It was the sort of discussion where you don't really agree with anything they are saying but you really can't be bothered to have a heated argument with a stranger so you just half agree without committing too strongly. Perhaps the kind of conversation you might have an elderly aunt about UK immigration policy.
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, 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.
As is traditional on an English seaside holiday in August – our first morning was a complete washout. On the Isle of Wight your options for a rainy day are pretty good. There are 20+ things to do in our guide, several of which were a reasonable choice for our toddler.
We opted for swimming and discovered a little gem on Ryde’s esplanade at Appley. The Waterside Pool was once owned by the Isle of Wight Council but was palmed off as a community project a few years ago when the greedy bankers ruined the economy.
Political debates aside, the people who took it on deserve a pat on the back for keeping it going, because it is a lovely little spot for a swim.
The setup is pretty basic – just one pool and not a lot else (there is a small sauna but I think you have to be a member for that), but the water is warm and it feels like a holiday spot because you are right by the sea and Ryde’s Canoe Lake. The changing rooms are nice enough and they were clean. The staff were all cheery as well.
A display on the wall explained that re-grouting the pool was costing them £100,000 which did make me feel that I should have offered a little more than my £4.80 (including my toddler). I did also notice that they do offer a bargain £1.50 swim a couple of times a week for residents.
On a return visit at the end of the holiday the roof was open and the sun was pouring in. As a result, it offered outdoor swimming which was genuinely warm and pleasant.
Normally I’ve got some smug remark to end this blog about how the coffee was awful or the entrance price required me to sell a body part on the black market. For once, I’ll leave it there.
Sandown Zoo used to have a bit of a dodgy reputation. The Times called it 'the slum zoo of Britain' in the 1970s, but more significantly my mother's friend once said that her friend's daughter in law used to work with someone who thought it was 'a bit iffy'.
That may be the reason why we never went to the zoo as children. Our only encounter was with a lion cub which licked my young brother's face whilst he was being taken for a seaside walk.
We decided it was time to break the habit of a lifetime and take the next generation to what is now known as Isle of Wight Zoo.
The Zoo is housed in the rains of a former fort which like most of the Isle of Wight was (presumably) built out of a paranoia of the French. It looks a bit ugly to the uninitiated but with the context of history it is a bit more interesting and it looks a lot better from the inside. It is also next to a grim looking hotel (or HTL as it currently says thanks to the deteriorating letters) which really drags down the Yaverland end of the Esplanade, although apparently something is happening at the site.
Anyway, the Zoo itself went down very well. I can never tell if a marmoset is smiling or frowning (they are great at poker apparently) but the habitats look to be clean and spacious.
Like all modern zoos they focus very much on the conservation message rather than the old fashioned approach of charging extra to prod a tiger with a stick.
The signs are clear and give just enough information and the staff seemed to know what they were talking about. There is also a great little game for smaller children which involves collecting ink stamps on a card when you've seen certain animals. My daughter became more interested in collecting the stamps than seeing the animals and it also gave us permission to go home once we had collected everything.
There was also some small prize for getting all the stamps (a lolly I think). By that point our daughter had eaten her way through more than the lions' daily diet so we kept quiet about that.
For someone like me with only a moderate interest in animals there were enough really impressive lions and tigers, so it wasn't all just pretending to look interested in owls and ducks. The lions and tigers are housed in Jurassic Park style cages with huge walls which helps add to their reputation.
They did seem to spend most of their time sleeping but I imagine that is a good sign, and it is probably a bit much to expect them to be playing football or darts or something just to entertain me. They are certainly the stars of the show, unless you particularly like meerkats. There are also goats near a lion enclosure. I like to imagine the lion licks his lips and taunts the goat when the park has closed.
There were also several talks throughout the day, which we missed as our toddler is a bit too little to keep still and hear about the diet of a raccoon. There was a lion feeding time which I would have liked to see but we were playing catch on the sandy beach by that time.
A recent addition is the arrival of Isle of Wight Adventures Activities. At the time of our visit you could do archery, rock climbing or bushcraft for £3 each or do all three for £6. There was also a circus skills bit which I think was tight rope walking (you don't get a lot of time to take things in when you are trying to control an excited toddler).
Those options seemed very reasonable to me compared to what you might normally pay for those sort of things. It didn't seem to be running when we walked past (it was out of peak season) and I didn't bother asking for our toddler but it would be a good way of making the trip last a bit longer.
We always race round attractions due to my poor attention span but I would guess we were at the zoo for nearly two hours by the time my daughter had played on the (only) swing and we had drunk the (not great) Nescafe coffee. Entrance was about £10, with the rock climbing etc as an extra.
Isle of Wight Zoo is pretty much all outdoors so save it for a decent day. It is also right by the sandy beach at Sandown, Dinosaur Isle, Browns Family Golf Course and the excellent free playground at Sandham Gardens so you can certainly spend a whole day in the area.
I've informed my mother it is now safe to visit Isle of Wight Zoo...
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