The Mayfair Hotel

Isle of Wight beach holiday

Hope beach in Shanklin, 1981 - L-R: Granddad, Katie, Mum, Me, Grandma, Nana, Dad (and Great-Aunt Maisie asleep in the deckchair)

From being born until the age of 15, I went to the Isle of Wight with my whole family for the first two weeks of the summer holidays. My dad was a teacher and on the last day of term he’d come home and fall into the bath, fully clothed. That was the signal that the holidays were on.

I remember clearly the unadulterated excitement I used to feel lying in my bed that night, willing the morning to come. I’d feel sick with butterflies as I watched the clock move from minute to minute, knowing that tomorrow I’d be reunited with my friends on the beach and we’d have fourteen carefree days of sunshine. In my mind, it was always hot on the Isle of Wight.

My brother and sister would travel down with Mum and Dad and I would be bundled into the back of my granddad’s car – packed to the rafters with calor gas stoves, lilos, kettles, long-life milk and suitcases. We weren’t camping; we were staying in a hotel – The Mayfair. The paraphernalia was for our beach hut, where we spent every single day of the holiday.

I thought the Mayfair was magnificent. It had a long flight of concrete steps going up to the big double doors where the managers would be waving when we arrived. There was a pool in the garden – kidney bean shaped with a dolphin in the tiles of the deep end – and a lounge with polished parquet floor where we paraded our fancy dress outfits on a Thursday and danced at the Friday night disco.

The dining room was under the lounge. We had full breakfast every morning and a three course dinner in the evening. Almost every day I would make a sandwich from left-over breakfast items and wrap it up in my napkin for the beach. My nana thought this was particularly resourceful and always praised me for it. Even if I’d have made a breakthrough in regenerative medicine, I don’t think she could have been more proud of me than she was the day I started my sandwich scheme.

Dinnertime at the Mayfair

Dinnertime at the Mayfair (I'm in the highchair at the back)

We knew everyone in the dining room. The same people went for the same two weeks every year. I realise this sounds like a nightmare to some, perhaps even to my adult self. But to us kids it was incredible. We wrote to each other through the seasons, sent Christmas cards, sometimes even spoke on the phone. And then, for those two weeks, we were back together again for crazy golf competitions, beach Olympics and communal Neighbours-watching.

For my Making Tracks trip I am going back to the Isle of Wight. I’m staying at the Mayfair – hopefully. At this point, despite 10 phonecalls and three emails, I have still not heard back from them. The hotel has been sold a few times since we stopped going. Reviews on Trip Advisor suggest our childhood playground has seen better days.

Nana and sister Katie on the beach

Nana and my sister Katie on Hope Beach, Shanklin

People have warned me it will be bleak. Grey skies and an empty hotel, full of ghosts. I don’t mind. I want to be enveloped in the cold sea air and visit the places we went and take the time to imagine my nana, walking with me along the sea edge, encouraging me to swim and paint stones.

Hopefully the Mayfair will be in touch soon. I’ll keep you posted!

Find out more about my Making Tracks project – Finding Nana.