There’s a familiar pattern to the conversations in our house about days out on the Isle of Wight.
First, Mrs Guru will ask what I would like to do today.
I will then say that it isn’t really a question of what I would like to do, but what will keep a 2 year old and a 5 year old happy (which in turn will keep the adults happy).
I’ll say that I would really like to find a hidden beach or dine out somewhere fancy, but that what we should really do is to sit uncomfortably on a see-saw whilst secretly eating a packet of Nice 'n Spicy NikNaks from a coat pocket.
And so we headed off for Sandham Gardens in Sandown, to see the recent renovations which have been taking place over the winter. We first found the playground when child one was still in nappies, but it’s changed a fair bit since then.
The two main upgrades at the site are at the playground and the minigolf. The toddlers playground at Sandham Gardens has been given a decent facelift, with the equipment either being replaced or tidied up.
The Olympic themed gym equipment seems to have vanished, at least temporarily. Hopefully it will reappear somewhere else as it was a nice feature, even if it didn’t appear to be as regularly used as the other equipment nearby.
The other upgrade is the new Dinosaur themed minigolf - Dino Islands - which has replaced the simple minigolf at Sandham Gardens. The concrete curves have been replaced with dinosaurs which would fit in at Blackgang Chine and a centrepiece volcano. It was still in the building phase when we visited about 10 days ago, but opened just in time for the glorious weather we had at the Easter Bank Holiday.
There is also an improved go-kart track for younger children which costs about a fiver (even my weak stomach could handle the speed) and there are plans for new beach huts.
Just over the road is another building site, where Wight City and Colonel Bogey’s nightclub once stood. As much as we enjoyed Bowlingo in the building’s arcade, it is good to see it gone as it seemed like a terrible waste of a lovely stretch of coastline.
Despite the Spring sunshine, Sandham Gardens felt colder than the milk aisle in Sainsburys so we eventually gave up and headed to Brown’s Golf Course cafe.
From the outside, it’s nothing special but inside it’s a lovely light space which is big enough to cope with a large number of noisy children. More importantly, there’s a good choice of children’s games so we achieved one of those rare moments where both children were playing happily.
“Don’t interrupt them” I whispered to Mrs Guru as she returned from the toilets.
After three slurps of my latte, the younger one was asking for food, but I had at least had a few precious moments of holiday bliss.
Update 2020: The Auckland House Hotel has closed, but there are plenty of other luxury Isle of Wight hotels and places to stay in Shanklin.
I find it hard to behave myself at formal functions. It's not that I mean to cause trouble, I just tend to drop canapes on the waiter's foot or choke on an ice cube like I'm starring in an Adam Sandler movie.
Thankfully - for Mrs Guru's sake - I avoided such embarrassments at the opening of the Auckland House Hotel in Shanklin this week. I was wearing one of those ridiculous fake shirt and jumper combinations, but no-one seemed to notice.
The old Auckland House guest house was bought a couple of years ago and has been completely gutted and redeveloped by a company called Carlauren (the same people currently redeveloping the Ocean Hotel in Sandown). At one stage there were plans to turn it into a '5 star support care hotel' but that plan changed and it's now opened as a posh hotel which is open to anyone.
The Isle of Wight has about a dozen hotels which I'd consider 'luxury', but Shanklin mostly offers guest houses and B&Bs so the Auckland House Hotel will gives the town something a bit different for those who want luxuries like valet parking and chauffeurs within a classic seaside resort.
Being nosey, I asked for a tour and we were shown round some of the two-dozen smart new rooms, the restaurant and the hot tub. I didn't bring my trunks, otherwise I'd have dived in head first.
Mrs Guru, who knows about these things, made lots of approving noises at the decor and told me that it was 'on trend'. I was a bit busy stuffing my face on canapes, but I got the gist of what she was saying. When I checked, a night for two was about £110 on Expedia.
For what it's worth, I'm really pleased to see investment in Sandown and Shanklin, both of which feel like they are on the up. Besides the Carlauren developments, the area around Sandham Gardens is also being jazzed up with a dinosaur-themed minigolf, beach huts and go karts.
Hopefully there'll be plenty more grand openings and canapes to come.
A few years ago, whilst working in radio in Somerset, a PR company came to me with a news story about a new board game.
If I had lawyers they would at this point ask me to make very clear that it wasn't the company behind this Destination Isle of Wight game. It wasn't.
Anyway, the company told us they were launching a game and wanted to do a poll to decide which local town to base it around.
Being an idiot, I spent several weeks promoting the poll, giving the board game a great big heap of free publicity.
When the poll finally closed, the PR company revealed that they'd had a change of heart and would be releasing a countywide edition instead. The public votes had meant nothing but they were grateful to me for doing my bit.
A week later I spoke to a friend working at a newspaper in the north east who said he had been taken in by the same 'competition' which had been changed at the last minute in exactly the same way.
I still kick myself that I didn't pick up on the PR company's dubious games earlier and hadn't taken the opportunity to take them to task live on air.
I've since held a slightly unfair suspicion of local board games and probably wouldn't have bothered with Destination Isle of Wight unless I'd been given it as a birthday present. (Let me make clear again that the board game I mentioned earlier wasn't this one).
With a couple of hours to fill at 6am I gave it a go, along with my early rising 5 year old.
The general idea is that you play the part of an Isle of Wight taxi driver. Every time you fulfil a request to drop someone off at Blackgang Chine, Shanklin Chine or wherever you pick up some cash and perhaps a tip.
There are added complications such as red lights, speeding fines and log books. To really get into the swing of things I switched on Talk Sport, told my daughter my poorly thought out views on Brexit and kept looking over my shoulder.
In my view, a good board game is a balance between making it complicated enough that you aren't just rolling dice and plodding around a circle whilst not making it so complicated that the rule book resembles a photocopier manual.
Destination Isle of Wight was just about simple enough that my impatient competitor let me read the first half of the rules. I quickly realised that some bits could be dropped so we attempted a basic version which was just about right (the game is really aimed at 8+).
And so we drove our taxis around the Island, picking up fares ranging from £30 and upwards. Whoever paid £100 to visit the Isle of Wight College must have been unfamiliar with the local currency.
A few of the attractions had closed since the game was made (Seaview Wildlife Encounter, Colemans Farm) and some other new ones were missing (Tapnell Farm Park most notably). This gave it a melancholic feeling as I imagined myself dropping off a family of holidaymakers at an abandoned attraction before skidding away in my Ford Mondeo.
After an hour I was getting hungry so I discreetly removed a big wadge of the cards to speed things along.
Half an hour later we were involved in a frantic race to get our cabs back to the taxi rank. I put my metaphorical foot down as I raced to my final stop - LA Bowl in Ryde - whilst my contestant headed for Waltzing Waters (Rest In Peace).
I punched the air as my double six got me back home first and gave me the £250 bonus. I then remembered that it's much easier to lose a board game with a 5 year old.
Luckily, she won anyway thanks to an earlier triple drop off at Cineworld, Carisbrooke Castle and the Visit Isle of Wight office.
After consulting with my contestant we've given the games a thumbs up, particularly if you simplify it a bit and ensure that the youngest player wins.
You can buy Destination: Isle of Wight from Amazon, and no-doubt from various local retailers on the Island.
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