The sum­mer of con­tent

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

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)

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