Grandad pulled up outside our Maisonette in Nashe Way. I was playing in the back garden, digging holes in the flower beds, burying my most prized possessions. I was a squirrel then, as I still am today, always hiding things, forgetting where I put them, unable to find them again. I was covered from head to toe in mud, my hair matted, large clumps of wet soil dangling from my brow; new burgundy Clark’s sandals scuffed, knees dirty and red after crouching on the wet grubby grass. I could see my Grandparents through the decorative viewing holes, in the brick wall at the rear of the property. It was windy, Nan was having trouble keeping her purple silk head scarf around her newly set hair. She held on tightly to the bow around her neck, her other hand tenaciously grasping hold of her brown leather handbag. Grandad Eric escorted Nan to the front of the flat, his hand gently holding her elbow, as she lowered her head towards the floor, trying to avoid the inclement weather swirling around her!
Mother shouted from the back door, beckoning me to come in and get ready; Nan and Grandad were heading to Portsmouth, for an afternoon of shopping at Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre. I turned around sheepishly, Mum clocked my filthy appearance; her mouth dropped; a scowl illuminated her aggravated face. Mum lifted her hand up, pointed it towards me, gesticulating her displeasure. ‘Get here now, get inside and clean yourself up, just look at the state of you!’ she protested as I gingerly walked passed her maddened stare!
After a quick clean up, rough brushing of hair, vigorously polished shoes with socks pulled up to my knees, I was suitably attired once more and ready for the afternoon ahead. Mum took my grey duffel coat from the hat peg in the hall, buttoned it tightly towards my chin, lifted my hood up and put a long knitted mantilla around my neck. As Grandad opened the door, a gust of wind nearly blew me off my feet, my hand gripped tightly by Nan, who stopped my fall.
The Tricorn Centre was a striking piece of 1960s architecture, built five years before I was born. There were flats, pubs, restaurants and shops, all served by a large concrete car park above, The brutalist structure wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but as a small child I loved it. The imposing building in the heart of the city was a hive of activity, aromas and sounds like I had never experienced before.
We walked down the stairs towards the shops at the bottom; I could smell seafood as we trod the last step. I lifted my head upwards, taking a deep breath; cod, haddock, crabs and cockles, scents piercing the senses. Market traders, shouting in their familiar Pompey tones, inviting customers to try their wares. Clothes, jewellery, freshly baked bread, displayed neatly on bakers shelves. Fresh cream cakes for Nan and Grandad and a macaroon for me. My eyes focused upwards, towards the stark austerity of the atrium above, the wind still howling around the pillars, as I pulled my coat closer around my shoulders.
After a warm cup of tea and hot sausage roll, a few hours of shopping and a large packet of sweets it was time to leave. I stood at the top of the stair case waving goodbye to the ‘little people’ down below; tired, full to bursting, clutching Nanny’s hand, I gently stepped into Grandad’s new brown Cortina, parked well away from everyone else on the top floor. Curled up on the beige velour upholstery with Nan, I drifted in and out of sleep, opening my eyes occasionally, glimpsing the World rushing by. Nan and Grandad chatted to each other, the car radio on low, the journey went on forever, just the lights dimmed glow. A final peep upwards, the city passing by, homeward bound together, contentment with a sigh!
The sky looked grey, just the odd patch of blue, breaking through the thick cloud swirling around outside. It was a typical British summers day and I was up bright an early; today I was going to the beach with Nan, Grandad and Aunty Pam; Littlehampton by the sea. Mum was preparing lunch to take with me, putting it neatly into a brightly coloured holdall, along with some bathing trunks and my china giraffe. I used to carry the Wade Whimsie around everywhere, buying a different figurine, every time I went to the Post Office on Highlands Road. I was a collector even then and always felt secure when I had things around me. Finally Mum packed a packed of Discos, some orange cordial and a towel in the bag; zipping it tightly, placing it over my shoulder; it was nearly as big as me, slipping off my arm, hitting the floor. Rather perturbed, I grabbed the handle tightly, dragging the offending item into the hall, throwing it awkwardly by the front door; breathing heavily, I fell forwards onto the top of the bag, my head narrowly missing the floor. Angry, frustrated, I kicked it with my foot; it wasn’t going to get the better of me!
I sat patiently waiting half way up the stairs, swinging my legs back and forth, banging the step below with my heal. A shadow appeared in the glass of the front door, impatiently I ran back down, slipping down the final few rungs; the figure passed by. A shrug of the shoulder, I turned away and walked back in the kitchen, sitting miserably at the kitchen table. Suddenly there was a knock at the door; my head immediately perked up, a large smile across my face. I jumped up from the chair and ran forth, followed by Mum, greeting Nan at the door. ‘Come on, come on, hurry up, lets go!’ she said, standing there with her perfectly coiffured hair, kept precisely in place with a purple silk scarf, tied around her neck. She tightly grasped my hand and we headed to Grandads car!
I sat in the back of the brown Cortina with Aunty Pam, laughing all the way to the beach: Pam tickling me, playing ‘Eye Spy’ and naming the colour of the cars on the road. Half way there the sun finally came out, streaming through the windows; sunglasses on we finally reached the shore.
There were four folded up deckchairs in the boot of the car; Grandad took two, Nan and Pam two more. Grabbing a blanket and a small plastic carrier bag; we set off walking to the water front, finding our spot, in front of the jetty. Nan helped me change into my bathers, put sun cream on my face and shoulders and took a Marathon from her bag; half for me, half for her. Covered in chocolate, head to toe, she walked me down to the sea, splashing water on a hankie, wiping me clean; carrying me back to the safety of the beach.
The sun rose high in the sky, reflecting majestically off the waves licking the coastline. I knelt building a sandcastle, bucket and spade in hand, unwilling to venture into the sea. Nan sat on her orange and yellow chair reading a book; Grandad, earnestly flicking through a newspaper; Aunty Pam on her way back from the Winkle Store on the promenade, a cup of crustaceans for all; swimming in vinegar, the smell of the sea. After a second trip for some ice cream and beer for Grandad, we sat looking out towards the pier; waving at the fisherman hanging over the railings, throwing bread to the seagulls, dive bombing the shore.
As the sun dipped below the horizon and the summer breeze turned cold, wrapped in Nan’s cardigan, I fell asleep, eyes slowly closing, flickering; a deep red sunset in full view. I could hear the voices of children, running along the sand, a speedboat pass quickly by and Pam singing sea shanties in the background, as I happily drifted away, warm and cosy at the end of the day!
Laying in bed, I could smell the joint of beef cooking in the oven; potatoes boiling on the stove; it was Sunday, not my favourite day of the week, with school coming up the next day, but I did love my roast dinner. Mum was a great cook, spending most of the day preparing Sunday Lunch, while Dad and I went to the pub with Nan and Grandad, when Grandad was on shore leave that is; he was in the Merchant Navy and away quite a lot. At home, he always liked a drink or two in ‘The Club,’ a short distance walk from their house. ‘The Club,’ was a C.I.U working men’s club; It looked like a tired, warn industrial unit, perched on the side of an Edwardian house; a meeting place, where membership was a must. Drinks were cheap, conversation in abundance; a welcome break from the drudgery of life.
I could barely see in front of me, the air was thick with smoke; the smell of stale beer, cheese and onion crisps, Old Spice and cheap perfume punctuated the air as we walked in. Music was playing from the stage; voices chattering, laughter, children running around the tables. Holding Nan’s hand, we approached the table between the bar and the hall, separated by a plastic screen, facing a long wooden bar. People were sitting on stools, pint in hand, talking about football, politics and the state of 1970s Britain. As a child I hated being there, holding my nose, trying to avoid the smoke, being blown from every direction. Dad and Grandad stood at the bar, talking to people as they waited to be served, waving at others who walked past, shaking hands with this person or that. Hill park was a small place, everyone knew each another, even if they didn’t always get on. Like most small towns and villages, it had its fair share of drama!
Nan was talking to Aunty Pam; she wasn’t a real Aunty, but we always referred to her in that term. Pam had a large booming laugh, that echoed throughout the bar; the more she drank, the more she laughed, the funnier she was. I had a lot of Aunties and Uncles at ‘The Club,’ Aunty Jean, Uncle John, Aunty Vera, the list is endless. All of them would come over, kissing, wet saliva all over my cheeks, the smell of alcohol on their breath, rubbing my hair, throwing me up in the air, bouncing me on their knee. It was a brave new World for a young boy - faces everywhere, the clinking of glasses and those foul-smelling ashtrays in front of my face. It was a place so different from the security of home; smells, tastes and sounds all merged into one, in this mayhem of Sunday life.
I sat at the wobbly table, playing with beer mats, flicking them up in the air, bored waiting for my bottle of coke and crisps to arrive. Looking left occasionally, Nan made sure I was OK, as she continued talking to Pam and Uncle John. Dad and Grandad returned with a tray of drinks, poised to put them down. Nan lent over, taking a beer mat from my hand, folding it into quarters, placing it under the offending unsteady table leg, before the drinks were handed out. Finally, the table stopped moving, and the tray was emptied. I always had a fizzy drink and packet of salt and vinegar Rock ‘n’ Rollers, my favourite crisps of the time. Nan would have a packet of ‘Big D’ peanuts and probably a gin and tonic, although I can’t quite remember what her tipple was. Dad had a pint of Skol or cider and occasionally a cigar, the smell of which I loved; Grandad a very large whisky!
Wearing a lime green turtle-neck, short orange skirt and fur coat; Nan would dance the afternoon away; her perfect back combed hair standing tall, Windsor style, just like The Queen. Her manicured nails and high heel shoes gleaming, under the lights of the hall; laughing, joking; a social butterfly. This was my Nan, not sat at home knitting or reading a book, but part of the fabric of ‘The Club.’ A place full of fond memories, spent with people long since gone; happy times celebrating, family milestones, Weddings and coming home parties; ‘The Club,’ where their laughter lives on!
The old railway line was full to bursting with blackberry bushes, laden with plump, ripe fruit. Negotiating ones way through the bramble and stinging nettles, was always a difficulty; arms stretched out, hands filling an old ice cream container full of produce, on the way to the village. Growing up on the outskirts of Titchfield was idyllic. This was my families home; small, traditional, oak beamed Tudor cottages, centuries old church and memories from a childhood, spent peacefully playing in open fields, as far as the eye could see. I always enjoyed the gentle stroll, past ones school, under the Victorian arched bridge, along the old railway line, long since gone; stopping at the local Public House opposite Titchfield Abbey. This is a journey I haven’t undertaken for many years; my life too busy, taking me to far away places, a life time away from the village, where I grew up.
My brother, Mother, Father and I would sit outside ‘The Fisherman’s Rest;’ Dad would have a pint of cider and my Mother, who never drank, a schweppes tonic water, with a slice of lemon. My brother and I were happy with a bottle of coke and a packet of Golden Wonder; In front of us, a panorama; a vista like no other. Here was situated, the glorious historic Abbey of the White Connons; a large country house visited by Charles I and frequented by Shakespeare; writing sonnets from the battlements, towering above the village below. Averting ones eyes to the left, Abbey Gardens came into view. As a family, we would frequently walk up to the estate, where we could pick our own fruit and vegetables, often eating more than we harvested; face covered in sweet sticky strawberry juice, fingers a deep shade of red, clothes stained, shoes muddy. This was our pitstop, just a short walk away, from the place I still call home, even to this day.
Today, our family no longer live in this characterful Hampshire Hamlet; an oasis surrounded by urban sprawl. As a child my Great Granny Light, lived in the centre, in a cottage many hundreds of years old. I remember fondly visiting her, sat on her knee. She had a hairy chin, that tickled my face, as she kissed my cheeks. Great Granny would always produce a pressed glass bottle from the kitchen. I swear it contained alcohol; a little nip of something, even for me, as a very young boy; I recall the taste distinctly and have never savoured it since. Great Granny’s lounge was small, dark, cosy and beamed, hunting scenes on the wall; tiny cottage glass windows, reflecting the dancing light of the fire; warm and inviting. This was Granny’s house, part of a local community, where everyone, knew each other; neighbours passing the time of day and children playing in the village square.
A short distance away lived my Great Aunty Peggy, in a tiny terraced house; Edwardian in style, outside toilet, perfectly manicured back garden, always clean and tidy. When Granny died, we would visit Peggy often, especially on Carnival days. Titchfield Carnival was colourful, vibrant, encompassing everyone who lived in the village. Taking place in October each year, we would stand outside our Aunties house; warm woolen mittens, scarf, bobble hat, waving a Union flag. Peggy would bring out home made cakes, orange juice and an extra layer of clothing in the winter chill. Fireworks and a bonfire would end the festivities, acrid smell in the air; finally retiring inside, falling asleep, curled up on the sofa, covered in a rug from the bed.
Titchfield has changed a lot by all accounts; not the village of my youth. Memories of this period grow vaguer, as time passes quickly by. I am grateful for my upbringing, surrounded by a large family and friends; I am thoughtful recalling events, when others have forgotten; I am hopeful I will return one day, to visit my old hunting ground, as I like generations before me, tread the cobbled streets of Titchfield once again
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.