Shortly before I moved to the Isle of Wight in 1990, I went to a house party in Portsmouth. It was heaving with the usual crowd of art students, sundry hair-hopping weirdos and proto-hippies. I spent some time chatting with a chap who differentiated himself from the herd by having cultivated a Dali-esque moustache. The next day I saw him in the street. Preparing myself to respond to his cheery hello, I was crushed when he blanked me. Was he was still pie-eyed from the night before, or was this a symptom of big city living?
Conversely, within weeks of getting my one-way ticket across the Solent, a lady collared me as we queued at a till. Her opener was, “Where do I know you from?”. I couldn’t say, having only just arrived on these shores. “Where did you go to school?” I explained that I wasn’t from around these parts. “Your sister then, perhaps I know your sister?” I don’t have a sister. This insistent probing went on for some time until she finally admitted defeat.
It was at this moment that I was indoctrinated into one of the joys of the Isle of Wight – people’s eagerness to have a link with you, however tenuous.
It took me years to shake off the inability to look strangers in the eye. But nowadays, wherever I go, I scan the crowds for a familiar face. On the Island this can mean a walk to the proverbial post office can take twice as long as budgeted for.
And social media has made connections even more likely. While some people follow celebrities for inconsequential titbits, my virtual gang includes a bunch of locals many of whom I have got to know IRL (In Real Life).
Just before the recent general election I attended a hustings event. People milled about outside Cowes Enterprise College and, chatting to a veteran journo and his pal, I discovered that they were playing the same game that my boyfriend and I occupy ourselves with at busy events like the Yarmouth Old Gaffers and the County Show – that is to say, how many attendees do we know. It can get quite competitive, with bonus points awarded for the first spot, and a double score for anyone we know wearing a hat.
Last month we went to see (trilby-sporting) Count Arthur Strong at Shanklin Theatre, and I popped into the box office to collect the tickets. They weren’t booked under my name so I tried my boyfriend’s. “Oh yes,” said the lady in the kiosk, “Here you go.” She scrutinised the name on the envelope, declaring. “He bought a house from me in 1999.”
(And yes, I do know Jonathan Bacon!)
This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 30 June 2017.