Bournemouth (UK), post lockdown

Though i’m not the most adventurous type, Bournemouth post-lockdown felt like a big step back into holiday travel. With the weather forecast good and a cheap upgrade on the hotel room it felt like the stars had aligned.

The trains were only a fraction full; unheard of in the nascent holiday season. Anywhere along UK south coast is sure to be popular. Still I felt an anxiety, not through fear of the virus but something less easy to pin down. The mandatory face covering and distancing rules never seemed likely to be enforced but I felt compelled to have my mask hooked ready on one ear in case a guard approached. Really when you’re not even in spitting distance of anyone it seems a odd rule. Why not only boarding and alighting or during peak times?

I have to admit to drinking a bit of vodka mixer on the journey. Well, it was my birthday. And holiday travel after so long did feel like a big deal.

Leaving the station I struggled with the major decision of which Tesco to visit, as they were both almost equi-distant from the hotel. I opted north, and walked straight in the path of an oncoming beggar. He seemed honest, if it wasn’t a finely honed scam, telling (and showing) me he had only collected 10p for the whole day but needed £3.20 for something he muttered. I told him, ‘It’s a post-cash society,’ thinking hardly anyone carries coins now and would be wary of near contact. But I added: ‘Lucky for you it’s my birthday,’ while getting out my wallet, with no idea how much change it contained. Quite a lot, it turned out, so I handed over about £2.60 – more than I ever have to a beggar. Of course he seemed grateful, wishing me happy birthday and have a good day. It’s only in Bournemouth I’ve been stopped in my tracks, and in previous years I would have gotten irritated and not always given anything, but in these times there are a lot of desperate people. Or at least more of those not wanting to spare their money to the truly destitute.

Hotel check-in should have been straight forward, after so many, and it was only for one night. But this time I struggled. Had to fill out a form: name&address, email, double-sign. Since I had the booking reference and my details were already registered through the booking site it seemed, well, very 20th century. Then she told me: ‘First floor, on the left.’ Simple enough, I thought, so headed for the nearby stairs.

As I started climbing them I heard her call: ‘Sir! It’s on the left.’

Back at the bottom I noticed another set of stairs a long way on the other side. I wondered, how many unfamiliar would assume on the left meant turn left once reaching the first floor?

The room was stuffy in early evening, so I had to get out. Another trip to Tesco bought a bottle of Pinot Grigio, watched a bit of TV and feel asleep.

Surprisingly not hungover, I checked out the hotel about 5mins after hearing what must have been the fire alarm since there was no one at reception. It was most likely a drill.

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There’s a lovely footpath route that leads from the Knyveton road right down to the coast. All the times I’ve been to Bournemouth and never discovered it!

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The coast walk feels endless, it’s one of the best in the UK. Well, certainly the most tourist-friendly (lots of toilets). This was supposed to be after the 2M rule was relaxed, not that it is realistic this time of year, but people made an effort to keep their distance.

Fours hours till my train, I got as far as Mudeford. July was bound to be crowded, but on this partly sunny day there was just enough space. Half way along I realised I’d left an unstarted bottle of apple Lucozade in the hotel room. What irked me was the thought that it would be thrown away unopened, such was the minuscule yet non-zero virus risk. At least I still had some wine decanted in plastic bottles. Well, it was that or water with my lunch.

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On the return walk back my tranquillity was broken by two blokes arguing, from different groups. ‘You think you’re superior to me?’
‘No, I don’t think I’m superior at all.’ There might have been a racial element to it, such are these febrile times. But I wanted to switch off from that and enjoy the rest of my walk.

The first train back east is one of the most enjoyable (or at least stress-free) journeys, especially with so few passengers. On the last Southern train the Scottish driver regularly issued a reminder to obey the rules, including the 2m distancing!

So, I’m thinking, make the most of it before the virus threat has truly gone…

Author: Aiden Rykat

I am currently working on my fifth novel, and have published one non-fiction book under a different name. My last book Sin Cities is not one I can discuss here.

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