Yes, it’s that time of the year. I have left the pleasures of Jersey behind and I am back in my so-much-written-about retreat on St Catherine’s Downs, Isle of Wight. And to welcome me, summer has arrived in a shock of blazing blue, green, gold and white…
My last days in Jersey were led at a saner rate than heretofore. I strolled gently, I wrote sagely, I dined in family style with Ann-Marie and Dick, and their friends Fran and Jason, at a delightful and cosy ‘country’ restaurant ... and, all in all, I simply started to get myself into the right gear for my ‘change of season’. And on Monday I boarded the night ferry for Portsmouth…
We were three foot-passengers only on that ferry, and thus I passed a jolly, long, John-Smith-bitter evening with Scott, a 21 year-old bodybuilder and naval engineering student from Southampton University, and Simon, a 24-year-old physics PhD-er from Bristol Uni, with a passion for peluche animals … a suitably surreal situation for my transition from Jerseyman to Wighter.
And now, here I am, curled up in my lovely, peaceful and sunny white suite, in the Best B&B in the World: Hermitage Court Farm, St Catherine’s Down … see the blog for 2008 and 2009 and doubtless eventually more years in the future, for details and endless pix, of which -- why not – just one more!
It has taken me two or three days to settle. A lot of lazing, quite a lot of writing, much eating (the breakfasts here are six star!), and each day a small walk ... up on the downs to visit Mr Hoy’s soaring monument, or across the opposite slopes to the mediaeval ‘pepperpot’ lighthouse with its view over the chalky cliffs of the crumbling island…
I am earlier this year, and the paths are mown and clean, the rhodies and the hawthorn are out, the daisies, buttercups and millions of bluebells throng the greensward ... (sorry, I’m working on nineteenth century documents and the language is catching) … even the flowering gorse looks pretty. And the downs, so green with their flowing view down to the Solent..
My fourth day, however, dawned so summer-perfect that it was clearly time to get out and about. South Wight Rentals, bless ‘em, had saved me my ‘Red Fred’ of the two previous years (see in above picture). He is a little battered now, but I love him lots. He is one of two cars on this earth who does exactly what I tell him! And this morning it was time for the two of us to venture forth. Where to? I’m afraid I am predictable: each year my first trip is the same. Via Brightstone. Mottistone Moor and those little ‘deep-breath-in-Fred!’ country roads where two vehicles can’t really pass, to Newtown, with its fabled little Town Hall, its pretty houses and church, and its delightful Estuary walks.
I did ‘em all, for the umpteenth time ... and they were lovelier than ever. I visited the National Trust bird-hide and saw the plaque to the memory of the mother of my friend Jasper, I took a new version of an old walk across the tidal waters with their throng of little white boats … and, when all was done, Fred and I tootled down the road to Shalfleet and its well-known New Inn for a ginger-beer shandy and black sausage and cheddar salad.
When you are a critic, you write your review – whether it be of an opera, a musical, a concert, or a restaurant -- and you wonder very often whether what you have written is of the slightest significance, the slightest use.
Well, I like to think that my thrilled but sane opinions, on that quarter-of-a-century-ago first night of Les Misérables, had a little influence on the way the show was boldly and successfully reshaped after an indifferently well-received opening night. ‘Cut the little boy’ was one of my declarations to a shocked co-director. They did, and the improvement was manifest. It probably wasn’t because of me, but I like to think it was.
Today it happened again. My reviews of the New Inn have always been good, but last year I had one horrid stricture. Their otherwise delicious sausage salad was made with … shudder … lettuce! I penned my disapproval loudly. And today, when my shandy (the best, made with excellent organic ginger beer) and salad arrived .. no lettuce! Lovely, tasty green-leaves instead. My best meal ever at the New Inn. Well, they may or may not have read my notice, but I prefer to think that they did ... and just as with the musical, the meal has profited enormously!
I cruised home, most satisfied, down my favourite roads to the ever-rising Chale Green Store, where I picked up a couple of bottles of nice if pricey Chablis and some wild hare pâté ... they will do very nicely for cocktail hour on the sunny lawn with Jayne and Chris in .. goodness, a couple of hours time..
Oh, it’s good to be back in Wight ... in full colour!