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  • A tip for avoiding disaster at historical houses with children

    Wisteria at Down House, Bromley

    As it’s soon to be the school holidays, I thought you might be planning some days out, possibly to museums or historical National Trust or English Heritage-type properties. You know, the type where there’s wisteria-galore and lots of old, priceless things in cordoned-off rooms.

    Like this:

    The drawing room at Down

    If so, I wanted to share one tip to avoid disaster.

    And in completely unrelated news, we recently took a trip to English Heritage property Down House, where Charles Darwin used to live.

    (This guy).

    Down House, Down - Charles Darwin's House

    Firstly, I think time definitely has amnesiac properties, because you reach a certain age and stage of adult life and really embrace these type of historical days out. Partly because they involve getting out of the house and having some kind of cake, but mainly because everyone seems to look back at their own childhood visits to these places and think they loved them.

    However, was that really true, or is it just the cloudy benefit of hindsight? I’m sure in reality there was a fine line between ‘love’ and ‘deadly dull’ when you were young, and these types of places were only interesting if there was a ghost or secret tunnel or a gift shop with ice cream (there was always a gift shop; it just depended on how generous your dad was being).

    I say this because at Down House, F spent the whole time grumpily shouting ‘I’m bored! I’m BORED!’ I mean, she is only three and had been rudely awoken from her lovely car nap, but still.

    Her reaction to the beautiful old house, full of history and intricate tiles and the like? ‘I’m bored!’

    Her reaction to the amazing gardens and greenhouse? ‘I’m bored’

    Her reaction to the – genuinely great – hologram of Charles’ D on the scale model of an old ship? ‘CAN WE GO NOW MUMMY’

    However, the main incident happened when we were in the cordoned-off grand dining room, when I made a fatal error and *took my eyes off her for a second.*

    In my defence, I was looking at something very grand and historical *cough* eyeing up the patterned floor tiles for Instagram *cough* when it happened. Loud alarm bells suddenly went off and we heard people running down the corridor towards the room, shouting. It was then I realised that within the space of about half a second, F had wandered under the tall rope that sectioned off the room, set off the alarms and was standing, innocently, on the wrong side of the barrier.

    If you don’t want to know what happens if you cross the barrier at one of these properties, look away now.

    (But loud alarms will sound and people will run in, shouting loudly).

    Startled by the noise, she lurched towards the dining table. The dining table that was laid with many intricate place settings of easily breakable bone china and glass. A heartstopping moment, as I’m sure you would agree.

    So I jumped over the barrier to attempt to retrieve her, shouting ‘noooooo!’ Meaning we were both on the other side of the barrier, just as the shouting people arrived in the room.

    Who said motherhood is dull, eh?

    It was all very polite when they realised we meant no harm (and after I’d given a million apologies).

    However, when we  sheepishly went into the gift shop on the way out, the man behind the counter gave us a look. ‘Oh it’s you, young lady! I’ve heard all about you.’

    So we did buy something from the gift shop, but mainly out of utter embarrassment.

    My one tip then, for avoiding disaster on a historical day out?

    Don’t take your eyes off your children. Not even for a second.

    And P.S. always get something from the gift shop. And if you see me or my daughter on a ‘wanted’ poster behind the counter, now you know why.

    Down House, Charles Dawrwin's House in Bromely

    And PPS – more places not to take your eyes off them apart from Down House – Disneyland Paris, London and the dentist.

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