Foreign travel was off the agenda when Peregrine Trip decided to treat his mother to a two-day excursion. So Elgar country it was…
"A gorilla picking his nose?"
"A gorilla picking his nose," Mrs confirmed. "That's what they were singing about... 'something, something, something... gorilla picking his nose.' Bloody revolting!"
It was a choral enterprise and therefore, I suppose, it had some terpsichorean merit. But at the Elgar Birthplace Museum? Incongruous, somehow. Yet there they were - a crowd of uniformed and boisterous schoolgirls bellowing it while seated on the lawn of Elgar's parents' cottage. Encouraged, I might add, by a couple of adults.
Then, if the singing wasn't bad enough, the little darlings invaded the museum display of the composer's life and interfered, as the mites will, with anything that moved: telephone handsets through which examples of his music were played: drawers containing manuscripts and notebooks; a computer displaying the Elgar timeline...
In a momentary reverie, I dreamed of affixing some hastily-assembled bomb to the ignition of their coach. No. Come on. Imagine you're a citizen of Cockaigne.
The museum was the final destination of a Worcester sojourn planned by Mrs and me for the sake of She Who Bore Me. We wanted to show her something of Paris - she's petrified of flying so the train is good - but she doesn't have a passport.
So. She's always been an English music nut, Elgar particularly, so why not take her for an Elgarean adventure in the Malverns? Worcester, it is.
We booked a pleasant-looking hotel in the centre, close to the Cathedral. What the clever photography doesn't show you is the arterial dual-carriageway right outside… but our rooms were on the other side so traffic noise wasn't a problem.
To the Cathedral. I am no expert, of course, but Worcester is not the most prepossessing of Cathedrals. It's very interesting inside, and it has a beautiful setting overlooking the Severn, but from the outside…
After about half-an-hour's exploration SWBM tells me she's going to wait for us outside. I tell her I'm still looking for the Elgar memorial: "There's something in here as a memorial to him," I say. "Oh, is there? I'll just be out here."
I trace Mrs and tell her I'm still trying to find this memorial. "It's over here - this lovely window. I've just been showing it to your mother." "But she…" I decide to let it pass when we meet again in the gift shop. "She's your mother, Trip old man, let it go."
When we had arrived at the hotel, the young lady at reception answered in the affirmative when I asked if we should book for dinner. "Oh, good - busy restaurant," we agreed.
So with some anticipation we gathered in the bar for a snifter or two before dining. First disappointment: SWBM fancies a dry sherry. "Sorry, we only have Harvey's Bristol Cream." OK, so two G&T's, and a Bourbon for me. Then, of the four gins advertised as available, only two are. OK, again - make 'em Bombay Sapphires. Still, I'm happy - as a seeker-after of knowledge about Kentucky's finest, I'd never tasted Knob Creek before. I'm afraid the management fell a little further in my estimation when I saw they included Jack Daniel's on the list of Bourbons they served. Mind you, I have been given JD at a famous London restaurant after asking for Bourbon. What are you going to do?
It was a little puzzling when we went to the restaurant to see just a couple of women sharing a table next to ours - only briefly, they were just leaving as we seated ourselves. "It'll fill up," I thought.
Cod's on the menu, but it's not. It's a conservation thing - fair enough. SO TAKE IT OFF THE BLOODY MENU. They also cannot provide the 8-oz 'surf'n'turf' sirloin Mrs orders (so she has rump). This place is getting a little tiresome - and when the cheeseboard arrives with haloumi masquerading as brie, well… Really, the food, accompanied by an excellent Argentine Malbec, is fine, thank you, but we have the restaurant to ourselves all night. "Good job we booked," I observe, rather wittily, I thought, to the waitress as we leave. "Yes," she says. "We were expecting a lot more."
The following morning we plan to see the Royal Worcester factory and museum, a five-minute walk from the hotel. But not before sampling the restaurant again. Mrs and I decide on kippers. But they have only one. They have only one kipper - and it turns out to be one of those bright yellow boil-in-the-bag excuses. Mental pictures of the chef hanging upside-down, spatchcocked, in a Whitby smokehouse are banished only reluctantly.
Let's be clear about Ye Olde Talbot Inn, Worcester. It's charming, as are the staff, and it's very comfortable. It's also reasonably priced - especially for the single-room occupant who can often be stung by hotel prices. And it's handy for the attractions the city has to offer. OK?
None of the tourist information we consulted when planning the excursion told us the Royal Worcester factory had closed two years ago! It's now being developed as luxury riverside accommodations. Very nice.
But the museum is still there, run by a couple of very friendly women when we visited - and something of a curmudgeonly craftsman, if I may say. In fact, I find he's just a little too clever by half and determine to see how he likes it if I hold him down, cover him in blue enamel and let SWBM paint gilt dots all over his jacksy.
I try to do the museum justice but, after all, it's just a load of pots isn't it? Interesting when they make a mint on Flog It! But in glass cabinets they really are for the faithful. I was rather taken with one exhibit - the Aesthetic teapot of 1881 which satirizes Oscar Wilde and his chums and features a young man on one side and a woman on the other. Of course, the handle is the young man's arm with his hand placed on his waist and the spout is his other arm outstretched, crooked, with his wrist held limply. "I'm a little teapot…" A piece of late-nineteenth century homophobia perhaps? It does bring a smile to the face.
And so to Lower Broadheath, to the Elgar Birthplace Museum and Visitor Centre. It's a short drive from the city and not hard to find.
The Visitor Centre is a modern annexe which contains the gift shop and a circular display outlining Elgar's life and times. There's music, of course. Not always audible… besides the delightful young ladies already described, we managed to arrive shortly after a group of more ancient visitors. One, with his own portable chair, had planted himself in the centre of part of the display and was listening to headphones. Consequently when any of his companions addressed him, his replies were the Stentorian ejaculations of the nincompoop who doesn't realise that he can be heard in the Cathedral nave, four miles away. "YES. I'M TRYING TO FIND THE SECOND MOVEMENT!"
I struggled against, and won, the desperate desire to take his portable chair and ram it up his Enigma Variation.
SWBM seemed, disappointingly, underwhelmed by the whole thing. She'd finished with the Visitor Centre display and had been down to the birthplace cottage before I was half-way through the development of The Dream of Gerontius. But we'd come all this way and I was determined to get my £7-per-adult's worth. (Mrs had treated SWBM to a souvenir at the Royal Worcester museum shop so SWBM had insisted on paying our entrance here.)
I dawdled down the garden path to the cottage - sorry, Birthplace Museum - and poked about in there. It was while I was (mentally) finishing a newspaper crossword that the great man hadn't (whether he couldn't, or simply didn't get around to, is not made clear) that the bloody racket kicked off. That, basically, ended the visit. We had a couple of minutes' quiet after the future mothers of our nation departed without pomp or circumstance...
As we were leaving, a trio entered - an elderly couple with, apparently, their son, around the same age as me, I guessed.
Son: "How much iss it for visiting der museum, pleece?"
Smug-typical-charity-type behind the counter: "£7 for you and £6 each for seniors, please."
Son: "Can ve not purchase ze family ticket?"
Smug: "Well the £14 family ticket is for two adults and up to three children. [To the parents] Now, ha ha, if you had your parents here, you would be the children and we could, ha ha, sell you one. Ha ha."
Son: "Yes, but zese are mine parents…"