Sometimes in Bath by Charles Nevin #Review #Extract
Today I am featuring a rather different book which takes a look at the beautiful city of Bath through stories and accounts based on its past. I also have an extract for you to sample. First, here's a little about the book:
Sometimes in Bath is a captivating story-tour through the city’s history conducted by Charles Nevin, the award-winning journalist, national newspaper columnist, author and humorist.
Beau Nash, Old King Bladud, young Horatio Nelson, Jane Austen’s Mr Bennet, the Emperor Haile Selassie and many more spring to life in episodes shimmering with the curious magic of Britain’s oldest resort and premier purveyor of good health, happiness and romance for the last 2000 years.
Each story has an afterword distinguishing the fiction from fact, adding enthralling historical detail – and giving visitors useful links to Bath’s many sights and fascinations Sometimes in Bath is warm, witty, wistful and will be loved by all who come to and from this most enchanting and enchanted of cities.
This extract from Sometimes In Bath features Bladud, the city’s legendary founder, and is told by the king’s fool.
I TOLD HIM HE WAS A FOOL even to think of it at his age. But you know how it is with kings, or perhaps, luckily and unluckily, you don’t. They like advice because it makes them feel important but they don’t take it because that would make them feel less important. So I was a fool to tell him, but that is what I am: court jester to King Bladud, eighth in descent from Brutus the Trojan, first ruler of this chilly island, to which he lent his name after arriving here as part of the fallout from that heroic but complicated affair just east of the Aegean.
It’s not everyone’s idea of a good job, Fooling. Ridiculous outfit, complicated wordplay, unsocial hours and a high risk of sudden death if your audience decides that wasn’t very funny. Seven kings and one queen since Brutus; 23 Fools. Not much competition for the job, unsurprisingly. Still, I’m young and it seemed preferable to harrowing, scratching or eking. Youngest sons do of course have a traditional path into Druidry, but I’m allergic to mistletoe, not to mention blood sacrifice and screams.
And Bladud is wonderful. His last Fool, Dodd, who could go on a bit, died of old age, which was not the experience of the others with other kings. Bladud’s father, Rud Hud Hudibras, was as grumpy as he sounds. Not like Bladud. He’s an old man now, but an old man of the sort that cherishes curiosity and smiles on youth without envy. Who else, for example, would have decided to fly at the age of 68? Fly!
I asked him why, breaking off from what I hoped was a bit of artfully artless capering by the side of his great bath, magnificently colonnaded and gently steaming beneath its stupendously pitched roof. ‘Stop jerking about, boy,’ he said. ‘And you need to do a lot more pig’s bladder work. Shake it as though you mean it. Like all kings, I crave undying, undimmed fame. Flying will really clinch it. I’ve studied the matter and it’s really not that difficult. A pair of wings cunningly constructed from yew and feathers, strap them on, jump from a high point, flap and fly!’
‘There are sires who soar and there are sires who are sore from a soar with a flaw, methinks, Sire. Have you heard of Icarus?’
‘Heard of him? I used to know the fellow when I was living in Athens. Talked a good game, but I was never convinced by his commitment, to be honest. That’s the trouble with the Greeks as a whole, if you ask me. Not willing to do the hard slog, all fancy tricks and short cuts like that unsporting bit with the wooden horse that did for my forebears. And if they’re not doing that, they’re sitting around moodily asking each other why they’re there. I told Icarus he’d have trouble from the sun with that wax. And that he’d better placate Apollo before take-off. Took not a blind bit of notice. That’s why I’m building a flyplace dedicated to Apollo on top of Solsbury Hill and using straps and yew, not wax.’
I decided to try another tack. ‘But, Sire, you have already achieved undying fame! What better bid than Bath?! The known world’s hottest city! Discovered by you, founded by you, built by you, Nuncle!’ (I call him Nuncle because he’s not my uncle, if you follow.)
Bladud sank beneath the waters and then re-emerged. I passed him his britannicals shampoo and he lathered up. Others might have looked ridiculous, but Bladud had the dignity of a stone carving as the suds mingled with his white dreadlocks. ‘Yes, that’s all very well, but the fame that endures comes from brave deeds and legendary exploits. I am descended from the mighty Aeneas, legendary champion of Troy and son of Aphrodite. His son was Brutus, who has this entire country named after him. They can’t even be bothered to name Bath after me. Not famous enough, you see. I’m regarded at best as some sort of bath house proprietor. Even my founding myth has turned out badly. Too much pig. A fine creature, your pig, but not exactly dashing and heroic. Rome has wolves, you know. Now if the story had involved a wolf, or better, a lion or a bear, or, even better, both, rather than some semi-scrofulous porkers, that would have been different. Flying pigs might have done it, possibly.’
Bladud was now blowing bubbles from his soap in a faraway fashion. I decided on a brisker approach. ‘What about a spot of war, sire? As you say, it’s always good for building a reputation. That lot over the Channel are usually up for a scrap.’
‘War is very messy. I’ve never been very keen on gore and shouting and waving things around. There’s all the camping, too. Flying will be so clean, and liberating, up there in the sky, flapping and floating, twisting this way and that, making lazy circles in the sky, laughing out loud at the sheer fun and joy of it. And if it goes wrong, so be it. At least I’ll get to see my beloved Queen Gert. I miss her, Fool.’
You must have begun to see what I was up against. What a wonderful man Bladud was! So unpomped and unprimped, so full of life and spark and love. You must have begun to see why I couldn’t bear to risk losing him a day before his time, or why he wouldn’t care a sud for mockery from the earth-bound and the doltish.
This is an entertaining look at the city of Bath through imagined meetings and stories using local landmarks and plausible characters. In some, real life people, such as Nelson, get to meet up with fictional visitors- my favourite being Mr Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
Another memorable aspect of the book is the afterword which follows each chapter where the author points out the real and imagined elements and then gives you a list of places to see and books to read to further your knowledge. The style of the writing is at times, humorous, at others, suited to the era but also full of historical detail. You start the journey in the eighteenth century and travel through time to a much more up to date Christmas Market. The chapter devoted to the Bath Blitz of 1942 feels remarkably appropriate given the fact that it is VE Day today (May 8th).
In short: Travel through time through Bath's history and customs.
About the Author
Charles Nevin has written for, among others, the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Telegraph, The Times and Sunday Times, and the New York Times. Sometimes in Bath is his second book of fiction following Lost in the Wash with Other Things, a collection of short stories. He has also published three books of non-fiction - Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love, a paean to the neglected romance of his native county, which was as praised by Jeremy Paxman and Joanna Lumley. The Book of Jacks, a history and lexicon of the name and finally, So Long Our Home, a history of Knowsley Road, the famous old ground of St Helens Rugby Football Club. Charles lives in an old watermill near Bath, which is ideally placed for his forays into the enchanting city.
Book link: Amazon UK
Thanks to Charles Nevin, Book Guild Publishing and Rachel of Rachel's Random Resources for a copy of the book, the extract and a place on the tour.