Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Pump it Up, But Don't Drink the Water

This past weekend, Chumley and I were fortunate enough to be invited to a splendid wedding and reception in the town Cheltenham, which is a few hours east of us in the Cotswolds.  It's a spa town with the last and best pump room of the Regency era.  Think Jane Austen.  But before I selected my empire gown, the first order of business was for me to learn how to pronounce our destination in a way that did not resemble an order at the butcher's counter.  Chumley deftly filled the role of my elocution coach.
"CHHHHHHHHHHelt - num!" I would spout after several seconds of deep thought.

"No, no, you're attacking it," he would reply, trying to stifle the giggles inevitably elicited when those folksy Americans try pronouncing localities with no less than five silent letters.  I just laugh at Welsh, by the way.  "Try again."

Soon, I began saying CHELT-num as an impromptu curse word around the house.  I couldn't seem to edit out the rage.  After months of random CHELT-nums in the car, during dinner, and whispered at the movies, I got a "very good!" from Chumley and the feeling that I just might have it down.

I have now been to five English weddings, including my own.  By no means am I expert, but I would consider myself a well-practiced observer.  I associate English weddings with hats.  I myself avoid hats as I just know they make my head look fat.  On others, however, they can be quite slimming - especially when the size of the hat virtually dwarfs its wearer.  I also enjoy donning a clean suit and going on fascinator watch.  A fascinator is basically a small spaceship that has run into a bird of some sort on its way to earth, eventually touching down on a woman's head.  They are appropriate for weddings and horse races.  They do serve their intended purpose - I do find them fascinating, especially when several women are wearing them in close orbit.  I would not be surprised to find crop circles at the salad bar. To be honest, as with a close alien encounter, they freak me out. 

The reception was held at the Pittville Pump Rooms, a depressing sounding but truly magnificent venue built in 1825.  For your reference, Jane Austen died in 1817, so the style of the architecture would have been similar to where they've filmed movie versions of many of her novels.  Cheltenham was a spa town that grew fashionable after the locals noticed a flock of pidgeons that hung out at a particular spring-fed puddle seemed to live long and prosper.  This was in the eighteenth century, so it couldn't have been the stray chip that sustains them today.  People began to "take the waters," and ultimately, Mr. Pitt of Pittville fame built his Pump Room after George III visited in 1888 and really got the place hopping.  Thanks to the building code equivalent of Botox, the Pump Room and the entire town are in a remarkable state of preservation.

Despite the opportunity to be authentic, I eschewed the empire waist gown concept but still remained on Mr. Darcy-watch.  No lambchop sideburns, but a lovely roast beef dinner instead.  English wedding cake is traditionally a fruit cake surrounded by a layer of marzipan and fondant icing, and I managed to breathe deeply and wedge a piece down.  I was not so keen, however, to partake of the spa water, the Pump Room's raison d'etre, but a hideous surprise for those in the know.

Back in the days I was young and enthusiastic, I visited the Pump Room at Bath.  I was bowled over by the Roman Spa, and my joy continued into the Pump Room dining area, where a dandy dressed in Regency garb taunted me with a glass of water drawn from the hot springs, full of "43 vitamins and minerals."  At the bargain tourist rate of two pounds per glass (insert sardonic wit here) I was swept up by the fancy fish fountain dispenser and sudden thirst.  I coughed up the money, but then choked on the water that tasted like a warm, rotten egg.  I avoided a public spit take and, in fact, drained my glass out of spite.  It was probably a good thing that I sat alone on the bus ride home.  The fury and fumes would have been overwhelming.

The Pittville Pump Room still has its operational and recently refurbished pump house, or more simply hot water tap in an ornate marble closet.  I was much too occupied with the delicious mulled wine being served instead, which was clearly kept well away from the spa water. 

My lessons learned are that some wedding truths are universal.  A drunk person will attempt to engage you in conversation.  You may be trapped by a close talker.  In fact, these people may be one in the same.  Bad kids may run amuck, albeit breifly. Most importantly, there will be cake, Darcy or no Darcy.

1 comment:

ChaChaneen said...

Greetings, found your blog while searching Austen and I laughed out loud at this post! Funny reaction to the waters... I was thinking of the Persuasion movie and then the water being spit out. ha ha

Looking forward to visiting again, have a great day!