Richard Davies: The personal column

Canna in Scotland has advertised for settlers. Dr Richard Davies knows the appeal of island life
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The Independent Online

We did not plan to emigrate to the Falklands. I was a GP in Ipswich, and loved it, but had very itchy feet. I don't think I ever really felt that it was the place for me to settle down for good. My wife Sarah and I spent five years fitting out a boat, and decided to take two or three years off and sail round the world before settling down in the UK. She was a hospice nurse at the time. Our plan was to stop and work along the way. I'd seen a job advertised for a medical officer in the Falklands. I contacted them and was told that if I turned up I would get an interview. We had a loose plan of arriving there, hopefully getting the job, working for a year or two and then sailing on round the world.

We left the UK in July 1996. Six weeks later, when we had got as far as the Azores, we discovered that Sarah was pregnant. It was great news, but somewhat unexpected. It meant we had a deadline to get to the Falklands because we didn't want the baby to come along at sea. We sailed to Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde, across to Brazil, and arrived in the Falklands in February 1997. John was born a few weeks later.

We thought the island was absolutely fantastic. Some people say it's bleak, but I think it's a very beautiful landscape - rocky moorland with lots of sunshine and wildlife. I loved the place.

I got the job and was given a two-year contract. The community - the civilian population is about 2,500 - was very accepting. They're used to people coming in from the outside and settling down. Our second son, Jim, was born in 1999. We bought a house in the same year and gradually got more and more settled. It's home now. Sarah works as a secretary and I've found the job fascinating. The medical officer not only does general practice, but looks after casualty and any medical in-patients - basically anyone who doesn't require an operation. I've also become a councillor.

I like the traditional community spirit, and the fact that I know most of the people I see in the street. Very little serious crime takes place, and there is little of the sort of crime that reduces your quality of life in the UK. I can't lock my Land Rover because the lock doesn't work, which doesn't matter. We don't bother too much about locking the house either. There is virtually no drug-related crime and no muggings. People get into the odd fight in the pub, but it's people who know each other.

The weather is better than the UK press would have people believe. We get the same rainfall as East Anglia. Most days there will be a stiff breeze from the west. It never feels as warm as it does in the UK in the summer, although temperatures will get up into the twenties.

There's not the privacy that there is in a big city. People tend to know each other's business and there's quite a lot of gossip, which can be extremely hurtful.

I miss culture. There's no cinema, theatre - apart from amateur dramatics - or orchestra. There's a very good leisure centre, though. During the winter evenings we watch a bit of TV, and spend most of the summer evenings outside in the garden. We go walking and camping.

I try to get back to the UK every year, but it's about £1,200 for an adult return and salaries here are slightly lower than those in the UK. It does increase the sense of isolation. I sometimes envy people who are second generation and have a lot of family here. Relatives come and visit us, but not as much as we'd like because of the cost. My mother had her 70th birthday this year. There was a huge surprise party and I would have loved to have been there but it was impossible. One of my colleagues was on leave and we can only have one doctor away at a time.

I had some doubts about living here about four or five years ago when the job became quite stressful. That's another drawback - if you don't like the job you're in, and you're a professional, often there's no other position for you. But the doctors got together and we managed to negotiate some sensible compromises about hours.

Whether we will always stay here depends on the boys. If they do reasonably well at school they'll be funded to do A-levels in the UK. But there is a good chance that they would come back. Most of the kids here who go abroad for education end up coming back. I think this is probably where we will stay.

I miss some of the friends we made in Suffolk, but I don't think we would now seriously contemplate going back there to live. I wouldn't want the very urban lifestyle and I'm sure that I wouldn't want to work as a GP in the UK. It sounds fairly tough and much less interesting than my job.

Dr Richard Davies was talking to Julia Stuart