Through the Looking Glass

I had a magical experience today. I travelled through my home town, the city of Bath, on a coach. Flying at approximately six feet. It was a treat. You see, l always drive, and drive at car-level, so I enjoyed being a passenger immensely. I felt indulged. For some inexplicalble reason I suddenly felt Six, and a glow of nostalgia enveloped me. My brain is like that. I can be perfectly, skeptically lucid one moment, and then a colour will transport me to my Uncle’s home when I was tiny, and I can smell the wood from the fire. Then I cannot talk anymore. Suddenly it hit me. I was looking at a TV cartoon world: bizarre, unpredictable and beautiful.

The bus driver was heading downhill along a street lined with the grand, five-story Georgian houses that Bath is justifiably famed for. From my slumped position (I was channelling my inner teenager and sprawled across a double seat), the first floor windows were perfectly framed for me. Most central Bath buildings are chopped and sub-divided into flats, maisonettes and houses, and for a glorious five minites I was granted  full access. I felt like a gallery visitor, perusing beautiful, unique works of art, and unashamedly so due to open shutters and curtains. I saw wonders. A mother pirouetting around her galley kitchen, soothing her wailing newborn baby. The back of a green leather, wingbacked chair complete with coiffed white hair watching a black and white film, and one window completely consumed by a vivid green plant that crowded every spare centimetre of the glass.

It was wonderful. As if I was witnessing the telling of a story, or watching a fabulous stop-motion children’s  animation like Bagpuss or Trumpton. Oliver Postgate would have wept for joy. I abandoned all of the pedestrians, preferring instead this voyeuristic glimpse in to people’s lives. I saw two wonderful vignettes of Bath life, and they are burned in to my retina (and my heart). The first was a vision of the Bath of old. An immaculately dressed elderly couple dancing around their sitting room, lit by a chandelier. I glimpsed gilt-framed paintings on the walls, and a duck-egg blue, embossed and impossibly high ceiling. The second was a glimpse of a newer Bath-overalled, beplastered men installing a bank of stripped pine computer workstations, with a newly-ripped fireplace leaning dejectedly behind them. A frenzy of activity. Yet on the other side of the wall, merely centimetres away, a picture of serenity, sat a Hispanic-looking lady at her typewriter, smoke-curling cigarette in hand. I felt privileged, and as if I was at an Edward Hopper exhibition. I did not want it to end.

Bath is just like that. Tantalising. She is a wily old lady: dignified, aloof, and with a sense of the theatrical (though she would never tell you that). She compartmentalises all of the different aspects of her persona, and seldom reveals them to each other. Oh, they are there to see, if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. This rarely happens, but when it does, it is remarkable.

© Tom Tide 2016

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