‘Jika-Jika’, Jack Sparrow and ‘the Salamander’.

21 02 2012

‘It’s a very serious substance and something I’ve, over a period of time, realised I have an issue with.’ 

(January 2009)

‘We are pushing the boundaries of coffee in the UK. We want to put connoisseur coffee on the map in this country.’

(October 2009)

‘The focus at Saracens is on individuals and their families. It’s not just about what happens on the park and that has made it easy to stay focused and healthy.’

(April 2011)

Matt Stevens (rugby playing, coffee shop proprietor) 

Nowadays, when Saracens and England (formerly ‘Baarf’) prop, Matt Stevens, makes reference to an addiction with ‘a very serious substance’ it is not cocaine, but coffee, he has on his mind…

On Saturday morning, I was picked up by a BMW, with personalised number plate, and chauffeur driven to, ‘the glorious Georgian city of ‘Baarf’.’ At least that’s what my old mate ‘Stevie D’ calls it!

‘Stevie D’, a retired teaching colleague and long-time friend of many years (until he read this) is a self-confessed ‘Saga Lout’, former local radio DJ, author of ‘the Swinging 60’s Quiz Book’ (currently out of print), ‘first class’ global tourist, and calendar model (for ladies of a certain age).

When not engaged in perfecting his Spanish accent or keeping toned at the local gym, he divides time between his twin passions, ‘the Jeremy Kyle Show’ and the ‘Blue, Black and Whites’ of ‘Baarf’ Rugby – well there’s no accounting for taste!

We were headed for the west-country derby, the most heated rivalry in the Aviva Premiership, ‘Baarf’ v the ‘Glawster’, or as Stevie put it, ‘rugby intellectuals versus rugby artisans’. Not that he was bitter, or anything, about GRFC’s double victory last season, or having to watch, stone faced with gritted teeth, back in September, as ‘Baarf’ stumbled to a 23-6 defeat , at fortress Kingsholm!

But there was plenty of time to build up for the day’s main event, when Roman ‘Baarf’ would unleash its lions on the cherry and white gladiators of ‘Glawster’, in the muddy amphitheatre, that is ‘the Wreck’.   

Stevie D, ‘Baarf’ born and bred, had kindly drawn up an itinerary of pre-match entertainment. Having skipped breakfast, and gagging for a coffee, we headed for brunch at ‘Jika Jika. Billed as, ‘probably the most popular coffee shop in Bath,’ it is jointly owned by British Lions rugby stars – Matt Stevens and Lee Mears.

‘Jika Jika’, meaning twist or zigzag in Zulu, takes its name from King Jika Jika, a legendary and enigmatic figure from the Indian Ocean island of Glorieuse, with a passion for travel, aeronautics, and coffee.   

Aged thirty, he set sail for distant horizons, a ten-year journey during which he is thought to have explored Africa, visited Japan, China, Siam (Thailand) and met Queen Victoria, Mahatma Gandhi and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who was exiled in Bath.    

During his visit to the west-country he is said to have enjoyed an extended affair with a certain ‘Princess Caraboo’, who had supposedly been abducted by sailors from the Indian Ocean island of Javisu, finally escaping her captors by jumping ship in the Bristol Channel and swimming ashore.

Attractive but diminutive, at five feet two, she wore a series of exotic masks, and speaking no known language, communicated mainly through gestures. She enjoyed an eccentric lifestyle, spending her time dancing, praying to her god, climbing trees and swimming naked in the River Avon.

It transpires, however that the ‘Princess’ was an imposter, a cheeky working class heroine, a cobbler’s daughter from Devon, a certain Mary Willcocks, who successfully duped high society with her elaborate hoax and, having final been unmasked, ended her days in an unmarked grave in Bristol.         

Tiring of his travels, King Jika Jika returned to Glorieuse Island, where he indulged his passions for flying machines (hot air balloons and a tractor biplane) and coffee, (having smuggled home and successfully nurtured twenty-eight varieties of coffee plant).

He soon gained recognition for ‘brewing the best cup of coffee south of Somalia’, and managed to procure, from under the nose of Mussolini, who knows how, the first espresso machine to arrive in Abyssinia.

He finally ended up as fish food, following a nasty encounter with one of his pet sharks.

Believe it if you like! But what is beyond doubt is the quality of bacon baguette and free-trade organic coffee, served up in the George Street café that takes his name.

Stevie D will be the first to admit he enjoys seeking out chance encounters with celebs, and with that in mind we set out to walk off our bacon butties with a brisk stroll up to The Royal Crescent and around The Circus – 18th century architectural masterpieces both, the former by John Wood the Younger and the latter (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) the work of John Wood the Elder.    

We kept a weather-eye open for a couple of captains: Jack Sparrow, infamous pirate of the Caribbean, and mandolin playing Corelli…

Hollywood stars Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage both own properties on ‘The Circus’, pointed out by my guide, but not unsurprisingly neither materialised during our visit.  

Our next stop, the scene of Stevie D’s miss-spent, under aged drinking youth, ‘The Salamander’, a quaint old pub tucked away off Queen Square. Snug, wood panelled, and full nooks and crannies, its sole purpose to keep the punters happy with the quality of its local brewed Bath Ales and good pub grub. 

‘The Salamander’ enjoys a strong affiliation with the city’s rugby club, and supporters of both persuasions were shoe-horned inside, engaging in a bit of pre-game banter over a pint or two of Gem Bitter.

By the time we emerged, the forecast deluge had set in, and we hurried along the glistening streets, across Pultney Bridge and down to the riverside ground, full of anticipation…                               







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