Last night our group met for [hopefully!] our last main Zoom meeting. We are hoping to have more in-person meetings in the next programme, to be planned in a couple of weeks, keeping fingers crossed that summer will help…
Last night’s topic was:
“Eccentrics: what is eccentricity and how do we perceive it? Choose someone to talk about.”
It turned out to be an interesting and wide-ranging subject……
After some discussion as to what ‘eccentricity’ might be [unconventional, off-centre, outlandish, quirky, just plain weird…], and how the concept of ‘normal’ has changed, the 11 participants came up with a list of characters which kept us hugely entertained and enlightened, including:
‘Mad Jack’ Mytton – an 18th century Shropshire squire whose outlandish behaviour included riding horses indoors and feeding some of his 2000 dogs on steak and champagne.
Rowan Atkinson – well, say no more. His ‘interesting’ house caused some controversy….
Rowan Atkinson’s house
Violet van der Elst – a formidable lady who bought & restored the elaborate Harlaxton Manor, collected books on the occult & hid money under carpets to test her maids’ honesty, but also campaigned to abolish capital punishment and was a prolific composer and author of books such as “The Torture Chamber” and “Vampire Baroness”.
Clough Williams-Ellis – the designer of the incredible Italianate village of Portmeirion, who was also an early environmental campaigner, and wore knickerbockers & yellow knee socks.
Stanley Green – the Oxford Street ‘Protein Man’ with his ‘protein wisdom’ pamphlet, “Eight Passion Proteins with Care”, and placards, stating that human passions are “perilously heightened by fish, meat, cheeseburgers, beans and – crucially – by sitting down”.
Sir George Sitwell – (1860-1943) 4th Baronet and great-great uncle of William Sitwell. A keen Italianate gardener, he was annoyed by the wasps in his garden so invented a tiny pistol for shooting them. And a musical toothbrush.
Walter “Snowy” Farr MBE – the charity fundraiser who, dressed eccentrically [including antique military wear], and accompanied by tame animals, including mice, cats, dogs and even a goat, raised thousands of pounds on Cambridge streets for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Gertrude Bell – as the first woman to graduate in Modern History at Oxford with a first class honours degree, she went on to become a writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her knowledge and contacts, built up through extensive travels.
Patricia Highsmith – a local eccentric, who bred about three hundred snails in her garden at home in Suffolk. She once attended a London cocktail party with a “gigantic handbag” that “contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails” which she said were her “companions for the evening, and once “smuggled her beloved pet snails through French customs by hiding six or eight of them under each bosom.”
Lastly, and most relevantly chosen by the member who is just recovering from Covid:
Helena, Comtesse de Noailles – who firmly believed that methane had health benefits, and so grazed cows beneath her open windows so as to make the most of their flatulence. She slept with dead squirrels around her neck if she was at home. If she was staying at a hotel, she made the staff tie a string of onions outside the door so she wouldn’t get sick. When she caught bronchitis, she cured herself with a diet of caviar, and walked barefoot everywhere. Worth a try….?!?