Northside - Andrew Martin revisits the exotic Isle of Wight
Palm trees and heat. Travelling to the Isle of Wight ought to require a passport
My book of the summer is Babycham Night, Philip Norman's account of growing up in the 1950s in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, where his father ran the pier pavilion. Ryde is the doorstep of the Isle of Wight: most boats from the mainland dock there, and Norman's father, an ex-wing commander, would try to lure newly landed holidaymakers on to the pier with a genteel Tannoy announcement about reasonably priced biscuits, teas and minerals, while his deadly rival, the more populist Archie Vernon, attempted to drown him out with a racier announcement about the peppermint-, greengage- or pineapple-flavoured rock available from his sweetshop on the pier head.
The book (which incidentally explains Babycham's strange boast that it is "the genuine champagne perry") is like Hi-De-Hi! but with a tragic dimension, and brought back memories of my own regular visits to the Isle of Wight from Yorkshire.
If you go there from London, I should imagine it's not a big deal, but from the perspective of York, there's something very exotic about the Isle of Wight. In the 1970s, we'd set off with my father impeccably dressed in a suit, and carrying two large suitcases. The strain of carting these on to the train at York, off it at King's Cross, across London via the Underground to catch a Portsmouth-bound train from Victoria, and then on to the ferry, gradually reduced him to a rather rumpled condition.
You certainly needed a lot of tickets to get from York to the Isle of Wight, and I was sure that nestling alongside them in my father's pocket must have been all our passports, if only as a precautionary measure. I knew that they were not required, but I liked to think this was only because of the extremely friendly relations that existed between the Isle and the mainland. To my mind, the Isle had all the hallmarks of "abroad". Were there not palm trees at Ventnor? And on our evening strolls along the fairy-lit Franklin Chine, the heat of the day would linger in a way that I secretly found quite shocking.
I went back to the Isle of Wight last summer, and was disappointed to discover that it takes only eight minutes by hovercraft. We caught the car ferry, however, and in the canteen I spotted Barry Cryer jovially putting a lot of sugar into a cup of tea while talking to a man in a leather jacket. That evening, I was strolling through Shanklin when I came across the town's pretty theatre all lit up - somehow, you could tell there was a packed audience inside. Above the doors, in big letters, were the words "Tonight - Barry Cryer", and then, in sightly smaller letters, "With Colin Sell on the piano". All was explained in an instant, and the Isle, I decided, had lost none of its magic.