Posts Tagged ‘mentmore’


I’ve left stuff out, so I need to rewind. Back in Mentmore I left Jennie and Wendy in the pub for a while and went to look at my grandparents’ old house. This was a poignant moment – as everything looks the same as it always did, there seemed no reason why I could not go into the house, where my Nan would make a cup of tea, where the bookshelves in the bedroom would be filled with the old Tarzan books with the red covers, and where my grand-dad would lend me a strange old prototype safety razor to remove an ill-considered teenage jazz beard.

I passed the walls of the little yard where I had once chopped wood and played with my grand-dad’s airgun, and walked into the churchyard. There was no-one around.

In a shaded side of the churchyard there is a gate.

Decades ago my Nan painted an earlier version of this PRIVATE sign.

Beyond that gate are the grounds of Mentmore Towers, a huge gothic stately home. Built for the Rothschilds, once the estate of the Rosebery family, it became the world headquarters of Transcendental Meditation and was sold again to developers. It may have a future as a six-star hotel with 101 suites, one of which would therefore be Room 101, perhaps to be marketed to Orwell fans; it may actually have rats in it now as the development has been stalled for years. It has appeared in films, notably in de Sade biopic Quills and as Wayne Manor in Batman Begins.

Back when grandparents were alive, we would pass through the ‘private’ gate with impunity, initially because my grandfather had some kind of feudal relationship with the Rosebery estate, and later because locals had tacit approval to wander the grounds. Now, those entitlements no longer applied.
Going through the gate would be a small transgression, a trespass on private property.
Or an attempt to regain a loved dead past.
Or an attempt to breach the walls of myth and Batcave unconscious (Viscount Greystoke the jungle Lord contending with the libertine Marquis in a shadow-filled collapsing ballroom).

Really, I needed to get back to the Stag – where Jennie and Wendy were waiting, and where the others may already have arrived, ready to walk… Nevertheless, I pushed the gate. It moved, maybe an inch, but the weight of stems and branches grown through it was too much and it would not open enough for a living man to pass through. I left it there, probably forever, and walked back to the pub and onwards.

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Walking along the lanes, I began to approach territory familiar from several holidays at my grandparents’ house, back when I was a child/teenager/young man.

In those days I would often walk alone, away from the cottage, along these very roads. In today’s heat and middleage, heading towards the remembered place, I imagined that I might encounter some earlier version of myself walking the other way, strolling unconcerned. Perhaps, as in Derek Walcott’s poem Love After Love,

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

Maybe this wasn’t the time, though I did get a nice meal. Unlike my normal solo, narcissistic wanderings, today was to be a sociable occasion.

I met up with Jennie again down by Mentmore green, and we headed to the Stag to have lunch with Wendy, a friend and former colleague. Despite being a few minutes late already, I darted into an unmanned charity bookstall for a few seconds. A quick glance confirmed the lack of rare pulp, but based on the title I bought a book called Strange Holiday by Geoffrey Lapage. This turned out to be a Famous Five style children’s book in which a stretch of south Wales is transformed into ‘the country of the adventure’, complete with a map. Lapage has a varied output, including The Ladybird Book of Bedtime Rhymes and Nematodes parasitic in animals… but I digress.

Into the Stag, where a nice lunch was had.

We met up with Wendy’s husband Rich, and their awesome kids Finn and Ellie. While Jennie went off to a National Trust, we walked along a tree-lined avenue where I remember having picnics and climbing trees.

We ended up at another pub, in Cheddington. We hadn’t foiled any smugglers, but in a small way we had made the territory into a ‘map of adventure’. The walk, one of the shortest, was over… but the blogging isn’t.

To be continued

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