Banana Republic

Good Night, Knight And Lee, Southsea.

As the retail ritual of closing up, bending down to secure the floor bolt then reaching up for the top bolt on the double doors of Knight and Lee was enacted for the last time at 5pm on July 13th 2019, a crowd of around 50 middle-aged, middle-class shoppers suddenly looked as if their spiritual heartland had been nuked.

The scene was made both more poignant and absurd as it came at the end of a set sung to the collected mourners by, which had included classics such as (ironically enough) I’m Still Standing, a mournful version of Only You and the spiritual hope of Hallejujah. It was (as it should have been) like a religious service in commemoration of a departed loved one.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sad to see Knight and Lee go from Palmerston Road. Its stalwart service to the local community is well known. Its position in the corner of Palmerston Road and Clarendon Road, opposite the soon-to-close Debenhams that was once Handley’s Department Store together created a presence – a bit like the great statues in the Lord of the Rings as the Fellowship arrives in Gondor. These two shops did not announce to invading hordes “You shall not pass”, but were sentinels guarding a near-lost civilization called High Street Retail.

Yet the loss of this aspect of civilization at least in part lies at the feet of these very retailers.

Yes, Amazon most definitely enjoys an unfair advantage in cyberspace – not having to pay the same levels of staff, able to operate out of warehouses with considerably lower business rates, not needing to use expensive space to put items on display – and perhaps most importantly for Amazon, being able to avoid paying tax, and thus giving absolutely NOTHING back to local communities.

But Amazon’s advantage to one side, there is also a hard lesson retailers have failed to learn. That lesson is you can’t out-Amazon Amazon. You have to offer something different from what Amazon offers. And let’s face it, what DOES Amazon offer? The answer is stark – it offers cheapness and fast delivery with no fuss.

The High Street was never going to be able to compete on those terms of mass storage, immense ordering power and wafer-thin bottom lines that empower Amazon, and what it failed to do was change.

In a world in which more and more people are shopping online, we are equally seeing a world in which there is less and less face-to-face human interaction, and more and more isolation. Anxiety, societal dysfunction, depression, these are all symptoms of society no longer fitting together and functioning properly. That isolation has led to record levels of suicides. Human beings are social creatures. We may not acknowledge it, but we need people. The reality is, the chat in the Post Office or outside the butcher of the old days was as much a part of the shopping experience as the retail high shoppers used to get in the 1980s laden with designer goods on their ways home from Oxford Street – and probably still do at Westfield, Oxford Street, Gunwharf and other destination shopping complexes. But those are different creatures from the town High Street, that now needs to find its own model.

It’s no surprise that businesses that are thriving on the High Street are classically those businesses that focus on uplifting vibes.

Coffee houses where people meet, barbers, hairdressers and nail bars where people can chat – and charity shops where you can buy stuff you just can’t get anywhere else and which catch your eye and leave you feeling clever for being the one who snapped the bargain – all these have at their hearts the same thing: good feelings.

What retailers like Knight and Lee need to learn is that in a world which is increasingly global we need to offer locally those things the globalist offer can’t give.

That means face-to-face contact in a real location with real people. In fact, the answer to globalism is that old word localism – though I don’t mean it in the David Cameron context of Big Society or any other thing that has the initials B.S.

Portsmouth and Southsea are actually extremely well placed to offer that approach to locals and visitors alike.

We are, after all, fiercely proud of our local identity. I’ve often been told by visitors that Portsmouth has a sense of self in a way many other English towns don’t, whose High Streets have already been cloned into mini faceless shopping streets that are now on their last legs. To counter the bland flavours and products made in China that play the numbers game, making tiny profits per transaction from clone products that sell to billions, we in Portsmouth need to go the other way. To recognize our uniqueness and make that our selling point.

So, good luck to Knight and Lee and its staff. I am sorry to see you go. Let’s take our hats off to the service you provided. But now it’s time to start taking our lives back from the globalists who are shaping our lives. Not through silly nationalist notions, because globalisation isn’t going to go away – that’s just not a possibility unless you have in mind dismantling the internet and disinventing the jet engine – but by going local and making a celebration of who we are and our uniqueness – as a counterbalance to ever-present globalism – to thus give people the choice and the rounded experience they want and need as they go down to the marketplace.

Time to build community pride and offer world class products and experiences you can’t get elsewhere. We already have so many of them in Portsmouth. The Dockyard is an extraordinary world class experience. The Solent Forts are unique. Businesses such as the Portsmouth Distillery are offering something truly special. The Victorious Festival, the way we did D-Day 75 despite all that interference from Washington in the planning – these are the things we should be looking for to show the way. There are so many others – the list is very long of big and small, local businesses offering something special, right on our doorsteps. We do great things here, and they are uniquely ours and this is what we should be focusing on.

Because, unlike on Amazon, people ain’t going to get THAT Pompey vibe anywhere else. Our local identity – that is our greatest asset.

RIP Knight and Lee.

Viva Pompey.

Yoga and Sherlock Holmes – a brace of Pompey events

Two very different cultural events occurred in Portsmouth yesterday, that I was lucky enough to attend.

The first was the limb-stretching Yoga for Writers, a workshop run by writer and Yoga teacher Helen Salsbury. A good hour and a half long, the workshop addressed the particular issues met by writers who spend too long at their desks and don’t take breaks. The stretches and exercises dealt with a number of issues: posture, ergonomics, stiffness of joints due to too much inactivity and glassy-eyed staring into the distance. For anyone who forgets to take a break and loosen up the body, Helen’s soothing lesson is a recommend. Another part of the training – and let’s face it, yoga is all about breath control and meditation, was how to just chillax. Entering different states of consciousness is the heart of the writer’s job. And with her hypnotic talk and relaxation exercises, the spaced out feeling of deep chilledness at which the doorway to creativity so often opens for many writers was a welcome reminder of the power of doing nothing. I walked away from this one feeling lighter and more focused. You can find out more about Helen Salsbury here:

Another cultural event was the final instalment of The Sign of Six – a deeply joyous homage to one of Portsmouth’s great literary heroes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the character who is so famous I am sure he is even recognised in far-flung galaxies across the universe, Sherlock Holmes (and of course, his bosom buddy Doctor Watson!).

The Sign of Six was a series of six short plays performed at different venues across the city throughout the week. From Paulsgrove, to Southsea, Holmes and Watson were on the track of a deadly assassin who variously tried to bomb, gas, mine, poison and generally polish off the super-sleuth owner of the deerstalker. Each of the six venues yielded a clue to the identity of the would-be killer – until finally it was revealed that the man trying to kill off Holmes was none other than Conan Doyle himself.

The team behind the plays was Periplum, whom I went for drinks with after the final show, in Southsea. Dan, the villain of the piece described how working with the public in Pompey had its challenges – like being pushed in the Commercial Road fountain or dealing with people questioning them mid-rehearsal as to what they were doing. Yet, this was all part of the excitement of the live performance, and it worked out really well. A suitable street theatre compliment to one-time denizen of Portsmouth, Arthur Conan Doyle.

Each play was broadcast on Facebook Live, the verve and fun with which this whole project was performed can be still be viewed, here:

There’s always something happening in Portsmouth!

Puss In Boots, the Phoenix Players, Southsea, February 2017

One of my secret pleasures in Portsmouth in the early months of the year is the Phoenix Players pantomime, at the Trinity Theatre on the corner of Frances Avenue.

Over the years I’ve seen Treasure Island with a massive cast replete in grass skirts, Cinderella with an outrageous pantomime dame, and Sleeping Beauty with an evil fairy godmother to die for.

This year, Puss in Boots got the treatment, and it was well worth a visit on a chilly February night out. The Phoenix Players are an amateur community troupe, and everyone at some point gets a chance to shine, in more ways than one. Whether it’s the outrageous bling of the costumes, the sparkle of magic or the UV special effects, the show is a visual delight. The writing is of the deep panto tradition, with a rich seam of 1950s music hall in the mix, along with Pacman and Super Mario Brothers.

What I love about the Phoenix Players is that they have a big, warm heart. They don’t worry too much about getting things a little wrong, and know how to laugh off mistakes when they happen from time to time, and keep the show pootling along nicely.

There’s also something else: the show has its surreal moments. The sudden arrival of Puss at Catland, where an unearthly feline court must decide whether Puss lives or dies was unexpected, and the sudden appearance of a Brummy-accented fairy godmother with a lisp and purple hair added to the fun.

For a good night out, haunted by Donald Trump ghosts, gigantic cuddly spiders and unearthly transformations, this is the place to go.

You’ll have a great night out.

Oh yes you will..!

Is the America’s Cup the new Pope’s Toilet?

In the little-known Uruguayan movie The Pope’s Toilet, a promised visit by the Pope drives the populace of Melo, a deprived and rundown town into a frenzy at the promised bonanza coming to their doors.

Hyped by a near-hysterical Press and lackey local politicians to believe that ever-increasing numbers of wealthy Brazilians will descend on this massive event, one impoverished citizen, Beto, conceives a unique means of serving the promised 200,000 visitors. Beto makes a living smuggling lower-tax goods across the border from Brazil, and he puts his life savings and daughter’s education fund into buying and building a paid-for public convenience in his back garden.

The pressure on his family who are living hand-to-mouth and the near-mania the town’s inhabitants achieve as the day draws near tests relationships and pushes Beto to the edge under the mounting expectation that a gold rush is upon him.

In the end, a corporate Pope turns up with his retinue of coaches stuffed with cardinals and elite hangers-on out for a day’s jolly. These VIPs all have their food and drink – and more importantly for Beto – their toilets, provided on board their coaches, conveniently keeping them as far away from the poor as possible.

Meanwhile, the 400 people who turn up to attend the Pope’s mass are served by 387 trinket stalls. The blessing is given in a matter of an hour or so and then the event is over. No one is any richer, but everyone is a little wiser.

Looking at the VIP grandstand on the seafront today, in the place which is psychologically associated in the people of Portsmouth’s minds with free entertainment and with freedom to relax in a city that has the densest population of any city in Northern Europe, I thought on this film and was struck by the way large corporations, be they religious or commercial, arrange matters for their own convenience at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve. Looking at the sparse attendance on the first two days and the grumblings on social media, I am wondering as Saturday morning dawns if The America’s Cup will indeed become the new Pope’s Toilet.

I hope not. Sincerely, I want Portsmouth to be a place where people have a great time. But I also want the businesses who have descended on our town to show a bit of understanding of who we are. Because if they’d done that, there might not be the grumbling and muttering that has sullied what should be a fabulous event.

The pre-poured beers standing at £5 a pint in the Waterfront Arena are perhaps emblematic of the show thus far. Whilst it is true that locals of Portsmouth were offered free tickets to attend the four-day event, that generosity was attenuated by the sheer expense of having a day out there.

To gain admission to the Waterfront Arena, you must surrender your own food and drinks. Social media includes accounts of parents with 2-year-olds being refused admission with their baby food. It includes coeliacs turned away with their own food even though they simply couldn’t eat the food being served inside the Arena. All this in a place which is psychologically to many Pompeyites THE ONLY picnic area in the city, where many a barbie has burned a hole in the grass and many a cheap-bought sausage undergone cremation before finding a final resting place in a bin.

So, what do you get if you decide to play along and enter the Arena?

The original reason that Southsea Common was saved from developers was that it provided clear lines of sight and constituted a killing zone to deter attacking French troops intent on burning the dockyard. That’s why it was kept clear for hundreds of years while the town jammed up to its edges.

The atmosphere inside the Arena on the first two days was dull (and to be fair, what else could it be in Friday’s deluge?) and appeared primarily designed for stalls to make a killing from the attendees. Most food was pitched at £6 or above – which for a take-away of not particularly generous proportions made primarily of, for example, egg noodles, stings the wallet. There are some stands that give the Arena a local presence. Strong Island are there, as are Pie and Vinyl – both hip organisations with cool appeal, somewhat incongruously sitting in a field containing a large corporate stand with a BMW on it.

There is also a large stage with big screens. There appears to be no obvious programme for the events on the stage in the day, but the sailing can also be watched on the screens. Thankfully so, since the only people with a really excellent view of the sailing in the water are the corporate VIPs who have taken up squatting rights in the city’s free entertainment arena at the bandstand.

The plight of the traders on the seafront near the Hovertravel terminal speaks plenty about the way big business thinks about – or doesn’t think about – ordinary people trying to make a living. The 4-metre-tall fencing that has sprung up along the seafront has blocked off local shops from being able to sell to the public tantalisingly close on the other side of that wall. Local businesses who have provided services for years, if not decades on that spot deserve a share in the high times if they come. They are, after all, the ones who kept the seafront alive long before a Louis Vuitton PR manager, a BMW sales executive or a BAR Landrover events promoter ever heard of Southsea.

For me – and this is a personal opinion – the real problem with this event in a city like Portsmouth is that it is exclusive. People need tickets or they are excluded. People need money or they are excluded. People need to be in the arena or they are excluded. People need to understand about boats, about BAR Landrover and about sailing… or they are excluded. And of course, you need tens of millions of pounds to part-own one of those strange boats that don’t even seem to touch the water. There hasn’t been enough reaching out, enough education, enough explaining to the ordinary people why this distant event should be significant to them.

All this is in distinct contract with the spectacularly successful Trafalgar 200 event in 2005. Generally a masterpiece of event management, the whole marvellous, crazy event saw hundreds of thousands flock down to the open seafront and enjoy the day out. Almost everyone benefited. Local businesses and other street traders alike had a massive market to sell to, prices were kept sensible by genuine competition – people didn’t feel trapped into spending more than they normally would on food – and there was plenty of money to go round among the traders, be they local or otherwise.

The current sponsors have taken this model and inverted it by pushing people off the Common and seafront west of the Castle unless they have tickets.

That’s a foolish thing to do – especially when another, sensibly-priced event is due to give a top-notch show in just a few brief weeks. And when, actually, the America’s Cup may be a big deal for a small yachting elite and their wealthy sponsors, but is not a big deal for a working class town struggling with illiteracy, poverty and the day-to-day grind of life. Those people need a break, not to be sold at.

I so hope that there is a good crowd today and that the weekend goes well. I do believe that the America’s Cup will be good in the long run for Portsmouth. For that reason, I hope there is a good vibe in the town, and excitement at the races. But I also hope that next year the promoters do things differently and don’t just parachute in their VIPS and take over the seafront and Common for 4 days whilst the locals feel they’re being sold overpriced concert tickets and beer.

In many ways the Common is a near-sacred place to the people of Pompey. That means you have to get it right or you will feel their wrath. Exactly that happened in 1874 during the Battle of Southsea, in which thousands descended on the Common to prevent an attempt by a precursor of today’s fence-obsessed Corporations to enclose a tiny part of it. Back then, the Riot Act was read, and in four days of continual fighting, the people burned down the fences. It set a folk memory in Pompey people’s minds that actually, the Common is ours.

You mess with that belief at your peril, you people in your VIP stands. Please remember that.

Now here’s to future success for the city and for BAR Landrover. But in partnership with all of us, please, not at our expense.

Savoy Buildings Site – An Email To Portsmouth City Council Planning Department

Consultation for the Savoy Building site is currently underway and will be drawing to a close soon. I strongly urge you to write to the planning department to voice your concerns about this proposed site.

The proposed building Savoy Buildings site development. This image copyright McCarthy and Stone.
The proposed building Savoy Buildings site development. This image copyright McCarthy and Stone.

The email to write to is:

Please put the planning application reference in the subject line as follows:

Application Reference: 14/00790/FUL Site Of Savoy Buildings & Savoy Court

Here is my email to the planning department.

Dear Sir,

I am writing to object to the planned McCarthy and Stone building on the site of the old Savoy Courts building, for the following reasons:

1) Despite McCarthy and Stone’s assurances that the building is “in keeping” with others along the seafront, it is vastly at odds with the design of the buildings around it. It is a large, square, brutal structure that will dominate that part of the seafront and does not reference any of the vernacular around it, this despite McCarthy and Stone’s assertions to the contrary.

2) In their public consultation, McCarthy and Stone claim to have been sensitive to the original line of the building and the “curve” of the boundaries. This is untrue. The original building was set back by three metres or so from the boundary of the property. It had a gathering area and large set of steps up to the building. The effect of the building being pushed forward to the boundary is to oppress and dominate that part of the seafront.

3) This part of the seafront requires special attention and deserves better architecture since it is central to tourism in the area. Pretty architecture and the general lived experience of the streets is one of the things that draws people to Southsea.

It is vital that you make this site look right. Southsea has an attractive and nearly intact Victorian / Edwardian seafront, with a few jarring exceptions. Maintaining that aesthetic will serve Southsea better in the long run.

4) The number of parking spaces have been worked out as per “the average” for a building of this type, according to Councillor Will Purvis when he spoke at the Public Consultation about this.

However, this is not an “average” location. On a hot summer’s day, the elderly residents will be visited by numerous family members keen to spend a family day on the beach and hoping to avail themselves of the free parking the site may offer. Expect overspill on the surrounding streets.

5) I have set up the following petition on 38 degrees as evidence of local feeling against the current plans.

For the sake of balance, I also set up a petition approving it, here:

You will see that there is a vast difference in number between those in favour and those not. I set up both petitions at the same time, and advertised them equally, allowing them to then spread by word of mouth.

Local feeling is very strongly against this development as it stands. Please help to protect Portsmouth from a dreadful mistake.

Thank you,

Matthew Wingett

Ben Ainslie Racing Headed For Old Portsmouth?

I’ve just got back from the local community consultation between around 350 Portsmouth residents, the city council and Ben Ainslie Racing. It was great.

Ben Ainslie is a genius at the helm when it comes to one of the world’s most exhilarating sports. Among many other trophies and prizes, he has won 11 world championship titles and 4 gold medals for Great Britain at the Olympics. His legendary win against New Zealand when he took the helm in the US team in the America’s Cup is one of the most extraordinary feats in recent sailing history.

Now Ben wants to bring his excellence to Portsmouth, building a brand new state-of-the-art boat shed on the car park at the Camber Quay, Old Portsmouth. If it goes ahead, the building is going to be 27 metres tall and it’s going to have a visitor centre and VIP lounge above the boatshed. In that boatshed innovative technologies will be used by highly skilled boatbuilders. Boatbuilding will be back in Pompey.

The Cathedral Old Portsmouth, filled with local residents
More than 350 rammed the nave of the cathedral, Old Portsmouth, to hear Ben Ainslie.

You can probably tell I’m very much in favour of this development. I’ll be frank, I was expecting at that meeting a good old-fashioned spat between developers on one side and nimbyistic residents on the other.

I was wrong. Watching Sir Ben’s presentation and the responses by the locals, the arguments against the building were much more varied and nuanced than I’d expected. Sir Ben himself was there, and prefaced his talk with an appeal to “get everyone on board” with the project, intending to show locals the benefits of the development.

From Sir Ben’s point of view, there will be numerous benefits. Besides the employment generated, there will be the regattas in the Solent.  Then there will be the educational element for local schoolkids who will visit the site, as well as the putting of Portsmouth on the map.

Eventually, once the super-duper yacht is built and Britain wins the America’s Cup for the first time ever, Sir Ben hopes to hold the next America’s Cup here, in Pompey. It’s an aspiration, it’s a vision… one that was worth €1billion to Valencia when they did it.

I mean, how do you say no to all that?

Some people did say no. For one local resident, Ken Bailey, whose family has lived in Old Portsmouth for 200 years, it was the wanton archaeological damage to a “fragile and important” site that made him so angry. As he put it, Old Portsmouth is “the womb of the city”, and English Heritage have also expressed misgivings about the development. As someone with a deep love of the history of Portsmouth, I can see the merit in his argument.

However, Ken’s further argument that the site and its environs have always been historically low-rise seems a peculiar one. Only recently, Strong Island published a photograph showing Old Portsmouth as it was in the 1950s when the power station was situated just across the dock from the Camber, supplied by an unending stream of coal on a conveyancing system that stood 30 metres tall. The power station itself dominated the area and was far taller than the proposed BAR sheds.

The power station, coal silos and timber yards are long gone. What is left is a scrappy car park, some old boat sheds and the Bridge Tavern. The last will be preserved.

Malcolm Hill, another resident, expressed concerns that the whole process had been pushed through way too quickly without consultation of the locals. Others echoed this view, and Donna Jones, the new leader of the council acknowledged this as an issue and said it was something the council would learn from in the future.

The argument went to and fro in this way, and the recurring theme of the building’s height was the one around which objections centralised. It was one that Ben Ainslie was forced to answer: would he consider lowering the building? Perhaps not having the VIP centre?

At this point, after being pushed, finally the truth came out. The answer was no. The building needs to be that height in order to meet all of its functions.

I found that moment to be a relief. Sir Ben had clearly reached the point where he realised that those he couldn’t take on board would have to make their own ways to shore – and a very changed one at that. No more pussyfooting around.

This attitude was expressed by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston most eloquently when he talked about Britain’s excellence at yachting. “I’m one of those people who believes we are an aggressive maritime nation who can still kick the shit out of the rest of the world.”

I liked that.

On Wednesday, the council planning committee will make a decision. Do I expect it to be turned down? After, as Donna Jones announced, the council has already spent £1.4 million on preparatory work “in case the application is approved?” Not a hope in hell.

I’m glad of it. For someone who loves this city, and also sees it struggling with lack of belief in itself, with kids on a downer on their home town feeling they have limited aspirations, this will be a centre of excellence that will draw in other excellence. It will become part of the rich current of maritime history that has flowed past Point since the Romans housed their fleet, the Classis Britannica, at Portchester Castle long ago.

On a slightly less arty-farty level, as Donna Jones put it: “The leader of Southampton City Council has told Sir Ben that if we don’t want him, they’ll have him there. I’m telling the leader of Southampton City Council, we do want him!”

That got some cheers.

So, get ready to see some very posh boats in the Solent, some time soon.

McCarthy and Stone’s Savoy Buildings Petition – Yes or No?

The proposed building Savoy Buildings site development. This image copyright McCarthy and Stone.
The proposed building Savoy Buildings site development. This image copyright McCarthy and Stone.

Now, there’s been quite a lot of passion generated by my post about the Savoy Buildings, picture above, with several people commenting that they would like a petition to sign.

Now, in my opinion, petitions like this are always rather silly.  If I set up a petition criticising a project, then of course there’s nothing to measure it against.  The person defending the project can easily say: “Well, you’ve got X,000 signatures against.  But there are plenty more in favour.”

So for that reason I’ve set up two petitions, to see what people really think of the proposed Savoy Buildings.  I’ve kept the emotional language out of the petitions and provided URLs with which you can study the proposals more closely.

To see the proposals, you can also visit them from here:

Now, this building looks set to be built on this site – let’s be clear. This petition at least means that the opinion of the people of Portsmouth (which they were not asked) is registered somewhere. Who knows – there may still be some pressure to bear on local councillors in the planning stage if enough people make a fuss?

If you think this will be HARMFUL to the long term development of Southsea and that it is an inappropriate building for the site, go here:

If you think McCarthy and Stone’s plans will be really good for Southsea seafront, go here:

It’s simple and it’s fair.

And if a representative of McCarthy and Stone wants to write the text for the one approving the site, they just need to contact me.

Well, let’s see what the people of Portsmouth think!

Why enhancement of Old Portsmouth’s arches is a good thing.

I just had an email through from petition site 38 Degrees about petitions regarding the Portsmouth Arches.

Part of the arches enhancement

They wrote that “Anita”, the petitioner who wants to “save” the arches, argues:

“Please do not allow Old Portsmouth’s historic arches to become low-rent art studios, cafes and a brasserie. Residents are objecting to this development for the same reasons that any person would object to a proposal to plant a café in the middle of Stonehenge.

What we have now is an area of international repute and interest. Once it has been tampered with, it will have gone forever.”

Here is what I wrote back:


Thanks, I have already voted.

I will be clear about this. Those arches are NOT comparable historically to Stonehenge – making such a statement is idiotic and shows a lack of understanding of the relative importance of 1) a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site on the one hand and 2) a cleared building site that has been too long neglected on the other.

The Barracks whose foundation outlines can be seen on the ground outside the arches were knocked down in the 1950s. The arches are all that remains of that complex of buildings, being the place where the gunports designed to protect the harbour were sited.

If your nimbyist is so keen on historical authenticity, then I suggest she petitions to get the barracks rebuilt, a thousand or so soldiers billetted there, the pubs reopened down the road, the brothels opened at Point and some good old-fashioned interservice fighting arranged for the weekends.

The cleared ground that sits by the arches at the moment is prime development ground, and the current empty space exists at a transitional point between developments on the site. It has been left like this for far too long and people have simply got used to it. Its current status is that of an abandoned development site.

The phrase “low rent” arches implies a certain snobbishness in your petitioner’s attitude, as if somehow that is a bad thing. Drawing artists into areas has been shown time and time again to be an asset to an area. Viz St Ives, Hackney, Brick Lane, etc.

I believe that development at the arches in the manner suggested will have two positive effects:

1) it will support art in the area, hard on the heels of which will follow money and will raise property prices even further in this area.

2) it will put good use to a dust-blown empty space that reeks of piss after a Friday night, while protecting it from being developed more fully.

A win all round.

Anita can swivel.

Thank you,

Matthew Wingett
Freelance Writer

To vote – here are the two petitions:

Portsmouth Writers Are The Ones To Watch on 7th March

A new collection of work from Portsmouth writers will be launched on March 7th at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth at 7.30pm.

“Writers To Watch” is an anthology of stories, poems and longer book extracts that was originally showcased by Portsmouth writers during the 2012 Portsmouth Bookfest.

Writers to Watch - A Collection of Writing from Portsmouth Authors
Writers to Watch – A Collection of Writing from Portsmouth Authors

Dom Kippin, Literature Development Officer for Portsmouth City Council says:

“The original idea for the 2012 Bookfest was that 20 writers should present their work for 12 minutes a piece over the length of the Bookfest. They gave their readings in libraries in Portsmouth. The quality was so high, we decided other people should know about this.”

Matt Wingett, one of the writers who appears in the book and editor of the anthology says: “Portsmouth has been the home of some great writers from the past. I am proud to be associated with new writers in the Portsmouth area who have very distinctive voices and clear visions of what they have to say. This book showcases their work.”

The launch, at the Square Tower in Old Portsmouth will have short readings from 10 contributors to the book, as well as a break for tea and a chance to chat with the authors. It starts at 7.30pm and entry is free.

For further information, go to: and to

My Little Life

Up early and the sky is a muddle of whites and blues above the white villas cum flats opposite. A summer morning, but with that tinge of damp in the air that nearly the whole of this summer has had, and the way the shadows are, that sense of the city not yet woken up.

I’m in my O’Neill shorty with dive boots when I unlock the bike and cycle down Victoria Road South to the sea.

There’s not a car. Not one car. Just the silent sleepy white fronts of the houses, and the tall elegance of the plane trees at The Circle – nature’s green and girdered architecture.

Down we go, along Clarence Road, past Clarence Park, past the Clarence Boutique Hotel, looking like something from a Beeb period drama. Down further, to the sea. The little perfect gardens on the Common, planted to look pretty and slightly untamed at the same time, then along by the Pyramids and out to the sea.

There is a monster of a ferry coming into harbour, out by Spitbank Fort. Blue and white, with great big radar domes on stalks, like someone very big is about to tee off in a game of colossal crazy golf. The ship is shining. The sun is maybe an hour above the horizon, and South Parade Pier is looking for a moment marvellous.

Down the big-stoned beach and into the sea. A kind of inept splashing about for ten minutes or so, mask and snorkel catching glimpses of the sand under the sea. The water is surprisingly warm and the night’s cobwebs wash away. Pretty place. Pretty city. Horizon. Stretch of water. Sky. The honest stuff of life.

Something in the water. A muddle of bladderack, bifurcated, like a mermaid’s tail, submerged. Little joys.

Then, back out. Back on my bike on to the empty, wide roads, and out along the Ladies’ Mile across the Common. A man walking his dog wearing a surgical support – the man that is. Under the green leaves of the elms, the air changing warmth and dampness. On again, feeling the emptiness of the city now, up Palmerston Road, past the street cleaner stopped talking with a cyclist.

A shout of “hello” from a homeless in a shop doorway, then on again. The tramp-like figure of Vincent, one of the care in the community guys who lives nearby.

“Vincenzo,” I shout.

“Ah, Matto,” he calls back, laughing at the sight of me in wet suit on a bike.

Then home. The seagulls are scavenging the carcass of a bin bag put out for the dustmen today. As I watch, a cat pounces, sending them scrabbling upwards, talons clacking against slate roofs, explosions of wings and beaks and necks and eyes. The cat, satisfied, picks around the carcass itself.

It’s all here. My little life. And I’m okay.