Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 14 December 2013
Having survived the outbreak of pox in the 18th century, this house on Barton Street stood too close to The Francis Hotel one night in 1942 and has the scars to prove it. The pink stone around the lower, central window is the effect of the fire which also gutted it that night.
I'm sure you know why six windows are blocked up, but I'll tell you anyway. The government - as keen as ever to milk the populace for revenue - decided to tax properties on the basis of how many windows they had, and the populace - as keen as ever to avoid as much taxation as possible - filled as many as they could with the local stone.
When they abolished 'the light tax' as a bad job, most people unblocked the windows, but a lot still remain, with recesses ready to take wooden sash-boxes. I unblocked a few some years ago, and it felt as though I was destroying a little bit of history.
Just past the woman with the shopping bags, there are three adjoining streets named 'Quiet Street', 'John Street' and 'Wood Street'. John Wood (the foremost architect of Georgian Bath) was at a council meeting one night, and anxious to see the business of the naming of his three new terraces seen out, so shouted, "What are we going to call my three new streets?"
The chairman shouted back, "Quiet, John Wood!"
There is a campaign being fought here right now to name a street in Bath, 'Nelson Mandela Street'. Here we bloody go again.
There is something a bit North Korean about naming streets after heroes, but at least we wait until the hero is dead before we start changing the names of airports and railway stations.
I am so glad that the stupid practice of putting up statues of dignitaries has gone out of fashion. I think the last one to be commissioned here was of Margaret Thatcher, and you would be hard-pressed to find an uglier piece of scrap metal lying around in a public place, waiting to be vandalised or melted down.
I don't think that there has ever been a statue of a human ever put up that does not look instantly ridiculous, especially with a pigeon perched on its head and white shit streaming down its face, and the effect is further enhanced if the hero is sitting upon a prancing horse.
Whenever I have been on horseback, I always felt a bit ridiculous and self-concious, and they were even real horses. The most extreme form of public humiliation used to be being forced to ride a horse through the streets back to front, and I don't know why this little detail should have made it so much more humiliating.
As I write this, I am looking out of the window at a rather fine statue of Queen Victoria, carved out of Portland stone by an Italian man who lived and worked in Bath at the turn of the 19th century. She has the characteristic, stern expression on her chubby, regal face.
A few years ago, some students climbed up and gave her a red plastic clown's nose, and now I cannot look at her in the same light again. Nothing is sacred.