Seeing the Isle of Wight in a revolutionary way

Cat James

While in St Thomas’ Square, Newport the other day I noticed en passant that Oggies fish restaurant was for sale. Then I popped into the wonderful Oxfam bookshop; a veritable smorgasbord of donated biographies, vintage paperbacks and plenty of war reference books to arouse any closet armchair general. I headed straight to the Isle of Wight section to play Local Interest Roulette. I have quite the Island reference library, so often make a purchase here. Will it be one of Gay Baldwin‘s ghost story anthologies, a pamphlet extolling the historical features of one of our more obscure rural churches, or that rare treasure: a guidebook for the long-lamented Osborn-Smith waxworks?

Onwards I strolled, pausing to look in the window of Skintrade, before passing the legendary God’s Providence House. Ahead on my right was Mary Case‘s honey stall at the depleted but tenacious farmer’s market.

“What’s the time, please?” enquired a voice. “I guess I oughta get back to work.”

I turned to see a couple of young women poised to say their goodbyes. One rummaged in her handbag and, having fished out her phone, glanced at its screen. “‘Bout two.”

I tilted my head and looked at the huge clock on the minster’s tower. Its big and little hands were, indeed, at the twelve and two. Learning to tell the time as a nipper was a rite of passage. As I looked at the analogue clock, I wondered if people who may only have seen a digital timepiece would use the terms clockwise and anti-clockwise.

Apocryphally it was part of a coach driver’s knowledge to know the difference. It was essential for them to negotiate the Island’s narrow lanes in the same direction as each other to avoid messy snarl-ups and what would become known colloquially as Coach Drivers’ Impasse.

I have found two references for this local transport custom and, in a contrarian style delightfully typical of the Isle of Wight, they contradict each other*. An article in the Guardian states that if in a coach you “must drive around the Island clockwise”. In the blue corner is Motorhome World, on the forum of which someone (unironically) writes that “there is an unwritten rule that all tourist coaches travel in an anticlockwise direction around the Island.”

The only hard evidence I have found is a signpost on the Chequers Inn Road, which prohibits vehicles over three tons “in this direction”. Extrapolating, I would say that this means that coaches – on this stretch of highway at least – should travel clockwise. Of course, if the driver then meets a subscriber to Motorhome World, mayhem may indeed ensue – and a new term of Motorhome Drivers’ Impasse may enter the local canon.

I finished my perambulations by heading back out to Newport High Street, having walked the perimeter of the town’s big church in a ‘widdershins’ direction. I always understood that to mean ‘with the sun’, like the journey of the shadow on a sundial. That is, clockwise. Turns out it means the exact opposite.

(*for more on this phenomenon see my previous article Is this Monty Python’s ‘Life of Wight’).

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 25 September 2020, 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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