Lymington is a small port on the Hampshire coast close to the Isle of Wight. It was also the town nearest where I lived in the 1970s as I confronted my teenaged years. So the two As loomed large: Angst and Alcohol.
Angst is something I avoid now but back then, life just threw uncertainties at you. I wanted to stand out and fit in. We moved from Surrey when I was twelve, in 1969/70 and I had to make new friends. I did. It was easy, in retrospect. At twelve, still in love with the natural world and given the opportunity at a new school to
lie reinvent my way into sports teams, I had a great time.
The first few weeks though still stand out as ones of terror and uncertainty. That gut wringing ‘will they like me’ anxiety scars you. By 14, while I had a good solid group of friends, I wanted a more active social life; but all Lymington had, assuming I could be bothered to cycle the four miles to get there, were pubs. Oh and a library but that shut at 5. So I made do with the Boy Scouts (one mile up the road in the village of Hordle) until the lax application of the licensing laws that applied in rural Hampshire in the early 70s let me sample a few pints and I had discovered some sort of after-hours niche.
It may be because I took up drink between fourteen and fifteen that I’d had enough by thirty when I gave it up completely. I just didn’t like the stuff; it took me sixteen painful years to admit it to myself. Had I decided, as a rational being might have, that I didn’t like it at the start (I concluded that about all types of smoking after one puff on a Silk Cut circa 1972 after all) then I might have been spared several hangovers and a lot of wasted cash.
Truth be told, to have done that would have scuppered any chance of a social life, back then; after all it only took place if alcohol was involved. And they complain about binge drinking youngsters today? Pah! It was only because we didn’t have the money that we didn’t binge; it wasn’t because of some imbedded moral rectitude. We were just as likely to scrawl a message on a wall, smoke something illegal (if you could stand the idea of a bonfire in your mouth, which I couldn’t) or try our hand at shoplifting (the only reason I didn’t was because I was petrified of authority, but there were a number amongst my peer group with no such qualms) as any youngster today. And so was my father before me. It was all about pushing boundaries – always was, always will be.
There were something like 15 pubs, hotels and bars in less than a mile from the Lymington quayside (the Captain’s Cabin) to the final one at the top of the hill (I can’t tell you its name because I know we never drank there). With that many pubs and given the size of the catchment area around Lymington out f the summer season, someone was always going to serve a person who could pass for eighteen (give or take five years) in the gloom of a poorly lit public bar ( to quote from the Judge’s Song in the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera ‘Trial By Jury’ ‘She may very well pass for forty-three, in the dusk, with a light behind her – that was exactly what we tried to do, only we wanted to look older).
And why didn’t we ever drink in the last pub? Well, we stuck to our ‘favourites’ until we were in the sixth form and only then did we expand our repertoire. And that led, inexorably to ‘The Challenge’ for an 18th. Can you drink your way up the hill, one pub at a time? No one ever did. Me? I never made it onto the slope.
The other problem was girls. Or the lack of them. Well, that’s not strictly true. There were plenty at school – we were mixed grammar school fading out to become a sixth form college which gave us a lot of freedom. But living in a New Forest Cottage miles from anywhere meant I had to travel well over a mile to see anyone. Dating, even practice flirting, outside of the dreaded, once a term, school discos was almost beyond comprehension.
It was only the advent of driving licences for some friends ( I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25) that changed that. Of course I would have enjoyed driving, but looking back, while they drove, at least I had the chance of a snog in the back of the car. In reality, though, such heart-fluttering experiences were few and far between and it wasn’t until I arrived at Bristol for my degree that I began to fully appreciate the female of the species.
I can’t share with you pictures of Lymington from back then but here’s one of the family garden and my mother. You’d most probably find her here. So for some Lymington is a tourist trap, beautiful in both its setting and its architecture as well as a gateway to the Isle of Wight. But I never saw it that way. To me it was stalls for the market of a Saturday morning, selling plastic Tupperware and garden plants; shoe shops for the new school year’s reshodding; the dentist. Not much fun.
Going back as an adult, I recognise its charms. But for me, it will forever be a place of bored youth and vast amouts of beer.