Like all good Bloomsburies, I like to escape to the countryside now and again. Last weekend I headed to the heart of Dorset, with the Gentleman Caller and our theatrical friends Andrew and Fiona. It was a weekend of many thrills, but also a surprising number of literary associations.
Dorset is, of course, Hardy country, where Thomas Hardy mined a rich seam of muddy misery. Dorchester, the handsome county town, was the model for Casterbridge, where the mayor sold his wife in the market. The lovely green fields supposedly inspired the acres of mud that poor Tess Darbyfield yomped through on her way to dig potatoes, milk cows or rescue her feckless family from ruin.
Hardy was a frequent visitor to another literary figure, TE Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia. We too dropped by at his charming, austere little cottage, Clouds Hill, down the road from the Bovington Tank Corps where he was stationed for a few years.
It was utterly delightful; a real boys’ own camp-house, with few furnishings and an improvised air. Above the door is a Greek inscription that apparently (oh, for a classical education) translates as ‘I don’t care!’.
The little exhibition told us this was inspired by a classical tale of a prince who lost his chance of marrying a king’s daughter, because he got drunk at the engagement banquet, stood on his head on the table and waved his legs in the air. Told that he had danced away his chance of a bride, he continued his upside-down dancing, shouting: ‘I don’t care!’ You can see us having a little dance to celebrate this great story.
We visited the Tank Museum, just down the road from Cloud’s Hill, which had more Lawrence memorabilia, including a motorbike very like the one he was riding along the road from Bovington to Cloud’s Hill, when he had his fatal accident.
But Hardy and Lawrence aren’t the only literary associations, as fans of Ian McEwan will know. So we took a blustery walk along Chesil Beach, where the protagonists of McEwan’s On Chesil Beach had their final, fatal argument. We managed not to fall out, but stood and watched the magnificent sea crest, roll and break on the pebbly shore. We were a little disappointed not to be able to walk all the way along the spit of land, but it’s a wild life haven, and out of bounds during the summer to protect the eggs laid along the shore, and the unique flora. Here’s a taste of the pretty thrift flowers we enjoyed.
Finally, without any literary associations that I’m aware of, we visited both Monkey World, a sanctuary for rescued primates with some fantastic chimps and orang-utans, and the Swannery at Abbotsbury, where we saw newly-hatched cygnets. Sometimes life trumps literature, after all.