A Sense of History (1992)

Uploaded by VideoProbava on 31.01.2012

The great house behind me is the ancestral seat of my family.
We have lived in a house, on or near this site, since the 11th century.
I am the 23rd Earl.
From the roof of the house,
any land one can see, in any direction, is part of our domain.
It is my responsibility to conserve, nurture and develop the estate,
until such a time as I can pass it on to the 24th Earl,
secure in the knowledge that it is substantially larger
and more productive than when it came into my care
on the death of the 22nd Earl, my father.
I want to tell my story.
In doing this,
I want more than anything else to demonstrate
that at the very centre of my life,
there has been a sense of history.
We came over with William the Conqueror
and here we have lived and farmed in direct male line ever since.
The nature of the holding has changed a great deal over the centuries.
The principal influences being,
one, the enclosure of vast tracts of land in the 15th and 16th centuries,
which increased the size of the estate quite substantially,
and two, the gradual but significant diminution of the ancient woodland.
Successive generations have been variously adept
and I was able to inherit from my father
some 10,000 acres of mixed arable and pasture.
This was considerably less than he inherited from my grandfather.
But more of that anon.
We're looking now at a field of some 200 acres.
This is a truly vast expanse
and as little as 35 years ago, this was upwards of ten fields.
The economic demands of creating ever more efficient and productive land
has meant that in many areas,
we have ripped out the hedges and filled in the ditches
in order that the diesel-powered leviathans of modern agriculture
may move with ease over more and more acres of chemically-enriched soil.
I'm not greatly proud of my own role
in this brutalisation of my green and pleasant heritage,
but having said that,
I sincerely believe, that for me to have taken any other course
would have been frankly irresponsible.
This land is not mine to squander.
It is held in trust for all future generations of my family.
For us still to be here after 900 and some years is an achievement,
but I don't doubt that my forebears fought some pretty torrid battles
to hang onto what was rightfully theirs.
And I have a massive debt.
A debt to them, to do my darndest to ensure that I do not flunk my heritage.
My brother and I were born and brought up between the wars,
my brother being four years older than myself.
Our parents were an unfortunate couple.
Mother was a great, great beauty, of that there can be no doubt,
but as far as her qualities are concerned, that is quite simply the end of the story.
She was stupid and vain, lazy and craven.
We adored her but she paid us scant attention.
I do remember her, particularly her smell.
It was a heady, exotic mixture of expensive toilet water,
fine talc, exquisite perfume
and something else which was sweet and mysterious.
I now know what that was.
For a great many years, until it was taken off the market,
she was addicted to a certain proprietary cough medicine,
of which the active ingredient was some sort of opiate.
I think as a child, it was her odour I craved most.
I'd manoeuvre myself so that I could bury my head in her blouse or skirts,
and inhale as deeply as was humanly possible,
that I might experience her more intensely, more completely.
But I was usually asked to refrain.
My father was as handsome as she was beautiful.
The 21st Earl, my grandfather, had been a formidable man.
Soldier, politician, farmer, acclaimed and respected in all these spheres.
A difficult act to follow for the best of men, which my father most decidedly wasn't.
Where grandfather excelled, father disappointed.
He was a perilously inadequate soldier,
a master of the misguided heroic gesture,
which, during the Great War, proved fatal to his men on more than one occasion.
He had no interest in or understanding of politics,
and as a farmer, he was catastrophically inept.
He had no feeling for the land
and the science and economics of estate management completely passed him by.
And worst of all,
he was loathed and detested by every single person who worked for him.
He was, in short, a bully
who gloried in the abasement of the weak and defenceless.
My brother and I suffered his indignities no less than the staff.
Upon the slightest pretext, he would let loose upon us torrents of withering abuse.
He would crack our skulls together,
slap us, pinch us, punch us,
pull our hair, hold our heads underwater.
We lived in dread of his diminishing humiliations.
We would run to Mama for protection,
but she had already taken her own refuge in a self-induced narcosis.
So there we were, two little chaps with hopelessly inadequate parents.
My father, this nasty booby of a man, whom I hated ferociously,
and my mother, this astoundingly beautiful woman
with whom we sometimes had tea.
Big deal, as my children would say.
I was a solitary unlovable boy, but I was blessed with a keen intelligence.
I knew that we were somehow special
and I was fascinated, I suppose, by the whole ethos of the elite families.
I desperately wanted to know how it all worked and how I fitted in,
so I took to eavesdropping on adult conversations
and what I learned was very alarming indeed.
It was clear that my father was making the most frightful hash of running the estate
and vast tracts of land had already been sold off.
I knew that by some degree I was the cleverest person in the family,
and I knew that my brother would inherit the earth.
I liked my brother, we got on well, given the difference in our ages.
But at the age of seven I realised two quite dreadful things.
Firstly, he was simple-minded.
Not backward as such, but decidedly dim.
There was no way he would ever be able to rebuild the estate to its former glory
and left to his own devices, he would in all likelihood oversee its continuing decline.
Now, this was troublesome,
but it was my second realisation that was more ominous.
I knew... with a terrifying clarity, that he was a homosexual.
How I could be so certain of the sexual proclivities of an 11-year-old boy,
when only seven and a half myself, I don't know.
I don't know how I knew a lot of things, but know them I did.
Now, as I saw it, the family would be extremely hard-pressed
to survive two generations of duffers at the helm.
And this, combined with the fact that my brother would, in all probability,
prove incapable of keeping the dynastic ball rolling,
convinced me that we were in a very, very parlous state indeed.
It seemed to me that my whole world was in serious danger of collapse.
Something had to be done.
The best hope would be for me to inherit.
The only way this could happen, given my brother's rude health,
would be for me to kill him, and the sooner the better.
For one thing, were I to be found out,
any penalty incurred would be less the younger I was,
and secondly, small boys lead notoriously dangerous lives in any case,
and an accident would never be easier to contrive than now.
So it was, that at the age of seven,
I committed myself to the murder of my brother.
He was walking along here with his double-barrelled.410 shotgun.
Pigeon and rabbit shooting was something he liked to do.
On this occasion, I had followed him,
making quite certain that I was seen by no one.
It was a warm summer's evening
and there was no danger... of my leaving unwanted footprints,
with the ground being so hard.
I ran down the other side of that copse there,
came in through the gate there,
and met him here, as if totally by chance,
and we chatted easily.
I showed him a beetle I had in a matchbox.
It was a devil's coach-horse, I believe,
and he told me of an area of woodland
where he thought a cracking tree house could be built.
At that time, this fence here was in good repair
and I climbed over...
and bade him follow me.
He was reluctant to change his course, but I begged him.
He passed me the gun.
I was wearing little yellow knitted string riding gloves,
in order not to leave any fingerprints.
At the very moment he was astride the fence,
I shot him under the chin at point-blank range.
He wasn't looking.
He never saw it coming.
He never suspected a thing.
I suppose he was the best friend I ever had.
Until the Reformation, these fields here were church land,
and then, with the dissolution of the monasteries,
thousands upon thousands of acres, were as it were, thrown onto the open market,
and the 6th Earl snapped quite a lot of it up.
The effect of my brother's death on my parents was frankly astonishing.
One might have thought they'd barely notice, but they were shattered.
It was really quite moving.
They even came together somewhat in their grief,
and they gave one attention for the first time in one's life,
which was stifling and embarrassing.
But I was due to be packed off to school in any case,
so I didn't have to endure for too long their awkward kindnesses.
- (Engine) - What have we here?
- Hello, Giddy, how are you? - All right, thank you.
- Where are you taking the plough? - Up Longbottom.
That's right. How are you getting on with this brute? Do you like it?
- Best I've ever 'ad. - Good. Mind you, it should be at that price.
- How's your pa? - All right, thank you.
Do give him my regards, he's a good old chap.
All right, Giddy, I'll see you later.
Keep me informed about the tractor.
If you think they're any good, I might get a couple more.
Jolly good, keep going.
When I was 14, my father hanged himself and I took the title.
It may be that he never got over the death of my brother.
It was the best thing he could've done.
Another five years and there'd have been precious little for me to inherit.
He hanged himself from this tree.
It was three days before he was found,
and the sad thing is, no one had missed him.
Oh, look... some of the rope is still here.
That's rather gruesome.
So, a manager was hired to run the estate until I could take over,
and thank the lord, the chap we got was first-rate,
and the situation stabilised somewhat,
which, given this was the '30s, was no mean achievement.
My mother retreated further and further into a weird world of her own invention,
which seemed to comprise three parts malice to two parts euphoria.
Any visit to her rooms was a delicate exercise in timing.
Then came the war.
At the outbreak of hostilities, I was still a schoolboy, of course,
but it was naturally assumed that when one became of age,
one would follow the course of previous generations
and fight for king and country.
But when it came to it,
I chose not to be part of this war with the Germans.
Quite simply, I did not feel I could, in all conscience,
take up arms against Adolf Hitler.
Now, there has been an awful lot of the most frightful tosh
written and said about this chap, but suffice it to say,
that here was a man who'd single-handledly
brought a bankrupt country to prosperity
within a very few years.
And as a farmer, I had to respect that.
Of course, there were aspects to his approach which I found questionable,
and there is no doubt I'd have taken issue with him on a number of counts,
but at the end of the day, I felt very strongly, and I still do, as a matter of fact,
that we should've been batting on the same side.
Moreover, my deciding not to go into battle
meant that I was able to immerse myself in the farm.
I had some excellent advisors and I was a quick and ready study.
The estate was once again on a sound footing
and it became a preoccupation of mine
that we should acquire neighbouring farms
as and when they became available.
This we did.
Now, historically, the quickest and cheapest way
to increase the size of one's holding is through marriage.
The proviso being, of course,
that one mustn't allow that awful monster, sentiment, to poke her wet nose in.
No, I was quite clear.
I'd make a methodical search until I found a girl who was wealthy and fertile.
There followed an interminable round of tortuous balls and so forth, but I got her.
By whatever criteria one chose to judge her, she was a catch.
She was passably attractive,
an excellent hostess,
and she slipped easily into the running of the household.
She bore me two fine sons
and all was well with the world.
But there's always something round the corner, isn't there?
As I trundled along, happy in the knowledge
that our position of wealth and privilege was relatively secure,
the gods were preparing to toss the golden apple of chaos into my path.
She was younger than my wife.
She was a student who'd come to work in the stables during the holidays.
She was very, very pretty,
and extraordinarily vital.
I was quite overwhelmed.
We enjoyed each other's company so. She made me laugh.
And to my astonishment, I made her laugh.
And she teased me, which I found a very novel experience.
I fell hopelessly, wondrously in love.
It was a very frightening thing to happen to a cold old fish like myself.
As far back as one could remember, one had been in control,
yet here one was being thrown around by great breakers of love,
that would deposit one on some fantastic beach
where everything was new and exciting.
Then one would be dragged back into the maelstrom,
only to be tossed up onto some other shining shore.
However, the light this blessed creature brought to my life
shone also on my marriage.
It exposed every detail of its drab tedium.
I knew what I had to do. It was very simple. I had to get a divorce.
It would be expensive, but worth every penny,
if it would allow me to remarry.
As I fell more and more deeply in love,
so, a profound distaste for my lumpen wife grew to nothing short of hatred.
And she indeed began to show her true colours.
She would not consider even a trial separation, far less a divorce.
Now this put one in a very difficult position.
And given the situation, her obdurate, intractable stance was deeply offensive.
It was a petty emotional response,
calculated to cause me as deep a hurt as possible.
I cannot stress too strongly that there was absolutely nothing at all that I could say
that could make her shift her position one iota.
Any door I tried to open was slammed shut in my face with insolent scorn.
I found my plight quite untenable.
One had but one option.
As we came along the bank here,
I was mouthing all sorts of drivel about wanting to make a go of it
for the children's sake and so forth.
Just here, I grabbed her round the waist,
put one hand over her mouth
and I launched us both into the lake.
She put up a terrific struggle,
but I was bigger and stronger than she,
and I managed to keep her head under the water.
She fought and fought and it seemed to take forever,
but gradually the spasms got less and less...
and finally she was still.
Then, I saw standing just there, at the corner of the boathouse,
my two sons, aged eight and six, their faces studies of bewildered shock...
their possibly having been witness to the whole thing.
I said to them, "There's been a bit of an accident,
"come and help Daddy get Mummy out."
They came to the bank, offered me their hands,
and I pulled them in and drowned them too.
Their struggle was not so great.
I made it look like a boating accident.
There was an inquiry and a degree of suspicion, but nothing too serious.
My alibi proved watertight.
And the beautiful girl for whom I'd done all this,
I never saw her again.
After the killings, I left a decent amount of time before getting in touch.
And when I could resist no longer,
I was told that she'd married some Austrian count and was living abroad.
I was shattered.
I just assumed that things would go my way.
There it is. I don't know, perhaps I hadn't declared myself sufficiently.
It may be that she didn't know how I felt.
Ah, my children!
Come here, my darlings.
I've just been telling the men a story about a water rat.
I acted it out for them. I got rather wet.
Have you been in your den?
- No. - Of course we have.
Have you? Could you do me a favour?
Run up to the house and tell Mummy we'll be up soon,
but don't tell her about the story.
It's going to be a surprise for her.
Bless you, my darlings, off you go.
Come on.
So eventually, I married again.
Somewhat late in life, I suppose, but she's an excellent woman.
The children are sound, the line continues.
Oh, blast!
Has anyone got a ciggy?
The other day, I was rummaging around in one of the attics for something or other,
and down at one end, behind a pile of junk,
I came across the most perfect little corner.
Armchair, table, books, toys, rugs, pictures, an oil lamp and some candles,
all arranged very neatly and tastefully and covered with a thick layer of dust.
It was my brother's secret place.
There was a diary.
I read it.
I don't know if he was queer or not. Unlikely, I suppose.
There was certainly no evidence of it from his journal.
But one thing was very plain.
He wasn't dim.
He was an extremely intelligent, rather private, modest boy.
I can't think how I got him wrong.
An unspoilt corner of the estate like this
gives me more pleasure than almost anything I can think of.
At least here, I'm at one with my ancestors.
Here, I have been able to raise a hand to the meddlers,
the accountants, the economists, the euro-bureau-Brussels sprouts,
the... the motorway builders, the town planners, the property developers,
the golf course designers, the parachutists,
the bloody Ramblers' Association, et cetera, et cetera!
I raise a hand to them all and I said, "Stop, go away. Thus far and no further."
"Bugger off out of it. Sod off, this is my land,
"my forefathers' land and my descendants' land,
"and what we do with it is our business."
And it's so beautiful.
And it's always here...
absorbing the wind and the rain and what have you.
And we've kept those other bastards out!
And that's good, isn't it?
Isn't it?
If anything should happen to me, I do want this film to be shown.