Tales From The Pantry: A Butler's Diary

From the pantry of an historic country house comes the ongoing diary of its butler, Mr Dean Fielding. I shall be giving you a glimpse of the family I serve and of the lives both 'Below Stairs' and 'Above'. I hope you follow my jottings daily.

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Have been butler here for over 15 years. Having previously, and unusually for these days, worked my way up from footman to under-butler to my current post. You can now follow me on Twitter via: http://www.twitter.com/butlerfielding

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Ball

What a wonderful evening it proved to be. Never have so many 'monarchs' been assembled in one place since Queen Victoria's family get togethers.

The State Dining Room and Ballroom looked exquisite, and, I must say, that the staff excelled themselves. Working long hours without much of a break took it out of everyone, but the ball was such a success, that it was surely worth it.

The two footmen looked splendid in full livery and were not laughed at by the Still Room maids (unless they giggled behind their sugar cone), at least not to my knowledge. Simon did have a problem with the buckled shoes, as he was not used to them, and the soles were very hard. He said it was like wearing clogs with buckles on. By the end of the evening he admitted that his feet were blistering really rather badly, but he was probably too tired to notice.

The Second Footman, Richard, another newcomer to full livery, had a different problem. A couple of hours before we were due to change for the evening, I heard a tentative knock on the door to my Pantry. I had been busy adding up the sums for the provisions for the big event. Mathematics is not a strong point of mine, and I usually attempt such work only in conjunction with Mrs Berry. I put down my pen and bid the visitor 'enter'. It was Richard, wearing, what I can only describe, as a sheepish expression. You could almost see the wool. After looking down at the floor for a bit, he confessed that he was worried about wearing the breeches that were a part of the full livery of a footman. You see, although Richard is rather tall, his legs, he explained, were 'not up to much'. In fact, they were rather thin. Spindly was the word he used. He worries about them when he visits the beach. In the usual footman's everyday uniform of black trousers this is not an issue, but breeches can be rather unflattering to those whose legs run to spindly.

I attempted to reassure him that his problem was not a new one. Indeed, quite often footmen in years gone by would actually wear 'false calves' and sometimes even 'false thighs'. A footman after all has to be ornamental, not just useful. These 'falsies' were not as dramatic as they sound, but their application in the right places could make a considerable difference to both the footman's appearance and, presumably, to the footman's self-confidence. Richard thought about this for a minute, and then concluded (correctly in my view) that if a Still Room maid was going to giggle at him for wearing livery, the hysterical laughter that would ensue from the Still Room if word got about that the livery contained false muscles, would be too much for one man to bear.

Richard looked fine. Nobody laughed. Perhaps he can now return to the beach in confidence.

The fancy-dress list, as far as the Carstone family were concerned, were as follows:

King Charles II - (Sir Geoffrey Carstone) I'm not sure if this worked particularly well. My Master is a rather thin man, and the effect of his 17th century wig, made him look rather like a malnourished spaniel. There was too much hair, and too little face. The wig rather consumed him. He bore himself with great dignity however, and the sight of Charles II dancing with Queen Victoria was an amusing one.

Queen Victoria - (Lady Carstone) I was surprised at this. I had heard for weeks that Lady Carstone was going to attend the Ball as the first Queen Elizabeth. Perhaps there were last minute problems (I must ask Lady Carstone's Ladies Maid, Miss Roberts) but, although considerably different in both height and build to Victoria, she cut an imposing figure, and seemed to enjoy the evening greatly.

King Alfred - (Mr Miles Carstone) Fortunately the rumours that Mr Miles was going to come dressed as Oliver Cromwell proved to be unfounded. An interesting costume for the heir to Carstone House. His tall, thin figure, actually suited it rather well. A wonderful touch was the collection of burnt cakes he carried around with him that Mrs Styles had provided. I think burning cakes, even deliberately, cut Mrs Styles deeply. "Why couldn't he have gone as Edward III?" was the cry from the Kitchen.

Queen Marie Antoinette - (Miss Gemma Carstone) I knew it, and predicted it in this diary just before the ball. We had three Marie Antoinettes in attendance, but none quite so striking as young Miss Gemma. There is something about a ball that brings the Marie Antoinette out in people. Somebody, somewhere, is doing a roaring trade in Marie Antoinette costumes. Miss Gemma is very beautiful and always looks innocent even while in the midst of the utmost mischief. Charles II's crown went missing. It was eventually found in the punch. Miss Gemma looked like butter would not melt in her mouth, but I saw her submerge the Merrie Monarch's crown with a giggle half an hour before. It was a rather unique sight to see Henry VIII sternly reprimanding the Queen of France for stealing Charles II's crown!

King Henry VIII - (Mr Thomas Carstone) Seems to take these sorts of things very seriously. Quite an extraordinary costume. Lavish and full of bright jewels. Henry himself would have been proud to wear it. It really is quite remarkable how effectively rotund a man can look merely by pushing a cushion up his shirt. Mr Thomas is an athletic individual but such was the effect of his costume, you would have thought that some sort of crane would be needed to lower him onto his horse. Miss Gemma approached me wanting to know why I had also stuffed a cushion up my shirt. Needless to say I hadn't. As well she knew.

There were many guests and many costumes. It was such a wonderful evening. We had another cushion used to good effect by Richard III (this time as a hump); Charles I wandered around, but rarely strayed from the drinks; unfortunately a rather inebriated Henry V at one point thought it was rather funny to bump into people and then quote Shakespeare: "A little touch of Harry in the night!" Personally I do not think Agincourt would have become the great English victory we now see it had the King, repeatedly and irritatingly, bumped into his bowmen. He would have done more damage than the French.

My role involved announcing the various kings and queens as they entered the Ballroom. The dancing continued long into the night. At one point, Charles II (My Master) halted the music, gave a mini-speech thanking everybody for coming, and then wished Elizabeth II a happy birthday with effusive praise. The band then struck up 'God Save The Queen' which was sung with great gusto. All in all, a magnificent occasion.

Afterwards, as the party died down, and most of the guests had departed, I began checking the ground floor to make sure that no guest had dozed off in an armchair somewhere and had been forgotten about. I began to draw the curtains in the Library when I noticed, out of the window, the waving figure of Christopher (The Groom). He had spotted me and wished to bring my attention to something. I went outside to meet him. It was lovely and cool in the grounds after the heat of the Ballroom. The sight I saw was certainly a remarkable one. Three monarchs were racing against each other. According to Christopher they had wanted to use horses from the stables but he had wisely vetoed such an idea. Richard III seemed to be winning, but I had seen enough monarchs for one evening, and I returned inside to begin locking up Carstone House for another night.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Hectic Day Awaits

Just a quick note to update everybody on things. I awoke several hours ago. An early start is essential today for there is much to do. This evening, to celebrate the 80th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen, Sir Geoffrey and Lady Carstone are hosting, a 'Monarch's Ball'. Many guests are due to arrive dressed as various Kings and Queens from our island's past. I am fairly sure that there will be 'monarchs' from other nations as well. It is my long experience that whenever there is a fancy-dress ball of any kind, there are usually one or two 'Marie Antoinettes' in attendance. She is a popular choice.

My Master is attending as King Charles II. For many weeks it was a close run thing between 'Old Rowley' and 'George III' but Charles just pipped 'Farmer' George to the post.

This glittering occasion calls for full livery for the footmen. They are both relatively new and have never worn 'full livery' before. This involves buckled shoes, britches, and, to the horror of Simon, the wearing of a powdered wig. I believe he protests too much, and is actually looking forward to the big event. There is always a fear, I suppose, that one of the Still Room maids might snigger at him. But, I ask you, can we allow old traditions to die out because of the mockery of Still Room maids? Simon must, nay, will, be firm and wear his powdered wig with pride.

There is much to do.....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bishop's Mitre or Cardinal's Hat?

The Carstone family headed off to spend Easter in Prague, (which allowed me the opportunity to take a few days off to spend with my family). They are returning home at the end of the week, and I am already back at work, and trying to ensure that everything will be in tip top condition at the House for when they return.

Friday evening was not an unqualified success. I hardly expected it to be. Llywelyn, from the very beginning, had the fevered gleam in his eye of the true believer. I just wanted to be tucked up in my nice snug bed. I still haven't finished my Brian Johnstone book. I met him (Llywelyn not Brian Johnstone), as he requested, at the Tradesman's Entrance at 10pm. He didn't bring his volume of 'Carstone's supernatural history' with him. I think he would have required some sort of trolley, or durable pack horse, in order to do so in any case. All the stories and tales have, no doubt, been confined to his memory long ago.

Our first point of call was the State Dining Room, where, Llywelyn breathlessly explained, the ghostly image of King Charles I, or "a figure very like him" had been spotted at alarmingly regular intervals. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, but nothing appeared to break the silence and serenity of a room, which even in the semi-darkness still seemed to radiate more majesty than any spectral monarch, headless or otherwise, could have managed. I also noticed that a leg of one of the chairs at the Dining Table seemed to be slightly wonky. I will have to see to that before the family return from Prague.

I then followed Llywelyn to several other rooms, and although I found his stories to be fascinating and wonderfully well told (I think he should seriously consider publishing a book on them. Surely there would be a call for a slimmer, more concise book on the ghosts of Carstone House, that locals could purchase and take home with them without running the risk of acquiring a hernia) I found my mind wandering to other things: should the cushion covers in the Chintz Room be cleaned again? Was that a speck of dirt on the face of the longcase clock in the Family Dining Room? Would Mr Miles be joining the family next week-end? Was the chandelier really as secure as I thought (I could swear it moved slightly as we left the room)? Should I fold the napkins on the Dining Room table in the bishops mitre, cardinal's hat, or arum lily style, for the week-end?

If Lywelyn had known that while he was telling his heart-stopping, blood curdling, flesh creeping tales, his audience had been mentally pondering the merits of the Bishops Mitre, as opposed to the Cardinal's Hat, he would have thought: "I have lost him." He might well have been right.

I felt rather guilty since Mr Llywelyn had put in so much effort. We did not see or experience anything. I think the ghosts were rather inconsiderate. They could have at least clanked a few chains, or slammed a door (not too hard though, we would not have wanted to wake anybody up), but they were obviously not interested in us. The only 'ghostly' thing I heard was a wail coming from the Game Larder, which on further investigation turned out to be Simon, the Footman. Sigh. Standards are slipping when footmen are pretending to be ghosts. He did not wear a sheet over his head though, so I suppose that was a blessing.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Whisky And Lodgekeepers: A Fatal Combination

I arose this morning with a terrific headache. Perhaps it was rather unprofessional of me to have drunk so much on a Wednesday evening, with work the next day. I did not plan on drinking so much, and it is not a mistake I shall make again soon. It is just that Llywelyn does tend to dominate a conversation so, leaving the party of the second part with only a bashful grin and a glass in his hand, and taking a sip seems the only option available.

After breakfast I encountered My Master's valet Mr Copeland in the Bells Passage. He seemed eager to talk to me, so I led him into the Pantry and closed the door. Copeland was, as always, immaculately dressed. He asked if he could borrow my hat brush, which I dutifully supplied, but I sensed that he had other things on his mind and he did not seem too keen to leave. After a little bit of small talk, he came straight to the point: gossip. He asked me if I had detected a certain amount of frostiness in the demeanour of Mr Miles since the return from London. I confessed that I had. There had been so much frostiness in fact, that I was surprised that any of Barton's hothouse plants had survived the sudden drop in temperature, orangery or no orangery. Leaning forward conspiratorially Copeland told me that he knew the reason why (and presumably he had to pass on the gossip or die).

In London, apparently, one of the highlights of the 21st birthday celebrations, was to be the recitation of a poem by Mr Miles Carstone. He had been preparing it for some time. When the big moment came, he delivered his work with verve and passion. Now, there is nothing worse when a man bears his soul, and delivers dollops of verve and passion, than for his efforts to be greeted with utter indifference. This was the fate of Mr Miles Carstone. The audience were polite, yet seemed rather confused by it all. It also did not help Mr Miles to overhear his father muttering to Lady Carstone, "What was all that about?" rather too loudly. An argument later ensued.

Mr Miles has a slim volume of poetry due to be published at the end of the month entitled 'The Salmon'. This was not a good boost to his confidence. His full-time career as a portrait painter is not going well either, and it seems a few home truths were exchanged between baronet and heir. The atmosphere was very unpleasant, and Copeland admitted he was glad to get back home. Personally he thought Mr Miles' poem 'ghastly' and began to explain poetical rhyme and meter to me in great detail. I was rather glad when a bell rang, calling me away.

Sir Geoffrey seemed quiet at dinner. Ironically the starter was smoked salmon, and he barely touched it. Perhaps it reminded him of incomprehensible poetry. I daresay he has a lot on his mind. These familial squabbles are never easy, and his children do tend to try him so. He has a function at the local British Legion this evening, so perhaps that will rouse him out of his gloom, and chase the black dog from Carstone.

I myself have my own little troubles. After dinner in the Servant's Hall, I retired with my dessert into the Housekeeper's Room to have a chat with Mrs Berry. I told her about the previous evening's events with Llywelyn, and how I was not overly keen on accompanying the Lodge Keeper on his Friday night nocturnal spook hunt. Mrs Berry seemed to find it all very amusing. She told me that it was my own fault for agreeing to it. This was not the sympathetic response that I was hoping for. Perhaps I could get out of it, I suggested. "How?" she not unreasonably replied. Now, it may not be very British, or gentlemanly, but feigning illness was top of my list of possibilities. Mrs Berry, in that uniquely stately way that only Housekeepers can manage, got up to put some table cloths into the linen drawers in the corner of her room, and looked at me with a sphinx-type smile, before sweeping out of the room with the cryptic comment: "It will not be that easy."

It did not take me long to ascertain her meaning. Everybody 'below stairs' seemed to know about it, and they all had comments to make. Mr Copeland, returning my hat brush, tapped me on the arm, and wished me luck. I overheard the two footmen, Simon and Richard, discussing the horrors that awaited me, especially if we ventured to the Summer House after dark. Mrs Styles, not surprisingly, took a grim view of things: she warned me to be careful, and told me that she would not do it for worlds. She also delighted in pondering on the fate that awaited me: her forecasts had me tripping over and spraining my ankle, or being hit with an object by a poltergeist with a particularly good aim, or my dropping a candle and setting the whole place alight. I left the Kitchen promptly when she started musing on 'possessions.' Even Lady Carstone mentioned something about the 'thin veil that surrounds Carstone', as I helped her on with her coat this evening, before she headed into town. I did not get her meaning, but she definitely smiled while she said it, and her eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief.

Getting out of this will not be easy. I do not want people thinking that Mr Fielding has no backbone. A butler needs to be respected, or who knows what might happen to the whole structure 'below stairs'? I cannot berate the Hall Boy for slovenliness, when he can simply retort, under his breath: "Pah! But I am not afraid of ghosts!" It is just so tiresome. Never mix whisky with Lodge Keepers. That is the lesson I have learnt.

It is getting late now, and as I got to my bedroom, just a few minutes ago, my telephone rang. It was Llywelyn. He asked me if I wanted to back out. I indignantly replied to the contrary. I encountered the worst that Carstone could throw at me last night: a wandering gardener with the power of the 'evil eye'. Any ghost seems quite insipid in contrast.

Spirits With Llywelyn

With Sir Geoffrey and Lady Carstone dining elsewhere, the house empty of guests, and the quick departure of Mr Miles back to London (not looking happy in the least) yesterday was quite a calm one after the storm of activity brought by the previous week.

With my duties for the day completed I left Carstone House with something of a spring in my step at about 8pm. Although the wind was rather blustery (if I had been wearing a hat it would surely have been blown off my head and probably been nibbled on by one of the swans on the lake) the walk to the Lodge Gates was rather a pleasant, bracing one, and the House behind me looked quite dramatic as the sun started to set. Mr Llywelyn had obviously spotted me, because he was waiting by the open door of one of the Lodges, with a glass of whisky in one hand, and a smile of benign friendliness on his face.

His living space is actually a lot larger than it appears from the outside. Llywelyn is addicted to clutter, however, and the whole effect is one of infinite cosiness. I think he likes an audience to listen to his stories and I was ushered to a comfy chair next to the (unlit) fireplace. Although he also had a chair next to mine, he did not spend a great deal of time sitting in it. As our conversation progressed, and a few drinks were imbibed, Llywelyn's opinions became more vocal and his excitement grew. He passed judgement on many things: from the dark nature of the swans on the lake, to the unsuitability of Mr Miles as heir (I blushed at this, and kept quiet; apparently Mr Miles sometimes drives his car to the Lodge Gates at 3am, and toots his horn, with the sole purpose of waking up Mr Llywelyn - at least according to Mr Llywelyn), to the myriad mistakes of Mr Barton's gardening staff. As he grew more animated, he paced back and forth, waving his arms about. I could imagine him as a 19th century firebrand politician, perhaps upbraiding Mr Disraeli for crimes against the people. The Welsh lilt to his voice made me wonder if this was the sort of thing that Mrs Lloyd George was subjected to of an evening.

After a couple of hours of Llywelyn putting the world to rights he charged into his favourite topic: the ghosts, ghouls, myths and legends of Carstone. He asked me if I had seen or felt anything strange. I confessed that in my fifteen years at Carstone, I had not experienced anything supernatural, and perhaps I was not sensitive enough to do so. Llywelyn sniffed at this. Sceptics apparently rating somewhere below cat burglars in his mind.

Seeking to convince me he brought out a large, very large book. Mrs Beeton would have been proud of its dimensions. He semi-staggered with it and placed it on a coffee table, which groaned beneath the weight. This book reminded me of the 16th century poet who said of a great tome: "It is a portable work if your horse be not too weak." Llywelyn explained that it was a collection of all the sightings and paranormal experiences and stories linked to Carstone over the centuries. Flicking through its leaves he informed me of a previous Steward who regularly conversed with spirits. Since the Steward's Room (now used as a store room) is situated right next to the entrance to the cellars, that did not surprise me in the slightest. In fact, I know of one Steward who was imbibing a bottle of whisky a day at one point, out of convenience, probably, more than anything else. Seeing the fire in Llywelyn's eyes I decided to remain silent and merely nodded, quietly trying to work out exactly how much whisky I had consumed so far that evening.

When he had completed his ghostly peroration: from poltergeists in the parlour, to ghouls in the Long Gallery, Llywelyn conjured up a 'brilliant idea'. On Friday night, he informed me, he would take me around the House and its grounds and give me a 'ghost tour'. Perhaps I would then feel some of the eerieness so obviously apparent at dear old Carstone. "Perhaps then" he said ominously, "you won't be so much of a sceptic." I suppose it was the whisky, and I regret it now, but I agreed to the scheme.

By the time I left the Lodge, I was slightly tipsy, and there seemed to be more than the usual number of stars in the night sky (and since apparently it was overcast last night, it shows how much alcohol I had actually consumed!) as I tottered back across the grounds towards the Tradesman's Entrance at the rear of the House. I had almost reached my destination when I heard a rustling sound coming from my right. Was this one of Llywelyn's spirits? No, it was something far more sinister. It was Barton moving rather quickly towards the Orangery Garden. Do gardeners never sleep? What was the man doing out and about at that time? It must have been past midnight.

I must remember to ask him when I get the chance. My head hurts now.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mrs Styles Suffers For Her Art

What a tiring week it has been so far. The family entertained quite widely, as some of the guests from the 21st birthday party in London were invited back to Carstone to stay the week-end. I think the event was quite pleasurable. Sir Geoffrey, however, seemed relieved to be back. He always says that although he loves being surrounded by family, he is not overkeen at being surrounded by ALL the family. Certainly not for long spells. I sympathise with this sentiment.

Mrs Styles recovered quite swiftly from her illness, and was able to cook the dinner for the large dinner party on Friday evening. Well, the doctor said that she was fine, but anybody hearing the groans of anguish coming from the Kitchen would have assumed that a murder was taking place. Mrs Styles, as always, had lots to moan about; from her health, to the weather, to the quality of ingredients, and, I am sure if I had stayed any longer in the Kitchen, probably the current state of the political world as well. I hastily retreated to my Pantry and allowed Mrs Styles to prepare the food as she likes to, in a state of considerable misery.

I received a reply this morning to my stinging letter about the behaviour of Overall Man, the chandelier fitter. It was rather grovelling. It was quite satisfying to read. I daresay they do not wish to lose Carstone's custom. I shall evaluate our options when the time arrives. I think I will make one thing absolutely clear, however: there can be no smoking in Carstone House by visiting workmen.

The dinner party and week-end were a great success. It meant rather late finishes for me, but I didn't really mind. Great houses only come to life when they are being lived in, otherwise they are just echoes of past glories, and in some places, the echo seems rather muffled, as if being heard from behind a Green Baize Door! It is always a delight to me when the house is full. I did notice something that concerned me, however; Mr Miles Carstone, far from being the life and soul of the party, as he usually is, was rather quiet and distant. Perhaps there was an argument in London, or perhaps Mr Miles has something on his mind. The Servants' Hall grapevine has yet to produce anything on this topic but I shall monitor developments closely. I disapprove of gossip, of course, but Servants' Hall gossip is usually rather better-informed than your average tittle-tattle.

Mr Llywelyn has invited me to his Lodge this evening for a quiet drink. All the guests have dispersed now, so things are winding down a bit, and I think I need to wind down a bit too.

I shall finish with an apology. It has always been my intention to update this diary on a daily basis. The fact is, however, I am a creature of routine, and I am yet to settle into the routine of posting on here; that combined with a hectic schedule, has meant that this blog has been rather neglected this week. I shall endeavour to do better in the future.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Chandelier Complications

Some days, things just seem to go wrong. Yesterday I believed that chandeliers were beautiful, useful things; they hung there elegantly and shone their glittering rays on those below, illuminating, and, in some cases, inspiring with their magnificence. Today I saw their darker, more malevolent side.

Today was the day that the freshly cleaned and spruced up chandelier was due to be returned to its rightful place in the Family Dining Room.

I was awoken with a cup of tea by Simon (the Second Footman) at 7am. Do not believe that such luxuries are the norm in this establishment, they are not. I am quite capable of getting by without relying on the kindness of passing footmen, but, I thought it a nice touch by a young man who is obviously trying rather hard to make a good impression. Apparently he had been reading a book on The Edwardian Country House, a Channel 4 (also shown on PBS for all of our American cousins) television series that attempted to re-create the upstairs and downstairs of Edwardian life. I did not see it myself, which is a shame. The delicious irony is, that whenever it was on, I was usually serving at table as a real butler! I can thank it for my cup of tea this morning though. Simon explained that the butler in the programme was always woken with a cup of tea by a footman. Long may Simon continue to study his book!

My usual morning duties, which include a short meeting with Sir Geoffrey, passed without real incident. The wine-list for this evening was agreed; all the writing desks in the house were equipped with both pens and paper, and I began my usual patrol of the rooms, ensuring everything was satisfactory. Usually I find everything in excellent order, but today I discovered a fly in my ointment; when entering the Italian Room, I encountered a man in white overalls lounged upon a sofa, smoking a cigarette. He didn't seem to jump up at my presence. He didn't seem to react much at all. He kept lounging there, and I half expected him to snap his fingers at me and command me to fetch a double scotch at once. In short, he had made himself at home.

My worry was that he would get cigarette ash over the carpet as he seemed to only have a vague notion as to the location of the ashtray. I politely enquired as to his business. He had come to replace the chandelier. Indeed. And why was he not, at this present time, engaged in chandelier replacing activity in the Family Dining Room? There were complications he explained, and his mate had had to nip back to the van for something. Finding himself alone (the other two workers had apparently disappeared somewhere also) he had decided to explore his surroundings a little more thoroughly. A little too thoroughly I thought, and bid him to follow me back to the chandelier-less Family Dining Room. He seemed a little put out at this, but eventually, and rather reluctantly, he followed me.

That was just the beginning of a day of 'complications'. I was interrupted many times through the day by the Overall Man and his requests and updates. My Pantry door was continually being knocked upon, and my telephone was practically ringing off the hook. I had not realised, obviously, the intense difficulty of cleaning, restoring, and replacing a chandelier. We have never had any problems of this kind in the past. I have made a note of the company. We shall not use them again.

After they had eventually departed (I half expected their van not to start through 'complications') I walked into the Italian Room to find that Overall Man, obviously failing to find the ashtray, again probably because of complications, had stubbed out his cigarette and had left the stub on a side table, cunningly pushed behind a lamp. Such things do not escape my attention.

Tomorrow evening there will be several guests arriving for dinner, with several of them staying for the week-end. We have much to do. I only hope that the Housemaids Wendy and Rhiannon do not find any further cigarette stubs hidden around the House.

I could not help wondering what Easter would bring at the household of Overall Man. Perhaps the traditional Easter egg hunt would have a slight twist there. Perhaps his smiling, rosy cheeked children, would dash around the house in a frantic search to find all the cigarette stubs lovingly placed by their father.

My day became complete when I was informed that Mrs Styles (the cook) had taken to her bed. She complained of feeling poorly earlier on today. I hope she will feel better in the morning. Lady Carstone has specifically requested one of her specialities to be served at dinner tomorrow evening.

England also lost to India in the cricket earlier today. My mood being slightly dampened in consequence.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

'Below Stairs': The Servants

In years gone by there was a steward at Carstone House (as there was in many of the larger houses in this country). Those days have passed. We no longer have the huge staff that would necessitate both a butler and a steward. This means that, today, I am the senior servant, and am responsible for all the male members of staff. I have been fortunate enough to be in service for many years, and I like to think that I am a shrewd judge of both the abilities and character of those I work with. I know what makes a good member of staff. I know what makes a bad one. I am delighted with the current staff. Perhaps being the butler puts one in a jolly frame of mind anyway. I have that most fantastic of powers, the ability to 'delegate'. It brings a smile at times, but I never abuse my position. I shall quickly run through some of the members of staff that may well appear in this diary in future:

Mrs Berry is the Housekeeper. She hasn't been at Carstone for too long, six years or so, but she has already (I say 'already', some might think that six years is quite long enough to get settled into a job, but, in the grand scheme of Carstone, with its ancient halls and centuries of tradition, six years really isn't that long at all) proved to be something of a rock to Lady Carstone. Unflappable, and usually cheerful, there is also more than a hint of steel behind that twinkling, jolly smile. She is, in the old tradition, unmarried, but is always referred to as 'Mrs'; which is something of a courtesy title.

Mr Copeland is Valet to Sir Geoffrey. He is rather indispensible and, as the years have gone by, seems to have become something of a confidante to my master. A good man, with at times, admittedly, a rather superior attitude. He is something of a connoisseur of art, music and literature, or claims to be. Sir Geoffrey sometimes dispatches Copeland to Lady Carstone's artistic evenings, as a sort of proxy.

Miss Roberts is Lady's Maid to Lady Carstone. Amusing and talented, she can also be almost unbearably fussy and bossy. It depends in what mood you catch her.

Mrs Styles is The Cook. Small, slight, aged about forty, she is superb at her job, but is often so pessimistic about everything, and is often in such a gloom, that you find yourself musing on whether it is only professional pride that keeps her from slipping poison into the Plum Duff. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong according to Mrs Styles. She always comes up trumps in the end but she does like to torture herself (and anybody within ear shot) so!

We have two footmen, named Simon and Richard, they seem efficient enough, although they have not been in their jobs long, so I shall reserve judgement on them.

The housemaids fall under the supervision of Mrs Berry. I only have good things to say about them, although Wendy, does seem to be rather flighty at times, and I am convinced that Rhiannon already has her eye on the Housekeeper's job; she is not without ambition or confidence. The kitchen maids are supervised by Mrs Styles, and for that they have my sympathy. We have several staff that are part-time, and are brought in when the circumstances demand.

Robert is the Hall Boy. He is young and willing to work hard and learn. He always attacks any task he is given with vigour. He is also very adept at supplying me with the latest Test Match score when required.

The Outside Staff included:

Mr Llywelyn the Lodge Keeper, of which you will already have read. He is a fountain of knowledge and tall tales about Carstone House. The problem often comes in distinguishing between the two. He also has other duties to perform, including back-up chauffeur.

Mr Reynolds is my Master's principal chauffeur. Unsurprisingly, he has a passion for cars, and can probably take them apart and re-assemble them, just for fun. He is marvellously well-organised, and likes to run things by military precision. He once showed me his diary where he documented every journey he made in Sir Geoffrey's employ, clearly stating the distance driven, and the conditions that day. Most impressive, if, perhaps, a tad obsessive.

Mr Barton, the Head Gardener, we shall not dwell on at this juncture, suffice to say that his plants treat him as a monarch, and seem to do everything he commands. He has three permanent gardeners under his supervision, with other part-timers being brought in when necessary.

There are others, of which you will hear in due course, but I hope the previous posts have given you something of the flavour of this establishment.

All that is left now, is to begin the diary proper......

Saturday, April 01, 2006

'Above Stairs': The Family

I must apologise in advance, in the old days of service, it was quite conceivable that a butler from Something Castle might leave his post tempted by a better offer (possibly even the ultimate appointment, "Steward" at one of this nation's large country houses) from Thingummy Towers. Many in service moved about a bit. I never really have. I started at Carstone from a rather young age and have worked my way up the ranks to my current position. As such, I have a certain affection for the place, its traditions, and the family whose ancestral home this is. Perhaps I will sometimes portray them sympathetically (even fondly) when a more objective soul would pass criticism. I am biased, I am a "Carstone man", and am rather proud of it.

My Master is a man easy to admire. Sir Geoffrey Carstone is a British gentleman from the old school. His age hovers around the 56 mark. I am not always certain that the 21st century suits him very well. In fact, I think he also frowned a bit at the 20th century. Even the 19th might have received a stern glare from him. He is very old fashioned in taste, and has a distrust of modern gadgets. He is a very popular man however in the neighbourhood, and he is seen as a friendly philanthropist. He is certainly generous and amiable. He takes an interest in all estate matters, and claims that only by 'being useful' will he avoid that damning verdict that society sometimes passes on members of the old aristocracy these days: 'obsolete'.

My Master's wife, Elizabeth, Lady Carstone is, in some ways, the direct opposite of her husband. She thrives on modern technology and certain aspects of modernity. She certainly knows her way around a computer, and if anybody is going to discover this blog and blow the gaff, then it will be her. She is about four years younger than My Master (I blush to mention a lady's age) and has a keen interest in the arts, both older and (to the shudder of Sir Geoffrey) modern. Artists often find their way to Carstone for 'cultural evenings' at which Lady Carstone excels, and My Master tries to avoid like the plague.

This strange, but ultimately successful union between two such diverse characters, has produced the following issue: (They all visit Carstone regularly. Sometimes My Master is pleased about this, other times he is not.)

Mr Miles Carstone The next baronet, and heir to Carstone. Tall, thin, and with rather eccentric ideas about life. Again, I do not wish to pass judgement, and nothing surprises me, but, I must say I am surprised by many of the things that Mr Miles does. He celebrated his 31st birthday last year but we are still waiting for his youthful impulses to lessen. His circle of friends are artistic and poetical, and Mr Miles himself has dabbled in verse. He is currently attempting to make a success of a career as a portrait artist, with so far mixed results.

Mr Thomas Carstone is only a year younger than his brother and (if I may be allowed to give an opinion on this rather sensitive matter) would have made a far more stable heir to Carstone. He has a passion for history, the law (for that is his profession), and politics. Tall, and athletic in build, he is a fine cricketer (and wonderful to talk to on the subject) He has also many times extracted his elder brother from various scrapes. If the family ever has a crisis, then Mr Thomas is immediately called for.

Miss Gemma Carstone Well, I shall start by praising her for her lively mind, spellbinding beauty, and puckish sense of humour. A moment is never dull when Miss Gemma is around. Her brother Thomas tries to be a stabling influence on her, but she is wilful and spirited and listens only to her heart. If anything, she has a wilder circle of friends than Mr Miles, and these have caused great concern to Sir Geoffery and Lady Carstone. She is unmarried but not for the want of suitors. She can be as unpredictable as her eldest brother. Perhaps age, or the wise guidance of Mr Thomas, will temper their excesses soon. Since I have seen all of the younger Carstone clan grow up from the Nursery I am very fond of all of them.