BATH

The pictures: The roving band in front of Topping & Co; booksigning inside Topping, with Saber and Helen; the all-girl choir, musician, Robert P. Jones, musician; the two arrangers; the three readers; Hugh and Robert; the RSPB volunteers; the Limpley Stoke honey.

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On Sunday, September 6, up we leapt for an early start. Devouring a Quorn vegetarian sausage at the Lincoln House Hotel while musing on the propensity of some vegetarian foods to disguise themselves as meat, I was told that “early” meant “right now,” as otherwise we would be caught in a marathon. We rushed out to locate our two drivers, known to us only as Dave and Not-Dave. Dave is Dave Boyden (daveboyden@hotmail.com), who drives for the Hay Festival and doubles as a helicopter pilot. Not-Dave turned out to be Juliet Cox, and she had such luxurious Victorian tresses – not to be confused with mere hair – that I promptly gave her a copy of the new Virago Alias Grace, which features similar tresses.

Dave and Juliet got us through the marathon, all three layers of it –Very Fits, Quite Fits, and People More Like Me — and we arrived in beautiful Georgian golden-sandstone Bath, site of Jane Austen’s youthful shopping exploits, in time for an excellent veggie lunch at Demuths (www.demuths.co.uk.). While drinking my James White (Ipswitch) apple and raspberry Org-drink, side by side with Orville’s Sam Smith (Tadcaster) Org-Best Ale, I looked at the magazine www.thesource-southwest.co.uk, which contained among other things some info on the Soil Association (http://www.soilassociation.org.) and also on www.gardenorganic.org.uk, not to mention the Green Companion (www.greenbath.org.)

Then we were off to the Topping and Company bookshop (http://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/) to sign many-a-book.  Robert Topping is one of the UKs premier booksellers. I’ve known him since his Waterstone’s Manchester days, when he turned that city from a best-avoid to a must-visit as far as book tours went, and he now has two shops, one in Ely and one in Bath. The one in Bath was charm incarnate – just what you’d want as a bookstore browser. It was hard to get out of there without buying some books, and I didn’t. We then went upstairs to a sunny table, where tea was brought while I scrawled on the books, and Saber (the manager) and Helen helped.

Then we went off to the Georgian Guildhall, where the rehearsal was underway in the bright central meeting room.  Surprise! The singers were all girls, aged roughly seventeen-eighteen, and two of them – Jenny Howes and Charlotte Mitchell – had rearranged the music to suit their voices.  It was the first music they’d ever arranged, they told me, and a lovely job they’d done of it.

The other singers were Holly Brunskill, Louise Rouse, Victoria Price, Harriet and Beth Garner, and Hattie Hill-Payne. They sounded terrific in rehearsal, as did the three readers – three actors who knew one another and had worked together. They were: Paul Mohan (Adam One), Suzi Davies (Toby), and Saskia Portway (Ren). Hugh Topping—son of Robert – busied himself with the audio equipment, and Robert P. Jones – the multi-talented Topping bookshopper who was directing the music and the show – leapt into the performance at times to play a thug and some rude bystanders, after which he whipped of his thug hat and went back to being a creator of ethereal girl-choir harmonies and a director of the four young musicians: Sam Parsons, Cat Stone, Joey Reed, and Philip Weaver.

The performance that evening went off it great style, with angelic singing and authoritative acting, followed by an audience Q and A. Then, in the adjacent lobby-like room, books were signed by me while the RSPB volunteers manned their booth and Limpley Stoke local organic honey was sold and its methods demonstrated.

Then, led by Dave and Juliet, the multi-tasking drivers, we went off to the Star, a much-loved local pub that’s still the way pubs used to be – no games, no TV, just people talking away – where Phoebe discovered British beer –“This is so good! What’s in it?” After which we went back to the gorgeous and welcoming Queensberry Hotel (Silver Green Award), where a thoughtful array of sandwiches, some vegetarian, was waiting.

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