Monday, 23 April 2012

Standing In The Dock At Southampton

Jim likes to play The Ballad of John & Yoko. Hearing it again, I realise it’s a rollicking good tune: it rocks and rolls. One night it got into my dreams. I heard the opening lines and realised I’d been missing something obvious that had been staring me in the face.

In a bid to get some energy into my sluggish winter body I have taken to experimenting with psycho-geography. Not in a big way because I’m not sure I fully understand it. But I’ve set off in the opposite direction to where the crowds are generally heading, plunging into side-streets that lead to uninviting warehouses where fruit and veg get distributed from. Gloomy places with shutter doors locked against the afternoon light: the loading of the trucks is an early morning business. Dirty cabbage leaves lie in the gutters along with the smear of orange or strawberry. Should anyone see you round here they look you up and down and you feel like a trespasser.

Sometimes I achieve the effect of getting lost. I’m in the city where I work and have absolutely no idea where I am. Here is a flash of sunshine and the air feels white and cold. There are flats on both side of the road. They’re white and clean with the orange stripe of a balcony. A woman in a summer dress stands on her balcony and smokes. She hasn’t seen me. She has black hair and a white comb set in her hair. Someone on the opposite side shakes out a white rug as if sending a signal. Dust puffs into the air. I could be anywhere until I turn down an alley that leads to the docks.

A red ferry sits on the brown-green water. A ghostly turret with dead flies and cobwebs in its windows sits on top of a long white building that might have once been a hotel. And this must have been the place where John and Yoko tried to get to get to Holland or France. The place where the man in the mac sent the both of them back.   


  1. Great way to start the week--in out-of-the-way places like this. Thanks!

  2. Thank you Vassilis and Robert. Really nice to start a rainy Monday with some positive comments to keep me company. Thanks again...

  3. Jonathan,

    With this compelling post you've put me in mind of, to put it simply enough, standing at the docks in Southampton... and more than once, sailing in and out, a half century ago.

    And beyond that too, of someone even older (is it possible), Thomas Hardy, at the time of the Boer War, then a man of almost sixty, riding a bicycle from Dorchester to Southampton, to see off the troops, Drummer Hodge et al. As you would certainly know, that's a fair ride. The ankle-clips would have dug into the old fellow's fleshless calves, gnawing at the bone by the time he cleared the hill and got that view of the ships lying out before him.

    I rode the Queen Mary in and out of that port. All the Cunard shipboard people were lifetime Cunarders, they and their families had lived their lives at sea (much as, I guess, "airline families" nowadays), in those great boats.

    When the Queen Mary II was built, Hardy's poem "Embarcation", writ that day in October 1899 when he cycled over from Dorset to see off the troops, was inscribed on the starboard side of the hull.

    Here, where Vespasian's legions struck the sands,
    And Cerdic with his Saxons entered in,
    And Henry's army leapt afloat to win
    Convincing triumphs over neighbour lands,

    Vaster battalions press for further strands,
    To argue in the self-same bloody mode
    Which this late age of thought, and pact, and code,
    Still fails to mend.--Now deckward tramp the bands,

    Yellow as autumn leaves, alive as spring;
    And as each host draws out upon the sea
    Beyond which lies the tragical To-be,
    None dubious of the cause, none murmuring,

    Wives, sisters, parents, wave white hands and smile,
    As if they knew not that they weep the while.

  4. An amazing comment. Beautiful words and images, and a Thomas Hardy poem too! Thanks so much for this, Tom. Vivid stuff.



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