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Essential Tweed Monster Survival Guide
Member Name: naturenet
Date: 22/07/01, updated on 22/07/01 (122 review reads)
Advantages: Good value, worth supporting, can pay for itself if you visit a few places
Disadvantages: Not cheap
The elderly lady with the tweedy skirt advances menacingly towards us, smiling purposefully. The mantra is uttered: “Have you ever considered joining the National Trust?” We grin ruefully, searching for the effective riposte and looking like vaguely guilty middle-class losers. Our blue-rinsed interrogatrix stands her ground, and, hemmed in, we are soon attempting to keep the kids from smashing priceless stuff. It seems a tempting prospect to just wave the little green membership card and waltz in, like those well-heeled types in the Range Rover who came in with us, and whose immaculate children are marching in step behind them. Don’t worry - there’s a happy ending. You’ll find our answer and escape route further down. What’s more, I’ll give you some sure-fire lines to flummox these harridans. Meanwhile, consider how this bizarre and essentially English situation was brought about.
Standing in the hallway of some stately pile or other, millions of hapless visitors are asked the same question every year. At least two million have succumbed and joined, making it Britain's largest charity – so large that many assume it to be a part of the government. But is it worth the money? This is a question which must be addressed in two parts. The first is the free entry issue, the second is, well, everything else.
A large proportion of NT members join up because members get free access to the historic properties, mostly houses and castles, which the rest of us have to pay to enter. In my experience the properties will be worth the money charged to enter, and as a high-brow tourist attraction they are often amongst the best. In parts of England there is in fact little else short of visiting the local McDonalds or multiplex. Without going into the mathematical details, if you visit more than perhaps five or six of these sites in a year, you will probably save money. That’s not a difficult target to achieve
in most of the UK. You also get free or reduced price access to no end of other properties outside England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as almost everywhere in the Commonwealth has some sort of local National Trust and members get access to sites in Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, the Channel Islands, and many more you’ve never heard of. What’s more, if you have a family the savings are even more. So if you’re going on any sort of big holiday and you’ve got an interest in historic buildings, you should consider this as a wise investment.
The second issue to consider is that the stately homes and gardens which headline so much of what people imagine the National Trust to be about are only a small part of the work of the charity. Long before it started managing palaces, the Trust was a charity to secure free access to open spaces for the multitudes. Huge areas of our national countryside are in the care of the National Trust, including much of the Lake District and the Peak District, and seemingly almost every inch of undeveloped coastline in England. The huge majority of this is entirely free to enter and use. Sometimes you have to pay to park, but often you can just walk there. What’s more, it’s not just pretty pictures. The National Trust has what is the largest private force of countryside wardens in the UK, backed up by ecologists and other scientists. They do remarkable work in the field of countryside management and looking after our wildlife and endangered species. They don’t tend to wear tweed, but I expect you get the point that they depend on the old ladies who do.
There are a host of other things which the National Trust does which are equally worthy, and rarely noticed or commented upon. This includes work in inner cities, education, agriculture, publications, photography, gardening and more. If you want to know more go and visit the suite of websites they manage, which vary in quality but a
re stuffed with information.
The sheer size and power of the National Trust makes it seem a bit monolithic and archaic. It does tend to do whatever it likes, and changes its policy very slowly. But then, it is supposed to look after all this stuff for ever. Change is not necessarily a good thing when you are trying to keep things as they are. However, those who recall the great National Trust hunting debate of the 1990s will realise that the charity can change, and does. It just takes a very long time and happens in private, not as a public debate. For those of us used to seeing that amount of power only in the hands of politicians, who respond to our complaints almost too readily, the sight of such a huge proportion of our national heritage being steered steadily forwards without any democratic control or accountability can be a bit too much. There are many who knock the National Trust, and often they are right to do so. However, the inertia and old-fashioned attitudes which have been seen by many as an obstacle to success could, in my view, have been the very things which inadvertently created such a successful charity.
So, what happens to the family besieged by the rimless spectacles of the National Trust recruitment lady? We pay the entry fee, of course, and slip through into the historic fun once more. Our line is 'We used to work for the National Trust'. That usually gets you a sympthetic look and you're past the guardian. Just occasionally we’ll fall for the old ‘have you got a guidebook’ routine but these days, we’re more or less immune, having both worked on the other side of the desk long enough to know the best get-outs. And here they are. They work even better if they happen to be true.
“I’m such a fan of the work of the National Trust that I want to pay in full every time. I know it would be cheaper but I admire the Trust so much I just can’t bring myself to join.”
“I’m already a member but I’ve forgotten my card –I know that you can’t let me in for free and I don’t want to make a fuss, so I’ll just pay and leave you alone, shall I?”
“We’re members of English Heritage already and we can’t afford two memberships in one year”
“We’ve recently been made bankrupt and so we’re not allowed any more money than this every week”
But don’t, whatever you do, try the one which an irate punter once tried on me:
“But you’ve got to let me in, I’m an eminent gynacologist!”
Needless to say, he paid.
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