Remember the trauma of hunting for a kiwi fruit in Tesco? '“ Simon Carter

IT is a statistic I regularly share with anyone who can be bothered to listen when buying drinks in pubs these days.

Friday, 3rd August 2018, 4:59 pm
Updated Friday, 31st August 2018, 5:14 pm
Port Solent - 30 years old.

Back in June 1988, I could embark on a merry jaunt of roughly 100 metres to a bar and buy a pint of lager for 75p.

I could buy six pints of the tasteless fizz and still have 50p change from a fiver. I regularly did just that. Well, I was a student and that's what the general public would have expected us to do.

What's more, I was a journalism student, so the public would definitely have expected nothing else of their future Portsmouth News columnists.

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A touch of the Med in Portsmouth Harbour.

Fast forward to June 2017, and I rocked up at Hampshire Cricket's Ageas Bowl headquarters for a game against Somerset (you can take the boy out of the west country, but you can't take... etc etc).

It was a Championship game, not a one-dayer, so the normal bars were shut. Desperate for a cider  '“  you can take the boy etc  '“  I ordered a pint at the Hilton Hotel which now overlooks the ground. 'That'll be £5.28 please, sir' the barman told me. 'You're joking?' I spluttered, but I could see by the look on his face he patently wasn't.

'When I was a student I could buy six pints and still have 50p change from a fiver,' I grumbled as I plunged my hands into my pockets to see if I had any loose coins, for I had (mistakenly) presumed I would get change from the £5 note in my hand.

'Welcome to the 21st century, sir,' the barman replied. OK, he didn't actually say that, but he might as well have done.

Many thought Port Solent would never work because it was on the edge of Portsmouth - but it has great links to the motorway network.

My student days now seem a lifetime away. The 1980s seem a lifetime away, come to think of it. And if you needed further proof, it came when I visited Port Solent last weekend for its 30th birthday bash.

There was a list of everyday items, with how much they cost when the marina was officially opened by the Princess Royal on July 28, 1988, and how much they cost now. Among them were these ...

Litre of petrol: 1988 - 34.7p. 2018 - £1.29 (one pound twenty nine!! Worthy of two exclamation marks, for sure).

1st class stamp: 1988 - 19p. 2018 - 65p.

Port Solent marina begins to take shape.

Pint of lager: 1988 - 99p (14p more expensive than the South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education student bar on the Cyncoed campus, Cardiff). 2018 - £3.65 (significantly more in a Hilton Hotel bar, but you know that by now).

Here's another one that wasn't on the Port Solent 'then and now'' price list.

In July 1988, as the first residents were moving into the marina, the average house price in the UK was about £54,000. Economists were warning, however, that the house price 'boom' would not last. Initially they were right '“ there was a market crash 12 months later  '“  but it certainly wasn't terminal and the average price is now about £210,000.

Elsewhere, the average UK wage was about £14,700, compared to today's average of about £28,000. And in football, July 1988 saw the first player to be signed by an English club for £2m when Paul Gascoigne left Newcastle to join Tottenham. Now, three decades on, our top clubs  '“bank balances obscenely bulging from regularly milking Rupert Murdoch's Premier League cash cow  '“ are regularly spending £40m upwards on players.

Apartments, boats, shops and restaurants - Port Solent had it all long before Gunwharf Quays was dreamt of

Possibly of more interest to some than our national sport, 1988 was the year when we could purchase a new 'exotic' fruit for the first time in supermarkets  '“  the kiwi.

Glenn Mederios (wildly interesting fact  '“  he has children called Chord and Lyric) was No1 in the singles chart with Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You, with Salt N Pepa at No 2 with Push It. No, I can't remember that one either. I CAN, though, remember the song that was No 5 because it was I Want Your Love by Transvision Vamp and I had the hots for sultry lead singer Wendy James. (I make no apologies for that un-PC statement; if hundreds of women attending the recent Take That tribute act gig in Southsea can holler for the guys to remove their shirts and go bare-chested, I can happily comment on my late 80s appreciation of Ms James. These things work both ways, don't they?)

Also in the news in 1988, as Port Solent opened its doors to the brochure promises of Mediterranean-type living in south Hampshire, came the shocking deaths of 167 workers when the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea exploded.

It is easy to forget, as the years seem to slip seamlessly into decades, just how unsafe the 1980s were compared to modern day standards. And I say that remembering full well the terrorism attacks at Manchester and London last year.

Lest we forget, in addition to Piper Alpha, the '80s gave us railway tragedies (32 dead at Clapham, 1988, and 31 dead in a London tube fire, 1987), football stadium tragedies (96 dead at Hillsborough, 1989, and 56 dead in the Bradford fire, 1985), airline tragedies (270 dead in Pan Am flight 103, 1988, 55 dead at Manchester, 1985, 47 dead at Kegworth, 1989), ferry tragedies (193 dead on Herald of Free Enterprise, 1987) and pleasure boat tragedies (51 dead on the Marchioness, 1989). Many more innocent victims were killed by IRA bombs throughout the decade. 

Then there was the work-related violence. The Miners' Strike has gone down in folklore because of the brutal clashes at places such as Orgreave, but who remembers the 1986-87 Wapping dispute? Probably the near-600 policemen who were injured during the year-long stand-off, and probably the 1,500 or so protesters who were arrested. And I haven't even started to mention the 1981 riots held in many English inner cities, and similar scenes at Handsworth in Birmingham and Broadwater Farm in Tottenham four years later.

With all that in mind, what incredibly perilous and violent times we lived through back then. We really were vulnerable to dying in public in all sorts of hideous ways.

Thankfully, such tragedies and widespread disorder have virtually disappeared from everyday life in these elf and safety-dominated days. Compared to the aforementioned 10 tragedies in the 80s, all with death tolls of 31 or higher, there have only been two such events in the UK in the 21st century (76 deaths at Grenfell Tower, 2017, and 56 in the 7/7 attacks in London, 2005). However, as we all should realise, there is scant room for complacency  '“  the numbers of youngsters being stabbed to death in our capital in 2018 alone shows there is still a long, long way to go.

Back at Port Solent, the Bootlegs band ran through a catalogue of '80s chart favourites  '“  Adam and the Ants, Human League '“ as the sun beat down on those sat outside the many restaurants and bars. Workers wore 'Frankie Says Relax' pink t-shirts '“ - a throwback to the time when those shirts with the decade-defining logo were ubiquitous  '“ and hundreds of us were doing just that.

There are 14 such places there where you can buy a pint  '“ though none of them at 75p, sadly, not even at the Wetherspoon pub  '“ which is a lot more than some people initially wanted to see when the marina opened.

Thirty years ago, magistrates only granted an alcoholic drinks licence for seven premises. Thirty years ago, no doubt, you could be enveloped in a fog of cigarette smoke in all of them too. Mercifully, for those of us that have no wish to stink like an ashtray, that's another area of modern day life which is a vast improvement on its '80s equivalent. Notwithstanding the price of a pint  '“  especially at a Hilton  '“ or a litre of petrol, many things are these days.

But it's only by having experienced the old times '“  those traumatic days when you really had to hunt for a kiwi fruit in Tesco '“ that you can really begin to enjoy the current ones.