Howard Burnham and I bestrode the History Sixth like Colossi. Our bejewelled A levels became magic carpets which whisked me to then sexy Keele and he to snooty Durham. He has achieved fame if not fortune as a teacher and an actor. He now is something of a star doing British characters for Public Broadcasting TV out of Monterey Calif. Happily we have in recent years made contact and I know he will be reading this. He could easily be a character in either a Dickens or Evelyn Waugh novel.
While at school he would take me back to his family home in Bournemouth. Memory has it always being Remembrance Sunday and raining. As it was when I went back to the seaside resort last week. Mainly pier hunting. It has two, a main one in the town and another a mile down the beach in Boscombe.
The main pier was one of the last built in 1880 by Eugenius Birch,the Christopher Wren of piers. He built 14 including Eastbourne, Margate, Blackpool and the tragic West Pier in Brighton. His revolutionary deeper and more resilient, screw piling he learnt as an engineer on the Calcutta-Delhi railway. A Victorian hero.
It was the day of the military tattoo. All the services were on show. Marines were to storm the beach, tank turrets swivelled, handsome young lads in camouflage best, lean and fit strutted around under the admiring glances of the local ladies and there was to be a fly past of the Red Devils. Ooh I couldn’t wait.
But first the pier in the rain. The slogan could have been “Send me your old and ugly, send me your wet and miserable”. Because there they were like bedraggled pigeons huddling under the eves of the bars,cafes, arcades,sweet shops which line the pier. I talked to a family from Swindon who were making the best of it in the light rain. “We’ll probably get on the beach this afternoon”. Good luck. A few were already on the sand,some crouched behind the wind brakes, one or two actually swimming, a few large Asian families playing some exotic version of tag.
So it was off to see the Boscombe pier. Along the beach a Damien Hirst collage of funfair and armed services. Want a ride in a tank, a walk round a helicopter,a jet simulator or a ride on a Wurlitzer, dodgem or hurley wurley? Or just a cheap pair of sunglasses-not a good day for them even at “clearance prices”.
It summed up the day that Boscombe pier was closed. Why? Don’t know said one. Another more knowledgeable said it was because they feared too many would stand on it during the Red Devils fly by show and pier would collapse. Mmm.
A third told me that it was closed because they feared that a plane during the stunts might crash into the pier. That turned out to be quite topical! But on that basis shouldn’t the whole town be in a bunker? But of course all this was absolute bunkum.
For because of the weather the Red Devil show had been cancelled. Oh I do like to be by the seaside.
A nice trip to the Pokesdown bric a brac shops got me a couple of iconic marketing models(Spillers and Natwest) for the Musee Festing, a Victorian tile for the collection and a book of Ronald Searle cartoons.
But the best was yet to come. St Peters, Simon Jenkins describes it“Colourful Gothic with interior by Street” and awards it a rare four stars.. If you love high church, Anglo Catholic All Saints, Margaret Street you will love this wonderfully over the top Victorian masterpiece. Like the very best Belgian chocolate its too rich, but you still love it and want more.
While wet and miserable Bournemouth pier was crowed here with Handel being played on its grand piano it was just me and two others. For history buffs not only a great church but it was here Gladstone had his last communion-no doubt negotiating when he would arrive and what furniture he could bring. As important it is where Mary Shelley and her husband’s heart are buried.
Gladstone’s last communion and his discussion with Almighty, it’s a natural for local boy Howard’s repertoire.