Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Port whine?

Newhaven. It's quite a pleasant name, isn't it? I can imagine Newhaven as a cosy little seaside town in New England; all white painted, weatherboarded houses with paling fences; a couple of bearded old salts mending their nets on the quay, spinning yarns for the tourists; sand dunes sloping lazily down to the sea; the smell of freshly cooked lobsters...

But the Newhaven close to where I live is a very different place. It's a port town at the mouth of the River Ouse in East Sussex, handling passengers and goods bound for Dieppe, and port towns always seem to have a rather scruffy air about them. Our Newhaven is no exception. It has a hinterland of industrial estates, scrap yards, sewage treatment plants and empty factories, one of which, the Parker Pen company (remember them?) has recently laid off all its workers and moved operations to France. That's nice of them, isn't it? The town centre isn't much better. Many of the shops are empty and some of those still operating seem to be in two minds about it. As I walked down the High Street a herring gull was pecking at an empty pizza box, trying desperately to turn it over in order to reach whatever residue was left inside. Every time someone passed, the gull would wander off, feigning a lack of interest in the box. You could almost hear it whistling and staring vacantly into space. But when the passer-by had gone it renewed its assault on the box. A child coughed without putting its hand over its mouth. Outside a nearby pub a heavily tattooed employee was enjoying a doorstep cigarette, whilst at the bus stop, someone had helpfully written the word "ARSE" four times on the red plastic bench beneath the shelter.

All of this might lead you to think that I've got a bit of a downer on Newhaven. Curiously, I haven't. There's something about the place; something that gives it special character that one only finds in marine towns. Alright, so the pubs might look a bit scruffy, but they have a kind of faded grandeur; a sense of having been buffeted by the weather for a couple of centuries, a bit like some weather-beaten old sea captain. And, what's more, they're still open and offering bed and breakfast to the traveller. The street lamps in the High Street have canopies that are reminiscent of the sails from some old square-rigger. There are no less than three war memorials placed in a tiny but beautifully kept garden at the edge of the town. The smart marina, set about with pastel-coloured apartment blocks, is home to a large number of expensive-looking yachts, their halyards slapping against their masts in the stiff breeze. And there is a special quality to the light; a brightness that is not seen in an inland town; a brightness that makes you want to take up a paintbrush and commit something to canvas...

Just occasionally, I look out of my bedroom window at night and see a ferry steaming out to sea, its bright lights reflected in the inky blackness of the English Channel. Sailors have been putting to sea from Newhaven and other Sussex towns for centuries, rowing, sailing or under power; many have failed to return, due to war, weather or shipwreck. But watching these great vessels gliding silently to goodness knows where brings a sense of continuity to an ordinary event. Newhaven has seen better days, but it battles on regardless, like a tramp steamer chugging on in the teeth of a westerly gale. Long may it do so, I say.

Blimey. I got all poetic there for a moment.

17 comments:

Ivy Black said...

Oddly, now I have read this, I want to visit Newhaven. I want to see it's faded glory for myself, to find that bus shelter and park by backside where I am told.
Marvellous stuff!
x

chris hale said...

Ivy - Thank you. You may be pleased to hear that a local charity is working hard to regenerate the place, but not, I hope, tart it up so that it becomes just another clone town!

Madame DeFarge said...

Good to see you back. Thought you'd been cast adrift. Try the Newhaven in Edinburgh. Backside of Leith. A joyous place.

chris hale said...

MDF - You don't get rid of me that easily. And I hope you're using "backside" in a locational sense!

Fire Byrd said...

It may be scruffy, but the few times I've been eit has had spectacular weather... just so pleased I didn't have to get on a ferry in those waves!

chris hale said...

Fire Byrd - Yes, the weather can get a little fresh, especially at this time of year. The sight of waves breaking over the Newhaven lighthouse is quite something!

rallentanda said...

Ths is very interesting and well
written.Don't apologise for being poetic.That's what makes your
writing sing.I felt as if I was there.I'm having a wordle competition on my blog if you would like to participate.

オテモヤン said...

オナニー
逆援助
SEX
フェラチオ
ソープ
逆援助
出張ホスト
手コキ
おっぱい
フェラチオ
中出し
セックス
デリヘル
包茎
逆援
性欲

chris hale said...

Rallentanda - Thanks. You know, I might just have a crack at that competition of yours...

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

I immediately thought of the Edinburgh Newhaven, which I feel sure would score higher. After all, it does boast the 'Peacock Inn' world renowned hostelry.

chris hale said...

Derrick - I fear I have never been to your Newhaven. I have looked at the Peacock website and love the fact that they offer a "Ladies portion of fresh haddock". Is such discrimiation permitted in these enlightened times?

jinksy said...

Saw a poetic offering of yours in Blogland, and it impressed me enough to come and say Hi! Glad I made the trip, as the Newhaven picture made the journey well worth while.I can almost smell the sea air...

chris hale said...

Jinksy - Greetings, and welcome to my humble blog, where the kettle is always on and a selection of chocolate biscuits is perennially available. Thank you for your kind comments. I look forward to your dropping by again!

Doctor FTSE said...

What have I missed? I have a Degree from the O.U, but didn't learn about the Romans' recipe for fish sauce! Dumbing down, what? But I did learn that Gerald Manley Hopkins was fond of poplar trees and olive oil. So maybe that compensates.

I enjoyed your post. Reminded me of a brief visit I made to Newhaven, many years ago, during a stay with friends in Lewes.

chris hale said...

Doctor FTSE - Perhaps you didn't take the right courses! But I do remember Mr. Hopkins...the Binsey poplars, wasn't it? And thank you for stopping by.

rallentanda said...

Thankyou for your hilarious and clever poem on my wordle competition blog.I think the idea of 'ladies portions' is a good one.
I haven't had a 'ladies portion'
since the days of cuisine minceur
(hungeur) back in the 80s..the result is not a pretty sight:)

chris hale said...

Rallentanda - A 'ladies portion' would likely be a microscopic morsel of food, making it necessary to partake of a deep fried Mars bar by way of pudding. And thank you again for the kind words re the poem; I enjoyed writing it immensely. There is something about producing rhyming poetry that seems to lend itself to humour. Not sure why, though.