Beyond the Village

Gareth Rees explores the dangerous streets of the city centre as he wanders beyond his usual stomping ground of Southsea village.

Are cities too big to comprehend in the round? Is it human nature to try and create villages within the city ? Is this why I can identify with the little bit of Southsea where I live but hardly at all with its farther reaches in Fawcett Road and even less with the lands beyond in Paulsgrove, Cosham and North End. They are like foreign places which I hardly visit and where I know no-one. I may pass through at speed in a chariot but I see no architectural beauty to persuade me to stop. But perhaps I deny myself sociological delight. I asked a friend who used to live in Paulsgrove if she missed living in that part of the city. She said she missed the friendliness. That matters more, doesn’t it, than some Thomas Owen elegance or views of the Solent?

I do venture forth from my limits though, perhaps once a week, impelled by reasons of economy. I did so this morning. I walked up Castle Road where I noticed a juice bar had just opened. I went in asked for a drink that would make me live until I was 110. I wish this new business well but I didn’t enjoy the combination of pineapple, cucumber and celery although I love these three individually.

My spirit trembles when I reach Winston Churchill Avenue. I don’t notice lines of trees but I have to notice the careering chariots and I feel scared as a child as I dart between these flying hunks of steel. And then, on the other side of the avenue, are the forbidding ramparts of big institutions, the law, government and higher education. And then, after enduring the iron horse and train passing over me as I walked under the bridge at Portsmouth and Southsea Station, I came to the commercial section and the hawker, squawker F Sixteens. But, actually, I do like the quick-witted market stall holders where I bought a big bag of clementines and the same of black fat grapes, both for a fraction of what it would cost in Southsea’s food palace.

I don’t know if Paradise Street is aptly named unless you’re a devotee of Tesco. Well, I was devoted enough to parade around that establishment until I’d located a packet of vegetable stock cubes nicely priced at 20 pence. My spirit uplifted by this purchase, I was able to proceed to weightier matters in Wilkinsons. (Do I need an apostrophe here? Am I being pedantic? I do suffer so from excessive worry.)

An arm had detached itself from my glasses in the tavern last night and, not living in a country with myriad little repair shops, I decided, if I ever was going to finish reading ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ before expiring, I had to buy a new pair. I asked a Wilkinsons employee if they sold glasses and he walked me to the display. Before he departed, I also asked him where the plant food was. He pointed to a row of shelves and added that if I needed further assistance I should come and find him.

He was not just doing his Wilkinsons job well. He was doing well his job as a human being. He was a good and friendly man.

I managed to find the plant food by myself and there was a big bottle and a tiny bottle and they shared the same price. I chose the tiny bottle because I was beginning to get concerned about the weight of my bag. I don’t like to carry a lot of baggage and not just physically, but psychologically as well.

Still, my plastic carrier was nevertheless quite weighed down so, instead of walking home and having to cross Winston Churchill Avenue again, I availed myself of a chariot in the form of a Hoverbus and looked forward to a swift return to the seaside and Southsea Common.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.