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Having that mainland driving conversation

Matthew Chatfield
Latest posts by Matthew Chatfield (see all)

They don’t even know they are doing it. Mainlanders just can’t help but talk about roads. If you arrive by car at your destination on the North Island, it’s only a matter of time before your host will enquire “And what way did you come?” I’ve listened to the response, and the answer they seek sounds something like “Well Graham, we took the M123 as far as Borchester, went round the Thingbury bypass and stopped at Makewater services for 25 minutes.” The reply from the other party is to give their own description of such a route, but in reverse. This call and response can go on for some time with particularly tedious people.

When unsuspecting overners try to open a conversation like this on the Island, they get looks of incomprehension. What use this kind of discussion could be is hard for us Island folk to fathom. Indeed the whole conversation makes little sense to us who habitually drive on the Island. Because here, the best way to navigate is just to point the car vaguely at the place you want to end up in, and keep driving. Many of the roads have no name or number, or if they do, we’ve no idea what it is. Could you name a single numbered B-road on the Island? Thought not. If they do have a name, it’s the same one – there are four roads called ‘High Street’ within ten minutes of my house.

What’s more, there are some routes that just don’t really exist. So you have to make them up. Can you put your hand on your heart and swear you know the best way to get to Newbridge? I’m sure I’ve never driven between Ryde and Chale the same way twice in my life. And why is it that I always go into Ventnor via Wroxall, but drive home via Shanklin?

But it doesn’t matter. In the unlikely event of losing your way, the worst that can happen is you drive round the Island and end up back where you started. Or be more creative – I once heard a tourist telling incredulous friends that they’d got lost on the way, but found Newport by tailing a Southern Vectis bus which helpfully had its destination on it. An excellent demonstration of the axiom if it’s stupid but it works, then it’s not stupid.

I’ve lived on the Island for most of my adult life but I still couldn’t describe how to get from one place to another using that mainland road-language. Can you imagine an Islander talking about how they came along the A3055 until they got to the A3020? Or anyone understanding it if they did? It’s more likely to sound like this: “Well nipper, we got onto Newport Road where the post office used to be, then we turned off when we reached that field where the donkey died. We’d been on the road for a good fifteen minutes so yer dad stopped at the garden centre.”

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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