Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 29 December 2013
Me trying to teach my good friend Colin how to send an email this Summer. The only reason I am showing you this picture is to point out the disgraceful absence of an apostrophe on the coffee mug.
Considering that he is only 18 years older than me, I reckon that either he is looking very good, or I am looking very bad. H.I. and me sat down to watch 'Papillon' the other night, and I was depressed to notice that it took about 20 years of solitary confinement, relentless torture, sleep and light deprivation, being shot at, witnessing many executions and a lengthy spell on Devil's Island before Steve McQueen's hair looked exactly like mine.
Those of you who remember Bath from the old days will probably recognise Colin as the inspirational owner of the now defunct, 'Paragon Wine Bar' - inspirational because he was the only proprietor in a very long line of them who actually made a healthy profit from it.
What was his secret? By just being himself, he created an ambience which became famous far beyond the city boundaries and which stretched the circle his hard-core regular clientele, of which I was possibly the most dedicated. (If anyone can give me a tip on how to make this last sentence a bit more graceful, I would be very grateful. Sarah?).
Colin was (and is) a product of a well to do family which long ago ran out of money and influence, but still retained the ostensible trappings which marks such families out - a love of country sports, a distinctly upper-class (if slightly military) accent and above all, his parent's furniture.
The Paragon Bar had a 'dumb-waiter' fitted just to one side of the staircase, and because the building was very tall and narrow, Colin would load all the washing-up in it before yanking on the rope to send it the two flights up to the kitchen.
Late one night as he was telling one of his long and rambling stories to the few who were left in the bar, he completely filled the opening of the dumb waiter with glasses and crockery before realising that the actual platform was still at the kitchen position, so he yanked hard on the rope to bring it hurtling down.
When it reached the ground floor, the sound of dozens of plates and glasses being smashed to smithereens was heard from behind the closed door. There was the briefest of pauses before he carried on with the story and he relaxed and sat down, leaving the clearing up for next morning.
During the lunchtime sessions in the bar, he would wait until precisely 1.30 pm before pulling the top off a can of Special Brew, often saying, "I have been fighting alcoholism for 40 years now, and I think I have finally given up".
On the wall next to the dumb waiter, Colin had fixed a stuffed and snarling fox-head mounted on a wooden shield (another family heir-loom) and often talked about mounting a fox-arse and tail on the other side.
There was a small dog who visited the bar regularly, and it would sit staring up at the fox, growling and snarling at it all night. This was all part of the ambience of the Paragon.
One night, a very pretty young woman with a very strong Northumberland accent asked for a 'Coke'. Colin looked at her quizzically for a second or two then asked, "Is that all you want?". He had become very testy with all the American ladies who turned up to eat one of the famous crepes (which he made no money on at all) and who all drank nothing but water as they ate them.
When the Geordie girl replied in the affirmative, he sighed and reached into a bucket, then produced a cork to hand to the girl. It was her turn to look at him quizzically. I later found out that he had genuinely misunderstood her.
Colin now lives in a pretty Cotswold village which is almost owned by his son-in-law and daughter. This is his front gate...
... and this is me in The Paragon in the old days...