Welcome to Bath: just sink in and nod off

Share
There were two stories on the front of the Bath Chronicle, Bath's daily paper, last Thursday. One said "Princess Anne visits Bath" and, as if to prove it, there was a photograph of her getting out of a car and shaking hands with some silvery-haired local dignitary, prior to entering the Guildhall to address a meeting. "Dozens of police had been brought in to line her route and keep security tight," the story ran. They had done their job rather too well, it seems. It was clear from the photograph that not only were there no crowds to see Princess Anne, but there were no onlookers either. Not even a policeman was in sight lining the route, except for the plainclothes man holding the royal car door open. The rest of the street scene was innocent of humanity. The Princess Royal might as well have been getting out in the middle of the country to stretch her legs for all the attention it provoked. Princess Anne's visit had been greeted by Bath with a lack of deference that one can only call apathy.

The other story was headed "Last-ditch bid to restore spas".

Bath is making a last-ditch pounds 5m bid, said the text, to restore Bath's famous spas to their former glory. The deadline for bids falls on Monday, and represents the city's final chance to get Millennium Commission funding for the spas. A previous bid for lottery money had failed, but this time council officers are hopeful they have got it right ...

Both stories, quite by accident, illustrate the kind of complacent inertia that typifies Bath more than most similar cities. When I first came to live near Bath 10 years ago, I was told by an inhabitant that I should beware most of all of falling prey to inertia. "Bath sits in a saucer between high hills," he told me, "and the air sinks down and sits heavy at the bottom of the saucer - it affects everyone in Bath, and it seems very difficult to get enough energy going to do anything ..." He would have said more, but he sank into a soporific silence.

This seemed rather fanciful to me at the time, but I have come to feel he may have been right. I have since discovered it is not a new idea. When Jan Morris lived in Bath 20 years ago, she sometimes felt the same. "When the weather is wrong," she wrote, "or the mood jars, even the splendours of the place go sour. Then the honey-gold turns to grey, the hills look drab and lifeless, the young people seem to disappear from the streets, and Bath seems despondently sunk in its muggy valley - its sulphurous pit, as Pope called it.

"Bath," thought Jan Morris on reflection, "often has a sadness to it ... I myself attribute the sensation to an unfulfilment in Bath. Since the end of the 18th century, and the departure of the fashionable to newer and racier resorts, Bath has never recaptured its purpose - or rather, the particular purpose the Georgians gave it, and for which their glories were designed. Bath is only a bourgeois Somerset town, dressed like a capital."

There is certainly still a lack of nerve, a lack of will, about Bath. The town was built upon its warm and bubbling waters, upon its role as a spa, a place of recreation and healing, yet the place seems fatally unable to get its act together to reopen its watery facilities. Never mind a last-ditch attempt to reopen as a spa - this year, Bath's only public swimming pool has been closed during the whole summer, because of cock- eyed planning and past incompetence. Yes, a city built on water cannot give its visitors a spa treatment or its residents a swim. Something wrong, surely.

Bath does, as Jan Morris said, have a museum feeling. You can find an open-top tour bus any time you like in the centre of Bath. But you cannot find a hardware shop to buy screws or nails. It's much safer, for that, to go out to an outlying village such as Larkhall, to the splendid Langridge's Hardware Shop, and not look in Bath at all.

And it was there last week, on the very day that Princess Anne had visited Bath unnoticed and the last-ditch spa bid was announced yet again, that I went to the Rondo Theatre in Larkhall and saw a splendid play about the incompetence and arrogance of Bath City on stage, which, if I were mayor of Bath, I would immediately sue for slander and defamation, before having the author detained and the actors flung in jail.

Full and fearless details of this extraordinary production tomorrow.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory