Tom and Old Willie
By elsie katz
Bath is a relaxed money place. Been parting visitors with our ooftisch* since before Jane Austen. Easy peasy. 'Spend, it's good for you'. The spacious, stately, built up luxury. The big Debenhams near the station where I sit, get my bearings, visit the toilet. The Waterstones which outclasses the two in Exeter by a mile. I buy a Rebecca Solnit for my elder one, Sallie. I choose it because it has the word 'hope' on the cover.
Yes, Bath is a great place for one of our rare meets. I paid for the evening Spa deal, Sal paid for the hotel. Funny little room up too many stairs but excellent location on North Parade and friendly staff.
Turns out we both felt wobbly this morning. My virulent tummy bug held off till two acts after I did my turn at Exeter Take the Mic last night. I then fled the light and the people and ran like hell for the quiet dark of the covered part of Paris Street Bus Station. 'Toilet shut before 9pm - that's their damn problem.' Didn't quite come to the worst but near enough. Sal was tired after her 3am start. She was returning to England after a three day jaunt to Berlin with her boyfriend.
I now worry less about her sometime flashes of brittle irritability.My daughter has a firm grip on her life.She's got a few things right; the boyfriend, the travel, the treats, the smart clothes. A bright strong woman. Twenty-nine this June and life at full throttle. The one thing absent sometimes, the chance to reflect.
But why does anyone want to lead the middle-class life in London? The rent alone...
The Spa - it's magic! The rooftime pool in the dark, steam swifting off the surface edges. The Abbey view, the tower full-square. The floodlit pastel shifts. The pleasure crowds, us all bobbing and chatting. We are as happy as little foetuses in a warm bubbly amniotic spawn.
Next day I get up in time for a cracking Continental and bring her a banana and muffin. We meet in the afternoon at Sally Lunn's and do swapsies with our savoury afternoon snacks. My treat. Then I walk her to the station. Separate lives now, Sal has to work this weekend before half-term ends. Number crunching for her struggling secondary school. There is always the pressure to raise the results, to meet the false ceiling of government demands. A 'dip' is a near-death experience according the the bully-boy who is gunning for the Head's job.
'You try to make your lessons fun for the school students, I can see that.'
'They know it's all about exams.'
We plan to meet in London for my fathers 91st in April. It's been good.
But I almost forget to mention the kindness of the porter. I had slept a lot on the train and consequently I woke at 3.30 am. Not wishing to disturb my daughter I only switched my lamp on for long enough to make a cup of tea. Then I put on my slippers, and furry night-top, grabbed my book and headed for the chairless lobby on the ground floor before the climb to the rooms. I sit and read. When I spot him, I ask for a chair, which he brings.
I catch sight of him toiling with his mop. My age, thin, denims bleached to neutral at the knee with the wear of work, old shirt, local voice.
'You start the day early.'
Then, not long after,
'The breakfast room's open. Would you like a tea or a coffee?'
'I don't do this usually', he says.
'Another three hours and fifty minutes to go then home. Sleep, if I can. I've noisy neighbours in the flat downstairs. Police called and everything.'
I commiserate, I have a noisy bunch on one side where I live.Police called once after a guest failed to move on from their party and roared and raved in the street at 5am. Don't know for sure who phoned. Then I sip my tea, read, move on.
I never asked the porter's name. Not my place to do so. I'll call him Tom.
Yeh and call me Old Willie Wordsworth. Nowt changes.
* Ooftisch - Yiddish for ready money. From 'auf tisch', on the table.
(daughter's name changed BTW)