Wednesday, 24 October 2007

IP Address.01 – a week at Ingestre Pavilion: Part the First

In which there features a Pavilion, an Housekeeper, some Children, a Baby, a Bizarre Episode, some Access, Messrs Marks and Spencer their Emporium, and Diverse Elements Besides

Friday, 24 August 2007

In August our second week away was in a particularly unusual and interesting location. To recap (you know you want me to), my first week of holiday was just with Mrs von Neustadt and the Mad Collie Gänseblümchen: that was the Splendid Cotswold Week much blogged about here and on subsequent days. This second week, however, was a genuine Week of Mobhandedness during which we actually had the full complement of daughters there almost the whole time, which is quite unusual these days, and makes a very pleasant change.

The background to this particular jolly is that it was actually organized in response to a particular chronological event, to wit, the 21st birthday of our dear Daughter of Eldestness, the Crown Princess von und zu Neustadt-Wittungsden-Nuertingen-Nissan oh alright alright stop hitting me I'll behave. It was part of Becca's 21st present, by agreement, that we'd have a Landmark Trust holiday, is the point. If you don't know what the Landmark Trust is or does please have a look at their website: they are a truly brilliant organization.

The eagle-eyed reader may be about to raise a Point of Order over the timing, as you will undoubtedly have noticed Becca's 22nd birthday being celebrated near Cambridge some weeks back. Um yes. The von Neustadt family doesn't generally move fast in the booking of holidays and the development of this idea was itself not rapid.

Also, it is probably a good idea to have some time in hand when approaching a Landmark holiday, and here we must touch briefly on a delicate and perhaps distressing matter. Why are you going to need some time? You're going to need some time to sell a few paintings, thin out the silverware a bit, and perhaps see if the Peasants' Collective still wants to buy that parcel of land down by the river for some wretched scheme involving milling. What I'm getting at is that the Landmark Trust is not a cheap holiday. No, no, nono and nonono, indeed it is not. That's not to say it doesn't represent value for money: that's a different kettle of fish entirely. I would happily argue that the price is justified by the quality and novelty.

The actual finding of the property was subcontracted out to the Crown Princess herself as it was she who'd need to be clearest about access. Nor can I imagine that the need for it to be both accessible and collie-friendly can have simplified things too much. However the Landmark office have always seemed very clued-up and helpful on the phone, and Becca was able with their guidance to identify Ingestre Pavilion as a good'un, which is how it turned out.

Now, this blog is going to be a bit of a challenge and you may have to tolerate some inefficiency, inaccuracy, and the like. I didn't keep notes at the time - the evenings seemed quite full enough - and as soon as we got back I was up to my eyes in work and other stuff, so I am writing this a very long time afterwards. This is in contrast to the Cotswolds blog where I had lots of time to write, and then afterwards my work, playing etc was all relatively quiet for a bit, so I got most of that one done pretty quickly. For this one I am having to use my appalling memory more, and you know what that means. (No? Then tell 'em, Tamsin. Ah. Now tell them again, dear, but please don't use those words thank you: it is not big and it is not clever.)

Right, so, Ingestre Pavilion it is. Atypically, it's featured on the Landmark site in some detail, being one of a few that they've pulled out for display. In general, they'd rather you bought their extremely splendid Handbook. But as this one is there in all its glory, I'll not rabbit on about it too much. It's a folly, built as an ornamental summerhouse for Ingestre's estates. Most of the building was removed quite early in its history, leaving just the fabulous classical portico: in 1990 the Landmark took over and put a new - but very very tasteful - building in behind the portico so that it can be used as a holiday house: and a very fine holiday house it makes.

Ingestre is very near Stafford, really just ten minutes from the town. Our journey up was a bit gruesome. Road problems far too boring to recount here diverted and delayed us, and while it was in some ways fun to do a massive cross-country drive through Buckinghamshire, it certainly wasn't quick. It felt like we were still hardly halfway when Becca (who had had an easier and somewhat shorter journey) called to say she was almost there, so she was delegated to go and meet Anne Andrews, the very wonderful Housekeeper for the Pavilion, who lives a mile or so away.

I should mention that Landmark Housekeepers are far from being Mrs (or Mr) Mops who just happen to have the keys for some posh gaff. I mean yes, that is part of her role, but rather a lot more besides and Anne is, for a kick-off, Dr Mop if you please. Becca knows this better than I but I think she teaches for the OU, which already gets her, like, ten million brownie points as far as I'm concerned. And if you were to Google her along with some term like Ingestre or Tixall you'd see that she's quite a high-profile local historian. You'd not want to confuse her with someone whose USP is "pretty handy with a j-cloth" although I have no doubt that she's that, too. She's a big part of how the pavilion is: I'll return to this topic some time.

So while Becca was schmoozing Dr Anne and getting the keys and what have you, we were still chugging up the motorway. We, in this case, denotes Mrs von Neustadt, the Marchioness Loötës, (now the Iarlles Loötës following a Retitling Exercise) the Hound Gänseblümchen and myself: we were Marfless at this point because she was at the "Reading Festival". (I must say that a festival of reading sounds like an excellent idea, much nicer than all this wretched "popular music" which threatens the daughters of the aristocracy with its coarse lyrics and distressingly unsophisticated harmonizations.) There was then a motorway stop which featured nice coffees, pleasant browsing in a Marks and Spencer; a very proud new dad with his gorgeous, days-old baby; and a weird and unsettling thing which happened to me in the Gents.

Ha! That got your attention, didn't it? But no, calm your fevered imagination; it wasn't anything like that. Here's what happened.

Imagine a typical motorway washroom setup. There's quite a long row of wash basins, grouped in fours, and behind that a little low shelf and behind that is a mirror, presumably so you can shave, or admire yourself while washing your hands, or make sure your hair is all lovely, or check out the other cool dudes, or whatever. Just a very average scene: there must be thousands with this setup in motorway service stations and other lovely venues up and down the country. With me so far?

So, there I am washing my hands and, naturally, my reflection is too. I'm preoccupied with the journey and I'm not paying very close attention. I slowly realize that something is strange and I look up at my reflection in the big mirrors and my reflection looks up at me. And just for a second I think I am going to have a heart attack because then my reflection speaks and I don't. And what he says to me is, "this is weird". And just for a fraction of a second I'm flailing on the very edge of a different place, a place where all the rules have changed. This lasted such a very short time but it still gives me the creeps to relive it. I've never felt closer to madness than in that tiny splinter of a moment.

And then the world wobbles one last time and settles back, with a thud, safely on our side of the brink. The panic starts to abate and information starts to flow again and I can see more, my peripheral vision's back, my map of where I am is rapidly redrawing itself, the universe is making sense again. You can pretty much hear systems rebooting and powering up, new fixes being taken, memory being cleared and rewritten. My reflection is smiling and laughing and then so am I. He doesn't even look like me but he's right, it's weird.

OK so you've probably seen this coming but I hadn't, not during that frightening nanosecond of total uncertainty. There's no mirror: there's a double row of basins back to back with a low shelf between them. My reflection was someone else washing his hands; I was his reflection; and we'd both realized, in the same split second, that our Weltanschauung, or maybe just Spiegelanschauung or Badezimmeranschauung, was way, way off.

At the time we (my reflection and I) said that this must happen constantly: but actually I'm not now so sure. Certainly the layout, and the presence of a sort of framing effect round the mirror, encourages it: yet it must require quite a degree of inattention, a failure to look up, some close similarity in movement and height between the two "players" and so on. Further, it must depend on the rest of the room being empty or very quiet, or - even more unlikely - other people mirroring each other's approximate positions and appearance. I don't think it could happen unless most or all of these conditions were met. So no, I don't think it happens often, and I do think that I was lucky - if that's the word for something so spooky - to have had this momentary but very powerful and disconcerting experience. It was kind of fun, but I don't really want to feel quite like that ever again, thank you.

With all this excellent entertainment out of the way it was time to move on. We were well away from London and the traffic was quite busy but not terrible; the M6 Toll was, as ever, a delight, and it wasn't long before we were arriving at the Pavilion. The Landmark instructions for finding it were pretty good, as they usually are, but in any case I'd really nailed it with the satnav (my Precious!) and a quick rehearsal with the ever-wonderful Google Earth.

Becca was of course already there and had the keys and so on. She also had little wooden triangular prisms, like a toblerone shape (though sadly choccie-less), which identified us as Landmark visitors while using the private roads to reach the Pavilion. (Without them, I suppose, the farmer is allowed to open fire.)

Becca had also brought a small but rather brilliant folding ramp she'd borrowed. This would've been useful anyway, but as the power chair weighs 93 tons (you can get a hernia just looking at its batteries), it was really more of an essential. The Pavilion does have three steps - rather gorgeous steps actually - which cannot be avoided in getting in. (At the moment: more on this later.) You can see these steps quite clearly in the photo. Whilst the borrowed ramp wasn't long enough for Bec to drive the power chair up it alone, it certainly facilitated doing it with some extra muscle; and it was roughly the correct length for the single step which remained, to get you from the floor of the portico and up though the front door. (You can almost see the front door in the photo: it is mostly obscured by the third pillar. Imagine you go up the steps and turn 90° right - then you're facing the door.) The other rather useful thing this ramp could do was to get the chair into the back of the Mitsubishi, under its own power, with minimal dismantling: this is a colossal improvement over lifting in a long succession of separate, heavy components. The ramp folds into four, lengthways, so you lose width (though no length), resulting in it being reasonably portable. It's made out of goodness knows what light but strong material (plastics, carbon fibre, etc?) and has carrying handles. It's quite clever.

So there we were at Ingestre Pavilion...

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