Bath time with strangers!

Date: 18 September 2017

Location: on the banks of the Dalyan River, Turkey.

A catch up entry from March 2017, lost between the flimsy pages of my Google Inbox and iPhone notes.

***

Bath, with its warm apricot sandstone buildings, Roman baths and that imperious abbey, all snuggled in against the curves of the gentle Avon is a warm hug to anyone — especially a Jane Austen nerd like your author.

I’d been ‘saving’ Bath. I had a sneaking suspicion that it could be my English version Daylesford, a safe and treasured spot within easy reach of home and yet far enough to feel properly away, focussed on food and health, a place where rest and indulgence are lauded. Once every two months or so I’d find myself googling beautiful Bath spa retreats and getting as far as sorting out dates only to think, nah, too expensive, save it for some other time when you really need it. It was my In Case Of Emergency Break Glass. (Of course, of the last few years have taught me anything it ought to be that you should never wait until things are so bad you need to break the glass.)

And yet, even with all of this firmly in mind, I find myself saying yes when my ‘work wife’ — a pretty little Brit whose father is a knighted millionaire academic and who wears Ted Baker exclusively and whom we’re going to call Missy — asks if I want to come to Bath with her, her husband and a bunch of their mates who are running the Bath Half Marathon. Consequently, this sunny Saturday morning finds me rushing to jump on the 10am from Paddington. There are no seats so I loiter in the vestibule and wait for someone friendly to find me. Missy, waving a bad coffee and leading her crew, soon does.

In theory it’s my idea of hell. It’s early, it’s the weekend, my weekend (I don’t share time well, we know that), I’m crammed in between train carriages with a bunch of strangers with whom I need to play nice all weekend. And yet, it’s all right. Actually, it’s quite fun. We’re a group of 13. Until Swindon. During quite the lively conversation about the utility and charm of the word ‘cranny’, one of the boys takes a phone call. As we loudly discuss how one could creatively use the word cranny in a sentence, Missy’s husband jokes: ‘Can you imagine if that’s a work call he’s on!’ We all snicker. Then, a few moments later, we hear him: “I’m on a train to Bath….yeah, I could but…. Like I said, it’d be a few hours… Ok. Ok. See you soon.” Everyone’s faces are stricken. No, surely not? But it is. He’s an investment banker and work has just called him in to work on a takeover bid this weekend. Most of us are lawyers so we’ve all been there. There’s no judgement, just sad acceptance. It’s gets worse: this was his first week in this new job. Worse: was due to run the half marathon and had been training for it. Worse still: it was his birthday. He nobly hands over his marathon bib and leaves us at Swindon to walk the platform and cross the tracks to take the next train back to London, back to Canary Wharf and indeterminable hours in the sky prison.

When the rest of us do arrive, Bath is abuzz with tourists and runners. Spring is trying to break the frozen ground and there are daffodils and hyacinths everywhere.

We disperse to our assorted hotels and then meet at the King William for a pint. It would be tricky to imagine a cuter British pub than the King William. We sit in a big bay window overlooking a curving crescent of apricot stone and, with a dozen of us, take up half the pub. We drink lager and munch through plates and plates of fries (‘Let’s get a whole trough of fries!’ ‘They have truffle fries here?’) and Bath Chaps (deep-fried, breaded pork cheek?) and get to know one another. There’s the ridiculously good looking and crazily well-educated American couple, the Aussie lawyer and her shy new advertising exec Tinder boyfriend, the girl from Bundaberg (who, wonderfully, orders rum and coke), Missy and her lanky and charming Northern husband, the athletic cheerleader type, the beautiful opera singer, the tall and tanned Queenslander dude who randomly knows my little sister. Then, happily tipsy and all properly introduced and nicely bonded, we head to dinner at the Hounds and Hare where we have a private room. There’s a drink to absent friends, there’s talk of karaoke, the opera singer stuns the entire pub into silence with a short aria, we end up at Vodka Revolution drinking peanut butter vodka shots in the laser-shot dark.

I wake up oh so confused about where I am, face pressed against a cold stone wall. Not ladylike. Outside marathon runners stream towards the start line in the English drizzle. I resolutely pull the curtain closed and make tea and take it back to bed.
Our Sunday is spent eating — Kingsmede Larder for breakfast, Green Bird for coffee and Bath cakes, The Marlborough Tavern for a boozy roast lunch swimming in gravy — and congratulating the runners of course. There’s talk of hanging out more as a group: let’s get a Sunday roast together soon and have a roast club, let’s do run club, opera club, rent a boat and do yacht club.

Now I’m snug on the packed train home. Exhausted, grateful. Proud. More of this, this is good for me.

Love
Alex

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