Oui Patron! (Part 3)

Bath Comedy Festival 2015 Patron Ralph Oswick’s occasional festival diary.

The Bath Comedy Festival’s famous big red bus outing, The Wine Arts Trail went off without a hitch on Palm Sunday. Apart from the odd hurricane force wind, a temporarily lost harpist and a badly parked car here and there, a lady abandoned in the toilet and at least one confused (pissed) punter wandering off. As promised, 140 participants were treated to a series of mystery destinations, hilarious happenings and infiltrations, all awash with fine wines and witty banter.

Seems a simple thing to arrange, but preparation this year, the eighth appearance of the tour, was particularly fraught. Our main comic act for the finale foolishly double booked himself and had to drop out. That not being quite enough trauma, the actual final venue, a pub, suddenly closed and an alternative had to be found. Then the Natural Theatre’s youth team had to retire from the fray due to lack of youth availability.  Following this, another of the acts had to withdraw for ‘personal reasons’ and the snazzy sports car booked to transport the winners of the en-route Easter bonnet competition was suddenly no more.

Frantic phone calls found replacements. (It’s surprisingly easy to get people to agree to say yes to things late evening in the pub. Followed by the inevitable ‘what did I agree to do?’ phone calls next morning) and the dust settled. Then, whilst distributing the plonk to the venues we realised that only half of said wine had been supplied. Yours truly hadn’t read the delivery note. I’d just signed and paid. Luckily the wine merchants were still open and rustled up another stack of wine cases on sale or return. Phew, relaaax everyone!

It was pretty brave of the passengers to down their first glass of Prosecco at ten fifteen on a Sunday morning. Especially as due to the clocks going forward, it was really nine fifteen in the morning! But it set them off nicely, and four stops and five glasses later, the bus was completely steaming, in both senses of the word, and rolling down Milsom Street with everyone on board delivering a rollicking chorus of Roll out the Barrel. Followed by My Old Man Said Follow the Van. And when I suggested that something slightly classier might be appropriate for what is arguably one of the finest thoroughfares in the land, Nessan Dorma broke out on the lower deck. Led it must be said by our irrepressible celebrity clippie, the wonderful Lorraine Chase of Luton Airport fame.

We’d wandered the cloisters of the exquisite Romanesque St Alphege’s church in Oldfield Park, an overlooked gem in the hierarchy of Bath’s architectural heritage, while the aforementioned harpist’s fingers froze to the bone, bless her. We’d experienced the unique vibe of the House of His Majesty, the Edwardian pile in Lower Weston where the Emperor Haile Selassie lived in exile.  This section was hosted by the gorgeous Loraine of Morgan-Brinkhurst Consultancy, who is working with the trustees to raise funds for the building’s restoration as a community asset. Loraine kindly supplied red and white wine. And nibbles! Food on the wine trial? The gannets descended and within seconds nary a Cheesy Wotsit to be seen!

Various artefacts from the time of the Emperor’s residency were on display, including his harmonium, but his chapel consecrated in the former conservatory was said to have been flown lock stock and barrel back to Ethiopia with His Highness. English Heritage would never allow that these days. I wonder if it still stands, a little bit of Bath in the middle of Ethiopia?

In the lane at the back of the royal mansion, we came across a somewhat inebriate vicar who claimed to be delivering UKIP leaflets. As his wobbly bicycle and even wobblier knees deposited him in a conveniently placed yew hedge, a gullible lady was heard to ask ‘Do you think he is real?’

Ever onwards, and much wine-drenched fun was to be had in Wood’s restaurant as Marie Antoinette’s couturiers, played by the ladies from Amuse Bouche Theatre Company, looking for all the world like escaped mannequins from the adjacent Museum of Costume, judged the Easter Bonnets. The hat full of chocolates naturally won those greedy judges over and the winners were whisked away for a tour of the real sights of Bath by a very game driver from Gemini limousine hire who at the last minute had been prized away from his Sunday dinner to participate. Thanks Ade!

Meanwhile, the bus rushed ahead, if a lumbering Routemaster can be said to rush, in order to deposit the rest of us in a screaming, flag-waving horde on the steps of the former Empire Hotel. As the hat winners alighted from the limo, the passing tourists might have been forgiven for thinking royalty had arrived. As it was, the guys had picked up a friend on the way who bore an eery resemblance to Olly Murs. We all chanted ‘We love you Olly!’ I’m sure some Japanese visitors went off happy to have snapped their pop idol!

Onwards into the somewhat subdued atmosphere of the former ballroom of the Empire, now a Garfunkel’s where the truly outrageous, ludicrous and totally wonderful Tina Turner Tea Lady gave us her all (which is a lot!) (a real lot!).  On being asked by Tina what one does when one is dry, the answer being drink tea, an inebriated old lady cried ‘Lubricate!’ It was all downhill from then on. The two lone diners and the nonplussed staff seemed unmoved as we did the conga back to the bus, led by Tina in a fright wig, a pair of unfeasibly high heeled pink shoes and little else..

Finally, we staggered into the charming converted Methodist chapel, the prettiest building in Twerton on Avon after the new Morrison’s Local, which houses Capture the Spirit Photography. There,a camp society photographer and a genuinely hugely pregnant Miss Product Placement, (Natural Theatre stalwarts Ginny and Neil), her floral swimsuit bursting at the seams, was discovered in mid-photoshoot. Miss P P, who is not averse to draping her body over any person or product in the cause of marketing, helped Ms Chase to crown the person judged to have been the best wine critic on the tour.

And so back to the start, where the victims…sorry, participants…for the afternoon tour were already assembling, staring soberly at the morning crowd literally falling off the bus.

An Arts Council assessor once asked why there was so little art on the Wine Arts Trail. I had to explain that the word ‘arts’ was there simply to enable the acronym to spell T.W.A.T.

Childish really, but it sounds hilarious after six glasses of wine.

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