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
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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. They will arrive authentically hot, enraged and too late to meet the sex god.

Instead they will be taken to the offices of that great national institution, the Daily Sport. It will be explained that the British are broadminded enough to enjoy soft porn in their daily newspapers and that journalistic pioneers are always developing new areas of prurience. The latest exciting front-page idea is to photograph up the skirts of young female celebrities as they get out of cars, a technique that has led to Britain having some of the most accomplished low-angle lensmen in the world.

At this point in the tour, visitors will be given a choice. Those who are interested in music will be taken to a bar where a couple of musicians will be playing to an appreciative audience. They will learn that, so concerned is the British government to crack down on anti-social behaviour, that playing music in this shameless, public way will soon be banned unless it has been specifically licensed.

Tourists whose tastes are less metropolitan will be driven around an area where one of John Prescott's recently-announced concrete corridors will soon be built, adding an impressive 300,000 new homes to the housing stock of the most crowded part of the country.

To provide the balance that national debate tourists expect, there will be trips into parts of the countryside so isolated that sometimes you can see no more than six houses at any one time. The Government's willingness to let country folk enjoy the fruits of modernisation will be demonstrated by the vast hedge-free prairies of arable land, once hopelessly run as smaller farms, that have been taken over by large agribusinesses.

A visit to a local market town will reassure our foreign friends that outmoded aspects of rural life - shops, post offices, bus stops - are being rationalised and removed with the help of positive initiatives from supermarket chains. For tourists hankering for the more traditional delights associated with Britain, a trip to heritage-based pubs, themed wilderness sites and souvenir shops will be arranged.

No one could argue that national debate tourism will be as restful or even as enjoyable as other forms of holiday, but at least our valued visitors will return home with a new awareness of what makes the new Britain, and its dynamic government, so special and unusual.

terblacker@aol.com

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