There’s a familiar call-and-response that goes something like this: tell anyone that you live on the Isle of Wight and you’ll undoubtedly hear the stock reply: “I went there on holiday as a kid”. Even I went on holiday to the Island as a kid. My over-riding memory of a boiling hot day at Shanklin was the journey back from the beach on the British Rail train. Exhausted from digging in the sand in the heat of the sun, I lay on the train’s bench seat, feeling its tufted upholstery prickle my back. In fact, it was quite uncomfortable. Closer examination revealed that I was shockingly sunburnt – but hey, it was the early seventies and the perils of skin cancer probably hadn’t been invented.
It didn’t put me off the Isle of Wight though and, many years later, I bought a one-way ticket for the ferry and have been here ever since. Arriving from the distinctly urban Portsmouth, the Island took some getting used to. The first thing I encountered was the vagary of ‘Isle of Wight time’. In the city, people are scrabbling for your business. Here there appeared to be a more fluid approach to urgency. I soon added a new word to my lexicon: somewhen.
Distance is another elastic concept on the Island. On paper the county looks pretty compact; a matter of moments surely to pop over from Ryde to Cowes, say? Yet I heard tales of Newport dwellers who hadn’t seen the sea for months, and old gubbers who’d never even left the Island.
I’d been here a month or two when I heard this story from visitors who were staying in a hotel in Shanklin. “We got chatting to a couple over breakfast,” they explained, “They told us that they live in Freshwater. Apparently they have a holiday in Shanklin every year – they go for the shops!” I was incredulous. And yet soon other similar tales reached my ears. A Shorwell colleague took her children camping in St Helens for their summer hols. Hey, it was fun, cheap – and they could pop home every day and feed their pet rabbit. My incredulity turned into nodding acceptance. No ferry fares, no OCD panic about whether you’ve left the iron on.
And so it has come to pass that many of my best breaks have been had on the Island. I’ve stayed in Ventnor’s fanciest hotel, recreated Abigail’s Party in the home of Britain’s first female factory inspector, played foosball with friends in a vintage-styled deconsecrated tin tabernacle. Who needs a term-time holiday to Disneyland for enrichment? ‘England in Miniature’ may be a horribly hackneyed expression, but there really is so much on our Island doorsteps.
This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press. on 28 April 2017.