This weekend I enjoyed being part of millionaires’ country house party. Not a real one – you understand. But a rather clever way of dressing up a tour of the National Trust’s Upton House near Banbury. As each visitor arrived, we were greeted as your Grace, your Worship etc by a lady in flapper-esque attire and assured that our servants would be already unloading your luggage, placing jewellery in the strong room and when we needed to dress for dinner. Complete with interjections from an accompanying ‘Lady Londonderry’, we then went round the house hearing not just what the weekend activities would consist of (cricket on the lawn, hunting in the season, dinner at 8.30….) but learning something of the house’s owner the founder of the Shell Oil Company. Occasionally, you had to reassure the ‘hostess’ that your valet had told the butler what wines you drank and that you had seen the latest decor in the Savoy. Even the cocktails were described with the ‘earthquake’ apparently being a la mode. This concoction of every alcohol under the sun was said to leave you in a such a state that an earthquake could occur and you wouldn’t care!
Roll holiday on to today when I was watching a video in the very poorly advertised Museum of Oxford. In it, Tony Robinson’s voice acclaims a 17th Century painting of river traffic on the Cherwell. He then remarks that it was a bit like someone painting a junction on the M40 today. A point I mulled over as I meandered back through Cornmarket Street where a beautiful lath and timber house – now a fast food outlet is cheek and jowl with a 60’s Stalinist box in the ‘Woolworths’ style. For the questions that must be asked are– what should we be preserving of our culture for future generations? How should we be keeping buildings and customs and even the trivialities of 21st Century safe? Indeed, what will bring our world alive to those who visit it from the future ?