After a long flight and then landing in London, the Fabulous Miss K and I immediately jumped on the train and headed out to Bath, arriving at dinnertime the day after we left Oakland. Bath is probably the most beautiful city in England and apparently a huge tourist attraction. I’m so glad we traveled off-season as there weren’t really any crowds to sort through during our time there. We took a lot of walks in the countryside and met some great sheep.
Bath is most famous for its famous Roman baths and rightfully has a reputation as being a very hygienic city. The Romans first built this city because the water bubbling up from the ground was hot and they were very dirty. (Hence the phrase, “You dirty f%$&ing Roman guard”). It seemed liked a good idea. So the Romans dug in and built the world’s most impressive bathhouses and went on to invent monogrammed bathrobes and slippers and the centuries passed. Then the Romans left and the English showed up and started serving tea to every one, like it was a big deal. Great.
We learned a lot about Bath’s history and culture while we were there. Here are a couple of things so you can amaze your friends at the next Bath trivia night (don’t worry if you haven’t been to one of these yet, just be patient and know Bath Trivia night is the next big thing).
- Postage stamps were invented in Bath.
- Nicolas Cage had a nice house here until the taxman came after him.
- They think our president is nuts.
Okay, that’s it.
Except for one other thing. England is the Jane Austen capital of the universe (like there were a lot of other contenders?) They even put her on their 10£ notes recently right above Winston Churchill who is only worth half as much because he’s on the 5£ notes. A lot of people don’t know this but he used to date her before he married Clementine. If England is the center of Austen-worship then Bath is the epicenter.
Jane grew up there, and I was fortunate enough to be dragged to the Jane Austen Center, by the Fabulous Miss K who has actually read her books. The “Center” is located in Jane’s old house on a street in Bath, but she doesn’t live here anymore because she died a few thousand years ago. I dutifully went in and the place was full of Austen worshipers and their husbands and those poor guys all had that same look on their faces that said, “What the hell am I doing here?” It turns out that there only three guys in the whole world who have actually read Jane Austen and only one of them will admit it. I don’t think it’s a mistake that right across the street from the Jane Austen Center is a medical clinic that specializes in testosterone injections. I know that when we walked out of the Center I had this strong urge to take a bath with a lot of salts, turn the lights down low, light a lot of candles and listen to Joni Mitchell. But I fought it off.
The Fabulous Miss K and I were both disappointed to learn that we had missed the annual Jane Austen festival they hold annually.
This week-long festival celebrates all things Janey. There are lectures and teas, and people dress up like there was a big velvet sale down at Britex fabrics. But the Janesters are also known for totally ripping it up at night and the clubs, discos, and pubs are jammed with rowdy, drunk, Jane-worshipers and a few Mr. Darcy impersonators and guys named Percy who drink to excess and get in fights and ruin the woodwork, if you know what I mean.
One of the highlights of the week is the Miss Jane Austen look-alike contest where beautiful contestants compete for the honor of being treated like a literary queen for the whole week.
Unfortunately this event has a darker side as the third runner-up is forced to dress up as Emily Dickenson for the week and is publicly humiliated wherever she goes. She is made to walk a gauntlet down the main street and is taunted with cries of “Don’t you know any limericks?” and “Rhyme this sweetheart.”
Jane Austen week culminates in the famous Running of the Librarians where tens of thousands of angry librarians who have come just for the festival run through the streets chasing hundreds of thousands of people who have overdue books. Its not unusual to see gored readers who have taunted and flaunted these librarians by not getting their books back in time or by using their “talking voice” in the library, lying battered and bruised in alcoves and doorways along the route. The city management thoughtfully has ambulances waiting in the side streets to assist those foolish enough to try to outrun an enraged librarian.
That said, I was pleased to learn that one of the direct descendants of Jane Austen was Steve Austen the $6 Million Man. Who would’ve guessed that someone associated with a deep understanding of human girl-nature would beget an American action hero as powerful and shallow as Steve? That’s just one of the reasons England is such a great country.
Next Up: The Cotswolds, Oxford, and London