Sunday, 3 May 2009

Island Mentality

It's mid-afternoon and I'm sitting in the reception of a car repair centre in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent. I'm waiting for a new tyre to be fitted to the alloy wheel of a Ford Fusion, which is a ten minute job, once somebody agrees to pay for it. The car is an ex-motability vehicle, being delivered to a dealership in Oxfordshire on behalf of an auction group, and at the moment none of these parties believe that the repair is their responsibility.

I arrived here by train at about midday, feeling strangely excited on the grounds that this is one of those rare parts of the country that I have never strayed into in over ten years in this occupation.


I even made a detour on my way to the collection address to take a look at the seafront in case I never came back here again, although I needn't have worried on that score. I picked up the car and got only a couple of miles away from the island before one of the tyres developed a slow puncture. The nearest repair centre was back here, just around the corner from the train station.

Sheppey is cut off from the rest of Kent by a channel called The Swale, and is accessed by a bridge which looks unnecessarily steep and curved, as if the architect would rather have been designing funfair rides.

There seems to be a tangible sense of community on this small island - not an ideal one where everyone always pulls together, but a more realistic one where people are more likely to say what they are thinking.

Sometimes the results are not that edifying. A rather downcast middle-aged woman comes in to ask for a quote for an exhaust repair, and then requests a cheaper price, with no supporting argument. The manager points out to her that she would not go into Tesco, fill her basket up with goods and then try to haggle with the checkout staff. She decides she will go away and think about it.

Sometimes the result is just an odd tangent. Another middle-aged woman, happier and more well-spoken, and with a toddler holding her hand, is paying for an MOT retest on her car. One of the guys behind the counter makes some chance remark about food and she plunges into an anecdote about a sandwich she had recently in Subway. She had kept asking for more and more jalapeno peppers on it until the man behind her in the queue became rather alarmed. ‘He called me an animal!’ she says, laughing.

On one occasion the result makes my heart beat faster for a moment. An energetic young guy is having a problem with the wheel balance on his Mercedes, and wants it investigated. The manager explains to him that he will have to wait, but not as politely as the young guy would like. He barks at the manager to 'lose the attitude.' The manager informs him that he doesn't have an attitude and the young guy decides that he doesn't care anyway, and the whole thing simmers down as quickly as it started.

In between such things the overworked staff continue trying to untangle the mystery of who ought to be paying for the new tyre, via phone calls to people who are sure it is nothing to do with them, or who in turn give out the phone numbers of other people who don't answer their phones.

We are all only a couple of hundred yards from an empty beach, on a clear afternoon, although I guess most people around here are too used to that to notice.


  1. Why are there so few comments?

    I'm a professional writer (of fiction), and the raw materials of this blog are excellent. Perhaps when you document hidden and forgotten things, you run the risk of becoming such a thing yourself.

    I used to haul scrap metal, and have explored many of the lanes of the UK. After five years in self-imposed exile, this blog has been the first thing that has struck me as authentic, as true to what is there in the UK, in the world that doesn't arrive through the radio or the TV.

    Good stuff and best wishes from Taipei City.

  2. Hi Felix,

    Thanks for the comments.

    To be honest the site only gets a trickle of visitors, but since I've never got around to doing much to promote it, I guess I'm lucky that anyone stumbles across it at all.

    I'm hoping to find time to develop it more over the next few months and let more people know that it's here.

    All the best