Due to Madam’s impressive driving skills we arrived in Bournemouth two hours before we could check into the hotel so we found a multi-story car park close to the pier where I parted with £4.50 for two hours parking. We left the car park via the enclosed and gloomy stairs which seemed to serve as the local latrine. The pungent smell made my eyes water. This happens when you charge people 50p to use the toilet, never mind £2.25 an hour to park. They use whatever doorway or stairwell is available. I was tempted to have a discrete wee in a corner myself to get my money‘s worth but Madam was in a hurry to get lunch.
We had lunch on the upstairs balcony at the Hot Rocks restaurant overlooking the pier and beach. A Dotto land train ran along the seafront below us. A Ferris wheel opposite the pier turned slowly. The beach, packed with families was soft sand from the promenade down to the sea. Couples strolled along the promenade.
Madam said “The people are younger here. Younger than in Bexhill.”
There is a belief that people move to Bexhill and wait to die. It isn’t true. They move to Eastbourne. Bexhill is where their parents live.
We checked into the hotel, high on the East Cliff and walked down to the beach. The tide was partly out. Madam took off her shoes and walked along the waterline. As soon as her feet touched the wet sand she jumped up and down with joy and said “I’m on holiday!”
It’s true. We were.
She walked alongside the water towards the pier and picked up a weird looking seashell which we later identified as a slipper snail. It looked like a claw or hand with six fingers. I’ve lived by the sea for many years and seen nothing like it. She put it in her bag to add to her souvenir collection. She walked on past the pier and I suspect she would have carried on until the next town had I not promised her a ride on the Dotto land train that ran along the seafront towards Boscombe. I’d wanted to visit Boscombe because it had a pier. I have a weakness for piers that Madam will never understand.
“What’s the point?” She said. “You are just walking out over the water.”
“That’s exactly the point.” I replied.
We got to the Dotto stop only to find that the last departure was at 15:10. On a Sunday. During the summer. A major tourist attraction stops running at ten past three on a Sunday. Sometimes you wonder who organises these things.
We went into the tourist information office to see about a trip on the open-top bus but found that stopped at 5pm.
Bournemouth is divided neatly into two by a succession of fine parks running from north to south. They were created in the mid 1800’s and remarkably have survived to this day. They were originally known as the Lower Pleasure Gardens, The Central Pleasure Gardens, and Upper Pleasure Gardens. The former name proved too much for the genteel folk of Bournemouth. The combination of both ‘pleasure’ and ‘lower’ in close vicinity to each other was just too much for ladies of a delicate disposition and they are now known simply as the Lower, Central and Upper Gardens.
We walked up through the Lower Pleasure Gardens. Sorry, forget I said that. We walked up through the Lower Gardens. Whoever is in charge of the gardening does a wonderful job. The flower beds were a blaze of colour even at the tail end of summer when you expect things to have died down ready for autumn. Large groups of foreign students and young couples had spread themselves over the grass enjoying the late afternoon sun. We sat for a while admiring the flowers and watching people strolling through the gardens. The Lower and Central Gardens are separated by an attractive pedestrian square with a restaurant and outdoor seating. We wandered through the square and up into the Central Gardens where they had the largest war memorial I had ever seen.
The memorial was built in 1921 to remember the dead of World War I. It features two lions, one asleep and one awake, based on Canova’s tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St Peter’s. This enormous stone and marble memorial is now Grade II listed and was later extended to commemorate the dead of both world wars.
The upper gardens seem to be mostly sports fields so we stopped our journey and, it being a respectable time to start drinking, returned down to the square to find a suitable hostelry. With a combination of random searching and Madam peering into her phone looking at TripAdvisor we found The Moon on the Square which turned out to be a Wetherspoons.
There’s a tradition in all Wetherspoons that there has to be a large group of men drinking lager hovering near the bar and having a (mostly) good natured shouting match. It is invariably regarding which footballer has the most knobbly knees. I think that’s right. Something to do with football anyway. It requires them to wave their arms exuberantly and spill copious amount of beer on the carpet. This pub was no exception.
Still, where else can you get somewhere to sit down, books to read, free WiFi and two drinks for less than a fiver?
In 1946 George Orwell wrote an essay for the Evening Standard newspaper describing his perfect pub. He called his pub The Moon Under Water. It should have he said, amongst other things, that it be quiet enough to talk; the barmaid should know your name; that it sells cigarettes, aspirin and stamps; it never serves beer in a handleless glass; and you can get a good lunch for three shillings.
Several Wetherspoons pubs have ‘Moon’ in their name since they feel that is a good link to Orwell’s fictional pub. I’ve never been in a Wetherspoons where the barmaid knew my name, nor have they have ever served me a beer in a glass with a handle. I’m not sure how I feel about them linking to one of my favourite authors for commercial purposes. Maybe I will order lunch one day and proffer three shillings (15p) in payment then ask for an aspirin. I’ll let you know how it goes.
We got back to the hotel and were relaxing and reading when Madam noticed a gentle slurping noise. She looked at me and I looked at her. “It wasn’t me” I told her.
She looked to the dresser on the far side of the room and shrieked “It’s alive! It moved!”
It turned out that her seashell was still very much in use and the resident mollusc was wondering why the sea was so far away and how come the tide hadn’t risen.
“We have to take it back to the beach.” She said.
“It’s late. We’ll take it tomorrow.” I told her.
She put it in the bottom of the bath lest it develop impressive locomotive powers in the night and crawl into bed with her.
“He needs a name. Think of a name,” she demanded.
“I don’t know” I said, “Shell? Shelly?”
“Shelly is a girl’s name,” she said.
I went into the bathroom and reached into the bottom of the bath. I carefully turned Shelly upside down.
“Yup, it’s female,” I told her.
I had a look at the Google to see if there was anything else worth doing in Bournemouth and, amongst the dozens of pages of advertisements offering me hotels and tours, was a brief piece from the official tourism website that told me, amongst other things, that it was a prosperous town with a population of almost 200,000 and that tourism remains an important industry.
And boy, does it milk its tourists. Parking for two hours was £4.50. A stroll along the three hundred metre pier is £1.20. An ice cream? That will be £3.70 please. Need a bottle of Coca Cola with that? A mere £2.50. A one mile taxi ride back to the hotel £6.00.
We were packed and on the road by 9am and heading towards Durdle Door. Shelly was safely wrapped in the back seat. As we drove along the B3070, there was a large sign ‘WARNING Sudden Gunfire!’
“Just like in Texas,” said Madam.
I was glad she got to feel at home.
We parked above the footpath down to Durdle Door. £4 for two hours. A sign informed me they had over one million visitors a year. It wasn’t hard to do the maths. Four million pounds for a scree car park and footpath is a nice little earner for somebody as Arthur Daley would have said.
We started down the steep and slippery footpath towards the beach.
“Did you remember Shelly?” I asked Madam.
“Oh no! I’m a terrible mother!” She shouted as she ran back towards the car.
She laid Shelly carefully at the water’s edge and starting talking quietly. I’m sure it was something profound but the wind took most of her words away. All I caught was “I’ll miss you so much” and “send me a shelfie.”
We wandered down the beach along the chalk cliffs and water’s edge, stopping to take pictures of the Door as we went. Madam was under strict instructions not to touch any shells, dead or alive.
As we started up the long and steep path back to the car Madam said “Shelly was very lucky really. She can cross Durdle Door off her bucket list. It would have taken her years to crawl here.”
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