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.
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.
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.
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.
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.