Visiting posh houses on Sunday afternoon was what we did when I was little, along with castles and ruined abbeys. Seeing where the monks sat in a line to move their bowels was great if you were a child but I never really got into all that furniture and porcelain. And you always saw it from behind a rope – no fun at all. In later years I didn’t take my own family to National Trust places very often as we had a dog that needed a lot of exercise so we spent any free time at weekends meeting her needs – and she wasn’t really into porcelain in a big way either. Only when the old Labrador died and our day jobs tapered down a bit did we get round to joining the Trust as members: this is what I guess the marketing people would call the “dead dog” marketing segment.
Two “fascinating facts” from the Trust’s website which I’m happy to share. Over 43% of the rainwater in England and Wales drains through a NT property, but fortunately not always the same one. And gravity was invented by Isaac Newton in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1665 on what is now NT land.
Never one for half measures, as soon as I became a member of the Trust, I signed up with them as a volunteer — to serve on a committee on the grounds that you can never have enough committee meetings. I’m pleased to see that my recollection of old houses of the rich being saved for the nearly rich to savour is no longer the be all and end all of the Trust’s mission.
The name of Octavia Hill comes up on a regular basis as one of the Trust’s founders back in 1895. (Not enough people are christened Octavia these days, if you ask me.) As concise tributes go, it would be difficult to improve on these words from the website of her birthplace museum in Wisbech: “Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was a woman ahead of her time. An artist and a radical, she was a pioneer of affordable housing and can be seen as the founder of modern social work.” Which isn’t a bad way to be remembered.
This was not a woman, I’m inclined to think, who would have wanted me to peer at boring old porcelain from long range as some form of punishment for not eating up my peas at Sunday lunch. This was someone who clearly wanted me to have a good time, climbing trees, poking about in Victorian kitchens and dressing up as an undertaker’s mute. Now that’s worth conserving stuff for.
If you’re passing nearby, as Mrs Blog and I did recently, do visit Wisbech and the Octavia Hill house. You can’t but feel in awe of someone who broke free of the shackles traditionally imposed on Victorian women and made a difference.
From Wisbech to King’s Lynn and more fine buildings than you can shake a conservation area management plan at. Very proud to display its Hanseatic League history, and with so many of its regeneration schemes financially supported by the European Regional Development Fund, the area voted heavily to Leave in the EU referendum….
And so to York where Mrs B has fellow clan members.
The Jorvik centre, interpreting the city’s Viking history through a Disney style ride, has reopened after severe flooding. Apparently these be-horned invaders were into mindfulness and just wanted to be left alone with their embroidery and tofu. Who knew?
I felt a profound bitterness at my parents that they hadn’t been able to bestow on their offspring a decent moniker like Mum and Dad Bloodaxe were able to pass on to their little Eric. Now that’s the kind of name badge you’d fancy picking up at a conference before heading for the twiglets.
There was still time to take in (again) the National Railway Museum. Awesome! But I’m reminded of the tendency for history to big up the achievements of those who write it. As a child I was taught that, along with killing or enslaving natives to make them (a) Christian, and (b) civilized, we could take pride that, in Mallard, we broke – and indeed still hold – the world speed record for a steam train. It’s only later that you discover that the record speed of 126 mph was attained for one second at which point the “big end” overheated and Mallard had to limp to Peterborough for repairs. But hey…
En route home from York we diverted to Isaac Newton’s old pad handily placed for the A1, or Great North Cart Track as old Isaac probably knew it. They still have the apple tree or, at least, its direct descendants so you can see if it still works. The kindly National Trust volunteer asked us if we had any questions to which Mrs Blog, not unreasonably, replied, “Does it work for cooking apples too?” Bless.
Famous for being a bit rubbish
Reputations can be hard to establish. You don’t get to be the UK’s worst post-war PM like Theresa May (oh, ok, second worst) without a lot of determination. But other reputations are acquired with ease. Eddie the Eagle became famous for ski-jumping without bothering to be good at it. The swimmer Eric Moussambani Malonga (“The Eel”) of Equatorial Guinea reached new heights (depths?) at the 2000 Olympics by completing his 100 metre freestyle heat in just shy of two minutes, or roughly a minute slower than anything other than Gondwanaland had managed before him.
It occurs to me that there are plenty of individuals and organisations out there whose reputations for particular products or performances are based on equally flimsy porridge. You will have your own list; this is mine.
Agatha Christie: may have been jolly good at, I don’t know, arm-wrestling or disappearing acts, but, Agatha, stay away from crime fiction. All that last chapter stuff when you produce brand new characters and scenarios out of the hat that we’ve never heard of to explain the inexplicable, come on! It’s like watching every episode of Death in Paradise, again and again and again…
Lynda La Plante: stick with the TV screenplays, Lynda, cos the books are clunky beyond belief. Like trying to read a Jeffrey Archer.
Starbucks: give up on the coffee – it’s just not you. Seriously, have you ever had a decent cup of coffee in a Starbucks?
Pret a Manger: ok provided you’re not looking for a sandwich. How can they be that dull? Fillings are supposed to be tasty for goodness’ sake.
Hershey: I have met people who claim they can eat Hershey bars but no non-Americans. How can they get chocolate so wrong?
Humous/hummus/hommous: no other words are needed.
Australians: sport? Really? Other than cricket, which?
Joe Allen: give up on the football, Joe. Try something you have an aptitude for. I could choose plenty of examples for this one – you’re just unlucky, Joe. Or a special case.
Boris Johnson: famous for what? Political acumen? Humour? Being an approximation of a trustworthy, half-decent human being? Nope, on all counts.
Virgin Holidays: hit the top of my “put them on hold, play them hugely irritating, ‘jolly holiday’ sounds for hours on end but, whatever you do, don’t answer the phone” list every time. “Your call is important to us – but not important enough for us to employ anybody to talk to you.” Customer care? Oh pleeeeze….
The Lord of the Rings films: Give me strength. Need a wee during the film? No need to press “pause”, you’ll miss nothing. They’ll be doing one of two things: marching across some landscape or it’ll be another fight to the death between people and things it’s impossible to care about. When you come back there’ll be some more marches and plenty more pointless scraps. Only the addition of a car chase could make it worse. If they feature the special effects in the trailers, you know it’ll be rubbish.
The King’s Singers: there used to be the Flying Pickets and a cappella singing was – briefly – fun. But sadly there’s also the King’s Singers, like dragging your finger nails down a blackboard.
Omid Djalili: the world’s unfunniest man in an admittedly crowded field? (Donald Trump has his own edgy “high risk” category). I’ve caught this bloke on numerous occasions on TV or radio and I always hope that humour will be along any minute. But it never happens. Is he a spoof?
The Nou Camp, Barcelona: it’s supposed to have “atmosphere”. I’ve been, for a vital, end of season Spanish championship decider. Trust me on this, it doesn’t. Unless you’re easily impressed by sweet unwrapping noises in a cinema and polite applause. If they built a roof it might help them.
White supremacists: if they’re so superior, how come they never win anything?
UK: once famous for showing the world how to do democracy. Now it’s too complicated for us and we’ve given up the pretence. Just leave us alone….
Apologies for the temporary absence of illustrations from this blog. There may well be a reason for this. Normal service will be resumed shortly.