It’s now over a week since my visit to Polesden Lacey – a Regency country house near Dorking, Surrey, with some delightful Edwardian interiors and lovely gardens.
Apart from an abundance of daffs, the garden was still pretty dormant – its herbaceous borders and rose gardens come into their own later in the year, of course.
I hadn’t visited for many a long year and only vaguely remembered some of the rooms, although I had not forgotten the sumptuous, glittering gold-and-red saloon – decorated in celebration of her legendary hostess status by the Hon Mrs Greville at the beginning of the twentieth century. A large portrait of the beauteous Mrs G dominates one wall. This was, I hardly need add, 6-year-old SH#3’s favouritest room in the house and we had to keep on going back so she could pirouette princess-like beneath the 4,000-crystal central chandelier. Less ostentatiously there’s a good collection of paintings from the 14th to the 19th centuries and an abundance of other lovely things to admire.
A very elderly gentleman played a small revolving selection of Chopin on the grand piano. The stables are given over to a caff which seemed up to the usual NT standards if the carrot and lentil soup was anything to go by.
I used to completely adore visiting old houses (‘stately homes’, as we used to call them) – indulging my senses and my imagination, absorbing the history, delighting in collections of art and porcelain, coveting libraries full of finely bound books. These days (with the notable exception of William Morris's Red House) the whole experience has recently brought on varying degrees of jaundice. I try to keep this under wraps, so as not to spoil anyone else’s pleasure. I even try quite hard to recover some of my old enthusiasm and get caught up in the romance of it all. But I just don’t seem to be able to do it. Not even by closing my eyes and taking great gulps of bees-wax-and-lily-scented NT air.
A growing distaste for the Gifte Shoppes culture is a part of the problem. A greater awareness of social history - and my own family history (definitely towards the peasant end of the spectrum) - does the rest, I think.
'Don't get me wrong', as we say here in Essex - I appreciate that the National Trust does some admirable work and yes I do believe in 'preserving' such places for the enjoyment of future generations, blah-di-blah-blah. But . . . oh, there's just something I can't quite muster in order to enjoy a perfectly nice, normal stroll round a nice, pretty house any more and think, 'well, that was nice', afterwards. Why do I find it all so disquieting all of a sudden? Maybe I just need to 'go large' with my NT shortbread and my NT cup of tea next time and that would do the trick.