A Scilly offer: pounds 40,000, a cottage, and a lifetime's supply of trainers

Tresco is looking for a chief executive. One man's paradise could be another's hell on earth, warns Ros Wynne-Jones
Click to follow
LOCALS call Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, the "last piece of England" not just because travelling west from Land's End it is among the last outcrops of British territory but also because, in an echo of days gone by, back doors are left wide open while children roam freely and come home when they're hungry.

In fact, it feels nothing at all like England.

The white sands sparkle with silver deposits, the Gulf Stream brings sub-tropical temperatures and the absence of cars means the ozone-laden air is sweet and almost silent.

The good news is that all this could be yours. Tresco, leased privately from the Duchy of Cornwall by its millionaire ruler Robert Dorrien Smith, is advertising for a chief executive.

As well as the natural advantages, Mr Dorrien Smith is throwing in a pounds 30,000 to pounds 40,000 salary and a stone cottage - all for keeping an eye on a population of 150 none of whom can remember a crime being committed on the island. You won't need a car because there aren't any roads, and you won't need a padlock for your company bicycle because, like the livestock, bikes live a free-range, unfettered existence on Tresco.

In a surreal twist, the island could also furnish you with a life-time's supply of hi-tech training shoes. Fate bequeathed the Scillies several thousand pairs a fortnight ago when a German container ship ploughed into the rocks at Newfoundland Point on the neighbouring island of St Mary's. Islanders formed a chain in the moonlight, helping the crew to safety and themselves to trainers, car doors and tyres under the time-honoured tradition of "wreckers rights".

Tresco may be an island paradise, but applicants for the job would do well to consider whether they are suited to a life, rather than a holiday, in the land that time forgot. One Sunday a visitor asked the local shopkeeper for the papers. "Do you want today's or yesterday's?" came the reply. Scratching his head, the mainlander said he'd prefer today's. "Come back tomorrow then," said the shopkeeper, firmly.

The only modern vehicles are the golf-buggies favoured by the infirm, and visitors are shuffled off the quayside by tractor-drawn carriages. Any touch of modernity lent by the recent addition of a heliport is made faintly ludicrous by the big white H doubling as a cricket pitch with the help of strategically placed rubber mats. "Helicopter stopped play" is recognised in local rules. Islanders may be right to be suspicious of progress, however. Someone on St Mary's recently had the bright idea of replacing the harbour patrol's four-wheel drive with a new Renault Clio. At the midnight grounding of the German container ship it proved spectacularly useless.

As well as coping with the local idiosyncrasies, the new chief executive will find that Tresco also belongs to another era politically, operating within an explicitly feudal structure. No land is privately owned or rented. Islanders' houses come with their jobs and Mr Dorrien Smith is the sole employer.

There is a tangible unease at any questions relating to an owner some describe as a "benign dictator", who was last week holidaying in Barbados. None of the islanders, with the exception of Richard Barber, the estates manager, will put their name to a quote, however innocuous.

He freely admits that any job on the island comes with unusual drawbacks. "It's not like working for any other company," he says. "If I was to lose my job here I would lose everything - my house, my life on the island. I don't have a car, I wouldn't be well placed in the job market and living anywhere else would be a shock to the system after a few years here." Mr Barber, who was once a Wall Street trader, was more than willing to take that gamble however, to live what he describes as a holidaymaker's existence. "Nowadays I look at car adverts in the mainland papers and see there's a new BMW that can do 0 to 60 in five seconds and I just think: 'Why?'"

The main requirement of any island employee is trust, says Mr Barber. "Everything here functions around that word. If someone came in that couldn't be trusted, our whole way of life could be under threat. The same goes for Robert: we have to trust him and that he will use his power fairly. In political terms it shows that a benign dictatorship can function very well when a small number of people are involved and the 'dictator' is genuinely benign." The post of chief executive was previously covered by Mr Dorrien Smith himself, who has decided to take a back seat in order to enjoy his island more fully. Prospective applicants should bear in mind that one man's Utopia can be another's hell on earth.

There is also a harsher side to the climate. In the island's one pub, the New Inn, one Scillonian says she is fed up with endless florid descriptions of her home from over-enthusiastic travel writers. "You read anything about Tresco and it's all turquoise seas and tropical flowers bursting into bloom," she says. "That all may be true, but it ignores the essence of Tresco.

"Sometimes the weather changes dramatically in minutes and it feels like the island's under attack from the elements. A few weeks ago a local lad was lost at sea in a storm and everyone here was devastated. The boat turned up but his body didn't. If a body doesn't show up straight away it usually takes six weeks, which means it could appear on the shore any day now. You can feel the whole island waiting."

To this woman, being an islander is about shared grief and joy, not the award-winning gardens or the white sands.

Politics are a non-subject on Tresco. Council candidates are all independent and elected on local issues. On an island without roads, street-lighting, a police station or even refuse collection, the concerns that might motivate others are lost on locals.

Most people will vote on 1 May because "it's always a great day out, something different," but aside from its potential as a social event, the general election is a distant irrelevance. Some are unsure even what the main party leaders look like.

Come 2 May, the position of chief executive of Tresco could be just the job for a man with experience of running a slightly larger island, recently made redundant.