I remember many years ago bumping into my former English school teacher Stan Middo, a man more formally known to others as the writer Stanley Middleton (1919–2009), and him asking me how things were on Eel Pie Island. I'd never been to Eel Pie Island and had never mentioned the place to Stan before, but he obviously quite rightly assumed that I'd understand that he was using the expression generically: Eel Pie Island had been associated with the hippie ethos, and I had for some time been espousing hippie ideals.
Until last weekend, though, I'd never set foot on Eel Pie Island, although a casual opportunity to do so (which I hadn't taken advantage of when I went to Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill House last year) emerged when I re-visited Twickenham to see the opening of Alexander Pope's Grotto as one of the Twickenham Festival attractions. And although the hippie trappings may have long gone, there nevertheless remains a certain zaniness, even hints of anti-authoritarianism on the island.
'ANY PERSON OMITTING TO SHUT
AND FASTEN THIS GATE AFTER
USING IT, IS LIABLE TO A PENALTY
OF FORTY SHILLINGS'
'THE CORNISH RIVIERA
ENGLAND'S NATIONAL HEALTH & PLEASURE RESORT'
FOR NOTICING THIS
YOUR NOTICING IT
HAS BEEN NOTED
AND WILL BE REPORTED TO THE AUTHORITIES'
There isn't much of it as you soon come to a kind of wall beyond which you can't go, but I found Eel Pie Island – to which positively no motor vehicle is allowed and access is only by boat or footbridge – quite refreshing.