Archive for the ‘sailors’ Category

Can you tell me why neighbors of a certain ‘low’ sort have to conduct their family arguments in loud screeching voices out in the middle of the back yard or on the street where everybody within a hundred miles can hear them? What is it about what the Brits would call ‘people of a certain class’ that encourages them to air their dirty laundry out in public as it were?


When I was a kid in England we lived for a time in neighborhoods that were not of the best – well to be honest, neighborhoods that were downright slums. After the Second World War there were pockets of these neighborhoods left standing – precariously – all over Portsmouth. Since Portsmouth is and always was a large naval town it was a prime target for the Luftwaffe on their way to Coventry or London, meaning that much of the city was reduced to bombed out craters and mounds of rubble where buildings once stood. The old Victorian slums hard up against the dockyard wall housed people displaced from jobs or the aged or the infirm or the bone idle, or the ill-educated or bloody minded, or the drunks, or ‘ladies of the evening’ or just about anyone really who was down on their luck. When we were also down on our luck we lived there in one room on the top floor of a rambling old house with peeling wallpaper, rising damp and a lively collection of bugs that scattered as soon as you turned the on the light. Down at the bottom of the stairs lived a man who plied his trade as a ‘rag and bone’ man. You don’t see them anymore, just as you don’t have ‘knife-sharpeners’ or ‘peddlers’ selling pots and pans pushing their carts down the middle of the road, or even home deliveries of milk for that matter. Of course when I was a kid they also had such things as brewer’s drays – carts with horses attached to deliver the beer, or similarly a man with a horse and cart coming around to fill up your cellar with coal.


The ‘ladies of the evening’, or prossies as they were called, would congregate down at the local public lavatories where my old auntie once worked as the attendant. She would give change and keep the place clean while the prossies smoked a quick fag and applied a pound or two more makeup before sallying out to meet up with the latest batch of sailors out on the town. One of them whose nickname was ‘Pompey Lil’ had no teeth and a false eye. The customers were abundant in Portsmouth, fresh faced young lads from distant ports around the world who evidently had not paid much attention to the training films and could be found all around the downtown area, especially around the Guildhall where they would have a skinful at the local pub and then try to feed fish and chips to the concrete lions on the steps. MPs the size of houses could also be found in great abundance bursting into public houses and tossing silly sailors out the back and into a waiting jeep before they could scatter. Fights were frequent, especially between the Brits and the Yanks. It was a matter of honour to defend the size of your guns, the length of your boat, the number of your lifeboats, the cut of your jib, just about anything really and none of it made all that much sense. All that mattered was that someone gave the rest an excuse for a right old punch-up hugely enjoyed by all until the MPs arrived to spoil all the fun.


Before the slums were all knocked down and were replaced by endless blocks of flats with urine in the stairwells and graffiti on the walls it was also hugely enjoyable to listen to a couple of ‘fishwives’ going at each other hammer and tongs out in the street while the neighbors stood around and gave points for the most creative insults. My own mother had a voice the size of a dockyard laborer despite the fact that she was only a little over 5 feet tall. I would cringe into a doorway when she got started over some real or imagined slight while watchers nodded in approval and occasionally joined in the fight with a few loud comments of their own. If you’ve ever watched ‘Coronation Street’ you can imagine the scene with lots of screaming and name calling loud enough to empty the pub on a Saturday night, which is quite some feat.


People of a more ‘refined sort’ don’t engage in such behavior – it’s all drawn curtains and closed doors and muffled voices. Pity really. Before people spent all their time indoors watching the box we made our own entertainment – much of it out in the middle of the road.


Read Full Post »