It is no secret that Southampton is amongst my least favourite cities, so when I found myself jaded once more within it’s broken walls I was a little bit deflated to say the least. For me, it has always been a soulless, grey, concrete slump on the coast but with no coastal aspects to enjoy, big but not impressive, and a bit of a dead end place to be. But something had changed in me from the last time I resided there; I had become an optimist, or at least I had switched onto the optimistic side of realism, and the dreamer in me wanted to enjoy his indefinite stay for reasons other than the people I was there to visit. After all of the mountainous villages that blew my mind and the tropical postcard perfect paradises I have found myself in, the challenge was big, but I think I succeeded.
Trust me; trying to be positive about Southampton is possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do for Indie Road.
Now let’s set a few things straight. Southampton is not the worst place I have been to; I do find it preferable over the likes of Middlesborough, Milton Keynes and oh god, Eastleigh, but it’s also not the best. In fact, other than Middlesborough, Milton Keynes and Eastleigh, I think almost every other place, at least in my mind, trumps it. When I lived there with more permanent foundations, I used to tell people it was a solid average – in that it wasn’t a good place but it wasn’t bad either. My biggest issue is that it has no real defining features, which is almost it’s most defining feature itself.
So here we go. Here’s five things to do if you ever find yourself in this unlikely place to leave with a positive experience and to defy the laws of this pinnacle of English mediocrity.
1 – Watch the sunset from Mayflower Park. It’s not exactly a stellar location, especially when there’s a gang on teenagers hitting up a joint within smelling distance, the scuttling of rats within earshot and the less than spectacular cityscape, but something magical happens as the sky darkens. The lights turn on one by one the other side of the dock and shimmer in the dying embers of colour across the sky. The gentle sound of lapping water drowns out the couple in the car behind you and, for just a breath of time, the most modest of venues becomes a setting of fairytales.
2 – Go to The Notes Cafe. I’m not just saying this because I worked there; The Notes Cafe quickly became my home away from home away from home. The atmosphere there is divine; oddities and expression are not just tolerated but celebrated. The sense of community really shines through and reminds you that humanity has hope. The coffee is stellar, and the food is simple and rustic but perfectly executed. The only answer to “would you like the red onion marmalade on your cheese on toast” is “absolutely fucking yes”. The staff willingly dance around and engage with the customers to create a very personal experience. There is music and other live entertainment four nights a week to suit anybody’s refined earholes, from spoken word to acoustic singalongs, from jazz to dubstep… it’s all here. This individual and unique business is a haven in a concrete hellscape.
3 – Get lost in the New Forest. Park the car up in Brockenhurst (or you can catch a (probably delayed) train) and just walk into the wilderness. Amble along the water in Lymington. Get harassed by a donkey in a place without cellphone reception. This is picturesque, peaceful, humble, adorable England at it’s finest, and while you can’t rely on the weather, you will definitely find some very quiet and relaxing spots to spend an afternoon in. With a bit of luck you might just lose Southampton’s drunken hobos and the rest of civilisation for an exuberant breath.
4 – Spend the day in Winchester. This is where I grew up, and just a stone’s throw from Southampton. It’s small, quaint, historic, and full of rich kids on drugs. Winchester is home to a fucking massive Cathedral, a plethora of gastropubs, gentle riverside walking and of course, Frank Turner. From the train station, hit play on “Wessex Boy” and amble towards the South, surrounding yourself in historic buildings and the friendly atmosphere. Take a walk up St Gile’s, or, even better, St Catherine’s Hill to lookout over the peaceful city. Have a disappointingly lukewarm still British pint in a riverside pub and watch as the afternoon just slips through your fingers. This town, to me, is everything great about Britain rolled into one cute little town.
5 – Spend an evening drinking in Ocean Village. This is the expensive part of town to wash away your sorrows but also by far the classiest. It’s worth the extra few pounds when you’re sat on the deck of the Pitcher and Piano and watching the yachts sail in and out of the small harbour. And once you’ve had too many drinks to appreciate this, there’s always a fucking Weatherspoons just around the corner where you can save your hard earned pounds for greater things and still get wasted if one so desires.
If, after all of that, you’re still feeling deflated, then I fear either you and I have very different priorities or this part of England just has absolutely nothing to offer you. I must admit, every time I go back to the city, it improves just a little more each time; since the opening of the Civic Quarter everything is feeling cleaner, more polished and more modern. A few more individual businesses are starting to become household names instead of just disappearing to make a vacant space for the next Starbucks to move into. And above absolutely everything, if you hang around for long enough, you will begin to realise that underneath what appears to be the most depressing city in the world is a community that makes the sun shine a little brighter and the fruit taste a little fresher. That alone is enough to make me not hate this place I should absolutely despise.
Claudia would like to add that The Common is quite nice but of course it’s nice for her, there’s lots of drugs there.