Friday 4 January 2013

My Paradise Island

I am lucky enough to live on Paradise Island. It is an island where benches are plentiful. But not as plentiful as on the Isle of Wight. As soon as you arrive on the Isle of Wight, whether or not you need to sit down, you are confronted with benches.

photo by Alexandra Thompson

Paradise Island The Isle of Wight really is somewhere over the rainbow, bench-wise.

There are simple benches where function triumphs over aesthetic appeal.

There are cozy little romantic benches snuggled into arbors.

There are even bench thrones.

Here is a bench from Queen Victoria's time. It dates from 1881.

OK, maybe it's not very comfortable but will you last 132 years?

The island benches are much enjoyed by both animals . . . 

. . . and people.

You don't need much reason to put up a bench on the Isle of Wight. A nice spring day, for example, is a good time to get out the purple benches.

At Yarmouth harbour there is a Gribble Bench to commemorate the gribble worm that ate the wood that held the pier. 

There are benches with plaques in honour of local citizens

and wood-carved benches with local wildlife.

photo by Joanna Michalak
There are beautiful curved benches

photo by Alexandra Thompson

and benches where the memorial is n t q ite re dab e a ymo  e.

But you're wondering about Paradise Island, aren't you?

On Paradise Island there are benches where you can sit and welcome the arrival of spring.

photo by Marion Carmichael

But on the Isle of Wight they make sure benches are available so that snow-sitters have somewhere to enjoy.

Even on the beach where there are no formal benches, a log bench has been thoughtfully provided.

Here on Paradise Island we make sure people notice our benches by labelling them (the benches, not the people).

Yes, we are a little old-fashioned on Paradise Island. Loft apartments are in short supply.

We do have a Starbucks though. Sort of.

You can get a friendly cappucino there.

Here's my kitchen at La Casa Perfecta. That's me on the left in my pinny.

The kitchen is a bit untidy because there's so much gardening to do. Here's our garden at La Casa Perfecta in the height of summer. It's so overgrown that you can't even see the benches.

Benches are so important on Paradise Island that people write poems about them. No, sorry, I've got mixed up again. It's Isle of Wight benches that people write about. 

For example, here's Margaret on a Bench. And there's a brilliant poem about Margaret on a bench

I myself have written a poem about Cassie's Seat on the Isle of Wight. It's imaginatively titled Cassie's Seat

The Isle of Wight is famous for The Needles.

It's also famous for literature. Writers like Dickens, Keats, Swinburne and Lord Tennyson are all associated with the Isle of Wight. 

To keep the thread of literature going, there is a Poetry Bench up at the Needles. 

The Isle of Wight is also known for sailing, of course. The Cowes Fortnight, also known as Cowes Week, is a very big sailing event indeed, even when the weather isn't brilliant.

photo by Anne Smith, 2003

But the Isle of Wight is not exactly paradise.

It has tens of thousands of people descend on it every summer for the Isle of Wight Festival, The Rhythmtree Festival, the Bestival and all the various carnivals. This creates massive traffic jams and in June 2012, a giant mud bath of cars and campers. 

Does this look like paradise to you?

In contrast, here is a view of Paradise Island. 

See what I mean? Perfect heaven wedged between sea and sky.

So joyful is life on Paradise Island that these Jouvay dancers are celebrating the benches on the seafront.

No, sorry, I have got that mixed up; it's easily done. 

The Jouvay dancers are on the Isle of Wight. But enough dancing. Let's get back to benches.

In my own town of Fribble-under-Par there are 88 benches. Yes, I have counted them. I have carefully documented their comings and goings over many years. It's a thankless task but someone has to do it.

It's pleasant enough noting the scenes of rural idyll where folks are quietly enjoying themselves on benches.

Old Noah likes sitting outside St. Asphyxia's with his pipe. 

Lord Brassica's butler, Unwin, irons the newspaper every morning and then has a quiet read beside Miggy's Mum. 

However, it's not so nice documenting the Fribble Agro gang hanging out at the bus stop . . . 

. . . or chaotic scenes on the clocktower bench when people come under attack.

So on to better things. 

Here is a bench looking out onto the river Par Yar. Both The Par and The Yar are tidal estuaries which, like the benches, come and go. 

This is The Plunge, an area along the seafront which has many benches. This is my imaginary friend Miggy, who seems to be walking with ski poles for some reason. Perhaps she has confused The Plunge with the Matterhorn?

By the way, the bench just ahead of Miggy is my swimming bench

Suffice to say, I live on Paradise Island but my home is the sea. 

image by Clare Elsaesser

I hope by now you are convinced that Paradise Island is truly an idyllic island in the manner of, say, Bali or Antigua. It has benches which are every bit as exciting as this funky bench in the Cayman Islands.

image from

But people are unpredictable. Despite having everything anyone could want on Paradise Island, there is evidence that some people try to escape. 

The Now! sail must mean that getting off the island is urgent.

Islanders can do nothing except watch from the shore.

I have a feeling that benches on the island are like ravens at the Tower of London - if the benches go, we've had it. 

Notice that there is only one poor soul left on the bench. The others have either fled or taken to individual deckchairs. Doesn't bode well.


Isle of Wight readers asked me to point out that festivals are not representative of the island, especially not the traffic jams caused by inclement weather on the first day of the Isle of Wight Festival in June 2012. 

So, in the interest of balance (and keeping readers happy), here is another photo of the Isle of Wight.

Isle of Wight readers have now asked me to point out that this is yet another traffic jam (yacht version), which is not representative of the Isle of Wight. The photograph shows the yacht traffic jams caused by fabulous weather at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival in June 2011. 

The colour photos of Paradise Island and the Isle of Wight were taken by myself or my husband, His Excellency. You can tell which is which because he takes pictures of boats. As you might expect, I take pictures of benches.

The photograph of the ferry and other black and white benches comes from the book Benchmarks (2011) by Shore Women writers. Alexandra Thompson took the photos.

The small village of houses is the Postman Pat village at Longlete Park in Wiltshire. 

The St Arbucks coffee shop is also in Wiltshire. It doesn't look much like the Starbucks we normally see. There's a fullstop after St. and a capital letter for Arbucks. What a difference punctuation can make! For more perfectly punctuated benches see

The wonderful retro kitchen was photographed at a shop in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight. That's not me on the left, by the way; it's a headless person. La Casa Perfecta is my home and this is our garden facing towards the south. But views vary so it's best to read the whole story about La Casa Perfecta 

In fairness, I must admit that the traffic picture shown is an old clipart image which looks like LA. It is definitely not Paradise Island. For a start, we don't have any roads with more than one lane going each way. And our speed limit is 40 miles per hour, which is considerably faster than these LA cars are going on their multi-lane freeway.

For some very festive festival benches see

The Gribble Worm bench commemorates work done on Yarmouth pier, which was built in 1876 and is the longest wooden pier in the UK. The gribble worm eats soft parts of wood and was boring into planks and pillars, destroying the historic pier until the pier was repaired in 2008. The project manager was a Mr. Gribble. The bench itself was made when local people sat on wet cement to create different sized bum places. It is a very popular bench at the Old Gaffers Festival every year.

Julia Darling (1956-2003) was a writer often associated with the northeast but she spent her childhood in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight and came back here every summer in August to celebrate her birthday. The Mill House where she stayed has a bench commemorating her. For more about Julia Darling and her work see

The fox and badger bench is at Appley near Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It is inscribed in loving memory to Eric and Joyce Harris from Stephen and Christine Harris. Many thanks to Joanna Michalak for the photo. 

There is something intriguing and immensely satisfying about an ordinary person sitting on an ordinary bench. Margaret on a Bench is a poem by Marion Carmichael, with brilliant references to Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian photographer whose home was Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater, Isle of Wight. Dimbola is now a museum of early photography and it also has an exhibition of the early Isle of Wight festivals. Sadly, Margaret from the picture died in April 2015. 

There is also something intriguing about benches named for particular unknown people, like Cassie, whose seat is along the lovely river path from Yarmouth to Freshwater. Some people might be moved to write a poem about a bench like this. I was. And even if you don't like the poem, you'll love His Excellency's beautiful photography. 

Shore Women Writers are a long-established writing group on the Isle of Wight. In 2008 they commissioned a Poetry Bench which is now sited on National Trust land above Alum Bay at the Needles Old Battery. The bench is inscribed with two verses of WH Auden's well-known On This Island poem. However you feel about poetry, the view from the bench is poetry itself. 

If you're not English you might not know that a fortnight is two weeks. The sailing regatta called Cowes Week is actually a fortnight. It's one of those English things designed to confuse visitors, like the pronounciation of words like Beauchamp, Gloucester, Leominster and Chomondley. 

The sailing photo with unusual colours is by Anne Smith from Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It was used as the cover of a poetry collection, Sailing Under False Colours, published by Arrowhead Press in 2004. The author is Shelley McAlister.

The Jouvay dancers were dancing at Fort Victoria, near Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight on May Day 2011. 

Throughout the Benchsite blog there are many stories about the residents of Fribble-under-Par and its neighbouring hamlet, Drizzly. Here you see some of the older residents: Old Noah, Unwin and Miggy's Mum. And that's the twins Cora and Dora Boran at the clocktower, where Cora, as usual, is attacking our smiley police constable Willie Wyme. Wyme the Crime also likes to hang out at the bus stop with the Fribble Agro gang, who know a lot about bus stop benches. For a complete Who's Who, see

Clare Elsaesser painted My Home is the Sea, which is available as a very large giclee art print poster of the original painting. Clare is a fulltime artist from a small town on the Pacific in Northern California. I am very grateful for use of this image. Her etsy shop is full of beautiful paintings, many of which have a sea theme

The funky Cayman Islands bench was photographed by Kellee Fabre, who lives in New Port Richey in Florida. Kellee is a keen photographer who likes to capture the beauty of everyday things. Her shop is at and she's also at


  1. Thanks, Helen. I wonder if you recognise any of these places on Paradise Island? I believe you have been here once or twice?