The past two weeks have been half-term here in France and as I haven't been to England for a while I decided to take our youngest over for a few days. I hadn't seen my mother for a fair while and then my sister-in-law told me that a great friend was over from Beijing for a few days. That was it - a surprise was arranged and we duly arrived at Lulu's door at 8am, fresh (sic!) off the ferry and bearing mini croisants. Great reunion and youngest son had a great time with his cousins.
Lunch on Monday with my mother was lovely although tinged with the realisation that we are all growing ever older and age is not always kind to one's health. We stayed with my mother-in-law where that realisation was reinforced and then drove down to Bath for two days.
I visited Bath when I was about 10 years old and the memory has stayed with me ever since of the Roman Baths and the American Museum. I don't know why but clearly it was an enjoyable day out with the school and I have wanted to return there ever since. Although it is en route to great friends in Devon it is just that...en route and not somewhere we've ever had a chance to stop in. So I decided to go back and really enjoy it.
First the not-so-good part. We stayed at the Redcar Hotel as it was only a few minutes walk from the centre and it was relatively cheap. That's all I can say about it that is good. It was worse than a four letter word although I suppose the room was clean. The bathroom wasn't especially although not grubby enough to complain about. The TV had no focus whatsoever and the restaurant was dreadful. Maybe it's because I live in France but I think a decent cup of coffee in the morning is not too much to ask. But like I said, it was cheap and it was as close to the centre as I could be before paying silly money.
The rest though was wonderful. My son is 15 and two days culture was not top of his list of things to do over half-term. Since the coffee was so awful we were able to come to a very agreable arrangement. We would visit the Roman Baths and then find me a coffee shop whilst he went to the Warhammer Shop to battle.
The Roman Baths were fantastic. They've opened up much more since I was there before and it was magical walking around and seeing it all again. Although you look down at the great bath very early on in the visit it is in fact the last thing you get to see as there is so much more underground than you could imagine. The entrance fee includes an audio tour guide (one of those odd looking mobile telephone type things) and this is indispensible. I love imagining things as they might have been thousands of years ago and the Roman Baths is a perfect setting.
Culture temporarily on hold (little did he know!) the Boston Tea Party was my next stop whilst he went off to the Warhammer battle. I had no idea how good a cup of coffee could be, not to mention carrot cake! I had my book of Bath with me and read up the history of Bath and planned our afternoon walk. In due course the battle was either won or lost and the coffee had done a splendid job of reviving me so off we went. We made our way up towards the Circus which is a circular row of houses divided into three sections and based on the Coliseum in Rome. There is the most wonderful frieze going all the way around with snakes, compasses and other wonderful things. The Circus has a park feel to it and the road is wide - one can easily imagine Jane Austen's contemporaries in their carriages.
The next destination was meant to be The Royal Parade but by now the weather was looking decidedly doubtful. The day had transformed from a beautiful sunny morning into a rather dull afternoon and the temperature was dropping fast. We made our way back down towards the river and by chance passed the Theatre. Amazingly we were able to purchase two tickets for that night's show, Cabaret. This slightly altered our evening plans but no problem. On the way back to the hotel we visited a bookshop. I don't have many opportunities to visit English bookshops and although Amazon is wonderful I do like to read the back cover of a book, especially if it's an author unknown to me. My husband reads a huge amount so a fair few Christmas presents were dealt with!
Cabaret was amazing. I know all the songs but I have never seen the film and had no idea of the Nazi element. The box office lady had warned us that there was nudity during the performance but quite honestly this was a lot less shocking than the story that unfolds. The first half is full of laughter and gaiety and of course all those fun songs. But the second half quickly becomes nasty as the beginning of the Nazi era unfolds and Jews and homosexuals (amongst others) are vilified. At the end you see the naked "undesirables" walk through a door and suddenly hear the hissing as the gas is turned on. Not a sound from the audience as the curtain fell and perhaps five seconds before a muted applause. Maybe I haven't been to the theatre enough but it seemed to me that whilst all the actors got their due applause it was when the actor playing the Jew, Herr Schultz came on to take his bow that the applause was greatest. He was an excellent actor (and singer - the best in my opinion) but I think there was more to it than that.
The following day we returned to The Boston Tea Party for my breakfast and another battle was won/lost around the corner. Then after a final walk around this beautiful city we had to head back to collect the car and drive to Portsmouth. Our mini-break finished with a delicious dinner on board Brittany Ferries. Or at least we thought so. It turned out that the weather had one further surprise for us the next day. When we had driven just past Rennes it started snowing. By the time I got off the motorway we were following lorries with chains on their wheels and moving VERY slowly! And then they stopped altogether as a large lorry had jack-knifed on the very small, but very important roundabout. I was very tired and just wanted to get home and with only 25kms left the thought of being stuck for hours was too much. I watched a police van drive down the middle of the road and decided if he could do it so could I. We skidded all over the place but luckily managed to stop without hitting any of the marooned lorries (about 30 of them) when he decided to park next to the jack-knifed lorry. This meant that the roundabout was now impassable even to small insignificant cars like mine. After five minutes I'd had enough. I had to get over the roundabout and it was impossible to even turn left or right and then do a U-turn. So, I got out and approached the twenty or so lorry drivers standing around with HOT COFFEE IN THEIR HANDS (how dare they!) and explained my problem. No problem it turned out. The following dialogue (translated) really cheered my up...
"Hey, gendarmes! Come here. You can't leave your van there. Move it. The lady can't get passed. You're blocking the roundabout fool."
Honest, that was what he said and it worked. Yes, result!