When it comes to organisational skills, it is hard to beat the Eldest of the Darling Daughters.
Like all Ace Organisers,
she does like to be proved right when organising, say, an outing to Chartwell, former home of Sir Winston Churchill. Standing at the ticket desk, collecting our pre-booked tickets, she positively crowed when told that she had been very wise to book because
that day’s tickets were almost sold out. When she overheard the next in line being told that the few remaining tickets were for a timed entry more than an hour later than ours, she glowed with delight.
With twenty-five minutes before our own timed entry, we decided to while away the time with a cup of coffee in the Café while trying to work out why some people were wearing pink badges while others (like the two of
us) were sporting green stickers on our tee-shirts. (Answer: pink stickers denoted National Trust members; green stickers the Rest of Us.) At this point my daughter suddenly remembered that the car park was Pay and Display of which she had done neither, so
had to leave me sitting in the sunshine (wondering whether it would be rude to open the packet of biscuits she had bought us to share before she rejoins me) while she hared back to the car to pay up.
It was, we worked out, at least fourteen years since the Eldest of the Darling Daughters visited Chartwell, while my last visit was around forty years ago. We both, however, have the same abiding memory of Churchill’s
study with its desk on which could be seen his cigar resting on an ash-tray, a copy of The Times newspaper folded as if half-read and a vase of freshly picked flowers - for all the world as if the Great Man had simply popped outside for a bit. It wasn’t,
it has to be said, quite as we remembered it, though we couldn’t prove anything as none of the volunteers, understandably, had been on duty forty years before.
Despite our probably faulty memories, Chartwell was magnificent in all it had to offer the visitor. We loved the dining room with its splendid outlook - how would guests ever drag their eyes away from the views in order to tuck into their roast turkey?
Churchill’s love of theatrics was shown off to a tee in the Uniform Room, where various of his clothes (including a green velvet siren suit with monogrammed slippers) were displayed, along with photographs of him wearing the exact clothes (siren suit
included, of course.) Here was an exhibition giving voice to Churchill’s wife, Clementine, who once wrote to her husband telling him that his abrupt manner risked losing the respect and admiration of those he commanded. She wavered before sending
it, we learnt, tearing it up, then deciding her direct, but kind, words needed to be read.
Outside we wandered happily along the Golden Rose Avenue, where the
Churchills planted the many roses bought them for their Golden Wedding and called in on Marycot, the Wendy House in the grounds with a toy stove and a table laid for afternoon tea. How the Twinkles would love it, we agreed.
Around the grounds we followed a children’s trail of butterflies, each carrying a national flag and the scrambled letters of the names of countries Churchill visited on his travels. We weren’t
stumped once - though we are, of course, grown-up and so expected to be able to translate SAU as USA...
Also in the grounds, a Butterfly House where Churchill
liked to watch the life cycle of the butterfly - from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis to butterfly - much as the Rascals and the (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys enjoyed the Butterfly Gardens I gave them earlier this year. Following in Winston’s footsteps,
had I but known it.
Most memorable of all, the views from the house over the glorious Kent countryside. It was so very easy to imagine Churchill gazing out over
the Weald and growling: “We shall never surrender!”
Some days out are Practically Perfect. This was one of them.