries. At first I thought it was the Zen Vista of the Sound – but then I realized you get that peace elsewhere – in Central Park, making your way up Armada way, meandering through Central Park, even roughing it around Union Street, going out for a night on the town in Vauxhall, visiting Market Hall in Devonport, going to the Morrisons in mommy town. Everywhere you go, whatever you or anyone else is doing, Plymouth does not feel like London. It feels more like a small town, a little village, where the pace is set by the seasons rather than the diary.
It is a fantastic place to visit – as a result – and a great place to live. Some people need a bustling city to motivate them and get them going. But for the self-motivated and those of us who drive ourselves hard enough – the city provides the perfect counterbalance to that incessant pursuit of productivity, pounds and power. There’s something healing, therapeutic about it. Also something addictive. Whenever we travel, whatever fun we have away, when we come home there’s a tranquillity that descends on us that make us feel content and placid. Like Hindy Cows, all of the sudden, no matter what the hell else is going down in the world.
This is a truth about Plymouth, and it is obvious, apparent, and undeniable.
Two: The obverse also holds, however – as blatantly obvious and immediately clear. The sleepy seaside city is anything but – there is always something happening.
When we first arrived, in fact, we actually became exhausted from trying to attend everything.
The city has a constant heartbeat of eclectic activity. And the best thing about those activities are that they can be very surprising and unexpected – things you’d never expect to find here pops up. The best and biggest events and functions and festivals of their kind; A-listers premiere their most spectacular shows; quaint and homely little fairs and gatherings; avant-garde stuff made for students or the cognoscenti so sophisticated and fashionable its all lost on me; seasonal celebrations that make you feel part of the society you live in.
We’ve seen a Dragon puppet hatch in the streets and parade through town. We’ve seen cosplay and comics and gamers revel around the Guildhall AND at the stadium. We saw Derren Brown’s very first brand new show. We’ve seen ballet and the puppetry of Animal Farm. We’ve seen Dune at the IMAX. We’ve seen Sail Grand Prix and the British Fireworks Championships. We’ve seen the city come together with green hearts after tragedies. We’ve been warmed by a bonfire alongside at least 20,000 people. We’ve had seafood festivals and jazz festivals and pirate weekends. There was an adults only ghost trip on Halloween out at Drake’s Island. There was an invite to go watch and participate in a live dissection in a macabre murder mystery type of participatory theatre. There is UFC and wrestling. Doggy Day Out and a multi-gallery weeklong festival of Modern Art. There are celebrations of nature and water sports and yachts and rowing. There is science and talks and public lectures. There is Pride and Armed Forces and Carnivals and Street Music and Market Days.
Try to attend all of it and you’ll collapse out of sheer exhaustion.
I could – and will – do writeups of any number of these events. But I preface such pieces with this because that sense of calmness underlies and pervades everything. It is why students always remember their time in the city fondly. It’s why some of us can never leave.
There is a very British tendency to moan, complain, and talk things or places down. It seems to be a favoured pastime for some to moan and complain about Plymouth. I’ve heard single, snide remarks made by some and endless bitching by others.
But I think – hard truths and cold reality and real challenges as part of the deal – that Plymouth is the greatest place in the world. That’s why we picked it – over any place else.
Warming ourselves at the fire, next to families and youngsters and old folks, at night, outside – the best thing about Plymouth is that it has a way of including you and making you feel part of it. You barely feel it, because it is as calm as a soothing voice but as firm as a nonstop schedule of fun. But the place hugs you closer and say: hey, you, you’re as much mine as I’m yours.
Watch the pink clouds at sunset, or the endless procession of interesting shapes and sizes of clouds as they move across they bay… travel up or down either river… visit the gritty urban environments or the spectacular natural beauty and rest assured that in this home of ours, there really is always something.
You can choose to go out and be part of it. Pick and choose the bits you like. Or just stay cosy at home with the rain and the wind brushing up against a choppy sea.
Always something, but with a sense of peace. And that – let me tell you – is really something unique.