Posts Tagged ‘portslade’

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.


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.


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.


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.

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’.

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

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.

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.)

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.

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

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.


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.

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“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.

PLAYER'S NAVY CUT cigarette packet
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”.


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…


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.’ .

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.)


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.


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.’).


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.


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


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!

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Inspired by Wiffle Lever to Full! (in book and blog form), I have dug out something I wrote in Junior School, for your entertainment. Apparently I was in ‘Class Three’, presumably the third year, so I would have been 9 or 10, in 1971-2. The school was St Nicholas in Portslade, and I will walk past it in due course. Mr Stone, an excellent teacher, had us doing all kinds of interesting things, such as making a computer from cards with holes in, accessed using knitting needles (see #5 in this for more info). One project involved making little hardback books, with a spine and a set of pages stitched in. Mine had a cool psychedelic cover…

We were then allowed to write a story in the book we had made and mine is transcribed below. Please note, despite my occasional flights of fancy, this is (as Jennie will attest) an absolutely verbatim version of the original text.

Genesis II

Chapter I

Operation ‘Eliminate’

Alvin stood in the thought arena, being part of an imaginary adventure. He was the most experienced space pilot in Durania. He had an extra eye as his father was a Duranian. His thought line broke as he was blasted to atoms by a Duranian villain. “Phew” he said as he made sure he was all there.

Meanwhile, Aros 5 was playing chess with a computer. He was a half transistorised Sirinian. He did not know that within a decimal week he would be making the most important decisions of his flesh life. The third was David Thompson, of unmutated Earth stock. He had been visu-phoned to get Alvin and Aros 5 to report to base camp control. The controler sat at his desk. “You three have been chosen for a special assignment, of great danger, and importance. As you see, Durania is in great tumult and confusion. A Ccetan spy has stolen documents involving our relationship with Cetan. Once they have them they have grounds to make war.”
“We’ll do it.” said Alvin.
“Yes.” monotoned Aros 5.
“Sure” said Thompson.
“I havent told you what to do yet.” Your job is to eliminate him. Operation ‘Eliminate'”

Chapter 2

Take off.

At 5.00 hours next morning they jumped from their sleeping pods. At 5.10 they slithered to a halt on the alumium floor of the take off area. “Uh-oh! said Dave, as Colenal Nash approched. “Prepare for a barrage of jokes garrenteed to turn a pilot with butterflies into a nervous wreck.”
“Hi you lot” said Colenal Nash. He went on for five minutes until Alvin cried out loud “Be quiet for heavens sake”! Nashes eyes glared. he turned, and walked off.

In the cockpit, Alvin prepared for take off. He wrenched back the starting lever, and an eerie blue glow fell over the station as the power-beam came to life. The dials whent round 2 degrees. The crew where forced back into their contour-couches. The foam of their couches rose up as they left the apmosphere.

“Have you tested the atmosferical pressure, Aros?” said Alvin.
“No – testing.” Aros pulled back the lever marked Test-Atmosphere.
T. “Wow!” said Aros!
“According to this its over-pressure by 104”!
“Radio the ground-hogs and ask for advice!”
“Okay, wait – yes, got ’em.’ Hello – ground control, we’ve got 104 over-pressure” Whats that? Okay.”
“What do they suggest?”
“They say someone forgot the welding on pipe 1a and 1b.”

In the engine room all was well, but the air room was shrouded in nitrogen.
“Look!!” said Dave.
True enough, one pipe was digging into the other.
“Get the laser!” cried Dave.
“Here!” said Alvin. Dave shielded his eyes and fired. Sparks and globials of molten metal flew in all directions. His two friends helped him to the medical room.

Carefully they removed the pieces of metal from his scarred face. They covered his face with cool, antiseptic dressing.
“I,-is the pipe okay?” said Dave.
“Yeah, sure, try to get some sleep.”
“I guess so.” said Dave.

Chapter 3

Dimensionel Slip

“You lot.” cried Alvin!

“I’ve got a pod of some kind on the scanner.”

“3.78 zm by 4.38 by 10.00 by 500zm on the 4 dimensional map.” said Aros.

“Lasers wouldn’t hit her.”

“Best not blast it to oblivion till we know who’s in it.”

“If you where an escaping spy, would you chat over the radio?” said Dave.

“Put it on full magnification”  said Aros 5#

“What was the number of the stolen pod?”

“58-BD11#” answered Aros promtly.

“Okay, we’ve got her.” said Alvin. The mighty craft bore down on its prey.

“Firing all armaments!”

Thre photon torpedoes fired in quick sucsession. The pod swayed and drifted as the stabilisation failed.

“I’t’s no good, well use the laser.” said Alvin.

“Laser locked on, fire!!”


The pod lurched and drifted into category 10-8B space, unknown.


We’ve got him on the run!” said Dave

The power beam turned from blue to a blinding white.


The instruments suddenly span round and stopped 30 below normal. The stars on the screen shifted, and showed them to be near a huge, white sun. Also, the pod they were pursuing turned into a dying comet. “W-what happened?”

“I think we have passed into another dimension.” said Aros. “And I think the sides are melting from that sun.”

“Then lets get out of here before my wrist thermometeter blows up.” said Dave.

“I’m not sure this type of space would respond to our power beam.” said Aros. “What do you mean ‘this type of space’?”


“All space is made of hydrogen and heliam, and this space might be made up differently.”

“Thank you.” said Aros.

But with the help of computer 003# they escaped from the uncannuily hot sun.

. . . . . . .

“Why is that sun so hot?” asked dave.

“Whithin 1 hour it shall turn nova.” said Aros “Were at a safe distance, though.”


55 standard minutes later, the three sat round the polarised porthole watching the unstable star.

It was like a blot now, a large white blot. larg sunspots covering its blinding surface apeared every second.  Then, it happened. Bright orange covered the screen, and a few pieces of ash remained from then once mighty sun.

Chapter 4


For 13 hours now Aros and Alvin had been programing the computers, analyzing their output and making imaginary situations. Dave passed his time by reading magazines and doodling on the flight manual.

Suddenly, Aros excalimed, “If Thompson G.C agrees to help we can return to our dimension in 1 hours.”

“Of course Ill help you, you transistorised lump!”

“Thankyou!” said Aros, blind to insult.

Ten hours later all three

“Remember, when the dial flickers, press these buttons until the lights flash.”

Suddenly, all the computers cut. “W-what did that?”

“An unexplainable force.”

Suddenlyley a voice thundered through their brains. A voice so powerful that it stuck its jarring fingers through the tightly woven fibre of human mind.



The three men stumbled dazedly, and Dave acidentaly pressed a button. For a second, on the viewing screen, they saw a huge black ball, before the viewing aparatus cut out.


“Is everything…..just..dead??” said Alvin.

“Yes. Exept the weapons.” Said Aros.

Dave fired the Photon tr Torpedoes.

Suddenly, the voice came again…………


Dave crumpled to the ground…dead!

Chapter 5.



You mean…..we can have…..babies??!



A Day later, they landed on the planet Genesis II, as they had named it. It was fully equipped with buildings and spacecraft. One day, they would meet with the otheer dimensions.

So there you have it. As I recall, the story would have finished with them returning safely home, but I realised I had a few more pages to fill and carried on. Clearly, despite living near Brighton, my understanding of the word ‘bisexual’ was hazy at best – in fact I probably thought I had made it up. I remember Mr Stone glancing at what I was doing at that point and remarking that I should ‘be careful with those big words’. He also showed his teaching excellence by praising the story, but giving it some adult critique also, along the lines of  ‘I thought the storyline about the escaped spy fizzled out a bit’. But, whatever its shortcomings, ‘Genesis II’ received the highest academic accolade available at St Nicholas in those days: a ‘signature’ from the Headmaster, Mr Humphreys.

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Although this is in many ways a journey of discovery, it is not the kind where the destination is an unknown place. Brighton, Hove and Portslade have been familiar to me my entire life, so reaching the end will be unlikely to reveal new and unexpected wonders (though you never know.) I am familiar with the end point, more so than the start – it’s the stuff along the way that intrigues.

As far as walkinghometo50 is concerned, the ‘real’ journey is paused at the end of the last sequential section – part of my soul currently inhabits The Lakes station in Worcestershire, waiting to resume – while the rest of me is at my parents’ home in Portslade for Christmas. We drove down in the small hours of Christmas Eve, starting the journey by speeding on darkened motorways through the territory I have covered so far in this walk, the pre-dawn lit up with hauliers’ tall rigs that seem to vie with each other to carry the most lamps. It took about two and a half hours to reach the point I have taken a year to walk to, driving over the tunnels and under the bridges I used to criss-cross the motorways at various times during 2008.

So far I’ve resisted fast-forwarding in this blog, for instance writing descriptions of downland strolls or encounters with pints of Harveys bitter as they occur during various visits down south – the plan is to save that kind of stuff until the last sections of the walk bring me here. However I’m making an exception, as on Christmas Eve I wandered out to visit a landmark that will soon cease to exist: the Portslade branch of Woolworths.

By the time I get here on the walkinghometo50 journey, it will be gone. Situated in a road with a dual identity (Hove’s Boundary Road and Portslade’s Station Road), Woolworths is one of the first shops I remember visiting. I was probably taken there in a pram. To my child eyes it seemed the most modern building in Boundary Road, square and Sixties-looking amidst the Victorian gables, an outpost of international retail amidst local, family run shops, like a portion of a skyscraper transported miraculously into Portslade. For me it is holy ground, as significant as Stonehenge or St Pauls. In a few days it will close. Presumably the building will house another shop, but it won’t be the same, like nearby Andrews, once the newsagent and gift shop where I discovered American comics, now the dark cavern of an amusement arcade.

So I walked down to pay a last visit. I bought a few things as an offering – batteries, some incomprehensible toys for one of my nephews, insoles and a bottle of pop; a typical eclectic low-value Woolworths purchase. The whole lot came to a sum so small that paper money was not required – it was like time travel, almost as if I could have paid in half-crowns and threepenny bits. Much of the shop was bare now, and even the empty shelves themselves were for sale, at bargain rates.

I ventured out again on Christmas Day. For the first time I noticed that of the four rowan trees in Rowan Close (where the family has been based since about 1967), only one tree and a stump remain. These trees used to be full of bunches of orangy-red berries, which we kids, a loose tribe of about a dozen, would use in epic battles up and down the Close. The pavements and ourselves would be spattered with juice over the long summers, as we ran and played. Those summers are now distant memories. The rings of the surviving rowan stump might encode those lost times if I knew how to read them.

Woolworths used to sell cheap, remaindered paperbacks. One of these I bought was an anthology of new wave sf, which included a story by Pamela Zoline, called The Heat Death of the Universe. In it, descriptions of a woman’s domestic chores are intercut with pithy scientific exposition of entropy, the slow but inexorable decay of systems. This has a certain resonance for me, especially at this poignant time of year: a long arc of loss, ‘time’s long ruin’: much that is valuable falling away, our own boundaries fading (man outside Boundary Road Tesco, talking out loud to no listeners, interior world bleeding into the outer), all that we are eventually dissolving.

On Boxing Day, I walked up on to the Downs. My parents’ house backs on to a bridlepath on the border between East and West Sussex. This gives direct access to the Downs, through some fields where once, unimaginable now, kids would play without professional supervision, risk assessments or structured learning outcomes. Games of rounders would stretch into the evening; camps would be made in the bushes. Now and again parents or older kids would join in for a bit, but no-one was officially in charge. I’m sure just as many children live in the nearby houses today but they are seldom seen outside. This seems unfortunate, and there is a lot of attention being given to the lack of proper play. However, as it happens, a murder was committed here a few years ago and burned out cars are quite a regular feature (a black patch of grass twinkling with glass is today’s evidence), so it is perhaps understandable that parents don’t immediately instruct their kids to put down their Wii and head out of sight and earshot to play by themselves in an empty field. And if there were kids here I wouldn’t have felt able to take photos, as a lone male could be seen as a threat of some kind 😦

I walked though Southwick Hill, a tract of National Trust land, past a trig point and, later, a Christmas wreath, making this particular stretch of pathside ditch into a doorway to a vast house of air, its imaginary walls stretching from Slonk Hill to Mossy Bottom.

The wind was chilly beneath a bright blue sky. The Downs can appear soft and rolling but there is an underlying hardness to the long miles of chalky field. The map is filled with evocative names: Mount Zion (a hill), Rest and Be Thankful (a stone), Crooked Moon (a hedge), and my destination, Thunderbarrow Hill, which I’ve read described as ‘a largely obliterated ridge camp’, topped by ‘an eminence called “Thunder’s Barrow”, probably “Thor’s Barrow”’, a ‘Romano-British’ site. Apparently it ‘contains both pre-medieval and early medieval burials’, and ‘straddled a boundary, marking and legitimising it.’ Gorse grows in profusion, a spiky bush that regularly burns and regrows; blazing into a black skeleton in a lightning strike then sprouting green again is part of its natural cycle. These bushes have probably regrown themselves several times since I started walking on these hills a few small decades ago.

From the top of Thunderbarrow, I looked back towards the sea, and the urban stretch from Brighton to Worthing, unusually clear in the winter light. Most of my family’s history is in this view. Later, down on the coastal streets, a million festive LEDs will start to glow, with what to me appears a pale placebo witchfire, uncanny but somehow meaningless. For other eyes the pulsing gleams may be a a sign of welcome and cheer, of a transforming world, of the ingress of the infinite. Up here, gorse flowers blaze like small flames in the low sun.

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