Oh, the luxury. All day off today. Even if the next Bank Holidays are as busy, at least they are in isolation, rather than the Good Friday to Easter Monday four day marathon.
In many ways we were victims of our own success. Taking the view that if you don't do well at Easter you never really get a chance to catch up, I embarked on an extensive marketing campaign. That, combined with the warm, sunny weather, led to unprecedented numbers making their way to the house.
I know the financial types at Regional Office will see the statistics and rub their hands with glee. And, yes, it is good to make some money. However, I feel the house was at its limits over the weekend, with numbers so high as to detract from the experience for everyone.
The house suffered a great deal of wear and tear. I noted with dismay a broken piece of the spinning wheel, simply discarded on the table. The crewel-work bedding on the oaken four-poster has chocolatey stains on it, and I picked up everything from discarded food wrappers to nappy bags and stickers from the floor. The ancient typewriter in the Business Room had its keys jammed down, pot pourri had been scattered liberally through the bedroom and anything small and moveable had been moved. It saddens and frustrates me, as I am loathe to litter the house with "Do Not Touch" signs. Many parents feel that the typical country house experience is an unfriendly one, with everything roped off and room stewards frowning upon boisterous behaviour from children. Yet, here, where nothing is roped off, we find that some parents seem quite happy to allow their offspring to leap upon the bed, bash away at the old typewriter or break bits off the spinning wheel. When we are not so crowded it is easier for us to engage our young visitors and explain why we mustn't treat fragile objects so harshly, but when we are crammed to the rafters it just isn't possible. You'd hope people would have a little more respect for their surroundings.
The crowds also meant managing the event was a tougher job than usual. Last year we ran tractor and trailer rides at Easter and the public responded with apathy. I had to wander around the grounds trying to round people up to fill the trailer, and the poor farmer just sat there, waiting, for hours. This year it was like a scene from Alton Towers. The queues were huge! I couldn't believe how many people had assembled at the boarding point. There was no way they would all fit on to the trailer. I began to think I should have introduced some sort of ticketing system, rather than the "first come, first served" approach which had always stood me in good stead previously. "Are you ok to squeeze in a few extra tours?" I whispered to the farmer. Thankfully, he was.
So, the people in the queue began to board the trailer for the first tour of the day and there came a point where I had to say "Sorry folks, that's it for this one, but it will return in just under an hour! In the meantime, please enjoy the sunshine, the giant games, the falconry and animals, and the farmer will be back as soon as he can!"
All well and good. About 50 minutes later the tractor could be seen a good quarter of a mile away, returning back to the house for the next tour. I went to meet it and manage the queue. Already there was a horde of people waiting for the next one. God, it was hard. Trying to stop people from standing directly in front of a reversing trailer and tractor, trying to stop them trying to surge onto the trailer before the current occupants had disembarked, trying to get them to stand back far enough so that people could get down the steps safely. Trying to get them to move aside so that they were no longer obscuring the disabled parking area. All very trying. At last the next load of people had swarmed onto the trailer and I was giving my apologies to those who had failed to make it on board this time. One lady was not happy.
"We didn't get onto the first tour, and now we've not go onto this one. We've already waited an hour! I don't want to tell you your job or anything, but maybe you should look at some sort of ticketing system."
This situation repeated itself on a hourly basis. Finally closing time came around and as I waved the last trailer tour of the day off site and walked back to the house another visitor intercepted me. "Can I just make a comment?" she asked. Escape was not an option. My feet ached too much to run far. "Yes, of course!" I beamed.
"We've just done the trailer tour and it was excellent, really good fun, the kids loved it."
"Yes, thing is, I don't know if you've done these before, but maybe you should look at some sort of ticketing system?"
Next time I am going to introduce some sort of ticketing system.
Oh, and the cows did shit all over the giant chess board and several of the pieces.