Posted by Chris James Peet
This morning I awoke to this news: Beatrix Potter story Kitty-In-Boots discovered after 100 years – BBC News and I wet the bed.
For a reason that’s emphatically unknown to science, God, and everyone I’ve ever crossed paths with, I have a comforting yet inexplicable obsession with the children’s author and scientist, Beatrix Potter. Several years ago, almost overnight and for reasons I’ve never been able to figure out, I developed a deep and definitely-not-completely-bizarre fascination with everything about her life, art, mycology and anthropomorphic animal tales involving lots of anthropomorphic animals and their anthropomorphic animal adventures.
While you would probably expect this Potter fixation to have stemmed directly from my childhood experience of Peter Rabbit and all his fantastically-attired chums, it turns out that though my early years were obviously splashed with a touch of Beatrix’s critter creations (and, let’s face it, it should be law that all babies and toddlers are drip fed an early childhood of Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle et al – and one would expect those that aren’t probably grow up to be extremely dangerous), it wasn’t actually until I reached the pointless old age of 30 that I began to acknowledge that this was a person with whom I was completely captivated, and was clearly everything I could ever hope to be as a human being.
I suspect it’s obvious that there may be an argument for a link to pre-school literature and my general mental age, but I can assure you this is only half the case. While I’m so obviously besotted with the children’s books that made her name, it was her general outlook on life, her way of living and her contempt for authority that resonated mostly with me.
Read any article or biography of Beatrix Potter and you’ll discover a society-raised, well-to-do young woman who despised the snobbish foppery, social aspiration and high society that her background represented. She held principles that align completely with my own, forged a career in something I’d love to forge a career in, pissed off an entire community (in this case the mycological science community by submitting, as an amateur mycologist, a paper on fungi that has since proved to be entirely accurate prompting the Linnean Society to issue an apology in 1997 for their sexism) before buggering off to live her later years as a sheep-farmer in the Lake District, all the while maintaining an outlook on life that makes me drool.
Here’s a few quotes from Miss P that illustrate just how startlingly wonderful she was:
“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”
“All outward forms of religion are almost useless, and are the causes of endless strife. . . . Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest.”
“I remember I used to half believe and wholly play with fairies when I was a child. What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood, tempered and balanced by knowledge and common-sense.”
This woman knew what’s what.
She was also a brilliant businesswoman, invented what we now know as merchandising, and was notoriously tough when it came to quality and output of her creations. Fun fact: she once told Walt Disney to basically sod off when he approached her in 1936 about adapting Peter Rabbit into a film. Oh, and she was also a huge conservationist, stubborn-headed when it came to preserving the landscape and fell-farming, and bequeathed all of her land and property (as well as her illustrations) to the National Trust which included the land which now makes up the Lake District National Park. I just simmer at her brilliance.
Beatrix Potter lived a perfect life. At least she did in my eyes. Aside from my fiancee Laura (of course!), she’s the one person who I idolise unequivocally. There isn’t a single aspect of her existence that I’m not fascinated by, completely in love with or just plain bowled over by. My friends and associates fully acknowledge my strange fixation with all things Beattie P and I’ll regularly get people who I’ve not spoken to in years pinging a link to my Facebook or Twitter when they stumble across something about Beatrix Potter they think I may have missed. Apparently just the mention of Beatrix Potter reminds them of me and my delirious fanboyism, and I am more than fine with that. Admittedly I’ve had friends say the same thing regarding Brad Pitt and Andrea Pirlo which, again, I’m absolutely fine with.
But Miss Potter’s my true icon. If I was eleven I’d have a poster of her on my bedroom wall. I’m not eleven though so instead I have a poster of Peter Rabbit and as many Beatrix Potter-themed trinkets dotted around the house as my girlfriend will allow. If it sounds creepy that’s because it isn’t.
But I’m blathering…
The first time I went to visit the Mecca of all things Beatrix Potter – Hill Top Farm – was with one of my oldest and most delightfully loopy mates, Emma, back in 2010. Such was the immensity of occasion, I was overawed and compelled enough to write a couple of poems about it, one of which is presented below in sonnet form. The day itself was one of the best I’ve ever had because BEATRIX POTTER’S HOUSE! Emma, being as much of a fangirl as I was a fanboy, really got into the spirit of it, ooohing and aaahing at handwritten letters and pencil sketches, and almost causing a riot when she discovered we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house. This was a marked difference to the second time I went in 2014 with my friend Dan who looked as pissed off as one would expect a 34 year old to be when being moaned at for not acting as excited as I was at visiting Peter Rabbit’s house.
It took Emma and me about four hours to find the place despite driving straight past it about a billion times, completely oblivious to the hordes of Japanese tourists queuing up outside. Added to this was getting yelled at and chased by angry locals on Windermere for Emma’s illegal parking manoeuvres as well as spending an arresting few hours encouraging her pet dog, Arthur, to swim in the lake and acting like a proud mum when he didn’t drown. It’s days like these that memories are really made of.
So here’s the scribbles from the day we had tea and cake at Beatrix Potter’s house. It’s obviously dedicated to Emma because it was an utterly glorious day plus she drove us all the way there and I still haven’t paid her for the petrol.
‘A Visit To Hill Top Farm’
Hours in the car, laughing; a trip we took,
On winding roads towards green, looming peaks.
You drove us there. We got lost by a brook
And in fields; endless moors steeped in mystique.
We drove past it five times. Possibly six,
Laughing, wondering if we’d ever see
Her home; the cottage where our Beatrix
Spun her tales and inspired us. You and me.
Then we found ourselves there, softly entranced
By bunnies, ducks, or a handwritten note.
We stood where imagination once danced;
The creatures she drew, the stories she wrote.
And all day we laughed. You and me. Content.
Still you don’t know – you don’t – how much it meant.
Dedicated to Emma Kate Corr, written in the summer of 2010.
Emma also edits a superb parenting blog at www.emmakatecorr.com. Have a gander. Right now.