When I was a little girl, I lived in a Victorian house in London on a main road. Although very few people had cars in those days, the area was still busy and a short walk away was the bustling Northcote Road market, with the costermongers shouting to sell their wears. Coal fires warmed our houses and the resulting dust and dirt from the chimneys made the air thick with smog and I can remember real “pea-soupers”. We had no front garden and, when I went to see my Aunty Joan in Morden, I told my friends at school that she lived in the country!
Until we travelled to Worthing, in my Uncle Harry’s old box Ford car (the roof open with the children on board’s heads sticking out of the top) I had not really experienced what real countryside looked like. And so, Worthing became a paradise in my eyes. It was only once a year and a day trip. My Mum, Aunty Joan, Uncle Harry, my brother William, my cousins, Colin and Alan, and me, all set off for our family adventure.
The ritual was that we drove to Horsham, where there was a layby. There we had our lunch. Aunty Joan was a domestic goddess. She cooked a lunch on a primus stove. She boiled a little kettle for tea and she used the grit container in the layby as a resting place for her washing up bowl and attired herself appropriately with pinny and rubber gloves. My mother (not a goddess of any kind!) had thrown some sandwiches in a paper bag for us to enjoy. She was very sniffy about women doing chores of any kind and viewed Joan as some kind of wifey drudge. As a small girl, I thought Aunty Joan was magical, with her permanent smell of Fairy soap and her organised ways. Such diverse female role models for my young mind to consider. On the way home, we always stopped at the Dog and Duck pub at Horsham. The adults went in for a drink and we either stayed in the car (bad weather) or played in the pub garden (good weather). No drink driving laws, no seat belts, no children allowed in pubs.
Onward to Worthing, Uncle Harry would park up anywhere. No parking restrictions, no parking charges (oh, happy days!). We children were taken to the Peter Pan playground. This was only recently demolished after serving three generations of my family and I was very sad to see its demise. In those days, it cost an old sixpence each to go in and that included a free drink. The playground was surrounded by a fence and there were rides and a helter-skelter. You could stay as long as you liked and all the rides were included in the entry.
The adults then promptly disappeared and left us there, unattended for several hours. We were expected to look out for each other, which, of course, we did. This was common practice then and not regarded as an act of neglect and we loved being away from the adults to do our own thing. We knew we were not to speak to strangers or be lured away with the temptation of sweets but, beyond that, we had no fears or worries.
The finale to the day was a walk along Worthing Pier. My Nan, who also lived in London, had a saying. She used to say “Take me to the ozone”. Each year, she and her sister would take a small break to Brighton to take the air and my Nan vowed that breathing the lovely sea air re-invigorated her to face going back to “the Smoke”. So there I stood, little London girl on the pier, sucking in that ozone that Nan had told me was such a tonic. Leaning over the side to see the line of the coast and feeling a dash of melancholy that we would have to leave this all behind. The pier then was very basic. We simply walked up and down it, sharing our mutual delight in the sea, the sky, the breeze and the coast, all so different from our environment on our return. It was just a traditional day at the seaside.
As an adult, I moved to the south coast and my sons used to visit the pier for very different reasons. They would go clubbing at Rutherford’s. This was at the end of the pier and is now a rather lovely 1930s style restaurant and cafe. How times change.
In my retirement, I had to choose a final nesting place and, of course, I could choose nowhere else but Worthing.
I was on the pier recently with my grandson, Jack. We go there very regularly to take a walk, go to the cafe and even to play the 2p machines, if the weather is horrible. We also breathe the ozone! The pier is iconic and a striking landmark for the town.
I go to the theatre on the pier, the Pavilion, and eat at the Denton Lounge. I always have a sense of nostalgia for my childhood and enjoy my visits there. Jack often says, because I have told him so, “We’re very lucky, Nana, aren’t we, to be beside the sea, because some little children never get the chance to see it”. So true. Everyone should have the chance to be beside the seaside, beside the sea! Long live Worthing pier and long live the ozone!