Since early June, Houghton Hall has been staging programmed illuminations of the West Front running from sunset to darkness every weekend, part of LightScape - an exhibition of light installations by James Turrell.
As ever, the closer and more convenient these things are, the less effort is made to visit. So it's no surprise that it was only on the final weekend, in fact the penultimate show, I travelled the 11 miles to witness it. Standing in the somewhat chilly - if very still - gathering gloom of a late October friday, a hundred yards west of one of England's finest houses waiting for the lights to come on felt a peculiarly English thing to be doing. And of course I was not alone - a rough guess would be that there were some 80 or 90 others dispersed across the grass. Some sitting, some standing and some - I assume - somewhat damply lying down. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the whole affair was how quiet it was, a view shared by the man standing alongside.
As is often the case with these things, the experience was about to become more memorable in a wonderfully English way. The lights did indeed come on and as my friend noted the hush became even deeper.
There were however, and quite naturally, a number of quiet conversations taking place including in the reserved deckchairs some 20 yards away; this was, I gathered, his Lordship with guests including patrons and supporters of the installation. My companion was then joined by a friend and naturally a further subdued conversation ensued. It was, thus something of a surprise for us to be told off in a very English female voice from somewhere behind us - "would you mind being quiet. Some of us are trying to enjoy the performance."
With I thought admirable restraint, there was no riposte; we simply did as we had been told, greatly enjoying the illuminations, albeit with suppressed mirth and of course more aware of the conversations continuing in front of us. I can only assume my companions were, like me, contemplating the delicious possibility of the people who had made the whole thing possible being similarly reprimanded.
Sadly this was not to be, but I cannot imagine such an installation being viewed anywhere in the world in more reverential circumstances. There was no music or words to be outrageously interrupted. It was simply light - and it was beautiful.