The winter nights may be drawing in, but usually, on the Isle of Wight, it's still all systems go at this time of year, writes Tourism, Graeco-Roman Wrestling, Permaculture, Snuff, Pest Control, Differential Topology and Gynaecology correspondent, Norman Church. With Christmas just around the corner, and Island Tourism gearing up for the excitement of the Mottistone Christmas Tree Festival, Decorating Day at the Bembridge Windmill, Mrs Cusp's Annual Children's Party at the Ningwood Bluebottle & Toad Sanctuary, and the Carisbrooke Boxing Day Penny Farthing Races, Isle of Wight Tourism staff are normally going at it hammer and tongs throughout November and December to keep the hordes of visitors happy.
This year, however, a dark cloud has settled over the Island, and it threatens to rain on Island Tourism's Christmas Parade and sully the usually pristine Wight Christmas.
Island Tourism Chief, Eric Ladle, remained optimistic yesterday that Island Tourism can win through, but was aware that there are massive challenges ahead.
"I remain optimistic that Island Tourism can win through, but I am aware that there are massive challenges ahead", Island Tourism Chief Eric Ladle told me, yesterday.
The biggest blight on the normally thriving crop of Island Tourism has come from the alarming, not to say mysterious, appearance on the Island in the last few weeks of a number of what can only be described as fake Nelsons.
"Our biggest challenge is the appearance on the Island in the last few weeks of a number of what can only be described as fake Nelsons", confirmed Eric Ladle, yesterday.
"They have been turning up all over the place", he explained. "Few places have not had them turn up. I would even go so far as to say that many places have had them turn up, to the detriment of that peaceful enjoyment of our island that the likes of Wordsworth used to enjoy.
"Now I know that Wordsworth was very fond of Lord Nelson, in his own way, despite his leanings towards the French radicals", he continued. "We have all read the fan mail he used to write, which Lady Hamilton used to light the fire with, but even he would have baulked at so many Nelsons turning up all the time unexpected and unannounced.
"If you speak to people around the island, you will see what I mean", concluded Eric Ladle, yesterday.
I duly toured the island, to see if Mr Ladle's dark words would bear fruit, and I spoke to people on the island (not around it, since I have never been one for swimming in the sea).
I met Mrs Clasper, of Bembridge, outside the Bembridge Post Office, yesterday, and asked her if she had encountered any of the fake Nelsons.
"Oh yes", she said. "Oh yes."
"Oh yes", Mrs Clasper added.
Mrs Judder, who was with Mrs Clasper, nodded her head as if in agreement. "Oh no," she said.
Inside the Post Office, Postmaster Alan 'Alan' Allan was more loquacious. "Ah, yes," he said, sorting a fresh consignment of stamps, "only the other week we had a right old carry on in here. Three of they bogus Nelsons was queuing in the queue at lunchtime. They was queuing in that queue for three hours, holding everybody up, there was pensioners and visitors and all makes of folk held up in that queue. It was awful. And when they Nelsons did get to the counter, they were asking about taverns and ship's biscuit requisitions and a permit to anchor HMS Victory off Freshwater Bay.
"When I says Freshwater Bay's at t'other side of th'island, mind you, they did go off good as gold. But that's when I knew they wasn't real. You'd think an Admiral would know one side of th'island from t'other.
"An' they didn't go to Freshwater neither," Alan 'Alan' Allan concluded. "They was spotted at the Bembridge Windmill later on. They was frightening the tourists right off."
At Mottistone, I heard a similar tale of woe from Frank Bunnion, an unemployed broom-refurbisher and guano harvester from nearby Brighstone. He told me about what had happened at the Mottistone Longstone Viewing Gallery.
"Aye. Those Nelsons had been wandering about the Longstone, a-puttin' of their telescopters to their blind eyes and shoutin' 'Ahoy, I really do not see the signal' an' all that malarkey. There must a' been five or six o' them false Nelsons a'there. There was a French party a-waitin' to look at the stone, an' they was right upset when one o' they Nelsons a-yells out 'you must hate a Frenchman as you hates the devil!' It were fairly ter'ble, it were."
Finally, I spoke to a Mrs Carrion, who lives a stone's throw from the Ningwood Neolithic Wheelbarrow site. She told me about the day last week when as many as twelve bogus Nelsons had stood around the wheelbarrow site, preventing a coach-load of Japanese sightseers from seeing the sights of the site.
"Those poor Japanese didn't know whether to jump for joy at seeing such an historic figure as Horatio Nelson and to be able to photograph such a bizarre historical juxtaposition, or to start crying because they couldn't get near to the Neolithic Wheelbarrow they had wanted to be able to photograph for years.
"They did get to take the leaflets," Mrs Carrion informed me, "but their bus had to leave, as they were due at the Bluebottle & Toad Sanctuary for afternoon teas, so they were mortified not to be able to get their photographs because of these Nelsons.
"The Nelsons were shocking, the way they carried on, showing off their medals and strutting about. And the poor bus could hardly get away, as they had left their bicycles all around it. When the driver complained, one of them said 'no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy' and just stared at him.
However, it was at the Ningwood Bluebottle & Toad Sanctuary that I discovered that Island Tourism is fighting back.
Owner May Cusp was defiant. "Here at the sanctuary, we are far too busy taking care of our toads and bluebottles over the winter to be upset by a few silly bogus Nelsons," she said.
"Three of them came into the car park yesterday," she explained, yesterday. "I simply said 'I am sorry, we do not allow fancy dress here, except for the Children's Buzz & Croak Easter Pageant, and that's only toad and bluebottle costumes, so I am afraid I must ask you to leave'.
"One of them said 'If I had been censured every time I have run my ship, or fleets under my command, into great danger, I should have long ago been out of the Service and never in the House of Peers', but I just said 'Never mind all that, my lad, get off my property or I'll have you for trespassing!' and they were off like scalded cats.
"Our sanctuary has been in the Cusp family for generations. We have survived the Suez Crisis, the Three Day Week and Jimi Hendrix, so we won't let a lot of counterfeit Nelsons stop us!"
The same fighting spirit was to be found at Slug World, Adgestone, where it was very much business as usual, with a school party from Brading enjoying their Slugs Tea Party.
"We see the world very much from the slugs' perspective", said husband and wife Slug World owners Jack and Jill Hill. "Besides, it's common knowledge that Nelson had a phobia of slugs and used to get Lady Hamilton to remove them from the footpaths at Merton Place where he lived. These bogus Nelsons do seem to have done their Nelson history homework, so they are unlikely to bother us. It's full steam ahead at Slug World!"
A truly inspiring note to end on, and a fitting tribute to an island's esprit de combat (apologies to fake Nelsons everywhere!)