It’s The Fort That Counts


Unlike many previous years, my own personal Christmas present wish list this year was short and without any particularly hungry yearnings. I guess in my increasing years I’ve sort of acquired everything I need and want. I’ve scratched the lovely handbag itch (just a few times), I’ve got a nice reliable watch and a Pandora bracelet that’s got too heavily charmed to actually wear and if I want a book I am usually too impatient to wait and as such just buy it instantly.

My husband was unperturbed by my lack of brief and in those pre-Christmas weeks simply told me he had it covered. He sort of looked a bit smug about it too so I let it be. Come Christmas morning and a hand crafted PowerPoint itinerary fell out of a card informing me that later that week I would be spending the night on a fort in the middle of the Solent. Babysitting had been arranged. Brilliant!

Cut forward to the midpoint of that Christmas Day to New Year lull and me and husband are boarding a boat on choppy seas heading towards No Man’s Fort. If you have ever been to this particular stretch of south coast, you may well have seen these Forts. On several occasions, I’ve stood waiting to watch the hover craft come in on Southsea beach and speculated as to what they were actually used for; captured princesses? Refuge for young ladies who freeze things with their fingertips? Were they occasional residences of an eccentric writer penning novels about existentialism? Well, as it happens, the two I had been looking at were none of the above. They are luxury hotels! Who knew! And there I was, heading, kid-free towards one!

The aforementioned itinerary revealed that what was mostly going to happen in the following 24 hours was that I was to be fed lovely food items. Once safely deposited, escape wasn’t an option. Going out for a run wasn’t an option. A tour of the surroundings was ill advised given threat of almost certain death. This was pretty much enforced rest. How utterly fabulous!

Disembarkation of the boat was surprisingly easy if you made use of the intermittent upward swell and there we were to be abandoned until the following morning. Our bags had been dealt with and our first task was to choose from a circle of super squidy sofas in a bright, glass ceilinged atrium, with glasses of Prosecco. Oh, go on then. I’d really like to go for a run and explore the local area, but if you insist, I’ll sit here and drink fizz, if I really have to.

This agenda point lead nicely into a buffet lunch which focused nicely on salads and fresh fish and seafood, therefore calories that don’t really actually even count! Great! Then it was time for our tour. Our orator was a delightful young man called William. We would later learn that as well as this important role, he was also our barman, waiter, night watchman and receptionist. For the parents of you out there familiar with Peppa Pig, the multi-vocational Mrs Rabbit has got nothing on this guy.

The tour was fascinating. Of course we were all curious about how massive concrete structures get erected in the middle of the sea – just generally, let alone in 1867 when nobody had mobile phones, lycra or ANYTHING! OK, I have to confess I’m still not sure about this exactly, but it’s to do with sandbanks, anchors, tides and divers (sorry William). My husband listened intently to the bits about canons and potential attacks from the French that evidently never actually came to pass. We got to walk up quite a few flights of stairs on the tour, burning endless calories and leading nicely into afternoon tea and cakes in the lounge and a well earned rest (chuckles!).

We then had 2 hours where we would not be fed things. Husband and I resorted to our pre-children immature selves and began running around the place like we actually were our children. We found the ironically themed French wine bar and took hilarious selfies of ourselves pretending to be drunk. It’s fun, you know, we really pulled that off. We went up to the roof and took arty sunset shots and more hilarious selfies. William reprimanded us for going near the helipad, which made us feel even more crazy and dangerous, and before we knew it was time to don glad rags for canapés and dinner!

These were of course delicious in every way and the atmosphere was really soothing and romantic. Of course, having only had 4 canapés each and a 3-course luxury dinner, it was important that we got to the rooftop on time for the hot chocolate and marshmallows. After this, an urgent need for inertia to allow digestion to take place forced us back to our room where we fell asleep on a cloud-like bed watching Jaws.

With the toddler alarm clock we’d come to rely on notably absent, we woke up just in time for a luxury a la carte breakfast and waddled off towards our awaiting return boat.

With this gift, my husband did well. It was amazing, one of those once in a lifetime experiences that you know you’ll never forget. If you feel someone you love might need some gift inspiration and you’re done with handbags and bracelet charms, please feel free to leave this open for a while on your screen. It’ll be like they FORT of it all by themselves.

Jackie Wilson

Jackie started writing for Belle on her return to the UK after 3 years living in Kuala Lumpur. Formerly a Marketing Manager of British institutions such as Cathedral City Cheddar and Twinings Tea, she wrote columns and web content in KL for several local and expat magazines and sites and was a contributing author for the book Knocked Up Abroad. Jackie is now back on the expat beat living in Cincinatti, USA where she is engaged in a feast of writing projects while desperately clinging to her children’s British accents and curiously observing the American way.

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