So I’ve just got back from a different sort of trip, a few days at the seaside.
Well it was a spur of the moment thing really. I was sat in my brother’s house a few weeks ago talking about holidays we had as kids, and the year our parents told us we were not going to Porthcawl for our annual holiday that year. Porthcawl being a local South Wales seaside resort, and now since Gavin & Stacy the poor relation of Barry island, a place which strangely we never went to as kids.
I would have been around 9 years old, Andy 7ish, we had little wobbly chins as this was the only place we’d ever known for a holiday, then they told we we are going to Bournemouth.
Now we’d never heard of Bournemouth but it was exciting, it was in England, and this was the first time (with the possible exception of Bristol to go to the Zoo or a pantomime) that we’d have been there, strange in these times of hopping on a plane for your holidays at a whim I know.
So that was the first of many years we made the journey by car from South Wales to the south coast of England.
Now I’ll let you know why the place has such good memories for me, a couple of stories really, then we’ll get to what I thought in this trip.
Firstly back to that initial year, now I think our parents panicked a little, as if memory serves the months up to the holiday it was typical Welsh / British weather i.e. Cr*p! Rainy and all the “meh” types we associate with British Summertime, so unbeknown to us they booked a show for every night we were there, and I’m talking headliners not your tribute acts, we were entertained by (over the various years we went there), and youngsters ask your parents about some of these to get an idea of the magnitude of what we saw:
Little & Large,
Cannon & Ball,
Danny La Rue,
an Aqua Show (think synchronised swimming with loud music)
an Ice Show (Think Aqua Show in the winter 🙂 )
Live stage versions of: ‘Hi-De-Hi’ and ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, as well as a great farce with Mollie Sugden called ‘Find the Lady’.
Now I honestly believe this is why I love live shows so much, when we got there it was (somewhere around) the summer of ’76 and was a scorcher. So there you have it everyday on the beach, and every night a different show to see.
Then there was the holiday a few years later when we booked and one day towards the end of the week were walking round the town, and my Dad has his two cameras (well if Prescott can have his two Jags then why not my Dad and two cameras!) a Rollieflex (his pride and joy) which to this day I still can’t use, it had a ‘pop-up’ viewfinder you looked down into, and, at least for me, everything you did appeared backwards you moved right it went left, up it went down, and it made me feel seasick! Then there was a 35mm he’d bought from a guy in work. So anyway we were wandering around the streets looking at the shops when my Dad says “Hang on a minute I’m going into this camera shop, see if they can tell me how much this camera is worth”, we waited outside on a bench, then they come back out, my Mam at his side as always but with only one camera, at which point he turns to us and says “Fancy staying another week?” … Great times!
In later years my little Bro and I returned for a few ‘Boys holidays’ which basically involved a lot more pubs, but the same great times. Like the night we went to a farce at the theatre on the end of the pier, (now sadly a climbing wall!) I’m sitting doubled over crying unable to breathe as I’m laughing so much, my brother is sat the other side of our friend also creased at what’s happening on stage, then we look between us at our friend sat there arms folded stone faced just not getting the humour what so ever, which of course cracked us up all the more!
So with all this nostalgia floating around I Googled ‘hotels in Bournemouth’ and found a good deal for one, and knowing I had a week off work coming up, I booked it on a whim.
So we jump to Monday 15th July 2019 and I drive to Bournemouth, now I have to say I used a SatNav, not having the little scrap of paper a friend of my Dad who he worked with in the Hoover factory Merthyr, (and who incidentally used to be a coach driver) wrote for him. Taking him through some lovely little villages, across Salisbury Plain and passed Stonehenge. However I like driving on motorways, enjoying this journey much more than my recent one to Liverpool.
So having set off about 8:00a.m. I arrive about 11:30ish having taken in the mandatory (for me anyway) stop at the Leigh Delamare services.
My hotel is literally across the road from the BIC (Bournemouth international Centre), all the more of a shame as there were NO SHOWS running when I was there, however more of that later.
The Royal Exeter Hotel is a classic ‘older’ hotel, originally built in 1812 in fact. It has 52 en-suite bedrooms, two bars and a (free) car park. I arrived as I said way before the 2pm check in time. I had requested an earlier check in and they said they would try, the very helpful gent on reception contacted the cleaners to be informed room 215 was indeed ready, so a good start to the trip.
When I got to the room it was great, it had all the required amenities: bed, TV, wardrobe, hair-dryer, iron, ironing board, tea and coffee making facilities, I state this latter amenity as a public service announcement as I never drink anything hot. It was spotlessly clean, and the location is the definition of central, literally turn left out of the door and less than 5 minutes you’re on the beach or in the famous gardens, turn right and the same time gets you to the centre of the shopping streets.
In the time that I was there, you couldn’t fault the staff who were professional, helpful and friendly, never without a smile without being smothering. Here are a few photos of the hotel.
So I’d decided to make this a sort of a busman’s holiday and take a video camera with me, well when we went there as a family we took the first video camera we ever owned.
Sorry Andy for the photo, (and this camera had a unit holding a full size VHS tape,which my Dad is holding in the photo which was cable connected!) and we filmed a lot.
I think I still have this footage somewhere, and one day will dig it out. So I thought I’d take one of my newer (read much smaller) cameras and get some comparison shots.
So on this Monday I went for a walk for about 2 and a half hours filming the beach, pier area, including a ride on the Bournemouth Big Wheel, a smaller cousin to the huge London Eye and (size wise) even smaller than the Liverpool Eye that I visited a few months ago. Giving some great (if obstructed by the cage) views of the beach area, gardens and town. Oh and No I was NOT going to try standing up to get a better view!
I then continued wandering filming the streets and gardens, stopping for lunch and a pint or two, well I am on holiday!
Getting back to the hotel I realise just how good the weather is as I’ve managed to get sun burnt on my forehead (who shouted “big enough target”) and nose, so I dose up with suntan lotion and head out for the evening.
Now it was here that it really came home how much it’s changed in the 30 years since I last visited, and for me, a theatre addicted solo traveller it was not for the better. There was NO entertainment whilst I was there, now I know it was a Monday and Tuesday night, but it was July I.e. the nearest thing we have to peak summer time in a seaside resort, and I couldn’t even find a tribute act or local band playing in a pub, and the two main venues the BIC and Pavilion had nothing, nada, not a sniff of greasepaint, crowds or (in a live band environment) indeed wacky baccy (although I think I got the hint of that in the gardens later that night 😉 )
Now this wasn’t a shock, as I had done my due diligence in advance looking for things to see, so knew unless I stumbled on a pub with entertainment I would be struggling with this aspect of my trip. To be honest this was a reason I only booked for two nights instead of 3 or 4.
So after realising just how expensive the pubs are, second mortgage job for a Cod & Chips and pint of Peroni in the Slug & Lettuce!
Oh and not wanting to put on all the weight I’ve lost recently, oh didn’t I mention it, I’ve lost 4 and a half stone since January, thanks I think it’s better too! 🙂
So I headed to the cinema, and saw ‘Yesterday’ the latest film by one of my favourite writers, Richard Curtis (him of Four Weddings, Love Actually and About Time fame) this one directed by Danny Boyle.
It tells the story of a struggling pub singer ‘Jack Malik’ Himesh Patel who after a freak accident at the exact point when the whole world is plunged into a power cut for a few seconds, awakes to find out that he is the only person who remembers the Beatles, so sets about releasing their greatest hits as his own. Being a Richard Curtis film there is also a romance (with the gorgeous Lilly James), comedy and a feel good ending. The supporting cast including: Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joel Fry and a certain red haired singer Ed Sheeran (who I’m sure will go far 😉 ) were great, and it’s one I’ll definitely be getting on DVD when it’s released.
After the movie it’s about 11pm and I wander through the Gardens into the “town proper” to find McDonalds, manage to totally miss it, eventually stumbling on a KFC, one of the few places still open at that time, another surprise I mean come on it’s 2019 and not even the witching hour! I grab something to eat, and then head back to the hotel. Only narrowly due to my cat like reflexes managing to dodge being taken out by a low flying skateboard moving tangentially in the opposite direction to it’s falling baseball capped owner himself crashing inexorably towards the ground!
Stopping only long enough to buy 2 cans of Grolsh in a convenience store 3 doors down from my hotel … that’s what I call convenient!
So it’s Tuesday morning and I wake early, around the 7am mark, must be an age thing. So I decide I know “I’ll go for a walk”, didn’t I mention I walk now, no not to get A to B but for fitness, I average about 12 miles a week, thanks I think it’s a good thing too!
So I head out in shorts and carrying a rucksack with a towel and different shoes. So now as I posted on my Facebook page, much as I love my home town, this walk has the edge on views, I get to the Pier Head area and set out towards Boscombe.
About 2.5 miles later I am walking along a sea front with only a few others: exercising, walking, jogging, cycling, and one or two people taking the chance of doing this lovely walk on their way into work. It was at this point I realise I really could move to the seaside .. if anyone wants to rob a bank and lend me the money to do so!
But I digress, the beach was empty, the weather lovely, I wasn’t in work so I thought what the hell, I laid out my towel on the beach and went into the sea, it was … bracing, but once you were in, lovely. I even swam a little, okay a VERY little, but it proved to myself once I get over the fact I look like the whale who forgot how to swim, I can do it, not very well but I can do it, I mean I definitely moved a few feet in a different direction without my feet being on the ground. So now if I could only afford a swimming pool of my own so no others can see how bad I am at it, I could actually go swimming! 🙂
So after a pleasant few hours on “my own personal beach”, there was still no one in sight by the time I left.
I headed back. So 5.5 mile walk, brief swim, and few hours relaxing on a beach, check, and it’s still only 10:30am.
I spent the rest of the day meandering around Bournemouth again, checking out the gardens, town and then headed to Aruba … no not that far, the Bar Aruba which was, or at least used to be for me, ‘the Pier Head bar’, where my brother and I saw Jimmy Jones (comic) in concert, supported by Paul Zerdin (ventriloquist).
It was at this evening (sometime in the late 80s early 90s) that we came to realise that this bar, was where all the performers from the other shows went after they finished, as at the bar was Robin Nedwell (Doctor in the House) and a few other performers who’s names now escape me. After his show Jimmy came around every table, chatting to the audience members who stayed for a drink, it was one of the few bars that served ‘late’ at that time, he also autographed any VHS tapes you’d bought of his show. I still have one.
This is a great bar. The drinks are reasonable for a ‘central’ bar, the food a little expensive, but not markedly more so than anywhere else I found on my trip. This is NOT a cheap town! There is an inside seating area, and also a balcony overlooking the beaches and pier, the staff were great, very friendly and professional even if one did tell me when I said I hadn’t been there in 30 years, “well as I’m only 20 that was before I was born!” But we chatted and she asked what the bar was like before. I had a few pints on the balcony watching the life on the beach in the sun, a nice way to spend an hour or so .
I then headed into the town for lunch and stumbled on a bar cousin of one of my regular haunts, in London I always visit “The Moon Under Water” in Leicester Square. Well in Bournemouth you have “The Moon on the Square”,
so I head in and have a pint and a nice lunch, where, when it arrives I realise my ‘starter’ is bigger than my main. But very nice they were too.
After this I was on a pilgrimage to a mythical location, where Rob once ventured into a nightclub and got his bum pinched by a very pretty young lady. Now this was back in the 80s when I occasionally frequented such establishments, and with the help of the Bournemouth noticeboard on TripAdvisor I found out the building was still there and was still a nightclub.
This venue when I visited was called ‘The Zoo’ and ‘The Cage’, two clubs in one building, and was next door to a pub we also loved and frequented regularly, called ‘the Artful Dodger’, so after a bit of a walk I found it.
After this it was back to the hotel, quick change and back to the cinema, as with a long drive back the next day it wasn’t going to be a night “on the pop” as we say locally, so I went to see the only other film I fancied “Spider-man: Far from Home”.
Here again the cost thing came in, I wanted to see this film, but at the showing I wanted they had a screen which ONLY had recliner seats so £13.99 for a seat that I can’t say was much more comfortable than the standard ones I get for £5 in my local VUE, Oh and if the place was full these seats are ‘doubles’ two seats no central arms, fine if your a couple, or even friends, but would have been a little off-putting if it was busier and I ended up quite close to a stranger.
So after this it was back to the hotel, and the next morning thankfully an uneventful drive back to Wales, with another first as it was the first time I drove back and didn’t have to pay to get back into my homeland. #GoodTimes
So to round up, Bournemouth is a lovely town, the beaches are great, the gardens well kept and if the weather is fine great in the day. However the almost total lack of entertainment means that I would have to seriously plan future trips around specific shows I wanted to see. I suppose if your a couple or even a group who could make your own entertainment then that would help. I know Bournemouth had a reputation for being “an oldies” resort, then latterly “a Stag & Hen resort”, I saw quite a few of the former and none of the latter while I was there. But today for me it lacks something, entertainment yes, but also something harder to pin down. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy my time there, I did, or that I wouldn’t go back, again I would. However whether I’ve been spoilt going to London so often, the UK equivalent of the city that never sleeps, but for me I wanted, and remembered “more” from Bournemouth.