Keith Newbery rolls up his trousers and steps out on to the hot embers. Picture by Robin Crossley.
THIS ISLAND LIFEAS a cure for verrucas it left something to be desired but the bare-foot stroll over hot embers, which launched the Island’s walking festival, proved a diverting way to spend a Saturday evening.
The task is best described as a basic physical accomplishment deftly disguised as a clever psychological achievement. Allow me to explain why.
My suspicions were first aroused when the bumph came through from B.L.A.Z.E., the outfit which has spent 30 years developing this little sideshow into a profitable sideline, which also helps raise money for charity.
Its literature was full of exclamation marks, which has long been a discredited literary device intended to make the mundane appear interesting!!!!!
But the firm was also honest enough to explain the scientific rationale behind why, when people remove their shoes and socks to sashay across a bed of glowing cinders, they are able to do so without immediately screaming aloud and filling the air with the stench of scorched bunions.
It’s because wood and charcoal radiate enormous amounts of heat (it was 1,260 degrees on the walking path, apparently), but conduct it badly. This is why wood was always used for pot handles before the advent of heat-resistant plastic.
I was first made aware of this phenomenon by my father, many years ago.
His first job on leaving school in the early 1930s was as a woodsman in the copses of Havenstreet, which he always described as the happiest working days of his life.
When he and his mates sat down to have their nammit, a small fire was lit and one old boy always stoked up his pipe.
To light it, he merely leaned forward, picked up one of the hot embers between thumb and finger and placed it in the bowl of his briar.
"He had hands like leather after working in the copse all his life," said my old chap, "but they always reckoned it was something to do with the heat of the wood. He couldn’t have done it with a lump of hot coal, apparently."
Reassured by this anecdotal knowledge, I approached the fire walk with a degree of confidence which rendered the 90 minutes of psycho-babble which preceded it a tad tiresome.
Another of our number, dear old Den Clare, loved it of course but he’s made a living out of this sort of stuff over the years.
I’m afraid I come from the more pragmatic school of self-empowerment, which teaches just one basic lesson:
"You want to lose weight, give up smoking or conquer your fear of flying? Then get on with it and stop wittering."
I can only say it works, because I’ve managed to achieve all three over the years without the aid of hypnosis, psychological reinforcement or any other new-age philosophy.
Whenever I glanced across at our project leader, Mark King, during the indoctrination procedure, I think I saw a similar degree of cynicism flicker across his otherwise inscrutable features.
Incidentally, Mark began the evening by completing Blaze’s other toe-tingling task and walking on a pile of 2,000 broken wine bottles — which must have brought back fond memories of touring with Level 42.
But no matter how the walk was done or why, the important point is it was accomplished by almost 30 people.
And that meant a welcome financial boost for the Friends of Beaulieu House, which is a respite centre for children, in Newport, and of which Mark King is patron.
This is an institution of whose existence, I’m ashamed to say, I was previously unaware.
That’s because it has received far too little publicity — a wrong which will be righted in this column in a few weeks’ time.
Crossing the ocean to the land of Wight
WHEN you’ve spent your entire life on the Island, you like to think you know the area reasonably well.Place names become second nature, so when one of them is changed for no obvious reason, it tends to jar.
Someone told me serious consideration was once given to changing the name of Shanklin, following a remark by George V.
Apparently, he was asked: "Your royal highness, do you like Shanklin?"
And he was said to have replied: "I don’t know. I’ve never shankled."
Considering this was the same testy old monarch who, on his death-bed, applied a memorably alliterative description to Bognor when asked if he would care to visit the town to improve his health, anything is possible.
All of which leads me to ask just when and why the Whitefield Woods of my youth, located on the road between Ryde and Brading, suddenly became Whitefield Forest?
Were a few dozen acres of extra trees planted when I wasn’t looking? Or did someone opening a tourist park on the site think a forest sounded much grander than a mere wood for advertising purposes?
I’ve got nothing against a bit of hype but where will it all end?
Will holidaymakers soon travel across the Solent Ocean aboard a Wightlink liner and pop up to Ashey Mountain for a view of the greenhouses in Arreton Canyon?