Well, round about Christmas I said to Spike that wouldn’t it be great to go to the Wightmeet, and amazingly we actually got our butts in gear and signed up. So, on Friday morning we set off to spend three days with Shipmates, appropriately enough on a boat. We were giving a lift to Agent Smith, who lives about five miles away from us. It took us 45 minutes to get to her house. The joys of a London rush-hour, with added roadworks. AFter that we had a smooth run down to catch the ferry at Southampton. I was very proud of myself not whimpering and feeling barfy on the hour-long crossing, but then it would have been embarrassing otherwise, as the Solent has been described as ‘a moat’ by Smudgie, and as ‘just a big river really’ by my mum. Once on the Island, we had a ride to Ryde on the the Island Line, which uses old London underground tube trains. The fare of 80p return was not something you’d find on the Bakerloo line, mind. After burgers and chips on the seafront (knotted hankies not being worn) we headed to the boat and nabbed ourselves cabins. Gradually Shipmates began to arrive, and we headed off to Smudgie Towers to meet PeteC and to collect Smudgelet, who led us on a walk to the Secret Beach (no, I can’t tell you where it is). The walk back from the beach became a long walk up hill towards the church hall where we were provided with silly games, delicious chilli and marvellous muffins, not to mention the chocolate puddle (it should be a fountain, but the chocolate fondue refuses to bubble up to the top). After that it was back to the boat for an evening of wine and, if I remember rightly, fairly deep and meaningful conversation about the nature of prayer and of Christian community.
The next morning we met up at the beautiful Norman church of St Edmund and set off on a Treasure Hunt. I didn’t do *too* badly on the ‘reading directions’ front, and avoided getting beaten up by my team for not realising there were picture bonuses until we’d passed the picture of a red squirrel. We eventually arrived at Ventnor Botanic Gardens in respectable time (unlike some other groups) for a picnic. After this, Spike and I headed off for a bit of nostalgia, going first to the seafront at Ventnor, where Spike was able to identify the hotel where he’d stayed on a School Journey in 1975, and where we found the fibreglass relief model of the Island, with exclamations of ‘Oh, yeah, I remember that, but I’d forgotten I remembered it if you know what I mean’. After this we went on to Sandown, where I had had a holiday nearly every year from some time in the early seventies until around 1987. I had been describing to Spike the trampolines on the beach, which instead of being raised up were at ground level, with a pit dug in the sand underneath to allow bounce. I was delighted to find these very trampoline pits were still there and clearly still operating in the summer, although the canvases had been taken off for the winter. Maybe childhood doesn’t change so much after all.
In the evening we drove in convoy (with some entertaining circling round roundabouts) to a quayside pub in Newport (where the river, and consequently the local council and many of the amenities, are called Medina – did you see what I did there?). After indulging in unfeasibly large desserts, we headed back. Our party were treated to a cicular tour of Newport courtesy of the SatNav, and some rude words courtesy of Spike as he tried to reprogramme the SatNav to get home. I’d like to report that we spent another evening in serious discussion, but in fact Emma discovered a copy of The Lady (rather dated magazine for posh er, ladies), offering advice to a woman who was trying to find plastic cuff protectors to wear when doing the washing-up. The advice from our party was along the lines of ‘get a life’ and a new feature, ‘Ask Auntie Doris’ was launched and may be appearing somewhere on the Ship soon.
On Sunday morning, as the forecast had predicted, it snowed. Quite heavily. It was lovely to watch the flakes whirl past the portholes as we breakfasted, not quite so lovely going up and down the gangplanks. A select few of us were heading off to church, but not before further swearing from Spike as he brushed snow from the roof of the car and then realised that he had left the driver’s door open and the aforementioned snow was now on his seat. The little Methodist church coped admirably with the influx of visitors, even when we, a bunch of Anglicans with a Baptist and a Canadian Presbyterian thrown in, found we’d sat where the distribution started from and performed some interesting slightly-lost Communion Conga shuffling. By the time we left church the snow had pretty much gone, apart from some white strips in the hedgerows and a few residual ex-snowmen in gardens.
After church we acquired the Smudgelet as a passenger-cum-SatNav, a role he performed admirably in. We had a lunch of sandwiches and unfeasibly large slices of cake at the Lavender Farm before heading over the beautiful Downs to Brading to visit the Roman Villa and its impressive mosaics. In the evening we had dinner, and unfeasibly large desserts (can you see a theme developing here?) at a pub nearer to home, where I gave Spike permission to sample the local beer (um, London Pride?) and Agent Smith and Lilypad survived my driving them back to the boat, and my even more scary parking, which for once was accomplished without any sweary stuff passing between husband and wife. After further wine-and-problem-page silliness we settled down for the last night on the boat. On Monday morning we gathered our goods and chattels and headed off to visit places of interest for the morning before catching the ferry. Tractor Girl and lilypad were dead cultured and went to visit Queen Victoria’s country retreat Osborne House, while the others were off to Amazon World. Spike, Agent Smith and I donned our anoraks and set off for the Bus Museum, but found it closed and joined the others at Amazon World to see marvellous creatures including meerkats, beautifully coloured macaws, armadilloes (crunchy on the outside, smooth on the inside) and capybara (sheep-sized guinea pigs, the largest rodents in the world). Sadly it was soon time to catch the ferry, and from there on into Saff Landan, to do the checks – house still standing, cat still speaking to us. Just up the road from home, I noticed the strange white blobs scattered across Streatham Common, and then remembered – more ex-snowmen. Sometimes you read the papers and worry that children, particularly urban children, have forgotten how to play, and then you realise … and the Wightmeet remiinded me that adults can play, too. Many thanks to Smudgie for organising everything, and to everyone who made this a brilliant weekend.
NB I promise not to use the phrase ‘unfeasibly large’ again for a reasonable period of time.