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Sadly this time, the TV on the ferry over to the Isle of Wight had no cock-headed man of Brading Roman Villa for us to snigger at. You can’t have everything, and as it’s a sunny day on everybody’s favourite retro-racist holiday utopia, we won’t be too disheartened. Off the boat and out of the station, along a long, bleak pier; green with age and almost empty, and at the end of it? Ryde; the town on the other side of the Solent from Portsmouth.

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Like the other bits of the Island we’ve been to, Ryde retains an old-fashioned, slightly musty and moth-eaten air, like velvet curtains in a long-abandoned dancehall, heavy and hushed. There are some lovely old Victorian buildings and plenty of twirly wrought-iron colonnades. A few chotzke shops are creeping in, but they haven’t reached the biddy heights of Cath Kidston yet, just some generic tealights and vague white, driftwoody items. There are also a large number of bad boutiques.

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Victoria Arcade is a fascinating building with a beautiful domed ceiling at its top and a museum of Ryde heritage at its bottom. There are also various independent shops, including one specialising in breweriana and crammed with long-forgotten logos and other interesting ephemera. Sadly, the other shop selling vintage collectibles in the arcade lets itself down by not only selling the IOW’s most popular keepsake, the golliwog, not only selling WWII Nazi memorabilia but also selling contemporary items with Nazi insignia. Won’t bother buying anything from them then.

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From there we move onto the Donald McGill postcard museum. Donald McGill produced some of the best known saucy seaside postcards and is associated with Ryde due to a spate of police raids and seizures of McGill cards in 1953 in the town under the Obscene Publications Act. The museum is tiny and eccentric; at the back of a cafe called The Orrery and through a vintage turnstile. Most of the jokes on the cards are incomprehensible and often revolve around the hilarity of women being overweight. There are odd almost-double entrendres a-plenty (not rude words, but words that just sound as if they should be rude). A fat woman whose child is hidden by her size, says “I can”t see my little Charlie” – since when is a Charlie a vagina? Another buxom lady says,“I’m making curtains for my back sitting room” (She’s talking about her bloomers! ROFL!). Nhung asks “So is her Charlie also her front room?” It’s all very confusing.

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We stop to try and make sense of it all at Le Croute cafe and meet our old Lost Prom friends and Isle of Wight correspondents Ian and Tina, who then accompany us through town for a foray into the charity shops. There’s nothing mega-interesting, in fact Nhung – in a first for the Lost Prom, buys nothing at all. We do spot a funny little Dr Who theme shop and a couple of stores catering for the mod attendees of the town’s regular scooter rallies, including one called Boots and Camo, which mainly sells just that. As we get further into town, the prosperous outer layers seems to flake and scab and we start to see more boarded-up buildings. The town still retains an untroubled-by-modern-concerns air though. A full-scale race riot could occur on the roundabout and the locals would probably still respond with a quiet “tsk tsk” as the petrol bombs whizzed by, pausing only to make commemorative golliwogs to mark the occasion.

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We cut through a residential area back to the seafront, which is fairly featureless, just an unattractive ice rink and bowling alley. There is however an odd little shop on the front, long-closed and abandoned apart from its window display, which seems to have been left in-situ since the 1960s. Plastic novelties almost obscured by thick, grey dust, like a seaside tat shop version of Pompeii, knicker elastic and headless dolls. In some ways it’s an encapsulation of the Isle of Wight . Except it’s probably the only shop on the island not to sell golliwogs.

pier head

Lost

Evacuee paper doll set and Agatha Christie bookmark (would have bought them, but the shop sold Nazi memorabilia so left in disgust)

Nhung’s hat – nearly

Anything for Nhung to buy in a charity shop

Almost the ferry home again (once more we had to leg it down the pier)

Found

Girl comic playing cards

4 vintage postcards

Watneys Red Barrel glass and coaster

Janet Jackson single

Old friends

Lots of shops selling racist knick-knacks

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Neptune Cafe

Neptune Cafe

The Internet doesn’t like the Isle of Sheppey. Widespread opinion seems to be that it’s violent and grim. Our pre-trip research reveals reams of poisonous and condescending lines written on the place; it’s the fight capital of Britain, second roughest place in the UK after Chatham, a holiday spot for cockney hardmen too lazy to go to Spain and so snarkily on. We also learn that it’s home to several major industrial installations, a sprawling dockyard, 3 prisons, an army of caravans and a thriving population of scorpions. It sounds like just the Lost Promenade’s kind of place, but, as we park, in the island’s biggest town, Sheerness, the baleful stares of loitering teens seem to confirm the stereotype. However, our worries are misplaced; everybody we speak to is incredibly friendly and we generally have a bumper fun-packed time.

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We knew it was going to be good, travelling over the bridge onto the island, “oohs” and “aahs” chorus through Lindsey’s car as we spot exciting looking industrial structures – complex pipes like metallic entrails, a mysterious long blue tunnel-type thing – the first charity shop we visit has a poster that says ‘Happy as a Pig in Shit’. They must have read our minds.

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Back to that first charity shop and Nhung and Lindsey head blankly and simultaneously towards a video called ‘Ice Road Truckers: The World’s Deadliest Roads’ as if hypnotized. They only just manage to conquer a perplexing urge to buy it, and Nhung is able to save her pennies later for a WW1 flying helmet she falls in love with.

labour hall

The town centre is fairly unmemorable. And every SINGLE charity shop has an old wedding dress in it. Could this be the island where romance goes to die?

There’s a sign that says ‘Swimming Pool Chemicals’, apropos of nothing, lots of wrestling posters and a mill without its sails hidden behind some gates, but as we peer into one window, we see people making lanterns (for an upcoming parade) accompanied by two others on harmonicas. And best of all, we find an amazing eating spot – the Beano Café. Its theme is of course, the comic and the walls are covered in homemade drawings and knitted figures of Dennis the Menace. However there’s also a random mixture of other images; Elvis, Spiderman, the Royal Wedding and a poster of Michael Jackson with the slogan “King of Pop.” It would have been nice to have some Freddie Krueger snaps to compare jumpers with Dennis, but you can’t have everything.

Tantra

The seafront is surprisingly bleak with a pebbled beach and a grey concrete seawall. There’s one amusement arcade, a barren looking nightclub called Tantra and a big sandpit. There’s not much to see here, so we head to the outskirts of the town, and the area called Bluetown, originally built to house the dockyard workers.

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We park near a garden gnome factory with a forecourt full of stone ornaments that seems to never end. Life-size Roman centurions, scantily clad goddesses, yawning eagles and cod Easter Island heads all crowd surreally into one space like a concrete platoon. This area is fascinating; eerily quiet, cobbled and full of boarded-up old pubs and a sex shop, in which we overhear, perhaps one of the finest Lost Promenade quotes of all time; “My mum’s a GILF. Not that I’d like to fuck her. But people do.”

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It’s going to take a lot to top that, so we decide to leave Sheerness and have a quick drive around the rest of the island. Amongst the caravans and suburbs, we spot a heartbreakingly derelict art deco house, more amusement arcades and a burned down hut and we try to get near the prisons, but it’s restricted access. We console ourselves with some fries and milkshake action at Mickey’s Rock Diner – all retro décor and posters advertising future Chicory Tip performances – despite it being on the wrong side of the motorway to get home, we can’t resist.

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Perhaps I haven’t made enough notes for this trip, but for some reason; my memories of the actual appearance of the island are remarkably hazy. But I do remember we liked the place. The Internet may not care for the Isle of Sheppey. But the Lost Promenade do.

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Lost

1930s wedding dress (the nicest of the charity shop wedding dresses, but too small for any of us)

Ice Road Truckers: The World’s Deadliest Roads video

A pier (we understood from our research that Sheerness had one, but we didn’t see it)

A peek at the prisons

Chicory Tip show

Memories of Sheppey

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Found

Brown v-neck jumper with a fish motif

3 Mills & Boons books (Nhung has decided to start collecting them for the cover art)

Holiday souvenir Florida mug

Lint comb

WW1 flying helmet

Scorn for internet bullies

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