By Robert Royston
Date Posted: December 18 2013
Bob Royston is an artist and a teacher.
Living At The Club
When my parents told me they had purchased a Country Club I remember I was just old enough to think what a fantastic adventure it would be!! The year was 1958 and I was seven years old.
At the time we lived at The Stores, Denmead, just outside Waterlooville. It was a good sized general village shop which opened at nine in the morning closed at twelve midday for lunch, opening again at half one in the afternoon, closing at six pm. I often used to sit alongside my dad as we delivered boxes of groceries to the customers in the old Ford van. Sunday was the day off for my parents and a chance for my Dad to have a game of cricket for the village team in the summer and for my Mum to catch up with various household chores including the washing, with her rather temperamental twin tub, and making fairy cakes for after lunch.
The reason I emphasise the opening and closing times of the shop may not seem very relevant to my living at the club but in actual fact as far as family life goes the change in that structure was all important! Although I wouldnʼt say life at the Stores was idyllic there was a time each day and at weekends when my Mum, my Dad and I were together as a family unit, eating together and even playing together. The shop door shut and we lived, what I felt was a comfortable and secure life with a clear routine and time for togetherness – the big plan was to continue running both premises until renovation work of the club was complete with my Dad basing himself for much of the time at the club and my Mum running the shop. By this time, during the school term, I was spending the week days at my grandparents in Widley, as I went to Purbrook Primary School some miles away from Denmead, returning home at weekends to see how building work was progressing at the club. My Mum and Dad and my Mumʼs parents were joint partners,(my grandparents were sleeping partners), in the club venture. The elastic band of family life was beginning to stretch further and further and was about to go TWANG !!!
Everyone was very excited, and at first all went well ; the club had a small and local clientele, a ‘live-in\ steward and his wife were employed and Mum and Dad purchased their dream bungalow in a posh part of Denmead ,near Hambledon. For a young lad like myself, to have his own pub car park to play football in, and his own snooker room to play snooker in – when the members werenʼt playing of course and his own dancehall to work out circuit training routines in was heaven! The club was a bit like a baby cuckoo, the bigger it got the more it needed caring for and the more it pushed other growing things out of the nest. I donʼt think any of the family realised how fast or how big the club would grow and how much time and energy would be needed to keep up with the demands being set by its success. Before they knew it the membership had risen to over a thousand from a mere handful and coach loads of day trippers were arriving to take part in dance nights and buffet extravaganzas. Family lunches at the Stores seemed a million miles away! My grandma, who was by then into her seventies was in charge of catering and could cook a mean chicken leg,(thousands of them actually), beef or pork sandwiches with crackling, scotch and pickled eggs and combinations of the above. She built a reputation for buffet food that reached far and wide and added enormously to the attractiveness of spending time in the country at “The Club”. This was much to the annoyance of my grandpa who wanted her at home in the evenings not singing choruses of such songs as “Wont You Come Home Bill Bailey”, whilst she cut another double thick slice of ham for one of her delicious sandwiches. I was given the task of occupying my grandpa a lot of the time especially at weekends which I didn’t mind toomuch because it was a lot warmer at his house than it was at the club particularly when Jack Frost appeared on the inside of my bedroom window as winter set in! As the monster club grew the steward was sacked and the helm was taken by my parents. My Dad acting as a form of patron/bouncer for the dance hall which at weekends was heaving. He usually had a quick double brandy to give him a bit of Dutch courage before the crowds arrived! My mum had charge of the lounge bar and my parents rarely met during the evening unless change was needed or there was some sort of trouble erupting somewhere on site!
The village shop was sold and knocked down by the owners of the neighboring petrol station to use as a forecourt and the dream home bungalow was also got rid of because, rather sadly, it was rarely used. Basically it was all hands to the pump and the pump was beginning to build up a lot of pressure!!!!!
Unfortunately although the business side of the club was advancing relentlessly, family life was disappearing just as quickly. Mornings were spent getting the bars ready for opening times and afternoons were spent either shopping for supplies or catching a quick nap before the evening bash. During the week “last orders” was 10.30 pm and weekends was 11.00 pm but by the time customers were finally ushered out and bars cleared it was well after midnight ; a bit different from the shop hours at the Stores.
Both my parents were working all the hours God made and although it could be said both were working from home, during opening hours our lounge was being shared with sometimes dozens of customers. We did have two bedrooms and a sitting area upstairs but for me it was a rather lonely place, sitting watching TV on my own, in what I remember to be a rather damp and smoky atmosphere as the cigarette smoke rose from the bars below. This is probably why I onw consider myself to be pretty gregarious,having spent far too much time talking to the locals down in the bar and not enough time doing homework upstairs!
I would often drift off to sleep to the sounds of would be Frank Sinatras or Kathie Kirby strutting their stuff on the mike in the hall and I still pride myself on knowing many of the old classics off by heart! The most disturbing and saddest memories of the club is the effect it had on the relationship between my Mum and Dad. Within a few years of leaving the shop not only had family life disappeared but outright war seemed to have been declared between my parents. On more than one occasion on return from school,(at eleven I moved to Cowplain Secondary School so I lived at the club all the time) I would see suitcases packed and have either my Mum or my Dad asking me to choose which of them I wanted to be with. What a decision for a youngster. This is probably where I first started to learnt the art of conciliation, trying to hold them together rather than letting them part. I held them together by saying I would live somewhere on my own which somehow stopped total breakdown. I realise now I probably did everyone a disservice but at the time divorce was not a very common event in Denmead.
Unfortunately appeasement didnʼt stop the vicious and sometimes violent rows which used to erupt, often waking me from deep sleep and long after the happy revellers had left to go home. My Dad took to sleeping downstairs in the lounge on a camp bed and I would bring him tea in the morning before leaving to catch the school bus at the top of the road hoping that when I returned in the evening all would be well and there would be some semblance of normality, please God! Silences could last weeks between them and even customers could sense all was not well. My mum was a pretty good actress but my dad wore his heart on his sleeve which is not good for a successful publican who is supposed to be the life and soul!
Although my parents did stay together things went from bad to worse and it was finally decided to sell the club. In order to gain full benefit from the free house status they successfully applied for a pub license. My dad wanted to put another steward in place and keep the premises but was outvoted three to one and the rest as they say is history. The pub was sold and my parents moved near to my grandparents’ house in Widley and I signed schoolboy forms for Southhampton Football Club, leaving school at the end of year 10. Taking on “The Craigstone Country Club”, had been a disaster in so many ways but I must say the chance to use the dance hall and the car park for football training did help develop my skills as a footballer!!!