I spent this weekend on the Isle of Wight. I’d been half-intending to for ages, since I can see it right there every time I go to the coast and I haven’t been since I was eight and I was curious about what was there but then along came a catalyst to make me get round to doing it. And I’ve satisfied my curiosity about what’s over there: nothing.
I’ve heard about these places that are virtually closed “out of season” but I’ve never really believed in them. How can there be places that close? People still live there, even if the tourists aren’t there. Well, now I’ve found one. Everything of the slightest interest on the Isle of Wight was closed. Even the chines – how can you close off a little river gorge leading to the sea? Stick a padlocked gate at each end of it. I thought it might be nice to amble down a chine or two, enjoy the rocks and the trees and the waterfalls, that all seemed nice, November or no November. But no, it wasn’t to be. The mainline railway didn’t connect with the steam railway, so that was off, Blackgang Chine was closed, and it was too cold and wet and windy to so much as look at the sea.
I did see the Needles. That was the main thing I wanted to see/do while I was there. I went on Saturday when the wind was howling so much that I wondered if I was doing something stupidly dangerous and it was so strong that at times it knocked me around. It was also raining and I’d mislaid my waterproof trousers and by the time I’d walked the mile from the car park to the Old Battery, I was drenched. I peered over the fences and spied a bit of white rock being pounded by the sea and then I retreated back to the safety of the car and by the time I’d driven back to Shanklin via Ryde, I’d more or less dried out. I regard cliffs with a healthy respect – and like how God-respecting is often synonymous with God-fearing, I’m also terrified of them. Terrified in a good way, not terrified in a blind and useless way but terrified in the sort of way that means I keep my distance. Living in Dorset, barely a week goes by without a story in the local news of someone being killed falling off the cliffs and in autumn 2013, I seem to remember we had a spate of about half a dozen killed in a fortnight. So I’m very aware of how dangerous cliffs can be and I have no wish to be another of their victims. But the Old Battery isn’t the best place for viewing them so on Sunday I returned to Alum Bay – in better weather – and had a look at them side-on from a distance.
The Needles attraction was the place that broke me, I think. It was so relentlessly bleak that I could feel it maiming a part of my soul. Everything was closed, everything was boarded up; it looked like it had been that way for decades rather than since the summer, it didn’t look like it would be much better even if was open and the shop was full of junk. It hurt – something felt wrong, something felt bad. Something disagreed with me at the very most fundamental level of my existence. The lack of life in the place – a year ago, I commented on Rovaniemi having no soul because I couldn’t work out what made it tick but the Isle of Wight doesn’t even tick – it’s soulless, lifeless, wrong.
Maybe I overreacted. Maybe I hadn’t slept enough, thanks to the people in the room above me who felt seven o’clock on a Sunday morning was the ideal time to start stomping their way through the ceiling. Maybe that’s because the ceiling was appallingly thin or maybe that’s just the way old people move – my eighty-five year grandmother is doing exactly the same thing above my head right now at home when no one else in this house has the same lethal effect on the ceilings. Of course, when I booked a hotel, within an easy walk of Shanklin Theatre, I had an approximate budget and this place came in a little under and that looked ok. It wasn’t until I paid on Friday evening that I realised that price was for two nights, not one, and I could have happily doubled what I thought was my budget for the sake of having actual semi-soundproof walls and ceilings.
But I didn’t feel especially tired and overwrought so I can only conclude that the place really was so bad that it hurt my soul. By mid-afternoon on Saturday, I realised that I was just driving around trying to kill time and I fled to the ferry five hours early with what remained of my soul.