I’m doing some new things recently. New to me, anyway. But one of the things I’m doing I’ve done before and it still gladdens me every time I do it.
Bath on a Saturday morning, Walcot Street in the mist rising off the river flowing alongside it. OK, it’s changed. There are no coke stoves or dogs on a piece of strong, nobody claiming to be a carpenter because he can join two bits of ply at right angles (but interestingly, according to a conversation I overheard at the flea market, still not-really-antiques that can be spotted by the injudicious use of Posidrive screws). No Hat and Feathers, no Mad Carol, no Lucy in a jumpsuit, no car radios unexpectedly for sale, nor smoke billowing out of them when the vendor wired them up backwards on a 12 volt car battery or a whole host of other things that used to be. Luckily, no-one lighting a fire to keep themselves warm in the car park now where the cattle market used to be, either.
The past is another country. They do things differently there. But where would places like Bath be if they forgot their past? As the song from Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads told us, it’s the only thing to look forward to.
But some of it’s still there. I was there this Saturday. I was going to climb Beechen Cliff, but the mist was still down and there was no point, so I walked up past the Abbey. The first thing I saw was a 1930s print, some Boy’s Own illustrated tale of pilots, back in the days when aeroplanes were called that and had four wings and two propellers, when bounders wore bow ties and only sailors wore beards. £10 well-spent. I had promised myself I wasn’t buying anything, but then I remembered the time in Oxford on another Saturday morning when for another £10 I turned down the chance of buying what I’m pretty sure was an original artwork that illustrated a Biggles book. A chat and a little recollection of old times with the woman in a fur coat on the stall that chilly morning, two steps away from a jumper exactly like the one I’d had in mind and thought was going to be about £200 so I wasn’t having that this winter. Except someone else had worn it, apparently for about ten minutes, so that saved £190.
Just around the corner, back up on the street and I found a kettle. I’m not really a copper kettle sort of person, but I have this boat. OK, it isn’t in the water and the chances of it getting in the water look slimmer each week this year, but I can still go and sit inside it and drink tea. Or at least I could if I had a kettle. But I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s from some horrible aluminium thing and I don’t want a shiny brand new piece of German design (well ok, I do, a lot, but it wouldn’t look right on the boat) so I was stuck. Until I went into the charity shop and found it.
A couple of minutes with some Brasso and rubber gloves and it polished up a treat and no error gorblimey guvnor. It looks great and fits right into the wooden boat vibe that goes on in a wooden boat, surprisingly.
A print, a jumper and a nice kettle, all for £30. But more than that, being part of it again, Bath on an autumn Saturday morning.
Those who’ve read this stuff before will know I went to university here. I grew up here (discuss, with reference to some laughably inappropriate partner choices which would have been more laughable if they’d happened to somebody else, I think), or at least, twelve miles away. When I was about eight my father used to take me to Bath early on Saturday mornings. I was so excited about this I used to try to sleep in my clothes because I had to get up so early. It never worked – I could never sleep like that. But we still went to Bath. The market I sat in is still there. I bought some cheese there this time, rather more than half my life away. I wrote a poem I was going to call that, but it got called something else instead. Wrongly, I think now. And there, as some people know, lies another tale, from and for another time.