Richard Lutz reviews the shards of the last week, taking in woods, squandering a British heritage and the passing of a good man.
Off to The Lickeys. Not many folks outside Birmingham (West Midlands/England/GB/Europe/earth/solar system/etc) may know of them. But to thousands of city dwellers craving a bit of fresh air, woods and, of course, muddy paths, The Lickey Hills, curling around the south of the outer suburbs, are just fine.
It is a crisp autumn day, the sun sharp, the trees just about thinking of turning a colour or two, the sky a bit rumbly with rain. The caretakers of this woodland have created tidy paths around the huge park so you can walk the 520 ares on routes such as Bluebell, Squirrel or the mighty Woodpecker (seven miles).
It’s all a bit tame when the eyes and body are aching for a Lakes walk or the empty spookiness of the Scottish glens. But you take what you got and to be fair, The Lickeys are beautiful and quiet and reminiscent of a Robert Frost New England.
We head for a huge obelisk overlooking the park. It is astoundingly named after Sir Other Archer Windsor, 6th Earl of Plymouth. What a name. I had daydreams of some old bounder who sired his 47th child somewhere back long ago and simply ran out of ideas of what to call his latest babe.
But no. It is a family name linked to a Saxon honcho called Otho. I love old obelisks, kind of like Ozymandias the forgotten Egyptian king whose ancient statue sits knee deep in sand with the command to subjects to tremble at his feet. There, he sits, forgotten, crumbling, useless… You get the idea. Ozymandias who? Sir Other what?
The Lickey Hills roll up and down. But at one of its crests, looking north you get a nice overview of Birmingham and you realise, despite its industrial reputation, it’s quite a green city.
Back to my neigbourhood which has sprung two side-by-side pizza chains – Pizza Express and Prezzo. Side by side? One will have to fail and leave. But not before each rides hard to scoop customers in with coupons, 241 deals and even free meals. So for the consumer, cruising the high street and dying for a doughy thing with tunafish, peanut butter and shrimp , crammed and topped with buffalo cheese (me, actually), it’s a dream. A great big stomach-expanding dream.
After my 241 half-price thin crust extravanga, I find myself out of town near Shrewsbury. Once in a while, I get a hankering to use my National Trust card (which sits unregarded too often in my wallet) and head for one of those grand old piles sitting waiting to be seen. I go to Attingham Park. Here it is:
Yes, it is an 18th century beaut. But its story belies its classical lines. The original owner died too soon leaving his courtesan wife to spend spend spend. Within a couple of generations, the family was selling of the furniture, paintings, vases, tapestries and, really, their store-bought instant heritage.
After World War1, one scion tried to live a frugal ‘back to nature’ existence. He scraped by. But times and taxes took care of that. The manor house became an adult education college which ruined classical room after classical room and, finally, The National Trust stepped in to try and re-create….what? This is a magnificent manor house that never really was.
The Trust is asking guests what should be done. It is a part of British history, albeit a chapter that stinks of flagrant mis-use of money and privilege with family member after family member abusing their wealth. The National Trust is trying hard to create a history here…but of what? Greed, stupidity, rank arrogance?
Finally, a word about my neighbour Jim Hutchison, who passed away recently aged 93. Here he is:
Jim was a microbiologist, raconteur, medical academic and a joyful polymath. Even in his elderly fading years, he enjoyed talking of politics, gossip, gardening and painting. Friends, neighbours and family will miss him and his wit. He leaves a large family – 23 grandchildren and five great grandchildren and counting. Here’s to the memory of Dr James Hutchison.