September 14, 2015

Portsmouth: Where Serendipity is Alive and Well

And thankfully John Cusack has nothing to do with it

By Scott In Festival, Train, UK

Up until recently, I was convinced Serendipity was simply a horrible movie starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale back in the early 2000s when they were still trying to convince us that Cusack was rom-com leading man material. Turns out he was not, and that serendipity actually means “fortunate happenstance.” Well I’ll be. N.B. Of course I already knew what serendipity means and I’m actually a fan of John Cusack, I just don’t care about him falling in love, I want him in weird Kaufman-like movies. So onto why I learned that serendipity—again the term, not the movie—is alive and well in Portsmouth, UK.


After a whirlwind three days in Berlin, where I was attending Pop-Kultur festival at the fabled Berghain nightclub, it was time to make my way to the quaint seaside town of Portsmouth, UK for Victorious Festival. To say that my last night in Berlin was debaucherous would be putting it lightly. And as tends to be the case, I had to make the trip from Berlin to Portsmouth the most convoluted and trying experience possible, because fuck simplicity, am I right? Suffice to say I was frantically packing at 6am, still partying—way to go Scott!—and not thinking very clearly. But at least I was efficient, and before you know it I was ambling down the quiet Berlin streets making my way to the Hermannplatz U-Bahn, where I proceed to immediately fall asleep on the train. Thankfully some nice gentlemen woke me up just before my stop, setting off a chain of serendipitous events that seemingly continued throughout my stay in Portsmouth.

After a short bus ride, I was at the airport with time to spare—I seem to have learned from my disastrous trip from Stockholm to Berlin—but then promptly fell asleep again in the lounge. But I guess I’ve regained my internal clock—and my luck—as I woke up just in time for final boarding. The flight was short and uneventful, however it was just long enough for me to realize that I was a) severely sleep deprived, b) I was sketchy as hell, and c) my hangover was just kicking in. Joy. Just the right condition to be in while being grilled by the UK border patrol for what felt like an hour (apparently I’d been flagged when I first arrived to London a few weeks ago, and they obviously won’t tell me why.) I’m finally let in the country, and board a shuttle bus to the train station.


Shuttles are literally the worst

Once again the shuttle was a horrible idea, as it literally stopped every few minutes, and I was starting to fear I’d miss my London-Portsmouth train. My gut tells me to get off at the next stop and take a taxi, which I do. Turned out to be a lovely cab ride through downtown London, and I got to observe the sights in a luxurious London Black Cab. I make it to the train station with 15 minutes to spare, claim my ticket, walk on the train, and it departs immediately. My good timing is back guys!

But turns out I took the slow train, which like the shuttle, stops at every station. So maybe my timing was a bit off. And I literally mean every station, through cities like Chichester and Haslemere. The controller announces that an express train will be coming by the next station, and that we’re welcome to get off and take it. But again, my gut intervenes and tells me to stay on, and in any case, I really don’t want to have to move at this point. I’m accosted by said controller—twice—who is really confused as to why I wouldn’t want to take the express train. He finally leaves me alone, but not without giving me one final combined annoyed/perplexed look. We finally make it to Portsmouth and it hits me that:

  • I have not contacted the Airbnb host’s partner ahead of time, as I was supposed to;
  • I have no internet or SIM card;
  • I’m not entirely sure where this place actually is.

But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, I have a tendency of believing that things will simply work out. As it stands, in Portsmouth, they actually do. I get off the train and am welcomed by the lovely British weather they’re famous for: cold, raining, windy, and depressingly grey, just as it should be. I spot a guy at the top of the stairs, leaning on the side of the pedestrian bridge, beer in hand (obviously.) I immediately know that this is my guy. Turns out David—as I would soon learn he is named—is waiting for a friend whose train is delayed, and is actually heading to the exact festival I’m in town for. Serendipitous I tell ya! So he proceeds to walk me all the way to the door of the flat where I’m staying. After a few rings of the doorbell I’m forced to assume nobody’s home, which is entirely my fault. Dave is nice enough to lend me his phone and stay with me until I’m let in the flat, like the true gentleman that he is. He also leaves me his number and invites me to join him and his mates when I head to the festival the following day. So 5 minutes in and I’ve already scored myself some festival buddies. It’s definitely my lucky day.

Even though all I want to do is take a hot shower and curl up in a ball forever, I’m responsible and take care of buying all the necessities, including a new SIM card with a swanky UK number. I figure I should probably get some food in me, and pop into a pub for a quite bite and a pint. Turns out it’s easier said than done, and I leave with half my food uneaten and half my pint full—blasphemy, I know. It’s back to the cold and damp flat to finally take that hot shower, which also proves difficult in my zomby state—it was an entirely normal shower and I’m still perplexed as to how I couldn’t figure it out—and fall fast asleep. My early bedtime also means I wake up at an ungodly hour the next day, and set about trying to find a place that’s open at 8am for breakfast, which apparently is an anomaly in Portsmouth. But I manage to find one, star it on Google Maps, and am soon on my merry way. It’s actually a beautiful sunny day, I’m strolling down Albert Rd. in Southsea, where I stumble upon this sickeningly cute bistro called The Garage Lounge, and I obviously must walk straight in. It’s quintessentially british, from the tables, to the cake displays, and the ornemental birdcages with budgies chirping (I’m actually not super keen on having birds in cages, but whatever, it added to the whole ambience.)


I have a bacon sandwich—how british of me!—with an elderflower iced tea, because of course they’d serve elderflower iced tea, while taking in the britishness of it all. I head back to the flat and I use my ridiculously long UK number to text Dave and see how he’s holding up. He texts me a while later and I join in his pub breakfast alongside his fiancée and the friend he was waiting for the day before—ironically at the same pub I had popped in the previous day—and have my first pint of many at 11am, because one must. We make our way to the festival, where I proceed to be a beacon of good weather luck and manage to keep the rain at bay. I slowly and surely meet the entire clan, including sisters, brothers-in-laws, more friends, and everyone is impossibly friendly. This would end up being a godsend because 90% of the bartenders at the festival were extremely confused by my Québec ID, and refuse to sell me beer. But between our large group and the kindness of complete strangers, I still manage to get properly smashed just in time for the pièce de résistance—the reason I came to Portsmouth in the first place—Basement Jaxx.


A little background here (even though this post is already annoyingly long, sorry guys!)

I’m a huge Basement Jaxx fan—yes that group that produced “Where’s Your Head At” but also a million other amazing songs—and had promised myself that if ever I was in the UK—nay, Europe even—I would do literally anything to see them live. I had three options: Liverpool International Music Festival, South West Four in London, or Victorious Festival in Portsmouth. I really don’t give two shits about Liverpool—sorry!—and the prospect of attending a downtown London EDM festival with over 20,000 british youths seemed daunting at best. Also: Skrillex got higher billing, which is arguably true at this point, but the fact still insulted me. And so Portsmouth it was. /Backstory over.

Sadly for me, the sound for Basement Jaxx was abysmal, prompting my posse to leave me for another stage—rightfully so. Thankfully Rebecca, Dave’s sister, is also a massive fan and stayed with me until the end, both in solidarity and also due to our mutual love of the Jaxx. Sound aside, they were amazing and everything I was hoping they would be, and I can now scratch another thing off my bucket list. We meet up with the rest of the group—barring Dave and his fiancée Rachel, those tossers!—and hit up a bar where we drink, dance, and meet some more locals. I stumble home in a drunken stupor at a super reasonable 2am, and fall into my “bed”—read glorified army cot—and fall instantly asleep.

The next day I leave for Brighton, with yet another massive hangover, but with an even bigger grin. And while every local I met—and every brit across the UK for that matter—asked me why the hell I went to Portsmouth and how much I would loooove Brighton, I find myself with absolutely nothing to say about Brighton and over 1500 words to say about Portsmouth, so there you have it. Thank you Portsmouth, thank you Dave, and thank you to every joyful and loveable face I met there, you’re all top notch!