Behind the scenes of the Isle of Wight
- Behind the scenes of the Isle of Wight - 3rd April, 2023
- Are our streets filled to car-pacity? - 13th November, 2022
- Appy days are here again - 18th July, 2022
There are plenty of places on the Isle of Wight where access is denied to me, unless under special circumstances. Some of these, including a prison cell, an intensive care bed at St Mary’s, and inside the lion enclosure at the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary, I’m happy to keep an uncharted mystery. Others I have entered by accident, like that time I did a double-take discovering a urinal in a pub’s ladies toilet; my presence in the gents had far more to do with opaque signage than a desire to peer at a chap’s porcelain.
Another domain solely for Brothers not sisters – as Masonic lore dictates – is Ryde’s East Medina Lodge. I secured admittance by way of a postcard fair; entering the lair of a society where historically “no women be admitted” was too good a chance to pass up. I confronted the unblinking sepia portraits of regalia-clad past members of the fraternity with my feminine gaze.
Another memorable behind-the-scenes experience was my visit to the reporters’ suite of this newspaper, with its cluttered vintage desks and manilla envelopes stuffed with themed cuttings. In the journal’s vaults I was reverentially shown volume after leather-bound volume of archive issues of the County Press, back to the very first copy.
In smaller, but no less impactful bindings, are the ledgers of Hursts – hidden from public gaze for decades. In March, I was excited to be welcomed into a back office for a meeting. In the room were dusty folders of chronological invoices; the 1952 tomes having been exhumed for a Platinum Jubilee window display. I was allowed to riffle through one; a dog-eared sales receipt for agricultural lime caught my eye, with its pencilled annotations and stamped hieroglyphs.
A chance encounter in another shop converted into a private tour of Sandown Airport, home to a full-size replica of the Black Arrow rocket. Invited into the air traffic control tower, I enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the carefully-orchestrated operations on the busy grass runway. Next, in the fascinating Wight Aviation Museum, I piloted a breathtaking (simulated) flight over my house.
The original Black Arrow‘s engines were covertly tested at West High Down, and the concrete remnants of the blasting site can still be discovered. Created further back in time and seemingly boring to the centre of the earth, is another hidden place at the Needles Battery. Hewn sixty metres through solid limestone, is a vertical lift shaft sunk to sea level. Accompanied by the monument’s curator, I manoeuvred past entombed and rusting steam engines to the top of the abyss, before peering down inside the chalky vent.
The council’s strongroom and server farm may be out of bounds to most staff, but not so room 5c at County Hall. This magnolia cubby hole at the upper and outermost reaches of the Palace of Wightminster has a secret. Part the window’s vertical blinds and, in the distance beyond Coppins Bridge gyratory, I have been afforded a view of a giant metal cock.