Monday, 26 March 2012

Lee-on-Solent revisited!

Lee-on-Solent was a place where I spent many sunny summer days back in the 1960s when I was in my mid-teens - you know, those years when you are "going out" with one boy and intensely in love for about a fortnight, before you either get dumped or decide yourself that it's time to move on to the next.  My heart was broken many times and looking back, I suppose I broke a few hearts myself.  There were about thirty of us altogether I guess, youngsters who would gather on the beach under Lee Tower having travelled from Stubbington, Fareham (in my case) or just around Lee itself.  The tower is long gone now, but I remember how brilliant it was for us.  Even then the white exterior was chipped and slightly seedy-looking.  It was built in the hey-day of English beach holidays back in the 1930s and was typical of the architecture of that age. A beautiful building - such a shame they pulled it down and put a car park in it's place.
Inside the tower building was a bowling alley, a cafe and a ballroom.  We would hang out in the foyer when it was colder outside until we'd get moved on by the manager.  In the cafe I remember the hot pie/sausage roll machine - a large part of my diet in those days consisted of hot sausage rolls straight from that old oven.  Occasionally a band would play in the ballroom and once there was even a disco I think.  If we had any money we would sometimes have a game of bowling, but most of the time we'd just hang about and watch other people play.
  You could see Lee Tower all the way from the main road between Gosport and Stubbington and I used to look out for it from the top deck of the bus from Fareham.  For a small fee - about 6d I think (that's 2.5pence in new money!) - you could go up in the rickety old lift to the top of the tower and look out at views across the Solent to the Isle-of-Wight.
I discovered Bob Dylan during those balmy days and often a group of us would be under the tower on the beach, someone would be playing a guitar, and we would sing.  We'd often swim in the sea.  It seemed to be the thing to do then to swim fully clothed for some reason.  We thought we were so cool!  In the evenings we'd light a small fire - barbecues hadn't yet reached the shores of England - we just had bonfires with maybe a jacket potato or a sausage cooked on a stick.
Quite close to the Tower was a small shelter/view point with a seat in it.  It was an old wooden hut, so different from the concrete ones at Lee these days.  We called it the "Snog-hut" for obvious reasons, and I don't think anything else much happened in there.  On Sunday afternoons we'd lounge about on the grassy bank behind the Snog-hut and listen to Pick of the Pops on our transistor radios.
Lee had a youth club which I was allowed to go to even though I had to travel there on two buses - one into Fareham from our housing estate - then change for the Lee one.  I had to be home by 9 on a week day, so would have to leave Lee at 8 to get the various buses home.  But it was worth it just to hang out, play table football and pool, and to listen to vinyl singles on the old record player.  What I was really there for though was the chance to meet up with people of my own age, boys and girls.
I had good best mates and still see my best friend of the time - Ginny.  It was at Ginny's house in Stubbington that I had my first cigarette - menthol of course.  Ginny was so much more sophisticated than I was and I think I had a crush on her older brother Kev.
Anyway, back to the Youth Club - the place was heated by an old fashioned coke burner.  I remember my Mum sniffing me when I got home one evening - she was convinced I'd been smoking cannabis!  But of course, we were all much too naive to do anything other than smoke tobacco and get drunk occasionally.  I don't remember ever knowing anyone who'd tried drugs then.  I was well into my twenties before I came across that!
The worst thing I think I did in those days was to get completely drunk on a bottle of home-made elderberry wine at my friend Christine's house.  She lived quite near me in Fareham and I would call for her on the way to Lee.  I drank the wine in her Nan's front room while I was waiting for her to finish eating her dinner before we were allowed to go out.  I don't know how I got past her Nan without her noticing that I was pissed when we left her house.  Somehow we managed to negotiate the two buses and by the time we arrived at Lee I was completely wasted.  I threw up in the Tower cafe and all over the promenade.  I remember feeling completely ashamed afterwards and couldn't face anyone for ages.  Luckily it was mid-afternoon though and by the time I had to go home I'd sobered up.  My friends were great and took good care of me.  I still don't like the taste of elderberry wine!

Yesterday, we went to Lee with our young teenage boy.  Where the Snog-Hut once was is now a skate park.  The grassy bank is still there though, as is the amusement arcade which was another place we used to hang out it.  It's all modern fruit machines in there now - I remember the laughing sailor machine - you put in one penny and this dummy dressed as a sailor would start to shake and laugh.  It was very infectious.  There were even very old machines called 'What the butler saw', leftovers from an Edwardian Era which showed a peepshow of antiquated women taking their clothes off.  There were also many penny machines that you could win a couple of pennies back if you were skilled enough.
Along the seafront there is a children's play area with all the latest 'safe' apparatus.  It was packed yesterday - this area was once an outdoor swimming pool.  When I was at school, we would go there for swimming lessons and I also spent many hours during my childhood in that pool.

All gone now, but the memories are still vivid.

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