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Station Road and Boundary Road are actually the same street. As I understand it, as far as Portslade is concerned it is Station Road but from a Hove point of view it is the Boundary. Or it could be the other way round.

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It was pretty empty on a sunny Bank Holiday morning. I have known this street as long as I can remember, and have noticed many changes. In recent years cafes and eating places have proliferated along with an ethnic mix unknown back in the days of the Wimpy Bar and Bistro Edward. (Having said that there was a Russian restaurant for a while in a side street.)
I had a coffee in Sami Swoi, one of a chain (I think) named after a Polish comedy film. (On the menu it translates it as ‘All of Us’.) Then for old times’ sake I walked down one side and up the other, crossing and recrossing ‘boundary’ and ‘station’, between the names.

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Some spiritual writers refer to ‘thin places’ – where the dividing line between the ordinary and the sacred is permeable. ‘Celtic’ sites such as Lindisfarne are frequently-used examples. For me Boundary Road is exactly that kind of liminal place, though I would struggle to provide and evidence. Although… this is the place where one finds the headquarters of The Fifth Element – aether, the Quintessence, the pure substance breathed by the gods themselves, beyond change – sited next to ‘grace’. Maybe that counts.

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‘It was a good day to start something – fresh blue sky, a rainwashed town, smell of new air’ I wrote, back in January 2008, on the first day of this walk. Today was to be the last day and once again the sky was blue. Instead of after-rain freshness there was the scent of another hot day in a run of hot days, still cool but promising scorching long hours. It was Easter Monday.

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I put on the boots I have worn for the whole journey, still spattered in Sussex mud. Blessed on my way at the doorstep by both mother and wife, I hiked on past the rowan trees of the street I was raised on. Since 1969 I have walked this was hundreds, maybe thousands of times – to play with other kids; walk to school, college, work; walk over to pubs in Hove to see my friends. Every version of me walks this route.

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The Old Village High Street. If all identically-named streets are connected in some way, this street links to thousands of others, including some with rather different characters, such as Edinburgh’s ‘Royal Mile’.

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Cracks on curiously-sited tourism display reveal arcane epicentre – some Hove hellmouth perhaps.

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The Old Village – the big building was a brewery but has been a factory for several decades. I have read that a Canadian soldier brought a bren gun down from the roof and shot a local man during the war.

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Twitten (‘alley’) between the infants’ and junior schools I attended. Where the fence is now used to be railings, where the padlock that holds the world together used to be. (This was a giant padlock someone fixed to a rail in about 1973. It fascinated some of us from the school and many of us tried to get it off. No-one did and it was there until last year, sometimes with a tiny weed growing from the lock. On visits home I would always walk down here and give it a rub, for luck or something like it.)

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Once again I ran down the slope to Victoria Park, where I read my way through the science fiction shelves of the adjacent Portslade Library. Happy days of The Atrocity Exhibition and Dead Fingers Talk. No trees in those days.

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Sign without a signifier – but you can add your own.

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Path beneath the railway, with licensed graffiti. Ground-up lighting gives this tunnel a slightly spooky air, applying a Karloffian look to the most harmless individual.

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Following the twitten-route beside the back of Tesco – an ancient right-of-way, still with some flint wall. Apartments with balconies have appeared fairly recently suggesting some kind of gentrification project. Maybe one of my other selves has breakfast on one of those balconies.

And so I arrived back where I left off walking, back in February, rejoining that version of myself and getting ready for the final walk.

I hope to finish the final leg of this walk soon, so now seems like a good time to look over some of the ground that has been covered. Starting in January 2008, I have walked from Southport Pier to Boundary Road on the edge of Hove, in 42 sections. The shortest of these was around a mile crossing Liverpool, the longest 25 miles in Bucks. All that remains to do is the last few miles to Brighton Pier. The total distance covered will have been around 225 miles. A five-hour journey by car or train, which we have made so frequently that it has become routine, has been expanded into a three-year odyssey, full of mundane wonders.

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Constructing my own Long Distance Path as I went along, I have joined up my birthtown with the place I live now. Along the way I have walked along roads, paths, canals, rivers, bridleways, green lanes and, latterly, a couple of twittens. Like a rambling Dr Frankenstein I’ve stitched together a route from whatever material came to hand. Bits of official routes, named after Monarchs, Jubilees, Pilgrims, the Thames, the Downs (North and South) and so on, have been hotwired with more obscure footpaths to produce the lurching creature that is my unique journey.

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A desire path to McDonalds


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My personal waypoints have included places I’ve lived (Wolverhampton, Stourbridge, Dudley) or that have some meaning to me, such as Mentmore, former home of grandparents and site of childhood holidays. I have woven the journey around motorways, travelling over, under and alongside the M6, the M40 (for its entire length) and the M25. Occasionally I have climbed banks to peak at the traffic. That might not have been a badger that you saw…

The walking has become part of my identity, or rather an idea of walking. ‘Did you go walking at the weekend?’ people ask at work. This question always makes me feel oddly uneasy, as if I am letting people down if I haven’t been tramping through the Peak District swathed in GoreTex. In fact, this walk has involved few noted beauty spots and I’m just as likely to have been circumnavigating a sewage farm on the outskirts of a dormitory suburb in the Home Counties. Which is not to say there hasn’t been beauty of the unexpected kind – wading waist deep through crops, finding a dead station, the cloistered cool of a motorway underpass, lost-alphabet graffiti, hidden meadows and underwater art…

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Liverpool Loop alphabet

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Stafford to Wolverhampton

I have walked beside canals that have silted up, through paths overgrown with nettles, on a railway sinking into mud.


All the time, unsuspected by me, my own internal channels were become occluded, arteries hardening with atherosclerosis. The treatment for this involved new bypass routes for blood and oxygen being created, skilled handiwork in a hospital right next to the route. The scope of my walking was reduced, initially to crossing the ward with ‘tottering old-man steps’, soon to five- and ten-minute excursions. After three months I was able to resume the interrupted journey.

As well as the walk itself, there have been some sidetrips, including the now-famous exploration of non-existent Argleton as discovered by Mike Nolan. The Argleton post has had tens of thousands of views, whereas the unreliable travelogues I normally produce notch up mere tens. Bizarrely, it led to press articles and radio appearances, whilst Argleton has acquired a status as a minor myth, spawning at least one book and various websites.

And now it is nearly done. The route bisects the country like an extended Boundary Road. I have worn out a pair of boots, though they are still serviceable. Currently they are standing on my parents’ patio, outside the back door, waiting for me to put them on for last miles of this trip.

However this won’t be my last travel-and-writing project. Brighton Pier will be a lingam fertilising the ocean of possibility to create my next Quixotic quest… watch this space.

“I don’t remember seeing Portslade on the radar screen…” Robert Sheppard, The Given, 2010

In Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball, published in the year I was born (1961), the character Domino Vitali provides an interesting account of the origin of an iconic image: the sailor on the John Player Navy Cut cigarette packets.

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Image: Leo Reynolds

“Have you never thought of the romance behind this picture? You see nothing, yet the whole of England is there! Listen…This is the story of Hero, the name on his cap badge.” A career sailor from boyhood, “he went all over the world–to India, China, Japan, America. He had many girls and many fights with cutlasses and fists.” Rising in the ranks to become a bosun, he grew the famous beard and embroidered a picture of himself, framed by a lifebelt. Then, “he came back home on a beautiful golden evening after a wonderful life in the Navy and it was so sad and beautiful and romantic that he decided he would put the beautiful evening into another picture” featuring “the little sailing ship that brought him home from Suez” and “the Needles lighthouse beckoning him in to harbour”. Hero hangs the embroideries in the pub he runs, where one day a Mr John Player and two small boys, his Sons, see the pictures. The rights to copy them are acquired for the sum of a hundred pounds, and combined into one – the round portrait superimposed on the square homecoming picture, obscuring a mermaid – thus creating the image that has adorned Navy Cut packets ever since. As a child at Cheltenham Ladies College, Domino (at that time called Dominetta) carried the picture around with her, as a talisman, “until it fell to pieces”.

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This account could of course be made up – a tale within a tale. There are other origin stories. Various sources (eg Middleton, 2004) refer to a sailor called Thomas Huntley Wood, whose picture had appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1898, “whence it was borrowed for advertising purposes. A friend of Wood’s wrote to the firm suggesting payment of a fee of £15; Wood reduced this to a sum of two guineas ‘and a bit of baccy for myself and the boys on board’.” (The Man Who Sold His Face, in talent imitates, genius steals.) Wood lived in Lower Portslade, as far as I know until he died in 1951. Apparently he tired of the recognition and shaved off his beard. There are other claims for the original sailor, some made in the comments on a Guardian Notes & Queries column. Perhaps many places have a story of ‘their’ sailor who was used as the basis for this picture, like the countless local versions of Hindu deities, or the Madonnas in trees that appear throughout Europe.

© Copyright Simon Carey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

But as a Portslade man brought up on James Bond (of whom my dad approved on the basis that ‘the story starts straight away’) I’ll stick with Thomas Huntley Wood for reality, Domino Vitali (aka Dominetta Petacchi, Dominique Verval in the 1965 film, Domino Petachi in Never Say Never Again) for mythology.

I once worked in a newsagent a few streets from where the sailor Wood lived. I remember trying Navy Cut, which were tipless and delicious. However the black packet JPS were the cigarette of the day, so much so that if people just asked for ’20 fags’ that was probably what they meant. These just tasted like burning paint to me. (When the KGB produced a miniature camera disguised as a packet of cigarettes, plainly popular JPS were the model.) Around that time JPS produced black sponsored Lotus Esprit cars to celebrate racing victories; an advertising technique that probably cost them more than the two guineas (£2.10) and some tobacco used to buy Wood’s face. The Esprit had at that point enhanced its fame by appearing in a James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me; in the the film the car was able to convert into a submarine. Until this morning I misremembered the dialogue about the cigarette packet artwork as being from The Spy Who Loved Menovel rather than Thunderball. Had I scrabbled around in the attic to find the book to quote from, I would have been looking for Spy… but in practice I found a slightly suspect free online version of Thunderball – hopefuly the text is fairly accurate. In any case, James Bond himself seems unlikely to have visited Portslade, through another heavy-drinking orphan did…

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Twenty years before Thunderball, in the novel Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (1941) the protagonist George Harvey Bone suffers from a split personality disorder involving long amnesiac spells. In one of these he finds himself wandering an unknown street, and asks a passer-by where he is. Initially he mis-hears ‘Portslade’ as ‘Port Said’. This scene highlights the disorientation of lost identity, and maybe also reflects the nature of the locale, as Portslade itself has been described as ‘a place with a dual character; a veritable ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ of a place’ (in Kipling’s Sussex Revisited, R. Thurston Hopkins, 1929 quoted in Green 1994.) ‘Portslade Hyde is painfully brutal with its squalid water front and rows of grimy houses and shops, while Portslade Jekyll, a mile from the sea, is a benevolent spot and just as pretty and secluded as nine out of ten of the ‘guide book’ villages.’ .

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My student pictures c1980

However, Portslade has never quite accepted a role as a dystopia. Look at this crest for instance, designed in 1920 by P.J.W. Barker, who owned a shop a few doors up from the newsagents I worked in – ‘A Bunch of Grapes signifying “Health”…An Oak branch signifying “Strength”‘ and a Latin motto ‘which being freely translated means “Here’s health and strength to you”‘. ‘PORTSLADE HAS BEEN FAMOUS FOR HEALTHINESS FOR OVER 100 YEARS’ points out the enterprising druggist, citing the Brighton Herald and the fact that the town had sometimes ‘had the lowest death rate in the kingdom’ (Green, ibid.)

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And healthy effects have been experienced. I have a picture postcard, postmarked PORTSLADE AUG 16 07. The sender was writing from Trafalgar House, another building a few yards from ‘my’ newsagents. “I have been out with Baby this morning from 9 till 11.30, went down by the sea, it was lovely there, I am enjoying myself very much, and certainly feel better” wrote ‘B’ to a Mr F. H. Brookes or Brooker, 48 Tavistock Road, Westbourne Park.

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I hope things worked out for B and Baby. Her postcard featured, incongruously enough, a picture of Orkney. A year later, she would have been able to buy a postcard of Portslade itself, bearing an image with something of the surreal power of a Max Ernst collage, and an ambiguous, even terrifying caption: ‘Dear____ I have no face to tell you all that happens in Portslade.’ (From Middleton, 1997; ‘This delightful postcard dates from 1908.’).

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Over 100 years since the walk with Baby, three-score-and-ten after Hangover Square, half a century after Thunderball, three years after I started walking down from Merseyside, I arrived at Portslade, the ‘Home’ of this blog’s title, having walked some 300 miles, occasionally limping as like Domino I have one leg slightly shorter than the other (though given Ian Fleming’s penchant for giving characters physical flaws (which tend to make women/good characters more attractive, and men/bad characters more monstrous) this may have been an aspect of his fictionalisation of the actual events.) Along the way I walked around the perimeter of Pinewood Studios, where the film version of Thunderball and nearly all other Bonds was made, along with some other films about heroic orphans (Batman, the Supermans). A year ago today I underwent a heart operation, survived and became stronger. If I had recalled the Portslade crest at the time, I would have used it as a talisman of health and strength; the link with my distant home town would have been comforting. Perhaps subconsciously I did recall it; personal ley lines seem to join up all that happens, even as things transform into other things, names and faces change and talismans fall to pieces. I concluded the last bit of walking at Station Road (Hove), a street that has two names as it is also Boundary Road (Portslade). It is hard to say where one ends and the other begins; perhaps there is a line to quietly cross or perhaps both names inhabit the same road.

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“Well thank you anyway for having listened to the story. I know it’s all a fairytale. At least I suppose it is.” – Domin*

References

Portslade: A Pictorial History, Claire Green, Phillimore 1994
Portslade (Britain in Old Photographs series), Judy Middleton, Sutton 1997
Portslade and Hove Memories, Judy Middleton, Sutton 2004
(It is a small world; I remember Ms Green from the library on Old Shoreham Road, and Judy Middleton is my mates’ mum.)

Soon: the final walk to Brighton Pier. Walking Home to 50 will be back!

So is that it? Well, not quite. Read the header – I’m walking to Brighton Pier. The final part will be in the future but I did slip in an extra walk in that direction. I try and do some kind of cardio exercise every day, which often consists of energetic stepping on to a raised platform with weights strapped on to me. Sometimes I walk outdoors instead and, with the sun shining on the street I was brought up in, I decided to do one more walk and at the same time get my daily exercise.

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Years ago I walked to school every day, a two-valley affair which took about 40 minutes. (Thus I saved my bus fare to buy comics, fuelling the mind you are now seeing evidence of.) I replicated this walk, following the Drove Road route that as the name implies was once used for moving sheep and cattle. Having ‘Walked Home’ ™ I now walked past an Emmaus Community, temporary home for some folks who have nowhere else – and a great secondhand shop.

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I walked down through what used to be a golf course and is now a park at the back of a Sainsbury’s, past the newsagents where I got the first Captain Britain comic with the free mask. Over to the windmill that gives Blatchington Mill its name, and which used to feature on my school blazer and the cap that only ever got worn on the first day.

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There will probably be a school reunion in 2015 but this was not that year so I walked down Holmes Avenue, just like I did when I used to go to get the bus. From there I turned into Elm Drive and then Rowan Avenue, the first street I remember living in. The prescribed cardio minutes achieved, I stopped to look in the yellow-cellophane window of a Christian bookshop in a small parade of shops hallway up the street. There was a print of a child in a red jumper, bathed in light. When asked recently if I had ever had any spiritual experiences, my equivocal answer referred to a memory of being taken to a small park in my pram, here on this street, looking up at the clouds and feeling a vast sense of meaning. Looking for this park, I found a small twitten right where I remembered it. I walked down it and found myself in the back of the huge Hove cemetery. This was quite a shock – could the cemetery have grown so much that it had absorbed my remembered park? Well, logically it could have done I supposed – many have died in the last 45 years. Somewhat cast down I carried on up Rowan Avenue. Soon I found another twitten, which did actually lead to the park I remembered. I was not transported by numinous light, but I did see a pretty mosaic with a heart motif, and another heart, broken in some sad but homely graffiti.

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And walked up past our old house, now the headquarters of a landscape gardening operation called The Grass is Greener. And on, turning down Hangleton Road Road, leaving a hundred stories behind and seeing again the view that is for me worth a thousand Golden Valleys, Boundary Road and the sea.

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I walked on down, crossing under the railway and running up the steps which my dad had run up with full pack on return from National Service.

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Boundary Road (which also goes by the name of Station Road) seems to be both thriving and run-down, a mixture of decades-old family businesses, ethnic groceries, amusement arcades, pet shops, hairdressers and cafes frequently punctuated with charity shops. A Tesco squats in the middle, like the castle of a benign-seeming overlord. Murder, art, buying and selling, drunken-ness and poetry have happened here. I remember many things in this road – from the long-gone Bistro Edward restaurant to a Corgi toys sticker that stayed in the window of a shop for years after it closed. I could give a tour of the absent and erased. If I had substantial resources for art-like capers and fewer commitments, I would live here for a year and a day, never leaving the boundaries of Boundary Road, documenting every shop and cafe and becoming its Robinson Crusoe – but that’s all for another time, or for never.

I will return here to start the final leg of this walk. For now I went to Sami Swoi and had an espresso while I waited for the bus. It was dark in the little restaurant and that coffee was bitter, hot and strong.