OK, I should probably take a pause from revelling in Paris to write about Bath and the rest of my time in England. But before I do so, I do need to update you on the important question of vegetable pectin jellies. I have not yet tried them all, but the fennel and tomato ones are lovely (the tomato ones taste like some sort of stone fruit – peach or apricot or nectarine), and the capsicum one is *deeply* weird. It tastes like a sweet capsicum jelly. Which is what it is, of course But I’m not at all sure that capsicum was ever meant to be a dessert flavour, even if Jacques Genin says so.
So. Bath. Which is already nearly a week ago, how did that happen? My friend E organised the entire Bath trip, which was awesome, because both of us, alas, had the plague – I was still beginning my plague, and E was at the long, drawn-out, endless coughing stage of hers. This was good in some ways, because we were both entirely in agreement about not overdoing things, and it was amusing in other ways, because at any given moment, one of us would be completely spaced out on cold drugs. Fun times!
The train down was an exercise in two people who really shouldn’t be using their voices chattering incessantly. Oops. But we don’t see each other often, you see…
We got to Bath, and went in search of our B&B, which turned to be uphill from the train station.
Quite a long way uphill. Also, four stories high (one down, three up), and we were on the top floor.
It was also kind of gorgeous, though, because it had been built and owned by the architect who designed that entire row of houses when they were first built in the late 18th century, and he had awarded himself the best view over Bath, and window seats on every level. This was lovely.
We let ourselves in, dropped our bags, and headed back down the hill, coughing merrily, to Bath.
You cannot do Bath thoroughly in 24 hours, and there is no point in trying. My goal was to see Bath Abbey, the Jane Austen House, and the Costume Museum, and anything else would be icing on the cake.
We felt very Jane Austen, or perhaps Georgette Heyer, really. Or Mary Poppins, with all those umbrellas…
We wandered randomly down pretty laneways, and eventually found the Abbey, which was really lovely.
They had some sort of exhibit with origami butterflies suspended from the ceiling.
The Abbey also had windows for four colonies – India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I have no idea why. But I’m rather enjoying collecting Australian-themed windows in English churches.
They were having a piano recital while we were there, which was also lovely.
I liked this memorial to a beloved niece.
I then had a major coughing fit and had to leave in order not to disrupt things, so I wandered around outside and completely lost E for about half an hour, but we found each other again eventually, and moseyed onward to the lunch place she had researched.
After lunch, we wandered down more pretty streets, in the direction of a coffee shop of interest to E and the Jane Austen House.
The latter was a lot of fun – it’s quite a small museum, and the staff are all in Regency dress, with nametags telling us which Austen character they are. We were given a guided tour by Fanny Price, who also had the coughing plague. The third woman in our group, who was the only healthy person among us, looked a little alarmed at all our consumptive (but period appropriate) coughing.
We didn’t have a lot of time, but we did get to see a short film about the life of Jane Austen, and … you know, this was where my medication made me space out, because I cannot for the life of me remember what else was in that museum. I really can’t. Goodness. Sorry about that. I can tell you that I behaved very irresponsibly at the gift shop, which was excellent and dangerous and I was still excited by the new discovery that there were only two dollars to the pound and not three…
We then meandered randomly back through Bath towards our B&B, and E incited me to buy a jumper with cupcakes on it. I didn’t need much inciting. We trudged up the hill, coughing a lot, and introduced ourselves to our hosts.
Our hosts have a plot in a community garden, where our hostess keeps bees and grows potatoes and asparagus, among other things. They also have chickens in their gardens, and some other veg and herbs there. We asked what their suggestions might be for dinner for two people who really did not want to go down and up the hill again, and they suggested a pub, and then offered to share their dinner with us – poached eggs, boiled potatoes, cheese, asparagus, salad and mayonnaise. We accepted with very great gratitude, and had a very enjoyable conversation over dinner about everything from feminism to Terrible B&B Guests They Had Known to beekeeping. It was a really pleasant evening.
And then we decided to have an early night, which was kind of useless, because we were both at maximum coughing by this point, and worse, afflicted by sympathetic coughing. Nothing good came of this. Especially not sleep.
In the morning, we were determined to get to the Fashion Museum before our train left at 1pm. Well, E says that I was determined – she was very happy to come along for the ride, but apparently I was the one doing the highly focused zombie shuffle to the museum. This sounds plausible, and evidently she was the person who had brains at the time, not me, so I’m inclined to believe her.
I visited this museum when I was last in Bath, about 25 years ago, and it made an impression. Sadly, the really insane French gowns from, I think, the late 18th century, which were about a metre wide but almost flat front to back – like paper dolls – weren’t on display this time. But there was some wonderful embroidery.
Alas, I was once again spaced out on medication, and I can’t remember much of anything.
(This is annoying, because I know I enjoyed it at the time. And I wrote a note to myself that I enjoyed the behind the scenes exhibition, which, I recall dimly, was quotes from famous novels with clothing from the era of the novel next to them. I think. The quotes may have been about clothes, but I’m not clear on that bit. Sorry, a sick blogger is a useless blogger, especially if she gets distracted by the ENTIRE OF PARIS AND CHOCOLATE and doesn’t record everything immediately!)
The train back to London was largely a napping opportunity – of course we weren’t coughing so much *now*, and then it was goodbye to E, and a quick dash back to N to pick up my suitcase, before hopping in a cab to my friend G’s house.
(But I did look out the window from the train at one point, just in time to see a white horse carved into a hill.)
I haven’t seen G in… nearly a decade, I think? We met online during a rather intense reading of Les Liaisons Dangéreuses in real time. G is French, and last time, she was living in Leiden, but now she has an exciting new apartment in a part of London that feels a lot like Melbourne. Especially since it has a Westfield shopping centre.
Not to mention an AC/DC concert the evening I arrived…
We went for a walk, and then G’s partner, M, cooked us a lovely dinner of swordfish with salad and garlic bread – and then I had an earlyish night, because I was still feeling dodgy and we had Things to Do on Sunday.
Sunday morning was a nice slow start, followed by a trip to the Foundling Museum, via Queen’s Square, and several other lovely little parks.
(G kept apologising about the indirect route, but as far as I could see, we went quite directly, through several very pretty places, and the only point at which she got lost was the point where I looked up and saw the Foundling Museum across the road…)
The Foundling Museum is on the site of the old Foundling Hospital, that was built in the 18th century to provide a place where otherwise destitute children could be given shelter and an education (fitting to their station in life, naturally – lots of maidservants and soldiers, though there were a number of apprenticeships, too).
It’s one of those things where a lot of good intentions and money went into it, but the outcomes were mixed. I was simultaneously amused and appalled at the remark about how ‘progressive’ the hospital was in its medical treatments, which I take to mean ‘we could afford to try new things because nobody was going to object’ – but then, they were some of the first to vaccinate against smallpox, and the evidence suggests that physical care of the children was something they *did* on the whole get right.
Speaking of things they got wrong, mothers would leave a ‘token’ with their child, in case they were able to come back at a later date to claim it. One of the displays was of some of these tokens, and it was very touching…
…until you consider that the display was created for the first time in the 19th century to raise awareness for the plight of these poor orphans, and in creating the display, the organisers completely severed the links between the tokens and the children, so that if any mothers had come back to claim them, they could not have done so.
The Foundling Hospital was also interesting in that it attracted sponsorships from a number of artists, notably GF Handel.
He actually wrote a motet about the importance of giving to needy children, which you could listen to at the press of a button. It’s not half bad. And the profits from The Messiah after his death went to the hospital – they had a copy of his Will where you could see the bequest.
He has a little exhibition all of his own upstairs.
You could even sit in nice armchairs and listen to his music.
Speaking of his music, we had to rush away, because the other thing we had planned for Sunday afternoon was going to a performance of Tim Minchin’s musical, Matilda!
This was really excellent, though I was amused at how much of the book I had forgotten (notably, that Matilda can move things with her mind! How could I have forgotten this? This is the reason it was my favourite Roald Dahl in the first place, but apparently I’d forgotten that, too).
I’ll have to read the book again, because the thing that really struck me watching this production was the solidarity between Matilda and her classmates – I was expecting more of a bullying scenario, to be honest.
It’s a really good musical, with very clever lyrics – I’m going to have to get a copy of the CD with lyrics so I can have a good listen – and the cast was exceptional, especially the children playing Matilda’s classmates. Miss Trunchbull was clearly enjoying himself immensely, as, I think, were the children. The little boy playing Bruce Bogtrotter (I think?) was particularly good. And Matilda herself was wonderful, of course.
Also, I can’t help suspecting that Tim Minchin was more than slightly influenced by Strictly Ballroom, given some of his choices…
Anyway, it was all fantastic, and we then headed home to G’s place, where M made us a proper English roast beef and I declined the opportunity to tell him tall tales about Australian animals, since this is not a kind thing to do to someone who is cooking you dinner (one doesn’t need to tell tall tales, the reality is bizarre enough).
We also chatted about the state of Paris, since I was headed off there in the morning on the Eurostar. G expressed a fair bit of concern regarding the protests and the state of emergency, which has apparently meant that nobody in emergency services has been able to take any leave since last December. She feels that this is not the sort of thing that leads to good policing, and exhorted me to run, not walk, away from any protests I saw. It was a little concerning, especially the references to 1969…
And then it was to bed, and to sleep, and to Paris in the morning, and you already know a bit about how that turned out…
It’s been wonderful getting the chance to catch up with so many friends, old and new, particularly after so long. I wish I had been less sick towards the end of my journey, because I really did want to spend more time chatting with N and with L and with G (E and I managed to chat endlessly anyway, which also used to happen in French class, incidentally). But I’m so glad I had this time with them.
To be continued!