Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Isle of Wight: Over and Out

My days in Wight have been wittering away, one by one … and very soon my stay here will be done. Tomorrow, I’ll be on my way back to Berlin.
To be truthful, I haven’t paced myself very well during my stay here. Equipped with that pseudo-youthful vigour that I seem somehow to have discovered in myself this year, I hurled myself into action from my first days on the island – dining, wining, gallivanting, socialising and exploring – and once I began writing my daily pieces for the VentnorBlog, the tempo only increased. And, after six Wightish weeks, gentle signs of Kurt Implosion started to show. Time to slow down!
But ‘slow’ doesn’t mean ‘stop’! So I do have a few more restaurants, a few more dinners and lunches, a few more outings to add to my score for July, from Quarr to Totland – one end of the island to the other.
The visit to Totland was a lunch out with Richard, a new VB pal. I said ‘pick a place’ and he opted for the High Down Inn, way out beyond Dimbola, in a part of the island I had never penetrated. Excellent! The Inn – which has a somewhat colourful and drug-stained past history -- turned out to be a very jolly place indeed. Properly pubby, not too big, light and comfy, carpark not coachpark, ale from the barrel. Nice. We had an agreeable ‘pub lunch’ – having seen the world-record doorstep sandwiches, I had a neat smoked mackerel with my shandy – and a good time was had by all. I’d pop in there for a quick one any time.

I have been told for a long time that I, who love Quarr Abbey so, ought to go there to hear the monks sing vespers. So when my friend Gilly said she would like to go too, it seemed the good moment. Red Fred was called into action and off we trekked. Quarr was looking its loveliest in the semi-dusk..
What did I expect to hear? As a heathen, I suppose I didn’t know what Benedictine monks do for vespers. But somehow I expected singing. Alas, I didn’t get it. If this is what is called ‘plainsong’, then rightly so. It is very plain indeed. Most of the time on one note. Unfortunately, not all of the seven and a half mostly elderly monks performing seemed to agree on quite what that note was. Nor on the timing. Nor when to come in together. And, well, I have an MA (Hons) in Latin, and I had the text in front of me … I could barely distinguish a word. It sounded like an unenthusiastic washing list. An out-of-tune-and-time washing list.
Benedictine vespers are not for me. But Quarr Abbey is. Once again it moved me hugely. And, as the sun sank behind the spire, I snapped it one last time before leaving …

Quarr day was a big day, for on our return I dined on luscious, plump local plaice with Gilly and Chris at Jasmine Cottage. And before our jaunt, I had lunched with Simon and Sal, the owners of VentnorBlog at their palazzo in Medina Road. I didn’t take a photo, so here’s one taken a few days earlier, when I introduced them to what every Wightman and WIghtwoman should know: the Royal Hotel’s famous Gallybagger soufflé!

I have a wonderful souvenir of my visit to Medina Road, and of my stint as ‘boy reporter’ on the VentnorBlog. Simon and Sal manufactured me two delicious commemorative tiles to take back to Gerolstein. Oddly enough, they are just the right size to take a wine glass..

The round of goodbyes continued, but my ‘last lunch’ had to be saved for the Bay Grill. I’d intended to visit Ryan Burr’s resto regularly after my first fab feed there, but geography and my ‘indisposition’ meant I’d never even got back once. So, yesterday, off I set. I arrived well and truly early, so as to have time for a nice long chat with Ryan and his team before things got too busy, the ‘star’ cooked me my favourite chicken dish with his own fair hands .. and yes! it was just as good second time around! ... and he even let me try his Raybans. Well, every star needs them these days, yes? He does the sulphurous look that goes with them much better than I..

My last evening was saved for my friend Debby. She’s had an ‘indisposition’ of her own, as well as being occupied running three businesses and the town of Ventnor, so we’ve missed each other quite a lot. So where did we go? To the Hermitage. The Hermitage is 500 metres from my ‘home’. It’s the original early-19th century mansion that throned over all the lands round here, and its now an hotel. Very recently, Debby’s friends Ian and Jo have taken over the day-to-day running of the place so .. why not?

I could write a whole article on this place. The building is lovely, the grounds are lovely, the lounge was comfy and the dining room delightful. With very little expense and effort (and some is sorely needed) this could be an absolute top-class luxury small hotel (10 rooms). At the moment, it falls somewhere in a stylistic and characterful no-man’s land. Everything is very pleasant (especially my definitely home-made soup!), but all I could see .. all I could think .. was what it could be. Heck, give me (and Mr Burr?) a free hand here for a bit and .. wow! the possibilities are huge.
An impossible rumour says the owner thinks to install a helipad. He’d be mad. He hasn’t got (yet) a place that helicopter-style people would find even nearly up to the mark. Spend the helipad money on getting The Hermitage right, sir … and then … then invite me down from my luxurious suite next-door.

So, come the morrow, I’m off. Down to Shanklin to return Red Fred. The little train to Ryde, and the FastCat to Portsmouth, where an Airport Transfer minicab (55 quid) awaits to take me to Heathrow. At 5pm, I fly by British Midland (I wonder if they can get everything right this time) to Tegel, Berlin .. sigh .. by the time I roll in to Kevin’s flat, it will be some 14 hours from Hermitage Court Farm …
Such is the traveller’s life.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kenny Ball and Me.


I’ve talked on the air, and written here, there and everywhere, about what seems to be considered (although I don’t quite see it that way) My Fabulous Life, rather a lot over the past twenty years or so. In English and once, marvellously, at great length in French. I’ve been a good fellow, and I’ve always told only the truth. And I also haven’t spilled any of the beans that I have in the depths of my pockets about others with lives very much more fabulous than mine … although, as an historian, maybe I owe it to posterity to empty my pockets one day.
The latest, and one of the most enjoyable – for me – of these broadcasts was recorded this week, right here in my suite at Hermitage Court Farm, Isle of Wight. Local ‘Interviewer to the Stars’, John Hannam – host of Britain’s longest-running radio chat show, on 107FM – turned up with his portable studio, and we spent a very merry hour and more putting down a programme which will air … maybe fortunately ... after I have left the island.

Why was it one of the most enjoyable? Because you so rarely meet an interviewer who has so thoroughly done his homework, who doesn’t ask such foolish and inapposite questions that you have to twist things round frantically to get the interview back on sensible wheels, who is self-effacing to precisely the right degree, so that it is his guest, rather than he, who ‘shines’ … I’ve met far too many of the other kind of interviewer in my life, not to appreciate a consummate professional when I meet one.

When we were done, I signed my name in the Guest Book that John has kept through the twenty years of his show. The last name there inscribed was that of actress Harriet Walter. Further back appear such memorable men and women as Charlton Heston, Stirling Moss, John Mills, Alan Rickman, Anne Shelton, Jeremy Irons, Cliff Richard, Michael York, Vera Lynn … and as we chatted, after the recording, there came a call arranging his next appointment. With Kenny Ball.
Oh, heck, thirty-five years ago, I was the ‘boy from the office’ when Harold and Ian presented Kenny Ball at the top of the bill in Sunday Concerts at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. It makes you want to blush.
Or laugh out loud.
But, hey, if other people think my life has been fabulous enough that they want to hear me talk about it, that’s fine by me. Me, I know just how fabulous it has been.

PS The famous forty-minute French interview actually still exists! In these days of the World Wide Web, it has been enshrined on the website of Paris’s Canal Académie, and leaps up before me every time I google myself to make sure that I am still alive!

The Return of Elena

The story of my beautiful Elena ... no, not story, ‘saga’ … has, during the four and a half years since I brought her home from my first visit to the yearling sales, been what can only be called colourful, and her adventures and misadventures filled many a page of this blog, up till the day that she finally made it to the races, and then, earlier this year, at the age of five and at only her seventh raceday start, scored her maiden victory at Addington.
However, in four subsequent starts, she behaved rather badly at the start and, as a result, she was listed as ‘unruly’, and condemned to start from the back row in her races.
We puzzled over her misbehaviour. In her first trials, she had gone away securely from a standing start: now she was being difficult from the theoretically ‘easier’ mobile gate. Gear changes didn’t see to help. So Wendy decided on ‘back to basics’. Elena was put out to spell and, a few weeks ago, she went back to the trials .. back where she started out. The standing start. And she did it. Two ‘safe’ runs, and if she was beaten 15 lengths ... well the horse in front was a Derby horse and a multiple high-class winner.

17 July was our local Rangiora raceday, and Wendy – why not? – decided to enter Elena. She was probably not ready to run anywhere near her best, but she needed practice ... this was to be her first raceday start from a stand. So why not? Still, one way and another, I was barely confident, and the betting public agreed. In a fourteen horse field, Elena went out … fourteenth favourite!
Things began well. Gavin (Smith) got her away nicely, although her draw meant that, when they settled she was at the rear of the field. The pace, however, wasn’t too hot, and when Paul Borcoskie chose a wise moment to take his horse round the field, Gav latched on behind. My eyes boggled. Look at Lena! Round she swept, and when threatened with being left three wide outside the favourite and leader, she and Gav simply went straight on and, as they hit that last hectometres, into the lead. Into the straight she even skipped a length or two clear .. could this be another 100-1 winner for Wendy?
Well, not quite. In the very last metres her condition – unsurprisingly – gave out, and she was pinned back, a length and a bit back, into third. But a decidedly impressive third.

Stoked owner and trainer! One on each side of the world…

Well, if Elena can keep on running like that, this could be a merry season! I hope she can. We know she can do it – Wendy and I have always had faith in her, even through the darkest days of her medical problems – but there were moments when I think we were the only ones. Were we right? The next months should tell. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lasagna fantastica!


After the Help Beyond the Call of Duty rendered me the other day, in my vehicular distress, by the lads of the Medina Monarch, I reckoned I owed these Jolly Young Watermen a shout. Pick your place, I said. And so, last night, Matt, Ian, friend Carole and I headed for the Bonchurch Inn. ‘You’ll like it’ said Matt in a tone of voice that showed that he wasn’t wholly sure. Why wasn’t he sure?, I wondered. I’m a Very Open-Minded Person. As long as the food’s good, the drink’s good, the service is good, the atmosphere is good..
As soon as we walked through the door any doubt on the last count blew away. Triple Yes! A Proper Pub. With, good grief, barrels of ale! So who cares if they don’t have Guinness on tap, or if mine host admits shamefully to having drunk the entire stock of Chardonnay himself: a pint of Best from the barrel will do me splendidly.

A cosy table in a corner, and a menu which I don’t even open, because Il Signor Besozzi (for, yes, there is an ancient Italian influence here) is telling us what he’s cooked today. Cannelloni spinaci .. oh yes! Or, what? Lasagne with chicken livers and chorizos .. unheard of. Impossible. Who dreamed that up? This creation simply has to be tried.
Salad? No. I explain my allergy to lettuce. But Carole is having salad, so one comes anyway. And Il Signor presents me with a magnifying glass, so I can check it for lettuce. I almost choke with chuckles on my second pint of Best. Oh, what fun eating out can be!
Even better than fun, of course, is good food. And I can tell you the Lasagna Fantastica is good, good, marvellously good food. I almost wept that the helping was so enormous that even with the help of the third pint of Best, I had to leave too much of it on my plate. Next time I shall ask for a Pensioner’s Portion.

Eating done, I had no wish to leave this merry place, even though it was dangerously near my usual bedtime, and so a fourth pint of Best was called for …
Matt need not have worried. One can love Tio Pepe and soufflé, as served by the suave Buggy at the Royal Hotel, and love Lasagna Fantastica and a barrel of best bitter in a cosy pub just as well. I know one can, because I do.
My evening at the Bonchurch Inn was a total success. The food was grand, the drink was grand, the room is grand, Mine host Adrian is veritably ‘a host in himself’, and his supporting cast help keep the atmosphere humming merrily.

What could one ask for more? The day when I whinged about having nowhere to eat in Ventnor is a century away.

PS I’m told that ‘Jolly Young Waterman’ won’t ring a bell in the 21st century. It’s the title of a very famous old show song, the sort of thing that most of my books are about. Using C19th expressions has almost got me into trouble in recent days. Twice, words I’ve used have had to be edited because the 21st century has given them a new blue meaning of which I wot not. So I can’t say nonce’ anymore, and I can’t say ‘hummer’ (see Urban Dictionary).
PPS ‘Bonzer’ is New Zealandish for ‘terrific’

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In Pursuit of a Picnic

Sunday evening. And I’m starting to feel just a bit worn and torn with all this lunching and dining and zooming around the Island. I’ll have a couple of quiet days ‘in’, with just picnics on my hilltop.
Monday, young Mr Ryan Burr had an evening off, so I zoomed away in his dashing coupé – occupying for the nonce the seat usually, doubtless, occupied by the latest blonde – for a splendid evening out. Where does one go with the Rising Young Chef of the place? To the Established Star Chef, of course. So, once more, back to the Royal Hotel and ... well, I don’t need to tell you.

Tuesday I shut my ears to all offers and ideas, and around midday snuck quietly and quickly forth to gather picnic materials for the evening. I returned home four hours later. I’d got my picnic, but I’d also got sidetracked. Because I went shopping at Farmer Jack’s. And, since I was at Arreton – this time well-populated with coaches and many more than 77 cars -- I naturally popped into the Daughter for a pint, and couldn’t resist a return to the ‘machines’.
Well, I was wrong – most of them are post-Victorian – but hey! most of them are also in working order. And were they working! Happy punters, equipped with handsful of old pennies, crowded the two rooms, merrily playing machines that are ten times more fun that the flashing-light gizmos of today. I felt I was back in the beloved Blackpool of my twenties! Brilliant.
I should have put a penny into ‘The French Execution’, which I assume is – behind its secret doors -- a gory guillotine exhibition, I should have tried ‘The Drunkard’s Dream’ and watched the room go round, or ‘The Spiritualist Room’. I wonder what happens there. I am too modest, of course, for ‘The Peeping Butler’ (‘adults only’).

From the machines, I continued on, this time, to the Shipwreck Museum: a splendid collection of maritime memorabilia – even a Feejee Mermaid! -- put together over half a century by Mr Martin Woodward, and supplemented by all sorts of exhibitions of rural machinery and tools. I was a bit alarmed to see the tractor I still use on my farm classed as an antique, and several of the instruments in the ancient forge also looked all too familiar, as did the heap of rusting horseshoes, which gave me just a twinge of ‘homesickness’.

I reckon personal collections always make the best small museums, and such museums – from Dimbola to Brightstone to Arreton – the Island seems to have a fill of.

Before I knew it, more than two hours had gone by. I don’t spend two hours in the Louvre. And I don’t spend ten minutes around ‘the pokies’. Two hours and I hadn’t bought a single picnickable item. I hastened on to Farmer Jack’s.

So here I am at Farmer Jack’s. Nice cheese counter, with familiar French cheeses, but for once I’m not buying French. While I’m here, I’m strictly on ‘local’. Alas, there is no such thing as a local saucisse (although the lady behind the counter tells me it’s been tried), so in that department I have to go foreign.
A rather original looking and slightly floppy cucumber. Heavens, these days a little cucumber costs a pound. It’s a while since I veggie shopped in England. They were 20p in those days.
I’ve been told that they make nice sausages here. None in the cabinet, but the lads are on the ball, and I get sausages made for me, while I wait.
Down to the bakery for some rolls, and – are those cheese straws! .. my picnic is looking OK. However, Farmer Jack, for all his delights, doesn’t do alcoholic beverages so, before I head on home, a small detour is needed. I shall pop quickly down to the Godshill Cider shop and grab some of their ginger beer and cider.

I realised, as soon as I turned into the High Street, that I’d miscalculated. And there was no turning back. If Arreton was buzzing, Godshill was shrieking with activity. The threatening thatch towered over Fred and I, the thronged tearooms tentacled towards us, cavalcades of coaches promised simply to crush us, and people! People wandered unheedingly down the road as if it were a walkway, or simply loitered chattily in front of my moving bumper ... I headed cravenly for the safety of the nice big (free) carpark and … I couldn’t get in. A huge blue bus was stuck in the exit. Traffic piled. Cars wiggled hopelessly. I couldn’t. The bus was in my face and another car two inches behind me.
When finally I managed to get into the parking area, it was full and customers were cruising for a spot. Too much. I would go round and out, I would flee this terrifying place. But a gap opened and in I dashed.

Finally, I arrived at Godshill Cider, and pried my way in. Push and shove, I got to the relevant shelves and loaded my basket with as much as I could carry. ‘Is it always like this?’ I puffed to the lass who took my money. ‘Oh, its busier in the summer’. ‘But this is the summer’. She shook her head as she put my bottles into a carton, ‘next month’.
I shall be in Berlin next month. I’m sure there will be less people, and certainly less coaches, and probably even less money changing hands per square centimetre, there.

Getting out of Godshill’s nice big free carpark was as crazy as getting in. Getting out of the village, similarly. Some of those tea-takers must surely have a death wish. Why did I get the feeling that, if they were squashed, the next squad of tea-takers would just walk unseeingly over them?
But I had my picnic, and enough in reserve that I sha’n’t have to go back too soon.
When I do, I shall do it at dawn, before the tearooms are stirring and while the coaches still sleep ... and never, but never, in the month of August!

I am, however, happy to say that it was all worth it. I had a splendid picnic and the delicious, cold Godshill cider just topped it off nicely. But ..

Until when the Godshill bypass?
Or a ten-story parking building?

The Merstone Warning

Road signs were surely invented to tell us which way to go to get where we want to be.
But then the wheel was invented, and we got road signs telling us how fast to drive. Or, rather, nor to drive.
The Americans have taken all this to extreme, of course, and these ‘basic’ signs have got drowned amongst pointers to Dolly‘s One-Hour Day Motel and Bert’s Beer Parlour and advertisements for exceptionally fast food and cars. But, over here, we can still – most of the time – get the instructive and necessary messages that road signs deliver.

This isn’t to say that they can’t sometimes be a bit confusing. I came upon one signpost the other day, in the no-mans land between the Military Road and Shorwell, which seemed to have got turned round a bit, and I ended up in a field. And sometimes I forget, amongst the positive plethora of speed signs, whether it was a 30-40-40-30 or a 40-40-30-40 I last passed. Or what I have been de-restricted from/to.

The third principal variety of road signs is the Warnings. Watch out for low flying cows, and so forth. The Island does pretty well with interesting ones: I’ve been warned against badgers crossing and, for heaven’s sake, red squirrels crossing. But my favourite Wightish sign is in the village of Merstone.
I like it because it is quietly witty, original, and very much to the point.

You don’t see too many folk speeding past the thirty (it used to be thirty-one, I wonder what happened) driveways of Merstone, and every time I see this sign my knee-jerk reaction is to look at my speedo.
I reckon the villagers should get together and shout themselves a nice painted version of this sign. It can go down in road history as ‘the Merstone warning’.

Kurt the Travel and Food Writer becomes Quotable!

Hmmm. It's a seriously 'selective' quote. In fact one which makes me say something rather different to what I did. But that's show biz. Exactly like show biz: if you have ever read the 'quotes' outside a theatre!
Chuckle, you can see why they didn't insert a link (as they should have), but I shall insert one to them .. and you can read what I really wrote below!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Gallybagger Soufflé

Today, to my enormous surprise, I found myself accused on the Internet of, by my recent restaurant reviews, ‘making the Gallybagger soufflé world famous’.

I scratched my head, and then did what any man would do in such a circumstance: I Googled the phrase. Sure enough, up it came ... a meagre eight hits, and four of them were me! My various gluttonous rave notices (see below) of the soufflés made, with the Isle of Wight’s very own to-die-for cheese, and served on a bed of Waldorf salad, by Chef Alan Staley at Ventnor’s Royal Hotel.

Here was I thinking that I was partaking of what was surely a familiar Wightish food treat – like toheroas in New Zealand or caviar in St Petersburg – and I find that I am a veritable discoverer. A culinary Captain Cook! A torchbearer!

Well, light that torch. And I’ll say it one more time. If you are a first-class foodie, don’t dare die without experiencing this ..

You will, of course – as I explained when I visited the farm where Gallybagger cheese is made – have to come to the Isle of Wight for the experience. For Gallybagger is what would, I suppose, in this day and age be comically called a ‘boutique’ cheese. A Limited Edition. Not enough of it is produced to supply the rest of the world. But, happily, there is enough to supply the Royal Hotel..

whither, it just so happens, I am heading in two and a half hours, for a glass of chilled tio pepe in the Conservatory, a little gaspacho with Ventnor Bay crab and avocado, a nice (shared) bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape and, need I say it, my fix of the famous soufflé.

I shall take my camera, and illustrate subsequently …. ☺

PS I did

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And some more...

Gold Medal Grub
Kurt does a double-take to get his favourite lunch

Last week, when I listed my ‘Best Lunches So Far’ for you, I did kind of cheat by giving gold medal to somewhere I hadn’t actually eaten at lunchtime. So I thought, in the cause of journalistic honesty, that I better had, and I e-mailed the Royal Hotel to book myself in for a midday Gallybagger soufflé with music in the Conservatory. No go. The twinkling fingers of Mr Simon Fricker don’t do lunchtimes, just Friday and Saturday from 7pm. I would have to decide whether to compromise on my entertainment or my honesty.
To hell with honesty. I booked myself in for 6.45pm Friday night. Music night. I would simply pretend it was a late lunch.
I settled in my favourite corner of the ‘Brasserie’, Buggy, my perfect waiter (what language is that name?), fixed me up with a properly cold tio pepe, and Simon installed himself at the piano, to entertain me and me alone with his musical comedy melodies. I ordered a nice bottle of Châteauneuf de Pape ’07, toyed with the menu, and the ghastly truth hit. Soufflé was .. off!
I sipped my wine, stared at the menu and opted for a Waldorf salad with the other island cheese, and – what the hell – a simple sole. I was peeved: my plans were all awry. But I couldn’t stay peeved for long. The music rolled on, the wine rolled down, and I struck up a pleasant conversation with David and Jenny from Northampton, at the next table, over their gaspacho and Ventnor Crab. Must try that next visit.
Then, in no time, it was that time. Simon’s recital was done, and he joined us for a nightcap and – oh, dear – the bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape was empty. Had I …? Oh,dear. And Red Fred was waiting for me in the (free) carkpark.

But Good Angels were at hand. David and Jenny don’t do alcohol, and thus, our convivial evening done, I was just ever so slightly shamefacedly chauffeured up to the top of the Downs.
I bid my ‘angels’ goodbye and ... realisation dawned. I had taken to dinner my one and only jacket -- more as a prop than for propriety – and it was still hanging over the back of my chair at the Royal.
Chuckle. You know that ages old trick? When you want to be invited back somewhere, you ‘accidentally’ leave your gloves. Was my subconscious at work?
I mailed the Royal. Please would someone rescue my (blush) abandoned clothing. Certainly, and had I enjoyed my ‘soufflé and music’?, inquired the management. ‘Soufflé was off’, I groaned.
The response came swiftly back: ‘Anytime you want to come for the soufflé, just let us know, and Alan Staley will make sure you have one’. Well! That’s some sort of service!
My morning’s duties done, I duly popped into Red Fred and headed for Ventnor. ‘May I have my jacket, please, and would it be possible to say hello to Mr Staley?’. Chef Alan emerged from the kitchen. ‘I’m Kurt, the soufflé man’. ‘Any time’ he smiled. It was 12.30pm, and fate had opened its arms. ‘Er … such as, now?’ I ventured. ‘Why not’.
So there I was, once again, back at my table in the corner, tio pepe in hand … it was ‘take two’! … only the music was missing. And, naturally, the red wine. And here came my Gallybagger soufflé. Ahhhhhhhhh.
I’ll swear it was even better than it had been the first time.
And now I can truthfully report that this is Gänzl’s Gold Medal Lunch of the Isle of Wight.
Unless, of course, you can find me something better.

I VentnorBlog some more

Kurt finds that Life (and Wight) are full of surprises

When VB’s editors launched the call for lunching suggestions that put me on the happy track of the Bay Grill, the resulting post-bag also included a suggestion that I get in touch with Matt and Cat, the island’s resident food writers. Do I or don’t I?, I wondered, remembering days when one used to see musical-theatre critics Jack Tinker and John Barber seemingly ‘colluding’ in a corner in the interval at first nights.
But, hey, I’m gone in three more weeks, so where’s the harm?
Since the Chatfields can only get away from business briefly at lunchtime, and since I am true to my vow never to pay for parking while I am on the island, Matt nominated the Dairyman’s Daughter at Arreton Barns for our snack rendez-vous.
I frowned. My experience of Arreton to date had not been good. I had previously wasted good money visiting Arreton Manor (Manor?) on one of the most ghastly, rip-off ‘guided tours’ I can ever remember, and had avoided the Barns as ‘a collection of tourist shops’. As for the pub, it was – I was told – under the same management as the Spyglass Inn, which it is about time I admitted as being – along with Bembridge’s Crab and Lobster – one of the two top Horrible Megapub Experiences in all my Wightish eating-out. But I went. With just a little time to look around before our meeting.
As I turned into the Barns ‘complex’ the sign ‘coaches only’ flashed before my eyes and I quailed. What was I doing here? Surely this was about as un-me as could be imagined. Maybe Matt and Cat haven’t read my stuff, just as I haven’t read theirs.
I parked in a paddock (free!) and counted. There were no coaches, but there were seventy-seven cars. The place was surely buzzing. Tentatively, I peeked inside the first building. Hang on! This was no ‘tourist shop’. Brightly coloured fresh veg. Shelves of interesting bottles and jars. A splendid cheese counter with Gallybagger and Isle of Wight Blue.

A butchery, even! What was this? ‘Farmer Jack’s’? I’ll tell you what it is? It is a find! For me, anyway. I’m sure everyone on the island already knows that it’s a Food Store of One’s Dreams.
I longed to linger, but I needed to hurry on to take in the rest of the Barns. What else would I find? Well, there is nothing to top Farmer Jack’s, but there are some little craft places and a couple of shops full of Stuff That Nobody Needs (But Buys When on Holiday), and the pub isn’t even a megapub! It’s a thoroughly jolly, pleasing-kind-of-old hostelry, chockfull of ‘ancient’ decoration, with a cheerful barman and a nice big square with heaps of plastic (dammit) chairs and tables and big bright blue (argh! Foster’s!) brellas

I hastened on, through a dazzling and curiosity-arousing array of old artefacts and machines, piled fascinatingly, everywhere you look, to a ‘Shipwreck Museum’. I didn’t investigate the Ships, though, because I was struck absolutely dumb by the most amazing collection of Victorian slot-machines I have ever seen. I adore Victoriana, automata, and end-of-the-pier machinery. This I will go back for. This I have to see properly. What a gem! Where did it come from? Bembridge? Why in the hell did Bembridge let it go?

The Church. I must see the church. And above all, I must see the grave of Elizabeth Wallbridge, the ‘dairyman’s daughter’ of history, whom I have encountered in my writings on the 19th century. There it was, carefully restored and well cared-for… My Fuji flashed happily.

Almost time to get back for my rendez-vous. I looked around. There was the manor. Looking wan. But, next-door, was that a working farm? Surely not. And a cottage (ah, its ‘for sale’) ... but do real people live here? Goodness, there is much more to Arreton than I could ever have guessed. ‘Bunch of tourist shops, indeed!’.

I chickened out of food when I saw the menu (chips with everything, salad with everything) and settled on my ginger-beer shandy (Goodman’s and Britvic) and ‘home-made soup’. I’m not going to ask whose home. If all the soups that are ‘home-made’ on the island really are, and all the ‘fresh’ sea-food really is ‘of the day’, you will have no unemployment problem. Everyone over the age of 10 will be soup-making and fishing 24 hours a day.
Matt and Cat were more adventurous. Matt’s prawn bap simple bulged with seafood (alas, for me, bathed in a viscous mayonnaisey stuff) and I filched – just for reference’s sake -- one of Cat’s not too huge heap of chips. No sissy French fry, a nice butch, hot, English chip. Full marks.
Maybe, next time, I might try a chip or two. Because – surprise of my century – I’m coming back. I’m coming back mainly to spend more time in the museum, but I’ll undoubtedly stock my picnic cupboard at Farmer Jack, and I wouldn’t mind a cheerful pint and a chip or two (home-made?) at the Daughter, either.

Some days are full of surprises.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

All the Threes... thirty three!

They say that troubles come in gaggles. But I’ve found, in horse-racing, that so do triumphs. Twice, during my dozen years in the game, my tiny team has burst into multiple winning action – that amazing fortnight in February 2000 when Davey Crockett won thrice, and Gwen once – and, later, when Rosmarino in Australia and Il Campione and Master Ado in New Zealand all hit winning form at once, adding largely to my Triumph Total, which at the beginning of this year stood, somewhat blocked, at twenty-nine victories.
But 2010 saw me past the thirty mark, as first Elena in New Zealand, and then Tenor in France, got me back on track. And then came little homebred Seppl’s victory last week. Three wins: already, half-way into the year, an above-average season. But there was more to come, and this morning, at 7am Wightish time, all the threes came up: win number thirty-three!
Even watching from the other side of the world, on a tiny video screen, I could see that Seppl’s victory at Ashburton-upon-Addington had been what might be termed ‘comfortable’ and, although the step up from maidens to one-win class is often a pretty big one for a young horse, I was fairly confident that he would be competitive ‘up a grade’. So his run for 6th at Rangiora last week was a little less than I’d hoped for.
Today he was back at Addington. Mr Trottech the Tipster retained his confidence in the wee boy and made him second pick, but the public was less sanguine. The bookies had him at 13-1, and the tote fifth favourite at 10s. The hotpot was a frustrating beast named Maysoon, which has been belying its name on Canterbury tracks for a couple of seasons, doing more galloping than trotting, but which had recently run an impressive trial.
Once again, with no live link, I could only wait for the result: urgently wanting him to confirm his quality by coming somewhere, anywhere, and, deep inside me, just a little prepared for him to win. And win he did.

Just how comfortably he did it, in what was clearly his best run to date, I couldn’t know until the video went up on the HRNZ website, amazingly quickly after the finish.
Once again, he made his ‘trademark’ (long may it last!) fast-acceleration beginning, and he rolled straight to the front, where it is becoming obvious that he loves to be. Behind there was a certain amount of carnage in the large field, but Maysoon got away and, once things were settled, rattled round the field at -- given the falling rain and the slushy track -- a decidedly quick rate. Behind Seppl, Stephen (McNally) simply had to let her past. But if Maysoon has speed, she also (like Seppl’s mum) seems to have an aversion to corners, and when one of those came up she simply blew out of her gear and the race. Once again, Seppl was in front. And there he stayed. Round the final bend, he skipped several lengths clear of the field and he cruised to the line without Stephen having to worry him unduly. The statistics may say that he won by a neck from the strongly finishing runner-up (with 3 ¼ lengths to third), but it could undoubtedly have been more.
If I sound less thrilled and excited about this win than the little feller’s first, it actually isn’t so. But, now that we know that our Seppl is ‘up to scratch’ as a competitor in the intermediate trotting class, his successes, when they come (and I’m sure there will be more), will have less of that element of joyous and incredulous surprise that have accompanied some of my other wins. But I promise, they will be none the less welcome for all that! Just let them come! Go, go, little Seppl!


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Eternal Search for Lunch

takes Kurt across to Ryde .. and success!

When I first had a little wail on VB about the difficulty I was having finding my way, each day, to The Kind of Lunch I Like, a good number of folk popped up with suggestions. Some were places I already knew, some were already on my ‘to be repeated’ list, some were a bit exotic for me … and that left just one. A young man by name Ryan Burr who – if his facebook picture was to be believed – looked like a cross between Elvis Presley and the Chocolate Soldier – was recommending a new place called The Bay Grill at Appley Beach. When I answered ‘OK’, it turned out that Ryan Burr (‘chef patron’) was the Bay Grill at Appley Beach. ‘He must be confident’, I thought, and fixed a day.

That was today.
I had done my homework. I had scouted the young resto’s very attractive blue-and-white website (, and had more or less worked out where Appley was. What I hadn’t worked out was how to get there from my cheese expedition to Queen Bower! Alderstone, Avgerstone.. help! .. and finally the one-way system round the Boating Pond! But I got there, leaped into the big free-parking lot, and climbed the stairs.

The blue and white theme most successfully carried through – I feel like I’m back in Villefranche-sur-mer – especially as I’m shown to a nice table on the balcony, overlooking the beach and the sea. Nice tables, when you are One Person, are not always evident.

My road frazzles are evaporating. Would I like a drink? Well, I shouldn’t but ... OK, let’s start off mean. I ask for a campari. Pretty, new, comfortable, staffed with charming young people, but they can’t possibly have it. My campari turns up, on the rocks, no fruit, and with the soda separate, just as I’d asked. Hmmm.

Little work of blue-and-white art. Choice not too big, not too small. I want to try several things, so I opt for two starters: calamari followed by chicken. The people at the next table have had the calamari and are highly pleased.
So am I. It is perfect. The rings and the helping the right size. The batter light, slim, ten-seconds old ... and no oily taste, even when you get to the last slow mouthful and your food is cooling. Well, well.

Chicken on lemongrass spikes. Will this keep up the smile level? No. It increases it. This I really, really liked. The chicken is soft as a baby’s cheek. The accompaniments – including a chili which rocks your loins and makes you pay thorough attention to your food -- are delicious. I am enjoying myself far too much for this to be decent. I had better top up my campari. And, maybe ... a little something light and cold for dessert.

Kurt, you don’t eat desserts.
But I did. Black and white chocolate whatsit. Sin in a bowl.
Total bill: 19 pounds.

Well, young Mr Burr, I thought, you were right to be confident. You’ve got a thorough little winner here, I reckon.

It’s a beggar that Appley is so far from the Hermitage. Red Fred is going to get hysterical if I drag him across Brading Downs again and again. But I reckon I’m going to have to. Thanks, VB, you really pointed me right with this one.

PS It’s doubtless thoroughly unprofessional, but I stuck my head and my Fuji into the kitchen and snapped Ryan Burr (who isn’t like either Elvis or a soldier) and head chef, James Pearce, for my album. And for VB, too. Lads, I wish you and your (very) young team the greatest of success. More like you the lunching world can definitely do with.


Up until very recently, the word ‘Gallybagger’ wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Asked to guess, I would have plumped for something like an 18th-century smuggler or perhaps a secret trouser-snatcher. But now I know. Gallybagger is ancient Wightish for ‘scarecrow’. And modern Wightish for ‘cheese’.

Cheese is a very personal thing. We all have our favourites, and there are endless varieties to choose from. In recent years, my big favourite has been the soft, French, unpasteurised Époisse[s], but I’m always open to new ideas. I encountered ‘Gallybagger’ for the first time in the delicious cheese soufflé at Ventnor’s Royal Hotel, so when I afterwards saw it under glass at the deli at Chale Green Stores, I had to buy it. And try it. And I went promptly back and bought the whole piece. I introduced Brother John to it, during his Island stay, and the next day, we went back once more, and split between us all that the Store had to offer. His part headed for Leicestershire, mine .. is no more. So I thought that, while I am here, I really should go and see where this rather remarkable cheese came from. I know I don’t have to tell anyone on the Island about the ‘Isle of Wight Cheese Company’, and about its lightning rise to international success with, initially, their Isle of Wight blue cheese and now with others, including my pet ‘scarecrow’. The whole story is told at, one of the young company’s 19,300 hits on Google, it has been on television and can be seen on video ...

I visited Queen Bower Dairy, where the milk is born and the cheese manufactured, this morning. It is decidedly not easy to find (Red Fred did a mile down a track which turned out to be a one-way ‘road’ .. the other way!), but that is probably as well, or Richard and Julie Hodgson would end up spending half their day entertaining fromage fans, instead of spending their entire day creating cheese. Today, however, was an occasion. The Solihull firm of Jongia Ltd, suppliers of cheese-making equipment to the nation, had brought twenty-seven fromagists – from the seriously celebrated to the debutant -- from England, Ireland, Scotland and even South Africa, on a visit, and I tacked on to the tail of their tour. Amidst talk of everything from Stilton to Stinking Bishop, and of the vagaries of the price of decent milk, I put just a toe into the arcane world of Cheese. I mean, would you know what this machine is?

  It’s not an instrument of mediaeval torture, it’s a compressed-air gadget for piercing cheese which is going to be blue.. I told you this was arcane! In spite of Mr Jongia’s kind invitation to go on with the brother-and-sisterhood to the Dark Horse, Brading, I turned Red Fred towards Ryde, where lunch awaited me (see tomorrow’s musings), leaving the wonderful world of Gallybagger to the experts. I will not, however, be leaving the cheese to them. I intend to make the most of it whilst I am here, for I am quite aware that it is a very special rarity: the little ‘factory’ at Queen Bower simply cannot produce enough cheeses to supply all the places where I spend my time. You lucky people.

VentnorBlog and Island News

If the Blog has been a bit backward recently, it's not that I have been. On the contrary, I have been busier than ever, supplying a daily piece -- on anything and everything -- to Simon and Sal Perry of the Isle of Wight's award-winning Ventnor Blog and Island News.
No music, no theatre, no horses ... here are my 'reportages' of the last couple of days!


I said, in my first ‘musings’ on VB, that I was going to have to investigate Niton’s ‘The Enchanted Manor’ and discover just why TripAdvisor rated it Number One amongst the Island’s B&Bs.
Well, I have.
And I have, because owners and hosts extraordinary, Ric and Maggie, were kind enough to invite me, today, to a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea Party at their fairyland palace.

Where do I start?
The name. I told you, the name kind of gave me the chilly willies. But I was wrong. The name is utterly and totally apt.
The rating? Get this out of the way. The Enchanted Manor may provide beds … four-posters with beautiful caramel hangings… and it may serve breakfast ... in a most glamorous and pleasing verandah … but it is quite simply not what you and I understand as a ‘B&B’. Know what I mean?
TripAdvisor has got to stop comparing such as this with Mary’s 20 quid a night tidy sleepover.

The Enchanted Manor is, quite simply an ‘event’. It is a deliciously over-the-top Las Vegas fairyland, glittering with more special effects than I have ever seen. Nymphs in the garden, sylphs in the bedroom ... .tulle and glitter simply everywhere!
Europeans .. save the fare to the US of A … anything and everything Vegas can offer you is (I imagine, for I’ve never been to Vegas) right here!

All right, I will admit, I’m not a newly-wed (I live in hope) and I won’t be having anymore ‘anniversaries’, and I hugely love my beautiful all-white ‘monastic’ room up on the Downs. So The Enchanted Manor is never going to be my Wightish ‘home’. But if you want a Fairytale weekend, a few days in Wonderland, with or without Alice, but with every seen-on-TV luxury you can think of, Ric and Maggie will, I am sure, make you as happy as all those five-star contented customers who have made them Number One B&B (what!?) on the imponderable Trip Advisor.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Highwights Tour

Brother John with me in Wight for two days!
So Red Fred has been earning his keep, with a tour of my personal Highwights of the Island. Of course, I've written about all these before, so here is just a little selection of happy snaps from out Grand Tour. Starting with the Lady Chapel at Quarr. And, yes, it had me in tears again.. what is it about that place ..

Steephill cove for a meal at The Boathouse, and for John a swim in the Solent

and the family photo, to send home to Mother

John prefers outdoor sleeping, so he has his tent in the paddock above my window, with a morning view up to the Pepperpot!

And, finally, an unexpected meeting in Newtown. A three-quarter standardbred (1/4 cob), being worked as a hackney horse, down the picturesque streets .. but wearing a modified harness-racing sulky! It made me just a little Gerolstein-sick, so I gave him a nice pat and a rub..