The English are quaintly barmy.
When I lived in the UK I didn’t notice, but of course, now I am a foreigner, and visit the place as a tourist I can see what a strange lot they are.
It isn’t just the odd things they do now and again it is the apparent attitude to life that seems to permeate everything. I have only been here a couple of weeks and I have already been involved in two duck races.
I had no idea there were such things until this year. I just missed the first about ten days ago. But, lo and behold, the following week at Blagdon is another.
You first buy a duck; a soppy little yellow thing with a number on it. The bank of a river is lined with idiots drinking beer or cider. Another idiot stands in the river in his wellies, and tips all the ducks into the water, and the current takes them downstream, followed by the marshall. Somewhere downstream is a string across the stream, and eventually one yellow duck will be the first to pass under it. Time for a cheer and another glass of ale.
The combined idiots can now pop over to the barbecue area and get some sustenance. Or they can wait for a slice of pig. One thing we specialise in is roast pig. I have eaten roast pig all over the place, but the English habit of cooking the crackling to a crisp consistency, and adding apple sauce is to my mind the tops.
I have a map in my head of eateries where you can stop off for a roll topped with a thick slice of roast pig, crackling and apple sauce. I will under no circumstances charge up the M6 past Dudley in the late morning without popping in for a fix. And the only reason I can think of for going to Rotherham is to delightfully mull over which bakery to visit for the best hunk of pig.
But I digress. Here I am getting stuck in to this rather fine porker while watching another bunch of idiots painting children’s faces in gaudy colours.
The cathedral green in Wells is suddenly filled with thousands of schoolchildren in brightly coloured clothes doing funny square dances. However, I’ve inadvertently driven down the wrong road. I keep forgetting to drive on the left, and ended up having to take a right turn to avoid hitting an oncoming car which I thought was being driven by a drunk…… sorry!
There is another pub on the left, and a small triangle of grass in front with some kind of pole sticking out of it. I stop under a tree which appears to be the end of the road. From my position sitting on the bonnet of the car I can now watch another bunch of idiots dressed mainly in white. They have white scarves tied to various parts of their bodies, and bells attached to ankles and wrists. There is a fat gentleman leaning against the old stone wall of the pub garden playing an accordian. Next to him is a very tall nervous looking boy playing a flute, and a young girl dressed in some great bouncy eighteenth century bustle of a dress playing the fiddle.
It is sad to reflect that month after month on the Unique Property Site I am advertising dozens of pubs for sale all over the country. They are the social backbone of our communities. Lose many more and we are going to be in trouble.
Now, where the heck am I, and where am I supposed to be going next?
I missed the Jack in the Green festival in Hastings back on May Day, where a whole bunch of charlies dress up in bunches of greenery to celebrate the coming of spring. However, I could nip down to Axbridge for the Elizabethan Charter, and the Lady Day Fair when everyone dresses up in Elizabethan gear. Well, actually I’ve got that wrong. Apparently about 400 locals will be dressed up in all sorts of gear to depict 2000 years of history, which means some will be prancing around in togas, showing their knees, others will be dressed in peasant smocks, civil war outfits, Viking helmets, and so on. Pure nuts! And krikey! All that work! Hmmmm…. I must go. I wonder what I can wear?
Just down the road in Radstock the kids are planting flowers in unlikely places, hoping to win the Britain in Bloom contest, while Bristol Water has won a Green Apple award for apparently saving the white-clawed crayfish. That’s good news because I am rather partial to crayfish. But….. a green apple? Pure madness.
Mind you, walking across the Somerset Levels for 24 hours in packs trying to spot wildlife takes some beating. I’m surprised the wildlife wasn’t scared off. But if that sort of thing turns you on its called Avalon 24. And I didn’t ask why.
Just a few miles from me is Stourhead, with its famous gardens. Now this really does take the biscuit. Who but some potty Englishman would create a fabulous garden half a mile down the road where you cant see it. You look out of the drawing room window onto a field of cows. If you want to see the garden you have to summon the footman who will then summon the coachman, who will turn out the horses, and bring the carriage round, so you can get in and be driven down to the garden. Henry Hoare was obviously a fruit cake in the good old English tradition.
He persuaded his mate the Dean of Bristol to give him the obelisk that used to stand at the junction of Broad Street, Wine Street, and Corn Street. It now stands overlooking the lake and gardens of Stourhead.
Up the hill Henry H built a folly. Now that does clinch this whole business of the pottiness of the English. They will keep building follies. One lovable old rogue called Mad Jack built a spire in a field to win a bet that you could see the spire of the neighbouring church from his bedroom window. He is buried in Brightling churchyard underneath a pyramid.
Henry H built a three sided tower to celebrate King Alfred’s victory over the Danes in 870. It’s an odd structure, with quite a spectacular view from the top. In autumn there are some rather fine magic mushrooms growing on the grass leading up to the tower. There used to be a great dent in one side of it, which has now been repaired, but only relatively recently. Apparently an aircraft crashed into it back in the forties. How potty can you get? There is nothing to crash into except the tower, so how come someone managed it? Actually I believe the pilot was American. Perhaps he was descended from one of the Plymouth Brethren.
Now what can I do next? Geophysics in the Vale of Winscombe. “Resistivity and magnetometer” it says in brackets. “On a typical morning we walk two miles taking a reading every metre!” — Mad as hatters!
At Harptree I could visit a cold war underground bunker. Later I could go to Shute Shelve, wherever the heck that is, and get involved in “hangings, ghosts, railways, bull baiting, rabbit farming, mysterious stones, and a possible henge monument”. Just the job for a summer’s day.
On the other hand, this sounds much more like it: “Stone age survival skills demonstrations by our hunter gatherers. Stone age face painting……” Or how about the bone cave at Banwell?
Next week it’s Wookey Hole Caves and Papermill. That brings me solidly back to boring reality. Back in the sixties Annabel and I used to collect paper from the local villages and take it down to the papermill for recycling. Most people thought we were cranks. I spent two years arguing with various government departments to try and get them to sponsor the collection of paper and glass for recycling. I finally managed to get them to run a pilot scheme, which was so successful that we now have paper and glass collections right the way across Europe.
Well folks, I know that’s rather boring, but it was hard work persuading the idiots in local government that there was money in recycling. Now it’s taken for granted. Maybe one day someone will give me a gong for starting it all off, although somehow I doubt it. But if anyone is listening, next year will be the fortieth anniversary of the first collection.
Two years spent arguing with government officials over collecting last week’s newspapers. I must be nuts. Oh well, I suppose I am 25% English.