Teenagers have a way with words. When my cousin, Ella, was about 15, her father, a single parent of three, sent her to stay with Mum so that he could take a bit of a break. The Isle of Wight has been a popular summer resort since the Victorian times and generations of children have enjoyed summers synonymous with grazed knees, banana sandwiches, shrimping nets, sandy underpants, skinny-dipping, first dances, first kisses, first Ah, halcyon days!
However , as foreign travel became affordable to the masses, the mild climate and holiday atmosphere spawned a rash of old people’s homes. While the families still descend from London in August, the Island has attracted the nickname of “God’s Waiting Room” for the rest of the year. And, unfortunately, a seaside town out of season is never going to cut it with a bored teen.
Not all the old folk here are anonymous inmates of residential care homes. In common with many of her contemporaries, Mum herself chose to ‘retire’ to the Isle of Wight after my father died. Our family have strong links with the Island. I was spending my summer holidays here, racing keelboats from the local sailing club and, to Mum, it seemed the most natural thing to do. However, when she announced her plans, my grandmother told her, “You’ll live till you’re 100 and go mad. Everyone does.”
Sitting down to lunch in the Club dining room, Ella surveyed Mum’s lame, deaf and toothless friends. “Ugh, me-no-paus-al ”, she huffed, “do we really HAVE to eat in Jurassic Park!”
That was twenty years ago. But the name seemed so apt, it stuck. We had lunch there today. Not much has changed. Only now, sadly, it is Mum and her contemporaries who are the fossils.
Founded in 1886, the sailing club is the oldest on the Island. It boasts three competitive classes for adult sailors and a growing reputation as a centre of excellence for sail training for youngsters from age 8 and up. Progress indeed, since I was a child, when under-18’s were not allowed to cross the gravel in front of the clubhouse (a pre-fab wooden cricket pavilion, constructed by Boulter and Paul of Norwich circa 1896), let alone set foot in the dining room! Until the 70’s, we were confined to the Dinghy Club (started in 1925 by David Niven and a friend), and just barely tolerated on the basis that we were neither seen nor heard by the senior members. Any accidental trespass into the adults’ territory was invariably met with a severe rebuke from any one of a dozen purple-faced moustaches lining the bar room balcony. But that was then.
Nowadays, throughout the winter (except when the footie is on Sky at the Village Inn), the Club is the focus of our social circle. Summer too, though the landscape changes a bit after Easter with the arrival of the London set, keen to secure places for their children on Cadet Week. These people are generally my contemporaries, though I am always slightly shocked to see how we have all aged. Terrifyingly, their children are now of an age to be organising Dinghy Club events themselves.
As the weather warms up, the older year-round residents take refuge in their gardens, reliquishing their Scrabble and bridge evenings in favour of more nautically-inspired events for the under-60’s, “the young”! Even so, there are moments when one could be forgiven for mistaking the Club dining room for some sort of posh retirement home.
“Do you want pudding, Mr Hamilton?”, asks a young waitress.
What is it?”, comes the reply.
“Rhubarb Crumble or Chocolate Torte”.
“Chocolate sauce, eh? Yes, I’ll think I’ll have vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.”
“Err, we can do vanilla ice cream, but we don’t have chocolate sauce, I’m afraid.”
“No chocolate sauce? Then why did you offer it? I’ll just have vanilla ice cream, thank you.” Then, in a stage whisper, “Really, I don’t know where they find these waitresses ”
I don’t know either, but I swear they are some of the most patient teenagers you will find anywhere. Our waitress moves on.
“Pudding, Mrs Pilchard?”
“Would you like desert, Mrs Pilchard?”
“Oooh yes! What is it?”
“Rhubard Crumble or Chocolate Torte”.
“With custard? I do like home-made custard, don’t you? What did you say the choices were ?”