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Isn't it ironic -

Tuesday 20/10/2015

Debby Faulkner-Stevens

My husband, who has never had a foreign holiday, or any kind of holiday for that matter, never sat in the sun and spent most of his working life indoors in offices, barns or sheds, has had some patches of skin damage zapped with liquid nitrogen.

The information sheet from the clinic helpfully informed that there may be ‘slight local pain felt’, and we all know what that means, so, after treatment we decided to throw caution to the wind, abandon work for the rest of the day and go for a walk around one of favourite places, Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham, ( wearing caps of course ).

We have been going there for years; before the recent mega makeover with fancy visitor centre, restaurant and the obligatory shop. Back then there was a small Portacabin where you could get coffee, a bag of crisps or a sausage roll, but that was as commercial as it got, and the pleasure was all in wandering around the beautiful grounds and occasionally spotting an interesting addition to the monuments and temples by students at the school no doubt after carousing the night before. One that sticks in the mind is the statue of a Roman god with a fag placed carefully between stone fingers raised in what was probably intended to be a noble gesture, and an empty wine bottle tucked in the crook of it’s arm.

However, the point of this musing is to wonder what might have happened had my uncle, Alfred Bullard, succeeded  in his bid to buy the house, estate and properties when they came up for auction in the 1920’s.

Alfred was  a local legend, landowner, farmer, dealer in antiquities, archaeologist and entrepreneur,  and someone – not me – should do him justice by writing his biography. Sadly, he died the year I was born, but my childhood was filled with tales of his exploits, suitably censored I later discovered.

His marriage to my aunt was a minor sensation, he being 70 years old and she being just 20, and I have a copy of the account of the wedding that was featured in The Daily Mirror. They had a long and happy marriage and two daughters, and he ended his days, aged 92,  at his country estate at Oakley in Bedfordshire, where my parents did their courting.

He wrote articles for the Bucks Standard newspaper for many years and they make for very interesting reading, especially the one relating how he sent Lord Carnarvon, who had recently discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt, a recipe for preserving ancient leather and how he was invited by Carnarvon to join him on the expedition but was unable to go as he had a problem with his herd of pedigree Friesian cows. As compensation, Carnarvon sent Alfred two square soldered tins of Egyptian cigarettes with his compliments.

It is probably wise to read Alfred's writing with a pinch of salt, and there is quite a bit of name dropping, 'The first time I met George Bernard Shaw ...' etc, but it is perfectly true that in 1921, when the Ducal estate of Stowe came up for sale, Alfred, after securing backing from his bank in Newport Pagnell, was there bidding in earnest but lost out after he had bid up to £1000 more than the bank had agreed to. 'I think it was the greatest disappointment of my life', he said, 'I would have made a good fortune out of it'.

And Alfred’s plan for Stowe?

To turn it in to a British version of Hollywood.

He had realised the fantastic opportunities afforded by the newly emerging movie industry and saw Stowe as a 'cinema school – it had everything required for certain pictures – lakes, waterfalls, caves, temples, ornamental old bridges, wonderful architectural monuments, rustic and rural views, etc'.

He was always proud to say he was the under bidder for Stowe, and soothed the disappointment a little by buying some rare wines and also two ancient statues that he sold to the British Museum, but I always wondered what would have happened had he succeeded in his wonderful plans? It may have all crashed in a spectacular fashion with the advent of the second world war and been requisitioned as a hospital, he may have made a fortune and sold it all, he may have gone bankrupt, who knows?

Last week, instead of showing our National Trust membership cards and spending half an hour over a coffee after our walk, Alan and I might have been standing behind the Temple of British Worthies watching Daniel Craig dispatching a villain as they filmed the latest Bond Movie, or said 'Hi!'  to Terry Gilliam as he checked out the Gothic Temple for a new project. I might have even had a job designing sets!

Nice to speculate, but we are still very pleased to be able to walk in the lovely landscape, take some time away from the hustle and bustle and get some inspiration for new work ... 

Stowe Landscape Gardens Stowe Landscape Gardens StoweStowe

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