Saturday, August 27, 2011

NEW FOREST: National Motor Museum

Chitty Chitty Bang BangOne of the first big screen movies I remember watching as a child was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I don’t recall where I saw it, but I was staying with my grandparents in Double Bay (Sydney) at the time, and when I got back to their place after the film, there was a die-cast metal replica of the flying car waiting for me.

My mother was pretty ruthless at getting rid of my childhood books and toys as I got older, even ones that I had a particular attachment to such as this small model with its side-wings that opened at the touch of a lever. So like my small custom-box of Matchbox cars, Chitty quietly disappeared one day. I did retain a fondness for the movie – vivid memories of the hair cutting machine, dogs chasing after toot sweets from the factory of Truly Scrumptious’ father, and Robert Helpmann’s performance as the strange child-catcher. Iced with the Sherman Brothers’ songs it was a strange confection of fantasy, humour and horror that makes up so many childhood dreams. A confection originally from the pen of Ian Fleming, and with a screenplay by Roald Dahl, it was James Bond and the Chocolate Factory.

Until today I had never seen another of these now highly collectible model Chittys  but I saw quite a bit more Chittyana (or is it Bangbangana?) than a born-again five-year-old could hope for. I’m at the National Motor Museum, one of several attractions found within the Beaulieu estate. One of my hosts Brian has dropped us off here for the day while everyone goes boating. The large grounds which encompass not only the Motor Museum, but Beaulieu Abbey and many open-air attractions are open to dogs, and there’s more than enough to keep a person or family with diverse tastes engaged for many hours.

Beaulieu estate National Motoring Museum - Dog Waiting Area

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - full-size replica

NMM display

The displays in the motor museum are amazingly diverse and interesting, even for someone without a particular (adult) interest in cars: vintage models, novelty vehicles from James Bond, Harry Potter and other films, beautiful hood ornaments, socio-historical exhibits on in-car mapping and road usage, plus individual vehicles that have set endurance and speed records. I suggested to one of the staff that they grab the old Bondi-mobile sitting under cover in Sydney given its fairly unique function as a dog transporter through dozens of countries ranging from the bottom of Tasmania to the Arctic Circle.

NMM displays

Munson - stately houndDuring WW2, Beaulieu was the ‘Finishing School’ for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), training over 3000 agents including Australia’s Nancy Wake ‘the White Mouse’, at one time the Gestapo’s most wanted person, and the most decorated female of the war. 

As shown by some of the panels from a special exhibition, SOE was jokingly taken to mean Stately ‘Omes of England because so many country houses of this type were requisitioned.

Stately Omes of England - Nancy Wake
As Munson and I were some of the first guests into the estate today, we managed to progress a little further into the grounds than many who were caught up in the NMM or the special exhibits for TopGear and James Bond vehicles. So we found the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey mostly unattended except for a septet of raptors perched on the lawn. When I spied them through an archway I left Munson tied up out of sight so I could visit them without having them alarmed by his presence. When I spoke to the falconer he said that the only time he’d seen a bird go for a dog during a display was with a large lupine-looking dog like Munson.

Beaulieu Abbey

Bealieu bus and gift shop

I hoped to find one of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang die-cast replicas in the gift-store but alas the staff told me that it’s probably the most requested item and they’re not available.
[October 5: By a strange coincidence as I come to write this post, I learn that Frank Cottrell Boyce has written a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sequel, released today.

I also learnt that Nancy Wake passed away a few weeks before our visit to Beaulieu, just short of her 99th birthday.]

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