Every Friday, CasinoBeats is thinking out loud
THE High Court of the Tynwald – the Isle of Man parliament – is of Norse origin and more than a thousand years old, and is thus the oldest parliament in the world with an unbroken existence.
So says the internet, in this case reliably. For the Tynwald is the world’s oldest democratic government, something of which the Isle of Man is rightfully proud.
History is an important part of the island. Locals are very knowledgeable about the salient historical facts that have shaped the modern Isle of Man, with cabbies particularly proud and willing tour guides.
Taxi drivers also say hello to the fairies as they ferry paying customers to and from Ronaldsway airport along the A5, crossing the legendary Fairy Bridge that carries the road over Santon Burn. It’s a simple but faithfully observed tradition that, to newcomers to the island, can seem quaint and occasionally unsettling. These visitors probably still wear their lucky pants when their team plays the local derby but this nod to mythical fairies nonetheless seems old-fashioned somehow.
Then there is the steam railway – a nudge over 15 miles of narrow gauge track from Douglas to Port Erin, between which towns immaculately preserved steam engines haul willing tourists, shovelling steam over their shoulders as they journey back and forth through time.
Away from the towns, the landscape is dotted with generous bungalows with breathing space between, giving parts of the island the look and feel of Northern Ireland or perhaps the Lake District. Which should come as no surprise as these are the sibling rocks from which the Isle of Man was hewn many millions of years ago.
CB is in town, in Douglas specifically, to host the Isle of Man Social at The Railway pub, just next to the marina and the old station building. That station terminal is now the island’s VAT office. And while CB is losing (again) at pool to a hustler from TGP, a gleaming black-and-silver Rolls Royce edges out of the tax office car park. With statesmanlike heft, the two-tonne, two-tone £250,000 beast eases onto the road and the image of modern Douglas is complete.
There are cobbles but few are loose or broken. The posts and chains that edge the promenade are not rusted but recently painted. There is no litter. No crime to speak of. These streets feel cared for. Yes, the island is steeped in a rich history but it is no longer somewhere people leave behind. Indeed, they come back.
“It is not that the Isle of Man is unchanged, more that it changes those who come here.”
The Isle of Man is not a theme park to the 1950s. It is not a trip back in time. Seaside ice cream parlours jockey with Starbucks for market share. On the hill, the PokerStars compound, over there an Aston Martin. And another. Nonetheless it is true that it is not a showy, glossy place, and natives take their cues from the land. It is a modest, becalming existence. It is not that the Isle of Man is unchanged, more that it changes those who come here. This persuasive maiden of the choppy Irish Sea is proud and loved and there are many reasons why.
Not least the sense of community. On arrival, CB takes a taxi from the airport into Douglas and straight to Java Express, a coffee shop perched on Prospect Hill and frequented by many of the island’s gaming professionals. Meetings are held, people bumped into, coffee taken. It is a place to dwell.
Lunch is taken near to the venue of the afternoon’s Social, at the scattering of tables outside The Little Fish on the quayside. CB opts for fish fingers with what transpires to be an entirely unnecessary side of fries, given that these fish fingers are more like legs – four thick sausages of white fish encrusted with beer batter.
The tasty food makes light of the stiff breeze the locals barely seem to notice. It is windy today, as nearly always on the Isle of Man, but it is sunny – as it has been for the last month or so.
“In 20 years, I’ve never known it this good,” a government employee tells CB. Everyone is tanned and seems even happier with life than normal, which if you’ve ever been to the Isle of Man, will know is really something. These are a buoyant bunch. Should this careworn rock ever threaten to slip into the sea, CB imagines the Manx could will it to stay afloat.
The event passes off well. In the background, Russia thump Saudi Arabia 5-0, witnessed by an ever-changing throng of interlinked gaming and technology professionals. Everyone knows someone. CB chats to a former Paddy Power employee whose partner owns The Little Fish, home to lunchtime’s mighty fish fingers. She used to live in the flats next to the venue, where the founder of a leading gaming platform now resides. These connections and coincidences are repeated throughout the room during the afternoon and together complete the portrait of island life.
CB is visiting the Isle of Man for the third time and with each trip the island reveals a little more of itself – and a little more of CB. The Tynwald, the fairies, the steam train – the relentless, brisk wind – are but a first glance.
Closer inspection uncovers an outcrop held together not by rock but by its people, whose patience and maturity defines the Isle of Man more than its geology or location.
Raised on the island or pulled to the Isle of Man by work, the people here are the reason it is such a good place to be and such a welcoming one in which to do business.