Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No builders, no tradesmen, no remarks passed on you by fellows looking over your wall, and, above all, no weather.

From Ananova today:

Mole Man banned from home

An eccentric known as The Mole Man has been banned from his home after digging a 60ft network of tunnels beneath it.

William Lyttle, 75, spent 40 years burrowing under his 20-room house, removing 100 cubic metres of earth with a spade and pulleys.

It is now feared the street could give way, reports the Daily Mirror.

Lyttle is merely following in the footsteps of one of the greatest of all English eccentrics, William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland and Marquess of Titchfield (1800-1879).

The Duke took it upon himself to strip all the rooms in his Welbeck Abbey mansion and employ hundreds of workmen to construct a fantastic network of underground tunnels, totalling 15 miles and in some cases wide enough for two coaches.

He also built a series of underground rooms, including a library 250 feet long, an observatory with a large glass roof and a vast billiards-room.

The piece de resistance was a ballroom 174 by 64 feet wide, which had a hydraulic lift that could carry 20 guests from the surface and a ceiling painted to look like a giant sunset. Needless to say, the Duke, who was cripplingly introverted, never had any parties in this ballroom.

Indeed, he only ventured outside in the night and was preceded by a servant lady carrying a lantern 40 yards before him. Servants were forbidden to recongnise him and he would hide behind his umbrella if addressed. He insisted that a chicken be roasting at all hours of the day, and his food was delivered to him on heated trucks that ran on rails through the underground tunnels in the house.

And the many unused overground rooms in Welbeck Abbey? Naturally, Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck painted them all pink and installed a lavatory basin in every single one.

Presently they all sat down to luncheon together. The Mole found himself placed next to Mr. Badger, and, as the other two were still deep in river-gossip from which nothing could divert them, he took the opportunity to tell Badger how comfortable and home- like it all felt to him.

`Once well underground,' he said, `you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You're entirely your own master, and you don't have to consult anybody or mind what they say. Things go on all the same overhead, and you let 'em, and don't bother about 'em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting for you.'

The Badger simply beamed on him. `That's exactly what I say,' he replied. `There's no security, or peace and tranquillity, except underground. And then, if your ideas get larger and you want to expand--why, a dig and a scrape, and there you are! If you feel your house is a bit too big, you stop up a hole or two, and there you are again! No builders, no tradesmen, no remarks passed on you by fellows looking over your wall, and, above all, no weather. Look at Rat, now. A couple of feet of flood water, and he's got to move into hired lodgings; uncomfortable, inconveniently situated, and horribly expensive. Take Toad. I say nothing against Toad Hall; quite the best house in these parts, as a house. But supposing a fire breaks out--where's Toad? Supposing tiles are blown off, or walls sink or crack, or windows get broken--where's Toad? Supposing the rooms are draughty--I hate a draught myself--where's Toad? No, up and out of doors is good enough to roam about and get one's living in; but underground to come back to at last--that's my idea of home.'

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows Chapter 4


Oroborous said...

Whilst I agree with Mole and Badger, it must be noted that it's A LOT cheaper to build aboveground.

You can always convert your house into a bunker, if you like.

Brit said...

The underground paradise, as expressed by Mole and Badger, struck me as a particularly English fantasy - the shyness, obsession with privacy, home-is-his-castle thing taken to the logical extreme.

One of the most obvious difference between traditional English neighbourhoods and high-density immigrant ones is that the latter tend to spill onto the streets in a communal mass, continental city-style. They live outside while WASPs live inside, and socialise at set hours in the pub.

I'd associate the American equivalent with the Gary Numan song:

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
In cars

alfie said...

Then there was this philanthropic mole -

They are still finding his tunnels - and they even do tours down them -

Brit said...

Cheers Alfie. I've not been in the Williamson tunnels, but I'll make an effort to see them next time I'm up.

There's also the Artilleryman in War of the Worlds:

Well, it's like this," he said. "What have we to do? We have to invent a sort of life where men can live and breed, and be sufficiently secure to bring the children up. Yes--wait a bit, and I'll make it clearer what I think ought to be done. The tame ones will go like all tame beasts; in a few genera- tions they'll be big, beautiful, rich-blooded, stupid--rubbish! The risk is that we who keep wild will go savage--de- generate into a sort of big, savage rat. . . . You see, how I mean to live is underground. I've been thinking about the drains. Of course those who don't know drains think horrible things; but under this London are miles and miles--hundreds of miles--and a few days" rain and London empty will leave them sweet and clean. The main drains are big enough and airy enough for anyone. Then there's cellars, vaults, stores, from which bolting passages may be made to the drains. And the railway tunnels and subways. Eh? You begin to see? And we form a band--able-bodied, clean-minded men. We're not going to pick up any rubbish that drifts in. Weaklings go out again...

"Our district will be London. And we may even be able to keep a watch, and run about in the open when the Martians keep away. Play cricket, perhaps. That's how we shall save the race. Eh? It's a possible thing? But saving the race is nothing in itself. As I say, that's only being rats. It's saving our knowledge and adding to it is the thing. There men like you come in. There's books, there's models. We must make great safe places down deep, and get all the books we can; not novels and poetry swipes, but ideas, science books. That's where men like you come in. We must go to the British Museum and pick all those books through. Especially we must keep up our science-- learn more...."

For a while the imaginative daring of the artilleryman, and the tone of assurance and courage he assumed, com- pletely dominated my mind. I believed unhesitatingly both in his forecast of human destiny and in the practicability of his astonishing scheme, and the reader who thinks me sus- ceptible and foolish must contrast his position, reading steadily with all his thoughts about his subject, and mine, crouching fearfully in the bushes and listening, distracted by apprehension. We talked in this manner through the early morning time, and later crept out of the bushes, and, after scanning the sky for Martians, hurried precipitately to the house on Putney Hill where he had made his lair. It was the coal cellar of the place, and when I saw the work he had spent a week upon--it was a burrow scarcely ten yards long, which he designed to reach to the main drain on Putney Hill--I had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his powers. Such a hole I could have dug in a day.

Duck said...

This may expose me as a antisocial introvert, but I've always fantasized about digging my own underground fortress. Especially while I was a schoolboy and dealing with the social hell of adolescence as well as living in the overcrowded confines of my home which I shared with my five siblings, mom and pop. I imagined there was a button I could push in bed that would activate a cylindrical shield that would envelop me in an inpenetrable cocoon, and then lower me via a hydraulic lift system to a subterranean fortress where I could view the world through a hig-tech control room a-la Star Trek, and yet remain totally invisible to the rest of the world.

Now it suffices that I have my own home, in good Anglo-Saxon fashion. All those communitarians complain about the suburbs and the fact that people aren't out on the street mingling with each other all day. That's a feature, not a bug.

Brit said...

I understand the underground fantasy, but maybe because I always had plenty of privacy available to me as a child (only one sister), I never had it in a big way.

I generally had vivid dreams about being able to fly, which strangely enough I would do with a vigorous breast-stroke swimming motion, rather than the Superman style swooping.

Brit said...

Also, though I didn't intend it as such, I wondered if anyone would take this curious post as a dig at Orrin and his basement.

Duck said...

I did think of Orrin while reading this account. To make it fit you could add to your title "no witches".

Oroborous said...

Like Brit, my "underground lair" fantasies didn't revolve around privacy, although there were eight of us in the house while I was growing up.

It was just that a secret maze of underground tunnels would have been so very cool.

It's Superman's "lazy lean" flying technique that's odd, not breast-stroking through air, which after all is how the birds do it.