19 to 22 August
When I left the house on Wednesday morning it seemed darker than it had on Saturday at the same time. Funny how the nights and mornings suddenly seem to draw in although the days have been slowly getting shorter for some time. It was damp and drizzly, which may have added to the dark feeling but there was a touch of blue sky and the clouds were lit by the rising sun. As I walked under the bridge to the footpath that runs bedside the demolished TV studios I thought about a post I’d seen on the Southampton Heritage Facebook page about a log pond along the water there.
This path is one of my regular walks and I’d always thought the thick wooden posts sticking up from the water were the remains of moorings or a jetty. In fact they were the remains of the posts that held the logs. Suddenly it all made sense and looking at it armed with new knowledge I understood what I was seeing. The pond was created in the late 1800’s on the mudflats where it would flood at high tide and remained there, as far as I can tell, until the original TV Studios were built in 1967 when some of the pond land was reclaimed. It was part of Howard’s timber yard and used for storing logs ready for milling, maybe upriver at Woodmill. On the Facebook page people posted memories of climbing on the logs and jumping from one to the other but, of course, I was too young to remember it at all let alone play there. Still, I did manage to find an old photo of it in a book which gives an idea of how it once looked.
So I walked along the river, musing on how much I didn’t know about this wonderful city and trying to imagine all those children jumping about on logs. The river was flat and calm and the sun trying to break through the clouds reflected in it, a sight guaranteed to make me smile.
At work the new RCSM was throwing her weight about from her distant office, telling us how we should be doing things without any idea of exactly what we are doing and why. Tempers were short, not least my own. My experience of management has always been to spend time finding out how things work, speak to people to get an idea of their issues and problems and work with staff to make positive changes that everyone can understand and agree to. Obviously this new RCSM is of the stand back and bark orders without thinking brigade. There may be battles ahead if she ever bothers to visit us.
The caller of the day was a young woman.
“I’m standing at the bus stop looking at the timetable but it only shows the bus going one way. I need to come back as well but how can I do that if the bus only goes one way?”
There was a huge temptation to say, “cross the road to the bus stop on the other side and look at the timetable there. Funnily enough it only shows buses going in the opposite direction.” Of course I didn’t but it was hard work trying to explain that bus stop timetables only shows the buses that stop at the stop and give her the times for the buses coming back. Even when I’d explained three times she didn’t understand.
They day was busy and went quickly so I was surprised when I left the office to find it was raining quite heavily. There was nothing for it but to pull on my plastic mac and stomp across the boardwalk. When I saw a flock of ducks in the water I almost burst out laughing as the saying, ‘nice weather for ducks,’ sprang to mind. One duck in particular seemed to be enjoying the rain, he reared out of the water and flapped his wings as if he was dancing. Maybe he was Gene Kelly in a previous life? Still smiling I marched through the desolate park to the bus stop and caught the bus the rest of the way.
Thursday brought another damp start. The toadflax on the river walk was swaying in the wind and dripping gently and, on the boardwalk there were waterlogged seedheads and umbels of fennel sparkling with droplets. In the office we had the fallout from the Balloon Fiesta letters we sent out last week. One man was unhappy his bus didn’t arrive and he was stuck with his wife and young baby on a street crowded with rowdy youths. They had to listen to bad language, it was cold and there was masses of traffic. He was worried about his baby breathing in the fumes. Of course he had to get taxi home and even that took ages to get to him. He wanted money for the taxi and compensation for all the stress and time. Of course we were lying when we said the bus couldn’t get through all this and somehow everything else was our fault too.
Then there was the young lad with a bus ticket for Weston Super Mare angry because he was thrown off a bus in Bristol.
“Your driver said my ticket wasn’t valid,” he grumbled, “he was really rude and aggressive. He scared me.”
“Actually it wasn’t valid,” I told him.
“But I was lost,” the lad whined.
This was hard to believe as the two places are about twenty five miles apart and over an hour on a bus. The boy was blatantly trying to use the wrong ticket and get the driver in trouble for catching him out. He refused to give his name or address and the email address he gave was false. I deleted the case.
The drizzle continued into the evening so it was a pleasant surprise to leave the house on Friday morning with nothing falling out of the sky onto me. There were still a lot of clouds but the low sun gave them a golden glow. The water under the bridge was gently rippled by the incoming tide and it seemed as if there was another city under there each house with a bright candle in the window, shimmering and dancing. I stopped to capture the moment and a pigeon startled me by flying across my shot.
A few cars were crossing the bridge, early risers like me, probably with jobs to go to. A skateboarder stopped on the bridge and raised his phone to his eye. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who found the scintillating gold of the waves worthy of a picture and I smiled to myself that we both had a photo of each other taking a photo even though we would never meet. Mornings like this are meant to be savoured so I dawdled along the boardwalk as the sky got slowly brighter.
It was a very empty office and a mad morning with just Pam and I fielding all the calls, emails and social media enquiries. It was hard to keep up with everything and, as usual, some calls were frustrating wastes of time.
“Your driver wouldn’t let me on the bus at eight thirty with my OAP pass. He said I’d have to pay!” the well spoken old lady sounded incredulous that such a thing would happen.
“We are not allowed to accept those passes before nine thirty,” I explained.
“Poppycock,” she said, “you choose not to accept them and it’s just not good enough. I’m entitled to travel whenever I want. This is a free country.”
“That may be so, but if you want to travel before nine thirty or after eleven at night you have to pay. The local council issue the passes and they make the rules I’m afraid.”
“What rubbish. I’ve used my pass plenty of times before nine thirty and after eleven. I’m going to report you to the court of equal rights. What is your name?”
I’d love to know how she gets on with that. I’m pretty sure a free bus pass is a privilege, not a right and it’s true, the local councils do make the rules and our machines won’t scan the passes outside the valid period. I’m beginning to think I should write a book about our mad customers.
The rain stayed away all day and both sky and river were brilliant blue as I strolled along the boardwalk homeward bound. As I rounded the corner a man untied the tender I often see there and began to row out towards one of the houseboats on the east side of the river. For a while I stood and watched, wondering what it must be like to need a boat to get home each night.
Saturday morning was even brighter and a gull sneaked into my photo as I stopped on Cobden Bridge to capture the little boats and their reflections in the blue river. The early morning river and the still slightly hazy air of a late summer morning make getting up at five fifteen more bearable somehow. The edges of the rose petals in a front garden, fuzzy with dew, made me smile as I wandered rather sleepily towards the slipway and it seemed the world was a little like me, all slightly blurred edges, somewhere between asleep and awake.
From the slipway the misty city was topped by the rising sun, rays bursting from it like a child’s drawing. The river was like dark hammered metal and the trees on the horizon layers of grey and black. Along the jetty and past the little boats bobbing gently on the water I went with the sun warming my back as it rose. The steps were bathed in warm light, the scarred bank bereft of trees and shrubs glowed a deep rust. At the top of the steps I turned for one last look at the sun and the puddle of light reflected in the river.
Then it was on to the office and business as usual. A woman called to ask the number of the buses from Weymouth to Bridport.
“That’s the Coastliner,” I told her.
“Oh that’s the same one I use to get from Bridport to Weymouth.”
Seriously? You think we have different bus numbers for each direction? If only we could say what we really think.
By the afternoon we were into lost property territory. A man had lost a £50 note and wondered if it had been handed in.
“Is he joking?” Mia asked after she’d put him on hold. “He wanted me to phone control to see if they had it. Do you think it’s worth the effort?”
“Call them if you want to hear them laughing their heads off,” I said, “it’ll be a miracle of someone has handed it in though.”
She called, they laughed and, of course, they hadn’t got it but, for once the man didn’t shout or accuse us of stealing it he simply said thanks for trying and put the phone down.
We were still taking about it when the radio playing in the background stunned us all into silence. A plane had crashed onto a main road at the Shoreham Airshow. People had been killed trapped in the fireball in their cars. It was thought pedestrians and cyclists may have been involved and no one knew how many had died. As you probably know, Commando builds aircraft for a living so I’ve been to many air shows in my time. Memories of standing in fields head tilted back to watch planes perform acrobatics in the sky above, my boys beside me oohing and ahhing, made it all more real.
Commamdo was outside when I left the office and CJ was in the back of the car. Obviously, our conversation was all about the Airshow disaster.
“Maybe the pilot blacked out,” Commando said, “there are huge G forces when you do a loop.”
“I heard the pilot survived,” CJ said.
“He must have ejected,” Commando said.
It took a while for me to realise we weren’t headed for home. In fact we were off to town. Commando wanted to pick up a copy of a running magazine with a feature on his running club, The Itchen Spitfires, before they all sold out. As a treat he took us to Costa for a latte. He really knows the way to my heart.