Just back from a very enjoyable short stay in lovely, historic Bath, which features prominently in my novel Four Riddles for Jane Austen (and her artful maid Tilly). Although I’ve walked in Jane’s pattens before around the city, this was my first visit to the Jane Austen Centre.
Greeted by staff in period costume, we got a wonderful guided tour, the opportunity to dress up, nibble a bath oliver (a biscuit rather than a denizen of the city) and partake of an elegant refreshment in the Jane Austen Tea Rooms under the brooding gaze of Mr D (aka Colin Firth, shirt firmly on).
The Centre also boasts a waxwork of Jane based on extensive forensic research, adding to the canon of conjecture on her likely appearance.
Earlier, I’d revisited the Roman Baths, an equally big draw in Jane’s day. While strolling from frigidarium to massage room, I was waylaid by a Roman trader offering me a strigil (pointy skin scraper) that definitely didn’t fall off the back of a chariot. Having established that I looked like the ‘kind of woman who appreciates a bit of gladiator action,’ I did agree to meet trader Peregrinus later in the brew house to discuss his price for a phial of ‘authentic gladiator sweat,’ believed to possess ‘strong aphrodisiac properties.’
My slave interjected at this point to tell me it was lunchtime and he could eat a scabby peacock stuffed with dormice, but was swiftly reprimanded and told to make an offering to the gods for his insolence.
When I arrived later at the brew house, Peregrinus had done a runner ‘to Gaul,’ and there was no sign of my down payment on the promised sweat, my slave offering to scrape off a bit of his own and see if had the same effect.
Muttering only ‘the gall of some men’ (Peregrinus included), I repaired to the bar for a large libation and wondered if Jane would have fallen for a similar ruse, bearing in mind the eternal adage, ‘what would Jane have done?’
Seen right through a Roman Arfur Daley, I’m guessing.
By the time I got to the Tea Rooms, I was ready for a ‘strong Regency blend’ in my teacup to wash down a goodly wedge of chocolate cake. I think Jane would probably have eaten a far daintier portion than I tucked into, but back then, lest we forget, they didn’t have Spandex pants.
There was just time for another brisk jaunt along Gay Street to admire The Royal Crescent, and then, sadly, it was time to leave.
A part of you never quite leaves Bath, though, its flagstones haunted by strollers old and new. You’re rubbing shoulders with the past with every step. And you never quite know who you’ll bump into.
Four Riddles for Jane Austen (and her artful maid Tilly) is published by Corazon Books.
Read about the Jane Austen Centre at https://www.janeausten.co.uk/
For the Roman baths, check out https://www.romanbaths.co.uk/