Wimpole Hall and the buggy disinfection unit
One side benefit of having young kids is that you sometimes have to do something else other than work at the weekend. That may be a rather rosy-tinted view of time management with toddlers and a job -- but there is something to be said for being forced to load the nippers into a car at the weekend and take them out to see something improving/fun (for a start, it means that you get to see it too).
Once that stage has gone, for me at any rate, weekends get entirely taken up with work just like any other day of the week -- unless you have someone to stay. And then you can go out to see "something improving/fun" again. Which is what we have just done, with our South Sudanese friend Samuel, who is here to stay.
In fact we have gone to the local stately home, Wimpole, which has a Home Farm and Rare Breeds Centre where we often used to go with the kids 20 years or so ago.
Now the last time I went to a local National Trust stately home (Ickworth...I'm not including Roman Chedworth here), I was pretty incandescent; and said so pretty frankly on the blog (I couldnt stand the faked up kitchens). So credit where credit is due, let me say that Wimpole Hall was almost faultless in touristic terms.
It's a great house, partly done over by John Soane in the late eighteenth century -- and he put in the most wonderful plunge bath (above, the view from the bath!) and a stunning "Yellow Drawing Room". They'd be worth the trip on their own (built for the filthy rich or not, they are ace).
But more than that, the whole display got it just right. These I reckon were the touristic/heritage plus points:
2) In the great Yellow Drawing Room -- the Soane bit -- the ceiling and dome are fantastic, but you do need to look up. So there were some rough old cushions on the floor, and you could lie down and do just that. No messing, no signs saying "lie down here".. again, you saw the cushions and got the point.
3) In the Long Gallery -- used as a ballroom -- there was music. You heard it as you approached, and rather assumed it was piped. Actually when you arrived there was someone playing the piano, real live.
4) The volunteers in the rooms were all spot on, by which I mean they knew their stuff and quckly recognised when you knew yours. I cant bear going to those places (and the National Trust can be bad at this) where you ask about some image of (say) Artemis on the wall, and you get treated to the pre-prepared lecture on ancient gods and goddesses being different from "our" God. You can't be nasty and say "Look sunshine, this is what I did my PhD on", so you shut up and get to feel crosser and crosser. At Wimpole, none of the volunteers treated us to a lecture on what we knew about, and all were helpful on what we didnt.
5) When we got upstairs to a room about the history of the house, they had printed out, and bound, some of the key articles on the place from Apollo and the Burlington Magazine etc, so you could sit down and read. OK, someone might in theory have walked off with them -- but in practice who would (and so what)?
6) Most of the stuff in the now regulation "downstairs" area also appeared to be from the house itself. As I said, the thing that really riled me about Ickworth was that most of the kitchen stuff on display to reconstruct the authentic atmosphere seemed to have been bought off ebay. That was true of some of the kitchen display at Wimpole (I dont believe that the last occupants left the packet of Lux flakes behind). But there were some surprising bona fide items. We looked suspiciously at a large pile of suitcases, but indeed they did carry the label of Elsie Bambridge (the last, pre National Trust owner).
Pretty much full marks I thought. The attached Home Farm was a bit of a different story, however -- but also with its definite plus points.
When we went, often, with the kids a couple of decades ago, it was rather like a zoo. In fact they had a number of compliant animals apparently roaming free (I always assumed heavily sedated) which the under fives were encouraged to pat and fondle. Those have gone, to be replaced with a different version (positive in some parts, negative in others) of public engagement.
On the minus side, I have never seen more notices telling you to wash your hands (after handling the animals).For someone as counter suggestible as me, it was a positive invitation to put my hands on the rear end of a shire horse and then to go off and eat my sandwiches, entirely unsanitised.
But the reductio ad absurdum was the hygiene regime at the end, where families were asked to wheel their buggies through a disinfectant carpet (which looked as if it had been left over from the last foot and mouth outbreak)-- presumably to remove any trace of the germs of the shit, before getting back home.
On the plus side, they were gratifyingly frank about the destination of most farm animals. Gone were the days of the zoo and in had come the days of "This Little Piggy Went to Market". These, many signs insisted, are the animals we are going to eat, and there were convenient diagrams to show you which bit of the animal ended up where.
And in case you didn't quite believe it, the shop sold sausages made from the mums and dads of the pigs you had just seen. And beefs from those amazing bulls. A nice dose of realism, I thought, as I bought the beef.
But I did wonder what the narrative of the vegetarian visitor would have looked like.