23 April 2010
Once, Spanish holidays all finished in Southampton. This week, a new cruise liner put aside its maiden sailing to collect two thousand package holiday customers from southern Spain, and now forty coaches are waiting at the docks to take the passengers back up the spine of England.
According to the BBC, that is. I wouldn’t know. Unless the coaches all rumble down the main A road in convoy while I’m trying to go to sleep, which is always possible in this little quadrant of the city.
I wouldn’t know because Southampton makes nothing of the docks. No shipbuilding, no ancillary light industries, no work, just lots of flat land inviting shopping centres, multiplexes, luxury flats. The image of urban regeneration through the docks had to go through several reflections before it could finish bouncing from Olympic Barcelona over here. Cut corners, sheared-off floor plans, walls like the sides of the containers we don’t stack any more. Out we spread to east and west and north, encroaching into the New Forest and tangling our outer limits up with Portsmouth.
There’s a full-size railway station, ironwork roof, the lot, where the early tourists would have disembarked, last stop for the pier. A single railway track leads seaward through a padlocked gate. I don’t even know how it connects with the real rail network into town. Crowds don’t go to wave their relatives ashore. There isn’t anywhere to stand. Some weekends, when the banks are off their game, there isn’t even anywhere to pick up euros on a Saturday. ‘This is one of the biggest port cities in the UK,’ I grumbled to the woman in the bank. She told me to come back during the working week.
Shouldn’t we be remembering how to do this port stuff, in case we really have to do it again, some day?