Jul 11, 2014

Maisie's Birthday

It's a rare nine-year old girl that for her birthday treat would go to an English Heritage place but Maisie is a history enthusiast and Osborne House, the erstwhile residence of the Queen Victoria, was her choice of birthday venue.

Breaking the habit of a lifetime, I will not delve into the transport arrangements deeply except to detail that Chris occupied himself elsewhere with a putting wedge whilst Sam was at work and so also absent and so Nicole, Nicole, Matt and I alongside the four semi-senior cousins and the two juniors made up the Fun Time Time Team for the day.

And what a Fun Time we were to have. After negotiating our dodgy multi-child-pass successfully past the front desk and successfully avoiding forking out for a horse-and-carriage ride up the drive to the House, we trudged up the gravel instead and before long there was the mocco-rococco Osborne House in all its follicious glory, towers, flagpoles, galleries and all, basking in the sun, its cladding sickly in the yellow light.

We headed for the disabled entrance to find that our strollers were machina non grata and had to be stowed away under the watchful gaze of the Watchers and that photographs inside were forbidden for no particular reason that we could fathom. In fact I wonder if I'm even really allowed to describe the interior to you.

The Grey Guardians were out in stern, super-officious force, their presbyotic gazes tracking Lyra like air-defence radars tracking an F-16 on its final bombing run, their aged frames ready to pounce like geriatric mountain leopards on to an unsuspecting baby goat. All she had to do was touch something... look the wrong way at someone.

And I'm actually not exaggerating, although I may be stretching the metaphor just a nadge; there was one point when we were walking down a corridor and this younger Grey, maybe an apprentice, was on theother side of a window, just look at me; I made her a "What, me?" gesture and her face softened into a little smile and she pointed just behind me, where guess what Lyra was walking as nice as you look, hand in hand with Mumsy.

The course through the house was laid out with ropes, I don't recall if they were red or not, but it seems likely, and every available piece of floor was occupied by a statue, every patch of wall by a painting. There was a lot to touch. A lot of temptation, except of course that Lyra didn't know that she wasn't suppose not to touch anything, so it was just there to be sampled.

I asked one of the attendants why it was that nothing could be photographed and she gave me this funny look like I was some sort of idiot before lecturing me that the house may have been passed onto English Heritage but the artworks within were part of the Queen's private collection and that of course we were priveleged blah blah blah. I sort of felt like saying that it was my taxes that the Queen probably used to buy all this guff, except the stuff that she was given or just inherited from previous generations, but I don't pay English taxes anymore, not that my argument would have held any water anyway no doubt but apparently photography was forbidden on copyright grounds and these days who can argue with copyright laws.

So thinking about it I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with taking the risk of even describing any of this to you except to say the the course of our route took us up, and then down, through one fusty room after another, and yes Lyra did set an alarm off, and yes the Grey Guardians did pounce upon her like Mountain Leopards. Just really nice, ineffectual Mountain Leopards.

I was relieved to get outside at the end because you know too much ridiculously opulent wealth in the space of a morning can be a bit overbearing. I think it was the Indian Room that did it for me in the end, then one where they shipped over artisans from the subcontinent to deck out this room in Queen Victoria's holiday house with filigreed (that's not the right word), carven sandalwood of frankly baroque complexity so that she could have tiffin and lead a nice family life, no countermand that, a nice normal family life in surroundings of reasonable comfort. Oh, the hardship of being the figurehead of the British Empire.

We ate ice cream in the Italianate Garden; the nice man even took our empty cartons, for there was not a rubbish bin in sight. After noodling around the fountain for a while, we headed out to the Swiss Cottage for another little taste of how the Other 0.001% used to live, and maybe still do.

We were still functioning as a unit, and the walk was long and everything was right. We got to the Swiss Cottage and looked with interest at the monogrammed wheelbarrows of the little princes and princesses, the vegetable gardens that bore their names, now tended by volunteers from the proletariat, thetourist plaques with touching stories of how the little princes would practice trench warfare tactics in their little imitation battlefields.

We visited the Swiss Cottage where our little girls played dressups and imagined themselves in that world

We played in the Swiss-Cottage themed playground. There was a lot of squealing. Eventually reserves began to run low, and time to run out.

And we had places to be.

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