Drive down the M40 past Beaconsfield approaching the junction with the M25 (apologies already to my readers in Kazakhstan) and you will pass a brown and white tourist sign to a “Model Village”. Neither a collective of photographers’ muses nor the kind of settlement where residents are contracted to live to the highest standards, complete with neighbourhood watch, sugar borrowing and shared garden fence repairs, this sign points to Bekonscot.
Last seen – in my case – on children’s TV nearly 60 years ago, Bekonscot has a fair claim to being the original and still the best miniature village in the world. It’s probably also the biggest, but that just seems confusing.
I like to show Mrs. Blog a good time, provided it doesn’t cost much and she can save it out of the housekeeping. (It’s ok, she won’t see that bit.) The last time I saw Bekonscot it was in black and white and two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were enjoying a private viewing. Neither of those things applied when we went this week. I suppose, if that’s how QE2 has always seen the world – empty of other humans and made up of tiny, tiny houses – it must give her some strange perspectives on the issues facing her subjects.
Give or take one or two concessions to the changes taking place in Britain over the past decades in the form of a handful of non-white figures, Bekonscot is essentially England in the 1930s. Or UKIP land as it is sometimes known. Or, as I suppose we should now learn to say, Brexitland. It’s certainly popular in the sense that attendances average around 600 a day through the year – or over 15 million since the village opened in 1929.
Bekonscot is in fact in very good heart, which is where any similarity with Brexitland ends. Rather than trying to reflect the changing world, a decision was taken in 1992 to restore the village to the 1930s (feel free to add your own comment about the referendum). The airport (and what village in the 1930s didn’t possess its own airport?) has been reconstructed in art deco style and there is a zoo (precisely what village is this?) with a chimps’ tea party and exotic animals like lions kept in compounds which would be regarded nowadays as horribly small — and not just because they’re in miniature. The travelling circus is heavily animal focused – how things have changed – with the “dancing elephants” a particular favourite, and not one acrobat supporting four others dangling from bolts through his tongue…
The village has proper shops bearing typical Anglo names like Chris P. Lettis, the greengrocer, and Ivan Acks, the timber merchant, and not a Lidl or Aldi in sight. The impressive model railway has trains every few minutes, stopping at even the smallest halts, with a refreshing absence of “wrong sort of leaves on the track” explanations through the P.A. system for interminable delays. If we can’t have our mainline railways renationalised, then at least the government could invite Bekonscot to submit a tender.
The hundreds of little ones at Bekonscot were clearly enjoying the whole thing nearly as much as Mrs. Blog and me, and there is (just occasionally, though Mrs. B disagrees with me on this) something rather sweet about kids at this age before they switch to iPads, video games and rioting. But I do think there is something of a lost opportunity here, a chance to flag up some of the aspects of modern life which the wee ones will soon enough encounter. Things like a protest against a planning application for fracking below the village green, or a windfarm in the churchyard, or a parking offender being tasered.
It suddenly occurs to me just why Bekonscot looks familiar. When a would-be house builder submits a “visual impact assessment” to accompany a planning application for a new housing estate, this is how they manage to give the impression that their new development would be largely invisible from local vantage points and public footpaths – it’s Bekonscot that they photograph…
Bekonscot was also handily located en route to our second destination of the day, a performance by Mikron Theatre Company at a marina and waterside café just south of Oxford.
Mikron have received deserved plaudits from this blog before. Based in the former Mechanics Institute in Marsden, West Yorkshire, where I was able to visit them on my coast to coast walk when I was more or less passing the door, they tour bright new plays every year, full of songs, humour and slightly (?) lefty sentiments, round the waterways of England with a gorgeous 80 year old narrow boat. My first experience of Mikron dates back to the 1970s when I hugely enjoyed a performance in a pub beer garden (what other sort of beer garden is there?) and it’s brilliant that they’re still prospering and bringing their own particular flavour to the English summer.
I suppose, over the intervening four decades, they may be running low on canal based themes but newly penned plays are commissioned each year. To give a flavour, we saw “Pure”, all about chocolate and, you know, how its story of course encapsulates love, death (or pretend death), a melodeon, alcoholism and the evils as well as opportunities of capitalism. I complained in my last blog post about a musical I had just seen on my trek where the mini-orchestra played so loudly that the singers had to shout throughout and you still couldn’t hear the words. Well, Mikron’s four excellent young performers are presumably conditioned to compete with the background hubbub of food and drink orders being placed and consumed, and every single word, spoken or sung, was clear as a bell. Now, call me old-fashioned but I do like to hear what’s going on, and losing those great lyrics would have been a crime. Authenticity, or mumbling as I prefer to think of it, may have its place but that place is preferably somewhere that I’m not.
Catch Mikron when you can – one of the true joys of summer.
Entertainment of a different kind two days later in the form of Lewes’s “Proms in the Paddock”, our annual mini-Glastonbury. Only without the mud, wellies, disposable tents and Kate Moss, and we finish at ten o’clock so as not to disturb the neighbours and so we can all be home and in bed with our cocoa at a reasonable hour. Held each year by Commercial Square Bonfire Society, to which Mrs. Blog, Blogdaughter and I all belong, this year’s event, blessed with glorious sunshine, featured the Evacuettes (“a 1940s close harmony trio”), the Lewes, Glynde and Beddingham Band, and Die Dorf Fest Kapelle Oompah Band who did what it says on the tin. The fact that the Evacuettes and a German band can perform together shows we’ve come a long way…
Not Mrs. Blog’s cup of tea
Festival, Sussex style. Rio, eat your heart out…
I love the occasion, the music, the fireworks, the craic, but I worry nowadays about the flagwaving while we’re singing about our spears, chariots and setting our bounds wider. In recent years it seems to me that the Union Jack, and particularly the St George’s one, have been largely taken over by people and organisations that I suspect I wouldn’t like very much. Seeing them draped out of car windows during the run-up to the EU referendum certainly didn’t fill me with pride. I suspect there may have been fewer flags than usual being waved at our Proms in the Paddock this year, a fair number of which were upside down. With the town of Lewes producing one of the larger Remain votes in the country you could probably have sold plenty of EU flags on the way into the Paddock to be waved — perhaps with a Union Jack in the other hand. When did life get so complicated?
Mrs. Blog has never been a member of the W.I. and doesn’t know the words to Jerusalem. Being unwaveringly Scottish she’s never been enthusiastic about the verse in God Save the Queen about rebellious Scots being crushed and their sedition hushed. In fact, Mrs. B is not above a spot of sedition herself when circumstances are propitious. But, if there’s one anthem she’s happy to give voice to (I hesitate to use the term “sing”) it would be Sussex by the Sea. Her opportunities during the year to give forth are limited by noise abatement legislation and good taste. (She found the recent film about Florence Foster Jenkins truly inspirational,) She had set her heart on giving it a bash during the closing stages of Proms in the Paddock, the words were set down in fuzzy black and white in the programme — and the band didn’t play it.
Perhaps the programme was overrunning. Perhaps the band got wind of the fact that Mrs. B was present and decided not to risk it. Whatever, she was a broken woman. Words were said. Worryingly she is now practising hard for when it comes up on bonfire night.
Here, for Mrs. B to practise, and so that those far away will learn a little about what Sussex folk are made of, are the words. I just hope there isn’t a flag to go with them.
Now is the time for marching,
Now let your hearts be gay,
Hark to the merry bugles
Sounding along our way.
So let your voices ring, my boys,
And take the time from me,
And I’ll sing you a song as we march along,
Of Sussex by the Sea!
For we’re the men from Sussex, Sussex by the Sea.
We plough and sow and reap and mow,
And useful men are we;
And when you go to Sussex, whoever you may be,
You may tell them all that we stand or fall
For Sussex by the Sea!
Oh Sussex, Sussex by the Sea!
Good old Sussex by the Sea!
You may tell them all we stand or fall,
For Sussex by the Sea.
I’m heading back to Goole later this week to start the next stage of my coast to coast journey.
And, in case you’ve not spotted it before, here’s a link to my sponsorship site on behalf of British Heart Foundation. We’ve reached nearly £1200!