Posts Tagged ‘grand houses’

Sometimes I have a weird, out-of-body experience that tips me off my axis into a parallel world. It happens when I find myself in unfamiliar territory thinking the sort of thoughts that don’t normally come to mind.

I had one of these weird moments this week when Geoff and I were walking up the unfeasibly grand steps to an unfeasibly grand house. We were so far, so very far, out of our normal milieu, that I couldn’t help remarking to Geoff that we could fit the whole of Hill Towers into the area taken up by the steps.

And then we entered the house. Yes, it was a parallel universe indeed, a place of great beauty, of achingly good taste and enormous proportions. Even the hall table was larger than any dining table I’ve ever sat at.

It was the sort of house to get lost in, to find a space for oneself, a room where no-one would think of looking, so that curling up with a book and undisturbed for ages was entirely possible.

There was so much space and the whole scale so enormous that there were even some areas that contained nothing. Imagine that! Not a single thing had been placed in these few square metres of blankness. No clutter had accumulated. No-one had seen fit to plonk something down because it needed somewhere to go or because there was a space so inviting it just had to be filled.

It was space by design. Clever that, I thought, and how very pleasing it is on the eye.

I think that’s the difference: a vast house has space for . . . well, space. And very lovely it looks. Normal mortals’ homes, such as Hill Towers, have not a square millimetre that isn’t cluttered and clamouring for breathing space.

The parallel universe of grand houses, the kind of Honey I Shrunk the Kids syndrome, is evident in most National Trust properties, when staircases and corridors reveal room after room that once would have been home for a family and its servants.

I love them for the social history they tell us. The kitchens are always fascinating and cause me to give thanks that my cooking tribulations are now, in the 21st century, and not in the days of intense physical labour over a hot stove or a butter churn.

I like to see the children’s toys, too, and speculate about whether a well-worn rocking horse fired a passion in any of its little riders enough to give them hours of pleasure in a real saddle as they grew older.

Recently, Geoff and I visited a National Trust house whose 50-plus rooms had last been lived in by the erstwhile owners 70 years ago. Among the many intriguing artefacts on show was a typewriter, one of the clackety-clack sit-up-and-beg sort that required a straight back and well-positioned hands to operate. The first newsroom I worked in had one, in a dark corner, as though it had been forgotten in a clear-out.

Behind it, her crone-like hands poised over the keys, sat Phyllis, a woman of about 80 who always wore a brown ensemble, a shapeless hat pulled over her eyes and a cigarette balanced on her lip, somewhat in the style of Andy Capp.

I never knew what she wrote because I was too scared to ask, but seeing that old typewriter again brought her back to mind.

It’s hard to believe Phyllis was a real person, so perhaps I should think of her as my first other-worldly experience.


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