Thursday, 28 August 2014

Idiot Tours: a visiting anarchist from Barcelona unveils Bath in style

Much as I have enjoyed sampling the tours of Bath, I have noticed an increasingly predictable pattern to them: they are mostly industry standard. That is clearly no bad thing for a city that depends upon tourism for much of its livelihood. What I have seen little of, however, and have started to miss, is tours that are amateurish, political or plain eccentric. You can imagine my excitement then when, one afternoon having lunch near the station, I saw a man pass in front of the window where I was sat with a home-made sign attached to his hat that read IDIOT TOURS. I finished my meal in seconds, paid at the counter and dashed off in search of an idiot tour.  

Like an alternative tourism bloodhound, I was on the scent and found him in no time. He had a public of two keeping a sceptical distance from him, and when I arrived they left. Strangely, he spoke into the empty space some two metres to my left and not directly to me. This and his homemade outfit made me wonder if he might not be crazy. He spoke very deliberately, however, and was assured in what he did so I hung in there. He was basically parodying a tour guide and giving a few generic historical names and numbers that might, but probably weren't, be true. He then moved on to talking about Bath today but insisted on calling it Newcastle. He said Newcastle has a Costa, a Superdrug, a H&M, a Sainsburys and so on, which indeed it most probably does. After a few minutes he acknowledged my presence and we started talking. His basic angle was that tourism and consumerism make everywhere more or less the same. At this point, a lady arrived looking for a tour and when we were still there after three minutes talking about placelessness, she asked whether we were going to walk anywhere. The answer that came was not positive, as he was waiting for somebody, and with that she went on her way in search of a tour that would take her somewhere. It was funny that it was not the content of the idiot tour that she found wanting, merely its lack of momentum. That, incidentally, reminds me of the Stuttgart walking tour I took which some older ladies followed, not listening to the guide, but using it as a social stroll through the better parts of the city in which none of them had to worry about which direction to take.

With continued talking and he told me he was not from Bath at all but was from Barcelona. He said he arrived yesterday, was visiting the city for a few days and giving some idiot tours while he was about it. He continued in an anti-capitalist direction decrying the gentrification of Barcelona that came with The Olympics saying how much better the city was before. 

To prove his point he showed me his Spanish identity papers which feature this decidedly un-serious ID photo. He said it would not be permitted today. He told me he has a BLOG where he has written about this and while I did not find much on the city of Barcelona, it did give me a clearer picture of who he is. 

"Hello, my name is Clive Booth. I live in Barcelona, where, for the last 30+ years, I have freely chosen to be an artist/performer/free thinker, committed to us human animals, in the public places in the city centre. I work so as to finance my free art. I share my creations, my imagination, my ideas, my sadnesses even, with my fellow men/women. I do not have time for or interest in conventional art and culture."

There are indeed some videos showing his street performance on Youtube.

The tour ended when he handed me a small scrap of card which had written on it SOCIAL MONEY. He told me, with a smile, to use it wisely. On his blog I see he writes about it, "Our freedom is still possible - with our organisation and imagination! Make your own social money."  Looking back on the tour now, I can barely call it a tour as we mostly remained in one location and he was using the tour guide convention in order to gather an audience and do his own thing. Still, if he calls it a tour, an idiot tour no less, then I'm happy to include it here. I am on the lookout for a few more tours here in Bath which, like this one, have a social and political dimension. They seem few in number and I find it ironic that when I finally find one it is given by a visitor to the city who been here but 24 hours. That said, I'm on the trail of another, a certain Saxon Wanderer, and I hope to give further attention to more of these marginal and itinerant tours that can be found in this fine city.

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