The rain thrummed against the windscreen as I sat on the M25 London orbital motorway. It was not the day to visit a National Trust property renowned for its beautiful gardens.
I permitted myself a long sigh as the windscreen wipers gesticulated wildly back and forth. Carol on the BBC Weather forecast had not mentioned a drop fo rain. Tuesday, she said it was to come. It’s Friday, I informed the clouds glumly. Go away.
They did not heed me and as I drove I reminded myself of my iron strategy for happiness. One day a week, however hatstand it seems, get in the car and go to a haunt. It might be a museum, or a house, or a town but anything, anything , to stop you thinking about work and rebalance you.
I shall, I shall, I intoned like Thomas The Tank Engine as I penetrated the deeper recesses of Surrey, and drove finally, amid stair-rod rain, into the car park.
I had no umbrella. Carol had said sun.
So, inventively, I hopped under each conker tree’s spreading canopy until I reached the gatehouse. Then it was but a sprint to the ticket office and I was bewailing Carol The Weather Lady with the National Trust ticket office girl.
“They never mentioned a word of this rain!” I exclaimed, and she nodded and her eyes widened and we discussed the whole sorry debacle with animation.
I got my ticket and started the long wet walk to the house. And a voice said:”Are you going up to the house? Would you like to share my umbrella?”
The heavenly angels sung and I said yes, please, and we began ambling along in the lush green and the Summer rain. And as we ambled, we talked. I said I had driven for nearly an hour to get here; and it transpired my rescuers had come much further, from Worthing by the sea. But it’s worth it, they said. It’s a lovely house.
They filled me in on snippets of history as the great drops fell, and we arrived at the portico in fine fooling.
It is very dark inside Polesden Lacey. This is because, though it is relatively modern – it had its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century, hosting weekend parties for the rich, the royal and the famous – it is stuffed with the artefacts bought by the lady who breathed endearingly theatrical life into it. The daughter of a very prosperous brewer indeed, at 28 Margaret Anderson married very well: Ronald Henry Fulke Greville. Money would never have been an object.
She was a party girl who never had children, but left us an astonishing bauble to make us happy. A friend of Queen Mary, the Queen Mother honeymooned at Polesden Lacey, and on her death, Margaret left her all her jewels, including a stunning diamond necklace of Marie Antoinette’s.
I ambled into the dining room and tuned into a guide’s conversation. “This,” she was confiding, gesturing at an elaborate covered bowl decorated with porcelain food, “reputedly belonged to Catherine The Great.”
Every room was filled with lovely things which made one happy just to look at them. China dogs, sparkling lavish chandeliers, august oil paintings. One just had to smile.
And smile the people did, as they pottered round inspecting the contents of the house like Lobelia Sackville Baggins and her clan. “This shows, ” expostulated one woman enthusiastically and with vigour,”that if you want anything enough you can create it. What an extraordinary woman.”
From the young, perfectly groomed man with the cut glass accent, explaining the decor to his attentive mother to the retired couples who had driven here for a Friday off; everyone had their reason for being here. But they weren’t passively drifting. They were gloriously happy, caught up in the story of a brewer’s daughter who became one of the most lavish society hostesses of her time.
The place is a recipe – even on a rainy day – for happiness.
Written in response to Side View’s theme: Happiness, the details of which you can find here