Friday, October 26, 2012

Bond comes to Bath

“M wants you, James.” The call came from Moneypenny as Bond was finishing his bath. He answered it on the prototype iPhone 007 he was testing for Q Branch.

He grunted non-commitally and wondered if his loyal secretary ever took a day off. And if so, what sort of fun she got up to.

He raised a cultured eyebrow as he stepped from the steaming waters, lightly scented with Givenchy Eau Eau Sept, and buffed his honed torso dry with a towel.

It never changed, he thought. That number, that label, engrained in every moment of his waking life.

You were always needed, always on call. You could never let your guard down, not even for a moment. One mission led to another, the distinctions started to blur.

How many years was it now? Fifty? It felt more like a hundred. But you only live the living daylights twice, he brooded. And even if diamonds are forever, the world is not enough.

He shook himself from the encroaching lassitude and brusquely, almost peremptorily, scanned his craggy but still aquiline features in the mirror.

Easier said than done, he thought.

His reflection gazed back at him sardonically. Tomorrow never dies, it seemed to be telling him. And now isn’t the time to be going soft.

A grey, greasy, foreboding dawn stretched its fingers across the bleak October sky, and the empty London streets echoed to the pulsing twin exhausts of Bond’s supercharged Bentley.

Nestled snugly in its soft leather shoulder holster between the silk lining of his Gieves & Hawkes jacket and the cool, crisp cotton of his Turnbull & Asser shirt, the Walther PPK automatic normally gave Bond a sense of security.

Today, though, it only added to his tension.

Meetings with M were never easy: she didn’t hold with all the gratuitous product placement. Damn her, he thought: he had to pay the bills somehow.

He gritted his teeth grittily as he walked into M’s office. She glared at him through steel-blue eyes over the steel-blue rims of her steel-blue tinted spectacles.

She's yesterday’s woman, thought Bond. She’s running out of adjectives.

How wrong he was.

“We need you to get down to Bath,” she barked. “Agent H is in trouble – there’s going to be a defection.”

“Agent H?” asked Bond, his mind running through old contacts, trying to put a face to a codename. “Middle aged? Short of hair? Poses as a writer?”

“That’s him. And his wife’s the defector. She’s booked on a plane to Eastern Europe.”

“Ah, the exotic Mrs D,” mused Bond. “Tall, blonde, tantalising, deadly...”

“Stow it, 007!” snapped M. “You’re letting your fantasies run away with you. This is a just a quick in and out job. Pick up what you need from Q and get moving.”

Bond turned on his heel and headed to the armourer’s workshop.

The avuncular boffin smiled as he handed Bond a pamphlet. “I need you to take this to Agent H,” he said.

No gadgets, thought Bond. These days I’m just a glorified delivery boy.

“What is it?” he asked resignedly.

“It’s the manual for the tumble drier,” said Q. “It sounds like Agent H is going to need it.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Flood warning

From time immemorial Bath has been a Mecca for the rich and famous.

Ever since Prince Bladud drove his swine into the warm squidgy mud and discovered a cure for leprosy, the well-heeled have beaten a path to the city in search of style, solitude and hot and cold running waters.

Rumours abound – and true stories too – of retiring film stars and pop idols, their wild days long behind them, living quietly and soberly within the honeyed limestone fastness of their palatial Georgian townhouses.

Oh look, there goes Van Morrison! Could that be Curt Smith from Tears for Fears, back on a quick visit to his old stomping ground? Didn’t Johnny Depp used to live round here? Isn’t that Ronnie Wood out of the Rolling Stones?

Well no, actually. It’s someone else who looks and dresses very much like him. But he still gets the occasional mention on Twitter.

And of course there was a time not so long ago when you could walk all the way from Newbridge to Bathford and never step off land owned by Nicolas Cage. Happy days.

But one wrinkled rock god whose presence in Bath has hitherto been unsuspected is 60s (and 70s, and 80s, and 90s, and noughties, and teenties) electro-acoustic-folk-rock-balladeer Bob Dylan.

“Crash on the levee, mama, water’s gonna overflow,” sang Dylan in his seminal 1967 ditty Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood). “Swamp’s gonna rise, no boat’s gonna row...”

He can only have been writing from experience, and about one thing: the mighty flood that appears in Weston Road between Royal Victoria Park and the golf course every time it rains a bit.

For nearly two weeks, the traffic was down to one lane. It was (and still is) dodgy for bikes and impassable on foot.

In those laid-back 60s, Dylan could afford to be philosophical about such matters.

“It's sugar for sugar, and it’s salt for salt,” he droned. “If you go down in the flood it's gonna be your fault.”

But we live in a faster age of high-speed communication and instant gratification, and people can’t wait. They need action, and they need it now. Surely, they cry, the council should do something about it?

They could have enforced parking restrictions round the flood, to give traffic more of a chance of getting past, rather than sitting pumping out fumes into Bath’s “green lung”.

They could have diverted traffic through or round the park for a few days, perhaps even letting it out through the west entry.

They could even, heaven forbid, have applied the municipal equivalent of a sink plunger or Vax, and quickly removed the whole oozing mess.

For days, weeks almost, they did nothing.

Eventually they erected a sign that said “Flood” close to each end of said flood, so there was no advance warning. Plus some cones, and a few sorry-looking sandbags.

And then they went away.

Until yesterday, that is, when they actually got round to setting up temporary traffic lights to smooth the traffic flow.

They worked out that the whole mess was caused by a blocked drain. (Who'd have guessed?)

They closed Weston Road last night and brought up the big guns. Bowsers, gulley cleaners, king-sized drain rods, the lot.  

Maybe they'll fix it, maybe not. Decades of experience have taught them that the waters will eventually recede of their own accord. Or at worst seep away into the park, leaving a six-inch layer of foetid mud over road and pavement.

They are as philosophical about the Weston Road flood as former Bath resident Bob Dylan was. And we, the commuters, will just have to tough it out.

Meanwhile, though, rumours are spreading that Noah once owned a house in Brock Street.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How not to buy a Bath student bus pass

Sorry, it’s time for a whinge. This week’s offering should have been about all sorts of entertaining weirdness like Jamie Fox the human scarecrow, French beekeepers finding blue honey in their hives and some nutter called Felix jumping out of a stratospheric balloon while slathered in Blue Stratos. You know, the usual stuff.

Whoops, just re-read that last bit. Should have said “sponsored by Red Bull Stratos”. Not doused in the 70s male grooming product.

Now where were we? The whinge, is where. It concerns First Bus student tickets, and it goes like this.

First Bus sells a Student Photocard, and students can use it to buy discounted bus tickets.

Students, for the purposes of the Photocard, “must be studying full time at a university, college or school.”

Which covers our son, who’s on a full-time course in the sixth form at a school in Bath.

So we took his photo, much to his displeasure, filled in our bit of the application form, got the school to fill in their bit of the form, and were duly issued with a Photocard.

This entitles him (or at least the fabled Bank of Mum and Dad) to buy: a FirstDay Student Bath (£3.40); a FirstWeek Student West (£17.90); a FirstMonth Student West (£70); or a FirstYear Student West (£750).

Now, the FirstYear option would require more quantitative easing than the Bank of England could comfortably afford, never mind the Bank of Mum and Dad.

And half term’s coming, so there’s no sense in buying a monthly if it’s only going to get used for three weeks out of four.

So what would we save if we bought a weekly as opposed to five dailies? None of us is too great at maths, but a minute’s work on the calculator suggests that (£3.40*5)-£17.90=-90p.

Yes, sums fans, five dailies are 90p cheaper than one weekly. All right, the daily only covers Bath, while a weekly lets you roam, free as a bird, to exotic locations like Wells, Devizes and Congresbury. But the main point of buying one of these things is to get Dixon Junior to school and back in one piece, not for him to swan about the darker reaches of the West Country.

And even if you did buy a weekly, when it expires you can’t buy a new one on the bus – you have to go to the bus station. For the cost, presumably, of an additional, undiscounted, adult single fare.

Dailies seem like the obvious choice. But the first time our son tried to buy one, Photocard in hand, the driver said he could only buy a student ticket if he went to the Uni or the Tech. Whatever the “Tech” is.
Where's Bath to?

Quick visit to the First website, where among other things you can discover according to their map, Bath doesn’t exist.

You can find a customer service number in Southampton that gives you the option to press 1 for customer services.

And when you press 1 you get the option to press 1 again. And again. And again. Kafka! Thou shouldst be living at this hour.

And if you persevere, you can also find a phone number for Bath lost property, which is actually the main number for Bath bus station.

Where a very friendly chap says that the driver was wrong and that yes, our son is indeed eligible to buy a daily student ticket.

Whinge over. Now pass the blue honey.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Eye of newt, and toe of frog...

"Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
"Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
 "Lizard's leg and owlet's wing..."
"I hope you don't mind the smell," said Mrs D brightly on Saturday morning as she put together a shopping list, self and young Miss D for the purchasing of.
A quick glance down the list was enough to convince us that yes, we would mind the smell.
Demerara and dark muscovado sugars. Mace, ginger, apples, stout – the only thing missing was vinegar, and Mrs D already had that by the bucketload.
For Saturday, she had decided, was going to be chutney-making day – and Heaven help the nasal passages of anyone getting within 30 feet of our kitchen.
There are two schools of thought about chutney. One cleaves to the view that it's succulent, spicy and piquant – a quintessential accompaniment to the enjoyment of cold meats and cheeses.
The other holds that it is an evil sludge which doesn't deserve cupboard space.
You may have guessed from the aforegoing which side of the Dixon household stands on which side of the debate.
There was only one thing for it, though – get into town, buy the stuff and then retire to the loft while Mrs D did her Weird Sisters bit and boiled and bubbled the autumnal hell-broth.
"Buy the stuff" – aye, there's the rub (says he, getting even more Shakespearian). For in that trip to the shops, what dreams may come, when we have gone to Waitrose or to Morrisons, must give us pause.
Because Waitrose these days is – to hammer the Shakespearian motif to destruction – the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.
As you walk in there's a sign pointing to "chilled goods" in one direction and "ambient goods" in the other. Which might raise a brief chuckle among fans of trance music, but leads only to an unmapped labyrinth of produce which customers may browse bemusedly at the back of the shop, while the builders refurbish the front.
Never mind, though. It'll be great when it's all finished.
Meanwhile Morrisons has gone through all the pain of remodelling and come out at the other end boasting one of the most extraordinary gadgets ever to grace a sales floor – the vegetable mister.
Imagine if you will (or even if you won't) a grid of stainless steel tubing supported above a rack of exotic vegetables.
Pierced into the tubes is a row of holes, and from the holes emanates a cloud of water vapour that envelops – nay, enrobes – the purple carrots, fresh samphire and galangal root that form such an essential part of our everyday diet.
"There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And most of them are on display on Morrisons' vegetable counter.
Well, there we are: a right old Shakespearian mash-up (not unlike Mrs D's chutney if truth be told).
Bath's supermarkets have become like Prospero's island: "Full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not." Meanwhile, Mum's gone to Iceland.