What Next - a Tour Round Alan Titchmarsh? ; Bleak House, the Residence of Our Shooting Farmer Tony Martin, Has Already Begun to Pull in the Punters
Blacker, Terence, The Independent (London, England)
The wonderful county of Norfolk, from where I am writing this column, has a new tourist attraction. It is some way off the normal visitors' trail and, aesthetically, is rather less than pleasing, requiring the kind of makeover which only a serious amount of lottery money could provide.
All the same, Bleak House, the residence of our home-grown shooting farmer Tony Martin, has already begun to pull in the punters. In the words of Jeff Crosno, a holidaymaker from Florida who has done the tour with his six-year-old daughter, the house is "a centre of national debate".
Under normal circumstances, the local press would be rather excited by this sort of thing, eager as it is to grab any meagre claim to fame. A Norfolk house has won a competition on TV; John Major bought a holiday home near Cromer; a handful of novelists, having visited Southwold, have written novels set there: each of these stories has been enthusiastically reported.
But the idea of Tony Martin tours has not been welcomed. A columnist on one East Anglian paper tapped into the unattractive fashion of sneering at America by blaming "our cousins from across the pond" for what is happening at Bleak House, and even described Mr Crosno's visit as "ghoulish, sad, almost tragic".
I wonder about that. Modern-minded people like Mr Crosno enjoy doing something unusual at this time of the year, but few of the new alternatives - eco-tourism, trouble-spot tourism, adventure tourism, sex tourism - are likely to bring visitors to these islands. On the other hand, the chance to visit sites of controversy - national debate tourism, it could be called - would attract any foreigner interested in finding out about the fascinating, turbulent place that is Britain today.
National debate tourists would spend their first night close to the airport where they arrived - in Hounslow, for example. There they would undergo, late into the night and early in the morning, the thunderous, breath-taking experience of living in a country which, in spite of being one of the most crowded in the world, has ambitions to be a sort of airliners' Crewe Junction for the rest of Europe. During the 30-second breaks between flights, they will be told how even more runways and airports in south-east England will soon make giddying amounts of money for big business and the national exchequer.
The next step will be an appointment to meet one of the country's great sex symbols - Alan Titchmarsh, perhaps, or Jordan. To make the experience more interesting, tourists will be required to travel on a commuter train during the rush hour and sample the glories of Britain's transport revolution. …