Matlock Bath last month and this month: just Bath.
Bath is one of those creamy, warm cities garnished with royal crescents, enviable bridges and collectable stony facades. It really is a city just gagging to have some regency feature filmed about it (maybe even a bit of Les Miserables?) or maybe even a novel or two.
Jane Austen was a one-time resident in Bath (although she wasn’t keen on it). She set two of her novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) in Bath.
Bath is probably unchanged in the older part of the city, and many of the places in which she would have twirled her parasol are still there – the Royal Crescent, the Circus, Queen Square, Pulteney Bridge, and the Pump Rooms.
Just to rub it in, Bath also has the rather splendid River Avon nudging its way under the Pulteney Bridge, which is one of only four bridges in the world to have shops sited across its full span.
Not far from the bridge is Bath Abbey in all its ecclesiastical splendour, towering and imposingly bulky against the grey February skies.
But the main attraction was waiting across the main square.
No, not the remarkable Roman Baths but my Long Island buddies Tom, Laura and Kristine!
A great day was had by all with plenty of reminiscences about last year’s USA trip to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and beyond. Obviously, it’s difficult to have a reminisce without a tall frothy one so a suitable drinking den was soon unearthed.
However, it would be unseemly to visit Bath and not seek out its main attraction, so a seemly bunch of us traipsed our way around this ancient Roman resort.
Bath has the only thermal spring in Britain, much enjoyed by the Celts before the Romans shouldered their way in sometime around AD43. They built a bath complex called Aquae Sulis – a resort devoted to rest, relaxation and probably a little fooling around.
The main pool is overlooked by a terrace of statues, the hot water itself looking anything but enticing these days with algae fooling around in it.
The whole complex is quite a feat of engineering, and provided healing hot baths, swimming pools, cold quarters and sweat rooms all ministered to by an impressive plumbing system.
There used to be a high colonnaded hall arching over the baths but it now stands open to the sky. There was once a handy temple nearby for worshipping between washing.
The Sacred Spring, a natural phenomenon where piping hot water hissed up through a crack in the earth, helped this plumbing along. The Romans took it to be the work of the gods.
Speaking of natural phenomenons, the Bowie Experience at the Alexandra Theatre contrived to pay tribute to a musical one (you’ll never guess who?)
Red shoes were put on and Bowie’s life’s soundtrack was, if not danced to, at least enthusiastically nodded to as the concert did justice to his various musical personas from A to Ziggy. Vocalist Lawrence Knight was a convincing stand-in for the great man, and virtually all of Bowie’s hits were powered through – Life on Mars, Spaceman, Space Oddity, Fame, Rebel Rebel and Heroes, finishing on a high with All the Young Dudes.
No sign of the Laughing Gnome though…
Old Moor up in South Yorkshire was the venue for a spot of birding this month.
Old Moor is in the heart of the Dearne Valley, and has several trails and pathways to steer the happy wanderer around the open wetlands of reedbeds, meadows, scrapes and meres.
The feeding station next to the visitor centre generates as many birds as you’ll be likely to see the rest of the day. Especially good are the finches with good numbers of Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch.
The bird feeders attract huge numbers of other species too – Tree Sparrows, Reed Buntings, Robins, Blackbirds and Dunnocks, as well as a decent selection of pigeons and doves. A Kestrel perched up close by but affected such lack of interest that a tiny Bank Vole mustered a few nervous little scurries out from under a log to snack on a seed or two.
Jackdaws mobbed a Marsh Harrier, Goosanders goosed around the pools and a small gathering of barely-visible snipe hunkered down by the water’s edge.
Snipe fun fact: hunters have such difficulty shooting this bird because of its erratic flight that it gave rise to the term ‘sniper’ – meaning a highly-skilled marksman!
Here’s a snipe from the RSPB website (curiously, they don’t have any illustrations of snipers).
The Winslow Boy – Birmingham Rep
This little production was pretty good – not bad at all.
Here’s the Express & Star’s take on it, by Kirsten Rawlins.
At the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, about thirty per cent of the population were practising Christians. There was a rigid class structure and a very strict code of moral ethics. Perhaps the most highly valued of these was to always tell the truth, which is the central plank of Terrence Rattigan’s 1946 drama The Winslow Boy.
The history of politics is littered with the names of those who have failed in this respect. David Lloyd George sold knighthoods and peerages while John Profumo was involved with prostitutes and spies. Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitkin went to prison for their misdemeanours. In most cases it wasn’t the deed that caused the problem but telling lies about it most certainly was.
The play has 13-year-old cadet Ronnie Winslow expelled from Naval College for allegedly stealing a five-shilling postal order and cashing it.
When questioned by his father he denies the charge and the family decide that they will do whatever is necessary to clear his name.
This requires the hiring of the best barrister in the country, Sir Robert Morton, QC. The case takes nearly two years to be resolved. The Winslows lose most of the family money, the daughter is forced to break off her engagement, and the eldest son has to give up his place at Oxford University while the father’s health deteriorates rapidly. But the mantra ‘Let right be done’ ensures that the family will keep the action going.
The stand-out performance of the night comes from Dorothea Myer-Bennett, as Ronnie’s elder sister Catherine, who is a leader in the early Suffragette movement and clearly a proto-type feminist. She remains committed to her brother’s cause even if she has some doubts.
Timothy Watson gives a nicely judged portrayal of the celebrated barrister and admits that his courtroom style is in the pursuit of what is right. There’s tremendous support from Tessa Peake-Jones (Raquel from Only Fools and Horses!) as Ronnie’s devoted mother Grace and Aden Gillett as his father Arthur.
The production has no quirky distractions and characters are allowed to develop. The drama is carefully unwrapped and tells a compelling story most convincingly.
The play does have a sad irony: It is based on a true story about George Archer-Shee who left his naval college and went to another public school. He was commissioned in the South Staffordshire Regiment at the outbreak of World War One, but was killed in action in the first battle of Ypres in October 1914 aged just nineteen.
Now for this month’s walk – a bright, blue spring day ramble just a short hop from Brum. At lunch time, there was a classic car garnering quite a bit of attention in the pub car park (I think it was a 90 year old Austen 7).
Here we go, courtesy of Paul Hands:
Parking & Start :
New Wood Lane, Blakedown – parking on grass verges on left hand side of lane.
GR: 880777 OS map Explorer 219
Take the footpath North to Blakedown. NW past the golf course to Waggon Hill. Then Bridlepaths and footpaths to Churchill via a good viewpoint. Footpaths to Stakenbridge Farm, then on S of Harborough Hill to Broome. Footpaths S from Broome to Drayton for lunch at the Robin Hood – pleasant pub with good food and beer (and a good little sun trap on the patio!)
After lunch, take the footpaths to Hillpool, Sionhouse Farm. Bridle path over Barnett Hill (good views) and back to the cars.
This is pleasant, gently undulating walk, with lakes, some nice views, not far from Brum.
This month, the Flat Disc Society offered a double-bill: two main features with a similar theme.
Lunch Hour, a tale of a romance between a married junior executive (looking not unlike a rogue Alan Partridge!) and one of his designers. They begin their romance by sneakily booking hotel rooms under an assumed name, but before long the lies told to the hoteliers take on their own form.
Next up was Une Liasion Pornographique from 1999. Unavailable commercially in the UK, Une Liasion Pornographique tells the story of two people who meet after she places a no-strings attached advert in a paper. They share their experiences individually and directly to us after the event. But are their meetings really that simple?
Apropos of nothing really, but here’s a Father Ted sketch to nicely round things off this month: