Right. Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not from round here. No matter how long I have lived on the Isle of Wight, nor how much I adore and celebrate its idiosyncrasies, I’ll never be a Caulkhead. However, my lack of forebears gently decaying in the local cemeteries doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to love this place I now call home.
And who wouldn’t love a county where way more of the weekly newspaper is given over to good news charity stories than crimes against the person. A place with Godshill Model Village and its teeny tiny streaker. Dinosaur footprints clearly visible along a glorious coastline. Hursts.
I went to New York a couple of summers ago. Pay attention you there from West Wight – not NewPORT, but New YORK! It is a fantastic city; skyscrapers, yellow cabs, hot dogs, yadda yadda. But the best bit about New York was the people that I met. They all claimed some sort of ownership of the city despite many of them not being (as the song goes) a native New Yorker. From the Pakistani taxi driver, to the English antiques dealer and the vet from San Diego, they had come there out of choice and had a mutual love of the Big Apple.
Recently I was a guest at the Isle of Wight Caledonian Society‘s Burns Night supper. As I said, I’m not from round here, nor am I Scottish – I was actually born in Romford – but I am partial to a bit of haggis, so took my seat at the dinner table. Intrigued by this gathering of the clans, I chatted with my fellow diners and enquired if there were any native Scots among us. There were none. Our corner of the Scottish event was populated by English folk, a German, a South African, a Swede, and a charming old boy “born in Rhodesia” (he’d left well before it became Zimbabwe) all of whom had chosen to settle on this beautiful little Island. Also on our table were two indigenous Oile o’Woighters, one a retired dairy farmer who could trace his Island roots back three hundred years.
Like the kilted fella from Rhodesia, he had a distinct accent and was soon filling my head with incomprehensible farming proverbs WH Long would’ve catalogued for his Isle of Wight Dictionary. “There ain’t no fertilizer like the marster’s boot, you!” he chortled. “You write that in your column, Essex”.
“Have you ever thought about living somewhere off the Island?” I probed. “Nope.” He said emphatically, “Why would I want to live somewhere where there’s no Hursts?”
This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 10 February 2017.