Friday, August 16, 2013

Good riddance to the Bath gasholder

“You can see it from everywhere!” That was the reaction of two London-based friends on a visit to Bath some years back, when behind every scenic vista of golden, Georgian stone terraces and crescents lurked the gaunt metal framework of the ghastly gasholder.

“’Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,” wrote Scots versifier Thomas Campbell in The Pleasures of Hope (1799), a sentimental ditty he knocked out just a couple of years before he penned his great epic The Battle of Mad and Strange Turkish Princes.

“And robes the mountain,” he continued, “in its azure hue.”

The Bath gasholder, trying to hide behind the trees. But failing.
That may well be true of mountains. But it doesn’t hold for the remaining Bath gasholder (there used to be three). Functional it might once have been, before more modern gas-containing technologies came along. Pretty it isn’t.

And few will shed a tear at its passing, although some may kick up a fuss if it’s replaced by bland, allegedly “Palladian” apartment blocks.

At a distance, the gasholder is an eyesore. Up close, it’s positively oppressive.

Between 1997 and 2008, The Bath Chronicle operated out of the squat and uncomfortable single-storey office building across the way. (The Western Daily Press used to send its out-of-favour reporters into exile there too.)

It was hardly surprising that there weren’t many visitors. The looming industrial ironwork and the delicate perfume of methyl mercaptan (the stuff they put in natural gas to make it smell) would have put anyone off.

Now the office block lies derelict too, its once proud corporate logo reduced either by random chance or a particularly inventive vandal to the phrase “Bat Chronic”. The present Chronicle Towers is a much more pleasant environment.

Redevelopment of the industrial wasteland that is Western Riverside is long overdue. But let’s hope they treat one part of it with respect: the war memorial in the driveway.

It commemorates employees of the Bath Gas Company, 11 of whom died in active service in the First World War and six in the Second, together with eight civilians who were killed in the Bath Blitz of April 1942.

This tribute to their sacrifice is already neglected and ignored. It would be a disgrace if it were to disappear entirely.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Not going glamping

So it was last weekend. It was a bit wet, and it looked like it was going to get an awful lot wetter. And we had decided to go camping.

No, let’s be accurate. (For once.) Mrs D had decided to go camping. Weeks ago, when it was far hotter.

The rest of us had agreed to go camping. Not decided. There’s a subtle difference.

We were only going for one night, and we were only going five miles up the road. But by the time we’d loaded up giant tent, floppy awning, wonky-looking gas stove and enough bedding for a princess and several very knobbly peas, the car and its rooftop box were straining at the seams and making the sort of noises you normally associate with one of those Second World War films where the submarine dives 20 fathoms deeper than its designer ever meant it to.

We head east out of town, regularly checking the rear-view mirror for the progress of the looming clouds behind us.

We arrive at the campsite two minutes ahead of the weather. By the time we’ve confirmed the booking with the management, the heavens have opened and we’re stuck in the car playing I-Spy-type word games with a pair of teenagers who seem more than a little disenchanted with their lot in life.

Wet wet. No filters were used in the production of this photograph.
Eventually the rain eases from a torrent to a heavy shower and we get the tent up, a fire lit and a barbecue cooked. And to be fair, the sky clears and the evening passes merrily as we watch meteors and satellites scoot overhead.

But at four o’clock on Sunday morning we hear the call of the wild. Or rather a call of nature, which urgently requires yours truly to stagger out of the tent and into the nearby bushes.

Where he stumbles over a large rock that certainly wasn’t there before and definitely had no right moving there at that ungodly hour.

Thus it was that we returned from our night in deepest Wiltshire with: one damp tent; four soggy pillows; two disgruntled teenagers; and a bruise on your correspondent’s right thigh of a width, length and mottled purple lividity never previously recorded by any branch of medical science.

Glamping? It wasn’t.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Words we love to hate

Sometimes you just have to make a stand. Speak out against injustice, prejudice and repression. Strike a blow for freedom,  never mind the consequences – all that heroic stuff.

Actor Nigel Havers is just such a stander-upper. A couple of weeks ago, the smooth-talking star of – ooh, you name it, he’s been in it – was interviewed in The Radio Times and described his own personal blow for liberty.

Nigel Havers. Definitely not a luvvie.
“I was never pissed off about being called posh,” he told the august journal, “but the one word I can’t stand is ‘luvvie’.

“I was listening to PM on Radio 4, and they said they had a luvvie on the programme. I phoned the BBC and demanded: ‘Stop using that word. It’s such a put-down’.

“They promised they’d never do it again, and they haven’t.”

From such small victories are greater freedoms won. For how could anyone whose trade, profession or calling has ever been demeaned by a throw-away epithet feel anything but sympathy for Mr Havers?

Journalists don’t take kindly to being called “hacks”. Lawyers aren’t too keen on “vultures”. And a lot of scientists really can’t stand being called “boffins”. Although as any hack will tell you, “boffin” is very often the only word for the job.

Be that as it may, as any vulture would confirm, Mr Havers’ case sets a precedent for calling the BBC and asking them to stop using a word you don’t like.

That word is “iconic”.

A word that BBC presenters, reporters, continuity announcers and DJs splatter around with such wild abandon that you wonder if they’re on some sort of bet to see how many times they can squeeze it into their programmes.
Iconicles. Don't watch, it only encourages them.

A word that they use to describe anything from a mountain to an opera to a plate of fish and chips.

A word that has become utterly valueless, even if it ever had any meaning beyond “relating to an icon”. An icon is a representative symbol. Fish and chips is a cheap supper. Well, cheap-ish.

Further research on the topic led this reporter to discover that there is now a BBC kids’ show called Iconicles. At which point he had to go for a little lie-down.

Won’t somebody make them stop?