National Trust, outings, day trips

Grown Up Fun... I Promise

26 Jun 2015

I am now a grown up. It's true, it happened. It has nothing to do with my age - so you needn't prepare yourself for some anguish ridden litany lamenting the passing of the years. In fact, I'm actually quite relaxed about the whole thing.

What has brought on this epiphany? It's probably not what you're thinking. Sure, there probably have been at least a few indicators before now, I agree. I have a mortgage. I own a house. That's pretty grown up, right? I have to maintain it, too; I have to spend money on it. (Fascias? What possible entertainment am I going to get from paying for maintenance on fascias?)

Being married? Turns out that being married is actually a lot of fun... surely nothing like being a grown up at all.

Being a Dad? Well, that was certainly an eye-opener ("You mean we can take this baby home? On our own? And no-one is going to check up on us?"). But no, that's not it either; after the first few discussions of the finer nuances of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie with your 5 year old son, all notions of maturity quickly fade.

I can bleed a radiator. I can change a tyre. I contribute to a pension plan. I can come up with approximate definitions for terms like 'ISA' and 'tracker'. I have a Will. I have life insurance.

I have a plastic bag in which I store other plastic bags.

And none of these really made me feel like a grown up.

Not even the realisation that Will Smith is now older than the character Uncle Phil was in 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air' when it first aired ("AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!") didn't do it for me.

Nope, it was one, single act - and it's connected to the pale blue sticker in the front wind-screen of our car.

We have become members of the National Trust.

Let me explain...

It's not because we have any great desire for flip-up sunglasses or egg-cress sandwiches. It's not because we need any more tea-towels or home-baked scones.

It's because day trips out with the kids can get expensive, and the admission costs at National Trust properties is pretty dear. No, they're downright expensive. So how do you justify the costs?

If you care about preservation, you should definitely consider it. Historically, the National Trust has had a bit of a reputation for perpetuating a fairly blinkered interpretation of the "preservation" that it claims to promote: enormous, expensive houses from an era long-gone, designed to cultivate the notion that the only version of British history worth preserving was the elite, Downton-Abbey version. (Let's face it, if you're going to nosey around someone else's gaff, you at least want to be doing it with a little envy, right?). But since they added attractions such as Mr Straw's house, the Back to Backs in Birmingham, or the Beatles houses in Liverpool to the mix, these reputations are slowly being eroded. And let's not ignore the 742 miles of coastline they maintain, or the 618,000 acres of farmland that they lease to 2,000 farmers, or the four 'World Heritage' sites that they upkeep (the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast, Dorset and East Devon Coast, Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscapes and Hadrian’s Wall, if you're interested)... Clubbing together and buying up swathes of countryside for future generations to enjoy? Couldn't be more socialist if they tried: the 200 million visits that they get to their countryside each year outnumber the 20 million visits to their houses and gardens by ten to one.

So, there are decent, altruistic reasons to give the National Trust your pennies. But don't forget - you get to enjoy it all, too. And, when you have already paid, you can justify just popping in, rather than feeling that you have to stay all day "to get your money's worth". But the membership really comes into its own on holidays or long car journeys - lots of properties are close to the motorway network, and just a 10 minute drive will take you to the very nicest 'motorway service station' you've ever visited: proper tea or coffee, nice cakes, lovely fresh air, and a totally rejuvenated family at the end. Most NT properties have huge grounds and great walks, perfect for children as there are interesting gardens, statues, follies, duckponds, mills, streams, ice-houses - not to mention the legendary box-hedging, manicured so sharply that you could shave on them; quite often we don't even bother to go in the house, although it's always nice to be able to pop our heads in briefly, knowing we don't have to pay anything extra; there's space to let the dog run... it ticks a lot of boxes for us. And, given this year's announcement that they are embarking on a £1bn, 10-year plan to rejuvenate even more of the British countryside, this is only set to get better and better.

You might think that, if you live in London, then there's no point, but really there are a some terrific places just off the M25. If you're prepared to lug your stuff for a bit, you can get away from the raucous children's playgrounds ("he's not badly behaved, he's just energetic") where my wife and I now spend most of our time, trying to pretend that they aren't really our children, and enjoy some genuine peace and quiet, as well as some incredible history: one in ten of the museums in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are looked after by the NT. In the last few years, opening times have improved dramatically, which helps enormously.

So, that's what we now do, enjoying one of their 3.5 million cups of tea sold per year, and try to convince ourselves that it isn't as grown-up as it feels.

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