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At last! A sunny day for a Lost Prom trip, and our first trip out of Sussex as well. But of course it’s always sunny on the Isle of Wight, the quintessential childhood summer holiday destination. When we think back to the summers of our youth, we don’t remember the rainy days and disappointments. All that lingers is the sugary taste of candyfloss (but then mine got blown away), memories of playing out late into the evenings (except for the time there was a suspected paedophile prowling around the village) and the scent of rose bay willow herb (but the day I rolled around in the meadow I also took home two separate bee stings). In fact, my first glimpse of the Isle of Wight when I was little, was disappointing – it didn’t look island-y enough to me, the edges didn’t seem to slope into the sea as dramatically as they might and there were no palm trees and parrots.
This time we were prepared for disappointment, but the various island attractions shown on the ferry’s TV screen helped to build our anticipation, with Nhung and Tamsin’s attention particularly (and sniggeringly) piqued by the “cock-headed man” of Brading Roman Villa. Today’s destination though, was Shanklin and Sandown, so Brading’s mosaics will have to wait for another day. For this trip we were also accompanied by friend of The Lost Promenade, Paul, and we were met at Ryde by our guide for the day, Ian. We all hopped onto one of the island’s 1950s tube trains and began to lay our plans.
Starting off in Shanklin, charity shopping was as ever, the first task, but on this trip, we were cruelly deprived of our full quota. All of them shut at 1pm, so we only had time to look at a few. This seems to be a bit of a feature of many of the seaside towns we’ve visited so far, they dislike commerce and are bent on making it as difficult as they can for vulgarians like us to actually buy stuff. However Nhung was able to acquire a satin wedding hat and a spooky doll amongst other things. Tamsin felt cheated, as she found nothing at all, though she was charmed by the title of a clothes shop called Ladies Realm. There was a bit of a furore in the first shop we visited, when Nhung, trying on a maroon fedora, asked the shop assistant for a mirror: “Oh I don’t know…Jean do we have a mirror? Oh there might be one in the backroom, quick Jean, this lady wants to buy a mirror!” After explaining that she only needed a mirror to look into, not to purchase, Nhung decided that the fedora looked shit.
Ian led us along what appeared to be a boulevard of tearooms, each one more engagingly thatched and beflowered than the last. It was as if we had arrived in a magical Tearoom World, where the currency is scones and the head of state is Miss Marple. Our destination however, was an even more eccentric spot, Rysltone Tea Gardens and Crazy Golf, right by Shanklin Chine. The chairs and tables are arranged around the outside of a crazy golf course and surrounded by amazing flowers. However, the sandwiches had the starved, dispirited look of a model in a pie shop, very thin and ultimately empty. And at £6 for a jacket potato with cheese we decided to head elsewhere. So it was back to Marple Alley for a sausage sandwich and a banana milkshake.
Next we headed for the seafront and took the Cliff Lift down to the beach. Photos of various celebrities who’d taken a trip on it decorated the lift: Margaret Thatcher, Frank Sinatra and David Beckham, who according to the attendant “did a runner without paying”. It was only when we reached the bottom that he revealed it was all lies and Photoshop. Illusions shattered and shoulders slumped, we scuttled away.
Small Hope Beach was lovely, backed with honeycomb cliffs like Crunchie bars and cute pastel beach huts. We tried not to look too pervy, as we craned to take photos of the photogenically prone bodies we passed, all resplendent in lurid toe nail polish and stripy beach towels. In order to distract attention, we perfected a sort of Prince Charles-with-his-sons vague point into the middle distance: “mutter, mutter, interesting light effect over there…SNAP”. A group of joggers hurried by also muttering, all we could pick out was “blah blah SEX MANIAC blah”.
We walked all the way to Sandown and the time was right for the first Lost Prom swim. For the first minute, we thought we were going to die, but after that it got a bit better. No languid floating though, only a mildly panicked flailing. Nhung looked glamorous in her 50s style polka dot bikini. Tamsin wore hot pink, accessorized with an old pale green children’s book.
After we’d dried off, we took a stroll along Sandown pier, “a day’s fun all in one”. Well, if you want fun, I warn you not to bother having a go on the Sandown Fire Department hosing game. Piss poor. The inside part of the pier was all neon and chandeliers; the outside was covered in notices forbidding various things, including, bare feet, shirtlessness and feathers.
As the light began to fail, we walked back through Sandown, and began to notice that in every single one of the many gift shops, amongst the misshapen china figurines and boxes of Level 42 commemorative fudge, were a myriad of golliwog toys. We have never seen these being sold new before, and found it mystifying that there should be such a demand for them on the Isle of Wight. Next, we noticed a tearoom with a sign saying, “English owned restaurant serving English food” apropos of nothing. We hadn’t spotted a horde of Lebanese or Polish bistros in the area, neither had we heard many foreign accents or seen any non-white faces. Is there some kind of underground race war raging on the Isle of “White”? Or is it just that they’re a load of tedious old racists?
Back in Ryde, we met Ian’s fiancé Tina for some drinks and snacks. Ryde looked like it had a lot of interesting buildings and shops, so we pledged to visit it properly another time. That night, the Ryde Illuminated Carnival was happening, and the streets were gradually filling with excited kids in light-up deely-boppers. Ian and Tina’s borrowed dog Jedi joined in, his tail wagging so fast it had a strobing effect. We ran along Ryde Pier to catch the last ferry back, vaulting over the railings in panic as we went through the wrong entrance. Just in time, the porter ushered us on, saying, “Go downstairs, there’s 250 empty seats, and out of the window you can see the blackness”.
Cake (we always say we’ll get some later and we never do)
Delicious ice cream dipped in chocolate that Tamsin had last time she came, but couldn’t find this time
Spooky Victorian style doll
White satin wedding hat with veil
3 ornate photo frames
Latent racism lurking on the island