I smell a Ratty in the fibreglass wood
`There is another way of enjoying the wonderful world of Kenneth Graham - you could read the book'
Saturday 20 November 1999
"You're quickest way is upstairs turn left at Uzbekistan, right at Taiwan and it should be directly in front of you."
Trade fairs are so confusing. I once went to a food fair to write about farmed salmon but on my way to the Scottish Highland and Island stand I got so side-tracked by other attractions - reindeer jerkies, deep fried python, astronaut ice-cream - that I never caught up with my fish.
The travel trade fair at Earls Court last week was the same. My object was to seek out the Jamaica rep to find out what the score is on our dream-come-true, Caribbean Millennium holiday-of-a-lifetime which has run into a little local difficulty. But by the time I had fought my way past the re-enactment of a Turkish wedding ceremony, the bag-piper from Orkney, a troop of flamenco dancers with south London accents and a sinister gang hard-selling fly-drive breaks in Nicaragua, I was ready for a drink. Jamaica could wait.
It must have been then that I noticed the smell. It seemed to becoming from the English Tourist Board and in particular from a small stand full of posters advertising the magical world of Beatrix Potter and The Wind In The Willows. "What's that peculiar smell?" I asked. "Ah that's what you have to tell us - would you like to enter our Beatrix Potter competition," said the man on the stand with the desperate enthusiasm of a man who has spoken to no one all day. I am not a Beatrix Potter fan. I can do without the anthropomorphic whimsy of frogs in pinnies and badgers blowing their noses into big white handkerchiefs but given the choice of a weekend in Beatrix Potter country or a fortnight in Spain.
"Okay", I said, "what do I have to do?' The man on the stand lifted the flaps of three wooden nesting boxes with animal pictures on the front and told me to sniff. I pride myself on my sense of smell but I'm damned if I could recognise any of them. "I'll give you a clue, shall I?" said my new friend. "This is the first one." He bent his knees, rotated his arms like pistons, pursed his lips and said "choo choo, choo choo".
The Turkish bride swivelled round and looked at him with interest. I made a wild guess. A train? "Right," said my chum. "But what sort of train goes choo choo?" It seemed a waste of a life to ring a friend. "A steamtrain?" "Exactly," said the Beatrix Potter man. "Remember Mr Toad in the steam train, now sniff that first box and tell me if it doesn't smell of coal and steam and trains." No it didn't. It smelt of chemicals as did the other two boxes. I was tiring of this game. Besides, it was getting late. Jamaica could close any minute. What exactly was the point of all this in terms of international tourism?
Fifteen minutes later I had the answer. Hard on the heels of the award- winning Beatrix Potter exhibition in Cumbria, the 10th most popular tourist attraction in the country visited by a million people annually, comes the new Wind in the Willows exhibition near Matlock in Derbyshire. Now, at long last, you can enjoy the wonderful world of Kenneth Graham as you walk through woods made of fibreglass trees gazing at life-size models of Ratty and Mole and Badger. It's an indoor setting but to make it more realistic artificial woodland smells drift across just as artificial honeysuckle and hay waft through the Beatrix Potter exhibition.
There's another way of enjoying the wonderful world of Kenneth Graham of course. You could read the book. To make it more realistic you could go out into the countryside, sit on a log and smell real country smells of woods and trees and even the odd cow pat. The trouble with that, though, is that it's free and tourism is big business. Pity.
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