Wednesday February 22
Before I left Shanklin today, I took a little tour of the town. To see what had changed.
Some evenings in the summer, me and my family would walk into the Old Village together and have a look in the shops. Not very often, admittedly, because Mum and Dad couldn’t stand us begging for tat. To combat this sort of scene, when we were a bit older we were given spending money at the beginning of the fortnight and had to choose wisely what it went on. The deal was we weren’t allowed to ask for any more. ‘When it’s gone, it’s gone.’
I frittered mine away on ice creams, arcade machines and bits from the beach shop. Somehow, my brother Jono managed to save his until the very last day, when he would buy himself something special. A really nice football from Sporties, or this cuddly turtle toy from the card shop that we both wanted.
I was always jealous as I clutched my shrapnel and watched him slowly selecting his purchase. I don’t know how he did it. I’m pretty sure old ladies who thought he was cute bought him Fabs and slipped him coppers for the 2p machine. I also remember that he rarely took his money to the beach and learnt phrases from the adults like ‘I don’t really want to break into a note’, which he often trotted out when we were standing at the ice cream hatch.
Whatever his secret, he always had a crisp tenner left as the last weekend approached. Usually curled up in one of those weird tubular purse things you used to wear round your neck at the seaside. The ones you could wear for swimming. I had one but I don’t think I ever wore it in the sea. I left it under my towel instead. People didn’t steal stuff in those days. Ha.
The town hasn’t changed that much, particularly the old part. There are still thatched roofs and quaint tea shops. The Rock Shop still stands proudly on the corner in all its retro glory and the pretty Crab Inn waits for customers as if it’s captured in time.
I walked through the Old Village to the newer part of town. Some of the shops are the same. Piggy Wiggies is a gift shop where I used to spend ages looking at shell animals, stick-on earrings, kaleidoscopes and snap bracelets. Once I recall finding an ornament of two skeletons having sex in a coffin – inane grins on their faces. With some urgency, I whispered across the shop to Jono, demanding he come and look at this magnificent find. I wonder how many they sold. My spending money wouldn’t stretch.
Sporties is still there too – Jono’s favourite. I once saved some of my money, like him, and bought a baseball. I wanted to get in the school rounders team so I paid £3.99 for the heavy white ball with red stitching and asked Dad to give me catching practice. It nearly broke my hands. Sporties wasn’t really a shop for me.
I carried on, past Shanklin Theatre where Frankenstein the Pantomime was playing, and down the quieter suburban street towards Hope Road. If I could choose any street in the world to live on it would be Hope Road, just for the name alone. I walked past houses that were there long before I came to visit. The same houses I have seen many times. Possibly the same owners. Past the little antique shop and round the corner to Wight News, the paper shop where I used to go each morning with Grandad before breakfast. My brother recently reminded me how Grandad would greet everyone he met on the way, and how he’d breathe the sea air deeply and say to us, ‘fill your lungs.’ You got the impression he was always grateful to be there. He never took that holiday for granted. None of us did I don’t think.
Wight News was an Aladdin’s cave of gifts, postcards, sticker albums, sweets, chocolate, rock, newspapers and magazines. In about 1989, one of the Red Tops was doing a special series on Neighbours. I bought the paper every day and sat in the beach hut cutting out pictures of Scott and Charlene for my specially crafted scrapbook (a load of old bits of paper, tied together with ribbon). I was in love with Charlene. Not so much Scott. And I had no principles regarding Red Tops then. I didn’t even know what they were. To me, red tops were what we got after a day on the beach.
Now, Wight News is broken down, locked and empty. An A4 piece of paper in the window reads ‘advertise here for just £1 a week.’ I feel sorry for the little shop, so far from its former glory, someone desperately, embarrassingly almost, trying to find a use for it.
There is something sadder about it standing there, broken and peeling, but harking back to what it was. I think it would be easier if it wasn’t there anymore. Just gone. So we could keep the memories and forget the reality. But life’s not like that, is it?
Find out more about my Making Tracks project – Finding Nana.