Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Becoming Jane-ites in Bath

As a family, we have hit that magical sweet spot where the kids are becoming interested in the same kind of stuff as the grown-ups. In other words, we have managed to successfully mould them in our own image, which makes holiday excursions a tad more scintillating. No more soft-play areas for us!

Roman Baths, Bath
The original Roman Baths
Over half term, we booked a few days in the elegant city of Bath, staying in Jane Austen's former home at 4 Sydney Place. The author lived there with her parents from 1801-1805, before the death of her father forced them into cheaper accommodation. 

I should explain that the house has since been turned into holiday flats by Bath Boutique Stays and that we occupied 'Mr Darcy's Apartment' on the second floor. The prospect of treading the same flagstones as one of my literary heroines proved oddly thrilling! Each morning, I enjoyed imagining her journeying forth with her parasol and her bonnet, and a little Austen sass.

Both kids - my 13-year old daughter and nine-year old son - seemed to get as big a kick out of it as I did. The 13-year old immediately Instagrammed the plaque 'Here lived Jane Austen...' on the front of Sydney Place and then committed to memory the Mr Darcy quotation daubed on our bedroom wall (You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you). 

4 Sydney Place, Bath - Jane Austen's former home
Jane Austen's former abode in Bath
The nine-year old, meanwhile, joined me in Google-ing what Jane Austen might have had for breakfast as we sat devouring our holiday croissants at half nine in the morning. It felt almost spooky when we discovered that Jane would also have taken her first meal of the day at about nine o'clock, tucking into bread, butter and preserves! 

The only difference was that Jane might have taken a turn around the pleasure gardens opposite Sydney Place before breakfast. No such exertions for us, although my husband did run a few miles of the Bath Skyline before tucking into his gluten-free cereal, if that counts!

Hot springs

Our next cultural stop was the Roman Baths, which took us underground into the vibrant world of the Roman settlement. The multimedia displays of 'real' Romans swishing around the baths-and-temple complex piqued the interest of my daughter, who has started learning Latin at school. When she took a photo of a Roman emperor on her mobile phone, I got a secret buzz! We had managed to engage the teenager in something other than Episode or Crossy Road. Fist pump!

Our sojourn in Bath wasn't complete without the obligatory visit to the Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street, where the account of Jane's death by her devoted sister, Cassandra, almost reduced me to tears (I hadn't slept too well the night before - clearly distracted by a framed picture of Colin Firth above my bedstead):

She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow. I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.

The highlight for the nine-year old, however, was trying out the quill and ink with which Jane Austen would have penned her six novels. We left the gift shop with our own quill, some red sealing wax and a hardback copy of Pride and Prejudice (I figured my daughter would eventually need her own personal copy).

All in all, it was a successful city break, with a bit of retail therapy thrown in. As a family, we have now broadened our cultural reference points beyond Pokemon and Modern Family (our favourite sitcom). I'm not saying we now sit around the supper table analysing Sense and Sensibility and declining Latin nouns, but it gives me hope that the days of discussing what the kids had for lunch at school are numbered.

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