Monday Mornings

Bikes by Cowes Harbour, Isle of Wight

I have only four more of these Monday mornings headed Up Mainland, before these plans kick in full time. I’m trying to enjoy the early starts, the extra coffees, and motorway mayhem, knowing that in less than four weeks I’ll be having none of it.

So, for now, my mornings go something like this.

6am wake-up: with Radio 4 and the gentle negotiation over who will have first shower and consequently forfeit the default lie-in. I’m usually up first. Strangely, Tom doesn’t spend so long with the hair dryer.

Coffee in the grinder, kettle on, and a general fret over what to wear, specifically whether I can get away with spending the day in trainers.

Walking down to the Red Jet

6.30am breakfast: better be happening about now if I’m to catch the ferry. After granola/toast/yoghurt/all of the above I faff around in a haphazard fashion until the radio pips push me out the door.

7am walk down the hill. The way the morning light grows every day feels like the most optimistic thing. Gravity is with me on this easy stride down to the sea. No more dark, windy, rainy mornings. Now it’s just the long downhill to summer.

View from the seats inside Red Jet ferry

7.15am boat ride: across the Solent. At it’s best a peaceful, spacious glide across sunlit seas. It’s not always at its best.

7.45am skate: across Southampton to my parked car. Addictive fun. Don’t know why I didn’t think of this two years ago.

Rusty's foot and penny board

8am battle through Southampton traffic: to wherever I’m headed first. Today, it’s a visit to a nursery to see how they support children’s talking through play. I hope your Monday morning is a good one.

M3 road from a car

Normal Service Resumes

Red Funnel car ferry photographed from Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes Isle of Wight

My high-speed ferry commute is so easy, zipping me back and forth from Cowes on my daily commute. I take it for granted, until it’s gone.  Red Funnel has had a busy fortnight, ferrying so many passengers across the Solent with one boat down.  So, I’ve seen less of home these last couple weeks. I’ve missed the sea, the golden light, and the easy-going Islanders.

Even with a ferry service under intense demand, I’ve been charmed by the ever-cheery faces of the staff, and the unruffled Very British Queuing as we all wait for the boat.  I’ve been on the slower car ferry more often than usual.  The one hour crossing turns out to be the perfect amount of time to finish a beer, knit 20 rows, and get through a whole Spotify playlist (thank you free ferry wifi!)  I usually take the car ferry with my bike and always appreciate how they let the bikes go to the front of the queue (unlike other Isle of Wight ferry services, which shall remain nameless.)  It makes a big difference to be the first passengers to pedal off on the other side, without having to sit in the belly of a boat and get gassed out by two floors of departing cars.

Red Funnel ferry and yacht photo collage

Solent view landscape

Absence always makes the heart grow fonder.  I’ve enjoyed the evening light in Hampshire, but found myself thinking ‘Just imagine how beautiful it must look over Tennyson Down right now!’  So, with the Red Jet service now back to its complete set of fast catamarans, it was a sweet feeling to end my working day with a swift hop over the Solent, glimpsing the far west point of the Isle of Wight, before seeing the lights of Cowes appear out of the evening mist.  It’s as sweet a sight as there ever were.

This Slice of Sea

Sea through the window

This slice of sea is with me every day, sunrise and sunset. The sun’s position may change only slightly every day, but the light and shape of the water below is ever changing. Every morning, I walk down the hill in cold fog, pacing down the centre of the road to reclaim it in this small hour. Through the narrow streets and out on to the quayside, tall masts and the thrumming whir of the arriving ferry.

I always sit on the same side of the ferry, hunting the first and last of the light. In the morning the sun rises behind Osborne Point, across waters choppy grey or smooth silk blue. On the way home, we travel past piers, chimneys and a pebbly spit, before the west wight hills appear, with pink and blue light dropping behind.

Sometimes I sit and slump with my coffee, or plough through a book, ignoring the view. Sometimes the boat is full of the mumbled chatter of commuters, and the windows are too steamy to watch more than a smear of sea. Sometimes the ride is so rough that you lose your stomach halfway across the Solent, and the contents of your bag across the aisle.

So whilst I travel the same stretch of sea, it’s never the same, and my everyday commute ain’t bad. Travelling across waters always beats the motorway, no matter how rough the ride. Just don’t ask me how long my journey takes. My ferry ride only marks halfway, so now I’m working on cutting out the motorway from the second half of my journey.

Marina masts at sunset

Starting the Day on a Boat

Collage of Red Funnel Ferry photos

Setting off on still grey waters, with a cup of strong coffee and a good book is not a bad way to start the day. I may have a longer commute now, but there is something quite delicious about the way travel creates a chunk of time to do nothing but sit.

It’s just as well I have some extra time as I’ve taken on a big social reading challenge and I’m a slow reader. I’m too easily distracted and on this, of all weeks, I have lost my iPod. So, instead of Joanna Newsom’s clear tones and James Yorkston’s easy turns, I have enjoyed a ferry soundtrack of business calls and tv show debriefs. I’m only surprised by how sociably inclined other people are so early in the morning.

Southampton’s big industry port and busy shipping lanes sets a different pace from Cowes’ sailing boats and quiet marina. City rush hour traffic is a shock to the system, and I’m suffering from bike envy, seeing those wheels nip off down a speedy side road while I join the slow-moving rank of cars. In comparison to that, a boat is a most civilised way to travel!

Red Jet in the evening

The trials of Island living

Red Funnel ferry from the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes

Yesterday we reluctantly watched the Red Funnel ferry depart without us, and with it, our plans to see James Yorkston & The Athletes’ 10th Anniversary performance of Moving Up Country.  A midday mechanical failure on one of the ships was still causing chaos in East Cowes by late afternoon and our ferry was so delayed we couldn’t make it to the gig that I was so excited about.

The ferry’s aren’t having a good time of it, what with this plus last week’s festival traffic chaos.  And so ensues the usual rants about what a ‘nightmare’ it is being ‘trapped’ on an island, beholden to unpredictable and expensive boat travel, and in need of a fixed link.  The woman behind me in the queue yesterday was keen to tell everyone that she’d lived on the Isle of Wight for “five impossible years” and now she was moving away and couldn’t wait to leave.  I’m sure she’ll be far happier Up Mainland.

But, for me these few ferry fiascos don’t come near to the more common travel trials of motorway traffic, noisy aeroplane flight paths, and trains stuffed full of commuters.  I’d rather miss the odd gig, and console myself with a walk along the beach, or a beer on the seafront.  Half the charm of this place is its slow pace, haphazard muddles and ‘behind the times’ inefficiencies.  Maddening and comforting in equal measure.

Gurnard, Isle of Wight at sunset