Against Real-Thingism

Seven miles after Hailes Abbey I was headed into Broadway, a village that would easily medal in the Too Damn Darling Olympics. A little Saxon church complete with archetypal square tower sits on the approach. A herd of sheep scatters obligingly in the foreground, and the whole town side-nestles snugly into a hill.

But somewhere around the Crown & Trumpet, a visitor begins to realize there’s something hideously wrong with Broadway.

The Crown & Trumpet is an historical Cotswolds inn. I knew this at a glance from its most prominent architectural feature, a sign that says “THE CROWN & TRUMPET – An Historical Cotswolds Inn.”

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And therein lies the wrongness of the place. Broadway is saturated in self-proclaimed real-thingism. “Real things” seldom need certificates of authenticity. I’ve never been to Egypt, but I doubt I’d see a sign reading “THE GREAT PYRAMID OF CHEOPS – An Historical Egyptian Pyramid.”

Right after the Crown & Trumpet, there was a Bed & Breakfast – & another & another – followed by a thatched roof (or seven), all in perfect condition, as if sprayed in sugar.

I began to suspect that Broadway wasn’t an actual adorable town, but an amazing simulation of an actual adorable town.

Confirmation came with a wink & a curtsy as I stepped onto the High Street & into my own personal hell. The central avenue of Broadway is a never-ending street of knickknack shoppes & candy shoppes & ice cream shoppes & pinky-extending tea rooms, all drenched in tourists agog at the unbearable authenticity of it all, their wallets flung open at arm’s length & waxed so the plastic shoots out unhindered.

If a giant Precious Moments figurine bent Beatrix Potter over a tuffet, Broadway would be the spawn. There’s a shoppe called “Swings ‘n’ Things,” and God help us, a Thomas Kinkade gallery. There’s a damn teddy bear museum, I am not kidding, followed by The Horse & Hound, which is a traditional English country pub, & guess how I know that.

I was overcome by a desperate need to swear (tetheradick! nicker-pecker!) just to offset the saccharine paste that formed in my mouth as I walked through the crowds of cooing Americans. Well of course. Only the country that cast Dick Van Dyke as a cockney chimneysweep would think this is what England is supposed to look like.

There was something else bugging me about the Broadway High Street—about the whole Cotswold thing, really—something that finally, amid the teacups and ampersands, had me thinking properly about Death.

These attempts to capture a soft-focus, watercolor England that I’m pretty sure never quite existed — at least not at this preciousness per square inch — creates a kind of zombie diorama, a town that gives the startling impression of being alive while actually being quite dead. It’s like one of those shiny green rhinoceros beetles preserved in resin—so convincingly alive, and so completely not. But in the case of the Cotswolds, the formerly living thing just wasn’t lovely enough, so the beetle was gilded before the resin was poured & a tiny smile painted on.

Stopping in a gift shoppe on the way out of town (poop chute! melons!), I was surprised to find so practical a thing as a rack of Ordnance Survey maps. Most surprising of all was opening one of the maps and not having it play “In Your Easter Bonnet” and shower me with cinnamon hearts.

Image:  PL Chadwick,CC BY-SA 2.0 

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