CJ Stone's Britain: Regency Stoned (Bath)

Every city should have a Kaiser Bill to keep the dope-smokers off the streets. The other drug on offer is scrumpy

The Guardian Weekend 20th September 1997

Roman Baths. You’re not allowed to touch the water. An archaeologist came down with Legionnaire’s Disease while digging around in the mud...
Roman Baths. You’re not allowed to touch the water. An archaeologist came down with Legionnaire’s Disease while digging around in the mud...

There’s probably not a lot I can tell you about Bath that you don’t already know. There are dozens of books on the city, and it’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country.

Deservedly so. It’s an elegant, ornate, civilised city, well planned, well proportioned, well built, a perfect example of the art of 18th century architectural design. Bath is a city built for people to live in, the way cities ought to be, full of trees and surrounded by wooded hills.

What makes my take on the city somewhat different is the fact that I’m being shown round it by an Archdruid. Tim Sebastion, Archdruid of the Secular Order of Druids, or the SODS, as they are also known.

Tim Sebastion isn’t his real name. It’s a druid habit, changing your name. What’s so unusual about Tim’s choice of name is how plain it is. Other druids have names like Kreb Dragonrider, or the Orc, or King Arthur Pendragon. Names to conjure with. Names that evoke the dark spirit of paganism in this manicured country of ours. But “Tim Sebastion” – what’s the point? Sounds like a nursery school poet at a holiday camp for superannuated watercolourists.

Our first visit was to the Kaiser Bill. Actually that’s not the pub’s real name either. I daren’t tell you the proper name in case someone gets into trouble. It’s the most blatant dope-pub I have even been in. Everyone in there is rolling up and the air hangs heavy with the herbal stench.

At every table people are either building spliffs, passing round spliffs or blagging cigarette papers so they can start the process. The ashtrays are full of broken off filter tips and ripped up Rizla packets. There’s not a single Rizla packet in the place that isn’t ripped. Indeed, you have to watch your Rizlas. They tend to disappear. I went in there with four packets and came back with none. “Let’s borrow your skins, mate?” someone says. And that’s it. No more cigarette papers. The Kaiser Bill has eaten them; or rolled them up, ripped them up and used them for a spliff.

I was astounded. It’s like Amsterdam in there, like hash was already decriminalised. Tim says that people feel so comfortable about it that they are not in the slightest bit worried about the possibility of a raid. If the place was raided they’d just hold their hands in the air and go down together. They’d clog up the courts for months. Which is probably why the police leave it alone. At least they know where everyone is while they get on with the real business of fighting crime. Every city should have a Kaiser Bill to keep the dope-smokers off the streets.

The other drug on offer is scrumpy cider, that murky orange, class-A poison that passes for a drink. It’s evil stuff. It turns your brains into liquid, and attacks the central nervous system with hammer-blows. One minute people are sitting there, happily chatting away; the next (and it’s as instant as that) they’re falling off their stools, dribbling. The cider has eaten their brain.

Being an Archdruid is not easy. You have to mix with your congregation and show them you’re as good as the next man. Which means downing gallons of scrumpy and accepting a blast from every spliff that passes your way; not to say, rolling a few of your own. It’s a hard life. Tim looks all of 40 of his 50 odd years.

What is even harder is that no one recognises you when you’re not robed-up. So the saddest sight was seeing the Archdruid in his muddy shell-suit trousers and leather jacket, hair in disarray, cider paunch bulging, with a monstrous hangover in the post-office queue the following day, waiting to cash his Giro. Is the Pope a crusty? The Archdruid is. Which I suppose is appropriate, since it’s the crusties he ministers to.

But back to the tour.

We visited the Roman Baths. I passed myself off as “Tim Sebastion” to get in for free. Citizens of Bath are allowed free entry into the tourist spots, they just need some form of identification. Tim used his dole-card and passed himself off as himself. We saw the abbey with its Jacob’s Ladder motif. Tim said that the Bath theme tune should be Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. We went by Sally Lunn’s, the oldest building in Bath, where they hold the exclusive right to the Bath Bun. Unfortunately, two-pound-eighty-something for a bit of bread and jam seemed inordinately expensive. We saw the circus and the Royal Crescent, designed by John Wood the Elder and completed by his son, also called John Wood.

John Wood the Elder was a druid, Tim tells me. The Circus is built to the exact dimensions of Stonehenge and is aligned to the Summer Solstice. It’s where Tim performs his ceremonies. We saw the Cross Spa, which Tim believes was the site of the original Celtic Spa.

I was surprised to discover that Bath Spa is no longer used as a spa. After all these thousands of years of continuous use, the spa is now closed to the public. You’re not even allowed to touch the water. Apparently, an archaeologist came down with Legionnaire’s Disease while digging around in the mud in the Roman Baths some 20 years ago. Tim put it like this: “An amoeba that was lying dormant in the mud for thousands of years went up her nose and ate her brain within two days. That’s some serious amoeba.”

I prefer to think that it was the residue of some ancient scrumpy.

Anyway, after all that gruelling exercise we decided to retire to the Kaiser Bill to recuperate. “Just the one,” we said. But then it was Tim’s round, so we had another. “One for the road?” Tim said after that. And we had another. And then it was Tim’s round again. The day carried on like that.

We met a man named Clive who Tim introduced as Taffy. He said, “What’s your hang-up? Where are you coming from?” He was being quite aggressive.

I saw he was reading the Celestine Prophesy. It was poking out of the pocket of his coat.

He said, “You’ve got a message for me, I know it. Go on, tell me: what’s your message?”

“You know the Celestine Prophesy is only a novel?” I said.

“Of course I know that.”

“Only some people don’t know it. They think it’s for real.”

“What’s your message,” he said again, aggressively.

“Don’t believe a single word in that book,” I said. “That's my message.” And I took another sip of my pint and fell off my stool, dribbling.

Tim Sebastion

copyright peteglastonbury@gmail.com
copyright peteglastonbury@gmail.com

Postscript

This story caused outrage in Bath when it was published. Firstly Bath City Council wrote to The Guardian demanding to be reimbursed for the free entry into the various tourists attractions I had got into using Tim's card. Then that certain pub was threatened with having its license revoked. Tim had to go to court to defend it, saying that it was not one particular pub I was describing, but an amalgam of several pubs. Luckily the court believed him, and the pub continued to trade. Later again I was sitting in a pub in Glastonbury when someone came up to me. "I used to drink in the Kaiser Bill," he told me, and he took hold of one of my earlobes and squeezed it just enough to let me know that he could hurt me a great deal more if he wanted to. "You ruined that pub for us," he said. It was years before I could walk the streets of Bath safely after that.

Unfortunately Tim died a few years ago now. You can read his obituary here:

http://tenthousanddays.blogspot.com/2007/02/picture-of-tim.html

Fall of the Leaf

(Words by Tim Sebastion, from the album "Treason")

You call me friend but seldom listen
But in the end you always whisper
"Please-tell me what I'm doing wrong"
You stand alone in naked friendship
Among the mists the swirling leaves slip through

Trees they do grow high my friend
The leaves they will grow green again
Recalling all the life you've seen
Life will ascend to the trees, the leaves become the queen
And help the spring to love you
And call you home again

In ember lane the leaf has fallen
You never hear the silence crawling through
The clambering and learning grew
There is no need to hang so heavy
Just look around and see the steady sky
That changes with remembering

To now the end that's always calling
To everything in autumn's warring sea
Crashing over you and me
But if we can just stand together
The leaves begin to turn neverland

Trees they do grow high my friend
The leaves they will grow green again
Recalling all the life you've seen
Life will ascend to the trees, the leaves become the queen
And help the spring to love you
And call you home again

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Comments 4 comments

Veronica 5 years ago

Hi CJ,

I have had a drink in that pub with Tim.

We used to hold a few ceremonies in the circus amongst the trees, on Solsbury Hill, and the mock mayor making 'pub crawl' in Weston.

We had some good tmes with Tim.

R.I.P. My good Friend


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks Veronica. Yes they were great days. Pity some dumb journalist went and spoiled it for everyone. Did you read my obituary?


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

I used to stay at Tim's and remember doing my version of House of the Rising Sun there by request in the early hours of the morning and after days of heavy drinking and Tim said that it was "Exactly how it should be sung!" A good friend of mine very sadly missed!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hi Steve, as you know I'm consolidating all of my old stuff into an archive and this is part of it. I couldn't miss it out could I? It wasn't meant as an obituary, but, of course, remembering an old friend like this means that that's what it becomes. I'd love to have heard your late night rendition of House of the Rising Sun.

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