As the floats and walkers gathered for Newport Carnival, on Saturday, July 20, we were more than a little nervous as we inflated our mules, painted on our moustaches and donned our sombreros. 'Mexican Madness' was underway and there was no going back now!
Weekly rehearsals began in June to learn the choreography, while the costume team worked on getting the mules ordered, the hats bought and the ponchos made. Mike Squibb, a committee member and one of the backstage boys, and his team built the float: an explosion of colour and illumination, it's easily our most popular float design since the nuns' outing in our 'Bad Habits' theme of 2010.
Newport Carnival was blessed with blazing sunshine, great crowds and a turn-out of around 30 Mexicans, almost a full house. We took second place in our class, and received the Committee's Choice cup for best entry, and, according to the results published in the local paper, we were awarded Best Overall, too!
There were a few kinks that needed ironing out before we hit Sandown Carnival, that much was clear, but therein lies the beauty of Newport: it's a simple route, with few hills, and plenty of chances to air all of the routines and figure out what needs changing of improving before we're faced with the likes of Ryde and Sandown, where the crowds are condensed, the hills steep and the routes much longer.
In the days leading up to Sandown Carnival, the weather forecast didn't look good.
Of all the Island's carnivals, Sandown is the one cursed by bad weather, almost every year, and so it wasn't a surprise to find that, after a week of uninterrupted sunshine, it was Saturday, July 27, that was due thunder, lightning and a healthy downpour.
The day itself dawned, but the rain was nowhere in sight. Our eyes were firmly on the Sandown Carnival Twitter feed and all events were still scheduled to go ahead...but as the afternoon progressed the weather turned sour. The clouds rolled in and the mules grew jittery, but it was all systems go nonetheless!
We arrived in Sandown at 5:45pm, and so did the rain - mercifully, the thunder and lightning gave us a miss! Heavier and heavier it fell, until both Mexicans and mounts were soaked through from hat to hoof. Even so, nothing could dampen our spirits when we were awarded first place in our class and the trophy for best overall entry.
We had been there almost an hour when a Sandown Carnival official approached the float and asked if we were still willing to go ahead with the procession. We looked at each other, we looked ahead towards the crowds gathered at the start of the route, we looked towards the sky; we couldn't get any wetter, and letting people down doesn't sit easy with us, so we gave him a resounding thumbs-up, punctuated with cries of "Arriba!"
All things considered, the crowds were impressive, and hugely responsive. They cheered and clapped and buoyed us up as we set off, moustaches dripping down our faces, on our second carnival outing of the season. Battling large puddles and fuel spillages on the roads, our troupe of Mexicans worked hard to keep energy levels high and were still dancing even as we rolled back onto Culver Parade to finish the evening.
If there had been any doubts about our decision to go ahead with the carnival, the faces of the crowds as we trotted our way around Sandown stamped them out. Carnivals might be a dying form of live entertainment in other parts of the country, but on the Isle of Wight they've never been stronger. And as long as people continue step out of their doors to support them, come rain or shine, they will keep on growing for many years to come.
If you'd like to see The Wight Strollers in carnival, there are still plenty of chances this summer:
Cowes Main - Wednesday 31st July - 7pm
Ventnor Main - Wednesday 14th August - 7pm
Ryde Main - Saturday 17th August - 5:30pm
Newport Illuminated - Wednesday 21st August - 8:30pm
Sandown Illuminated - Wednesday 28th August - 8pm
Ryde Illuminated - Saturday 31st August - 8:15pm