Bournemouth has (since I’ve been younger than a very young man) been my place of sanctuary. I was hitching down there before I needed to shave and to meet with friends, some of whom I am still in regular contact with to this day, and this to begin with nigh on thirty years gone. I love the city. I can walk it for hours because only for one brief summer did I actually live there. It was when I was young where I could go, to the already posted Bacchus but also to the Gander pub where with Andy Weale’s driving licence I could prove I was 18 long before I was.
When I had to move out of my parents and still young enough to yet be considered a young man it was to Bournemouth and a shared room, in a shared house – and with very little money. And by Cope I tried to find work but I was just too young to be employable, and far too young to claim benefits. I hitched up to London each weekend to the caves but this was just before I started being paid to do so. So I was skint and there was rent, which I could not pay. Welcome to the world, young man.
Mostly then when I was not away, the three days otherwise, I would walk the hour it took to get into town (Wallisdown where I was being well beyond even the arse of the city) and in futility look for work. Any work, and again even the hotels couldn’t let me wash up as again – too young. But it was summer and so in the afternoon I’d sit in the park – or the Lower Pleasure Gardens (snortle!) and read. It was a hot summer, weren’t they always?
But not one afternoon. One afternoon I was in the room I shared eating a quiet sandwich and up the stairs I heard the approach of the landlord. I could tell it was he as he tended toward an amount of muttering as he did anything. He stopped outside the room I shared. The handle turned. I did what any boy would do in that situation, I hid in the wardrobe.
Now this wardrobe did not entirely shut. Nothing did in that room. Being second one in, Rob (my roommate) had already taken every drawer, cupboard and alcove for his own stuff. Thereafter and for years to come he would mock me for the untidy state of my half of the room – where I had no choice but just to leave my meagre possessions in a small pile.
Through the slight crack I saw my landlord. He entered. He looked around. He left briefly, he returned. He started to go through the drawers. He sat on Rob’s bed. He inspected under it. He had in short a very good poke around. I remember as you would, the way he flicked through a novelisation of the film Caligula. I was rather afraid there would be... fumblings.
But no. He had yet to finish. I saw him stand and approach the wardrobe.
I am rather proud in hindsight that then with admirable dignity I adopted a position of studied nonchalance. I leant casually, eyebrow raised. That was what he saw when he opened the wardrobe. I was prepared, he wasn’t. The situation ran over his face. Caught. Bang to rights. I recall without losing eye contact toasting him with the last of my sandwich. Nightmare. Disbelief. He stepped back, his face I see still – and I, I said not a word. He blinked, he coloured. I still said nothing. He broke. He fled.
I wasn’t long there after that, but just long enough. He got heavily into Turkish Delight and forever after as you might well know, then in Wallisdown it was always winter but never Christmas.