Roller boots, coloured sands and John Lennon’s doppelgänger: holidays at Southsea with my grandmother

Did you use to visit the seaside when you were younger? Here, Gill from Bury remembers visiting Southsea with her grandmother, meeting some interesting characters along the way!

“I think he fancies you, Gran,” I said. “You should go and have a cup of tea with him.”
“Hmm,” said my grandmother, looking up over her specs. “He’s not a patch on your grandfather.”

We were at the roller park on Southsea seafront. It was our second year in Southsea and I could now do a few yards on the roller boots before I had to crash into the side. Which was more than the old man who kept coming over to chat up my grandmother could do.
I was fifteen.

At that age, you really don’t want to go on holiday with your grandmother – especially when you have to share a bed with her and she snores. Looking back now I realise how incredibly kind she was to me and how lonely she must have felt.

bnewton_design/pixabay

She was about the age then that I am now. My grandfather had died a few years before at the tender age of sixty-two. She still ran her greengrocers shop and she’d left my mum in charge while we came on this week’s holiday. She was very generous, buying me new sandals, books to read and at least one ice cream a day, and taking me on all sorts of excursions. My grandfather had provided well for her.

She sighed and carried on with her knitting. “It’s a shame those people aren’t here again. They said they came here the same week every year but we must have booked the wrong one.”

I shrugged. “I think the school holidays are different in different parts of the country, Gran.” My school had had the week after Whitsun. Maybe they had the week before this year.

They were twins, a boy and a girl, and an older brother. The twins were a couple of years older than me and the older brother – my, oh, my – he looked just like John Lennon and even wore the same sort of leather jacket that Lennon often wore. They must have felt sorry for me.

They took me ten-pin bowling, roller-skating and to the cinema. I was a little reluctant to go with them at first. I’d never been ten-pin bowling or roller-skating before and I was a little overwhelmed, especially by the Lennon lookalike.

My grandmother persuaded me to go and I’m so glad I did. They were fun. And what a great story had to tell my mates when I got back home.

Southsea doesn’t have a sandy beach. It’s hard pebbles all the way. You’re quite close to the Isle of Wight and the naval dockyards and there are also commercial docks nearby. So, you don’t quite get that feeling of being by the open sea. It does, however, have a long promenade, pretty rock gardens, a wide green common, a boating lake in an attractive park, two piers, one of which has a funfair on it, plenty of fish and chip shops (then) and (now) a museum that houses a tapestry about the D Day landings.

The Naval dockyards – igordutra/pixabay

It’s perhaps not to the taste of the 21st-century holiday-maker, though limited as we are by this pandemic, who knows? Certainly, when my husband and I lived on the south coast it was a place we’d often visit for an afternoon out. It was good having it on our doorstep.

There are plenty of other interesting places to visit nearby: Hayling Island, just next door, purported to be the sunniest spot in England, the Isle of Wight, Old Portsmouth, the naval dockyards at Portsmouth, the commercial port of Southampton and the glorious New Forest.

Also to the north is the pretty historic town of Winchester where you can visit a lovely cathedral and see the round table at which King Arthur (supposedly) sat with his knights. And Grandmother and I did them all – two years running.

A highlight for me was being allowed to go on the chairlift at The Needles on the Isle of Wight. I wasn’t as impressed by the bottles of coloured sand that you could buy there as I was by hearing some people speaking French; I was learning French at school and I’d never heard a native speaker before.

For my grandmother, there were plenty of shops in Southsea itself, and also in Portsmouth, a short bus ride away. She would spend hours and hours trying on hats and looking for wool and knitting patterns,

We stayed in a guest house she knew, a 20-minute walk from the seafront. We had a filling breakfast and a three-course meal in the evening. The food was plain but good. We shared a table with different other guests every evening. It was actually interesting listening to the stories they had to tell.

The second-year we were there a couple the same age as my parents invited me to go and see The Sound of Music with them and then the firework display over the sea afterwards. Again, my grandmother was keen for me to go. Only now do I realise that she was worried I was bored with her company.

We all got into trouble one evening. The landlord had been late arriving to put on the television. We used to gather in the guest lounge to watch the news before dinner was served. One of the other guests had switched on the television but we were getting no picture and only intermittent sound.

“Has somebody been fiddling with this?” asked the landlord. “Please don’t touch the television set. Come and fetch me if you want it on.”
My grandmother and I had a little routine going. I would go and fetch her newspaper before breakfast.

After breakfast, if we weren’t going on an excursion anywhere, we would stroll down to the promenade and sit opposite the pier while she read her newspaper and I read my book. Then we would go along the front towards the other pier and settle ourselves in deck chairs near where the hovercraft went over to the Isle of Wight.

Southsea Pier

I would go in the sea for a swim. “You be careful and don’t go too far,” she’d say. As if. Come on, Gran. I know how to swim.

I didn’t go on holiday with my grandmother again after that second year in Southsea. She went instead with her sister, also a widow. But she did come and visit us in our home on the south coast one year and we took her to see some of our old haunts.

Enjoyed this story? Be sure to check out more of Gill’s memories. And we would love to hear yours too. Leave us a comment or email us your story to: [email protected]

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