Mist and relics on Southampton Water

Woke to find a blank impassive wall of fog, plaster board grey, utterly featureless, where there would normally be a view of the estuary from my father’s back garden. Every few minutes the fog horn would let out its erie drone, to be absorbed immediately by the blanketing silence.

Two hours later and the first faint shapes of the oil refinery terminal at the seaward end of the estuary were beginning to appear. The grain of pragmatic reality condensing out of the ether…

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A local bus navigates its way cautiously through the muffled suburbs, but by the time I reach Southampton town centre, brilliant sunshine has broken through. Town Quay, the waterfront nearest to the lower gate of the old city, was once a fashionable promenade. Jane Austen walked here , and one could gaze over to the New Forest on the further shore. Today, there is a large carpark between you and the water. But the ferry she took with her family to visit some friends in the fishing village of Hythe, by a miracle still runs. Before embarking I take in the few remains of the old city. A few broken bits of wall, a large stone warehouse, now used as a bar, and the harbour master’s house, glowing in the low winter sun.

Up Bugle Street is Southampton’s oldest pub, the Duke of Wellington, where my father’s folk club used to meet, before a modernising landlord chased them off into the suburbs.

Very sadly the Hythe Ferry, remembered vividly from my childhood, is under threat. In my view their first mistake was to replace about twenty years ago, the wonderful old Hotspur ferry boats, veterans of the Dunkirk evacuation, with a soul less catamaran, all steel decks and no funnel.

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However, from the deck I spot an old tugboat, apparently still in use, which looks very similar to the ferry boats I remember from the seventies:

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As we cross the sun is setting over the forest in shades of glowing amber…

The ferry lands at the Victorian pier. It is a quarter of a mile long, and an electric train, almost as old as the pier itself runs up and down it. The rhythmic rattle and clatter of its regular journeys was one of the comforting sounds of my childhood, especially as I lay in bed on light summer evenings. Very sad to think that it might fall silent…

A last view of the pier as the sun sets; my own past, and times before I existed seeming equally real in the fading light…

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