Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hurrah for the National Trust Dragons

My fella is a big fan of the National Trust (you know you are middle-class when you have a National Trust card) and gives out cards to my entire family every year as presents. The children's play areas are always of superior quality, and the children who play in them are usually called Abigail or Tristram - there is no bullying (although your kids may suffer feelings of inadequacy when they realise that their new playmates are expert oboe players and can speak 4 languages).

So while we were in Torquay we went to a few NT places. They tend to be old country mansions or smallish castles, kitted out with heirlooms so you can go round and feel Class Envy (well you do if you're me anyway). The other thing about them is that they are run by an army of volunteers - usually pensioners, mostly women, who are stategically positioned - 1 to a room - around the mansion. They're there to answer any questions "Are those real William Morris curtains?" and also (I suspect) to ensure that nobody makes off with those curtains. Whereever you go in the UK, they are made of the same sort of steel. The accents may change slightly, but the personalities are immutable. They're the sort of women who you only see in black and white British movies made before 1959. They take no nonsense, they don't suffer fools, they are absolutely terrifying but can be quite sweet if they take to you. The key is to show no fear. My Great Aunt Ethel was one. I'm trying to think of ones in the media. Barbara Woodhouse came close.

As did many of the characters played by the actress Stephanie Cole.

There was a great one at a castle we saw near Torquay. She forced everyone who came into her room to read a laminated page of information about the room, whether they wanted to or not. She actually tried to whack my brother-in-law about the head with a laminate. Everyone was terrified of her. Women connected to the Tory party could be National Trust Dragons, but generally they aren't. Anne Widdicombe is too sour while Christine Hamilton is too drunk and flirty. But if the National Trust Dragons all stop being interested in old houses and start caring about politics - then we'd all better watch out! We wouldn't stand a chance.

1 comment:

Fin De Fichier said...

Penelope Hobhouse alert! She is exactly this sort of woman. If I may quote from my now-defunct blog, in a circa 2007 review of a british gardening rag:

"Finally...the regular column of Penelope Hobhouse, aka, the British gardening doyenne for whom the term doyenne seems most inappropriate. Before I could skim it, I was captivated by what seems to be a new picture of her...she's a remarkably stern looking woman yet this one had the photographer somehow getting her to appear a little more relaxed, if not exactly filled with mirth...even Penelope Hobhouse is starting to photograph well in this crazy media and image driven world."