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A rummage in the undercarriage of Hampshire

I thought it useful for one to learn a little about the historic significance of Hampshire before I set off, particularly given its strategic seaports of Southampton and Portsmouth. And here is its potted history: Hampshire was the first area to fall to the might of the invading Roman Empire, displacing and enslaving its native Britons. After the Romans exited stage left, the Jutes then took to occupying the county, but they quickly capitulated to the Anglo-Saxons coming in from the East. Still, William the Conquerer, he of the Norman invasion, decided that the New Forest would be a Royal Forest and thus should exist solely for the hunting of venison. Subsequently his armies evicted all the peasants held within by burning down their homes. A happy history Hampshire has not, which probably explains all those hamlets called Wallop and Faccombe. And, of cousre, Faccombe Hall.

Less well known are the ports which include Buckler’s Hard. It was intended to be a thriving port for the importation of sugar, the latest "must have" commodities in the early 18th century. Alas, that sweet idea was scuppered when the French captured and colonised the West Indies. Humbugs! Or not, as the case proved.

Hampshire's other ports are more famous for being the departure point of the Titanic and the home of the Mary Rose. Similarly, Hampshire should be infamous for the hamlets of Panters, Woodcock, Goldenballs and Gobley Hole but like the aforementioned notorious ships, these former settlements have long since sunk into the annals of history. On the plus, the phrase “Sweet Fanny Adams” was born in Hampshire and like a pesky rash, soon spread silently nationwide. Sadly, its origins are routed in an especially tragic story of the slaughter and dismembering of an eight year old girl back in the 1860s.

Despite its terrible history, Hampshire is host to what could well be the most embarrassing of holiday destinations: Sandy Balls. It really is, and was, and has always been called that. Well, almost. It changed name sometime during Henry VII’s reign - around five hundred or so years ago. At that time it was fondly referred to as Sandyballas. These days it’s a haven for the static mobile home holiday maker with a penchant for having many neighbours and thin walls. Odd that it should be called ‘sandy’, because I found it to be thick with forest. Despite the woodland, more of these quadrangular boxes could not be stuffed in without building skyward. No doubt someone somewhere will be putting in a hasty building application if Covid restrictions return and we get banned from Europe. When I passed through, it was as busy as a container shipyard. Still, Sandy Balls is a delicacy for many and therefore should not be knocked.

I, however, was happy to leave it behind me and head further inland, diving into the New Forest in my quest to find Butts Ash. Never before has anything been more misnomered than the New Forest. In fact, it was so absent of trees, I might as well have been in a denuded Brazilian rainforest. A handful of small copses dotted here and there gave the impression that the Forestry Service is, shall we say, a tad lackadaisical and in need of a new razor. My tour of the New Forest left me with the impression that wood was available in the event of an emergency, but overall thick bushes were more pervasive. Perhaps, though, it was the ongoing drought of this particular summer that made the gorse appear to be the most standout of vegetation.

The wildlife, on the other hand, was exceptional. The New Forest ponies exceptionally so. I stopped on the way at The Fighting Cocks, a well-known eatery that is well supported by asses. I mean donkeys. Herds of them, some clearly looking to be in a state of advanced pregnancy and that was just the males. In fact, there were more donkeys than people on an otherwise subdued day. For a moment I feared I’d taken a wrong turn and had somehow ended up in Bethlehem. I am, after all, very geographically challenged. The asses delayed my journey but a little, although they left me with the ear worm of “Little Donkey” for the remainder of the drive.

Albeit it was a drive that took me to the village of Dummer. I was quite surprised to find myself in the village of Dummer - not least because my research on 'interesting villages of England' had not previously identified it as a likely candidate. I maintain that I’m just very geographically challenged but I was quite, quite startled by this revelation that I'd missed something so patently obvious.

Hampshire, it has to be said, still remains very vulnerable to the invasion of foreign tongues. For example, the invasion of the Internet into modern language has brought new weapons with which to fight the war on words. One such invention is called the wordfilter, and some are particularly ineffective. They are designed, apparently by necessity, to filter out offensive language: words such as: ‘ass’, which is the American English for ‘arse’. Unfortunately, some of them do this by removing the ‘ass’ altogether or replacing the ass with an annoying gap. So if you’re pionate about not getting embarred by a little bit of , you’ll happily keep your es on display. Others just remove the entire phrase. “I’m sorry I was hard on you yesterday!” By doing so, it makes me appear to have done something extremely socially unacceptable, such as returning to Sydling St. Nicholas. Other obvious weapons to deploy on language is the use of asterisks. At least, with asterisks, you can make a fairly decent stab at what Sweet F*** A** may well be. But none of this is helpful, however, when you’re trying to locate Butts Ash

Google really doesn’t like to play ball on such matters. Butts Ash is not, nor ever has been ‘Butt Sash’ nor ‘Buttsash’. It is most definitely Butts Ash. Two words with a space between them. Most amusingly its postcode is SO45 3PP. Yes, PP. It’s just that one won’t find its name on Google Maps perchance it offends. Nor can it be found on any search engine that I had access to. Despite this, I’ve been there and photographed the sign welcoming one to Butts Ash. It is prominently displayed, and adorned by spectacular hanging baskets, on both sides of the roads, and at both entry points. The town councillors spared no blushes and made the sign quite substantial, lest any driver have sight impairments. There is even sufficient space to boast that it’s twinned with Mauves-sur-Loire in France. Although a quick gander on Wikipedia has me noting that our French cousins state they are actually twinned with Hythe, some six miles north of Butts Ash. So ***umably they deny all and any ***ociation with BAsh.

Granted it’s not a place that one would get excited about visiting. It is nothing more than one of those ubiquitous 1950s or 60s housing estates of straight lines and square blocks. This one is made slightly more upmarket by the inclusion of some weatherboarding to soften the monotony. There’s the typical postage-stamp gardens front and back, and rooms for cars to park off-street. Aside from that, it has a post office and a dog poo bin.

Stoner Hill was as expected.

I don’t partake - especially as I’ve got LPG gas. At least I did until half way through the Queen’s funeral when a stiff cup of coffee was very much required, and sadly, very much not going to materialise. There was a pathetic ‘pfft’ as my gas supply fizzled out. Of course, this would only happen on a nation-wide bank holiday for a state funeral. I do remember a similar incident during Princess Diana’s burial - on that occasion it was no petrol because during royal (but she wasn't!) funerals everything closes including 24hr service stations. It’s like Christmas Day only without the presents and turkey.

Instead, I spent the following day struggling to find a way to refill my SafeFill - which is the gas container that came with the van. They are a rival to Calor Gas, only cheaper because one doesn’t need to exchange the entire gas bottle but rather, allegedly, one is required to make a quick visit one of the thousands of LPG suppliers across England. They are apparently most commonly located in local service stations and are promoted as very accessible, very safe and very much worth the substantial initial outlay.

The previous owners admitted they’d never had to replenish the SafeFill, and, as I had never owned one before, assumed it would be a fairly straightforward affair. An entire morning was spent discovering that Google was wrong about even more things - most notably the location and availability of LPG distributors. Facebook came to the rescue and I was dispatched to Fleet Services - an hour out of my way. There, with the assistance of three truckers, one useful tool (a monkey wrench) and two not very useful tools (cat/me), the ShitRon gained 18kg of liquid weight (I sweated out about 1.8kg). There was a lot of swearing involved and some hysterics.

An hour later, I set off to return to the vicinity that is Gore End - my intended destination for the night: a mere eighteen minutes from my landing place of the previous night. So much for a day catching up on all matters delayed by the death of our Queen and ten days of national mourning.

Photo snapped, I then decided that Gore End might be a little too prophetic so headed far, far, far away - all the way back to Clench. And clench I did when I discovered my gas was still not working. No fear! I had surely just forgotten to return the valve to the ‘ON’ position. And that’s when I discovered I had acquired a gas leak, complete with the prerequisite worrying hissing sound. One round trip to a garage had me realising two things:

  1. I must add ‘Monkey Wrench’ to my shopping list.

  2. SafeFill: my arse. StressFill.

Still, I’m enjoying a lovely cup of tea now, although the Admirable Nelson has been demoted to resident canary.

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