Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Bath Birthday

The newly 5 Miss Hero taking the waters

Outside the Pump Room, looking at the Bath Abbey.

The famous Bath Water in the Pump Room.

The Pump Room itself.

Overlooking one of the Roman baths.

We’ve now commenced a new birthday scheme. We’ve decided (for varied and sundry reasons) that we’d like to give each of the kids a special birthday expedition each year while we’re here in England . . . and it will be their particular place that we always go on their birthday. We started this last year for Knox. We took him to Warwick Castle for his birthday because we needed to give him a special treat. He needed a bit of bucking up as the prospect of having to have a birthday in England wasn’t looking like much fun to him – no family around, no classmates, no cupcakes in class, no birthday cake at Papa and Nana’s house. So we tried to think of something that would be so spectacularly fun, and so spectacularly “England” that it would compensate! Thus the Warwick Castle expedition. And we had such a complete blast that day that we decided we should really do that for all of the kids. We would really love them to look back with fondness on this English experience, and not with that feeling of having been ripped off of everything fun. We would love it if, when our kids are back at home and having a birthday, they could remember that, “When we lived in England I always used to get to go to (fill in the blank) on my birthday.” We thought that might also help with cementing some of these memories. We’ve found that visiting a place repeatedly helps the kids to really have a very concrete memory of a place. You can say, “We’re going to go to the Vale of the White Horse” for instance, and they’ll all shout, “Hooray!” instead of, “What’s that?” and then you have to start up the tedious explanations about, “Remember that day when it rained really hard and we all got wet and then we stopped for tea in that stable? That was the Vale of the White Horse.” At that point you realize that they have no idea what the White Horse is, but they remember the tea in the stable. (Which of course is fun too, but you know what I mean.) So this is all to say that we are now officially on the Birthday Expedition Scheme. Like I said, Knox’s birthday destination point is Warwick Castle. Jemima has requested hers to be Cheddar – so we’ll be heading that way in about a week when she turns 8. Bel has her birthday in Moscow, so she’ll get an “un-birthday” expedition that has yet to be determined, Judah’s is also still to be decided, and Hero’s has just taken place.

Miss Hero Sidney Merkle is a bit of a diva. She loves a good dress up dress, and could tea party the rest of us under the table. So after a bit of thought, Ben and I decided that the most fitting place to take Hero was to Bath for tea in the Pump Room. For those of you who aren’t devotees of Jane Austen or Regency Period novels, the Pump Room was THE destination point for the fashionable elite in the 18th century when they sojourned in Bath to “take the waters.” The water in Bath was supposed to be restorative and many sick, ailing, or hypochondriac people would go to Bath to be cured of their illnesses and generally pampered. If you’ve seen “Amazing Grace” the Pump Room is the setting when Wilberforce first meets his future wife. Anyhow, we thought that a good High Tea in the Pump Room would really fill the bill for little Miss Hero.

Thanks to a donation from Grandpa Gary, we completely splurged it up on this little trip and felt not even a pang of remorse about it! We took the whole lot of us into the incredibly posh Pump Room and ordered each of the kids a dish of ice cream along with a ginger bread man and a hot chocolate . . . and the adults (Ben, Brooke, and I) got an out and out High Tea. This involved a crazy array of sandwiches, scones, cream puffs, and knick-knacks of varying descriptions, and a pot of tea. When we had finished, we of course all had to sample the famous Bath water which is spouting out of a really fantastic fountain called the King's Spring. As it turned out, it tastes exactly like Moscow water if you were to drink it hot, straight out of the tap. There’s obviously an entire industry just waiting to happen with Moscow water. Anyhow, the kids were very struck by the water’s restorative powers. Mysterious ailments were clearing up right and left all around the table. Several of the children swore that their stomach had been hurting prior to drinking the water, but now was fit as a fiddle. This led us to conclude that 18th century fashionable England must have had the mentality of an 8 year old.

After we had finished with our very posh tea, we went to have a look at the Roman Baths. The very brief overview of the city of Bath is that it was held to be a sacred place by the Celts because of the hot spring, and when the Romans showed up, they too thought that this was a sacred place with healing powers. They built a temple on the spot with a large bath complex, and dedicated it to Sulis-Minerva. Sulis was the Celtic goddess, and Minerva was the Roman . . . so they made a very synchronistic temple to Sulis-Minerva. The ruins of the temple were really incredible, and the baths were amazing. For some reason I usually think of the Romans in Britain as having built a garrison or two and maybe the odd villa . . . but seeing an out and out temple with enormous carvings of Gorgons’ heads was truly weird . . . like a wild mixing of metaphors somehow. Especially with Jane Austen’s house, the Assembly Rooms, and the Royal Crescent just up the block.

All in all we had a splendid and terrific day. Hero was very importantly polite at tea and absolutely reveled in her little expedition. And we’re all very pleased that now we have a reason to go back next year – when Hero turns 6!