Wednesday, 19 September 2018


This is the only remaining medieval gate of the city of Bath.

Embiggen the picture to see the scores and scratches on its walls, caused by all the carts going up and down to the river to load and offload goods to and from boats.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

London Transportation

On Sunday we visited the Rosemary and Clifford Ellis exhibition now running at the gallery here. The above is one of a set of posters for the London Underground of the 1930s. The rest are called 'Wood', 'River', 'Down', etc.

Just imagine sitting in a gloomy tube station in pre-war, subterranean, smoggy London and being transported (metaphorically) into the countryside by one of these wonderful posters. The tradition of commissioning artists who actually use paint to produce evocative adverts encouraging people to use public transport run by the nation - with no competition - died out sometime in the 1970s. Recently GWR has made some posters and videos which hark back to those times, but the unmistakeable flatness of computer graphics are all over them.

If you are anywhere near this exhibition you really must see it - it is charming and uplifting. It is easy for me to suggest this - I live 50 feet away from it.

Yesterday, an old friend and colleague sent me the catalogue for his exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the Guildford School of Art 1968 sit-in. It is packed full of photos from the time - there's a young Jack Straw, there's John and Yoko, there's me! - and reproductions of the work of some of the artists who attended all those years ago, but the best thing for me is a diary of events kept safe for 50 years by one of the students who recorded it all at the time. Being 16 years old then,  only key events remain in my memory, so it is good to have the evidence to show that I was not - as my parents insisted - brain-washed by a load of communists with another agenda. No wonder you lot think of me as a left-wing extremist.

Remember the elderly lady, Marion, who H.I. and I suspected had been taken to hospital last Christmas? That the hospital refused to confirm or deny that she was an inmate because we were not relatives? I know that her family were estranged from her for reasons which are too shocking and depressing to go into here. Well, I have news.

Every now and then over the last few months I have made another effort to trace her, then it occurred to me about a week ago that a friend of mine's brother lives in the same semi-sheltered accommodation that Marion did. I contacted my friend in Wales who contacted his brother, and two days ago received the news that Marion had been taken to a proper nursing home. I looked up nursing homes in this area, and was dismayed at how many there are. Marion had turned into a needle in a smallish haystack.

Last night her son - who we had not met - called us to say that Marion died a couple of days ago. We had left it a tiny bit too late to give her the copy of the drawing she made some years ago at one of H.I.'s classes which was stolen shortly after she had done it. I don't know why she didn't call us. Apparently H.I.'s name was on the top of the list for people to be contacted in the event of her death.

Poor old Marion.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Local Hero

Having grown up with the British phone box, I only notice them when they disappear.

Here in Bath (and all over Britain) foreign tourists have their photographs taken standing outside them, and whenever I see this I am reminded that they typify the sort of Britain that became famous in the 1960s. All those films of Swinging London, etc.

For obvious reasons, most of the rural ones have gone now, but some villagers cannot bear to lose them, so when whoever is responsible for their upkeep refuses to spend any money on keeping the service going, the locals are given them to do with them as they want.

In my adopted village they have turned theirs into a mini library. The phone has been stripped out, the power turned off and shelves have been put up. This is a risk-free venture, because most charity shops don't need any more books now, and even literate vandals are not interested in them.

The first thing you notice when you go into the booth is the stink of stale tobacco and bad breath. If you're lucky there will also be an undertone of urine, but since the rumour of the electrocuted drunk spread, the odour of piss has diminished.

You lift the receiver and put the money in  - coin by coin - dial, and press button A. When your call is answered you press button B and a cascade of noisy copper hits the metal tray bellow. For international calls you have to wait quite a while for the coins to drop before you can hear the person on the end of the line.


Sunday, 16 September 2018

It could be you (but it probably won't)

Today, I feel like anything is possible. I woke up remembering the advice, God helps those who help themselves, but then immediately recalled how it was abused and mis-used at the fraternal dinner table when there was only one roast potato left.

The other old adage 'know your limitations' throws a bucket of cold water over dreams and ambitions, especially when you are my age or older, but it is far kinder to say that to me than it would be to say it to my grandchildren.

Dynasties of actors are pretty much irrefutable evidence to support the predominance of nurture  over nature, but the right environment to bring out the best in children has to include opportunities provided by connections, or even just having a few spare moments when the struggle to stay alive is not your sole purpose in living. These days, those moments are considered luxuries which most cannot afford.

Dreamy kids in a commercial world.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

When trains had travel posters

It's that time of year again, when people dress up as Jane Austen and parade around the streets. The men affect a certain swaggering, self-conscious walk which enhances their twattish personas. This year we have an English military marching band with bright red uniforms and fixed bayonets. They are all about 30 years too old to serve in any army except Dad's.

I think that next year I will not wash for 6 months, then dress up as a genuinely stinking old tramp from the era and mingle with my fellow time-travellers. Not everyone was middle class in 1820, though nobody else is represented. Bring your Eau de Cologne.

Those women are walking beneath a banner for the Clifford and Rosemary Ellis exhibition at the gallery. C & R Ellis had a lot to do with Bath - or at least Corsham when the Art School was there. You will recognise their art - they were prolific illustrators.

There is something really charming about their illustrations - I suppose they remind me of my childhood with old books and travel posters on trains.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Consultation period my arse

I heard the other day that Bath City Council are to allow a private company to patrol the streets looking for people dropping litter and issuing on-the-spot fines of £150. Drop a cigarette end in the gutter and the private company's bounty-hunter will approach you from their hiding-place and demand £150, or else.

Or else what? Well if you refuse to give them your name and address, they will follow you around wherever you go, and f that doesn't work they will call the police. The police don't really have the time to attend the scenes of such serious crimes against society, so they will demand a high fee from the private company to do so, and the fine you will eventually be forced to pay on pain of imprisonment will double or triple.

The councillor who instigated this latest money-spinner was on TV saying that of course the private company will make a lot of money from this new enforcement of an old by-law. After all, what would be the point of paying their officers to patrol the streets if they did not? Patronising cunt.

We are currently undergoing a 'period of consultation' about  measures to be taken to clean the air of the city of exhaust fumes and pollution. They have already set up number-plate recognition cameras on all key routes in and out and invested in the software and operatives to run them. This will have cost a great deal of money, but it will be a very good investment. The daily charge to get in to the 'clean air zone' will be extremely high. They are talking of £16 for a car and £100 for a coach or lorry.

People like me who live in the centre and have to drive a car to suit their job or budget, and who cannot afford to buy a brand new car or electric vehicle will be - on top of the council taxes and parking fees - charged £96 a week for the privilege of holding down part-time work in old age, plus an extra £16 if we want to go out of town and go back home on Sunday.

Central government is all for this, because it means - guess what? - extra revenue all round. They have been preparing everyone for schemes like this one to be rolled out across the country by putting out highly spurious statistics on how many people die every year from air pollution. They measure the fatalities in the hundreds of thousands. It's bollocks, and they know it.

Bath's 'consultation period' is, in fact, just 18 months to allow everyone's anger to burn out so that when the time comes we are wearily resigned to being fleeced - yet again. They don't want our opinions. They have already made their minds up.

Somebody has to pay for this prolonged period of austerity, and it's not going to be the people who caused the need for it.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Unreserved apology

First of all, I have to apologise to all the builders who I have been slagging off (see Can you keep a secret? post) as uncaring incompetents, and all the developers as grasping and ruthless businessmen. I reserve the right to slag them off in the future, though.

Those 17th century beams I told you had been cut out are, in fact, still there. A builder has turned up to work this Sunday, and he pulled back the tarpaulin to prove it. All they have done is put a thick timber spacer on one beam to support the rest of the new woodwork (as seen in the photo) which is just what I would have done when a builder.

I think I should tell you how this misunderstanding occurred. I came home the other evening (yes, yes, from the pub...) and asked H.I. if they had been working on it that day, and she replied that they had. I said that at least they had saved the two huge old timbers, and she said 'no they haven't, they took them out today'. I asked if they had used a chainsaw, and she said that she thought they had.

Knowing that it is as impossible to mistake the sound of a chainsaw as it is to talk over the top of it, I believed her. I should have remembered that this was H.I. talking, and she may have forgotten what a chainsaw sounds like when someone is running one at full throttle right outside your kitchen window.

So the feeling of hopeless melancholy which ruined my evening was all for nought.

If there is a lesson to be learnt here, it is that most feelings of hopeless melancholy serve no useful purpose other than to ruin your evening, but I bet I forget this lesson very soon.