Even though I am proudly Australian, I’m also reasonably English. My ancestry was all English not that far back.
On my mother’s side, it goes back to a bunch of Methodist brothers – actual brothers, not in a monkish sense -who left England in the mid to late 1800s because Victorian England wasn’t uptight enough for them. This side of the family has been exhaustively traced back to what appears to be homo erectus days and I could give you the whole story if I didn’t habitually tune out when my Mother talks of this.
On my father’s side they are less forthcoming, basically as my great grandfather was called up to the British Army just before WWI. He was being shipped to India to perform his duty when he suddenly developed a great enthusiasm for sports: he dived over the side of the ship in Sydney harbour, swam for shore and then ran quite a distance. If he’d stolen a bicycle he could have invented the triathlon.
So, I have an English pedigree, I grew up in a country town full of English, Scottish and Irish shipworkers and I married the English-born Lady Devotea.
Much of Australia is quite English and in particular our national broadcaster, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, previously Commission) has a fair whack of English TV on it.
And then there’s Australian history: the squalid convict era, the “national hero” who was a police-murdering thug, the greed- and misery-driven gold rush and the wiping out of the Tasmanian Aborigines- it’s a short and grubby history we have here. Certainly we have invented a massive amount of stuff and have Nobel prizes etc. coming out of our ears; our military history consists of brilliance under our own leadership and dismal failure under others and our sporting history is ridiculously impressive for such a lowly-populated place, but overall, if we want history, best to stick to world history in general and English in particular.
One of the most interesting forms of history is the history of dwellings; and when in the UK last year, Lady Devotea and I spent much time in neolithic camps, prehistoric fenlands, Roman ruins, Anglo-Saxon embankments, mediaeval houses and grand Georgian/Victorian and Edwardian mansions.
And so, when it comes to TV, there is a group of three programmes that the ABC shows at 6pm weekdays in rotation. We find it unmissable.
There’s Restoration Man, where architect George Clarke gets stuck in to helping people who have bought neglected architectural treasures and want to bring them back to life, despite bureaucracy, lack of funds and the sheer stupidity of doing so. It is my favourite of the three.
There’s Restoration House, which is virtually the same show except that it is hosted by actress Caroline Quentin and is a lesser quality show. Ms. Quentin has less to offer, although the show features an engaging architectural historian as well as a less engaging lisping historian of the most condescending sort.
And finally, there’s Country House Rescue. This is different to the others in that often the houses are much, much grander and have often been in the family for hundreds and hundreds of years. They tend to be falling apart and going broke, but they are often quite tremendous estates with lakes and woods and tenant farmers and incredible outbuildings. The hosts of the show (there have been two) have extensive experience in business and the idea is that they help these ‘poor’ individuals to save the house for (their) future generations.
This nearly always involves building a tea room, though often the quality of tea is lacking. It seems obvious to me that tracking down and using the various teaware used on Downton Abbey would be a sure-fire recipe for success.
Anyway, the people concerned are often chinless wonders who are approaching their dotage whilst the house crumbles, or the next generation who have moved back in with their new young family as Mater and Pater retire to a cottage on the premises, only to find the bank manager is due tomorrow with his hand out and the drawing room roof has just collapsed.
Sometimes they are people that have bought a grand house with a vision of rescuing it, using every penny they have. Good on them.
But what do you do if there are no buyers; and the next generation does not want it or does not exist? The answer on at least three occasions is to leave it to your godson.
Yes, the old tradition of appointing someone as some sort of in loco parentis reserve in the case of a precipitous parental departure from the field of play can have a significant effect on the baby concerned a few decades down the track.
So, where parents have been smart enough to ask the local land-owing confirmed bachelor to be the godparent of their bundle of joy, big rewards can be forthcoming.
Now, I know nothing about the whole godparents/godson relationship. It’s an old tradition, I was raised by parents to whom religion was unimportant at best and I never had godparents. If I had they might have been the local greengrocer, which is hardly compares to some bloke getting 94-room mansion on 1200 acres in Lancashire, just because his parents asked the right person to sprinkle a bit of holy water or whatever it is they do.
So here’s the offer: if you are childless, well into old age and have a huge country house somewhere nice, I will consider being your godson. Please apply via this blog. Send a photo of the house and your medical and financial records.
After all, you know your future tea room will be in good hands when you shuffle off this mortal coil.