n an island, close to the mainland, was a village called Hope. Over the years, the prosperity of its inhabitants had ebbed and flowed like the mighty Atlantic Ocean, which incessantly crashed at its steep shoreline.
Not having easy access to the sea, the options of becoming fishermen or smugglers were never practical and other ways of earning a living had never been easy. However, these close-knit, doughty people had grown accustomed to weathering the financial storms by leading a frugal but happy life. With only one access road, via a narrow bridge, they were in a ‘cul-de-sac of Time’ and with the stresses of modern-day living, ‘them outsiders’, as they were called by the islanders, were beginning to search for remote places, such as Hope, to relax in.
Slowly at first but then rapidly, bed-and-breakfast accommodation became a handy source of income. At first to supplement but soon after to take over from the centuries-old toil of vegetable growing. With this new prosperity burning a hole in their pockets, many of the villagers decided to expand by pooling their wealth. Very soon small weekend-dwellings started to sprout up in the vegetable fields. Success bred success and the villagers thrived.
Meanwhile, in a cleft between the coastal cliffs just a mere couple of miles away by air, but about ten by steep, slippery and twisting paths was the hamlet of Little Hope. With only four turf-roofed stone cottages it nestled peacefully in a small, sheltered cove. They were protected from the winds by the cliff-sides, from the sea by jagged rocks that acted as a breakwater and from civilisation by having no vehicle access.
With the Custom’s men clamping down on their small smuggling business a few years back, the inhabitants had learned to become virtually self-sufficient. The few things that they could not catch, grow or make they obtained by selling surplus potatoes which they grew in the only field they had. They considered Life to be worth living.
This small group of friendly people enjoyed the beauty of the scenery, the fresh food, and not having to worry about money. They had often seen, during their visits to Hope, what it was like to be without money in a ‘modern world’. Then, with the advent of sustained prosperity, the villagers of Hope now scornfully referred to the families of the hamlet as the ‘little no-hopers’.
The only thing that they were jealous of was the potatoes that their neighbours grew. In all of the many centuries of growing potatoes on the island, none has ever tasted nicer than those grown in the hamlet of Little Hope. Due to their scarcity they had become a ‘must-have’ delicacy, a once-a-month treat, to the villagers of Hope.
With the tourist trade becoming the main source of income for Hope, the village elders decided to expand into the mass market. They decided to approach the EU for a development grant to build a large family holiday complex and a new road into the village.The day duly arrived for the visit by the EU delegation to view the site and proposals. Travelling by car they realised the need for a new road long before they reached the village!
They admired the beautiful countryside and the fine views out to sea from the cliff-top and agreed that the proposed site of the holiday site was perfect. They then drove into Hope where the villagers put on an impeccable display of hospitality, including a feast of the finest foods of the area. Of course, it included potatoes from Little Hope.
Everything was going perfectly until the head of the delegation tasted a Little Hope potato and his subsequent comment became the beginning of the end! The chain of events that followed on, from a simple compliment about the flavour, beggars belief but that is how it was.
On hearing his superior’s appraisal of the humble potato, a deputy tried his. He agreed but added, that if anything, he thought that his boss had made an understatement. The following day he contacted a colleague and requested investigation of the potato’s source, with a view to obtaining, at worst, a regular supply for his boss and, at best, a regular supply for their headquarter’s restaurant in Brussels.
The following week, when he had discovered just how scarce the potatoes were, he despatched an official to Little Hope. His task was to discover why only their potatoes were so tasty, with their uniquely distinctive flavour, and whether the output could be increased. He felt that the potential was overwhelming and satisfying. It would also bring increased employment to the area, as well as praise and perhaps promotion!
The official met with the friendly crofters and, after promising them unimaginable wealth and tickling their palates with more than a few drops of ‘the hard stuff’, the official learned the secret of the tasty spuds; it was fish! Well, not just any old fish but prime sea bass. The official listened carefully as the precise details of how the potatoes were grown was explained to him.
Each summer and autumn night, for countless years, when the sea was relatively calm, the able-bodied men of Little Hope would venture out in their small boats. They would row a tight route between the jagged rocks that only they knew, and fish for sea bass, beneath the cliffs among the rocks. At daybreak, they would return with their catch, take a few hours well-earned rest and then go to the potato field. There they would dig-in the fish, ready for the next crop of potatoes to be planted later in the year.
This went on until all of the area designated for potatoes was fertilized. When the crofters had finished, the amazed official explained that they could receive almost ten times more income, by selling the prime sea bass for food than from selling the potatoes. He asked why they had not tried to sell them before and they said that they had assumed that the fish were worth very little, as the area around the cove teemed with them!
When the official returned to Brussels they contacted an associate in the Fisheries Department and explained the situation. The following year, after negotiation between experts in the two departments, the grant, which was provisionally approved for the holiday complex at Hope, was diverted to Little Hope and a loan to buy two trawlers was given to the Little Hopers.
Soon, enormous machines had smashed a way along the cliffs, a road was laid through the potato field, the four homely cottages were demolished and replaced with temporary accommodation and a small harbour was built. The cove was dredged, the jagged rocks removed and the trawlers had arrived to catch the sea bass.
At Hope, due the disturbance caused by the construction of the new road to Little Hope, and the lack of new investment, tourism had died out. Within a year of the completion of work at Little Hope’s harbour, plus the removal of the rocks where the fish bred and over-fishing by the two large trawlers, the area was barren of fish. Without fish, homes and their field there was no way that the crofters could repay the loan or even survive, they had to move away.
Nowadays, in Hope there is now little hope, while for Little Hope all hope has gone!
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