Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 26 October 2013
Just short of a technical giant
'Bruce and Sheila' - I wrote their names down, but without looking them up I am ashamed to say that I have forgotten them already.
This couple came all the way from Australia, just to visit The Bell Inn here in Bath, shortly after it was bought in a community take-over which produced over 530 subscribers, one of whom is Robert Plant - yes, the Robert Plant, who lives close by.
You can still hear the East London twang in the voice of the one with the rabbit-skin hat, but the accent of her with the soft drink does not betray the fact that her relatives lived in Bath in the 19th century. I was discreet enough not to ask how they ended up Down Under, as I believe that the debt to society has been settled now, and enough is enough.
That was her second soft drink in quick succession - she knocked the first one over the trousers of her husband as soon as it was paid for.
If they come back next Summer - or even this Christmas - they will see a new, improved, shiny frontage to The Bell, as scaffold is now up so it can be polished. I have inveigled myself into the position of 'Spiritual Advisor' for this external restoration project, and any attempt to divert me from the inspired choice of colour for the windows and woodwork is met with a hair-drier blast of petulant invective which sees off the most opinionated of cooks in this already over-crowded kitchen.
Same with the signage and same with the stonework. I am not indispensable, I am just wearily tolerated.
There is a pub just down the road called 'The Saracen's Head', which proudly proclaims that it is the oldest dedicated pub in Bath, dating as it does from 1723. Dickens stayed here in the 19th century and is reputed to have written the best part of one of his books in his room upstairs.
Well I have news for you, Saracen's Head - The Bell dates from 1704. Nya nya nya nya nya!
The Bell (ok, I know there are about 5000 other 'Bells' in the UK - and so do my German friends who tried to telephone me there once by consulting a directory for a pub with that name in England), was purpose built as the first (or last, depending on which direction you were travelling in) Coaching Inn outside the Eastern side of the city walls - the road to London.
Actually, it was only the main approach to London before the Post Chases were developed later in the 18th century, when - for a brief period - The Bristol to London coaches entered the city from the North Gate, where they made a slight diversion South on their way to Marlborough.
Now - as for the last 3 or 4000 years - again, you leave the town via Walcot Street on your first steps to London, and the first church (rebuilt 3 times in the last 300 years) is called St. Michael Without - 'without' meaning 'without a city wall', just like that Christmas Carole which caused me so much confusion as a child.
The name 'Walcot' denotes a whole community built up alongside a wall, but now Walcot is the largest parish in Bath, showing how far without it has sprawled.
Down in The Roman Baths, there is the skeleton of a man in a glass case, and this body was found - encased in stone - right alongside the stretch of road which leads past The Bell Inn - right opposite in fact.
Thanks to modern forensics, they have discovered that this man was an international trader from Syria (I believe) about 2000 years ago. So nya nya nya nya nya! to all you pesky Romans too, for spreading the lie that we were insular savages before you arrived.
I first saw this Syrian trader lying in his grave in Walcot Street, then the second time it was down in the bowels of the Bath's archives some years ago, where he was disrespectfully stuffed into a small, cardboard box in the dark. I lifted the lid of the box and felt not a little sorry for him, so far from home and torn from his almost final resting place.
Then, the last time I was in the museum, I took a closer look at his re-assembled remains and - with mounting incredulity - began to realise how tall he must have been in life.
At a rough guess, I would say that he must have been around six feet six inches high - a mere two inches short of a technical giant, even for these modern times.
So nya nya nya nya nya! to all you historians and anthropologists too, for spreading the lie that we were all midgets before you turned up.