Frivolous Monsters

The Last Days of the Bath – Part 07 – The End

DAY 11: The big end of nearly three weeks of enforced culture through having to vacate the house whilst the bathroom was refitted: thus forcing myself to get out there and actually do stuff I’d otherwise just have put off until I wasn’t single, as where’s the fun if you’ve not got someone to share the adventure with, eh? I realised recently that I’ve been single for a solid decade. You can see, with that attitude, why I don’t get out much.  Salford The Crescent

Months ago I’d read someone blogging about a certain museum where they mentioned, in passing, meeting one of my childhood heroes. The museum in question wasn’t too close, had limited opening, and involved booking ahead to visit. All factors which put me off going to the effort of finding out whether that special exhibition was still running. However, in light of my tour requiring a big end I thought it would be, poetically, exactly the sort of thing I was looking for and so I got in touch and asked them if by any chance a certain individual was still there…

I was more than a little surprised to be told that he was, and that I could pop in and meet him on one of three afternoons, which fitted in with last day of bathroom construction. My tour of the north-west was going to go out with a bang.

I’d been tipped off, I’d planned, I had an appointment, and after getting the bus to the city of Manchester I walked all the way to the city of Salford in the pouring rain clutching a hand-drawn map.

I was more than a little excited as I was going to meet one of my heroes.

I was going to meet one of my childhood heroes.

I was going to meet Bagpuss.

Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss, old fat furry catpuss,
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring.
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light,
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing.

Now I don’t know the Australian equivalent of Bagpuss, and I don’t know the American equivalent of Bagpuss, so maybe the old saggy cloth cat, baggy and a bit loose at the seams, means nothing to people abroad. But then as Bagpuss is one of the immortals of British children’s television then maybe, just maybe, the old boy is fondly remembered internationally.Bagpuss Picture

The display, housed in The Working Class Movement Library near Salford University, was part of an Oliver Postgate exhibition which explored the radical roots of the Postgate family. Postgate founded Smallfilms with Peter Firmin and they were responsibly for many a child’s upbringing with perfect classics that included The Clangers, Ivor the Engine, and Noggin the Nog.Smallfilms Clangers Ivor Noggin

They had warned me in advance, in reply to my e-mail, that it was only a small display, but even if it didn’t contain the mice on the mouse organ, or Professor Yaffle the carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker, I didn’t care as I was only going for one thing: to meet and have my picture taken with Bagpuss. It would be a joyous moment. I’d probably even cry.Bagpuss Picture 02

I arrived wet from the Salford rain, rang the doorbell to be let in, and as I stepped over the threshold of the Working Class Movement Library, water dripping from my coat onto their tiled floor, the Oliver Postgate display loomed before me, and with dismay I audibly uttered:

That’s not the real Bagpuss…

The staff who were expecting me could see I was so visibly deflated that they offered to make me a cup of tea.

What they had as part of their Postgate display was a figurative representation of Bagpuss. My adventures were not so much going out with a bang, more of a whimper. To placate me the friendly staff also whipped out their “spare Bagpuss” and squeezed him to make it produce a recording of Bagpuss yawning when he wakes up.

I did look around all the exhibits but I don’t think, metaphorically speaking, that the staff and researchers there we expected someone like me to turn up, that day or ever, and soon I was engaging them all in long conversation about Bagpuss which led onto whether he was still “alive” out there somewhere.

As they seemed interested I was able to throw at them my newly learned fact I’d gleaned from Radio 3 that the Bagpuss mice sing their songs to the same tune as the sacrificing islanders in The Wicker Man – the medieval 13th Century song Sumer Is Icumen In – and it suggested that maybe the mice were followers of the old religion too.

The staff pulled out the recent reprint of Oliver Postgate’s autobiography and gave it to me to go through and find out for them where Bagpuss actually was. With a bit of reading I did: he’s seemingly living on a shelf in his son’s shed. They actually seemed excited, the museum staff, about tracking him down and bringing him to Salford.

It looks like I spread a little sunshine everywhere I go.

And that was that.

And, of course, when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too.
The mice were ornaments on the mouse organ.
Gabriel and Madeleine were just dolls.
Professor Yaffle was a carved, wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker.
Even Bagpuss himself, once he was asleep, was just an old, saggy cloth cat, baggy and a bit loose at the seams.

I went home, slightly disappointed, to a competed bathroom with a toilet that didn’t leak. Over the three weeks I’d taken twenty-two buses and two trains to take in eight museums, two art galleries and a town hall (twice), with three churches and two cathedrals of which, seeing that they all seemed shut, I never stepped a foot in any of them.

And so I’d broken the vicious circle. I was single because I didn’t go out, and didn’t go out because I was single, waiting to share such adventures, but then as “getting out” involved me time travelling on buses, having encounters with famous ghosts in churchyards, and somehow becoming one of the north-west’s most eminent Nazi hunters… Well considering all that nonsense it’s hardly going to bring in the girls as the evidence suggests that I’m hardly living in the real world, am I?

Considering the latter of these, in trying to nail down Adolf Hitler’s Manchester and Rochdale connections these past few weeks, I managed to track down a copy of his Irish sister-in-law’s 220 page unfinished memoirs which covered her time living in Toxteth, Liverpool, when she claims de Führer came to stay in 1912.

After reading the whole thing, from cover to cover, I discovered that Bridget Hitler covered any fabled visits throughout the north-west he might have gone on with: “[He] had an intense interest in anything English and [was] always going sightseeing”, and: “As soon as Adolf knew his way around he began disappearing by himself, not returning until late in the evening”.

I just read the whole book for two lines, which don’t prove anything. I did learn something new though as Bridget claims that her brother-in-law had a sexual relationship with his own niece Geli and then murdered her. It turns out that our Adolf was a bit of a b@st@rd. His own sister is said to have revealed that he also liked sherry trifle and that he often played “hookey” from school as a child. So it turns out he was a bit of a scallywag too. Adolf Hitler, who’d have thought?

And after all that I could have really done with long soak in the bath, but then those days are over now… Although not necessarily for everyone as when the bathroom was gutted I noticed that a certain artefact was missing from the skip outside our house. The workmen took the bath away in their van with the reason given, I was told, because they wanted to “save space in the skip”. But I think we all know it’s still out there, somewhere, and probably being enjoyed by someone else, God knows who, right about now.

Bagpuss 01

The joyous moment. I could almost have cried.

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20 thoughts on “The Last Days of the Bath – Part 07 – The End

  1. Note: If this conversation between Hitler’s sister and sister-in-law ever really took place then that’s “playing hookey” as quoted from an Austrian woman, probably speaking Austrian, and remembered and translated by an Irish woman, whilst she was living in America.

    I can hear “hookey” in a Scouse accent, so I was suspicious, but looking it up it seems it comes from the Dutch “hoekje” for “hide and seek” and is an Americanism, first reported in 1848, with a slightly later example quoted from Mark Twain in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. See, you learnt something today too.

  2. Bless Bagpuss! I have him as a pencil case. I also have a Basil Brush one that says ‘boom boom’ when you squeeze it. I did have little clanger toys that made the beeping noise too – I must have a nosey in the loft and see if I can find them. I did actually buy all these things ‘for my kids’ but they’re mine really. My eldest did recently express an interest in making a Soup Dragon doll and wondered whether there might be a pattern so I’m glad to have passed on the good taste gene in Children’s T.V.

    • I know, we have to pass on the message to the next generation. I have bought Bagpuss and Clangers DVDs for the children in my life. The only thing is I’m not sure if their parents are sitting them down in front of it.

      As I discussed at the museum, partly in reference to their Bagpuss, I have never been happy with any commercially available reproduction that I have seen. To me many of them don’t even come close. The original was handmade by either Postgate’s of Firmin’s wife, I think.

      Good luck with the Soup Dragon. The Clangers are coming back soon!

  3. Oh what a sad tale. I feel your disappointment! I too read bagpuss stories to my children (did we watch it on Tv?) He was a particular favourite of mt daughter. . and I read his tales to thier children from the same books.

    However I think I would rather Bagpuss was living on a shelf in the sons shed, waitung to be discovered by excited grandchildren, than be displayed in a glass case in an obscure museum in Salford …..not really sure of bagpuss’ s relevance to the working class
    movement.

    I am sure there s a life companion out there somewhere. But while you are waiting for her why don’t you pass the time doing more of this? After all you may just meet her in your
    travels….and if you don’t at least we will get a lot of fun reading about it!… Love Denise

    • I don’t think Bagpuss is lost, like that, but I think the whole Smallfilms productions were made and filmed in a shed, so you could surmise it might also be a TV studio that his son inherited! I did read somewhere that Bagpuss does make some public appearances in a certain museum somewhere in the south, so there is hope he could get a temporary residence in Salford!

      As for his relevance… I forget all the details. After being hassled about taking photos everywhere I’ve been, signing disclaimers that I’m not a professional photographer, and getting to the point in the Jewish museum where I couldn’t be bothered, I asked in Salford if they minded and was surprised to be told they didn’t. They were very nice to me. They did say something about not reproducing it, or something, so I kept their text out and hoped that this close up is OK by them. So I didn’t record the details.

      I think Postgate and his wife, or it may have been his parents, were very political and they were relevant. There is also the suggestion that Bagpuss is very political with a structure with Bagpuss at the top and the mice as the workers.

      Bizarrely here’s Bagpuss in the political world on Newsnight:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15460745

      And as for carrying on like this? I’m not sure any of us want that. It’s taken so long in the end just to get this out, even with a week ill in the middle! But thanks for the comment.

  4. Missing Doctor Who episodes in Nigeria.
    Missing Bagpuss in a shed.
    The world awaits the discovery. And the mice on the organ and The Wicker Man? I would never have made that connection in a month of Sundays.

    • I know, Nigeria has been good to us in turning up lost Doctor Who. Hopefully there is more to come soon.

      And it’s remarkable, but true, that if you watch the original Wicker Man (I saw some of the remake a week or so ago and thought it was awful) then if you take the song all the islanders sing at the end, and speed it up, it is exactly the same tune that the mice sing all their songs to. It’s a nice little detail.

  5. Bagpuss was a bit before my time (just a bit!) but I discoverd the mice in a youtube clip a couple of years ago and fell in love! Who’d have thought that squeaky rodents singing mending songs could be so cute?
    Now you’ve got the adventuring bug (yes?) and realise a partner isn’t essential for travelling, maybe you could go in search of the original bagpuss?

    • I know he was originally shown in 1974 (I ain’t that old) but he was repeated on the BBC forever. According to the Postgate autobiography he’s still shown in places, although I don’t know where. There are remix versions of the mice singing on the internet!

      And as for adventuring? I have enough trouble getting out walking to town (a repetitive 45 minute walk each way) to try and do some writing (writing long blog posts doesn’t count, it’s just a distraction) as spending money on buses would be a frippery for someone in my position. I’m telling you buying those weekly bus tickets went to my head.

      And I’ll find Bagpuss. One day.

      Actually I just had a look for which museum I’d read he appeared at from time to time to see that Canterbury Heritage Museum claims they have him right now.

      http://www.canterbury.co.uk/museums/heritage-museum/Bagpuss-and-Rupert-Bear.aspx

      Now that’s a proper Bagpuss. Looking up train prices I see it’d cost over a hundred pounds just to get there… One day.

  6. I would have been devastated to arrive in Salford and not meet the REAL Bagpuss… though they do say that you should never meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed, so maybe it was for the best.
    As for a partner… maybe you should be looking for one with a recently refurbished bathroom!

    • I was devastated, but partly as I’d started thinking of my life in terms of narrative structure, that required a big end, since I’d started writing it all down. I did have worries earlier that one day perhaps nothing would happen. This seemed not to happen. Apparently I can’t leave the house without major drama.

      I found when writing the comment above that the REAL Bagpuss is actually in Canterbury! If you’re anywhere close you can go and see him.

      I do agree about the troubles of meeting your heroes. I’ve written on here about meeting Jon Pertwee and the life-changing experience that was. I haven’t written about meeting Tom Baker yet… I will, at some point. Although I should add, with those two, that I was never disappointed with them.

      As for partners I’ve stopped looking. I am on the shelf until I sort my life out and start making money out of writing. Internet dating is another thing I mean to get down on here. As I said, I can’t leave the house without major drama!

  7. I love the idea of Hitler disappearing out sightseeing every day; I hope that’s true.
    So now you know you can do it are you going to start going out doing more stuff, maybe making a once-a-week treat?

    • I heard that first as a child (of some sort) and was fascinated by it. And still am. To know that such a celebrity (of sorts, but you know what I mean) of World history is supposed to have visited down the road, well… I’ve said somewhere else that it shook up the notion of thinking that everything happened far away in London.

      I’m still chasing that rumour, trying to find where it started, and will be interested to see if this Rochdale research comes up with anything. After having ticked off his sister-in-law’s book (it is a fact that Hitler’s half-brother did live in Toxteth in Liverpool: the house, ironically, got bombed out!) I’m bidding on a certain hard-to-get hold of item on eBay as we speak.

      As for more getting out? I think I’ve inflicted enough on people, on here, as it is!

  8. Sadly, Bagpuss has never made it to Australia and I am not sure I can easily identify a similar cultural touchstone. But once again I can relate to the general import of your story, of making a journey and being underwhelmed by the grail you are seeking. But as you have also explained, the journey is the story. I’ve really enjoyed reading the Last Days of the Bath.

    PS Keep going out. you won’t meet women in your newly renovated bathroom unless they are painters or tilers.

    PPS I was disappointed not to be rewarded with a picture of the new bathroom, or is that too voyeuristic.

    • It’s a bit sad it never made it to you. Only now, with recent discoveries in Africa of lost British TV classics that ended up there after being bounced around the globe, do we discover how much of our TV got out there to other countries. Bagpuss and its ilk, even though it was made before I was born, has something of a timeless feel to it. It was made to look old, like Dad’s Army, and so never went out of fashion.

      It’s all stop-motion, with some puppets that are more simple than others, where each week a girl Emily brings into the shop something she’s found. It’s usually dirty and broken, and she leaves it in the shop window with the toys. And when they’re alone Bagpuss wakes up, then all the rest wake up, and they try to figure out what it is, whilst the mice clean and fix it, and they tell a story that revolves around the item, be it a lost ballet shoe or a ship in a bottle. It’s a very nostalgic programme.

      I am amazed anyone read through all that, so thank you, but as you say it’s all about the journey. I do feel I have inflicted this on people, as I didn’t mean to start blogging on a daily basis, so just going out to places with the intention of writing it all down… Not too sure.

      And thankfully that bathroom is finished and everyone, including the lino people and the blinds people, have all been men. Plus it doesn’t help that the last time I had a serious go on a dating website the problem turned out to be the bit about me still living with my parents (at my age) so there would have been no escaping it here. Even the builders questioned me suspiciously about what it is I actually do!

      p.s. No-one has taken a picture of the bathroom yet. Even after all that. There’s no easy shot to take. But I’ll see what I can do tomorrow in the light. We have strange semaphore blinds now. All very odd.

    • I have sorted a bathroom photo for you. The best I can do with awkward angles and the door. Via twitter, which I just use for getting photo links on here.

      The pink sparkly shower hat, which I forgot to remove before taking, is not mine!

      photo/1

  9. When I got home from playschool we’d have our lunch then watch a children’s programme…sometimes it was Bagpuss. I loved Bagpuss so much! Then my mum would have an afternoon nap on the sofa whilst I drew pictures. Happy memories. So sorry you didn’t meet the real saggy cloth cat.

    • It was the same with us, although my memories are a bit confused. I think we only had one morning a week at the local community centre. I don’t remember much of that, even though the walk back with tiny legs must have been a killer.

      Whilst I do remember Bagpuss as always being on, it was a BBC programme, and the thing I do recall about lunchtime children’s programmes is that they were on ITV. Rainbow and the like. So I’m not sure exactly where Bagpuss fitted in to the schedule. But he was there. And he’s still out there, in person. I’ll get to him one day!

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