Off to the beautiful city of Bath for the weekend with a group of good friends, some of whom I've never met before. And already I encounter a problem of the I-say-tomahto, you-say-tomayto variety. At a very grand dinner recently I sat next to Lord Bath (you know - lions, loins, attractive wifelets, embroidered weskits), and before long put my clog in it. I was telling the Lion of Longleat about the diaries of Frances Partridge.
Off to the beautiful city of Bath for the weekend with a group of good friends, some of whom I've never met before. And already I encounter a problem of the I-say-tomahto, you-say-tomayto variety. At a very grand dinner recently I sat next to Lord Bath (you know - lions, loins, attractive wifelets, embroidered weskits), and before long put my clog in it. I was telling the Lion of Longleat about the diaries of Frances Partridge. "She's always going on about visiting the Baths," I said. He looked confused. "The what?" Blimey. Poor soul doesn't know his own parents, I thought. "She used to stay with the Baths a lot," I said, enunciating clearly. "You know - at Longleat." His Lordship got very testy at this point. "Look here! What do you call it when you immerse yourself full-length in water for the purposes of washing?"
Lord Bath is well known for his eccentricity so I thought I'd humour the poor darling. "I suppose," I said thoughtfully, "I'd call it a bath."
His Lordship looked crestfallen. "Would you really? Because I'd call it a barth." "Well, I'm afraid I'd call it a bath," I said briskly.
The vins fins had been flowing without stint, so it wasn't until next morning that I realised how appallingly rude I'd been; just as much as if someone said to me: "I'm afraid I pronounce it Fee-yay, and that's that." (Though I was once asked if I was sure that's how my name is spelt.)
So I don't suppose I'll be popping in to see Lord Bath-sorry-Barth now, and besides, in the true English aristocratic fashion, I expect his stately pile is nowhere near Bath itself. But I've got a lot on my plate anyway. Why is it, usually around 10pm when the plebeian lagers have been flowing without stint, that you suddenly look around and say to yourself, wherever you are: "This... is... the... best bar in the world"? It happened to me on Saturday night, in Bath's gloriously unironic Lambretta Bar. (I first came across this syndrome as a student in Leeds, when I used to frequent a fetid hole in the ground called The Warehouse. Impressionable folk from NME and The Face were always - puzzlingly - voting it the best club in Britain. As a baby journalist I saw a new Manchester band there, fronted by a pained epicene who thrashed himself with a bunch of gladioli. Yes, I was the first hack in Leeds to herald Morrissey and pals in print, though my moment of glory was tempered by the fact that the headline on the piece ran: THE SIMTHS HAVE ARRIVED! An early and valuable lesson that the subs will get you every time.)
Why is the Lambretta Bar so great? Only because it's the sort of place where you can spend all night monopolising the pool table, laughing hysterically and continually hitting the overhead lights with your pool cue - and none of the regulars takes that pool cue and beats you to death with it. They're that laid-back in Bath.
The next day, nursing a hangover (I'd tried smothering it in its crib, but no luck) I crept over to the Holburne museum, situated in a wonderful Regency building once frequented by the Great Jane (Austen). It currently hosts an entertaining exhibition called "Sleeping Beauties", filled with artworks pre-, post- and in the course of conservation, with panels explaining what needed to be done in each case to bring the dormant treasure back to life. I expect I missed the subtleties, but the treatment seems to boil down to: "We scrape the crud off and touch it up with Dulux." And the room is filled with masterpieces that look as though they were painted yesterday! Er...
I'd been wondering what had happened to Bath's legendary crusties - on previous visits it's been crawling with capering pedlars, and the sort of indigents who hunker down by the cashpoint displaying their piercings like medieval beggars used to air their sores. Their numbers seem to be down on previous years. But outside the Holburne I spotted a lavishly pierced crusty in a fluorescent jacket, laboriously coning off the length of Great Pulteney Street. It turned out that the area was being taken over by a film crew. Soon the ravishing Georgian street was filled with cherrypickers, busily removing the 21st-century accretions from the noble stone. If Reese Witherspoon has a spare moment during the filming of Vanity Fair, I'm up for a game of pool in the Lambretta Bar.Reuse content