I remember when it all ended for me and my wife. Even as the transaction was complete I felt some of my life-force slip away from me, like we’d taken a shortcut into our autumnal years. I looked down at the little circular sticker that I’d just been presented with and all it said to me was: IT’S OVER FOR YOU. We were members of the National Trust.
We joined up in March last year at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge. Wimpole has a working farm and terrific selection of ginger pigs. We were seduced. Since then I have attended only a few events that might possibly described as youthful. This summer I went to a music festival on an industrial estate in Peckham Rye. And even though the dancefloor was filled with people of my own age, I felt decrepit.
The stigma of NT membership fixed itself to me around like the stench of homemade preserve. I shuffled around as if ‘ANCIENT’ had been branded onto my forehead. All I could do was to loiter sheepishly in the wings and tap my foot arrhythmically. I may as well have been a chaperone, a fusty old dad only there to pick up his kids. I was a member of the National Trust, the oak branch logo lit in the sky above me like the Bat signal.
The motto of the National Trust is “for ever, for everyone”. But mainly for old people. There seems to have been a concerted push to appeal to younger families, but in truth there isn’t a vast amount to do for a small child. They introduced an activity list for children, but it’s mostly things you can do on your doorstep, like making out farm animals in cloud formations or rounding up beetles. On a doorstep.
If there is an adventure playground then it isn’t very adventurous, perhaps a small curve of tree stumps to skip along. At Easter and Christmas treasure trails are offered, mostly perfunctory copy-and-paste jobs from the year before. If you are lucky, somewhere in the grounds there might be an angry owl on the end of a rope and a man in an oven glove waiting to show it off.
But I don’t regret signing up. Because even if there isn’t a great deal to do, National Trust properties are nice places to be. They’re always kempt, the woodwork always freshly chalk-painted, and you can set your watch by the jam scones in the cafes. I believe that they may have found the perfect baked spud and cheese and cloned it.
There is something affirmingly democratic about how the National Trust allows the population at large to scurry and nose around what used to be exclusive domains of toffs. Our preferred NT property is Polesden Lacey, where the Queen’s mum and dad had their honeymoon. Its history doesn’t register with our kids. When you are running off your cloned jacket potato on the vast rolling slopes, nothing does.