Freshwater milkman Ken Munnion was celebrating yesterday, writes Local Government, Traffic News and Local Snippets Correspondent, Sandi Castle.
Mr Munnion was in high spirits as he raised a glass of his favourite beer, Mattock's Old Knacker, among friends and family at the Highdown Inn, Totland. For he had that very morning completed his 100th ascent to the Tennyson Monument on Tennyson Down.
Alfred Lord Tennyson was the poet famous for penning such classic verse as 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (which he also recorded an early recording of, on which he shouted the poem into an ear trumpet) and 'The Lady of Shalott' (recently brought to the attention of Isle of Wight News readers by the headline of my article about the prize-winning onions of Adgestone magistrate Mrs Amy Nettler). Tennyson also lived on the Isle of Wight, at Farringdon House, for almost 40 years.
And it has taken Ken Munnion more than 40 years to complete his personal milestone of 100 monument walks. I met Ken at the Highdown Inn, Totland. I was late for the appointment. The Highdown Inn is cunningly situated not in Totland, and I faced quite a treasure hunt before I spied Ken's rubicund features outside the Inn. Tennyson often walked the Down that came to bear his name and said the air was worth 'sixpence a pint'. All I will say is that it is a good thing that Mattock's Old Knacker is not that cheap: Ken was already well away at 21st century prices; I shudder to think what condition he might have been in had the ale been sixpence a pint. But never mind. I am not here to censure.
Ken told me that he had been doing the walk to the monument every Michaelmas and on his birthday since he was a boy. That's twice a year for 50 years. After becoming a postman, he was able to do the walks in the afternoons after completing his rounds. "I don't think I would have of managed, if I'd had to work the afternoons as well", he revealed. "Maybes I'd have of had to do it like once a year. Then it'd be just the 50, which were actually, like, 25 year aback, as the crow flies, back when I lived abiv the butchers in Yarmouth."
I smiled. I had no idea what he was talking about, but time was short, for I had an appointment with Major Whetstone at the Needles Old Battery at 3 o' clock, so I transcribed it verbatim.
I asked if the 100th walk had been different. Had he done anything different?
"Nah. Like, you see, sometime I does it from here, down Highdown Lane and abiv the'quarries. An' sometimes I does it 'long the coast from Freshwater. But mostly from here, 'specially if the' weather's orf, as it often is. Haven't done it from Freshwater since waybegone 1967, as th' crow flies. An' 'e do, bein' a bloody crow!"
The table was in uproar at this somewhat cryptic witticism but I pressed on, undaunted. "What are your plans now?" I asked. "Have you a new goal? Or will you retire now you've reached 100?"
Ken Munnion gathered his thoughts. His brow was knotted, gnarled, as twisted as the gale-contorted shrubs on Tennyson Down. We waited. Ken rested his head in his hands, as if deep in contemplation. Still we waited.
And then Ken Munnion began to snore. His friend, Tommy 'Nugger' Wentworth shook him awake again.
I repeated my question. "What now, Ken?" I asked , hopefully.
"Ah, mine's a pint o' old Knacker, if you be askin!'" he roared, brandishing his empty tankard, and the table was in uproar again.
I made my excuses and left. Major Whetsone was waiting and there was rain in that steel-grey welkin, or I was a girl reporter who could make no more sense of the maritime climate of this special island than she could of its no less special inhabitants.