Label: Polydor - 2383 120,Polydor - 2383-120 • Format: Vinyl LP, Album • Country: UK • Genre: Rock • Style: Blues Rock, Hard Rock, Classic Rock
Home to past rock festivals, model villages, and other dinosaurs, this wedge in the English Channel makes for an inviting family vacation.
Britain is an island nation, an unassailable fact of geography we rarely allow ourselves to forget. Like all trans-national slander, it contains a slender grain of truth, a truth we deflect by turning it in on ourselves. The British Isles comprise over 6, islands, although I suspect most residents would be hard-pressed to name more than five.
Of these, the Isle of Wight is perhaps the best known, once used by Queen Victoria as her favorite royal retreat. In an impressive display of independence, the Isle of Man manages to cling to an official language—Manx—and somewhere along the line forgot to impose speed limits on its country roads.
From raised ground many miles inland you can see the Isle on the horizon, its proximity appearing to erase the short stretch of water that distances it from the mainland. For a Londoner, the Isle of Wight clearly drifts a few degrees off the standard pace of life. But is it really so strange? Our trip starts inauspiciously: Within 30 seconds of boarding the ferry our son has distinguished himself by tripping heavily over a raised doorframe and violently head-butting the deck, leaving a neat imprint of diamond-patterned plastic safety matting emblazoned on his forehead, a criss-cross of tiny puncture wounds.
Instead, technology has been usurped by memory. Upon our arrival, we avoid the coast road and journey inland. The interior landscape feels expansive and endless, a lost world of cream teas, rolling hills, regular bus services, and enthusiasm for both miniature landscapes and model railways. The edges of the island seem to melt away, as do a couple of decades; the Isle of Wight feels older, but also more innocent, drifting apart from the mainland.
Unsurprisingly, someone has recently spent time doing the mathand the exploding global population now rules out the island as the sole repository for all humanity.
The inaugural festival—the Great South Morning Sun - Taste - Live At The Isle Of Wight Bank holiday Pop Festivity, in the long-winded parlance of the time—took place barely half a mile away from where we are staying. Hosted by John Peel, barely one year into his national radio career, it drew 10, people from around the British Isles to the dourly named Hell Field at Ford Farm. Two years on, the event had snowballed, with somefans swarming Love Is A Stranger - Various - Pop Shop Party Pack the island to see Jimi Hendrix at his incendiary best.
Three weeks later, Hendrix was dead, and the Sixties were well and truly finished. In particular, dinosaurs, both plastic and wood, are everywhere—propping up the gates to theme parks, standing watch by the side of the road, lurking in museums and botanical gardens—a legacy of the fortunate geology of the south coast, which helped preserve hundreds of important bones.
The Isle of Wight played a key role in the early Our Very Own - Sonny Stitt - Genesis of paleontology, with its crumbling cliffs revealing skeleton Morning Sun - Taste - Live At The Isle Of Wight skeleton to the horrified fascination of the gentlemen amateurs who fuelled this emerging science.
Plump, tame birds flock around our feet in the jungle enclosures, delighting our son. A tall man in baggy shorts complains about the poor value for money. His children look on, silent and perhaps a little confused. Are they bored? They look as if they regret saying they were.
We linger at the back of the gift shop, toying with plastic dinosaurs and listening intently. The woman on the till is adamant; she gave them a receipt when they entered the park, but without it, no refund. Today, the remaining few miles of track are a popular tourist attraction, plowing a short route through just four stops right across the middle of the island, from nowhere to nowhere.
The main attraction is, of course, the gift shop, stacked full of local history books, expensive toy trains, and humorous wall hangings.
We see two grown men testing out the model lightsabers. Suddenly the calm is shattered as the Morning Sun - Taste - Live At The Isle Of Wight begins howling, a guttural cry that suggests extreme mental unease. Everyone carries on Morning Sun - Taste - Live At The Isle Of Wight business as the girls take him outside and he sits down between them, rocking and moaning, oblivious to everything around him.
All islanders, we assume, are different. Islanders who choose to be isolated from what is, after all, a giant island, are perhaps more different still—two degrees of removal. The Isle of Wight occupies a strange place in the British collective memory, as a repository for how things used to be.
The painstakingly crafted perfection of the model railway and village, all ordered and eternal, is undeniably at odds with national trends toward a more sprawl- and mall-based lifestyle. In reality, any perceived eccentricity is nearly all in the mind of the visitor, lulled by the false sense of isolation created by the crossing, and confused by the diminished scale of the surroundings.
Tiny figures nestle on neatly clipped lawns, mown with extraordinary care. Model trains puff around a rocky landscape, and Zeppelins and balloons sit atop poles above the perfect topiary. The Model Village also comes with a model village of the model village itself, and within that nestles a model village of the model village of the model village, a fractal vision of Little England, regressing ever inwards.
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