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Monty Python’s Life of Wight

Cat James

On my commute to Newport the other day I had plenty of time for contemplation, sitting in stationary traffic. With pretty much one operational road from the east while Staplers was decommissioned, my daily drive has become a miserable crawl.

Running parallel to Fairlee Road is the old railway line. As I looked across to its tree-lined border, I imagined the first shiny steam train overtaking horse-drawn vehicles when that section of track opened in December 1875. Sighing, I switched off my car’s engine, and turned to my passenger.

“I wonder what Victorians would make of today’s transport. Back then the Island was criss-crossed with railways connecting all four corners of the diamond.”

Daydreaming about travelling to Newport on an efficient and affordable train, I considered other amazing ways Victorian engineers had improved people’s lives with viaducts, sanitation, and irrigation.

“Yeah,” my car-share chum replied, “But it wasn’t all utopia – lots of these capital projects were funded by money made from slavery.”

“But what about the improvements to public health and education? Victorian philanthropists created public libraries.” I retorted.

“Some municipal constructions were the result of unfettered unregulated capitalism; the environmental impacts of which are still being felt today.” came the reply.

As each of my points about Victorians was countered with references to workhouses, disease or prostitution, suddenly we were re-enacting that famous scene from Life of Brian where Reg (played by John Cleese) argues, “What have the Romans ever done for us?“.

This year is the fortieth anniversary of the release (or should that be welease?) of Life of Brian. I often have cause to think of that other much-quoted dialogue in the hilariously well-observed amphitheatre scene, where the Judean People’s Front is hated by the People’s Front of Judea, both of whom detest the Judean Popular People’s Front – the splitters!

Although the Isle of Wight’s community is very altruistic, with fundraising events, clubs and societies for all sorts of niche activities and issues, sooner or later there is some sort of schism.

Who can forget 2006’s MarmaladeGate, when a rift in the Island Farmers’ Market led to the formation of a separate group called Vectis Food and Craft, who were hoping to work closely with the Island Food and Craft Association? I often wonder what happened to that lone jam maker in Roud who was the sole and founder member of the Popular People’s Food and Craft Front.

And, what about BiscuitGate and other convoluted infighting at Bembridge Parish Council? For those of us outside the bickering parish, the symbolic giant inflatable digestive is surely a precursor to a <ahem> breakaway group being formed. Watch this space.

Before it was in our cinemas, Medina Borough Council’s Policy and Resources committee members voted in favour of a private screening of Life of Brian so they could judge whether the “blasphemous” film would be suitable viewing for Island folks. They obviously decided against a ban as some behaviours in the film were already pretty much a national pastime here!

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 5 April 2019, and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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