Brockenhurst is a small town in the New Forest. If you want some boring stuff about history and population click here.
No, what makes it truly memorable is it is where I went to school from 12 to 18 (1970 to 1975) and therefore the place of my most formative educational experiences. I’m talking about buying (and consuming) beer, trying my one and only cigarette and kissing the opposite sex. The amount of beer consumed was considerable so my kissing memories – of both sexes and indeed other species – could well be flawed; my memory merely relates girls being involved in these exercises. I am happy to be shown that I am mistaken.
Brockenhurst, and the surrounding New Forest was, and may well be, renowned for its supply of hallucinogenic mushrooms – suffice it to say, as these were more plentiful and cheaper than any other illegal drugs they were preferred by those who wanted to participate. These never appealed to me, mostly because I didn’t trust those saying they were the particular variety and not one that might either kill you or at a minimum liquefy your gut. Beer, after all was perfectly adequate as a mind altering substance back then.
I cannot be sure of the population of Brockenhurst but it was tiny in winter, the school apart and thriving in summer with tourists (or ‘grockles as we called them’). It did however sustain three pubs and several hotels. The pubs were the Railway Tavern, the Rose and Crown and the Foresters.
Each pub had its clientele. The Rose and Crown was for parents and visitors; the Foresters was for the crusty locals and the Railway for the youth – oh and the odd passing Hell’s Angel chapter who would occasionally ride into Brockenhurst and create some summer havoc.
I spent many happy hours at the Railway from 15 onwards; the beer was Courage froth and shite, the pinball machine erratic and unfair but it had a bar billiards table which was a magnet for we students. Frank, the landlord, was a wily old sod; his beer was dreadful, he had a ‘hot food’ counter than had been unplugged since the 1960s and contained the same meat pies that graced its surfaces in 1972 when I first entered its hallowed portals through to my last pint there in 1975.
Occasionally a new teacher would come in – my school became a six form college in 1970 but we who were coming through the old grammar school system saw out our junior ranks tucked away in crappy port-a-cabins and disused annexes – these jolly ‘modern’ teachers only wanted to be friendly but would soon realise that he or she wasn’t really welcome because too many laws were being broken and everyone would be compromised by their continuing presence.
Most of my peer group didn’t smoke; such money as we had went on beer. But occasionally a packet of ten appeared. There was a small group of us who lived a few miles from the school and our journey comprised, in whole or part, a train journey. Dave, Mike, Trevor – there were several boys in that select group and we would assiduously make our way to the end of the platform where the train stopped and play cards while we awaited its inevitably delayed arrival (if, on the odd occasions, it came on time we generally missed it). Come rain or shine we would sit on the platform (no seats for us) to play. That is save for a period of about six months in, circa 1973, while a long and aggressive looking stool decomposed on the railway sleeper right by our chosen spot – some maker of turds had clearly failed to comply with the admonishment in all train toilets back then: ‘Do Not Flush This Toilet in the Station’ – none of us had the stomach to mark time while studying the smooth sides of someone else’s faecal matter.
It was here, swinging our legs over the platform edge and playing a mix of Rummy, Whist and Poker that I was offered a three quarters smoked Marlborough. I knew I shouldn’t but everyone else had so I gave in. Like Clinton I didn’t inhale – I didn’t need to. It was like sticking my head in one of my grandmother’s beloved bonfires and breathing in. Horrid. I spat, gave the still three quarters smoked fag back, much to my friends’ amusement and promised myself never again. And I was as good as I promised.
And the kiss? That first kiss? I remember the place – by a paling fence. I remember the time – about 8 pm after a school disco. I remember the kissee but time and fairness suggests I should keep that to myself. What I simply cannot bring to mind is how it felt. Good? Not really. I think. More awkward than arousing. Yes awkward for sure – I had a piece of wood sticking up my arse for starters. I think I was surprised at the taste but I don’t remember if that was good or bad. The one thing it wasn’t was momentous – if the ground moved it was only because one of us slipped on the mud. But they say you need 10,000 hours to become expert and I was a long way from that target. But it was a start and it didn’t put me off trying again and for that I will always be grateful.
School was easily the best time and occasionally I enjoyed the lessons too.
I suppose the school motto assisted; I have quoted this before:
Inter Silvas Quarere Verum
In amongst the trees we seek the truth. Yep, we did our best.
If you visit today, it is a lovely holiday town full of twee shops, the self same pubs (the Railway has been rebranded the Snake-catcher, heaven forbid) and the iconic, if to my mind, bloody unpleasant, ponies. The college is still there too. I went back in 2012 to see the Olympic torch parade up the front drive. Not changed much, in truth. Still love it.
This is part of the A to Z blogging challenge. Details can be found here.