Indian in England

Musings of a student

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

My world, my universe, my well

BOURNEMOUTH -- my world, my universe… my well -- is associated with two great personalities besides me:

Geoffrey Boycott and Bill Bryson.

I am not sure how exactly Geoff is involved with my kingdom by the sea (must ask him the next time we get together), but a web site I stumbled across accuses him of being one of Bournemouth’s ‘famous sons and residents’. Since he confesses to birth in Yorkshire, I guess he must fall into the ‘resident’ category.

With Bill, I know what it is all about. Bournemouth offered him his first job as a journalist, when he persuaded The Daily Echo to hire him as a sub-editor a couple of decades ago. He stayed here for two years, editing kitty-party copies. I know this for a fact because Bill himself told me so.

Which all goes to show what a fine place Bournemouth is. Very warm and welcoming. Honestly.

We have seven miles of golden sand. We have a clear, clean bay that tempts you to tear off your clothes and plunge in. We have sun… or so I am told, and I am beginning to believe it as we creep up on spring.

We also have a record number of aged people living in a record number of care homes. This prompts unkind outsiders to call our little town ‘God’s waiting room’, but what attracts the aged to Bournemouth is precisely what makes it so special.

I think they coined the word ‘quaint’ especially for Bournemouth. It’s in the air, this ‘quaintness’ I am talking about, a mixture of timelessness and charm and serenity and wisdom that quilts you in happy listlessness. It’s like sitting in your grandfather’s lap, playing with his white beard.

There is not an awful lot happening, but somehow you feel content with the situation, and as far as I know, not many residents go rushing to London, or any place else, in search of excitement.

In fact, just the opposite. People from other places rush down to Bournemouth for a quiet weekend. The wealthy, including stars of all stripes, have villas by the sea, and Tony Blair holds his party conference on the beach -- or as close to it as he can -- occasionally.

To cater to the visitors, we have 103 hotels (approved by the Bournemouth Tourist Board), 44 guesthouses and 18 self-catering apartment units around the town. And 293 restaurants (of which 24 are Indian), 101 pubs, six wine bars, 37 nightclubs, and 41 cafes.

All this, unfortunately, makes Bournemouth an expensive place. Accommodation prices are comparable to those in London. For my single room in Springbourne, I pay £260 a month, which supposedly is a bargain -- and I live in an attic, though a cosy one at that.

But then, that has always been the case with Bournemouth. It started life as ‘a select retreat’, thanks to an infant who died on his parents one fine day in the late 18th century. This forced the father, a squire by the name Lewis Dymoke Grosvenor Tregonwell, to take the mother, Henreitta, for a holiday to recuperate.

Tregonwell was possibly a smuggler. He was also a captain in the Dorset Rangers, the ‘protectors’ of the coasts this side against the French, who are within hailing distance.

He brought his wife down to Bournemouth, which was then called either Bourn Bottom or Born Chine. She loved the place, and ordered hubby dear to make suitable arrangements for permanent residence.

Tregonwell obeyed. He bought eight-and-a-half acres of prime land for £180 (now that is what I call a bargain), built her a house by the sea, and proceeded to become the official ‘founder’ of Bournemouth.

Of course, the initial settlers tried their darnest to keep the town to themselves. But by 1930, middle-class suburbs were firmly established, and today we are 163,444 happy souls (490 of Indian origin, 98 Pakistani, 212 Bangladeshi, and 719 Chinese) living here.

No, make that 163, 445. I arrived after the census.

PS: Thanks Lebi, Anita, Priya, Meggie, Daniel, Nikita, and Chakra for your warm welcome. And newcomers, step this way for a minute, could you?