Saturday, 9 October 2010

Pooh, Aldenham and Ashdown

We had a family outing this afternoon, a warm, dry autumn day, perfect for a country walk. Aldenham country park is in Elstree, situated near the Haberdashers Aske's School and it was their Open Day so there were lots of Posh Cars around and it was not the best day to get to Aldenham but we made it.

We took the boys around the Aldenham version of the Hundred Aker Wood - Eeyore's Gloomy Place, Wol's House, Pooh Corner, the Heffalump Trap , Christopher Robin's House and other places familiar to Pooh fans. As we were coming away from that part of the Park (for there is much else to enjoy at Aldenham) a lady standing near me on the bridge from which her husband and I had been playing Pooh sticks, pretending it was our children who were playing, asked me 'Is this where Winnie the Pooh was set? I mean, did the writer live here?'

I swallowed hard, fairly sure that the Pooh books had been written in the first half of the last century (I have since checked - it was the late 1920s) and said no, I think A.A. Milne lived in Sussex and the books were set in the Ashdown Forest (which I am pleased to say I have since ascertained was correct).

Now there is no reason why people should know that - but I was a bit taken aback that someone should think that Aldenham Country Park's version of the Pooh landscape might be the original one and pre-date the books - which was the implication of the lady's question.

But then we were near Elstree; perhaps the influence of film studios is more pervasive than one thinks. The possibilities are endless. Did Margaret Mitchell base 'Gone with the Wind' on the filmset? Did T.E.Lawrence's writings come first or David Lean's 'Lawrence of Arabia'? Pasternak's novel, or Omar Sharif as Doctor Zhivago with Julie Christie? But then - we can always visit the real Coronation Street in Manchester. Real? There must be an Albert Square somewhere. And a Walmington on Sea waiting to be inhabited by a Dad's Army.

As for theme parks - the slate quarries of North Wales where real men sweated blood were surely modelled on the Llechwedd Slate Quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Perhaps the castle at Alton Towers is the real Camelot.

Is this the Disneyfication of history? Life and literature viewed through the lens of later attempts to capitalise on it and popularise it. There is a place in Florida, I'm told, where history lives and culture flourishes.

There is a lot to be said for the Bereans, isn't there? They checked the original (the Scriptures), 'to see if these things were so'(Acts 18:11). 'Ad fontes' - to the fount. Do not view Truth through any later lens. And certainly know which is which - the reality or the fake.

Pooh is only a story after all, but the tendency to confuse our Ashdowns with our Aldenhams is a rather characteristic 21st Century gaff. Blame Disney? I don't think so; each one of us has the responsibility for finding out what is true.

How wise of that lady to ask someone. That is not a bad place to begin.

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