Our students are this week tasked with drawing up an itinerary for an unusual tour of Britain, and selecting out-of-the-way or unexpected destinations.
This is a challenge. Most of our students are not well versed in the by-ways of British culture or locales. The Tatsunoris of this world are few in number (Tatsunori was the genius who turned his study sabbatical into a fish-and-chip quest, exhaustively reviewing twenty-four different but somehow similar plates of the stuff over the course of twelve weeks).
But this is a pity. There is a case to be made that you will gain more insight into Britain and the British (if that is in fact desirable), not by gurning through the fence at the changing of the guard and sitting miserably through Les Miserables, but by uncovering the odd corner of what is sometimes affectionately known as ‘crap Britain’.
The Prickwillow Drainage Museum is a case in point. It is out of the way (in Prickwillow, of course, some unspecified distance north of Cambridge), and, well, a museum about the drainage of the fens. You have to have a prior interest. But if you happened along at the beginning of October, you would stumble across their ploughing festival.
I ran into something similar in a one-horse town (not literally!) in Colorado a few years ago. We watched some ploughing, and some blacksmithing, and some basket-weaving, and learnt something about the history of the settlement which I have long-since forgotten, and ate corn or grits or something or other; but we got a glimpse of backwoods America amusing itself, unobserved, with a bit of heritage. It wasn’t Disneyland, but it was in almost every way better than Disneyland.