A swelling organ and a hamper of parsnips

On the evening of Wednesday 10 April 1991 I went with my landlady to All Saints Church Hall, Ryde to hear the Isle of Wight Electronic Organ Society’s guest organist Penny Weedon. My diary entry of the day describes how the hall was “packed out with old people. We were introduced to Penny’s organ and its effects. It was quite stunning.”

Once the instrument’s introduction was over, Penny started her recital with a Blackpool melody: There’s No Business Like Show Business, Oh, I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside, etc. This was followed by highlights from the musical Oklahoma and then some classical tunes. I noted that Penny was dressed in floaty chiffon scarves attached to her by gold braiding.

Alas we didn’t stay for the full programme. My companion fidgeted throughout the first half and so we left during the interval, despite having bought tickets for the raffle. Looking back I can’t believe that we didn’t hang about; the prizes included a plastic scoop and a hamper of parsnips.

And this, dear reader, was what passed as entertainment back in the dark days of the Island in the early 1990s. I’d moved here from Pompey, the dizzy lights of which seemed positively cosmopolitan compared all I could find to do on that drizzly night in April.  I was unhappy, the Island was in the doldrums and the weather was miserable. Not even that swelling organ could raise the corners of my mouth.

Fast forward to July 2017. The choice of cultural offerings on the Island has become almost overwhelming. In my home town of Ryde there’s so much stuff going on all through the season it’s hard to keep up; Ryde Arts Festival, Mardi Gras, Bank Holiday scooter rally, the illuminated carnival and, a couple of weeks ago, the town on the beach hosted the Island’s first ever Pride.

While some of you were reliving your own memories of the 1990s with Stereo MCs at Rhythm Tree, I was helping paint the whole world with a rainbow – well Ryde, at least. IW Pride was a sell-out, the glitterati were in attendance and I danced the night away in my electric light-up sneakers in the resuscitated Balcony Bar. When my shoes’ batteries finally went flat at midnight, like Cinders I left the party – because the next day was Ryde Slide.

I don’t know about you, but I can barely keep up with all this fun. Recalling my night at the organ recital, I’m delighted to see how far the Island has come. The creativity, entrepreneurialism and occasional brass-neck audacity has brought us Ventnor Fringe, Open Studios, the Woodfair, IW Literary Festival. Hell, someone’s even making a living selling hampers of parsnips.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press 28 July 2017.

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