THIS ISLAND LIFE WITH Wightlink apparently unable to run a sufficiently profitable service — even with the aid of a captive market — it’s no surprise the thoughts of Islanders turn to those far-off, cross-Solent days.
They were the times when travelling from Ryde to Portsmouth used to be a reliable and (I kid you not) enjoyable experience.
Remember the old ferries, with their warm, fuggy interiors, and old-fashioned refreshment bars which offered travellers the opportunity for a pork pie and a cup of tea?
Distance lends plenty of enchantment, and it’s easy to forget the vessels were a tad grubby, smelled a bit, did not always provide optimum comfort, and that it took ages for the old wooden ramps to be man-handled into place at the end of every journey.
But we still tend to look back upon those days with a fondness we will never feel for the haphazard, expensive service inflicted upon us now.
Therefore, the warm response to the picture of one of the old Ryde Pier trams, which appeared in this column last month, hardly came as a surprise.
For decades they were part of the belt-and-braces arrangement which allowed passengers to get to the end of the pier — and not have to take out a second mortgage to park there.
But this reassuring state of affairs came to an end in January, 1969, when an inspection of the tramway, and the two cars, resulted in the system being condemned.
Mick Sivell got in touch to remind everyone recycling was alive and well years before it became a national obsession.
He had a business arrangement with Southern Railways in those days, and recalls taking the timbers from the dismantled track to Swainston Manor, where they were used to construct the floor of the Doric temple there.
But the ultimate exponents of salvage and reclamation must be the stalwarts of the IW Steam Railway, who, year after year, have beavered away to rescue crucial elements of the Island’s history and also provide us with one of our finest tourist attractions.
Their latest project is the restoration of one of the two diesel trams which once rattled their way up and down the pier.
It has had to wait its turn among all the other work undertaken by the group — but the Ryde Pier Tram Project is now well underway.
The old car’s under-frame exists, together with some remnants of the bodywork and internal fittings, but the rest will have to be constructed (and funded) from scratch.
That’s going to cost the best part of £60,000 — and the enthusiasts at Havenstreet Station are seeking financial and practical assistance.
If you can help in either way, go to www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk
or give them a call on 01983 882204.
Talking (and writing) about preserving the Island’s past is the easy part. Actually doing something about it is what really matters.
End of the pier show revival?
This column has extolled the virtues of many memorable Island foodstuffs over the years — and they have been recalled with a great deal of lip-smacking pleasure.
Up there in the pantheon of goodies have been Barnett’s steak pies and Saunders’ pork sausages, both of which formed a staple part of my diet during those formative years in and around Ryde.
Jolliffe’s pies were heartily endorsed by the Newport contingent, and I confessed a soft spot for the smoked cheese rolls you used to get in the old Terry’s cafe in St Thomas’s Square.
It was just ordinary cheddar, but by the time it had been exposed to the nicotine output of a hundred working men for half a day, it tasted like a lump of Austria’s finest.
Connoisseurs of Larby’s ice-cream had their say, as did supporters of the Farmer’s variety which emanated from Sandown.
There were others, of course, and I now propose they be joined by (cue the sound of the 20th Century Fox fanfare) — Grace’s Belgian buns!
Supermarket versions are invariably desiccated little swirls of stale pastry, punctuated by the odd sultana if you are lucky.
They usually come in pairs, and extricating them from their see-through plastic tombs without leaving most of the icing clinging to the inside of the lid is virtually impossible.
Grace’s, on the other hand, are large, luscious, singular confections upon which the thick fondant topping — which has a distinctive lemon tang — cascades enticingly down the side, where it mingles with the abundant fruit.
Yes, it’s another legendary Island lip-smacker, which will be recalled with drooling affection 50 years from now, when some other herbert is filling this space.