I have spent the last 5 years working in the health and social care sector, during which time I’ve met people living in the most challenging of circumstances, dealing with money worries, illness, disability, loneliness, addiction, depression and myriad other issues. Despite their situations I have been impressed with the resilience and optimism many of these families display and have met some amazing people who have taught me a great deal. Better still, I have never been harangued or threatened by any of them, which is in marked contrast to my time spent working for the National Trust, which you would expect to offer an altogether more civilised perspective on the world.
The reason this is on my mind is down to the time of year. As I drove to work the other morning my eye was drawn to the drifts of snowdrops blanketing the grounds as I left the estate. It was impossible to remain unmoved by such a dazzling floral display in the bleak midst of winter.
“Bloody snowdrops,” I thought. I’ve never felt the same way about them since the ill-fated Snowdrop Tea event held at a nearby Georgian mansion many years ago when I was employed as their Admin Assistant. Back then the property was closed over the winter months but the decision was made to open for a one-off event where visitors could take a tour of the landscaped grounds with the gardener, enjoy the many exciting varieties of snowdrops on show, and finish their afternoon with a splendid selection of tea, sandwiches and cakes in the restaurant. Due to my own inexperience I had submitted a press release about this forthcoming event to the local paper which entirely failed to mention that pre-booking was essential as there were only limited spaces available for the tour and tea. I never made that mistake again.
As it was a Sunday in February no senior management were on duty so myself and the conservation assistant headed down to the ticket office and directed those who had pre-booked tickets to the assembly point for their guided tour. Unfortunately we were soon presented with the problem of how to manage those visitors who had arrived without booking first but who really, really wanted to look at snowdrops. Despite the fact they had driven past thousands of them growing on the verges of the lanes approaching the property their lust for small white winter flowers remained unsatiated.
Upon learning that the tour was full one apoplectic gentleman and his wife took up positions either side of the path from the car park to the ticket office and accosted other visitors as they arrived, regaling them with outrage at our failure to accommodate them and urging them to join their impromptu protest. Eventually those lucky few with tickets already booked had to shoulder their way through a picket line of angry middle-aged, middle-classed, Barbour-clad activists. It was on a par with the time I was accused of being worse than Hitler for refusing to unlock the gates restricting access to the lake during nesting season for the resident herons. “I fought a war for people like you,” said the disappointed patriarch of this particular family, shaking his head sadly at my failure to show my appreciation of not having to speak German by unlocking the gate and flicking the Vs at the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
“I am a member!” would come next, the inevitable cry, the top trump card, the reason for any unreasonable request. In some cases “I am a life member!” would be deployed as proof positive that rules applying to lesser mortals are simply inapplicable when one has such irrefutable entitlement and a small piece of card with a picture of an acorn on it.
We did our best to defuse the snowdrop situation, my colleague and I, but it was a long time before the mob disbanded. Even then they went home and wrote angry letters of complaint. It taught me valuable lessons in managing expectations. The legacy it has left is the knowledge that while the popular media likes to portray less affluent sectors of society as being uncouth and aggressive the worst behaviour I have ever encountered has been from those perceived as privileged. To this day a dribbly spout on a teapot can give me trauma-filled comment card flashbacks. There is a lot of anger beneath those waxed jackets, a lot of barely suppressed rage in a Range Rover.