Grand Cinema Westbourne

I am a career dreamer. For much of the last forty years, I’ve had plenty of plans, intentions, applications, ambitions and goals. They all share one thing in common. They were but dreams. Captaining Liverpool FC and England was always unlikely, and I sensibly decided to have a Plan B quite early on. Just in case it didn’t happen. By age 13 I’d have settled on a career in palaeontology, brushing the dust of millions of years from the fossils of dinosaurs. The prospect of a life in criminal law and/or politics has long held great appeal.

Owning a dusty old bookshop on Charing Cross Road, or some other corner of central London. A worn wooden railed spiral staircase down to a camped basement was a must. The prospect of a lifelong career in the RAF tempted me. As does a career as a travel photographer. Alas, they were all just dreams. Some were fanciful. Others had false starts. Some were just too much like hard work. So I sell home insurance instead. Which was most definitely never the dream.

But what is life if one can’t daydream from time to time? I have a new one. It most definitely comes under the category of ‘fanciful’. But I can’t help but dream my little dream every time I walk past the Bingo Hall in Westbourne. It wan’t always a bingo hall, although it certainly seems to be a successful business in its present guise. Minibuses disgorge gaggles of elderly patrons every evening, all with their own dreams of finished cards, rowdy yells of victory and a cash prize.  There are ashtrays overflowing with cheap brand cigarette butts outside, smoked to within a thousandth of an inch of the filter. A sure sign that Lady Luck doesn’t grant everyone their dream every night. Let me introduce you to Westbourne’s favourite bingo hall.


My photo doesn’t do the building justice. It’s a glorious example of yesteryear architecture. The stone carved ladies sitting atop the structure are beautifully detailed. The shops that have incorporated themselves into each side of the foyer entrance are a blight. They’ll have to go. But at least the original signage is there for when my grand plan comes to fruition, and the Grand Cinema reopens to the general public of Westbourne and Bournemouth. This will happen shortly after I win the lottery. Which is another dream altogether, filed under the category of  ‘extremely wishful’, which is a grade up from fanciful, but not quite at ‘miracle’ status.

What movies will I show? Not the latest blockbusters from Hollywood that’s for sure. There’s a couple of big cinemas in Bournemouth and a large complex in Poole already catering to that sort of customer. I don’t want grotty teenagers in my cinema anyway. Nor chavs. I’m focusing on a different market. Which I’m sure is wise. The Grand Cinema undoubtedly tried the traditional cinema market before. Now it’s a bingo hall. That tells a story in itself.

Almost all the traditional, smaller cinemas in the UK long ago shut up shop, unable to compete with the corporate giants screening endless productions of explosions, shooting and general drivel. But the UK has changed, demographically. Perhaps there is now room for a niche player in the market. There are hundreds of thousand of Europeans living and working in the UK. It’s time to bring foreign cinema onto the High Street. I find Europeans to be generally more cultured. More sophisticated. Subtitles don’t put them off.

Perhaps some of it will rub off on their English friends, and they’ll come along too. Even if only to pretend they are sophisticated too. I’m inspired by Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City. For opening night, I will play Cinema Paradiso, a thoroughly charming movie. All about a boy who dreams of running the town’s cinema. And his friend, the incumbent, who dreams of anything but running it. It’s a delightful film. Movies in my cinema should be either emotional experiences or thought provoking. Not just a sensory bombardment of noise and light, death and destruction. Although, sure, those films can be good too.

Mrs P can help me select the best of Mexican cinema to cater for the growing Latin American and Spanish populations. Like Water For Chocolate is a must. Perhaps old Santo movies on Saturday mornings? For the kids? Hmmm. Then again, perhaps not. One can take one’s loyalty to Mexico too far. But I will show some more up to date Mexican flicks, such as Nosotros Los Nobles, which Mrs P and I watched and enjoyed recently.

But it won’t all be foreign fluff on the big screen.  Perhaps our Johnny Foreigner residents would like to be introduced to classic British cinema.  What counts as a British film? Technically, movies like Star Wars and Gravity are British films. But they’re not what I’m thinking of. There are plenty more overtly British films to show. Shaun of the Dead, Trainspotting, Nil By Mouth, The Killing Fields, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, A Fish Called Wanda, The Wicker Man and the legendary Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence has plenty of local landmarks in Dorset. I could hand out Treasure Maps to the audience. Visit all the locations and get a free ticket for their next visit to the Grand Cinema. All of these flicks are worthy of your time.

There’s a large elderly population too. I have to walk past a dozen old folks homes to get to the cinema. And it’s just a five minute walk. Whilst the long term repeat custom of seniors can’t be taken for granted, places in these care homes in Westbourne are highly sought after. There’s a waiting list to join the ‘waiting list’. Beds aren’t empty long enough to get cold. New customers will replace the old ones.

We can play matinee performances of old classics. Gone with the Wind for the ladies on Mondays and Wednesdays. A Bridge Too Far, Zulu and other assorted war films for the gents on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They can wear their uniforms to the show if they wish. The occasional Carry On film too, to fill any gaps when I haven’t gotten round to sourcing new films. If I play my cards right, I’ll keep the bingo crowd too. Just give them a card, show them to their seat and shout out a few random numbers through the performance. They might never know the difference. So long as they last long enough to get them out the door at the end, then all’s well.

I’m bringing back the Intermission too. The half time break for drinks and choc ices has been sorely missed. Seeing as smoking won’t be allowed in the auditorium, I’m guessing the break will be appreciated by my cigarette toting customers too. On Wednesday evenings, the Intermission will feature a slide show of my Mexican photos. Just because. I’m open to the use of tech too. Anyone checking into Foursquare or Facebook will get an extra flake in their 99. Bad reviews come with a further extra ingredient. A bodily fluid of some sort, I suspect. You’ve been warned.

Sadly we all know this won’t come to pass. I don’t buy lottery tickets, so I’m unlikely to win the big one. And that is pretty much my only route to cinema ownership. And quite frankly, if I did win millions, I’d move to London and spend the rest of my life buying every decent new camera that came to market and going off with it travelling. So I’ll keep on dreaming about the cinema I’ll never own. And Westbourne’s elderly population can live safe in the knowledge that a big win might still come their way, in what will remain the town’s premier bingo hall.


Meet My Hood

Just a few short months ago I introduced y’all to the ‘hood I call home, Ringwood. I’d set off around the town hunting for ancient relics to try and find something older than the 400 or so years than Kim G produced in Boston. I succeeded, but then Ringwood is a particularly ancient corner of an ancient forest in an ancient land. But I have moved. So Ringwood is no longer my hometown. My new residence of Westbourne is nowhere near so ancient. Indeed, the local area celebrated its bicentenary in 2010. Who’d a thunk it? There I was half way round the world celebrating the bicentenary of Mexico’s independence, when all along the big party was going on right here.

Westbourne is described as ‘affluent’ by Wikipedia. It’s certainly the affluent part of the Bournemouth conurbation, although not quite as wealthy as Sandbanks, which is just down the road and home to a selection of the famous, not so famous but always filthy rich. Walking around Westbourne town centre, you’ll notice a certain London like feel to the place architecturally. The shops suggest a diverse range of residents – a hearing aid retailer sits opposite a baby fashion boutique. There’s a Marks and Sparks supermarket. And a Bang and Olufsen electrical store. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll be straight in that store to buy one of their fanciest televisions for my new pad in Sandbanks.

There’s even an old fashioned type of store that has pretty much gone the way of the blacksmith, ironmonger and hardware store. It’s locally referred to as a ‘bookshop’, and it has ornate lettering from a bygone age on the shop front which tells its age. I’m lead to believe that if one steps inside the shop, you’ll find bound leaves of paper with printed words on them. There are no Kindle shops to speak of in Westbourne. There is a top quality butcher though.

Naturally, in between each retailer sits a coffee shop. Costa Coffee and Starbucks are both represented. But true to it’s economic reputation there’s a plethora of fancy independent coffee shops and Mediterranean style eateries. There is also a Tesco convenience store. True to the town’s form and the capitalist push into the 21st century, our little Tesco supermarket occupies a church. The gallery above, and the other galleries on this page, contains a mix of both my own photos and historical snaps that abound on the interweb.

Westbourne might not have the historical background of Ringwood, but it trumps my old town comfortably from a cultural standpoint. There’s a piece of Westbourne that we all have shared in. I assume so. You all have read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Kidnapped haven’t you? They were written during Robert Louis Stevenson’s time in Westbourne, at his home in Skerryvore. The house was destroyed by German bombs in WW2, but you can still visit the site and see the foundations. Also in the grounds is a stone model of a lighthouse. It’s a replica of what was (maybe still is?) the tallest lighthouse in Scotland, built by a member of his family. The lighthouse, like his home in Westbourne, was called Skerryvore. Stevenson wasn’t the only famous author linked to the area. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is buried in a church graveyard just a few minutes walk away. Along with her husband’s heart.

There are good walks to be had in any direction from our home. On one side we have Bournemouth Gardens, a thin strip of park that extends from Bournemouth Pier all the way to Coy Pond, with a fancy war memorial in between. A garden isn’t a garden in England unless you have at least one memorial and a minimum of a half dozen benches with memorial plaques to someone who once loved sitting there.

If one should choose to walk the opposite direction, you’re at the beach in about five to ten minutes. Depending upon your pace. In summer the golden sands of Bournemouth are covered in a mass of burning human flesh that is popularly known as ‘sunbathers’, who leave used disposable barbecues and other associated litter to the huge annoyance of the locals. In winter the beaches remain a popular destination for walkers. Many of whom bring their dogs to splash in the waves, chase sticks and leave their own little presents for the summer invaders to find.

And that’s my new home town. Hope you enjoyed this short stroll around it. Next stop….Mexico City? One day, one day….