The summer of content
SUMMER means Shakespeare. My annual birthday treat is a trip to Stratford-upon-avon, a town with a no-holds-bard (geddit?) approach to ‘Shakespearising’ every last local business. There’s Othello Taxis, Cordelia for clothing, The Food Of Love restaurant and Iago Jewellers (would you trust it?). Purists might frown, but, for me, it adds to the fun, just as it did at Tintagel before King Arthur’s car park was renamed by some killjoy.
‘I’d heard tell that they’re useful on safari for avoiding lions’
Our children behave best on the water, for some reason, so we grab every opportunity to get afloat. At Stratford, you can row up and down the beautiful Avon admiring the banks of green willow and the pearly freshwater mussels just beneath the surface. Smart houses border the river and I was envying the people who live in them before realising, in this Grand Designs era, what a trial it must be to hear loud criticisms from every passing expert of their garden furniture, nouveau boathouse and decision to stick with that 1970s iron balustrade.
My children are good rowers, but my husband likes to punt. We both did in student days, but I’ve long since lost the urge to stand on a slippery platform grappling with a mud-stuck pole as dirty water runs down my armpit. Jon has retained his punting bottle, however, and nobly propelled us up and down the Avon for hours, attracting plenty of attention. ‘Look at that guy in the gondola,’ cried some children, but others had no idea what he was doing at all.
Our sponsorship of arcane leisure pursuits doesn’t stop at punting. Nine Men’s Morris is a fantastically recondite game, popular with the Tudors, that Jon suspects someone made up for a joke—but, if they had, there wouldn’t be a pitch laid out in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, would there?
As far as we can see, it involves balancing on the spot, hopping forward and shoving other people over really hard. It’s fun and quite violent. Why isn’t it an Olympic sport?
Besides the Shakespeare at Stratford fix, there’s usually a local performance en plein air at Chatsworth. An enterprising troupe called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men arrives each year to perform on the lawns before the house. Last year, it was Twelfth Night on a balmy evening; this year, it was Much Ado About Nothing in cold mists more appropriate to Macbeth.
The actors are all men who dress as women, as per the original performances; they all take several different parts. Much Ado is a complicated plot, all the more so as we’d arrived too late to get a perch in front of the stage and it wasn’t always easy to hear. My modest intake of Prosecco further confused things.
Happily, there was an opportunity next day to put this right. Partly in reaction to all this Shakespeare, the children wanted to go to the multiplex to see Star Trek Beyond. I took a copy of Much Ado, a book light and earplugs. Seated at the back, book light concealed under my coat, I got to grips with Beatrice, Benedick and the rest as, on the screen in front, Capt Kirk saved the universe yet again. It seemed all fireballs and shouting. And the film was pretty noisy, too.
The Defender is back at the garage, but it’s not the mysterious engine grumble for once. It’s having a roof rack put on—being crowned, we call it— so I can stick on top the children’s bikes we bought during the last holiday, a purportedly cheap project that seems to be becoming stratospherically expensive.
As I was delivering the Defender, the garage owner asked me if I’d ever considered fitting a tent to the top of it. I’d heard tell that they’re useful on safari for avoiding lions, but my friend revealed they could be used just as well in Brighton and are comfortable and simple to operate. None of that fight ing to push wire-frame tents back in their bags only to have them burst out again when you’re on the fast lane of the motorway, like the high point of a zombie film.
‘Ah,’ I said, spotting the obvious problem. ‘You can only fit two people in a Land Rover tent. And there are four of us.’
My friend explained that he’d recently been on holiday with six others in his Defender. As he reclined in the ‘penthouse’, the rest were accommodated in hammocks slung in the vehicle’s inside. Two children would have more than enough room to swing a cat, not to mention all the paddle-boarding equipment I’m currently under pres sure to buy.
A good Land Rover tent apparently costs about £2,000. Perhaps I should just accept the inevitable: sell the house and move into the car?
Wendy Holden’s latest novel is Wild and Free (Headline, £7.99)