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Reflections of an Overner

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By Matthew Rogers

I’m grateful to my lovely wife for pointing out that we have now resided on the Island for a full six months. She keeps track of such things – and many more besides – which is just as well, given that I seem to reside in a sort of continuum of, well, ‘now’…

Anyway, it occurred to me, on hearing this news, that there were in fact three notable things we have learned since arrival here, that were neither reasonably foreseeable in advance nor obvious if one undertook what is called desk research (in my case, this is mostly sitting looking out of the window).

The first is the ‘Island Road Speed Limit’, or IRSL for short. Notwithstanding the many official signs for 20, 30, 40, 50 miles an hour (or even the occasional heady “national speed limit” opportunity), most Islanders doggedly stick to 37 mph virtually all the time. Whilst at first we found this quite frustrating, now that we have become used to ‘Island time’ it is much more fun to become passive observers – and indeed participants. It’s habit forming.

There are, of course, numerous traffic cameras, and flashing radar-driven reminders, and I am certainly not one to encourage speeding in any way, but the thing about the ‘IRSL’ is that it operates in all official zones – whether restricted or not. So you may initially fume at the driver in front – doing 37 in a 50 zone – but when you try to become law-abiding in, say, a 30 limit, you will most assuredly find a little old lady (or gent) in a Nissan Micra trying to climb in your boot as she attempts to maintain the Island Standard. So you end up following suit.

There are exceptions. One is when Hampshire Police lend the Island one of their mobile radar units, mounted in the back of a high-visibility van. Being the Island, everyone quickly gets to know the location (bush telegraph?). Another is at the final set of traffic lights out of Newport when heading to Cowes. Here, at the beginning of the Island’s only de-restricted dual carriageway, even little old ladies in Micras do their best to emulate Lewis Hamilton on ultra-softs at Monza. They will streak away in the outer lane as the lights turn green leaving a haze of petrol fumes and tyre-smoke in their wake – for about 400 yards, anyway.

Our second great learning point has been the ‘localism’ of Islanders.  I suspect that, like most new arrivals, we have been keen to see many of the Island’s unique and fabulous sights, its coastline and countryside. But when we mention to neighbours here on Sandown Bay that we have been walking on, say, Tennyson Down, they look at us in awe. It is as if we had said we were joining Ben Fogle on an expedition to the Patagonian Andes. An Epic Journey indeed.

Indeed, on mentioning our island-wide rambles to a lovely lady in the Newport Tourist Information Centre, she confided that as a resident of West Wight herself, she got a nosebleed if she had to venture further east than her place of work in the capital. She had an excellent theoretical knowledge of what lay in the fabled lands to the east, but clearly had no intent nor reason to experience them personally. We’ve concluded that a fair proportion of the population seldom leave their village or town, except for the occasional Epic Journey to Newport.

And finally, our third discovery has been to do with the Council. It’s clear from the press and online forums that many Islanders have little good to say about this august body. Indeed, many seem driven to rage and venom on the topic and shenanigans generally. But we have come to understand that this applies chiefly to those near the summit of this mighty bureaucracy.

Seldom, if ever, have we encountered such individually helpful, cheery and indeed positively, well, positive people as those selfless souls who actually face the public in the course of Council or other official employment. I accept that many of them work in some sort of public-private joint enterprise, but whether it is refuse collectors, bus drivers or road-menders, they are all lovely people.

One outstanding example has to be the team who work at the Lynn Bottom Civic Amenity Site (which sounds so much nicer than ‘council tip’, doesn’t it?). They are, to a man, woman or youth, unfailingly polite and informative –  happy even  – to assist. This is utterly unfathomable to those accustomed to Mainland life.

On this very topic, my wife came across a blog written by a visitor to the Island, who thought that she had been repeatedly mistaken for a celebrity of some sort, as people said “hello”, spontaneously engaged her in conversation or went out of their way to assist her. Of course, she eventually realised, as we have over the past twenty-odd weeks, that here on the Island, the majority of folk still have time for one another. And this applies even if their job is merely to find out if your car boot is full of household or garden rubbish (or both). And that is perhaps our greatest and most joyous discovery of all.