How to have fun on your birthday.

October 2005 was unseasonably mild even by the balmy standards of South-West England, and when a person gets to your reporter's age, they tend to start to regard birthdays as something altogether less worthy of drawing attention to with a big song-and-dance and public celebration. So on the latest anniversary of my continued survival on Earth, I decided to have a rather more low-key, mellow sort of day than usual. As the dawn dawned I hadn't got as far as planning exactly what that would entail, but got up and treated myself to a spot of nostalgic Speccy gaming in the meantime. If you're talking about low-key and mellow, then New Generation's evocative, gently-paced dustbin-man simulator Trashman from 1984 is pretty much the gaming state of the art, so I spent a few happy minutes carting virtual rubbish around (albeit with the emulator at 2x speed) until I was struck by something I'd never noticed before.

As far as I could tell, most if not all of Trashman's seven levels - which each take the form of a single named street - were in fact named after a real-life thoroughfare in your reporter's home of Bath. (Indeed, one of the levels takes place on the very street where I live.) Since at this point I remembered that the game's author was from Bath himself, any likelihood of it being mere coincidence disappeared, and an idea formed in my head. Since it was such a beautiful day, why not embark on an odyssey of tribute, to find and visit every location in a game I've been enjoying for most of my adult life? And why not also take my smashing digital camera along and share the experience with the dear chums and viewers of WoS? Frankly, I couldn't think of a reason.


The game's first level, Montague Road, actually proved by some distance the trickiest to locate. Autoroute's initial search brought up nothing in the Bath area, and only by some diligent work did I finally manage to turn the address up in the tiny, remote village of Shoscombe, near Peasedown St. John some 10 miles or so outside the centre of Bath. However, postally Shoscombe is officially in Bath and has a BA postcode, so it counts, and it made for a very pretty open-top drive out into the countryside in the bright, warm sunshine. The only logical explanation is that Trashman author Malcolm Evans must have lived here when he wrote the game, as it's otherwise a pretty bizarre inclusion since every other street in the game is located right in the heart of the city. Fittingly, it's a small street, and very much in keeping with the game's classic-suburbia atmosphere, so there was no shortage of bins around to snap.

BREAKING NEWS! Rachel Evans, daughter of the game's author Malcolm, contacted WoS after this feature was published to say that the Montague Road depicted in the game wasn't actually the one in Shoscombe, but one in Saltford, a small village much closer to Bath, but which is postally in Bristol, hence Autoroute's befuddlement. (Apparently one of New Generation's programmers, Paul Bunn, lived there.) I'll pop over there at some point and take a couple of shots, for accuracy's sake. Possibly next birthday.


By contrast, Trashman's second level took me right back into town, and onto one of Bath's longest, widest and busiest real-life streets. Pulteney Road runs from north to south along the centre's eastern edge, from the direction of the motorway to Bath Spa train station. The houses lining both sides are grand and expensive, and set back from the road to avoid the noise of the traffic, making it perhaps the level of the game which most resembles its counterpart in reality. Finding some actual dustbins would have involved fairly serious trespassing, but luckily a nearby street-sweeper provided a convenient opportunity to improvise on the theme.


Grove Street was a bit of a bugger to find as well, but when I'd finally tracked it down to a narrow lane off Pulteney Bridge, it brought another change in ambience. Sleepy, completely bereft of traffic, and home to a couple of rather odd hardware stores at the far end which must get very little passing trade, it did however feature one of the trademark open expanses of grass at one side of the road that characterise the game (and which are in short supply in real Bath, given the value of any undeveloped plot of land). The only rubbish receptacle to be found anywhere in the area was a litter-bin (which I've highlighted at the extreme left of shot 3).


Despite having lived in Bath for 14 years now, I'd never even heard of Lyncombe Vale, and it turned out to be the oddest location in the game. Situated pretty centrally just off Widcombe Hill (see next entry), it nonetheless has a strange, isolated Royston Vasey sort of air about it. Approached from one end by a long, narrow and slightly sinister descent - passing by a private school hidden from sight in some dense woodland and with some very forbidding warning notices on its entrance gate at the bottom of the slope - it opens out into a long, quiet residential road with a man-made stream running mystifyingly down one side of it, past a large untended area of grass, bordered by an electricity station on which someone's painted an dangerously inviting smiley face. I felt disturbingly as if I was being watched by unseen, menacing eyes the entire length of Lyncombe Vale, and I was happy to move on to level 5.


Widcombe Hill itself was considerably less unsettling, though it's one of Bath's not-so-pretty areas. (Nor was it done any favours by the sun at that time of day shining awkwardly into the camera lens, rendering the middle shot above somewhat gloomier than even the reality. I'd have made more effort to circumvent the problem, but as it was I nearly got run over several times standing in the middle of the complex road junction at the bottom of the hill which was the only place it was possible to get a pic of the street that included its nameplate, so I didn't push my luck.) Widcombe was the first place I ever lived when I moved to Bath (for a couple of weeks in a rather spartan bedsit), so I wandered around for a bit hopeful of a little nostalgia trip, but every shop I'd used to go to had been closed and taken over by something much less fun (the newsagent/sweetshop was now a knitting supplies outlet, for example), so I didn't hang around long and instead took a lengthy diversionary hike up the hill and across the top of the town to some of the other (mostly fairly posh) areas of the city I'd never got round to visiting before, and snapped a few picturesque shots of the views.


There was some fairly major legwork required to get to the game's next location. Lansdown Road is positioned at almost the opposite corner of the city to Widcombe Hill, although that still only makes it a little over a mile away as the crow flies. However, the crow doesn't have to tramp all the way down Widcome Hill into town, then all the way back up the other hill forming the opposite wall of the natural bowl in which Bath cosily nestles. Lansdown Road boasts some of the city's finest examples of Georgian architecture, most of which has been converted into flats and provides housing for the city's humble working folk (or at least, those of them who can still afford the daunting rents required to live in the town's historic centre). The road actually continues up the steepening hill for a couple of miles, but your reporter was a bit puffed-out by this stage, and so the first sign of anything loosely matching the description of "trash" (in this case some plastic binbags awaiting collection on the pavement) did the job.


My enlightening voyage of discovery, then, came to an end just a few tens of yards away on Milsom Street, Bath's main shopping thoroughfare for the sophisticated. There's nothing as base as a newsagent or an off-licence or a chip shop on Milsom Street - it's organic herbalists, fragrant-candle emporia, specialist gourmet olive-oil-and-vinegar boutiques, exotic Belgian chocolatiers, fancy jewellers and expensive French restaurants all the way. (Although the hearteningly grotty biker pub Hatchett's, which served as your correspondent's local for many a long year - until its takeover and gentrification into Bath's 175th tasteful wine bar  in 2004 - could be stumbled into by the unwary just a few yards away down a narrow side alley.) Appropriately, as I arrived at the top end of the street from Lansdown Road, a rubbish-skip truck was making its way down, and as it trundled away while my digital camera agonisingly slowly came to life (eerily mirroring the feeling of frustration in the game when the bin-lorry pulls off just as you approach it with a full one) I managed to capture both it and a litter-bin for a perfect Trashman-themed end to the day's journey.

And that was that. If you have a favourite game based in a real-life location, viewers, this reporter most warmly recommends you take a pilgrimage to it, for it's an excellent way to pass a sunny day. He also recommends that you subsequently spend the evening drinking extensively and dancing enthusiastically to loud indie-pop music in Moles club until 3.30am with his exceptionally lovely friends Obi and Cler, although he appreciates that that may prove organisationally more difficult, for a variety of reasons. But if you're ever around, he'll introduce you.



A World Of Stuart presentation