Disclaimer: All opinions are my own because, duh, I wrote this post. This is not a review because they’re boring and I try not to be, but occasionally fail. Please don’t sue me, National Trust. I never used the words ‘a bit rubbish’ or ‘let down’ or ‘expensive’. Oh, I just did. Bum.
Today, as part of our ‘We really should get to know the area better after living here for a few years now’ initiative (catchy eh?), the husband and I visited the birthplace of Thomas Hardy. Pretentious? Us?
I guess I was trying to tap into that whole writery thing. I wanted to go to a place where I could try to feel a connection with someone who was once a writer,and a ruddy good one at that. The husband, as ever, indulged my whims. These are usually food-related so I think he was just pleased to go out of the house to somewhere other than the local Tesco Metro. Funny thing is, he actually got more out of the visit than I did.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty; postcard pretty. It’s kind of cool knowing you’re standing in the cottage where one of your favoured authors was born and raised. But, to be honest, it left me cold… Which is ironic* considering they had a raging fire burning away in the hearth on the hottest day of the year so far. Maybe being smoked out from the off didn’t create the most positive mind set.
I think as the daughter of a Thatcher (and I don’t mean Maggie, so don’t start hating me now) I was immune to another thatched cottage (TM). I have seen umpteen straw-topped abodes in my lifetime. I’ve lived in one. Of course I knew Hardy’s birthplace was a thatched cottage. I didn’t go for that – although Dad, if you’re reading this, that roof needs a serious do-over.
My intention was to immerse myself in the previous home of an accomplished author. I went to see the Hardy family’s knick knacks (not their undies before anyone starts with that business). I thought I’d get a glimpse of what life was like for the young Thomas Hardy. None of this was achieved.
Before I start with my rant, please don’t let me put you off if you want an English countryside experience. This cottage has multitudes of favourable reviews on Trip Advisor. It is beautiful and surrounded by well-kept gardens and woodland (see National Trust, I was nice). It just wasn’t what I was looking for.
To me, this could have been anyone’s cottage if they had raided the local auction house or gone wild with a shabby shite** project. My expectant heart soon dive-bombed into my shoes when we realised that we had to pay £7 each just to walk around a small cottage. This is probably because I’m a tight arse.
We basically paid £14 to walk around a house smaller than our flat. I am now more determined than ever to become a world-famous author so that if I shuffle off this mortal coil first, the husband can charge the bargain price of a fiver for each ‘fan’ wanting to have a look at our furniture and tat. I’ve asked him to clean out my knicker drawer first though as we really don’t want to be attracting ‘that sort’ of fan.
Upon entrance into the cottage we were greeted by a shiny, smiley volunteer i.e. student. Upon being informed that, “None of the items that you see in this cottage belonged to the Hardy family. They sold everything off. But it is all of the period”, any enthusiasm I had left ‘did one’.
My love for the husband increased when he wittily replied, “I see you have an authentic period Kit Kat mug in here too.” Cue volunteer trying to shift her tea mug away from the ‘authentic’ ornaments whilst shooting me the, ‘Is he with you?’ withering look.
After checking my asthma had not reached stratospheric levels from the bonfire in the parlour, we ventured through the house. I even took photos in order to validate the experience. You will probably look at these and either go ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ at their ‘darling apparent oldness’ or ask the person sat near you why these two silly sods parted with fourteen quid to look in your nan’s house.
Photographic evidence so that you may draw your own conclusions, with additional possibly biased comments, below:
The husband emerged from the cottage marginally dosed up on quaintness, but then he does come from Dagenham, therefore anything with green grass surrounding it constitutes as countryside. I came out stinking like a smoked kipper from that sodding fire and mentally apologising to Thomas Hardy for all that we have done to what the guidebook describes as a place where, ‘his heart truly belonged’. Shame his actual stuff didn’t.
Apparently, again according to the £4.50 guidebook (the husband always insists on buying them even though they sit on the bookshelf for eternity) as he lay dying, Hardy was thinking of that cottage with, ‘his last wish being to smell bacon cooked over the fire, in the way his mother used to do it.’ If she lit a fire like today’s, I am expecting he liked it covered in charcoal and on the cremated side.
The point of this post is not to slate this cottage or the National Trust, although they are making a roaring trade in getting people to pay to look around old buildings. I went to Corfe Castle once. I paid about £9 to look at a bit of rubble, some fields and do battle with vertigo, whilst resisting the urge to nudge rude kids off the ledges. I digress, as always…
The reason why I am grumpily recounting today’s visit is that I’ve realised that maybe sometimes we need to be happy with using our imaginations rather than being disappointed with reality. I have been to other places where the hype surrounding them placed them high on my ‘must visit’ list. Many times I’ve realised I should have left them as an un-visited dream; stirring in my imagination and remaining very much alive.
I think no less of Hardy and his works for seeing his birth place. I just would prefer to picture the countryside and the homes of his characters in my mind, rather than through the tourist trail, inauthentic artifacts and a guidebook that dictates that is this where inspiration lies.
I may venture into tourist territory again. I may be delighted, as I have been with other places in the past. But I dread the disappointment of knowing I should have left the words and the worlds of the authors safely, wildly and excitingly ensconced in my mind. Not left in a cottage, that has more elderly visitors than the cast of Cocoon and one day is inevitably going to catch fire if someone doesn’t clean that flipping chimney.
*Ever since Alanis Morrisette released that flaming song, I know what ‘ironic’ doesn’t mean but she’s rendered me a little nervy about how to actually use it. Darn you Morrissette.
** My alternative definition for ‘shabby chic’. Why, oh why do people insist on buying items that are either new or five years old tops, and then indulge in crazed sandpapering and slapping paint on willy nilly? I’m all for a project but, really? Save up for the auctions. You will be in ‘Toot Heaven’.
Here’s a final picture of how lovely the cottage looks, as a last ditch attempt to sway the National Trust away from the solicitors. I’m skint. Good luck with that.