Going back… (by Alan Townend)

Dear [FRIEND],

Thank you very much for your patience. Here is your reward: Alan’s new essay titled ‘Going back’……

Going back (by Alan Townend)

There’s a little island off the south coast of the small island where I live, which is shaped rather like the diamond pattern you can see on playing cards. It’s about 23 miles wide and measures approximately 13 miles from north to south. Not the sort of place you can get lost in very easily. And it goes by the name of the Isle of Wight. I looked up the meaning of ‘wight’ and apparently it means ‘weight’ and the people who first lived there way back in the past used it to describe something rising above the sea, which I suppose is one way of describing an island. Oh and by the way you pronounce the word so it rhymes with words like ‘sight’ and ‘white’.

Now I first went there as a child and postcards of the island were designed to please people like me. There were the place names to start with. One was called Cowes and there were none, cows I mean. There were some pointed rocks just off the coast that were called ‘Needles’ but the postcard told you you couldn’t thread them. And there was an inlet in one place called Freshwater Bay but you couldn’t drink it, the water I mean. Such was the humour over simple things in those days. There was a war on at that time and some of the beaches were covered in barbed wire in case there was an invasion.

We children thought this fun because we hadn’t a clue (no idea) why it was there. There was also a distinct shortage of staff in the hotel and so the guests (mainly the fathers) had to do the washing up and at tea time it was the mothers who made the sandwiches. You can imagine therefore that I grew up thinking that was what you did in a hotel. The main attraction were the coloured sands. On one cliff face there was a wide selection of different colours. We would scramble(climb) down the side and scoop up(collect), usually with your hand, the different sands and put them in separate containers. Now i am going to introduce a word that I am sure you have never heard of before, not heard these days, but very common in those days – ‘spiv’. This individual (always a male) was able to make money out of any situation and usually at great profit to himself.

The situation here was that dozens of children wanted to help themselves to the sands but they didn’t have anything to put them in. This is where the spiv could ‘help’ you. He just happened to have every type of container you ever wanted and he could sell you one at a ridiculous price. If only, you thought to yourself, I had brought something with me before I came! For the more cultural interests on the island you could visit places connected with the Victorian poet, Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) who used to love walking on one particular down (grass area) which is named after him. This was where he would try out his poetry in a loud voice with only the sea gulls listening. And Queen Victoria had a house there (Osborne House) to which, thanks to the telephone inventor Marconi, she could keep in touch when she was on the Royal Yacht. Of course when I first went there as a child we went everywhere by bus and as there was a war on at the time, it was a very old bus. But that added to the charm of the holiday.

We now fast forward to when I decided I decided to take my own family to the Isle of Wight. My head, you understand, was full of those dreams of the past. That was the trouble. To start with we got to the hotel – well I call it a ‘hotel’ but that was a slight exaggeration since it was more of what you would call a guest house – too early. The owner was not too pleased and told us to come back later. My dreams were not too shattered (broken up) straightaway and we went for a drive in the car. To my surprise we went from one side of the island to the other in what I can only describe as minutes. Already I was thinking of the ‘very old bus’. On return Mrs Sourface ‘almost ‘ greeted us but warned that we were on no account to be late for supper, which was at 6pm sharp.

Later that week I remember an elderly couple arrived for supper out of breath and were reprimanded (told they were naughty) at 6.05! As the days passed, it became almost a relief (a pleasant change) to escape from the Guest House and enjoy the open spaces and the sea air. We visited the cliff with the coloured sands but The Health and Safety Act didn’t allow you to go near them because it was dangerous. And of course there wasn’t a single spiv to be seen.

It became clear during that week that I couldn’t do anything right. I parked far too near to the building one day, she said. My children managed accidentally to lock themselves in their bedroom and by waking her up to get a master key, I had put extra strain on her arthritic legs, she said. I should have brought my children up better when I asked for more milk for their cereal when they already had enough, she said. The food was horrible, too. On one occasion one of my sons put his fork into his ‘full English breakfast’ and the whole lot fell on the floor as one solid piece as the egg, sausages, bacon, chips and baked had all stuck together to make one unbreakable circle. At least that gave us all a good laugh.

If anyone ever visits this island, I am sure they will enjoy it but my second visit is a lesson I shall never forget – It’s not really a good idea to go back to a place where you once had an enjoyable time because it may sadly not be the same again.

This newsletter was brought to you by: English For Winners

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