Author Archives: Hilary Moon, writer

About Hilary Moon, writer

Unpublished writer, weekend sailor, pilates enthusiast, proud mother of two beautiful daughters, weight struggler, red wine drinker.

Christmas in Prague

 

Wetherspoons at Gatwick was trying hard to be festive three days before Christmas but Eve was too tired to appreciate it. Her eyes felt sore and gritty as she screwed them up to peer vacantly at the departure screen. Prague flight delayed by 90 minutes. Hell, now she wouldn’t arrive before midnight and the trams would have finished by then.
She hadn’t wanted to spend Christmas in Prague but sadly it was the best alternative. Her beloved and only son Mark had recently married a young Czech girl who was adamant that they must spend their first Christmas together as a married couple in her own country. Eve let out a deep sigh for sadly, adamant and must described Alexa, her new daughter-in-law only too well. She had tried to tempt them with a traditional all singing and dancing Christmas in England but to no avail. In fact, Alexa’s response to her latest entreaty had been ‘Oh no, Eve he’s mine now.’ Boy had that stung.
She sent Mark a text about the delay and settled down in the spirit of endurance, ramming the headphones of her MP3 player into her ears and closing her tired eyes. She’d just have to get a taxi to their flat – it was no problem.
Her spirits lifted when the taxi passed Charles Bridge; the bridge was always beautiful at night and especially so in the festive season. She’d not been to their new flat but it was a delightful surprise. Enormous wooden doors, allowing entrance to the old four storey building, stood at both the front and the rear. Eve could picture carriages driving through those doors enabling the well-heeled residents of times gone by to alight at the magnificently ornate marble staircase. The flat itself was high-ceilinged with carved woodwork and stained glass in the skylight windows.
She hugged them both.
‘This is so charming’, she declared.
In the sitting room, a Christmas tree stood in the corner by the huge window. The tree was weighed down by an extravagant number of, in Eve’s opinion, rather gaudily decorated gold baubles. There were bowls of traditional Czech crescent shaped almond biscuits on the table. She bit into one expecting it to be hard and dry but it was soft and deliciously buttery.
Next day, Alexa was clear that she didn’t need or want any help with the preparations so Eve took the tram to the centre. They agreed to meet up in Wenseslas Square, in the afternoon, to have a look round the Christmas market.
The market took her breath away. Mark linked arms with his declared two favourite ladies as they wandered past stalls selling traditional carved wooden figures and homemade sweets. They bought mulled wine and hot pastries, eating them to a background of Christmas music and traditional dances. Then, Mark led them back to the main road where he treated them to a carriage ride. The light was fading and the beautiful city was at its most beguiling.
Next day was Christmas Eve and the most important day. Eve slept well, rose early and wandered, in an unexpectedly serene state, to the bathroom. Her screams caused both Mark and Alexa to rush to her side. Wordlessly, Eve pointed to the creature splashing frenetically in the half-filled bath tub – she had no words. Her horrified expression caused Mark to bend double helpless with laughter while Alexa looked disdainfully at her mother-in-law.
‘It’s Czech tradition to have carp for dinner on Christmas Eve and the fresher the better,’ she declared haughtily.
The carp wasn’t the first tradition to come Eve’s way but it was the cause of the first discontent between her young hosts. Dispatching said beast was clearly no easy task and was delegated to poor Mark. Tempers frayed and Alexa’s nagging reached a crescendo only abating once the deed was finally done.
The nagging continued throughout the day. Eve’s offer of help was firmly rejected yet Alexa who was clearly overwhelmed moaned, whined and belittled her son thus allowing the atmosphere to become increasingly tense.
Eve was puzzled to see the table laid for four guests.
‘I didn’t know we were expecting company,’ she declared in her brightest fashion.
‘We’re not.’ Alexa gave her a withering look. ‘Here, we believe that an odd number such as three will bring bad luck or even death,’ she added dramatically.
She then decided to invoke another tradition that no lights be lit in the flat until the first star came out allowing dinner to be served and was then disgruntled when the sky was found to be leaden and overcast.
They ate the traditional mushroom soup which Eve found surprisingly tasty then finally, and accompanied by a beaming Alexa smile, the festive carp appeared in pride of place at the table. As Eve lifted her plate to be served. Eve noticed, somewhat grotesquely, a round and shining fish scale left behind on her placemat. Deftly, and hoping that no one would notice, she flicked said article to the floor.
‘Eve, what are you doing?’ Alexa’s horrified voice echoed around the room. ‘The fish scale is to bring wealth for the next year and now’…. she looked round dramatically. ‘Bad fortune will follow.’ She lowered her beautiful brown eyes and shook her head. ‘Oh Mark’ she sighed.
Eve fought the part of her that wanted to say ‘ Oh, for heaven’s sake, stop being such a drama queen.’
She held no truck with old wives’ tales. Nevertheless, they came thick and fast. It was true she had wondered about the bowl of garlic under the table.
‘For strength and protection’ Alexa declared. ‘And this..’ She lifted a pot of honey. ‘This is to guard us against evil’. She looked pointedly at Eve. ‘Perhaps it will make up for the fish scale’.
By now thoroughly bewildered, Eve looked at her son for reassurance. But Mark was a wise boy who judged it was better to upset his mother than his volatile bride. Besides, typical man, he’d not actually picked up on many of his wife’ barbed little comments.
The fried carp was accompanied by potato salad.
’It’s very bad luck not to eat everything on your plate,’ Alexa informed them just as Eve was struggling with a mouthful of what appeared to be wallpaper paste mixed with fish bones. She smiled feebly.
‘I’ll do my best, dear.’
Thankfully, pudding was good. Vanocka turned out to be a gold coloured, sweet Christmas bread with raisins inside the brioche like folds. Hoping it was diplomatic to do so, Eve added a little honey in the spirit of warding off evil.
Once the meal was over, Alexa sank, in exhausted fashion, onto the settee whilst Eve and Mark tackled the take-your-breath-away mountain of washing up. At least it gave Eve a chance to speak to her son alone.
A bell rang before they had accomplished their mission of washing up completion.
‘Time for presents,’ Alexa trilled in her heavy accent and pointed to the Christmas tree.
At least Eve’s gift of a pretty silk scarf was well received.
Then, the rested Alexa got her second wind and organised yet more Czech traditions. She appeared with a bowl of water containing empty walnut shells each filled with a tiny lit candle.
‘If your candle reaches the other side of the dish you will have a long and healthy life. Should it sink that would be very bad luck.’
Eve knew, she just knew, that her chosen shell – unstable from the outset, would not make the other side.
Longing for a gin and tonic, Eve, nobly in her view, participated in the next game. Alexa, with her straight black hair and pale face looked strikingly like Snow White as she appeared with three shiny red apples. She grasped her apple by the stem.
‘Cut your apple in half, like this,’ she demonstrated.
‘What’s the pointy of this one,’ Mark had the temerity to enquire.
Accompanied by a dark look, Alexa informed them that if your apple core was star-shaped it meant that everyone will get together next year in health and happiness. But if it was a four-pointed cross this was a bad omen and someone at the table would fall ill or even die in the next twelve months.
‘That’s not a very cheerful thought, dear.’ Eve couldn’t resist the comment.
At last the time arrived when it was acceptable to go to bed. Eve sank into the cool, white and surprisingly crisp sheets. Christmas, if not exactly enjoyable had at least been different and Alexa had worked hard – she’d give her that.
Next day, however, things really kicked off. Alexa went ballistic at the sight of the carp poo and sundry scales which still lurked in the bath. Her anger was further fuelled when she discovered that Eve and Mark had failed to finish the washing up.
Eve could hear the row from her room.
‘I can’t do everything Mark, it’s just not fair.’ This was followed by tears and further recriminations. They were relentless, her voice rising between the audible sobs.
Eve listened through gritted teeth. Mark can you help with this? Mark can you? can you ? had been yesterday’s theme. Surely Alexa could see that her placid son had done his best.
By the time she reached the kitchen, Alexa, wild-eyed and screaming abuse was hitting Mark in the chest
‘Whatever’s going on? Stop it, Alexandra; for goodness sake get a grip of yourself.’
Mother-in-laws, as she very well knew, should never, ever interfere and Alexa flounced off to her bedroom, accompanied by a furious torrent of Czech. The exasperated Mark took himself off for a walk whilst Eve tidied the kitchen. Mission accomplished, she tried reading her book but found it hard to concentrate. Where was Mark? He’d been gone a long time.
Eventually, a red-eyed Alexa appeared.
‘Where can Mark be?’ She enquired in a small voice
Mark, her sensitive son, distraught and distracted had apparently been run over by a tram and was now in the hospital with a head injury. The doctors were unable or unwilling to tell them whether he would suffer any long-term brain damage.
The two women who loved him held each other close and in the weeks that followed, despite Eve’s initial fears that Alexa would be put her own needs first; instead she witnessed a deep love and dedication. Yes, Alexa, he’s yours now.

 

The face in the mirror looking at me

 

Why is the immediate reaction to make faces, to grimace and inspect for spots or new wrinkles?

     Haircut yesterday so not supposed to be a bad hair day today. In the right light the roots don’t show too much and unless I look closely the grey is mostly hidden.

     Blue eyes, red-rimmed looking out through a large square glasses on a large square face. A lined face, fine lines everywhere unless I take my glasses off. Quite a red nose really but perhaps that’s the gin-and-tonic.

     What sagging jowls, wonderful word jowls. Thin top lip some say that indicates meannesscould be!

     Chickenneck0h to be 20 again.

     When I take my glasses off I look even more tired with that  slightly pathetic peering stare.

     Not pale, never pale. I was wanted to look pale and interesting at 18 fat chance. Still a slight tan, an English complexion, fair hair no longer flowing now cut to touch the collar.

     Heavens it’s a sensible middle-aged face. Not motherly, no the mouth turns down in a hard expression. Not smart, the hair’s too messy; no make up just a boring face these days.

Men’s faces look lived-in, women’s just look tired.

Facebook rant

And the purpose of Facebook is?…… to brag, big yourself up, make arrogant assumptions that everyone is of your own political persuasion, bombard with hundreds of photos, and/or divulge personal stuff that just shouldn’t be in the public domain.

Yes, I do use Facebook. It’s good to catch up with what friends are up to – the holidays they’ve enjoyed (sometimes far too many to be civilised), additional grandchildren and sadly deaths. Here Facebook has replaced the traditional death announcement in the local paper. I was sad to learn recently that an old colleague’s elderly father had recently died – thank heaven for the new sad face button as there was no way one could really click like. I’ve also heard that it’s quite hard to have a Facebook page removed should a loved one sadly die – that feels uncomfortable.

With Facebook’s new buttons as well as like and sad one can also express love, anger, amusement and amazement – all useful in their own way. However, when it comes to those shared political posts, sometimes I want to say that I disagree with the content of the post itself. If I click like it looks as though I agree with the friend posting, if I click angry or sad it implies I’m sad about the political statement which often I actually agree with at some level – it’s complicated. I could of course bypass the buttons and straightforwardly make a comment but politics is a funny old thing. I’m ok having a face to face discussion amongst friends with differing viewpoints but heavens I might get trolled if I put my political views online for all to see. So even though I may not actually be brave enough to comment or even to physically press a symbol, I do like to be in a position to do so mentally.

I do wonder if people who brag on Facebook do so because their lives are actually not that exciting or if they just don’t realise it comes across as boasting.

I’ve been to parties where a few hours later there are the photos of everyone having such a good time (I’m not usually in those) and comments such as ‘best night ever’ etc. Um! well I did enjoy the party but it wasn’t that good.

Talking of photos as I say I like reading about where friends have been on holiday etc. and seeing a few selected photos but my heart sinks when I see 201 new photos – 201!! Why not share those with just close family or use a photo sharing app and pick out a few favourites for the rest of us.

The same goes for shared funnies and videos – I love to chuckle over some of those but go easy guys – not five in a row.

For research purposes you understand, I noted post on my Facebook newsfeed for the last 24 hours. You will learn from this that I don’t have many Facebook friends. Due to rejection issues I have only ever responded when people have asked to be my friend (how playground it all sounds in writing). I have boldly ignored some friend requests from people I wasn’t interested in years ago – they are just being nosey but I know all about that.

  • Somebody shared a memory from 3 years ago – I don’t care I wasn’t part of it so why not just share it with those who were involved.
  • There were happy birthday messages for a close friend, how her husband is planning to celebrate and lamenting her swollen knee – all acceptable.
  • An ‘I love my job, awesome session’ brag post
  • A shared fitness video
  • Local music and gig guide posts x2
  • Photos of coypu swimming in a French canal – mercifully only 4 (photos not coypu that is)
  • A friend’s Top 11 photos of the year with 108 likes – brag post
  • A ‘Do You Remember in Portsmouth’ post
  • Information sharing for clients of a personal trainer friend – why not share with group – the rest of us don’t need to know the time of their session.
  • An RNLI charity appeal
  • A friend having an angry rant about his car breaking down
  • Photos of swans feeding from the hand of someone’s mother in Majorca
  • A video entitled ‘A stork love story’ – haven’t looked at that yet
  • An unexplained photo of people at an unnamed football match
  • A photo of a flower called ‘hanging naked men’ – mildly amusing
  • A photo of an unnamed street at night – and your point is?

 

Some people seem compelled to share how wonderful they, their spouse or their offspring are. I don’t really want to know how spoiled you feel when your adoring hubby presents you with an extravagant bouquet for Valentine’s Day or what your children did for Mother’s Day. Let’s face it most of us probably get a card and a bunch of flowers and for those who don’t it does rub it in a bit.

A friend of my daughter’s posts stuff like ‘my hot husband’ – well I’m 68 and believe me hot he is not! Then there’s the photos of new and old grandchildren. I’m fine for your friends to say how adorable they are but it doesn’t sit well if you say so.

What about the stuff in life that goes wrong? This is often far more interesting. My own warped mind is much more inclined to post when things go pear-shaped or those gritted teeth moments usually involving cyclists in my case.

I could tell my Facebook friends about our 12-hour journey back from France to Gosport recently. My husband is not a patient traveller and it was truly like travelling with a 6 yr. old including toilet issues, but as he is not on Facebook this would seem unfair and a tad disloyal. Likewise, I don’t share the amusing happenings such as when he first got his hearing aids or when he forgets to put his front teeth in – yes I realise that I am sharing them here – oh the irony!

So I’ll still trawl Facebook in my stalker-like and Schadenfreude way but am increasingly reluctant to actually post anything for fear of being thought boastful, arrogant or worse inappropriate and disloyal.

 

Dear Diary

‘Write,’ commanded Rob who runs my writing group and because I am inherently dutiful I wrote about my diary keeping.

I would like it to be witty and insightful – a clever play on words. But it doesn’t come easy – not like the angst and heartache stuff – oh that flows ad. tedium!

It was only a few years ago that I realised heartache is a physical thing. Like you, I’ve wept; been shocked to numbness when my cat died and my mum died and my dad died but it wasn’t until I had a major falling out with youngest daughter in her second year at uni that my heart truly ached – fingers reaching into my chest and squeezing the life blood from me while I sat in Clackett Services on the M25.

Then, as now, I wrote it down – my stupidity and my sorrow recorded for all to see. Why do we do that? The pseudo psychologists of the glossy magazine self-help variety advocate it. It’s cathartic apparently and I suppose it is. I tend to think it is a gender thing as I suspect that more women than men write a diary. I have every day since was 11. I wish I’d kept the early ones. What did my 11 year old self worry about? Of course I didn’t worry did I.  I do remember that family was a big thing – the extended family of aunts uncles and cousins and big picnics and playing charades. Not boys at that stage .They waited in the wings for a couple more years and thereafter filled my head.

I recall lots of comparing and marking – hair 6/10, eyes 9/10. In an ever so slightly more mature way I still do that. Internet dating has a lot to answer for.

During all those teenage years I kept my diaries – the keepers of the secrets lived on my bedroom shelf and it became a ritual each New Year’s Day to savour the pristine pages of the new version – my future life a blank canvas. Oh I had plans and schemes and clever tricks but the formative years have their own agenda free from the constraints of the dreaded responsibility.

To this day I treasure the sensory delights of beautiful notebooks and journals. I don’t have that with books themselves. I wish I did and envy those with stacked shelves of much loved tomes. Oh I read – don’t get me wrong but I suppose I treasure the impact that the words have on me rather than their physical presence.

I wish I had those diaries now. Aged 16 in 1964 and a wicked girl to boot – part of history now.  One year’s entries were so incriminating that best friend and I took our diaries to Southsea beach at dusk and ceremoniously burnt them, scattering the ashes of our sins to the wind – oh the melodrama!

But life moved on and I didn’t keep them – I think mum chucked them when I moved out of home.

When I moved from husband no. 1 to husband no. 2 I dumped another load of diaries. I stood in a friend’s garden in Bristol, where I was living, surrounded by another 7 years of my life recorded in what is often fortunately a virtually illegible left-handed scrawl. I knew I couldn’t take them with me as I was running away to a bedsit. But before tossing them into the bin liner I sat on the grass reading about deeply insightful matters such as ‘cooked a lamb stew for supper, Ned was late home.’ How are the mighty fallen?

And that’s how it’s been over the years – the angst punctuating the mundane.

40 years on and downsizing means I’m about to dump another lot. Yes I really do have 40 diaries and can’t resist once more dipping into them.

I am shocked by how busy I was and how much I packed in to life back then. I am shocked to discover people I’d clearly been close to at one time who have been completely erased from memory – how much of our lives we just forget and who on earth were Nigel and Liz?

There are a couple of 5 year diaries and I randomly pick a few dates to peruse. A clear pattern to the shape of my life emerges that I was hitherto unaware. For recorded in black and white is the spooky revelation that time and again I’d met up with the same people or done the same things on exactly the same day during that 5 year period without any realisation that this was happening – fascinated I read on marvelling at what might have triggered said meetings but there are no clues – the mind is cleverer than that.

The diaries form a motley collection – from the large to the small, to the page-a-day variety. Although these days I’m fussy in the annual selection

There are diaries with lock and key to prevent the prying eyes of mother or some husband/lover or other. No clue about potential tampering of said locks but would love to know.

So, I question do diary writers do it because they secretly want others to read their wisdomly pearls? I’ve long been impressed by the legendary Samuel Pepys – all that worrying about how to preserve his precious cheeses as the Great Fire approached. And Anne Frank – gosh now there’s a diary!

Do I secretly want my diaries to be read? I can’t decide but if any of you feel the urge to discover what I cooked for supper on 21st September 2008 or indeed who I fancied last week – then take a look in the recycling bin round the corner.

[H1]

Anyone for hypnosis?

 My relationship with hypnosis began when my husband was doing research at university.  I was the first person that he hypnotised and remember the change in his voice when he realised that it was actually working.

Over the three years there were some bizarre moments – at one point he decided to test whether pain threshold varied under the effect of hypnosis. He borrowed an elderly electric shock machine that kept sticking when he attempted to alter the level of current.  Wifely trust stretched too far at this point and I came straight out of my hypnotic state.

On another occasion, I had been having headaches so he hypnotised me planting a post-hypnotic suggestion implying that headaches were caused by tension.  With a lively class of nine year olds there was plenty of that. Result – a constant headache for two weeks until he re-hypnotised me to undo the rogue suggestion.

Then we went to see a stage hypnotist. Tim persuaded me to try and get picked to go on stage to see if it was real or if there were planted stooges. I was hypnotised and told that I would spot John Travolta in the audience and rush from the stage to snog him passionately.  This I duly did. I was also left with a post-hypnotic suggestion that when I left the theatre I would discover that I had lost my belly button and would ask passers-by if they had seen it.  Somewhat disconcertingly for my husband, I rushed up to two passing policemen who were not amused.  It must have been a particularly powerful suggestion because even next morning l had a strong urge to ask my rather stuffy head teacher if he had seen said article.

 As a participant you don’t get to see much of the show so we were given front row seats for the following night. The routine was much the same but one subject was gorgeous and when it came to the John Travolta bit I just knew that she was going to pick my husband, which of course she did. However, the hypnotist also told her that when she woke up she would realise that it wasn’t John Travolta but some dirty old man.  Well she really laid into Tim, raining kicks and punches.

 Such experiences convinced me that I was a good hypnotic subject.  When my first child was born I used gas and air for pain relief and the effect reminded me of being hypnotised.  So when I was expecting number two we decided to use hypnosis during the birth. I was pre-hypnotised to be given my cue words ‘OK relax’, which took me immediately into a hypnotic state. Then Tim talked me through each contraction using suggestions of relaxation. Between contractions I chatted normally. I was aware of the pain but distanced from it so that it didn’t bother me and after only two hours a very alert baby was born. A great success but not without its amusing moments. I still retain the image of the midwife becoming very relaxed herself as she listened to Tim’s soothing tones. At one point he nipped to the loo. Feeling another contraction on its way I called him, whereupon he rushed out catching himself on his zip and was attempting to suppress the ensuing agony whilst offering me relaxing words. The midwife was much amused.

 So ‘What is hypnosis?’ people ask. I’ve no idea really but would describe it as the imaginative response to suggestion – no swinging watch chains, just being counted down into drowsiness and waking up with a sense of well-being.

 

 

Summer of ’66 – a journey of experiences

It was bad forgetting a torch. As we stepped off the ferry from Dover it was already dusk. There was some confusion about the best way out of Ostend; maps were consulted or rather our one and only map. I peered half-heartedly, I’ve never been good with maps and in any case we didn’t know where we were going. South to the sun and a free and easy lifestyle with the general idea. When you’re hitching you can’t plan in more detail.

     We got a lift that first night to a small Belgian town called Leuven. Again there was discussion, indecision about where we should sleep. We were 18 and had £50 to last forever. We hadn’t bought a tent having decided that it was too heavy to carry.

     As I said it was bad forgetting a torch. We ended up sleeping under a lorry. I took some convincing I can tell you that the driver wasn’t going to suddenly materialise and drive over our slumbering bodies. Opposite our lorry was a row of small terraced houses. In the middle of the night there was suddenly a commotion. Cars pulled up; people came out of their houses. Unseen, we watched as a small coffin was unloaded from a large black car and carried into one of the houses. We later learned that a coach carrying local school children had crashed on its way to Austria. We had witnessed the return of their dead child.

     Next morning, we were soon across the German border and found ourselves in Frankfurt. World Cup fever was beginning to get a grip and I snaffled three World Cup Willie beer mats from a bar by way of souvenir. Bed that night was under a bridge near the autobahn and it was cold.

     Day 3 found us in Munich where we stayed at a youth hostel teeming with every nationality. It was semi organised chaos and alive with music and laughter.

     It was a different story entirely the next night.  The Youth Hostel in Salzburg was run on military lines by a large, humourless and sweating fraulein. Still, I suppose Salzburg was quite romantic. That is until we came to leave. We walked to some leafy suburb and began the ritualistic thumb waving. We’d had very little trouble so far, in getting lifts quickly. Some drivers were chatty and interested giving me a chance to practise my German, others were silent. But on this occasion, it was six hours before we were finally rescued. Did we not know, our bemused driver enquired, that it was the World Cup final lthat afternoon? Yes, you know the day England beat West Germany, Geoff Hurst hat trick and all that. Well we didn’t.

     However, scenery-wise our journey became more interesting from that point as the car had to go on a train through a tunnel under the Alps. It was July but there was snow on the mountains at Badgastein. I began to stress about our chances of a lift as it was a tad rural. But, joy of joys, a Yugoslav businessman picked us up. He was going to Riyeka and took us right down to the Adriatic coast; he even bought us lunch on the way.

     Riyeka was beautiful, all faded Italianate glamour. It also felt a bit more foreign, and thus scary, so we treated ourselves to a night in a small hotel. Then it was onwards down coast to Split and on to beautiful Dubrovnik where a local guy let us sleep on his boat in the harbour for a few nights.

     Due to the proximity of Albania, we caught a ferry from Dubrovnik to Corfu and for the first time we felt we had arrived somewhere. Corfu, luckily, had a youth hostel. It was a breath-taking, old manor house in a tiny hamlet and was run by the most laid-back Greek. At night, we joined locals in the one little bar to drink ouzo and kumquat and dance. The real thing, not the show they put on for the tourists nowadays. Then by day the proprietor would take whoever wanted to go in his minibus to the nearest beach. In the burning sun we would scramble down from the road through the olive groves with the heady scent of wild thyme to join a shifting population of youngsters sleeping on the beach.

     A pattern developed to our days. As soon as it became too hot to remain in our sleeping bags we would leap into the sea. We would swim and talk and lie in the sun. There was one taverna catering mostly for Germans from the small campsite behind the beach. When the day was at its hottest we would sit on the shady terrace, making a salad and bread last the afternoon heat. More often than not we would finish the leftovers from the Germanstables. Observing this, one memorable man ordered chips all round – bless him! After four or five days the desire for cool sheets and a shower at the youth hostel would draw us back. That was life for five weeks one summer long ago.

     From Corfu we hitched to Athens. I left England with one jumper, one sleeveless linen dress from Selfridges in London as it happens, one t-shirt, sandals and a pair of jeans. The zip went on those quite quickly in Germany I think. A Greek nicked my jumper from the beach in Igoumenitsa and the scandals broke in Athens. The temperature was agonising and I was forced to leap from shadow to shadow barefooted. At night the heat on the 4th floor of the Athenian youth hostel was stifling. It did have its compensations though as it overlooked an open-air cinema.

     From Athens we caught the ferry from Pireaus to Brindisi. That was a funny old journey. Loads of youngsters were sleeping on deck and in the middle of the night some bloke, who was cycling round Europe, jumped over my companion and inadvertently landed in the middle of my stomach.

     Italy was a whole different ball game to Greece, or anywhere else we’d been for that matter. Straight away people were warning us not to sleep rough telling us of banditos or pistoleri so we didn’t. 

     Next day, two Italian businessmen picked us up. They treated us to a memorable lunch in a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Sadly, it quickly became necessary to extricate ourselves from the car. They had plied my boyfriend with drink, intent on trying it on with me.

     Then Rome. We met a guy in a bar who said we could stay at his flat. In the middle of the night another guy appears in the room with a flick knife turns out it was actually his room we left Rome next day.

     I remember some flashy cars. Then ending up in hospital in northern Italy in Lecco not far from Milan. Was it appendicitis? Was it an infection? Nobody knew and nobody spoke English. They drew pictures in Biro on the sheets to explain the operation they intended to perform and took away my passport. Hysteria quickly followed and an English-speaking doctor’s wife was sent for. Three scary days later I retrieved my passport and we left.

     Having left the Sun and with very little remaining money we were anxious to be home. Our second longest wait, five hours, was at the Swiss border. Then some scary driving in the mountains. Sleeping in a hut full of hayan itchy experience. But soon it was back to Germany and boring Belgium to get on the Dover ferry. It was October now. I was tanned, blonde, eight stone something, barefoot and wearing an extremely grubby pale blue Selfridges dress. Those were the days!

Portsmouth in the 60s

If, like me, you were a teenager in Portsmouth in the mid-1960s names such as the Del Monico, The Manhattan and The Keyhole may well have a nostalgic ring. The coffee bar culture was a huge part of the social scene in the 60s. Why were they so successful, and just what caused their demise? Looking back, I recall that they were all run by men and what characters they were. Hands up if you remember Charles in the Del Monico at 1a.m. on a Friday night.

     The clientele of these establishments were a fairly close-knit community, reveling in the slightly decadent atmosphere. What a shock it was to visit one of these establishments in daylight hours when the decadence seemed merely seedy – the faded and slightly moth-eaten velvet seating in The Manhattan and the smell which can be re-captured but not described.

     We girls usually met up in The Manhattan before frequenting one of the local pubs, after which we would cram into The Keyhole for frothy coffee and the juke box, ending the evening more sedately and more reflectively in the rather grown­up ambience of the Del Monico.

     I have often wondered why coffee bars are no longer popular. What replaced them for my two daughters in their own the teenage years? I suppose fast food emporiums like MacDonald’s or the Pizza Hut have replaced them. Such places certainly didn’t exist in my day, the occasional Chinese takeaway and good old fish and chips yes, but we weren’t really interested in eating. Except of course for curry, which is just as popular today. But there were no posh curry houses, The Curry Centre in Albert Road stayed open until 3a.m. and there were at least six curry restaurants in Albert Road alone.

     There were far less students around in Portsmouth then and more sailors or matelots as we called them. The students’ union organised very little in-house entertainment so we were more involved in the general nightlife of Portsmouth. I cried the day they pulled down The Star in Lake Road, nostalgic for the Friday folk club with the likes of Jon Isherwood and Pat Nelson. Folk clubs are still around of course but the inhabitants are the same as they were forty years ago and they are certainly not the haunt of the young.

     What else has changed? Well the pubs for a start. No such thing then as a theme pub or the large sanitized bars, which have arisen from the ashes of the much-lamented and intimate little bars of The Auckland or The Osborne. Both, to my mind, are perfect examples of the ruined pub, but I expect the crowds who use them on a Saturday night enjoy them as much as we did.

     The jukebox was an important part of the pub scene, along with the occasional bar billiards and, of course, darts. There were no flashing video games or live music. That was kept for the dance halls as they were still called. Disco music was a twinkle in no one’s eye but we danced to Manfred Mann every Thursday night at Kimbell’s in Osborne Road and again at the R & B club on Sundays. Remember if you will The Savoy on a Saturday night. I saw the (Rolling) Stones there as well as Tom Jones, the Swinging Blue Jeans and dear old PJ Proby.

     No bouncers in those days, or none that I noticed. Certainly no gorillas in monkey suits at the door. There were fights and people did get hurt but the violence seemed exciting then, today much of the violence nauseates, but maybe that’s from my middle age stance.

     There were a few nightclubs – the Pomme D’Or immediately springs to mind and the Rendezvous but nightclubs such as Hoddy’s tended to be for the older crowd. Hoddys lasted for years and for all I know may still be going.    

     Drugs were as freely available in the 60s as they are today. There was plenty of pot and purple hearts, as well as a number of heroin addicts. Marmion Road, for some reason, being a mecca for hard drug addicts. What alarms me today is the age of those targeted. In the 60s it was young people between the age of 16 and 21 – you could get whatever you wanted from The Portland any night of the week. Today the pushers target the schools and kids of 13 or even younger. The menace and the lure of crack, must surely be a concern for any parent today, as well as the seemingly more innocuous but just as potentially lethal glue-sniffing and inhalation of noxious but horrifyingly commonplace substances,

     Everything seems to have shunted back by four or five years. At seventeen or eighteen in the coffee bars of the 1960s we were experiencing the first flush of adulthood. Nowadays, pubbing and clubbing seems to be the norm for most 14 year olds in Portsmouth,

     Fashion too is hugely important if you’re 12, with parents being pressurized into buying the right brand of this or that item at exorbitant prices, In the 60s, fashion and pop music, were in their infancy and there was far more individuality. Maybe the mods slavishly followed a dress code and once mini skirts came in you tended to wear one however huge the thighs but that was a far as it went. I wanted to be a beatnik way back in 1963 and sported baggy sweaters and the ‘pale and interesting’ look. But that was just me, others adopted very different looks – but trying buying anything different in Commercial Road this Saturday with your teenage daughter – no chance!

     Daytime entertainment consisted of hanging around the shopping centres — Commercial Road usually; as Palmerston Road was much more upmarket and refined in those days and dear old Verrechia’s in the Guildhall Square with those marvellous marble tables and ornate glass booths. Whatever possessed the planners to demolish Verrechia’s and those wonderful wicked pubs like The Sussex Arms.  Morbid office blocks have replaced them with specially darkened glass to reflect the Guildhall – such excitement!