Maybe Bath's rulers are cleverer than I think

"YOU'D THINK with all the money they saved on not having Christmas lights, they could afford to clear the pavements more than they have..." This was a grumble I heard in a shop in Bath earlier this week, as the ice and slush built up. Well, not so much a grumble, really, as a ritual moan. The good burghers of Bath are used to acting as a sort of Greek chorus, standing by and wringing their hands while the council enacts its ancient role of tragic buffoon...

This moan was based on an announcement earlier this year that Bath would not be having municipally funded Christmas street lights this year - not enough money in the kitty. In fact there were also wide-spread rumours that it was nothing to do with money - it was all to do with the fact that the traditional municipal lights had been stored since last year in conditions of such damp or dirt or degradation (stories varied) they were no longer usable. Anyway, the shopkeepers of Bath kicked up a fuss, the same fuss they kick up when it is a matter of insufficient parking, or torn up pavements, or digging for cable TV, or bad refuse- collection, and then it all died down, as it tends to, until it's time for people to get worked up about Cleveland Bridge again...

Cleveland Bridge ? This is a bottle-neck on the way into Bath from London, on the A4. They've been indulging in traffic works to "improve" this since last summer, maybe longer, and tailbacks, trailing halfway round Bath, have caused endless misery to commuters and residents. They felt even more miserable when they found the council, by opting for cheaper improvements, had deliberately let the misery go on much longer than necessary. When the protest exceeded the normal ritual moan, the council actually shelled out a few more bob to hasten things slightly, but it didn't seem to make much difference.

Occasionally people do lose their tempers over the ongoing complacency of the council that oversees Bath. Not long ago there was a letter in the Bath Chronicle from a director of Sulis Pianos, an excellent firm, saying that he didn't know how much longer he could go on dealing with the council, which in his experience was the most incompetent, inept, and procrastinating local administration he'd ever come across. But anger seems to get nowhere with the council, which not only seems to be incompetent, inept etc, but also has the hide of a rhino, so that most people eventually give up and content themselves with a ritual moan.

Now, I don't live in Bath - I live across the border in Wiltshire a few miles away - so I have no axe to grind, but I think I can offer a few objective theories as to why world-famous Bath behaves in such a parochial manner. The first was actually offered to me by a local resident when I first arrived in the area. "You'll notice that Bath is surrounded by hills," he said. "This has a funny effect on the air here. It seems to trap the air in a saucer and make it very heavy, pressing down on the people, inducing a sort of lethargy and inertia in Bath..."

Well, perhaps. The second cause of the council's complacency may well be that it has committed so many big crimes in the past (eg tearing down much of the Georgian suburbs, allowing such hideous modern buildings to be erected in the centre) that it now loses no sleep over minor crimes.

The third cause that comes to mind is the cause that was pinpointed by Jan Morris in an essay written in 1974. Her theory was that Bath was, at heart, not a city at all, but just another Somerset country market town which, by a freak of passing history, had been given the outward appearance of a world city. Bath has the body of a slice of world heritage: inside, it has the mind and heart of a small local council, penny-pinching over Christmas lights, dithering over its spa waters, counting the pennies...

I could be wrong. It might be that Bath and North-east Somerset Council, or whatever it is called this year, is clever enough to put out an image of bumbling, self-important, slightly pompous, slightly ineffective incompetence in order to deflect criticism, on the principle that if people have learnt not to expect very much from you, they won't get very upset by you, and just restrict themselves to a ritual moan...

Whatever the reason, it's a gripping spectator sport watching the people of Bath wring their hands. I'm just glad I'm over the border from Bath, in dynamic and go-ahead Wiltshire, where only this morning I was tottering along the unswept pavements of Bradford-on-Avon... But that's another story.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions