Special agent squirrel

Stop press! The water goddess Minerva has returned to restore order to the streets of Bath - cunningly disguised as an arboreal rodent
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The Independent Online

There was a fascinating concert interval talk on Radio 3 the other evening...

There was a fascinating concert interval talk on Radio 3 the other evening...

A reader writes: Good heavens! What a sad person you are! Have you nothing better to do than listen to people filling in time between two halves of a concert ? At least, if you were at the real concert you could go and get an interval drink at the bar!

Miles Kington writes: If you forced your way to the top of the queue, maybe. Anyway, I think the interval talk is often the best part of a radio concert. Only takes twenty minutes. Doesn't go on and on, as Mahler and Bruckner do. It's swift and sweet – and interval talks don't have intervals! And I can always get a drink in my own home without queuing...

A reader writes: Yes, yes, all right, point taken. So you were listening to this Radio 3 interval talk...

...which was all about some strange objects found in the Roman baths at Bath. As you know, Bath is built on a series of hot springs. Water comes bubbling up from under Bath in profusion, and the Romans used this for drinking, bathing, swimming...

A reader writes: As still happens today, presumably.

Unfortunately not. Over the years, the City of Bath has proved rather lackadaisical about using its God-given warm springs, and within the last 20 years has been much better at closing down swimming pools than opening them. There are always spa schemes on the go, and the one at present on the go seems nearer completion than most. However, so little use is made of the waters that if you sued Bath Spa under the Trades Description Act for using the word "spa", you would have a good chance.

Still, every cloud has a sulphur lining, and every time the baths close down, the archaeologists get a chance to move in. And one thing they have found in the Roman Baths over the last 100 years is a series of rolled-up lead tablets, looking like metal cigars.

A reader writes: Fossilised swimming trunks, perhaps?

No. They turn out to be curses. People in Roman times who had things nicked couldn't go to the police, so they often went to the baths and had a lead tablet inscribed to the water goddess, Sulis Minerva, asking for a thousand plagues to come down on whoever stole their animals, or cloak, or money. Apparently, a lot of stuff was stolen from their possessions in the changing rooms while people were actually in the baths. Then these lead curses were thrown in the water. And because they were written on lead, an expert can still just about read them.

A reader writes: Do they have any idea if the curses worked?

They think it's unlikely. What's interesting, though, is that nothing much has changed over the years. People in Bath still complain that crime isn't cleared up and that the police don't respond to calls. Several high profile murders have taken place in the Bath area and very few have been cleared up. If you're thinking of committing a murder, Bath isn't a bad place to consider doing it in.

A reader writes: What's so special about Bath? Other towns grumble about their crime and detection rate.

Well, there was one rather special development last week. According to the Daily Star, the Bath police were finally able to clear up a crime with the help of a grey squirrel.

A reader writes: Pardon?

It seems the Bath police were called to a garage to arrest a man who had been stealing stuff. They caught him, but didn't know where the thief had left the stuff. Then they noticed a grey squirrel outside the garage which was making signs as if to beckon them. They followed it and it led them to a tree not far away up which it climbed. At the base of the tree, there was a pile of boxes filled with the stolen stuff!

A reader writes: And what do you deduce from this?

That the goddess Sulis Minerva had at last responded and come back in disguise as a squirrel to help clear up some crime. After a 2,000-year response delay, admittedly.

A reader writes: And what lessons can we draw from this, pray?

If you can't get through to Bath police, trying praying to Sulis Minerva. Your chances are probably as good.