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Bournemouth UK City Of Culture 2025?
The news that Paisley has been shortlisted to become UK City of Culture 2021 prompts the thought that if they can do it, so could we...
This made the news as it was obviously something of a surprise. Paisley, you see, is not actually a city, but, like Bournemouth, only a town. Actual cities which entered the competition, such as Coventry and Portsmouth, did not make the shortlist. It turns out the competition title is misleading – the award offered by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport is open to any settlement with a “clear central urban focus”. Bournemouth was of course built up around its central-gardens chine, with its town centre where the old stagecoach road crossed the Bourne stream flowing down the chine to the sea at the Pierhead.
Paisley’s bid is seemingly supported by its artistic alumni, at least in the press stories. These are people who grew up in this once-prosperous Scottish mill town, since fallen on hard times - and who in most cases moved away as soon as they could. (The double-edged saying about Paisley is “it’s a good place to come from.”) One of these alumni is the film star Gerald Butler. A few years ago, he was asked how he was able to portray tough guys so convincingly, and his reply was that he grew up in Paisley and had to fight his way home from school every day. A local councillor said this was an outrageous slur on the town and threatened to punch him out. (Bit of irony there, if you like that kind of thing. He recanted when shown an image of the star as the ferocious Spartan king in the film 300, and said he would ‘reason’ with him instead.) Gerald Butler of course left the area a long time ago, like many of the other famous Paisley alumni pictured in the recent press articles.
Bournemouth has long been regarded as something of a joke, or at least a lightweight, when it comes to culture, though as I’ve tried to make clear on this website, this is simply snobbery towards a younger town, and there is no need for a cultural inferiority complex. As far as the competition’s “clear central urban focus” goes, the town’s central church is where lie the remains of a famous literary family – Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, the heart of her husband the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her distinguished parents, the pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical freethinker William Godwin. And many other literary and artistic individuals have lived in the town since then – not just grown up and left as soon as they could, but lived here out of choice.
For the UK City of Culture 2021, the other current shortlisted competitors are Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea. The competition is held every four years, and the last winner was Hull. To quote the BBC, “Hull has reportedly had over £1bn of investment since being awarded the title in 2013.” This, and not any interest in culture per se, is what attracts hungry councils, who have had 40% of their budgets cut by central gov’t in recent years. Also, with talk of 2 or possibly all 3 of our local councils amalgamating to save costs, there should be some consideration given to a joint bid between the townships that make up the conurbation. (Joint bids were planned in 2013 for the 2017 title by Portsmouth and Southampton.) Christchurch and Poole, too, have had their share of creative types. It’s early days for any official action - luckily, since waiting for our local council to actually do something about an issue is like waiting for a brontosaurus to give birth. But before the next round in 2021, when the next round of contenders will announce themselves as 2025 applicants, there should be a focus on our cultural profile, with more official backing of cultural events to establish more of a track record than in the past….


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What's Jane Austen Ever Done For Us, Anyway?
-In literary terms, quite a bit, actually.
The 200th "celebrations" of Jane Austen's death begun this month inevitably raise the question, what did she really accomplish in her short life?
At present, there is general media coverage of this being the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, who died aged only 41 in July 1817 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral on the 24th July. There are officially-promoted tours, visits to sites of interest in Winchester and elsewhere, exhibitions, talks and so on throughout the summer. A new commemorative £10 note with her likeness on it (the Queen apart, the only woman shown on an English banknote) has just been previewed, to be issued in the autumn, and a £2 coin with her image will also be minted as a collector's item.
Part of the media coverage is controversies associated with the image and quote on the banknote: the former is from a romanticised engraving done for a Victorian biography, and the latter a remark ("I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!") actually uttered by a shallow female-rival character in Pride And Prejudice vainly trying to impress a book-bound Mr Darcy. On the front of this £10 note, she is also shown in front of a huge country estate and manor house, whereas in reality her family had an almost lifelong financial struggle to maintain a modest lifestyle. (For a £10 flat payment, she sold her early novel Northanger Abbey to a publisher, who then never published it, but offered to sell it back to her for £10 - which she could not afford till near the end of her life, when she had sold a couple of other novels.)

Jane is what we today call an icon. In a statement to Parliament this week, the Leader Of The House inadvertently referred to her as one of "the greatest living authors", and her work is certainly alive, with a heritage industry including dozens of popular screen versions built around the 6 novels. But we should still consider the question: what is her actual artistic legacy for posterity?
Jane's real contribution tends to be glossed over, for it is an 'artifice which conceals itself'. It is that she streamlined the novel in a way we now take for granted. It's an aspect of her work not at all obvious from the many film and tv adaptations through which so many of us become familiar with her works, as this is lost in the dramatisation process. What Austen accomplished was to establish a new novelistic technique, now called free indirect speech. It streamlined and enhanced storytelling in the then relatively new literary form of the novel.
Up till then, it had been dominated by the so-called epistolary novel, telling the story through correspondence and related documents reproduced as the bulk of the text. (The word novel may be related to 'new', meaning social news and gossip.) There is some indication Austen used the epistolary approach herself at the outset of her career. The very first European novels had come out of satirising the old mediaeval romances (starting with Don Quixote), and the narrative style tended to satirical commentary, an Olympian discourse on the narrative's events by an 'omniscient' narrator, as in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones [1749]. Jane herself grew up at a time when the novel ran to the two extremes of the sentimental and the 'Gothick', both of which fashions she lampooned, and in her work she always retained something of the Olympian viewpoint of witty disdain for pretence. But she mediated this into the narrative in a way that had not been accomplished before. Take the famous opening of Pride & Prejudice:

Chapter 1
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. "My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"

With the first sentence, we get a quotable bon mot of Olympian wit, commenting on the then-prevalent idea of 'mercantile marriage'; the second explains how this is the mindset of the characters, their primary motivation; the third sets the plot in motion - the news of the arrival of a highly eligible bachelor in 'Merytown'. (There's a satiric punning name for you, with 'marry' lurking behind 'merry'.) In screen adaptations, such lines are usually ignored or delivered as dialogue; the 1995 BBC version is the first I can recall where the heroine Elizabeth Bennet delivers it in a mocking, self-aware manner, making it her own witticism, and making her an intelligent voice standing out against conventional thinking. This independence of mind soon afterwards sets her rebellious 'pride' against Mr Darcy's staid classist 'prejudice' about her family's aspirations, where daughters exist to be "married off" to a wealthy man for the financial security of the whole family.
In Austen's work, events are recounted through the consciousness of the main characters. Here, the characters' thoughts and words mix with the narrator's voice as the usual "she said" or "she thought" distinguishing attributions are dropped. Literary critic John Mullan, in his 2013 What Matters in Jane Austen, comments:

Austen was the first novelist to manage this alchemy. She was perfecting a technique that she had begun developing in her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. It was only in the early 20th century that critics began agreeing on a name for it: free indirect style (a translation from the original French: style indirect libre). It describes the way in which a writer imbues a third-person narration with the habits of thought or expression of a fictional character. Before Austen, novelists chose between first-person narrative (letting us into the mind of a character, but limiting us to his or her understanding) and third-person narrative (allowing us a God-like view of all the characters, but making them pieces in an authorial game). Austen miraculously combined the internal and the external.

As the protagonists are anything but the traditional omniscient narrator, this opens the way for the first-person 'unreliable narrator' of modern stories, where we are limited to the awareness of a protagonist who is mistaken in their interpretation or misleading us in their version of events. It was as influential as it is subtle. Here's a summary from an article by Carol J. Adams, an organiser for the Jane Austen Society Of North America who is also co-author of The Bedside, Bathtub And Armchair Companion To Jane Austen:

Austen is credited with inventing what is called free indirect speech, a technique that allows us to overhear what her characters are thinking. We are carried along with Elizabeth Bennet as she realizes her prejudices, or Emma Woodhouse as she imagines the future wedded bliss of her naive friend. …….. Her influence is found in writers as diverse as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry James, Barbara Pym, James Joyce and E.M. Forster.

As with any new technique, some writers just plain didn't get it, and saw only the genteel, circumscribed, miniaturist country-village setting. Charlotte Bronte said JA's work was passionless and missed the big events of the day, like the Napoleonic Wars. The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his journal, "I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow." American Mark Twain, who had obviously had her work recommended to him, retorted "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone." Presumably he kept on reading it as he was trying to work out what was so special - it is a subtle technique.
But others quickly grasped the innovative approach in her output, like Coleridge ('in their way, perfectly genuine and individual productions'), Southey ('Her novels are more true to nature, and have, for my sympathies, passages of finer feeling than any others of this age.'), and even Sir Walter Scott, whose work was contrasted with hers. (She was told she should consider writing books more like Scott's historical novels.) In 1826, Scott wrote in his private journal:

READ again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride And Prejudice. That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early.

Kipling was another fan, finding her novels, when read aloud to his wife, offered solace amidst the tragedy of WWI (they lost a son in the war) and wrote a short story about individuals at the Front who feel a bond via a shared love of her work. One Austen commentator noted that while "Austen has become part of the female gift culture, one curious thing is that 100 years ago, Austen was read mostly by men."
One oddity in the media coverage has been the use of the word 'celebrations' rather than commemorations in regard to the 200th anniversary of her death, as if the fact she died at only 41 was a happy occasion. (She died of an unknown cause, which laid her low and robbed her of energy; her last words were, when asked if there was anything she wanted, her reply, "Nothing but death.") If she had lived, she could have finished a few more novels: she was already at work on one, known as 'Sanditon', on the then-new Regency-era phenomenon of the seaside spa. As it was, two of her six novels were published posthumously. Nevertheless, in respect of the way her own work and style live on, in that her stylistic innovation transformed the novel into its modern form as we know it, celebration is indeed the apt word.
-Links to our earlier coverage can be found on our Literary-Section home-page, here , which has links to earlier blog posts and to our feature page Local-Interest Guide To Jane Austen Novels & Screen Adaptations, now updated.

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The Durrells Return
Bournemouth's best-known bohemian-expat family, the Durrells, are back on ITV for a 2nd series. The first series last year began with them living in Bournemouth just prior to making the decision to emigrate to Corfu in 1935. There is a new biography out this month as well, by a friend or acquaintance of the eccentric family. The Durrells Of Corfu, by Michael Haag covers more of the family's adult personal problems than Gerald did in his rather rose-tinted memoirs of his 5-year idyll age 10-15. His My Family And Other Animals was the basis of two previous tv adaptations, an ITV series in 1987 and a BBC telefeature in 2005. His 1956 memoir was criticised for sacrificing accuracy for comic effect. Season One of the ongoing ITV series was also criticised for inventing incidents. The main character is Louisa, the mother, played by a younger actress, and mini-dramas are scripted in for every family member. (Cf the Season 2 Episode 1 synopsis: 'Louisa tries to raise some money by selling homemade food, which attracts the attention of another Englishman. However, a former lover threatens the family's idyllic existence. Gerry comes up with a plan to breed otters, Leslie accidentally shoots Roger, and Margo considers becoming a nun.' )
Going by press excerpts and reviews, the new memoir gives more of the real background than either the 1956 memoir or the 2016-7 series. Older brother Larry for instance was newly married in 1935 and lived at his own place on Corfu, the White House - not a villa but a wealthy fisherman’s house on the shore. Gerald in his memoirs simply put the family under one roof for literary convenience, omitting all mention of Nancy. The memoirs’ older brother Larry of course was, or became, the distinguished essayist and novelist Lawrence Durrell (1912-90), best-known for The Alexandria Quartet (1957-60), which he had began during one of his return stints to Dorset. Originally Larry had been living with the family in England, but had been asked by Mother to move out and away after she found him in bed with Nancy, an art student he would marry in January 1935. ("You can be as Bohemian as you like but not in the house. I think you had better go somewhere where it doesn't show so much... I’m not having Gerry corrupted.") Nancy later said Larry ‘dramatised everything — mad mother, ridiculous children, mother drunk throwing fortune to the winds, hellish, foolish, stupid woman... beetles in the soup’.
He moved up to London with Nancy and then he went on ahead to Corfu, Nancy and the others following in pursuit, like many expats, of a cheaper, healthier lifestyle. The main problem was that Louisa, the mother, had become an alcoholic since the death of her husband in 1928 and had had a breakdown, and had little money left. In 1931 the family left London and bought a large Victorian mansion, Berridge House on Spur Hill Ave [between Penn Hill Ave and Canford Cliffs Rd] in Parkstone in Poole, and in 1935, a smaller house in Wimborne Road, Bournemouth. The 2005 BBC tv telefeature [screenshot left] only shows the one living room interior before cutting to their Corfu arrival [where the 1987 series began]; but the new series has location filming in Bournemouth and Poole [opening screenshot above]. As shown in Ep 1, Gerald’s unhappiness at a [shortlived] Bournemouth prep school was one reason for their emigrating. (He never attended another school, and after the war, first worked on a farm at Longham outside Bournemouth before training as a zookeeper.)
Gerry’s own memoirs were accompanied by two by his first wife Jacqui (her 1967 Beasts In My Bed and 1976 Intimate Relations offer a family portrait by an outsider), while his older sister Margo (1920-2007) had a go with a 1950s memoir, though this was not published until 1996, as Whatever Happened To Margo? Though she had not returned to England with the family in 1939, the book deals not with her wartime adventures and marriage in Greece and South Africa but with her time as a landlady in postwar Bournemouth. This was where, with a small inheritance, in 1947 she bought a large house across the street from Mother's house on St Alban's Avenue in Charminster as a boarding house. Her sometimes eccentric tenants included her brother, to whom she offered free rent in 1951-2 when he was first married and struggling. (Jacqui’s family cut her dead in disapproval of the marriage.) He wrote his first book here, in the attic, on a rented typewriter.
Gerry would return here between animal collecting expeditions, which he documented in a series of books and tv documentary series. Despite their publicized differences of opinion and lifestyle, the family tended to live close to each other. Even the dedicated expat Lawrence (who called Britain 'Pudding Island') had his letters to Henry Miller edited for publication by a Bournemouth bookseller friend, Alan Gradon Thomas, whom he and Nancy would visit regularly on their return, at war's end, at the bookshop he owned [1936-56]. This was Commin’s 5-storey antiquarian bookshop [est. 1892] at 100 Old Christchurch Rd. (Gerry would also visit on his own return trips and describes it in 'The Havoc Of Havelock'.) He and Nancy divorced but Larry returned to live at Mother's with Eve his 2nd wife [of 4] in 1947. On his 3rd marriage, he and wife Claude and their daughter Sappho in 1956 rented a small cottage outside Shaftesbury, then moved in with their bookseller friend Alan Thomas. Only Leslie left never to return, told he was unwelcome after a series of frauds, dying in a London pub in 1983, with family declining to attend the funeral.
When not dwelling abroad, Bournemouth remained the family's base, with "Mother" and Margo maintaining homes opposite each other on St Alban's Avenue until Mother's death in 1964. After his first book's success in 1956, Gerald tried to set up a zoo in Bournemouth, then in Poole at Upton House in Poole in 1957, with the animals kept in the meantime at Margo’s boarding house (with predictably chaotic results). Railing at what he called 'the constipated mentality of local government,’ he gave up, moving to Jersey in 1959. The Jersey zoo’s captive breeding programme would continue to flourish, with Gerry’s 2nd wife Lee, a zoology student, carrying on with it after his death from alcohol-related ailments in 1995.
Gerald wrote 37 books altogether, mainly humorous travel accounts somewhat in the style of Thurber. After the success of My Family And Other Animals, he wrote two more books on his Corfu idyll ("Like being pushed off the Bournemouth cliffs into heaven"), all now available in one volume as The Corfu Trilogy [2006]. The town makes occasional appearances in Gerald's memoirs, briefly in the opening of My Family And Other Animals, which he wrote here, and in Menagerie Manor, when he tried to set up his local zoo. Other local-interest pieces are "Ursula" in Fillets Of Plaice [sic] (coll. 1972); "The Picnic" and "The Havoc Of Havelock" in The Picnic & Suchlike Pandemonium (coll. 1979), and "Ludwig" in Marrying Off Mother (coll. 1991). "Ursula" features a visit to the Square & Compass pub at Worth Matravers, and "The Picnic" has the family for a postwar getogether at Lulworth (where Lawrence later wrote the first part of The Alexandria Quartet at a friend’s cottage). Lawrence’s own account of his time on Corfu is found in his 1945 memoir-travelogue Prospero’s Cell, which has an epilogue on how the island was devastated by the war. Dorset Life magazine has a feature outlining the family's Bournemouth connections, here.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bournemouth Air Festival 2017
(31 Aug - 03 Sept)
Said to be the largest event of its kind in the UK, this is the south-central region's biggest tourism event (now in its 10th year), though here our mandate is to look at it as a media event.
Once again, the official publicity makes it difficult to find out in advance what exactly is flying when, which in turn makes it hard for spectators to plan visits. Even for someone keen enough to stand on the seafront craning their neck at the sky like geese for 4 days, there is no way to be sure of what you are really seeing or about to see, as the timetable is subject to ongoing change. Only a constantly-updated online timetable, which spectators could access onsite via their mobile devices, would remedy this. Unfortunately, the push to sell the £8 official printed programmes as the way to find out what is flying generates confusion every year, for the 'timetable' lacks exact times, and is otherwise out of date by the time of printing. To get official updates, you have to log in to the official website and type in the 'code' ie coupon number from your printed souvenir-programme brochure. There is also an app you can download onto your smartphone for updates, again provided you can key in an access code. (We've dealt with this and other issues related to the BAF as a media event in previous years, cf here.)
The Echo, which prints the brochures, also has some details on a day-by-day basis in its print edition; though its online version has a twitter-style live-coverage column, the Echo site is now so top-heavy with ads that it is difficult to view on a PC, never mind a mobile device. (Attempts to use an ad-blocker result in the site imposing a fullscreen notice blocking the whole page. The only way to then view the page is to use Reader mode in Firefox, which renders a basic version.)
Luckily, other online sources are not so shortsightedly tight-fisted, and you can access an updated flying schedule via the Military Airshows site, here. From there, you can discover that one of the star attractions, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (a Spitfire, a Hurricane and a Lancaster) is cancelled on all 4 days, and what is replacing it in the way of other WW2 aircraft. There are over a dozen changes to the official schedule, even before the event has begun. (In the past, rain, wind and cloud have forced cancellations of entire days.) The BBC's local weather forecast, hour by hour, is here, and the Echo's 7-day forecast is here, while their live-traffic report page is here. (There is a park-n-ride scheme in place, as there is not enough parking to accommodate tens of thousands of extra visitors, details here.)
Beside the BBMF, a new entry, the Norwegian Historic Flight, is also to be a no-show. The other two big attractions from years past, the RAF's newest fighter the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the 1960s-era Avro Vulcan delta-wing nuclear bomber, are also to be no-shows this year. The usual flotilla of Royal Navy ships moored just offshore for visitors seem to have also gone missing. The one other big attraction, the Red Arrows RAF aerobatic display team, will be here 3 of the 4 days as scheduled, and their flying times are independently published (Thurs 6pm, Fri 330pm and Sat noon - in this last case, an hour and a half before the rest of the air display begins). The official airshow site also has a Facebook page, here. This has event updates as well as user-generated content ie comments which includes complaints, e. g. about last year's beach party which was hurriedly cancelled in midstream, so to speak, due to the sea swamping the fenced-off 'event' area when the tide came in.
As to this idea of site and event areas, a new wrinkle is an online notice that 'By entering the festival site you consent to your image being captured and used for future marketing purposes.' This apparently includes your children, who may be filmed by 'official event photographers, in pink t-shirts'. As the seafront is a public space, with the land owned by the Council and, below the tideline by the Crown, this 'implicit consent' idea seems dubious. On the same online page is a notice that 'Organisers are under strict rules to cancel the flying display programme if drones are flying in the dedicated approved air space.' In both cases, these notices seem to be just asking for trouble: on the one hand, there is the idea that anybody who wants to photograph your children just has to put on a pink t-shirt, and on the other, it advertises the fact that any joker who wants to get a flying display cancelled can put up a drone. (As well as practical jokers, there are protestors who object to it as what one local councillor has nicknamed the Bournemouth War Festival. This derives from the focus on warplanes, which sometimes appear accompanied by war-movie theme-tunes, and the way the RAF treat it as a recruitment opportunity - they are first onsite with their pier-approach recruitment stand, usually a Chinook helicopter on 'static display'.) This is despite the mantra the organisers [sensibly] 'do not discuss security arrangements', which will likely be enhanced this year due to the danger of truck-style terrorist attacks on the crowd, who can number over 300,000 a day.
Once again, official BAF partner Wave 105 FM are providing not only an audio commentary but a live video feed as well, accessible here.

And for anyone not familiar with the town, we have orientation-guide pages up to the The Pierhead & Central Seafront Area and The Square and surrounding area just inland of that. (They were done for the new wave of 'digital creative' types interested in he town's officially-publicised 'Silicon Beach' aspect, but these guides, mainly to eating and drinking establishments, can be used by anyone.)

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