My trip south on Friday was improved no end by the first train company’s failure to sell me a ticket. I tried at every available opportunity without success but I like to think that offsets the fact that the second company offered no off peak discounts. I had the opportunity to travel on the drain to waterloo, something I haven’t done for years. I fail to see how anybody could not be enchanted by the drain (waterloo and city line). This is a railway that has only two stations but is also the only fully subterranean metro in London, with the road being dug up to lift trains in and out. Doesn’t sound enchanting? No I guess not, but what about when I add that there is a long tunnel to the platform, offered as a choice of stairs or travelator, and no ticket office! I know there are signs saying ‘ticket holders only’ and I know that we’re all oyster card users nowadays. But today I watched a family, having bounded down the stairs, distraught at the prospect of returning to the top to purchase tickets.
This small design decision is a well known source of humour. In the midst of the rush hour there is nothing like having to force back against the flow because you failed to followed instructions. As a means of education humiliation works brilliantly and I doubt any tourist makes the mistake twice.
I arrived at Portsmouth less than 3 1/2 hours after leaving home, a fairly impressive time by my reckoning. Dave was about 40 minutes behind me which gave me a chance to stand at the railings at Gunwharf Quays and watch the traffic. I remain thoroughly enchanted by the island, like a child with the first glimpse of the sea I feel the stress melt away as I reach the coast. Portsmouth is but a staging post for me with every minute spent there spent waiting for the ferry. I watched the FastCat, the car ferry and the Hovercraft and remain convinced that this is the way to commute. I guess that I have always justified working away by saying how lovely the coast is, it’s all about working to live not living to work after all. The island is just an extension of this.
In fairness the hovercraft is not a viable commute, it starts too late and finishes too early. The FastCat is the commuter vehicle and the 7.24 train on Sunday morning had us safely in Portsmouth by ten past eight. Yes it’s a long trip to London but what a gem to come home to on a Friday. Ours was a drunken lads weekend, thoroughly enjoyable of course, but still an opportunity to enjoy being ‘home’. I have done my winter research into trade volumes on the island but I was very surprised by the state of the seasonal uplift. Obviously we all know that tourism is in decline and that is witnessed by the lack of development in coastal resorts. The rate of decline does seem to have accelerated dramatically but I am not sure if this is because the island economy is so visibly tied to tourism. We found quiet pubs, even the Driftwood was far from busy, and empty hotels which is not a good sight in the first week of August. I will certainly be studying the tourism data but simple numbers don’t show a whole picture. For the licensed trade it is also important who those visitors are, there was an awful lot of Chinese tourists, certainly not a pubs best friend.
It is sad to see harsh economic reality taking livelihoods away, every closed or abandoned building is an employment opportunity lost after all. Sadly UK planning makes the loss so much more visible. The Wight city complex closed for good at the end of last season but planning difficulties mean it has been left as an eyesore, a sadly common way of encouraging consent. It doesn’t take much to maintain a facade but the failure to do so drags an area down. A conversation with one of the girls at the hotel revealed that as a ‘jack of all trades’ living in and pretty much always on call she earned £210 a week, paying £3.95 a day for food. As a lifelong island resident this is a good job but shows the inescapable cycle that is so destructive for our youth. There is no progression in this role, the business couldn’t sustain it, and in truth there is no future. Once a grand hotel the occupancy is low and the fabric tired, when the current owners give up the business will close. Where do all the young staff go then? According to the Daily Mail up to 40% of children in coastal towns are in singe mother families, a career choice perhaps? Scarily birth rates rise in depressed areas whilst financially stable families tend not to have children because of concerns over their future stability.
Of course nothing will change this stubborn old man’s view, I adore the Island and it will be my home just as soon as I am able.