Thursday, January 03, 2008

Portsmouth Memories

I grew up in a very ordinary terraced house in the Stamshaw area of Portsmouth, a house that my parents have called home for thirty-five years and somewhere that for me still feels like home. Although I moved away almost seven years ago, Portsmouth exerts a strong pull on the heart-strings. For better or worse, it was the place which made me the man I am today. All of the most important and formative experiences of my life happened there and whatever else changes or shapes me in the years to come, it is the place where I will always call home. Its more than a physical place, it is a spiritual home I guess too. I don't mean in a religious sense of the word but as a place where the best and worst experiences of my life have mostly happened, where the dramas and tragedies of learning about life occurred and where I think I may once have lost my heart.

Going back to Portsmouth, as I did over Christmas, always brings with it a misty eyed nostalgia of the past, so let me take you on a journey around where I grew up and used to live and share some of my thoughts and feelings about what it has meant to me.

As I mentioned, I grew up in a very ordinary 3-bedroom terraced house built around 1900. Originally as I was the youngest I had the smallest bedroom although when my brother moved out in the early 90s, I got the second largest bedroom and this has become my own, even to this day still retaining some of the memories of a happy childhood and teenage years. I feel lucky living where we did as we were just a brief walk from Stamshaw Park, which it seems whatever time of the year was a place to play with friends. I remember in the summer my dad taking me and my brother there to play cricket, which was always great fun. The park itself is on land that was reclaimed when the M275 motorway was built in the early 1970s. Under the original proposals the new motorway would have cut through Stamshaw and perhaps my happy childhood there would never have happened. As it was, the motorway was put in further to the west. The park was opened in March 1979 so it has been there as long as I remember!

This was essentially my playground when I was a kid and it got better when they added a splash pool and 'Adventure Playground' in the 1980s, which I am pleased to note remains to this day although I don't remember it looking so dilapidated and assaulted by graffiti as it is now. One of the most popular features was a 'death slide,' surely not as dangerous as it sounds! My friends used to try and persuade me to go on that because everyone else did but I was always too scared to give it a try. I wish now that I had. I thought children were supposed to be fearless but looking back I think I had a lot of fear about many things and I am sure that must be responsible for the same anxieties I have carried into adulthood.

The other side of the park and the motorway is the foreshore, an admittedly poor excuse of a shingle beach with a walkway sat between that and the motorway embankment. Again, this was a favourite in the summer. Yep, we actually used to go swimming in these polluted waters! Goodness knows what else was swimming in there and thankfully neither I nor my brother seem to have suffered any long lasting ill effects. To the left on this picture is Whale Island - also known as HMS Excellent, part of HM Naval Base. Again during the summer months my dad used to take us there to see the 'gun runs.' My mum wouldn't come because she couldn't stand the loud bangs. The end of the show would see parachutists landing in the event arena, which was always quite exciting and on the other evenings they did this, we could happily watch them from our back garden.

To the rear of where I was standing when I took this picture is a small clump of houses, basically all that remains of Rudmore, which made way for the motorway. These houses have remained, despite being severed from the terraces that continue the other side of the motorway.

The foreshore was also a great place to see the ships using the Continental Ferry Port, a constant and ever changing scene of fascination for me. At one time I could name each and every one of the ships using the port and I would know the scheduled sailing times too! Not the most common pursuit for a young boy but it was either that or watching the trains! Sadly, more recent development, means that any good views of the commercial port are now almost obliterated.

This is the school I attended from 1984-1988. It is now the Junior School but when I was there it was Stamshaw Middle School. The First School, which I also attended, a similarly grand red brick building was across the road. This was demolished to make way for a Retirement Home, which I clearly remember being opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh because I was one of the school kids chosen to be there to greet the Prince. Not that I actually got to speak to him and about all else I remember was standing for what seemed like hours in the cold! When the First School was demolished we moved to a new site at Tipner. This was very much the cutting edge of school design, so much so that its strange appearance earned it the title 'Legoland.' It's still standing too, although much like my old Middle School much extended and modernised.

School was not the happiest time for me. I suffered the indignity of being bullied, something which I feel I have never really been able to get over. It wasn't serious after all, just a bit of name-calling but things like that stick with you. I was a good boy at school of course although once I remember ending up in detention for throwing stones. That was about the height of my rebellious streak. After all, by Secondary School I was elevated to the ranks of Prefects, a mixed blessing in many ways.

Sticking with my school days the Mountbatten Centre at Alexandra Park was where we had our annual Sports Days and also where we used to play badminton, a game which I very much enjoyed. It is no secret that I hated PE and almost every sport was a cruel torture for me as I lacked the natural athleticism or co-ordination to do well in any of them. Strange then that I found badminton such good fun. I don't actually remember much about our Sports Days here other than one year crying off from taking part for a reason that I don't remember. I seemed to be able to get out of a lot of things that I didn't want to do in those days.

As these photos show, growing up in Pompey it was always sunny... well when you look back it always seems like the weather was better, lol! I went through a decidedly strange phase as a teenager, seeming to want to bypass those years and go straight to 40! I wasn't at all rebellious and I indulged myself in interests that with hindsight seem to have been deliberately designed to alienate me from friends. By the time I went to college in 1992 I had got over that. I only went to college because I had no idea what sort of career I wanted. During my time at Secondary School we had to go on Work Experience for two weeks and we were given a choice of places to go. Most people went for things like solicitors, banks and insurance companies, perhaps thinking these were safe careers. I ended up spending my time working for a freight forwarding company at the Continental Ferry Port as my first choice of Brittany Ferries was not available. I did later work for a couple of summers on a casual basis at Brittany Ferries. I thought this might be something I would like to do, working for a ferry company but going to college gave me time to think and waste a few more years without having to go out and earn a living, being kept by mum and dad. Of all my years in Portsmouth, I think the two years I spent at college, were perhaps amongst the happiest and a time when I learnt a lot about who I was and took some knocks along the way as well. I wish I had made different choices now because it was one time in my life when I felt free of my inhibitions and whilst I never did anything particularly wild or dramatic, I could have chosen to have done things differently. I had some close friends at college although one in particular was someone who I should never have trusted. Mostly though it was time to adapt to being an adult without many of the onerous responsibilities or baggage of adulthood. I should have made more of it and taken the chances that were open to me. I often say that I never regret anything but part of me always has some regret about that time in my life, even though it was as I say a particularly happy one.


Derek said...

That was an interesting trip down memory lane, Mark!! I think I could create a similar post regarding my memories on growing up in Gorleston-On-Sea. For some reason I do miss the coast. When it is sunny there it always feels brighter somehow (....only problem is the strong wind!)

I've only been to the Portsmouth area a couple of times a few years ago, but I've certainly enjoyed both visits. Maybe I will make it there with Carla one day soon and we can go up that new tower thingy.

jamie said...

as is often the case with your tear-streaked meanderings down memory lane,there are several instances where you fail to give enough information... there are things being alluded to in this post,but you hold back with any meaty details.
it makes for a most unsatisfying read,grrr!
but the pictures are very pretty.