It has been argued that Britain has more than its fair share of eccentrics.
Admittedly there are some who really do merit the title, like the fifth duke of Portland, whose estate is not too far from here. He was a renowned believer in privacy and in fact even had a tunnel over a mile and a half long between his estate at Welbeck Abbey to the local railway station.
But moving forward to modern times we still do have a bunch of people who march to their own drum.
Britain’s least successful election candidate, former Navy officer Bill Boaks, began his campaigning for road safety way back in 1951 and went on for 27 more elections, and did his campaigning on an armoured bike. To this day, his record stands for the fewest votes won in a by-election (five, in the 1982 Glasgow Hillhead poll).
Then there was a guy who was both musically gifted and daft as a brush. The late Baron Berners, Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, composed music for ballets, and even one film, Nicholas Nickelby. But he was more renowned for dying his doves multiple colours and, oh yes, he kept a giraffe as a pet.
He did his composing at a grand piano which had a beer mug on top of it. But not any old mug, this one had a lid which, when lifted, played God Save the Queen!
He also has the record for having the last folly erected on an English estate. He did however, warn people about the dangers of this 140 foot high tower with a notice that said: “Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk!”
Then there was Sir George Sitwell, father of Dame Edith Sitwell who was pretty much a loon herself. But Sir George was a keen inventor, for example his miniature pistol for shooting wasps and his musical toothbrush were perhaps ahead of their time, for neither became a roaring success.
Dame Edith on becoming a poet of some repute, certainly dealt with her critics unmercifully. One review in The Spectator of her latest work which displeased her resulted in this terse telegraph to the editor: “Please have Alexander Hartley (the reviewer) stuffed and put in a glass case, at my expense.”
She had a solitary life and despite a number of platonic friendships never had “a passionate romantic relationship” for which she had yearned all her life. As one cruel critic put it: Her tombstone will read, “Returned unopened”.
And yet she embraced British eccentricity fully. ‘Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.’
Unfortunately, as neither an aristocrat or a genius, I just have to mark her as one of Britain’s 24 carat nutters.
Having said that, even in my own family we do have the odd example of a kind of unworldliness that marks the eccentrics.
One aunt, whose husband had sadly been affected by dementia, chose to move into the same nursing and care home as him. She was
offered her own pleasant room and asked if she had something personal that she would like to add, such as a favourite small piece of furniture. She responded in style and had her own four poster bed installed. Admittedly this filled about 90% of the room, but hey, she was merely marking her territory!
I will admit to having a taste for loud socks and colourful summer shirts and also I do have a tendency to wear glasses that are out of the usual, but that is where my eccentricities stop.
If you have any eccentric relatives or friends then do let me know about them. After all, one thing is for sure – they make our lives much more interesting!