The Isle of Wight. A seagull pecks a KFC Zinger to death in the Spar car park, Sandown pier boasts "the last remaining full-sized doughnut machine on the Island", dark clouds gather over the moulting six bird penguin colony at the animal encounter park, body parts from a collection of fibre glass dinosaurs are left to decay by the side of the road and a 107 year old woman in a neck brace at the beach hut cafe serves us our ninety eighth portion of chips in four days with repeated injunctions to check our change.
I think when we turned down the second gated track I realised that my fear and loathing of the country was going to prove a particular challenge this summer. And so it is proving. Left to our own devices in a converted barn plastered in interesting geometric patterns by a particularly challenging outsider artist, fifteen miles (I HAVE COUNTED) from the nearest shop, with forty chickens for company, my thoughts have turned rapidly to death, nihilist philosophy and the internet. I feel like I am part of a low-rent social experiment devised by Channel 4 where a family from 2008 are returned to 1976. There are 3 channels on the TV, food is confined to potato derivatives, jokes and novelties revolve around large breasts and obesity and I am having to use a washing line. The Space Cadette, who has dropped in to shame us all with her 'swimming in cold water' mad skillz was particularly impressed with her "Mediterranean Vegetable Panini" filled with chips, a green bean and 6 cubes of tinned carrot.
The sunny days are sort of ok, apart from my sand phobia (of which more later, assuming I get to escape again). But today, as the heavy grey cloud cover reminded me of every holiday I went on between 1980 and 1991, I have felt myself overwhelmed by the heavy existential despair that used to fill all those summer holidays in rural punishment zones. I pace around the barn like one of the mangy tigers in the Isle of Wight zoo with a sulky expression on my comically wind beaten face, trying to entice the family out to little avail.
Lashes and Fingers are seemingly able to derive infinite entertainment from a semi-feral cat, the chickens and four sticklebricks. "Come!" Lashes commands the cat in his pidgin English "We have box of tuna! For you!". Days out hold the dizzying prospect of a trip to the pier, a sort of child nirvana of slot machines, dangerous looking rides and dour fishermen beating mackerel to death with their bare hands. There is a seemingly endless supply of small novelty items at around the £1.50 mark to whine for.
The CFO is ensconced in a chair with his third glass of rose and a copy of "Island Life" magazine dating from 2002. They all look at me bemused as I try and coax them out to anywhere where other human beings might be found in concentrations of more than one per square mile. Eventually I was forced to whine and sulk and huff continually for 20 minutes until the CFO gave me a one hour pass to come here, to commune with you, lovely lovely internet. Hello! Help me!
It is not all bad. In fact a lot of it is wildly funny. I teach Fingers and Lashes the best ways to drive yourself insane with those penny pushing machines. The Space Cadette and I have lots of fun comparing notes on what seaside tat we particularly crave. We are complete suckers for a nice shiny arcade and souvenir shop, a reaction to our puritanical upbringing. She liked the bottles of different coloured sand, whereas I always went for the tiny creatures made out of seashells. I try and explain to the CFO my huge pride in finding a whole full english breakfast rendered in seaside rock. He looks blank, more so perhaps when we explain that this is rock made out of brightly coloured sugar, not stone. "Don't you do seaside tat in France?" we quiz him. He is unable to think of a single nasty souvenir item in all his years of camping on the Normandy coast. "Not even slot machines? Those 2p pushing ones? What did you DO?". It transpired mainly he played Flipper and kissed girls. Ha! An important sociological discovery is made. The difference between English and French adolescence, discuss...