Monday, 28 March 2016

A house in the country

The last few hours of the Easter break are now upon us and so ends our longest public holiday of the year until you-know-when. For me, it kicked off on Wednesday following a 5 am start, a session in the gym and then a full day at work. How better to end proceedings than with a 150 mile jaunt up the M1 to Derbyshire. As ever, traffic ground to a halt somewhere near Leicester and engines were simultaneously turned off. I fumed and had a little rant. What on earth could be preventing in me from starting my Easter break? Then follows the slow crawl of shame as I passed the burnt out car on the hard shoulder and the fervent hope that the owner made it out, safe and well.

To Derbyshire then and to a house only five minutes walk from my parents. For ten years this has provided a bolt-hole from all things London. Now though, it's time to say goodbye and the house is on the market in preparation for something new. Sad will be the day when the keys are handed in to the estate agent but needs must.

To take my mind off things, I visited another country pile, slightly more imposing than our semi. Chatsworth. Oddly, this would be my first visit to the house itself. There had been the obligatory school trip to the farm, way back in 1976. That had been a joyous day of mud, clipboards and beef spread sandwiches. Some kid showered the coach in vomit on the way home, Exorcist-style,  causing the appearance of an angry teacher with a bucket of sand. We followed her progress back down the bus as she rhythmically broke wind with each footstep.

There had also been a not-to-be-forgotten family picnic to the Estate, also in the 1970s. After enduring a bank holiday tailback on an overheated East Midlands coach, we settled down en mass under a tree and beside a large cowpat. En mass we then gathered up the picnic and escaped the flies that were happily attacking the cheese and tomato baps. At greater speed we then ran as fast as we could from the herd of cows menacingly trotting towards us. Not the best of days.

Since then, there have been a few visits including a horribly depressing Christmas when there was nothing much to do other than shuffle along the river bank in drizzle and a more recent visit to the pre-Christmas market which featured drenched choristers belting out Ding dong merrily on high, water gushing from their nostrils, in a torrential rainstorm. How we laughed. From inside the restaurant.

This time though, I was actually setting foot in the house, the seat of the Devonshires. Imposing entrance gave way to odd rock collections and odder art. A madwoman next to me insisted on capturing everything on her phone, presumably because the folks back in Hokumpokum Nebraska will be agog at endless pictures of an amateur geologist's findings. Upstairs there was great excitement  as we milled around the doorway leading to the bedroom where JFK once slept. "I don't think Jackie stayed in that room although she might have done" muttered a woman clutching a guide book.

Before long we arrive at the Cecil Beaton exhibition feature the late Dowager Duchess, known by the family as 'Debo' (the Devonshires that is, not my family. I did meet 'Debo' back in the 1980s and have a hazy memory of having bowed and curtsied to her at the same time). Deborah was the youngest of the Mitford girls and seemingly the most sensible. She helped establish Chatsworth as the 'must see' destination  it is today. Beaton's photos gave an insight into the life of Debo and her never-ending 'country set' guest list. Apparently she insisted that all house guests be 'interesting' and one can only wonder at the musings of Noel Coward and Vita Sackville-West at the dinner table.

Anyway, that was that. Box ticked, house visited. I celebrated with a jacket spud in the House's tasteful restaurant as I was entertained by a middle-class dad imploring little Molly and Isla to 'please sit down. Please, for Daddy'. I found them mildly 'interesting' but I fear that dear old Debo wouldn't have given them house room.