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24 September 2014
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New Pier Head Lighthouse by David Gizzi.
Does the Isle need to offer more?

Gill by mouth

By Howard Caine
Following the Sunday Times' AA Gill's controversial comments about the Isle of Man, should we take a good look at what we have to offer visitors or is the critic misguided in his description?

There have been quite a few issues to tax those living on the island recently - even if tax isn't one of them. Problems with waste and the decision to spend more on electricity generation than NASA's budget for the space shuttle programme for example.

But these are but nothing compared to the reaction to a recent article about the island by AA Gill, restaurant critic of the Sunday Times. Mr Gill, who was named after the creator of Winnie the Pooh, wrote his piece in the "Style" supplement of the paper - a sort of "Beano" for the over thirties.

It was its usual ribald mix of public school boy wit, cheery disregard for factual accuracy and slagging off of anything that doesn't begin with the words "AA Gill".

Washing day
Does the Isle smell?

As normal the actual restaurant review didn't appear until the final few paragraphs, and bearing in mind in the bacon-soft hands of Mr Gill anything more than damning with faint praise is good news, was positively ecstatic.

All in all then a jolly good yarn in a publication where, to be honest, most people will look at the pictures first. But oh dear! Not everyone on the Isle of Man reads his column on a regular basis and consequently things were taken a little too seriously.

Letters to the press, phone calls to the national radio station - there was even a rumour there was a move to bring back hanging. Perhaps it was the comment the island "smells of boiled washing, damp wallpaper and fried food", a comment  which made many of us glad he didn't come in the summer.

It may have been the remark that it's the "last seriously draconian wee country left in western Europe” or the belief that it's the "most pixilated place outside the 16th century."

"Letters to the press, phone calls to the national radio station - there was even a rumour there was a move to bring back hanging."
Howard Caine

It was the latter which Pamela Crowe MLC, a member for the Department of Tourism, picked up on during a radio interview.

Whilst claiming the piece was derogatory, particularly when it seemed that he'd only managed to get as far as the back seat of a taxi and the seafront in Douglas, she pointed out he would be very sad that he'd upset the "little people", which for Mr Gill means anyone north of Watford. Nonetheless, he would be getting a personal invite to come back and have a pop at the all the places he hadn't seen.

However, it was most likely the comment that "its main industry is money (laundering, pressing, altering and mending)" which really hurt. The island’s government has expended much effort over the last 20 years trying to distance itself from the "suitcase-full-of-used-fivers-sir? That'll-do-nicely" image it once had, and Mr Gill or anyone else falling through his space-time continuum on this one isn't welcome.

Be it that or the crack about the fish being ready kippered by Sellafield, Michael MHK David Cannan was moved to ask a question in the House of Keys regarding this "unacceptable and scurrilous attack".

'Late Summer Storm' by Val Wallace.
Are the Isle's scenic views not enough for some?

With the benefit of a week or two’s reflection, Tourism Minister David Cretney gave a measured response. He pointed out the island has to "take the good publicity with the bad" and wryly commented that Mr Gill's musings should be seen as "a cartoon and not a photograph" which sums it up quite neatly.

At the end of the day "Adi G", as his friend and drinking buddy Jeremy Clarkson calls him, would rarely be your first choice for a tourism press release - although he did make Baghdad sound quite tempting!

Picture credit: 'Late Summer Storm' taken in September 2001 by Val Wallace.

last updated: 17/02/06
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