Between Brexit and the pandemic, between illnesses and tax incentives to stop working, one and a half million Britons have disappeared from the workforce over the last couple of years. If there is a shortage of waiters and chefs in London, in Cornwall and the Hebrides - where life is much more difficult - there is a shortage of teachers, doctors, lighthouse keepers and pub managers. But the neighbors have taken letters. In Lostwithiel, a town of five thousand inhabitants where the South African doctor had just retired, after traditional advertisements failed, they shot a music video in which schoolchildren, firefighters and even the priest sang in chorus to the rhythm of a Nina Simone theme: "You can ask for what you want / if you cure our germs, viruses and bacteria / we are men with asthma and pregnant women / rancid grandparents and unrepentant smokers". It's the real-life version of that Quebec movie in which a policeman drunkenly catches a young doctor with no points left on his license during a breathalyzer test, and offers to forgive him the fine if he does some practice to a locality left by the hand of God. And hoping it will stay permanently, people leave hundred dollar bills on the way to their homes, for them to find.
Twenty thousand doctors have stopped working in the UK since the pandemic, partly because the tax system (something the Chancellor of the Exchequer corrected in the budget he presented yesterday) penalized the contribution to pension funds of those they continued to be active beyond the official retirement age.
But if Lostwithiel, in Cornwall, is considered too remote by potential doctors, even more so Foula, in the Shetland Islands, with just twenty-eight inhabitants, which is looking for a teacher for its four primary school pupils and offers a seventy thousand euros a year to whoever feels able to withstand the cold, the wind and the rain, as well as the insulation (the ferries sometimes don't run for weeks, when there are storms). It's the kind of place where everyone does everything: the engineer in charge of the electrical supply is both the fire chief and the airport maintenance man.
Much less is the salary offered to those who want to look after two lighthouses in the north of the Highlands, Stoer Head and Cap de la Ira, an uninhabited place on the north-west coast of Scotland that is only used for sheep to graze there and artillery tests, and where you can only access it by boat crossing an arm of the sea when the tides allow it. The pay is 2,300 euros per year, but the facilities are automated and you only need to make one visit a month between April and September, and two during the winter.
Advertisements have also been placed looking for someone to run the bed and breakfast on the island of Canna (six kilometers long and one wide), where Gaelic is spoken and only fifteen people live. It only has three rooms for guests (almost always empty) and one for the person who lives there and takes care of managing it. Not suitable for families with children. As for The Old Forge pub on the Knoydart Peninsula, only accessible by land after a two-day walk, the problem was that its Belgian owner refused to open in winters. So the community of neighbors bought it for half a million euros, and now they can drink a single malt or a pint by the fireplace, even during the cold nights of January and February.
Knoydart is one of those areas of Scotland where there has been (or still is) a feudal system, the land belongs to a landowner and he rents it to those who cultivate or occupy it. In 1948 seven natives rebelled against the then master (a Philo-Nazi, who tried to use the peninsula as a bridgehead for the German invasion of Britain), appealing for legislation that allowed to plow disused fields for soldiers returning from war. But they came out defeated in a long and bitter legal battle.
There is no shortage of millionaires who want to buy islands as toys, to feel like the kings of mambo, but then they don't invest a penny. It was the case of Eigg, another island in the Hebrides, until a global fundraising campaign generated the million euros that its inhabitants needed to acquire it. Since then, the population has not stopped rising and has already reached the barbarity of... 105 inhabitants!