I recently had a curious discussion about the Isle of Wight whilst standing around in my pants. I had just finished a swim at a pool on the Island and ended up talking to Mr Chatty about this and that.
Anyway, the gentleman in question was an Islander and was very genial but he was also of the view that there was 'nothing for kids' on the Isle of Wight.
Before my spleen burst I lamely asked him to clarify which age group he was talking about or whether he felt 2 year olds and 17 year olds were equally overlooked.
He went for teenagers. I then began a limp and inelegant debunking of what I believe is a myth about living on the Isle of Wight. I muttered something about enjoying the Island as a teenager because I like beaches and left it at that before putting my trousers on and moving on to discuss the Southampton FC transfer policy.
When you're a teenager, everywhere else is more appealing. Ask a few Isle of Wight teenagers if they would rather live in North Korea and many of them would leap at the chance. Getting a more measured answer requires a bit of hindsight and distance (and discussion with a wife who grew up in a typical mainland market town).
I grew up in the middle of the Isle of Wight, which is not generally the prettiest part but it does mean you can get anywhere within 25 minutes or a little longer on a bus (or sometimes a lot longer).
So, you are within a reasonable distance of a multi screen cinema, a bowling alley, an ice rink, beaches for barbecues, football, surfing or kayaking, forests and cycle tracks for mountain biking and several swimming pools. If you've got the money there is laser tag, mountain boarding, sailing, windsurfing, paintballing, technical tree climbing and so on.
Within ten minutes of where I grew up there are now two high quality music festivals (Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival). There are also smaller festivals and events throughout the year. If you are into artsy things, as I was a bit, there is now an arts festival in Ventnor. Admittedly, the Isle of Wight is usually excluded from bands' UK tours, so you end up going to Portsmouth or Southampton - but how many market towns have had everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Kings of Leon perform in the last few years?
The shopping in Newport is Ok, though not city sized. There aren't many night clubs but there are enough bars with atmosphere in Newport, Cowes and Ryde.
Let's compare that to the mid-sized Midlands town where my wife grew up. They had a two screen cinema, a swimming pool, a few shops (though certainly not as many as Newport) and a few bars that are open fairly late (perhaps slightly more than Newport, but nothing special). To do some proper shopping you would need to drive 50 minutes to the nearest city, which will cost you about £10 on the train, so not hugely different from an off peak day out to Portsmouth or Southampton.
I'm sure if she had grown up in London or Manchester there would have been more to do (more live music and shows for example), as long as you had the money. But most parents seem to end up on the suburbs or further out because they don't fancy city life with a family.
In my view, Mr Chatty's point about there not being much for teenagers may have been more accurate in the 1990s, but nowadays it doesn’t really hold true.
The Isle of Wight punches above its weight because of the annual surge of tourists who keep many of the attractions going. Plus there is the obvious point that people living in Ryde, Yarmouth, Cowes or Ventnor are more likely to go to Newport to shop than the mainland. As a result, Newport’s potential customer base is larger than just the town itself so it can justify a big M&S, TK Maxx and so on. Don't get me wrong, Newport isn't a global shopping hub but it is better than a similar sized market town on the mainland.
Views welcome, as long as you let me put my clothes on first.