My Bournemouth Story: Why I Left in 2009 and Why it Took me until 2014 to return.

bournemouth dorset

The story of how and why I left Bournemouth and vowed never to return, until last week…

“You’ll never change what’s been and gone” – Noel Gallagher

It took me almost 5 years to return to the seaside town of Bournemouth in Dorset, England. It was the town I had spent most of my adult life in, and the town which kick started my journey round the globe. I first moved to Bournemouth 11 years ago, that was September 2003. But things went sour for me in Bournemouth back in 2009 and I vowed never to return. I never really wrote the reasons why, I wasn’t happy about things at the time. Something changed though and in early 2014, the time was finally right for me to venture back to the streets of this iconic English seaside resort. In this post today, I don’t share my visa tips for Iraq, nor my top 5 things to do in Asuncion, nor how to backpack your way to Antarctica, but I’m telling my real life tale. This is my travel lifestyle blog don’t forget. It is what it’s always been. But there was once upon a time when Don’t Stop Living should have became “Stop Living” and I haven’t yet written about it. Here goes my friends…these are dark days…this is my story about why I left Bournemouth in 2009, saying I’d never be back and then finally going back in 2014.

slovenia 2008

All happy backpacking in Slovenia in 2008…

2008 had been a decent enough travel year for me up until November. I had been to Italy, Slovenia and Slovakia for the first time, I’d finally graduated, I’d lived my dream by spending 6 months working on car ferries (you can read about my Wightlink days here) and I shared a flat with 3 of my best friends, Corinne, Dan and Richard. The three of whom would play a remarkable part on my journey. We shared a flat in Southbourne, Bournemouth, Dorset. As well as working on the ferries, I was a barman in the popular Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. I made some travel plans to hit Italy in 2009 as well as plotting my supposed route to South America. I made it to both in the end, but not the way I planned.

“Love hurts, I won’t be fooled again” – Marti Pellow

life changed jonny blair

Working in a theatre bar in late 2008. Things were about to change…

I was working a lot of hours in the Pavilion Theatre at the time and headed into work for a normal shift on the Ballroom Bar. This is the day when it all changed…

I went into work one day in late November 2008 and my life was about to turn on its head. I didn’t know it then, nor did I know it for the few months afterwards. I had a girlfriend at the time, Helen. I’d met Helen after the Oasis gig the previous month and we were having fun. But this one day, I walked from my bar in the Pavilion Theatre to get some lemons, the lemons were in the coffee shop, Costa Coffee. Costa Coffee later became Piacetto. In there that day, working in the coffee shop was a quiet yet beautiful Hungarian girl by the name of Noemi Linzenbold.

“A pretty dancer from Hungary”

This is the first time I’m properly sharing this story on here by the way – it didn’t feel right before but it seems the right time for me to do this. Things seemed weird when I met Noemi, as Northern Ireland had just played Hungary and I fell immediately in love with this pretty Debrecen lady. Back on the streets of Debrecen, this girl was a top notch Hungarian dancer. But she was sad. She was crying, while playing a game to herself in the absence of customers buying coffee. She had just split up with her boyfriend. Somehow in the circle of life, I got caught up in it all.

bournemouth pavilion theatre 2008

Working in Bournemouth’s Pavilion Theatre in 2008.

I spoke to her at length over the next few weeks and something inside of me changed. I wasn’t myself. I was in love with this particular girl, yet I was so naive I didn’t know it. We had a night celebrating Christmas together at work and went to the Brasshouse Pub for a beer. I was on Guinness. She wasn’t. She didn’t drink. She detested alcohol. Anyway, Noemi would work in the coffee shop in the theatre while I’d do the bar. We’d be working together almost every day. We got free tickets to shows on our nights off and we ended up watching Peter Pan together. It was just two workmates going together. I didn’t know it was to become more than I’d bargained for…

drinks in brasshouse bournemouth noemi

Work Christmas drinks in December 2008 in the Brasshouse, Bournemouth.

New Year 2009 came round and I visited my church and prayed for a change in the new year. I had already backpacked round the world in 2007, (taking in about 15 countries) and started this blog and knew I would head off travelling again in 2009 – I had major plans. Meanwhile, my girlfriend Helen and I lost touch, it was my fault. I ignored her. I didn’t know why. I should have worked it out but I didn’t. Helen and I had split up, but nobody really ended it – my fault completely.

“I’m what you found, I’m upside down, you’re in the air” – Michael Stipe

helen in 2008 guinness

Guinness time with Helen back in 2008.

I had now fallen in love with this petite Hungarian dancer. Who lived just 2 streets away. We’d get the same bus together, we’d work together, we’d eat together and we got to know each other very well. It was obviously, too good to be true.

After a staff party in January 2009, she shocked me by inviting me back to hers and soon enough she was enticing me into steamy sex in the cold winter…I was smitten and yes it was her that made the first move, which is probably why I didn’t understand the situation. Early February I decided to concentrate on love and this one girl for the first time in my life. I ridiculously gave everything else up. Crazy. Everything that made me happy. I quit my stint as chief chairman, organiser and nutcase in charge of the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club. I gave up going to watch the Cherries, AFC Bournemouth. I wrote much less blog posts than normal (check my blog entries for early 2009 – few and far between). I also decided to give up alcohol completely unless I was in a new country. I changed because of this girl. She probably didn’t even notice.

“Don’t ever change” – Ian Brodie

Valentines day I cooked for her, bought her gifts and flowers and I was so enchanted. In February we went up to London and I took her sightseeing and out to some bars with my mates. In one of those bars, an Irish Pub in Soho, I had my last alcoholic drink in the UK for what would become 6 months. Times were good, but it was all a bit false somehow.

“In each and every gathering, a scapegoat falls to climb” – Michael Stipe

In early March we toured parts of Dorset, Southampton and Portsmouth together. I remember enjoying a romantic moment at the top of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth. It was all bliss.

“Every day is all there is in my some kind of bliss” – Kylie Minogue

During March I also started working again for the local council in their seafront huts. It was my plan to work as many jobs and hours as I could to save for Peru. Machu Picchu had been my main dream that year. Then my grandmother, Mary Blair died in March 2009. On Mother’s Day. Noemi spent the whole day with me – we toured the New Forest and she got my mind off things while I headed back to Northern Ireland for the funeral. For once I knew I’d found the girl for me. Oh really…

“You’re not the girl you think you are” – Neil Finn

In April things got even better. We shared many more intimate moments and I was happy not be be drinking or watching football. My flatmates couldn’t believe I had missed 7-8 Cherries matches in a row. I was a big football fan, and wouldn’t miss a home game except for a major work event but now I didn’t even check the scores. April 13th was Noemi’s birthday and we had such a great night. We also headed to Hungary to visit her family. I was loving it. I was happy almost all the time. But something wasn’t right. She didn’t want me and I was too stupid not to work it out. I visited Debrecen, Budapest and Szolnok and met all her family. I even turned down new beers in Hungary to prove to her I had given up alcohol.

“Finding ways to stay sober” – Damon Albarn

Out for a top meal in Budapest, Hungary and a sneaky wine.

Out for a top meal in Budapest, Hungary and a sneaky wine.

In May, we headed to Venice together and I splashed out on a decent hotel – the Hotel Noemi!! I showed her how a barman can backpack through cities with ease on a budget as well. We spent days on the beach, walking round the city and being cheap. It was amazing. Truly amazing. I was also now working on the Cross Channel Car Ferries. I worked in the bar and restaurant from Poole to Cherbourg, as well as the Guernsey, Jersey and St Malo routes. Life was good, until a bombshell dropped and my fall from grace was more dramatic than that of Wimbledon FC.

“The memory of what you had and what you lost” – Fleetwood Mac

Gondola Ride in Venice, Italy

Gondola Ride in Venice, Italy

After Venice, she told me she didn’t want to see me again. I was devastated. I had given up all this stuff for her, yes stupidly but now I had nothing. At least I felt I had nothing. I just felt so bad. Noemi was even embarrassed to be with me during those few months, something she later admitted to me. I don’t know how or why we had gotten into this relationship and this situation, but she wanted out and I didn’t. When she called it quits, I decided I was finished with life. This might be hard to understand for everyone reading. I mean at the time I still had a job (actually 2 jobs), I still had my mates (I ignored them for Noemi), I still had my family (always welcome), but I was simply suicidal. I was depressed. I was unstable. I wanted to die. I had given up the whole football, travel and beer lifestyle for this girl and I was out of the game now.

“Everybody cries and everybody hurts, sometimes” – R.E.M.

Hengistbury Head in the south of England. This is the place I drove to with the intention of killing myself.

Hengistbury Head in the south of England. This is the place I drove to with the intention of killing myself.

One cold, windy night in early June 2009, after 11pm, after work, I drove my car to the edge of a cliff at the notorious suicide spot, Hengistbury Head on the south coast of England. I remember getting lost along the way but I found it. I parked near the edge. I got out. I stared at the sea. I stared down the cliff. I got naked. I stood right on the edge. Thinking. I was ready to die – my suicide note was in my car, I can’t remember the words but “Noemi, I love you. Family and friends, I’m sorry” was something like what I wrote. I was finished. Then in the dark night, my phone bleeped with a text message and I turned round. I headed back to the car to check the message. I’d left my phone on the driver seat. It was a quiet night and the noise of the text message was distinctive. Perhaps I only went to check as I thought it could be Noemi. It wasn’t though – it was Dan. My flatmate and fellow AFC Bournemouth football and pub buddy. To this day I can’t remember what he said, but I was cold and it was windy and I put my clothes back on after reading it. I was still alive and I knew I had just diced with death. I thought of my dreams to see Machu Picchu. I thought of my family. I thought of Dan. I knew this Hungarian girl had f##ked my life up. But I had now survived. I felt like I’d beaten something.

“Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes” – Johnny Mandel

cherrybear afcb

Dan Darch and me, with Cherrybear in Happier times…

I went home to see Dan. I spoke to him briefly, told him I wasn’t feeling good and went to bed, up for work again as normal next day as if NOTHING had happened. Around the same time I talked to my Corinne at length. She was my Swiss flatmate who leant some girly advice to me when I had lost the plot. I didn’t tell her I was suicidal, I just wanted someone to talk to.

“You can talk to me anytime that you’re feeling down” – Chris Helme

jonny blair 2009

How I felt in the first 8 months of 2009.

At work I pretended to be all cool and normal. It was all a pretence. I came home every night and cried my eyes out. EVERY night for the whole of June and July. But I had survived. A few months previously, Manic Street Preachers released an album called “Journal for Plague Lovers” and it was written by Richey James Edwards. The guitarist and lyricist who disappeared back in 1995 – a suspected suicide. I listened endlessly to that album and it helped keep me sane.

“Only a God can bruise, only a God can soothe” – Manic Street Preachers

jonny blair condor ferries

Working for Condor Ferries in 2009 – we got to do some sightseeing too – here by Chesil Beach in Dorset.

To prove to myself that I had turned the corner, I booked a one way ticket to Taiwan. I knew I was getting back on the road again. I had spent almost 6 years (give or take the odd backpacking stint or trip round Europe) in Bournemouth by this point. With Noemi living round the corner and reminders of her every night I drove home, I had to leave the town behind. I vowed never to return. I just had to kill the ghost of her and of Hengistbury Head. The memories will linger forever and I can’t forget her, but 2009 was a dark dark year. By the end of the year I had new flatmates and worked in a really cool Irish Pub in Parramatta, Australia. I had also backpacked through Taiwan and met up with my best mate again.

“We’re still friends and we like each other” – Noel Gallagher

jonny blair taiwan

Smiling again in October 2009 while backpacking in Taiwan.

Thankfully in Antarctica in 2010 I met Panny, this sparkling travelling Hong Kong Girl. I had now lived a travel dream by visiting all seven continents and I then relocated to Hong Kong in 2011 and I was in love with the delightful Panny Yu! We have since travelled so much together – all over China and to about 25+other countries!!

“I found love so don’t fight it” – Ronan Keating

panny yu uruguay

First date with the delightful Panny Yu in Manchester Bar, Montevideo, Uruguay.

I’m at ease with my past now and felt that I could write about what went before. Panny Yu and I have a much closer relationship than anyone I’ve ever been with. In 2012, I did decide to return to England but I wasn’t yet ready for Bournemouth again emotionally and I ended up staying in Manchester at the last minute as I couldn’t face the history I’d had in Bournemouth. I met up with the lads again and went to watch Bury v. Bournemouth (an away match for my team).

“The boys are back in town” – Thin Lizzy

Back smiling in Manchester in April 2012.

Back smiling in Manchester in April 2012.

In early 2014, I somehow felt the time was right for me to return to the scene of the crime so I did. I arranged to meet Dan and head back to Bournemouth again last week. The fact it was a new year and the 5 year mark looming, made me think that I was finally at ease with the past. I headed to Portsmouth from London Waterloo, ticking off crazy old haunts everywhere. Dan picked me up and I got all emotional again. He drove me back on the familiar old road to Bournemouth.

“Come back to what you know” – Embrace

jonny blair bournemouth

First time on Bournemouth Beach for 5 years!! Last week!!

Life had truly gone full circle and I was back in Bournemouth. It had taken me 5 years to have the desire to head back there. It was the saddest, most emotional and most sentimental trip of my entire travel life. It was tinged with sadness but I had made it back. Alive, healthy, happy and safe.

“Search for the hero inside yourself” – M. People

jonny blair of dont stop living

First night back in Bournemouth with the lads – DON’T STOP LIVING!!

I just wanted to share this story with you all and to have it in written form for myself as well, so I can understand what happened. I can’t remember every detail and there were also times that I harmed myself in my bedroom, hurting myself to get pain out.

“All we know is that we don’t know how it’s gonna be” – Noel Gallagher

dont stop living

“In this crazy little timeframe we’ve been given, love your enemies and don’t stop living.”

On a final note, I’ve taken some stick on here particularly from arrogant travel bloggers and travel writers who deem themselves “better than me”. Nobody is better than anybody else. Nobody. I’ve survived to tell the tale. I hope to inspire others to do the same.

“Nothing’s gonna change my world” – The Beatles

If you’re suffering from mental health or depression, make sure you tell someone.

“You are not alone” – Jacko

And finally, Don’t Stop Living. This is truly the most inspirational three words you will ever hear.

“You say you want your freedom, but who am I to keep you down” – Fleetwood Mac

“I don’t cry for yesterday, there’s an ordinary world somehow I have to find” – Duran Duran

Repeat: “You’ll never change what’s been and gone” – Noel Gallagher

That my friends is my Bournemouth Story. Although this girl hurt me, I dedicate this post to the hungarian dancer and coffee shop assistant, Noemi Linzenbold. I hope you sleep in peace tonight, Noemi Tipney Linzenbold. I’ve stopped crying my heart out…

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