Artist and friend of ours Joe Stevens corrected me in a comment in my last post. The Olympic sailing events are happening at Portland rather than Weymouth.
I know the rivalry between Weymouth and Portland, and I ought to have realised there would be some tension as to whether Weymouth or Portland get the credit. I found this article which sets the scene nicely. Here’s just one quote from it:
“If there’s ever anything good happening they say it’s in Weymouth. If something bad happens, like someone drowning in the bay, it’s in Portland.”
For those who don’t know, Portland is an island connected to the mainland by Chesil beach and a causeway that goes through the village of Wyke Regis and onto Weymouth. I grew up in Wyke Regis during the 1980s and there was considerable rivalry at school between the Portlanders and the kids from the mainland. As young teenagers most of the disputes were over girl or boyfriends and who called who a (pick an insult of your choice). The schoolbus was often the scene of a scuffle or two and there were several occasions where a warring handful of kids were ejected and left to find their way home on foot.
Portland is undoubtedly the poorer relation of the two. When I was a kid it had the Navy base, two prisons, many quarries, some MoD tunnels you weren’t allowed in, a lighthouse, a school that was getting increasingly near the cliff edge, and one sheer cliff drop that doubled up as the local suicide spot. Weymouth on the other hand had 93 pubs of which 92 had a very relaxed idea of what an 18-year old looked like, a few clubs, and the muzzies. Oh and a beach.
Best of all in the summer Weymouth had foreign students. The combined gene pool of Weymouth and Portland is not very big, and the local teens got positively giddy with excitement when the EF students arrived in town. The buses between Portland and Weymouth got busier in the long summer evenings and Weymouth’s sea front was rammed with small groups of local boys or girls buzzing around a larger group of foreign students, desperately showing off and plucking up the courage to try out a French chat up line worked out earlier on the bus with a Collins English-French dictionary. It didn’t matter that the students were probably Spanish or Italian – we only knew French!
Once the foreign students had gone home the holidaymakers came to town, and we used to spend a considerable amount of effort sniffing around the caravan sites trying to impress girls from Wolverhampton with our knowledge of the nudges on the fruit machines in the hope we could persuade them to escape from their parents and come into town with us.
The last bus home in the summer was usually an emotional affair full of fresh lust, heartbreak, tales of what might have been, the smell of chips, cigarettes (how good was smoking on the bus!) and some poor sod who’d very obviously overdone the Pernod and black.
After the summer holidays the Portland/Weymouth rivalry settled down to the usual bickering. By the time we were studying A levels I think the Portland/Weymouth rivalry had pretty much gone away and instead the lines were drawn on tastes in music, the cool set, the sporty set, the trendies, the indies, the metals.
It is a brilliant bit of the country to grow up in, but the “them and us” divides run very deep. Firstly you have got people who live in Weymouth and Portland, and people who don’t – “Grockles” as they are known locally. Then you have people born and bred in Weymouth and Portland, and everyone else – our family was in the “everyone else” category here and it took years before locals really started to accept my parents. Then you have people from Weymouth and people from Portland. They squabbled at school, as did their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents… They don’t trust each other, but they share a total distrust of people who weren’t born and bred here, and don’t even get them started on the Grockles!
Weymouth and Portland have both changed significantly since I grew up there. Portland Navy base has closed and with it many young families moved away. Weymouth marina has prospered as the yachting world has migrated from Southampton in search of cheaper marinas. With it the house prices have risen, making it harder for local people to get a foot on the property ladder. However just like the seagulls that shriek at each other, the bickering between Weymouth and Portland, or Portland and Weymouth if you prefer is a constant reminder of life in a seaside town.
Whichever way you look at it the Olympics is going to be good for the area. It might be obvious that Portland needs Weymouth, but it is equally true that Weymouth would not be getting a sniff of the Olympics were it not for Portland. Portland may not have much in the way of business and it doesn’t get its fair share of the redevelopment budget, but it is *beautiful* and Portland harbour and the National Sailing Academy are incredible assets for the area.
I miss my friends from college who like me could not wait to get away from the place as a teenager. Nowadays of course I love going back, and I’m lucky that my family are still there so I have a ready made excuse! I love walking the dog along the cliffs of the Fleet or around Portland Bill and Church Ope Cove, and I have never ever forgotten the sense of freedom I had as a kid from so much sea and space. And I get it every time I’m there.