Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Summer, Finally

It has been simply heavenly having a return to sunny, summer weather. The only remaining signs of the floods are the terribly gouged and potholed roads and the fact that there are an awful lot of carpets and furnishings now discarded outside people's homes.
And the return of the good weather means the return of barbecue season! The fridge has been restocked accordingly.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back to Normality

Well, almost.

It has been a challenging week. After the drama of the previous week it has been a huge relief to have had a sunny, mostly dry weekend. In particular it has been great to have some visitors again. We opened as normal during the week, but we were fighting a losing battle, really. The surrounding roads were still closed, with many of the staff and volunteers being unable to get to us, let alone visitors. While the catering staff stood around in the empty tea room, the scones untouched, the cakes uneaten, the volunteers roamed the deserted house, switching on lights and moving the furniture in an attempt to remain entertained.

There were a couple of days where everyone went home early, after having no customers at all for hours. Conditions have been generally gloomy.

Thankfully, things seem to be improving. I hardly had to put anything back to how it should be in the house today, which must mean they were nicely busy again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Uninvited Guests

I stood on the lawn in front of the house, smiling and chatting to the assembled group.

They had each paid to be a part of our Pledger and Benefactor day and we were making sure they felt they received their money's worth. I had given a guided tour of the house and was now making myself available to answer any questions they might have.

As I explained for the seventh time in as many minutes about why the house is limewashed, and therefore not black and white, I noticed a couple of people in the crowd that I was certain were not part of the group. For a start, our Pledgers and Benefactors were all dressed in wet weather gear and sensible footwear, having previously toured the woods and farms on the estate. They also wore name badges. A couple in brightly coloured shorts, with a dog in tow, stood out somewhat.

I watched them for a while, as I continued to chat to our official guests. They'd obviously taken advantage of the unpadlocked gate, as this was actually a closed day, and they would have found the ticket office unmanned. Dogs are not allowed beyond the Gatehouse either, so my hackles were up, but I felt loathe to have a public confrontation in front of our VIPs.

Eventually the man separated from his companion and headed into the house. I was agog at the cheek of it. I finished my conversation about limewash and excused myself. I found the uninvited guest in the Great Hall.

"Hello," I smiled. "Are you with the Pledger group?"

"Oh no, " he replied, "we're just visitors."

"Ah," I said. "Well I'm afraid we're actually closed today. This is a private function."

"Well nobody told us!" he exclaimed.

"That's because there was nobody in the ticket office to tell you. Because we're closed."

I walked him back outside and locked the house before any other opportunistic passersby wandered in.

I then scampered over to the courtyard where McColleague was in charge of the refreshments. I began to recount my tale of naughty visitors blagging a free visit.

"So, I had to usher him out of the door and - bloody hell! There they are again! I've asked them to leave once already!"

Sure enough, the completely unfazed couple, with dog, were now wandering into the courtyard and having a good look round.

"Well," huffed McColleague, "the nerve of it! I'd be so embarrassed, wouldn't you, if I found out I was in the middle of a private function and shouldn't be there?"

"Absolutely," I agreed. "They'll be over here wanting a cup of tea and a biscuit next!"

Our steely stares may have dissuaded them for trying for a free cup of tea, though. As it was they made a point of having a leisurely stroll around, before sauntering off - in the opposite direction to the exit. It was most frustrating. It was as if they knew I couldn't go for the jugular, wouldn't risk a potential scene, it being a day to impress our paying guests and all.

How very, very naughty some people are.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I had taken the week off, as holiday, and even booked a locum, so I could be entirely footloose and fancy free.

Ah, the joy of getting up in a leisurely fashion, happy in the knowledge Somebody Else Was Dealing With It. I decided to spend my time off having some day trips out to visit friends and to spend some time with my family. So I drove into town yesterday for a girls day out with my daughter. We had our hair done, shared a splendid lunch, did a bit of shopping. It rained incessantly but I was determined to enjoy my time off, so stayed out as long as possible. A text arrived on my mobile phone. It was from McColleague: The Boss has closed the house and estate and sent everybody home, due to the severe weather.

Perhaps it was time to return, after all.

The journey home was exciting, to say the least. During the hours we'd spent in town the road had flooded in several places and long queues of cars had formed wherever one of these impromptu fords had occurred. The rain lashed the windows of the car, big 4x4s and lorries zoomed by and sent waves of water flooding over us, reducing visibility further as my poor squeaky windscreen wipers tried to keep up with the job in hand.

I was relieved when, an hour later, we finally made it back onto the estate.

"Nearly home now," I said to my daughter.

We drove through the first mile of parkland, the single track road now a torrent of water. The road twists and turns downhill and the last stretch goes through the woods. As we entered the trees I had a feeling all was not well. I couldn't see the road ahead in the distance, just a mass of foliage.

As we drew nearer I could see the massive tree which had fallen down, completely blocking the road. "I'm not staying here in case any more trees are about to come down," I said as I reversed all the way back through the woods and onto the parklnad again.

I phoned my Boss. He was with Lovely Warden in the landrover and we didn't have to wait long before they arrived.

"We'll go down and take a look," said my Boss. "Then we'll come back and let you know the situation."

They rode off into the murk of the woods, and my daughter and I sat and waited, the rain drumming on the roof.

Eventually they returned. "It's too dangerous to move," yelled my Boss from the landrover. "We'd be putting ourselves at risk if we try to work in there now."

I was perplexed. How was I going to get home? There is only the one road.

"Is there anyone in the house now?" asked my Boss.

"There's my daughter's boyfriend," I replied.

"Well, phone him and get him to walk up to the fallen tree from the house, and bring your wellies and wet weather gear. Lovely Warden and I will drive you down to the tree in the landrover and get you around it on foot. You'll have to leave your car here."

There then followed a few minutes of prioritising, as I peered into the boot of the car and decided which shopping I would carry on foot and what I would leave behind. It says a lot about how people react under pressure, as I opted to bring the cheesecake and wine and leave behind the toilet rolls.

My daughter and I then clambered into the back seat of the landrover, with our bags, and headed back into the wild woods. My Boss wasn't happy. He kept looking out of the window and saying scary things like "That one's going to go soon, as well."

When we reached the fallen tree again we were instructed to stay put while he and Lovely Warden assessed the best route past it.

"Right," he said, opening the landrover door and gesturing for us to scramble out. "I want you two out of here as quickly as possible."

He guided us up the steep muddy bank and around the massive uprooted base of the tree. My shoes were sodden and didn't provide much in the way of grip. My daughter had sensibly worn her Dr Martens so was doing somewhat better than I. Still, we did both make it to the other side and back onto the road without falling over or dropping the wine and cheesecake. We have finely honed survival skills.

Fortunately my daughter's boyfriend appeared at that point, soaked to the skin himself but clutching two carrier bags full of wellies. At least the final mile was walked with dry feet.

So, the house remains closed for the time being. We are cut off from the outside world rather efficiently. At times like this all you can do is settle down with your cheesecake and wine and count your blessings.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I've Come All the Way From...

I was telling McColleague and Lovely Warden of my experiences with the visitors who had tried to blag a freebie the other week. We were standing on the lawn in front of the house, at the end of a long day. It was not an open day, but we had all been involved in the Pledger and Benefactor event.

"Then there are those who turn up on closed days and always claim to have come all the way from Australia or something." I was saying. "They have always travelled an unfeasible distance and this is the only time they can see the house, as they have to fly home in the morning, and their visit won't be complete without seeing the place. Which is why they've left it until 5pm on a closed day to turn up, as it's so very important to them."

I paused for breath, momentarily distracted.

A car was approaching along the drive. The gates must have been left open after our Pledgers and Benefactors had departed for the day.

Lovely Warden strode off to intercept them. The car drew to a halt alongside him, and the window rolled down.

I didn't hear the first part of the exchange, but as I drew nearer I had to try hard not to laugh.

"New Zealand?" said Lovely Warden. "No, sorry, that's not quite far enough. Now, if you'd said Australia we'd have let you in, but New Zealand...."

Fortunately he said it with such twinkly-eyed good humour no offence was taken. I will definitely be using that line again though.

Monday, July 16, 2007

True Grit

Last year we had a celebration. McColleague and I decided to put on a bit of a do to mark an important anniversary in the history of the house. We went to the Cash and Carry to spend our massive £30 budget on drinks and nibbles to offer our visitors as they entered the house.

I made my signature dish - cheese and pineapple on sticks - and McColleague knocked up some "Festive Fizz" out of Lambrini, orange juice and lemonade. Our budget goes a long way. We set everything up on doily-lined trays on a table in the Gatehouse. It looked quite posh. We then sprinkled metallic confetti numbers around the base of the glasses to complete our theme. Fancy.

The thing about the gatehouse, though, is that the design means that it is a bit of a wind tunnel. If you stand in it with a tray of drinks and cheese and pineapple on sticks there is a strong chance great gusts of wind will blow assorted grit and debris all over you.

"The confetti!" I cried, as all our little numerical bits of glitter flew into various crevices of the gatehouse and across the lawn.

We spent much of the day trying to keep little black specks of who knows what from getting into our glasses of fizz. The cheese and pineapple was even harder work, as the grit just embedded itself into it.

"This was a terrible idea," McColleague asserted, and I was forced to agree.

"What we should have done," I opined, helpfully, "was to set all this up in the Ticket Office."

"Why didn't we?" wondered McColleague. We didn't know.

This year we had a Pledger and Benefactor day. It is a day for presenting the place at its best in the hope of impressing people so much they decide to give us money. McColleague and I were asked to provide the refreshments. We have a good reputation for refreshments, given our past triumphs. This time we played safe, and stuck to tea, coffee and biscuits. We waited until the last possible moment to put everything out on the tables, which, granted, were outside in the courtyard, but under cover and not in a gusty area.

And yet, despite these efforts, there was still a moment or two when I had to excuse myself as I discretely replaced the milk which had inexplicably been contaminated with various bits of grit and a fly.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


There is a field of maize right next to the car park.

There was some talk of making a Maize Maze to entertain our visitors and generate a little extra income for the farmer.

There was further talk of making it in the shape of a badger.

I could spot a couple of major flaws in these plans.

1. The maize is still only ankle height. It is not going to be a challenging experience. By the time the maize has grown tall enough to create a truly enjoyable maze experience it will probably be the end of the visitor season.

2. My Boss is unlikely to employ a professional maze maker to create the badger motif. No. It will most likely fall to Lovely Warden to try to fashion something that looks vaguely like an animal out of uprooted plants. I foresee a blobby thing with four protuberances.

The ultimate nail in the Maize Maze coffin came earlier today. Our Learning Officer has been creating flyers to send out to various bodies, announcing the forthcoming attraction.

"Our Property's Maize Maze," the title proclaims. "Can you help our badger back to his set?"

And beneath it, this:
I am bewildered. What word had she intended to use, really? I mean, this is the work of our Learning Officer. How could she have looked at this and thought, "Yup. Job well done. That'll get them in"? How did she put them in envelopes and pop them in the post without once thinking "Hang on a minute! Not rabid. No. Fluffy! That's what I meant!"

I am not sure this is the best marketing ploy we've ever tried, myself.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Have the Power

It's true. The delightful Miss Despina has bestowed a Blogging Community Involvement Award upon me. According to the creator of this award, (Mike at Ordinary Folk)"when it comes to blogging, schmoozing is your ticket to making new friends, getting yourself noticed and building a reputation."

I am surprised really, as I always thought I was a grumpy old ratbag who did not so much schmooze as complain endlessly about volunteers, visitors and badly conceived Nursery Rhyme Trails. Maybe complaining is the new schmoozing!

Still, it is very nice to receive anything, and, like my other award, this one will not change my life.

Apparently I am supposed to choose five other bloggers to receive this award. That's a tough call, as most of the bloggers I know would prefer a crate of booze or the equivalent in cash. If you're a blogger and would like this award instead, do let me know.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

But surely those signs don't apply to me?

11am, an hour before we open.

I am getting the house ready, taking off the bat covers and checking the loos are clean. I spy three men the other side of the moat, walking towards the gatehouse.

I head over to the gatehouse myself. They are just the other side of the heavy oak door. I can hear their voices. I open the door, which momentarily surprises them.

“Hello! I’m afraid we don’t open until 12.”

“Yes, I know. It's ok. I’ve been before, I’m just showing these two round.”

“Right. But I’m afraid we don’t open until 12, as it clearly says on the signs on all the gates you’ve come through.”

He decides to go for the cheeky chappie approach.

“Have we woken you up? Were you having a lie-in?”

“No. I am busy getting the house ready for when we open at 12. In the meantime I’m going to have to ask you to leave the premises until then, for health and safety reasons.”

“Health and safety, eh? That gets everywhere these days doesn’t it?”

“Yes. It does. Are you members?”


“Right. Well if you want to visit the house you’ll need to go back to the car park and come through our ticket office, where you can buy an admission ticket.”

“There was nobody there.”

“No, that’s because we don’t open until 12.”

“We’ll be long gone by then.”

“’Oh, I’m sure you will. Enjoy your free visit.”

Friday, July 06, 2007

Long Service Award

Dear Doris

It gives me great pleasure to congratulate you on achieving 10 years of continuous service with our organisation.

Under our policy on Long Service Awards, you are eligible for an award of £100, just a small token to thank you for all the effort and commitment you give to our organisation. You will receive your award in the July salary payment.

Thank you for the dedication you have shown over so many years.

insert squiggly signature here

Director General

insert handwritten "Thank you" here

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Doris' Creature Workshop

On a budget of £0.00 I have created a Fairy and Ogre event! Yes, if you enjoyed the Nursery Rhyme walk you'll love the magical world I have conjured up for our Fairytale Trail.

Witness my impressive troll, fashioned from just a green balloon and a mask, hidden in a tree, at great personal discomfort and risk of falling in the moat, by me!

A fairy in the flowerbed. There are rather a lot of these dotted around the gardens and orchards. The gardener will be finding them for months. I just printed and laminated a bag full and hid them in trees and under bushes. I did not keep a record of how many I produced or where I put them.

Of course, the first thing a visiting child asked me was "How many fairies are there to find?"

I waxed lyrical on the nature of fairies. They come and go as they please. Could be seven, could be seventy.

"You don't know, do you?"


There was some concern, after my fairy frenzy, that there was nothing for the boys to spot, hence the boglin, situated, appropriately enough, in the wall outside the bogs. He has since vanished without trace, so I suspect he may have been nicked. This stands to reason, since he was the one of the few pieces of quality kit I had.

We also installed the Troll Feet and, bizarrely enough , a crocodile under the bridge.

And after all that effort, it bucketed down with rain, and the marquee was crammed with small children in bedraggled fairy wings making magic wands and getting covered in glue and glitter.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Who's That Man?

A very pleasant couple were leaving, heading back to the car park via the Ticket Office.

"Did you enjoy your visit?"

"Oh yes, yes thank you."

"Oh, good."

"Can I just ask - who was that man, outside the house?"

"You mean our volunteer? Why, what did he say?"

"Yes, well, when we walked up to the front door he asked us 'Have you been to this dump before?'"

"Ah yes. That would be Dick. He's a character."

I like Dick, he's funny. He has a habit of saying things that people are quite sure he couldn't possibly have said. It brightens up a rainy afternoon.