Thursday 2 October 2008

we'll have the life we knew we would....

So, anyway. Where was I?

Ah yes, Bath.

The Angels climb Jacob's Ladder on the front of Bath Abbey

We spent Friday night at the wedding venue. The place itself was nice enough, nestled alongside a pretty river and basking in the autumnal sunshine, but the room was little more than something you might find at a university hall of residence, with a posh sink built on. For £90, I was expecting something a little nicer, to be honest. Still, I tried to make up some of our losses for the night by making damn sure that we took both packets of rolos, all of the shortbread biscuits, the mini packet of fruit pastilles and all of the teabags and sachets of coffee. That little haul probably recouped - what - a couple of quid back? Way to stick it to The Man, eh?

We said our farewells to the wedding party (with an unusually warm hug from my dad, showing that that rioja the night before had been an excellent investment) and headed off into Bath and the rather more luxurious accommodation that would be lying in wait for us there. First things first, though, and we made a small detour to Shepton Mallet to pay our respects to the Mulberry Factory Outlet. Now, I can generally take or leave these things. I had an idle hope that I might finally find the decent leather belt that I have been seeking for the best part of two years, but I wasn't expecting to come out with hundred of pounds worth of leather goods..... and we didn't. C. already has a rather nice Mulberry bag, and she supplemented this with nice cardigan for the office, but otherwise I wasn't that impressed. The menswear in particular looked like an Italian designers interpretation of "Classic English Design", but had unwisely decided to add little extras like a real fur lined hood. Not good. I picked up a basic wallet, but otherwise spent the rest of our time there marvelling at the people shopping there. Now, as I was soon to discover, Bath is posh. In fact, I've rarely been to a town more full of toffs... many of them a little bit dirty and disheveled and driving the kind of antique Volvos that only the truly wealthy own. If the area is posh, imagine the kind of people that find their way to the Mulberry factory outlet. If Bath is posh, then the clientele at Mulberry are quintessence of posh. From the awful, floppy-haired public schoolboys with their Paris Hilton-alike girlfriends, to the more mature ladies with headscarves and their outsized designer sunglasses. Awful, and actually fairly rude. As I'm sure you know, posh people have no understanding of body space rules and will think nothing of pretty much walking through you on their way to a bargain handbag.

We stowed our meagre bag of purchases in the car, tickled the friendly cat in the car park, and then made our merry way to our hotel just outside the town centre in Bath. Now, this was more like it. My initial search for a room had revealed that Bath was busy that weekend and that most of the mid-range, reasonable hotels were completely full. Essentially, we used this as a shameless excuse to book ourselves into a 5 star spa hotel just outside the town centre. It was a little more than I would usually pay for a room, but what the hell, C can afford it.....

It looked promising as we pulled through the gates and into the wooded driveway, and I wasn't at all surprised to see a concierge and several porters, all suited and booted and desperate to try and prise my bags from my hand. We were served by the Reception Manager at the check-in desk, and were looking forward to checking out our room.

"Oh, this seems to be a twin room."
The Reception Manager bit his lip for a moment before continuing. "No problem."
He continued tapping away on his computer for a moment and then rather apologetically informed us that he had found us another room, but it wouldn't be ready for us to use until 3pm. Not a problem for us, as we were popping into town anyway.
"I've put you in the Imperial Suites".

Whatever. I didn't think anything more of it until we returned to the hotel later on in the afternoon to make use of the spa facilities before dinner. We were shown to our rooms by one of the porters. Yes, rooms. The suite we had been put in was probably bigger than the entire ground floor plan of my house. We had two huge flatscreen tvs, a lounge, a massive bathroom and a comfortably spacious bedroom with an enormous bed.
"Would you like champagne and canapes?"
Er... yes?
"I'll have your butler bring them through for you."

Our butler?

Yes, that's right: we had a butler.

Now this is living.

Did I mention the butler?

To be honest, I had absolutely no idea of the etiquette involved here. Does one tip, or is that vulgar? What does he do, exactly? If it rains, would he walk beside me, holding an umbrella over my head?

As it turns out, what he mostly does is be available at our beck and call for the duration of our stay. If we should so desire to beck and call him... which as it turns out, we didn't really, although he did book us a cab.

I had a private education, but even that proved inadequate training for what to expect. That afternoon, I was sat in the jacuzzi at the hotel spa, just relaxing, when the butler came in with another member of staff, he was clearly a man on a mission, and he knocked at a closed door and patiently waited for it to open. He stood there for a while, and it suddenly dawned on me that he was trying to catch my eye. I looked up, and he sort of nodded/half-bowed to me. From my position, wearing only a pair of trunks and sitting up to my neck in warm, bubbling water, I could only really nod back. This seemed to satisfy him, and he went about his business.

What a job. He must spend almost every day of his working life trying to explain to idiots like me what a butler actually does and what we can ask him to do to make our stay more comfortable.

Bath itself is a beautiful town, in fact, it's a UNESCO world heritage site, and is stuffed to the gills with interesting things to look at: there's beautiful Georgian architecture everywhere, a beautiful airy Abbey, lovely parks, a couple of nice bridges, a top class rugby team and lots and lots of shops. You know you're in posh town when you see that almost all of the sports shops in the town centre sell things like hockey sticks, squash rackets and rugby shirts, and there's a distinct absence of those awful pile it high, sell it cheap polyester leisureware shops that have slowly taken over the rest of the country. Only to be expected in a town like this where the rugby club is very much the modern heartbeat of the city, with the ground right next to the river in the town centre. I celebrated this by buying myself a pair of proper cotton rugby shorts. The pair I have are now some ten years old and rather the worse for wear, but I hadn't been able to replace them. Proper town. Proper sport shops.

As you might expect from a town this splendid, the city centre thronged with tourists. Unlike other towns like this - York, for one - Bath has managed to stay just the right side of twee. They're clearly proud of all of their heritage, but not so much that they feel the need to sell lots of tea towels and doilies displaying it. Instead, alongside your normal high street shops, there's a pleasing selection of smaller boutiques and street stands. I didn't really buy anything (I'm not sure the new Kings of Leon album counts), but C. bought herself a nice basque style t-shirt (curses. it's a man's t-shirt and I was rather hoping it would fit me...) and also a rather natty Luis Trenker Gatsby cap. Actually, I was quite struck by how much of a Swiss / Austrian alpine connection Bath seemed to have: as well as a Luis Trenker boutique (with a very boozy and cheerfully over-familiar lady behind the counter), there was a strudel cafe and a shop where you could buy lederhosen and cuckoo clocks and things like that. Weird, and not the first thing that springs to mind when I think of Bath.

I know that my love of monumental architecture probably renders this a redundant statement, but I was quite taken with the Abbey. It's not the most beautiful building to look at on the outside, but it has the most enormous windows that mean that the interior is extremely airy. Perhaps it needed to be: in the middle ages, the Abbey was famous for not having enough burial space for all of the dead, and graves that should have been left sealed for longer were frequently opened to squeeze more bodies in. The result? A distinct and lingering smell of decaying flesh. Nice, eh? One legacy of this is that almost every available surface in the Abbey interior is covered by a memorial plaque of one kind or another. Well, I find this kind of thing interesting anyway.

Beautiful vaulting too.

The one thing that will stay with me above all the others about the Abbey is the sculpture of Jacob's ladder that adorns the facade on the West End. As you can see from the pictures above, this consists of a ladder (one on either side of the main door), with angels climbing up and down. The thing that absolutely makes this for me is the fact that the angels descending are coming down head first, and they look incredibly sinister, bringing to mind Bram Stoker's description of Dracula scuttling head first down the walls of his castle.... not the image that the sculptor had in mind, I shouldn't wonder. I marvelled at it all the way through the delicious bagel that I had for my lunch on sunday. I've never had a better bagel, actually, and it was perhaps even a little tiny bit better than the delicious traditional pasty I had for my lunch in more or less the same spot on Saturday. I do like my food, you know. I never quite got round to a Sally Lunn though, although the fudge isn't much to write home about.... and I could also have comfortably done without those tone-deaf posh idiots with the out-of-tune guitars whining along to "Hey There Delilah" and "Scar Tissue" as I tried to enjoy a coffee in the beautiful sunshine. Pah! (actually, they were so dreadful that they were almost entertaining... every note they missed brought those of us sat outside Ben's Cookies closer together as we winced at each other).

There seemed to be lots of nice looking restaurants, but a spot of internet searching a couple of weeks before had led us to try an Italian place called Aqua. Mmm. Simple and delicious. I started with a beef carpaccio, moved onto some linguine with clams, mussels and chili, and finished with some ice cream and a fragrant dessert wine. All very reasonably priced and expertly served... although I do think that perhaps I should have tipped the girl on the table just next to ours, as she provided such good entertainment value throughout the meal.

"Did you have a scallop in that starter?"
"Neither did I. That's not a prawn either, it's a langoustine."
"So what?"
"Get me a menu. The menu says it's prawn with scallops. That was definitely white fish, and white fish is cheaper than scallops."
"We should say something, except we've undermined our position by eating the whole lot. Maybe we should still let them know that we're onto them... Order another bottle of wine will you, and get me a menu..."

....and so on, for the entire meal. She was absolutely determined to complain, or at least to not enjoy herself on her meal out with her poor, poor boyfriend. I thought she was hysterical.

So, a nice comfortable night's sleep, a run alongside the canal through the rolling mist, and then back home... although not before C. insisted that we wait at the main reception desk after checking out so that she could have a word with the Reception Manager. As we'd been checking out, we'd seen a couple of people complaining. Both had the demeanor or people who were moaning without much cause, and one appeared to be agitated because he had made a mistake over his ability to pay the bill with -- oh the shame! -- Tescos Clubcard Vouchers. This man rudely insisted that the reception manager, who had done absolutely nothing wrong, write him a letter so that he could try and claim his money back. We waited until this letter had been produced, before C. was able to tell this man how much she had enjoyed her stay and how the hotel staff had done absolutely everything they could to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Apparently she's stayed in three other hotels in this chain, one in Moscow and one somewhere else glamorous sounding (tough life, eh? This was my first), but in her opinion, this one had been by far the best. I think she made the poor man's day. That's my girl. Lovely hotel though. You'd need £600 to stay in our suite (apparently! I know!), but if luxury is what you're after.... A good weekend.

Enough about Bath already. What is this? Some kind of personal journal?


  1. I've always wanted to go to Bath but haven't made it there yet. Sounds like a place I'd enjoy. I envy you your hotel suite and butler! It's always nice to be upgraded without asking, and complimenting the hotel staff upon checkout was such a nice thing to do.

  2. crikey - living the high life....
    My dad hosted his 60th in that hotel and it was as top as you say. glad Bath is still impressing people - I like lots down there