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Monday, 3 June 2013

Hever Castle, and why 'just friends' can literally mean 'just friends'

One thing I’m asked a lot – by nearly everyone I know – and sometimes more than once, after they’ve given it a decent interval of a few months to see if I’ve changed my mind, is whether I fancy my flatmate George.
I hate being asked this as not only would I like to think my friends and family know me better (apart from my mother, who is a cross between Mrs Bennet and Patricia Hodge in ‘Miranda’ in her attempts to get me married off. When I was 16 she asked if I wanted to switch to a mixed school, from my all girls school, so I could 'meet some boys'. You know, the normal concern of any mother of a teenage girl), but also because when you have to deny something it makes you look like you’re lying. 

People take their information from romantic comedies and view every staunch denial from me as proof that I don’t know my own heart, and that one day I’ll wake up and I’ll just know, but oh my gosh he’s leaving the country today, well I have to go after him, and cue the Coldplay music – and the run to the airport... I do a backflip at security for no reason and a kindly stranger gives me his ticket so I can board the plane - and then the other passengers totally don't mind their journey being held up as we have a suitably witty but affecting conversation / kiss. And then I'm arrested. But it's ok I'm white and I'm a girl so I can't be a terrorist, and even the airport security men are smiling really, because, ahh, love. Right? (Actually. That's not half bad, I'm going to write that down somewhere else and maybe work on it later).

I will admit that I do exhibit all the classic signs of being the protagonist in a rom-com. I'm clumsy (yesterday evening I sliced the tip of my thumb when cutting chillies - yeah, bit stingy). I really care about my job (those women! When will they learn that they also need a man to complete their lives?) and complete strangers often offer comment on my life. In a coffee shop yesterday a barista upgraded my cappuccino to 'strong' and in response to my 'Er, do I look tired?' just smiled, turned to the guy at the machine and shouted 'STRONG CAPPUCCINO!'. I'll take that as a yes. 

So I understand why it might seem like in true Richard Curtis heroine style the answer to the problem was STARING ME IN THE FACE ALL ALONG. But honestly, no.  

I don’t know how to explain why we’re just friends – we just are. We met in the first year at University, where we were in the same seminars because our surnames are close together in the alphabet. In second year we bonded over a love of Modernism and thinking we were better at reading T.S Eliot than everyone else (to be fair – he is). In third year we spent 90% of our time sitting in Senate House Library working on our dissertations, so we bonded much like troops at war bond over horrific experiences. He’s also the only person who gets me when I shout ‘post-Colonialism!’. That English degree was worth every penny.

Anyway. He is brilliant – he’s intelligent and funny, and easy-going, and we have loads in common, and he’s the only one in our house who takes out the recycling, ever, and he doesn’t throw it back in my face like I would do if I ever took out the recycling (which I hardly ever do, and even when I do I take more than I can comfortably carry so he feels bad and then takes half of it and basically it was my turn but he ended up helping. I am the worst). He’s also sensitive, and good at talking about ‘feelings’ (which I’m not) – and would make an excellent boyfriend. In fact, I would recommend him as a boyfriend to any of my friends – 'A+++++++ - Excellent boyfriend material' (if this was Ebay).

But the thing is we've always only ever, ever been just friends. He's like my brother, and not in a Game of Thrones way (which, incidentally, we love - more on this in a bit). Now I have a brother, and I think he is really handsome. It's something I coo at him encouragingly as he pulls a face at family functions and refuses to be in the photos. This is before he slaps my hand away from his hair and tells me to f-off. 

BUT IMAGINE KISSING YOUR BROTHER/SISTER – OH MY GOSH. VOM, RIGHT? And not because you don’t like them as person, or think they're good looking, but because it is LITERALLY INCONCEIVABLE that you could see them in that way. And imagine someone asked if you'd ever be more than just brother or sister and you said 'No' and they said 'Why, don't you fancy them?'. You'd struggle to convey just how much that was irrelevant. 

Well anyway, that’s what it’s like. He’s just a friend. 

One day we may very well get married (purely for tax reasons) and go off to live in the country, maybe buy a couple of Tamagotchis, start reading the Daily Express. But for now we’re cool as we are.

Having said all this, I can see why people ask. We do act like an old married couple. 

We go on day trips on bank holidays, cook elaborate dinners together (the time we did Esther Walker’s 'Salmon en croute' was truly a brilliant day. We spent a lot of that evening striding around the house declaring how brilliant we were and looking for more things to en croute. Seriously. It was exceptional) and have a fixed and immutable Monday evening routine where we watch Game of Thrones and scream ‘DRAGONZ’ and drink too much wine and get a bit emotional about having to wait a whole week for the next episode. Actually that last bit might be just me. ('Ahh, Brienne and the Kingslayer! She called him JAMIE! I haz all the feels now')

Anyway. Last Monday we decided to go to Hever Castle in Kent for the bank holiday. I love a castle, and Hever was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, so it was time to get my history dork on.

The train journey was uneventful, apart from a particularly awkward conversation about whether being plastered all over each other’s Facebook walls was putting off potential girlfriends/boyfriends. I say 'conversation', I mean more me going white and staring into the middle distance and George repeatedly shouting 'I HONESTLY WISH I HAD NEVER MENTIONED IT. PLEASE. PLEASE JUST FORGET I SAID ANYTHING' (seriously – is that what’s holding you all back?! Read the above and then call me. But please, form an orderly queue. Eddie Redmayne don't push in front of David Tennant like that! You went to Eton, you should know better).

Ignoring the ‘road’ as being too mainstream, and not at all exciting enough, we decided to cut through a field. 

We walked through a field of sheep and sheep poo (are you reading this mother? I probably definitely stepped in some) and George played the Shire music from Lord of the Rings, as we got a bit lost and had to walk back to where we’d come. This is after we'd proudly declared 'We are excellent at The Country' just because we'd managed to climb over a stile.

Although it was only 12:30, when we stumbled across an amazing pub with a beer garden it would have been rude not to have ordered a pint of ice-cold orange juice and lemonade, and then a pretty substantial lunch. 

Lamb burger. After we'd walked through a field of baby lambs. 
Just as we’d finished our meal George picked up the numbered-wooden spoon on the table and said ‘er – just look over there’


‘Just trust me’

So I turned my head as he CAME AT MY FACE WITH A WOODEN SPOON

‘What are you doing?!!’

‘You had a spider on you’

Apparently the easiest way to get a spider off someone is to flick it off with a wooden spoon. I mean he’s generally great but my gosh he has his moments.

So – Hever. On arrival we found that we’d ‘Just missed the Edwardian children’s fancy dress parade’ – and upon hearing this news George waved his fists at the sky and shouted ‘Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’. 

(Luckily for him, moments like those make up for the times where he tries to remove spiders from my face using a wooden spoon). 

Hever was beautiful, and as we walked over the hill towards it we could hear the sound of a brass band playing Dambusters (it was either Dambusters or Skyfall, we couldn't really tell, but give those guys a break they're all 80 if they're a day). 

It’s a stunning castle, and it’s DOUBLE MOATED (double the moat!!) and is really symmetrical – the gardens are beautifully designed.  We thought we’d do the gardens first, and made our way round them to the boating lake.

That's us 

Now it turns out, surprising I know, that I’m not very good at rowing. So I sat back and let George do all the work as we listened to THIS.

  Land owning multi-bazillionaire William Waldorf-Astor bought the castle in 1903. Imagine how amazing it would have been to be one of the Astor girls. Imagine you lived there! Like Downton Abbey, but with boats! (No, I don't mean that new 'Titanic' Julian Fellowes did last year... yeah Drownton Abbey, no I didn't see it). 

You know, kedgeree for breakfast, pop your corset on, stroll down to the boating lake, get rowed about a bit, twirl your parasol (incidentally - I have the exact right skin-tone for 1903) and turn down various rich gentlemen until one comes along with the exact right combination of elaborate Victorian facial hair and diamond-mine investments to tempt you. Not bad for a Tuesday.

Because it’s not actually 1903, and because feminism, I made a token offer to do some rowing for a bit, which George accepted, until I rowed us into a willow tree, and then dangerously close to a ‘weir’ – which apparently is a MINI WATERFALL. So he took the oars again as I apologised and sat back and thought maybe all the men of 1903 had a point – women are rubbish sometimes.

Luckily my camera has an 'olden times' setting

This is the weir upon which we nearly died 
Safely back on land we decided to get an ice cream, but on a wander round the Italian gardens I may have like, not entirely seen a step and then kind of twisted my ankle. I think I was admiring a stone urn filled with flowers, or something, it was all a bit decadent and I'd maybe taken this weak female thing to heart.

 I was in a fair bit of pain but I come from a long line of martyrs (hi mum!) and didn’t want to ruin the day, so although I couldn’t stand on it immediately afterwards I just sat down for a bit and said ‘I’m fine, no really I’m fine’ a lot (I wasn't) – then when I could stand just carried on and walked on it. Maybe not the best idea – but I am very brave. Inspirational, some might say.
Incidentally, a second after I’d twisted it a man in full Edwardian dress, leading a tour group, strolled right past. I swear - it’s like the Universe doesn't want me to be taken advantage of by a blackguard. If he’d been there two seconds earlier we could have done a Marianne/Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility. Not to be.

I stood on the sidelines and let George play in the water maze – which wasn’t as hard as all these kids were making it out to be (amateurs).

Then we walked back round to the castle itself. Here’s George with a beautiful sports car. I also took a picture with it, but I won’t show you it as he looks better with it – his natural sense of entitlement just shines through and makes it look like he actually does own it. Annoying.

The castle was interesting (I stood in Anne Boleyn’s bedroom!) but was a bit like Downton meets The Tudors. Everything that looked Tudor had been built in 1930 something so it was all terribly, terribly vulgar. New money, you know.

What Anne Boleyn would have seen from her bedroom! Well, before the incident at least

 They also had some truly heinous original 1960s décor. I guess you can be the richest girl of the season but all that money can’t buy you taste, can it?

I don't even know what is happening here
I get that they wanted to exploit the Anne Boleyn thing, but they’d turned it into a ‘Henry VIII and his six wives’ exhibition – which I thought was a bit harsh. Oh, here’s a portrait of Jane Seymour, who finally gave Henry the son he wanted. Well that’s great for her, really. 

Imagine you married a man, had a number of miscarriages, then he had you beheaded for adultery/witchcraft, and then hundreds of years later your CHILDHOOD HOME was turned into an exhibition of LIFE SIZED WAX MODELS OF ALL THE WIVES WHO CAME AFTER YOU AS WELL.

I was also a bit annoyed by a mum who asked her five year old daughter ‘Which one do you think is the prettiest?’ Way to parent your daughter.

 ('Now darling, which one did her duty as a wife and heir-breeder and wasn't executed like the French whore she was? Oh, look at Kathryn Howard's headdress - isn't it a beautiful colour?')

My favourite rooms were towards the end, where we learnt about William Waldorf-Astor, who made his ridiculous fortune through hotels and at one point owned most of New York. 

One photo was of a friend of his who visited Hever but had to crash-land his FLYING BOAT-PLANE into the river. Some people know how to do excessive riches with style – and it is in no way wasted on them. Well done that man. I didn't catch his name - he probably died soon after in a freak accident somewhere trying to catch a white lion in a butterfly net. Again - some people know how to live.

'How are my stocks doing, Charlie?'
'A twelfty-billion percent return, you say?'
 After I’d checked on my investments it was time to go. I couldn’t do a jump shot because my ankle was still knacked (did I mention how brave I was being about that?) but George did some brilliant ones. I did a half-hearted ‘welcome to my crib’ one but it’s not as good – I know.
King of the jump shot

Trains back from Hever were hourly, and we'd just missed one, so we had time for a walnut and coffee cake. We also saw ‘future Katie’ in the café. This was an old woman that we’d seen throughout the day a few times. George suggested that she was ‘future Katie’ as we had only seen her doing the following things:

1)   Complaining 
2)   Reading a book
3)   Eating cake

Conclusive evidence. Future George wasn’t there – so maybe we never get that Tamagotchi. Or maybe I’d left him at home to sort the recycling. 

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