Bournemouth, Gauguin and Pearly Princes
A tying-up-loose-ends blog post from me tonight.
At the weekend I went to Bournemouth, courtesy of a friend with a rail gold card, which entitled him to a certain number of free weekend rail travel days a year. What struck us was the giddying freedom of the thing – we didn’t have to book in advance, we didn’t have to stick to a specific train, and we could go wherever we liked within the rail company’s network. There would be no fines for getting off at the wrong stop, either.
In the end we plumped for Bournemouth, where I hadn’t been since seeing Belle & Sebastian at the Pavillion Theatre in 2001. That time we stayed in a lovely gay B&B, and during the show the band invited the audience to hang out with them on the beach afterwards. So we sat, nervously, with many other people, sitting kind-of-near Belle & Sebastian, but never quite daring to actually talk to them.
Bournemouth was quite lovely on Saturday due to the wholly unseasonal October weather. It was warm enough for all the important things: paddling in the sea, writing immature things in the sand, wandering up and down the pier, eating fish & chips on the beach. My only regret is we didn’t buy a bucket and spade. Seriously, we could have made the most impressive sandcastle ever. It would have been bigger than the statue of Jesus in Rio. It would have been the only sandcastle visible from the moon. The tides would never have defeated it.
The only scary bit was the evening. As we headed into town for a post-beach pint of wine, we became increasingly aware that we were in the minority by not being in a stag or hen party. Plastic fairy wings, fake geek glasses, or matching t-shirts advertising a local strip club were very much de rigueur. On our walk back to the station we found out why: Old Christchurch Road was stuffed with strip clubs, kebab shops, curry houses, Yates’ wine lodges, Walkabouts, and strip clubs*. At 9pm when we walked through it was only getting going, but you could see it was going to be a messy come midnight. Ah. It’s a shame that England’s old seaside towns have to whore themselves out to make a living, but I guess it’s the only way to remain financially viable these days.
On Sunday I was taken to see the Gauguin exhibition at the Tate Modern, by a friend with membership**. I don’t know an enormous amount about art, but Gauguin left me pretty cold. His art was nicely arranged into various periods – his self-obsessed self-portrait period, his slightly-fucked-up-still-life period, his gawping at Breton peasants period, and his fucking-off-to-a-Pacific-Island-and-shagging-the-natives period. He died, as all artists should, from Syphilis. He was friends with Vincent Van Gough, who starred in the worst Dr Who episode ever.
Probably the most interesting room for me was the documents section, which featured books, diaries, and travel posters from the period. Gauguin was massively disappointed to find that the wild natives of Tahiti had already been Christianised, but found the excellent colonial postal system a really first rate way of keeping in touch with the Art scene back in Europe. Overall, I found his paintings mainly disappointing, but his life and the historical context fascinating.
Later on, walking up through Covent Garden, we spotted some of those fine bulwarks of cockney culture, Pearly Kings & Queens. And even better, some were from our own manor, Finsbury. If by Finsbury they mean Finsbury Park, and not the nebulous and largely anachronistic area near Islington. They probably do.
The only time I ever met these wonderful people before was at the Tower of London, when they were drinking at some kind of charity barbeque. I don’t really understand the origin or indeed the point of the Pearly Kings & Queens – a quick bit of google research would reveal the truth but ruin the mystery – but I was delighted to see a Pearly Prince. Previously I had imagined that Pearly Royalty was bestowed from above, perhaps merely due to having outlived all the other cockneys in the area. The existence of a Pearly Prince means that some kind of apprenticeship system is in place, which is excellent news, for it means that tomorrow’s Pearly Kings & Queens will be just as magnificent and mildly inexplicable as today’s.
* I got in trouble with a local patriot for saying on twitter that Old Christchurch Road was “60% stripclubs”, pointing out that there are ‘only’ five strip clubs in Bournemouth.
** Thinking about it, it was an entirely freeloader-related weekend. Thanks to those involved.