Farewell to Southampton

And in keeping with the character of that city it was both low key and somewhat alternative.

Thanks to flight times and the pretence of security which in effect traps you in airports for sufficient time to be tempted to buy the overpriced rubbish on sale airside I am used to leaving Southampton in the early hours, keeping lonely guard over my piles of luggage by the bay into which I hope that the coach for the airport will arrive. I think one can judge the nature of a coach driver by his choice of bay…those who pull in where there is a queue and those who do not.

This time, though, I was not alone. A friend had accompanied me to the bus station, our journey enlivened by a sighting of her husband returning from the casino somewhat the worse for wear as he crossed the river by the Itchen Bridge using both hands on the parapet to propel him homeward like a crab seeking the safety of its rock.

Neither were we alone. As we trundled the suitcases to the waiting area a figure emerged from the shadows. Woolly hat a la Compo, jowly beard, puffer jacket and sock lined wellies, with a bag resembling grandmother’s knitting bag writ large, he addressed us.

Would the Pullman arrive?

Supposing that he meant the National Express coach we reassured him that it would.

But there are no signs!

No…the bus station offices are closed…you look at the timetable and it will tell you when the coach arrives.

Please? I am Italian. I do not understand. I am student at university. I am going home. I need the Pullman to come or I miss my flight.

Both wondering how he would benefit from a course at a British university if he had limited English we assured him that the Pullman would indeed arrive. Just look at the queue which was gathering!

How they know? There are no signs….

The coach – or Pullman – arrived and pulled into our bay….one up for the driver.

Our Italian friend was the first in the queue as we marshalled my luggage, assisted by a couple of students going home for the Easter holiday.

He faced the driver.

Gatwick Sud?


Gatwick Sud?

I tried in Spanish. I have no idea what ticket is in Italian but he seemed to get the idea, produced the e mail on his phone and was allowed to board.

Once underway all went well except that at every stop he would rise and enquire

Gatwick Sud?

To which the driver, face ruddy from stress, would reply

No Sir. If you listen I will announce each stop. The bus runs through Fareham, Portsmouth Hard, where we are currently standing, then Chichester, Gatwick North and finally Gatwick South.

At which our passenger announced that he was sorry to be breaking the driver’s balls but was this stop Gatwick Sud?

I had the strong impression that if the driver had not voted to leave the European Union previously he would now be doing so at the earliest opportunity which presented itself.

So…goodbye Southampton.

It being early spring the parks had been alive with flowering trees and swathes of daffodils, while gardens enjoyed from the bus windows showed camellias, their blossoms brown edged by frost, jews mallow flopping against walls and fences, flowering currant with the buds just colouring up over jewelled clumps of primulas, and everywhere a haze of pale green buds against a hard blue spring sky.

A fine last sight to remember.

Over the years I had become fond of the place….village style high streets in the suburbs with proper shops, good public transport, a restaurant where the owner’s Staffie bitch trotted among the customers, old fashioned pubs in the old town and all the glitz of the entertainment and shopping complex at West Quay.

Certainly there had been downsides…more and more people sleeping in shop doorways….. whole blocks of city centre premises torn down to be replaced by blocks of student residences as the two universities pulled in the money from overseas students’ fees…… the deterioration of the Friday market from one with a bit of everything for everyone to huts selling New Age balls and overpriced food.

But there was still a real market down at the pretty village of Hythe, so all was not lost to the forces of destruction.

I shall miss Southampton, but my reason to go there ceased to exist when my mother died in late March…my last visit was thus to attend to her funeral.


43 thoughts on “Farewell to Southampton”

  1. Travelling can be difficult when you don’t understand as well I know with my rubbish knowledge of languages other than English, and I must add here, our French neighbour who learnt a bit of American English tells me I speak terrible English. That (what I think is mild) South African accent has him floored. Another good instance of misunderstanding was one day Nigel and I were out cycling in the Oxfordshire countryside. A German guy stopped us and asked us if we could tell him the way to Vantage, we both looked at each other blankly when eventually it clicked, oh Wantage!!!
    I hope you can be a bit more settled now, but I also know how difficult it is saying goodbye to ones mother, I feel for you. I must say once FIL is not in the UK anymore we will say farewell to the UK for good. Brexit or no Brexit!
    Take care and all the best to you both. Hugs Diane

    1. Leo has vestiges of a Flemish accent which has him taken for South African. He picked up a dialect form of it when he was young and, to his surprise, when he was in South Africa he was able to understand and be understood by Afrikaners.
      I shall be glad not to have to be flying across the Atlantic again….but not glad for the reason. There are many things I like about the U.K., but not enough to be flying there for a holiday.
      Thanks for your kind wishes.

  2. Almost 6 years since I touched the “auld sod” and my memories are mixed and fading…
    But it is not only there that gentrification is ruining places. Australia is fast becoming a land of generic concrete boxes.

  3. I am so sorry you have lost your Mum. To judge from what you wrote in previous posts your Mum had a very good innings but that doesn’t make losing her any easier.
    Will you really never come back to the UK?

    1. She did indeed…she would have been 103 in August and was in reasonable health until relatively recently, thank goodness.
      I have friends in the U.K., but they would provide my only motivation to come back, and with Leo’s health problems it will be a relief not to have to leave him in the hands of carers, nomatter how good they are,

  4. (((Hugs)))
    It’s a fair while since we’ve been back also. Things change – family structure changes – attitudes change.
    Best wishes to you and Leo. Another phase in your life begins / more mountains to climb.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss
    Through your stories I felt I had known Mom in all her cantankerous and wonderful expressions. What a life and times and so much seen and done. A generation that shall not be matched again. I laughed so much until the end of your post. My sole experience with Southampton was my one dismal meeting at Duke’s Keep with the right bastards at Cunard so I probably won’t be back either. Condolences from the AJF, me and the Malt.

  6. Mother’s motto was that of the wartime army…if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined, uttered under bombardments, when short of rations and any other uncomfortable situation. She was stoic when she had to be and an activist when she was free to be so.
    She was as sharp as a knife to the end, avidly following politics – and horse racing – dying suddenly and peacefully…though we are half expecting a rap on the table and a voice ‘from the other side’ demanding to know what is happening woth Brexit….and why…
    Her funeral was a celebration of her life…the children of her friends in the French resistance suggested we play thi resistance anthem ‘le chant des Partisans’, which we did,and I think she would have not only have appreciated that but also been casting a cynical eye on those who hadn’t a clue what it was all about…those attending ranged from people in their nineties to youngsters of seventeen, from an ex Guardsman complete with blazer and gongs to a girl in a sparkly top and thigh boots…..her crowd.
    So that makes two of us not returning to Southampton….many thanks for the kind wishes from you all. Much appreciated.

      1. Certainly was! The celebrant took a good humanist service…mother was not at all religious a fact which according to her dated from her childhood when she was put in the corner for singing not ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’ but ‘Jesus wants me for a submarine’ as the little tyke next to her had suggested….

  7. I knew your mother lived in Southampton, and I felt how this short vignette would end. My mother died in a late March, too, and was interred on my birthday, which could not possible be later in March. I still find reason to think of her daily. “I must remember to phone mom,” is the most recurrent. I know how you respected and honored your parents, and now we will hear, “My late mother…”

    1. You know just how it is…I called her every day that the internet would permit…did her shopping on line…a whole gap in my day now.
      Mothers Day and my birthday closely followed her death…
      Oddly enough I had just found a cheap flight to get me over to take her to the D Day commemorations and half an hour later the hospital called me with news of her unexpected death…..

  8. There used to be a bookshop. Gilberts I think it was. Used to have cheap second hand books for sale outside and unlit rickety staircase that took you downstairs where huge mouldering bibles could be found. I think they modernised it. Is it still there?

    1. I didn’t know it but a friend of mother’s mentioned it, it seems you took your life in your hands it was so ramshackle. It closed some years ago, apparently.

  9. Commiserations, Helen. As ever the road leads onwards and outwards, with regular ‘wayfarer’s rests’ along the way built for contemplation, reminiscencing and usually on a verandah with a glass of fine spirits! Keep on truckin’!

  10. I only add my condolences to all the others. At whatever age of Mother and of Daughter it’s a big wrench. Mine was so pleased to have died without causing a lot of trouble – as she often used to say.
    Thinking of you.

    1. Thank you…mother had been in hospital for treatment for a chest infection and was due to go home in a couple of days…then died suddenly and peacefully – thank goodness as she too would have hated a fuss.

  11. I was just about to make some wise-crack about giving Southampton another chance sometime, when you mentioned the loss of your mother. So sorry to hear that… – you mum and dad never actually leave you, though. Some people find that quite irritating. I wish she’d stop asking me what time I’ll be home.

    1. Thought so!
      Everything went well, thank goodness, with help from mother’s friends!

      National Express was a real lifeline when travelling to and from the airports….luckily generally without a worried and vocal foreigner aboard…

  12. I am sorry to learn that your mother had died. It does hit you harder than you think, but as one of my cousins said to me when my mother died ‘the time was right for her to go’. Maybe, but it was six days before I retired.

    1. Thank you… .I am just glad that she died peacefully.
      Not so bad when dealing with all the necessary details, but now, not making the daily ‘phone call, it begins to sink in.

  13. I have a lot of sympathy for those bus and coach drivers and ticket clerks regularly confronted by people with little English and trying to decipher what they actually want. After all, I’ve often been one of those linguistically challenged passengers myself. Pullman is the Italian for bus or coach; funny how they’ve adopted an English word. The Italian for ticket is biglietto.

    Sad to hear that Southampton has gone the same way as so many other cities and towns – more rough sleepers, more student rentals, a once-thriving market going downhill. If Brexit ever happens, that deterioration can surely only get worse.

    1. Yes, I feel for them too….just having a horrible vision of our Italian co passenger trying to buy a ticket to Happisburgh….or Milngavie….

      I saw what I felt was the decline in Southampton over the years but now whole blocks in the centre are being torn down to make way for student residences. Clearly students must be a damned sight more well off than we were in our insalubrious digs back in the day….

  14. I am very sorry to hear that your mother has died – it can take time to sink in so look after yourself. I lived in Southampton in my teens – briefly – and it had very little going to it so I am glad it obviously acquired more things to do over the years. The recent years of austerity have done Britain no good at all – rough sleepers and empty shops everywhere, We have noted latterly that brexit has made everyone extraordinarily miserable too – no.matter what they voted.

    1. Totally unnecessary austerity with the burden placed on those least able to bear it…I hope Chesterton’s people will finally decide that speaking is better than beer.
      All I heard on the buses in Southampton, where people are chatty, was ‘Leave now…and no deal.’

  15. Hello Helen, sorry I’m late to catch up on your news and sorry to hear about your mother. These splendid women who came through such extraordinary events in the 20th century seemed invincible and eternal. Glad that the ending was easy for her, though the gap left can be hard. I remember welling up in front of individual desserts in Sainsbury because I didn’t need to buy them any more for my Mum.

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