Chapter 14      Isle of Wight

The following weekend we were going to the Isle of Wight with the Interchange teachers. We had travelled part of the road on our way to Devon and Cornwall, and had found the progress very slow, so I asked if Peter could be excused from last period, and I took David and Jacqueline half an hour early, at 3.30. The traffic as far as Guildford was very heavy, but after that it was better. We came to Southampton and found the Dolphin Hotel without difficulty by eight o'clock, just as it was beginning to get dark. The key to our room was labelled 007 or upside down LOO. We had four single beds, and what was of far greater importance, a TV in the room. After dinner there were slides and a talk about the island in preparation for our day's excursion.

"Can we watch TV?" begged the children. "We haven't seen any since we left home."
"Well, have a bath, and get into your pyjamas and you can watch for a while. We're leaving pretty early so you can't watch for too long."

There were about forty others in the party, who had come from all the southern districts. Several families had children. This was one place where there was a sizable reduction for children. My boys, especially Peter, ate as much as any adult. At breakfast, we all started with fruit juice, followed by cereal, bacon and eggs, toast and tea, coffee or cocoa. Jacqueline (of course) faded out at about the bacon and eggs. We all felt very well fortified for the day.

Walking in groups to the ferry taking us to the Isle of Wight, we met other overseas teachers and many from the Southampton district, a couple from Western Australia with two little girls, single women, perhaps still hoping, young married couples enjoying their freedom before having any children.

From the ferry, buses took us to the points of interest. Cowes, headquarters of the Royal Yacht Squadron full of yachts, but on the surface, not much different from other boating places. However we found some of the other sights quite unusual. Carisbroke Castle, where Charles 1 was imprisoned during his struggle with Parliament, depended on a deep well for water in bygone days. Donkeys were trained to walk around in an upright wheel, which turned an axle, which wound up some hundreds of feet of rope, and brought up the bucket of water. For demonstration purposes they only let down a few feet of rope. The donkey is given the signal, and he hops inside the wheel and trots until he sees the bucket appear, at which moment he jumps off and the attendant puts on the brake. Nowadays the little donkeys have a well-fed and gently exercised look and are a major attraction, especially with the children.

A substantial salad was ready set out at Alum Bay. We sat opposite three elderly English ladies who lived near Southampton. They sat in the sun and chatted while we walked down to the beach and looked at the cliffs from which came sands of dozens of shades of red, brown and yellow. Glass souvenirs in a variety of shapes, containing layers of sand, were available. We bought a little lighthouse.

At Shanklin we were told about a 'rock shop', and as David was interested in rocks, we went in search of it. What we found was a shop where they produced and sold home made candy, known as rock!

"You can buy one thing each." I gave the children ten pence each. "I'm going to buy a box of caramels for the teachers at school. They usually take a box of something to share with the other teachers on their birthdays. I didn't know about that on my birthday, so I'll take something now."

The two main features of the village were a chine or gully which unfortunately was closed (surprising) and the well preserved thatched cottages. The roofs had all been recently rethatched. It seemed to me that when the thatcher came around, everyone took advantage of him, or they might risk finding themselves roofless before his next visit.

Dinner that night was an elegant meal in the company of several VIP's including the Minister for Education. We were offered a variety of meats, and vegetables, and could select from large platters. The food was without doubt the best we had eaten in England.

"This beats school dinners," we all agreed.

On Sunday a convoy left for the New Forest, now very old, where we saw first the Rufus Stone, the sight of the death of William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror.

"He was called Rufus, because he had a ruddy complexion, and that means 'red'. He was cruel, greedy and violent. He was killed by an arrow while hunting, and it remains a mystery whether it was an accident or murder," our guide told us.

Some trees had been cut many years ago (pollarded) to feed the king's deer, and their mutilated shapes are now objects of interest, like creatures' stumps after inexpert amputations. But the forest on the whole was a beautiful sight. It contained many types of trees. Those we saw on a short walk were labelled for our education. I thought the beech trees with their fresh pale green spring leaves were the loveliest.

"There's a book called 'The Children of the New Forest' about children hiding from the king because their father had supported the previous ruler. They lived in the forest and hardly ever needed to go near the town. Everything they needed was here."

At Brocklehurst the members parted. Locals could enjoy the pleasant spring day a little longer. Some had long distances to travel. We had only ninety miles and hoped to make better time on the return, but had to find lunch first.

"See if you can find a shop where we can get some bread for lunch."

Nothing in Brocklehurst met the need. We ended up buying some dreadful hamburgers at a cafe-cum-service station.

It was impossible to pass Winchester without seeing the replica of Arthur's Round Table, a huge decoration on the wall of the Courthouse.

At three o'clock we set out for home and as we expected the traffic was not as heavy as during peak hour on Friday night. However it succeeded in impeding rapid progress, because it included, at frequent intervals, members of veteran car clubs, returning from the London-Brighton rally. This really made the day for the boys. By about the fiftieth car Jacqueline had learnt to distinguish the veterans, by the protruding headlights.


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