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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

And So They Departed

The tourists came, then the tourists scuttled off.

Things went relatively well actually. They did not stray from the tour. They did not put their shoulders to the Green Baize Door and invade our realm. They were really rather well behaved. They seemed to be a group of baroque experts, so at Carstone they were as happy as pigs rolling around in particularly pleasant muck.

Only once was I spotted. As I processed from the Library to the Billiard Room with a tray of sandwiches for Sir Geoffrey I noticed eyes upon me. The group were clustered in the Hall and they momentarily found me to be of interest. Their interest dissipated when they realised I was not baroque in any shape or form and their focus quickly returned to Sir Geoffrey's Archivist who was busy pointing out a rather intriguing fact about the ceiling.

Such visits from members of the public do make me wonder what would have happened had the Carstone family followed the example of so many other aristocratic families after the Second World War. So many of this sceptred isles' great houses were thrown open to the public with gusto. Lions appeared in the park of one, railways popped up to attract the public in another, the owners, having to make way for the pursit of profit found themselves penned up in a small corner of their ancestral home, like lodgers. The world had changed. Some ancestral homes even had to be destroyed because the cost of maintaining them was simply too great.

Thank goodness Carstone survived. There are no lions for me to dodge if I wish to stroll the park here. There is no railway line cutting through the parterre garden. There are not hordes of tourists pounding the oak floor in the State Dining Room with their boots. Sir Geoffrey and Lady Carstone are not sentenced to live only in the South-East Tower, and the Butler's Pantry contains a working butler, not a wax mannequin of what experts believe a butler once looked like.

Yes, the world has changed; but when I gaze out of my bedroom window, and see Carstone Park stretching past the lake to Llywelyn's Lodge Gates in the far distance, and spot, beneath my window, Sir Geoffrey happily pottering around the garden with a proud Barton beaming at his shoulder, a great feeling of calmness and contentment sweeps over me. I am pleased that Carstone is still a home. Indeed, it is a home to a great many people. It is my home and has been for so many years. This is where I belong.

But the tourists in small quantities are welcome too.

If they don't sneer at the chintz curtains.

And remember to wipe their feet before entering.

And definitely do not poke the butler with a pointy stick.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Tourists Cometh

Tomorrow there is an invasion. The hatches will be well and truly battened down. Supplies have been stockpiled. The tin hat is firmly placed upon my head. I intend to defend my pantry to the last round of ammunition. For tomorrow, a tour party will be wandering around the House. They arrive at 2pm and their tour will be conducted by Sir Geoffrey's archivist (a part-time position). I have a grim forboding about this event. This morning I spotted a raven of the most blackened hue at the very top of the Cedar Tree. It gave, what I could only ascertain to be, a look of warning. Surely this was a grim omen. Of course it could be that the bird was looking for worms and saw me only as a distraction, but that is neither here nor there.

Members of the public tend to wander. They see a tour party as something a little similar to Colditz. It is their duty to escape using any means necessary. I can assure you it can be very disconcerting when cleaning the Georgian candelabra to look up and find a complete stranger, camera dangling around the neck, gazing at you with a look of intense curiosity. You feel like the depressed gorilla at the zoo. It is not a pleasant feeling.

Below Stairs is not part of the tour. The tour contains wondrous rooms full of baroque carving and remarkable early 17th century ceilings. It is a rare chance to view the state rooms of Carstone House. It is not an excuse to stray into the Pantry and jab the butler with a pointy stick hoping he will do tricks.

Robert, the Hall Boy, looks tired again this morning. His gloom continues. He now has a little of Jean Paul Sartre about him. I will not mention anything to him. If he has again stayed up to watch the cricket, the poor lad has suffered enough.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

It IS November!

The signs are everywhere. They make me shiver, but they are everywhere. Christmas is coming. I went down to the village this morning and the decorations were up. The little shop fronts were all trying to convince me that it was Christmas Eve, or at the very least, December 23rd. I was not fooled. As long as my calendar states that it is November I steadfastly refuse to acknowledge Christmas or any of its trappings. Fortunately it will be several weeks before Carstone House gets decorated. A lot of work is involved in Christmas at Carstone. A large party is thrown for the children of the village and the surrounding areas. I arrange it, and all the children are invited into the Servant's Hall, for a (hopefully) wonderful evening of food, dancing, carols, and an appearance from Father Christmas. These children's parties are the stuff of local legend. Years ago, Sir Geoffrey's father arranged for reindeer to make an appearance at the party, to the delight of the children. Well, they weren't exactly reindeer: they were actually horses from the stables with little antlers fixed to them. I have never asked exactly how the antlers were fixed. I am assuming that they were lightly attached and resembled little ear warmers, but perhaps I do not wish to explore that avenue of inquiry. There will be no reindeer this year, but there is still much for me to do.

There. I've gone and done it. I've spent a full paragraph (in November no less!) discussing Christmas. Obviously the village shop front propaganda has got to me.

There is one shop that I must avoid in the future: the confectionary shop. It used to be run by old Mr Wilkins whose father worked on the Carstone Estate. Now his son has taken over. I cannot say anything bad about the junior Mr Wilkins' abilities as a shop keeper. I am sure he is very able. However if anybody is unfortunate enough to stray into the shop, they might as well write off the next hour as lost. I found myself entangled in a conversation from which I was unable to extricate myself. This always happens to me in there. I am never rescued either. Nobody else ever seems to go into the shop. I never hear from Mr Wilkins, while in full rhetorical flight: "Terribly sorry, Mr Fielding, do you mind if I pause here and attend to this customer?" It is as if Mr Wilkins waits for me. I am sure that when my back is turned he closes the shop so that his conversation cannot be interrupted.

An odd day so far. The weather seemed rather pleasant so I thought I'd have a chat with Mr Cromwell who was doing some work in the Boat House near the lake. As soon as I got near the lake the heavens opened and the wind started to howl. I got quite soaked and had to seek shelter in the Boat House. I stayed there for about ten minutes discussing cabbages and kings with Cromwell and found, upon leaving (the Heavens having halted their downpour) that I had got the side of my jacket quite filthy. Obviously one of the row boats was dirty and I had been (rather foolishly) leaning on it, while taking refuge from the wrath of Mother Nature. A quick change was necessary. Sir Geoffrey and Lady Carstone would not wish their butler to be anything less than perfectly attired. Although, perhaps Sir Geoffrey would not have noticed anyway. He has been given some medication for an ailment and he seems to be "away with the fairies." I encountered him on returning to the House and he greeted me with, what can only be described, as a giggle. He then mumbled something about cake. Lady Carstone explained all to me just five minutes ago.

I harbour a grave suspicion that the Hall Boy has been up all night watching the cricket. I specifically warned him not to do so. He looked awfully tired today and carried himself with a resigned air of weary despair. He obviously was not impressed with England's performance. Hopefully this will convince him to get a good night's sleep tonight instead.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Apologies for the delay in updating. Work, life, and, yes, lethargy, have often prevented me updating this blog since my return from Prague. It really is the oddest thing. During working hours I am ever vigilant and am very harsh on myself if the smallest detail is neglected. There is always so much to do, and I am eager to do it. When I get home after work, and close the door to my flat at the top of the House, my will to be active sometimes fades away, to be replaced by a lethargic feeling which I can only describe as 'Pointless Slumptitude'. I suffer from this malady occasionally. Just lately it has been rampant.

I greatly approve of Prague. An interesting place. The people were all very friendly. They have, over the years, had a penchant for throwing people out of windows (defenestration) but, happily, this mania seems to have passed. My hotel was merely a tram-ride from the centre of town. I was, however, placed in an extremely small room at the top of said hotel. It felt like a footman's quarters from years ago (which, of course, it might well have been at one time). I like exposed beams in buildings, it adds character. I like them slightly less when I smack my head against them at regular intervals. The room was so small (lets be polite and say 'cosy') that everytime I got out of bed and stood upright my head was in grave danger of being hammered into my neck. I believe I have returned to Britain at least a couple of inches shorter than whan I left. At least the window in my room was small. No chance of defenestration here, I remember thinking with satisfaction. Unfortunately there was little chance of light entering either.

I think had I gone away for several years, I would still have found, on returning, that very little had changed at Carstone House. It is a comforting feeling to have. Everything seems to have been quite calm in my absence. In London, Mr Miles, caused quite a stir apparently when a party trick he was performing went badly wrong, but I did not ask for details. London is many miles away, and what happens there, stays there, in my opinion. Apart from that the gossip in the Servant's Hall was rather light. Mr Llywelyn, with permission from Sir Geoffrey, conducted a special 'ghost walk' around the grounds on Halloween. This proved very popular. Many people came from the local village and from further afield. I did not attend but saw them snake by torchlight to various parts of Carstone Park from my bedroom window. Not really my thing. I commend Llywelyn for his business sense, however. He raised quite a lot of money for charity. Flushed with this success I am sure he will be pursuing the 'Transparent Pound' with assiduity from now on.

I shall attempt to apply myself to this diary. I really must crack on with it. No more excuses. Did Samuel Pepys miss a few weeks because of 'Pointless Slumptitude'? Did Chips Channon or Virginia Woolf? What about those great Czech diarists like, Kafka (probably), even with the sinister shadow of defenstration looming over them, I'm sure they remained jolly, and knuckled down to recording the day's events.