Sunday, September 30, 2012

Farewell to the Island, or A Laddie Who Lunches

. How could a month go so quickly? Tomorrow I leave the island, to begin my trek to the Southern hemisphere – in a fortnight I will be at Gerolstein, deepest New Zealand, warming up for this year’s second summer… I intended to do a great deal of resting and writing while in Europe. Well, Berlin had far too many unrestful attractions, and somehow I spent far too much time partying and dining in Jersey, but Wight? Spot on … Here, far away from toil and care (and a bit of a drive from the restaurants and high life), I have rested and written to my heart’s content. Victorian Vocalists has reached its 500th essay (about 200 to go?), and I have lounged in my beautiful suite, overlooking sea, downs and sunrises (and sunsets), day in and day out..
Of course, I haven’t been hermetic. Since three weeks out of my four have been sunny, I have ventured out to my old beauty spots … up to the Hoy Monument, from where there is a beautiful view over to Freshwater
Up to the famous lighthouse, the ‘Pepperpot’ … Sigh. I used to do the two sights in one breath, as an hors d’oeuvre to a day’s walking. Now I am thankful to be able to manage them one at a time… and without my stick …
But I have to admit that most of my sorties have been vehicular, and associated with nice food! Well, I’ve seen so much of the island in previous visits, I don’t need to go sight-seeing (the view from my window is the best sight, anyway!), but I’m a laddie who lunches … So red Fred was awakened from his lethargy every few (sunny) days, and we sallied forth. Having started my gastro-tour of Wight with a splendid new discovery in the Hillside Bistro, I then decided ‘no more chances’: I would simply return to The Best of Former Years: the favourite eateries from my days criticking for the ex-Ventnor Blog, now re-named On The Wight due to its expanded coverage.
I was not disappointed. Places rarely get better, usually worse. Not the case here. I actually paid to park – against all my principles – to do lunch at the Bistro. Lunch is not quite the quality of dinner, but I had a splendid fish pie one day, and crisp fish n chips another…
I returned regularly to the New Inn. It is so pleasant, so good, so reliable. And it is such a pretty 30-minute drive – through Limerstone and Brightstone, over the hills past Mottistone Downs, past the Moulton Barrett estate at Calbourne … to get there.. And one day, determined to find a new place, I drove right out to Freshwater Bay in search. Finding nothing. I’m just not a pub eater. Especially not at ‘family’ pubs. A coach park, swings and ‘family’ signs send me shuddering away. You know that everything -- in spite of the basically charming architecture -- will be doorstep bread, lettuce, potato crisps and chips! Yes, I tried one the other day, the Buddle Inn: the oldest and toughest chopped lettuce I've thrown away in years.
But, on this occasion, I knew I was safe. At Freshwater Bay is lovely Dimbola, the former home of Julia Margaret Cameron, now a photographic museum and gallery. And it has a nice tea-room which serves veritably home-made soup and bread. (I wonder which home half the advertisedly ‘home-made’ stuff on sale comes from), which goes very nicely with my new discovery: slightly alcoholic ginger beer!
And finally, yesterday, on a beautiful sunny autumnal day, I went back to the Royal Hotel. Debby and I sat in the sun, under the wisteria, with an extra-dry sherry, amid the quiet, garden surroundings …
and then I ordered the famous (partly thanks to my raves of the past!) Gallybagger soufflé. Would it … could it be as good as the first time we tasted it? Answer: oh my goodness, yes! It is still the best single dish I have tasted on this island in five years. Light, crisp, cheesy … oh, yes!
Follow it up with a deliciously light and pink duck cassoulet and a glass of chablis, served by a waiter who will be running the joint by the time I get back next time .. why didn’t I come here for lunch sooner? Ah well, a fabulous finale ... the sun, the wine, the sea … then back to the Hermitage … and I slept on my big lavender bed for two hours! In the afternoon!
And now it is time to go. Goodbye to my lovely suite, to the Wightish sun, to my Wightish friends (yes, I caught up with them all!) ... to that agreeably unhurried pace one can live at here … until I come again. Footnote: the last photo, taken from the top of the Downs shows Hermitage Court Farm's position. See that dormer, down in the left corner? That's me. Till tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All's Wight With the World

Well. I know I said I was covering my favourite Wightish things of previous years before getting on to new discoveries, but sometimes one thing leads to another. I arranged to meet old friend Debby for a pre-twilight dinner (well, you try driving up Dolcoppice Lane – lane, huh! – in the day, much less the dark), and she introduced me to the latest eatery in Ventnor. Let’s face it, the town can do with a goodie. I can’t eat at the Royal Hotel all the time. And the Bay Grill for lunch is deceased.
The Hillside Bistro is run by the charming gent who has the Hillside Hotel, where we had had a lovely evening a couple of years ago, so it seemed like a good idea. It was a good idea.
Built on the site of an old caff on Ventnor’s main Pier Street, the Bistro is a plain, simple place (nice fabric napkins, but no tablecloth) which serves anything but simple food. I mean that approvingly. I intend to go back, with my camera, but here is what I had for my light supper. Starter: black pudding, pork belly and wild mushrooms. A splendid mixture, and each item, individually, delicious. Main course: guinea fowl: white and dark, moist and soft, with a mixture of baby veg (turnips! yey!). Two very small glasses of a splendid German rosé. I couldn’t have been happier. One of the best meals I’ve ever had in Wight. I am going to have to learn to park, so I can go there more often. Hurrah for something new!
I was enjoying myself so much, I failed to notice it is no longer summer and by 8pm it is getting seriously dark. I leaped into Red Fred, found his headlights, and began retracing my way to the Hermitage. Thank God for headlights! I reached Dolcoppice Lane erratically but safely, and peered my way up. Nearly there! Boing! A car coming the other way! Jeff and Sue, my fellow guests. Well, we breathed in and squeezed past.. and then I realised I had to park BACKWARDS in the dark! The rest is silence. Today dawned glorious. I know, I saw it. At 6am I was awake, gazing out my window at the first red rays of sun periscoping up over the sea and the coast. And then – wham! – in an orgasm of light Sol shook himself clear of the horizon and bathed the world – and me in my bed – in gold. I felt like Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger.
You have to get up on a day like that. You have to go out. So I woke up Red Fred and set out for Newtown. Thankfully, it’s not changed. I said hello to the wonderful Old Town Hall, skipped the church where a multiple funeral was going on, and headed out on to the Salt Marshes to watch the birds and the boats and the beasts go by. Lovely.
Of course, Newtown is right next to Shalfleet, so I had my shandy and British whitebait (not at all the same as Kiwi ones) at the New Inn, and called into the local farm shop for some smoked trout paté. I’m not sure its local, but it looks natural.
Then back over the hill to Brightstone. Now its 6 years I’ve been visiting Brightstone and I’ve never been into the local shop. But now Chale Green is off bounds, where do I get my wine and water and things? Well, Brightstone’s store is full of fresh and fine goodies, and after I’ve tasted the wine, it may well become my ‘local’! Now I’m back on the farm, the fridge is working overtime to get my purchases cold in time for the cocktail hour, I’m lounging in little, and eyeing Cassius Clay, the shower … and maybe the big once-golden bed for half an hour. Mmmmm.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Isle of Wight revisited.

Bis repetita. It’s a dangerous game. The mysterious ‘they’ say ‘never try to repeat a good trick’. But I have never taken much notice of all the things ‘they’ ‘always’ say, and here I am back in the Isle of Wight for the fifth time in six years. It would have been six, but for my year out with bad health. And what have I done? What I usually do anywhere. Started off by revisiting my favourite spots. Three, so far. Result: 2-1 to me. Hermitage Court Farm, of course, was an easy one. But I christened it, years ago, the Best B&B in the world, so it’s got standards to maintain. Answer: it’s the best B&B by miles. If I gave it 10/10 last time, it gets 12/10 this time. Its new makeover and extension (it now has 3 rooms instead of the original one) are a blazing success … well, I won’t go on, or else next time I come to book my month or two, it’ll be sold out. 1-0 to me.
After a mizzly day out for recovery after my cavalcade, today I ventured a small trip to plenish my fridge with fresh picnic goodies. And, of course, I went to the Chale Green Stores. I knew the stores when they were a village shop. I had a memorable fresh roll there … Then they were whooped up into a fair bistro-cum-resto, with a nice little deli and some specialist foodie bits. Good for picnic things, and it meant I didn’t have to pay to park, as I did if I shopped at Goodman’s in Ventnor. Today? Oh dear. It’s obviously changed hands. The deli was empty of anything at all, the nice things were all gone, it was back to being a village shop with things in plastic and a tea-room. And they didn’t like my debit card. I won’t go back: I will have to brave Ventnor. Or Arreton. So One-all. ‘They’ were right this time.
The weather was so glorious, I decided not to go home with my sad looking groceries. I headed on with thoughts of a pint of ginger-beer shandy and a sandwich in a pretty place. Shorwell? With the ducks? I wanted to go further, but I put in on the list for another day. Brightstone? Don’t like the coach party pub, maybe the ‘Seven’ tearooms … Aw heck, I’m more than half way to Shalfleet. I’ll try my old favourite, the New Inn.
I was very wary. The New Inn has become part of a ‘group’, which includes the Boathouse at Seaview, which I cordially dislike. And they were advertising rather freely. Two bad signs. So last night I sent my fellow Hermitage Courters there for dinner. They were much pleased. So I rolled up hopefully. Looks the same, car-park the same, menu similar, staff efficient and pleasant (obviously not from the Boathouse), so I ordered my favourite light lunch: Black pudding salad and my ginger-beer shandy. Can there be good and bad in such a simple lunch. You bet! And the New Inn scored. 2-1 to me. The best ginger beer, a skilful shandy, wonderfully cold, and a simple collection of first-class pudding, tasty green leaves (no lettuce!) and dried tomatoes … no turgid dressing … a perfect lunch.
I am so glad. I like Shalfleet and Newtown, and now I know I can safely lunch any sunny day on the deck at the New Inn.
I’m going to like it here! Again.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Long Time Between Blogs

Last time I sat down to write anything longer than a facebook message, I was still in Berlin. Now I’m up on the downs in the Isle of Wight. So ...? Well, last days in Berlin were rather hectic. I had to see and say ‘goodbye’ to all the dear everyones to whom I’d said ‘hello’ to a few weeks earlier, and with Paulie moving into his delicious new flat in Wedding (I want one! actually, I’ve asked for one) there was plenty of Ikea-type activity going on. Well, the flat, newly refurbished, didn’t have a kitchen! Friends came to the party, and a month later he’ll be able to boil his own egg!
I said I hadn’t been writing, but that isn’t true. From Berlin, I flew (via Düsseldorf, for heaven’s sake, isn’t Berlin the capital?) Air Berlin to Jersey. Not pleasant, but it got better! Alex and Katy picked me up at the airport and delivered me to my cosy garden flat at the Bayview Guest House (again), I dined of course at the Dockyard on Chris Matthews’ delicious cooking, drank their bar dry, and fell into bed. My days in Jersey didn’t vary much after that. Up at eight, breakfast, into the garden (when warm enough) with my computer for a sustained attack on Victorian Vocalists till cocktail time, dinner at the Dockyard (the menu doesn’t bore, even after 40 visits), dally at the bar, bed (with sound-switched-off Olympic Games et al) and then the whole routine again. Victorian Vocalists is now approaching its 500th completed article, and it’s beginning to look as if I may finish it in my lifetime!
Of course, there were partial deviations from the routine: a visit to Alex and Katy’s new first house (they have a bed, a couch, a shower and a TV ... and a kitty …now they can get married), three birthdays – Alex, Chris and his Jennifer – the races with Jennie and the girls, dinner with Charlotte, some fine dining and fun in two extra-boozy lunches with my pals from the SCB, the jollity of the Havre des Pas festival (most of my photos seem to be at a table!), a bit of self-improvement with a facial at Elemis and a hair cut and extras from Jenny at Rio, new computer glasses from Howard’s, the odd hot spa tub in the garden .. and I still managed the fullest month of work on Vic Voc yet.
It wasn’t all roses and wineglasses, though. One night I came home from the Dockyard to find there had been a flash flood and my garden room was sodden. The carpet had to be ripped up, and I slept on my big luscious bed as if on an island in a comic strip sea. No, I wouldn’t shift (anyway the Bayview was, as usual, full), that room is my ‘home’. It has one fault though. You need two hands to open the door. And, coming home two nights later, bearing my Macbook and rather the worse for wear, I tried to open up with the computer under my arm. It went to fall, I grabbed it ... and I fell. Not a wise thing to do when you are on Clopidogrel. I bled. I bled so profusely that an ambulance had to be called (Thanks, guys!), and I am an un-picturesque Jackson Pollock of scars, bloody patches and red, blue and black bruises to this day. And then it was time to move on. Alex and Katy drove me to the ferry (7.45), I wobbled aboard (8.45) and headed straight for my cabin (169.00 stg!) and my slim bunk and as soon as the wretched tannoy announcements stopped, I slept. 6.30 arrival at Portsmouth, charming taxi driver (7 quid) to the Fast Wightlink Ferry (22.10 return) which set sail at 7.15. On to the cheerful little train at Ryde pierhead at 7.45 (3.90), off at Shanklin, half an hour later, small walk to South Wight Rentals to Pick up Red Fred the Suzuki Alto (480.00 the month) and – after a moment when I forgot how to drive – a careful wind out of the deserted (phew!) town, up to St Catherine’s Downs ... arriving at 9.10. Exactly 12 hours since the ferry had sailed.
Hermitage Court Farm. Haven of peace and comfort. Jack and Charlie are two years taller, Jayne and Chris are five years younger, and the house has undergone major changes. It was super-comfy before .. but oh! my first-floor room .. no, suite .. is beautiful! I have a big bed and bedroom, a sitting room for writing, and a bathroom with a Cassius Clay shower. I’ll have more bruises if I’m not careful. And the view from my window, over the downs and out to sea ..
Well, this is my home for the next month. Probably the place where Vic Voc will hit its landmark 500 articles … All of which, more anon … I’m off the have a shower..