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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Location: United Kingdom

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.

9 Comments:

Blogger Tess said...

Another wonderful post! I had a fun time picturing this as I was reading -- especially the idea of the falsies for men's legs (who knew?).

And the "malnourished spaniel" gave me such a laugh! We have good friends with Cav. King Chas. Spaniels and I could picture their dignified, pouty little faces half-hidden under a powdered wig...GREAT visual!

3:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that your description of the ball was a little TOO accurate.

I think I now know what house you work at.

11:06 am  
Anonymous Jack said...

Hey, hey, steady on there Mr Anonymous! You wouldn't be thinking of holding poor Fielding to ransom now, would you?

5:54 pm  
Anonymous Augustine Mulliner said...

Errr... Fielding, old chap, could you please reassure us by confirming that this Mr Anonymous was *not* Lady Carstone in person?

9:22 pm  
Blogger Mr Fielding said...

My Mistress is rather fond of her title, to the extent that she would never consider leaving the house without it.

Therefore, I shall only start to panic when somebody posts as 'Lady Anonymous'.

I have heard nothing else from Anonymous. He or she appears to have lobbed a hand grenade and then run off.

Both blog and job appear safe for now!

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