Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 22 April 2012
Too, too pretty
They are currently trying to decide on which English (and Northern Irish) village is the most quintessentially 'typical' and pretty one, and all the old favourites are being put up for consideration, as they have been for years.
Living in Bath means that I am within easy reach of quite a few, because many of them 'nestle' in the Cotswolds and surrounding areas, untouched by bombs and planners because they have been ignored by everyone except film location finders and Japanese tourists.
The closest to us is - of course - Castle Combe (above), which everyone in the world has probably seen since it was Dr Doolittle's abode all those years ago. There is also a race-track incongruously close to it, and cars can be heard screaming around during the season.
Then there is Lacock (which I heard pronounced as 'La Coq' by a French tourist once), which you will recognise as some of the quieter parts of Hogwarts school, and rural areas away from Diagon Alley.
A little further away and deeper into the Cotswolds is Bibury, which has a river running through it, and is the most congested stretch of road leading to Oxford due to the coach-loads of tourists that wander up and down in the summer.
Living in Bath also means that we are quite often living on a film-set, as anyone who has seen any Jane Austen adaptation will know, but Bath - though small by city standards - is large enough to accommodate a few thousand extra visitors. Indeed, the present Georgian version was designed with visitors in mind, so we have become used to it over the last 300 years. We actually depend on it.
It must be hell living in an impossibly pretty village though, during the season. Imagine having to have lace curtains up during the day as face upon face leers through at eye level, trying to see what it is like to be a real live Hobbit.
A few years ago, my German mate set off from Bath in his classic Mini to visit Polperro, all the way down there in Cornwall. He returned earlier than expected, and when I asked him what it was like (I have never been there) he pulled a sour face and said it was horrible. Just too perfect - too impossibly perfect - and he is the biggest Anglophile you could possibly meet.
I told him about a village in Germany which I had visited some years before, which had the same effect on me. It was far enough south to escape my father's attention in 1943, and I looked hard and in vain to find a single cigarette butt in the gutters, or a single piece of peeling paint on a window frame. I felt watched and stifled - the residents had developed a super-human pride in their Stadt and woe betide any auslander for dropping litter in it.
The French have never been over-burdened with a material sense of civic pride though. I booked a little house in a small village just south of Carcassonne once, to attend the wedding of some friends whose parents owned and ran a vineyard nearby.
The village was a small square, dominated by a church on one side and a Chateau just outside the entrance to it.
All of the houses - but one - were literally falling to pieces in a very picturesque way, with shutters falling off hinges and great flakes of paint hanging from door frames. Children ran in and out of them to play in the square or sit on the steps of the church to chat. Right in the middle of one row, an empty little house stood there between the others in stark contrast, because it was immaculate.
All the woodwork was freshly painted, the walls were freshly white-washed and there were two pots either side of the entrance which were stuffed with fresh flowers in bloom. It really stood out.
I made some enquiries about it, and discovered that this cottage belonged - as a holiday home - to a couple from England.
When I asked which part of England they came from, the old local told me it was somewhere called 'Bath'.