John S. Nunn
There must be something about small islands that attracts my wife and me to them. In the early seventies we worked on the Isle of Wight for five years. Our son was born there. He spent many hours of his childhood attempting to convince friends that he wasn't actually English, but a "Caulkhead".
There are a number of similarities between our life here and the life we led on the Isle of Wight. To begin with we find ourselves on an island of comparable size - about 32 miles east to west, 10 miles north to south; compared to the Isle of Wight's 23 miles east to west and 13 miles north to south. Menorca's area is roughly 35% larger than its English counterpart.
Attitudes towards distances within the Isle of Wight were interesting. We had lived there about two weeks when we decided to explore the west end of the island by having lunch at the Bugle Inn, Yarmouth. Our home was at Bembridge, in the extreme east of the island. When we mentioned that we had done this trip people were astounded that we should have gone such a long way for a Sunday outing. The sad thing is that the longer we lived there the more we adopted the same sort of attitude to distances within our small island world. Now, thirty years on, we find exactly the same attitude in Menorca. I have spoken to several people living in the south east quadrant of the island, who consider a journey to Addaia as one that is just a bit too far. I have found that some Brits living in that same area have never actually visited our jewel of the north coast.
The response to the distances involved is not confined to Brits. The distance between Maó and Ciutadella has led to the evolution of different words in the vocabularies for the inhabitants of the two towns. Similar linguistic distinctions are evident in the Isle of Wight: the accent of the eastern part is much more akin to that of Portsmouth, whilst in the west you will hear a distinct rolling of the "rs" more akin to the language of Dorset.
The car ferry across the Solent is reckoned to be the most expensive service of its kind per mile than any other in Europe. Well, I reckon the connections by sea from Menorca must be a pretty close second. Add to that the air fares we have to pay just to go to Palma and one can see a strong parallel that demonstrates a big disadvantage in living on an offshore island.
Stormy weather, there is another similarity. Before moving to the Isle of Wight we had not experienced such gales as we witnessed roaring up the English Channel. Once again we live on an exposed island that is battered by tremendous winds causing damage to property such as recently seen around Cap d'Artrutx. On both islands, such storms can lead to disruption of transport, with the islands cut off by sea and shortages becoming obvious on supermarket shelves. Longer waits than normal for parts, that have to be shipped from Barcelona, are a common occurrence here in winter. This is all part of island life, one must accept that isolation from the less desirable characteristics of our modern world is coupled with disadvantages.
In both cases, being an island and being that little bit different, has brought tourism. Residents complain about the increased summer traffic, although the quality of Menorca's road system is much better. The residents of the Isle of Wight and of Menorca have both done well out of tourists, but now both face the same problem of how to maintain their status as a tourist destination. One has the distinct feeling that this coming summer could be a good year for British tourism. The exchange rate should be a key factor in attracting people from the USA and from the Euro zone, whilst at the same time deterring the British from leaving their shores. The last two British summers have been disappointingly wet and cool. If ever Britain needed a fine summer it is this year.
Both islands have attractive environments for boating, especially sailing. Cowes is internationally famous for its racing and for its marina facilities. Menorca needs much better infrastructure of this type. There is so much more that could, and should, be done to attract more waterborne tourists to this island.
People from the two islands will meet in sporting competition this summer. Between 27th June and 4th July 2009 sports men and women from both islands will have the opportunity to compete against one another in Finland's Aland Islands. This is the venue for the NatWest Island Games, the thirteenth time that the competition will have been staged. The eighteen different sports will promote competition from twenty five islands. The British Isles has teams from Shetlands, Orkneys, Western Isles, Isle of Man, Anglesey, Isle of Wight, Alderney, Guernsey, Sark and Jersey. It will be the second time Menorca has competed. The Island Games began in 1985 when the Isle of Man was the venue. Isle of Wight hosted the Games in 1993 and is preparing to receive its guests once again in 2011. In March the preparatory meeting for the organisers' executive committee will take place here in Menorca. Hopefully, Menorca will host the Island Games in the near future.