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The International Writers Magazine: Life in 1907

Southsea 1907
Laura Patrica

Every Sunday, after lunch, Donald Wickens called at 211 Albert Road for Miss Hattie. It had become such a tradition that today she was sitting by the window with her hat already on, awaiting him when the clock struck three. She played distractedly with a wisp of tawny hair that refused to stay in its place, as she watched out the window for him.

She pretended to read her youngest sister’s new book – a Beatrix Potter – but couldn’t really absorb the tale of the kitten that was almost turned into a roly poly pudding. When she finally spotted Don walking jauntily along towards the jewellers, only propriety stopped her from flying to the door to greet him. After paying his respects to her parents and siblings, he offered her his elbow and they set off along the road.
He waited until they had passed the Wish Place junction until he spoke. "Where are we going today?"
"Where would you like to go?"
He considered. They had so many outings. They could go to Southsea common, or walk along the Clarence Esplanade or Pier. They could take the Tram to Fratton, or wander the markets on Commercial Road or take a stroll around St John’s Cathedral. They could amble over to Old Portsmouth, and sit in St George’s square, or visit the Dockyards. She smiled up at him, politely waiting. "Let’s go to the Aviary," he finally said. There was time to get there and back comfortably before tea.

And so, her arm through his, they walked towards Victoria Park. They talked about such things as a jeweller’s daughter and a butcher’s son would, and in no time found they had walked past the place where Elm Grove became King’s Road. He was pleasant company, and looked very dashing in a blue coat that offset his eyes, with the sun bringing out the blonde in his hair. He always took time on Saturday evening to scrub the blood out from under his fingernails after he finished helping his father in the shop. he didn't want his dirty hands would to offend his sweetheart.

Landport and Hampshire Terraces were walked in silence, each just happy in the others’ company, as they enjoyed the clear sunny day, and the crisp autumn air. On passing the church on Saint Michael’s they struck up a conversation about Reverend West’s sermon that morning, both concluding, at the gates of the park, that it had been an enlightening topic, but delivered without enthusiasm.

They meandered along the paths, past the fountain, towards the Aviary. Wrens, robins, pigeons, larks and doves – all native birds that could rarely be seen this deep into the city – preened themselves and fluttered about in the branches of the small trees planted for them. A fine net was hung over them and stretched to the ground, to keep the birds in a constant place for observation.

Hattie pressed her face against the net, trying to pick out the prettiest bird in the flock. Don stood back to admire her instead. Her family was not overly well off – with eight children, every penny the father earned went to feeding and clothing them, but they managed admirably, with a little left over occasionally for luxuries. Hattie was the eldest, so was lucky in that she always got new things, while her four sisters had to contend with mended hand me downs sometimes to make the money stretch farther. Her brown coat, for example, was growing a hole in one elbow, and was looking slightly short in the sleeve for her today, so it would soon be Emily’s to wear. The coat would probably wear to threads sooner than ever be worn by the youngest child, little Vicky, who was only seven, a full ten years younger than Hattie. She was pretty enough, and amiable, and as his father said, it was high time that he, at twenty three, ought to take a wife. Her parents would consent to the match, and very few in the neighbourhood would say that they did not make a fine couple. They would have to find a small place, until they could move into the apartment above his father’s shop, but they would make do, he supposed, and prosper.
He joined her then; his mind made up to talk to her father on their return, and admired the caged birds in all their glory.
© Laura Patricia November 2007

Laura is the editor of Pugwash the student newspaper at the University of Portsmouth

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