Posted by Oli on Sunday 3rd August, 2008
Today we spent another brilliant day in the company of K’s cousins Agi and Tibi, over from Hungary for the week for a break fomr their competely hectic work lives.
Last weekend we had taken them off on a tour around MK, taking in the sites of the snowdome, Borders, bowling at the MegaBowl and dinner in the Hub. Today we went off to be proper tourists and see Shakespeare’s birth place.
We arrived in the late morning and immediately set about seeing what there was to see. I’ve only been to Stratford one before, when I was in my early teens and probably not all that interested in tatty mementos and old buildings – certainly not interested enough to remember it at all.
This time, though, I was much more aware of what I was there to see, which was largely old buildings and tacky, tatty mementos. Not to mention the world’s largest collection of shops, pubs, clubs, amusements and activities with “Shakespeare” in their name. There is a serious lack of originality to Stratford, which is ironic (or fitting, depending on your perspective) considering it’s place in the story of Britain’s Bard.
Rather than pay through the nose to stand in an enormous queue through some fairly attractive gardens before spending 5 minutes being herded through an old house that’s only claim to fame was having a playwright born there, we instead opted to jump on the hop on, hop off bus tour of Stratford, which would take us outside the city limits and off to Anne Hathaway’s cottage. And yes, we were looked at strangely for jumping on a bus whose intention is for hopping, but we like to be different.
The Hathaway’s cottage, quite apart from being a lovely old building in a beautiful countryside setting, is fantastic entertainment.
The “tour” of the cottage (which actually has, I think, 6 bedrooms and lots of other things too (you can tell I was listening hard, can’t you?)) consists mostly of one man standing in the parlour explaining the history of the time and about a dozen English phrases which were coined from habits of the time, including “cold shoulder”, “stop-gap” and “turning the tables”. This lead, rather unwittingly, to a running joke between us for the rest of the day about how certain phrases came about. Hence the phrase “running joke”. (well, it was funny at the time).
The majority of the “tour” – and it really does have to be placed in inverted commas – is taken up with the guide explaining that, essentially, Shakespeare would never have lived there and may have visited while they were courting, although it’s not certain, just a decent supposition.
Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare, his slim volume on the life of England’s greatest poet (again, depending on your views), is esstially a collection of all the published wisdom on Shakespeare through his life and amounts to a slim non-fiction novel explaining that we actually know absolutely nothing about Shakespeare whatsoever. In fact, there are only three point in Shakespeare’s life when we know with 100% certainty where he was – the day he was born, the day he got married and the day he died. The rest is all pure specualtion and guess-work.
Hopping back on the bus (doing it the proper way this time), the heavens had opened and forced us onto the lower deck. After five minutes riding down there, though, I decided it was too much like a normal bus ride, missing as we were our knowledgeable and informative personal guide from the first bus and reliant instead as we were on a pre-recorded, barely-audible audio description which semed to mostly cover sheep, the most enlightening section of which anounced that Warwickshire in Shakespeares time was a farming county, as opposed, we surmised, to the now infamous Buckinghamshire pole dancing county. Unimpressed as I was and seeing that the rain had stopped, I shepherded us on the the open-top upper deck where we all coated our butts in fresh rainwater from the seats, whilst giggling like schoolgirls all the way back into town.
Following a late luch at a pub surprisingly not named after anything Shakespearean, we crossed the road to a large carousel K had spotted on our way past. After spending 5 minutes larking around on pogo-horse which disappointingly failed to pull a Mary Poppins and leap from their confines off into a fun, colourful world of animated penguins, we all began to get somewhat bored and spent the follow 5 minutes of the seemingly endless merry-go-round wishing we could just jump off. Tibi did manage to switch horses mid-stream though, which was pretty impressive and not unentertaining.
Strolling back through Stratford towards the car, we stopped in at various little shops and authentic-looking buildings which have now been turned into banks, coffee bars and Woolworths. Sad, but sadly not uncommon.
After getting home and dining with K’s ‘rents we had jsut enough time to have a gander through Agi and Tibi’s pictures of the week (including todays) before we shot off home and clambered into bed for an early night before busy days tomorrow, K at work and me back down at Harefield.