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

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Disastrous Dinner

I have felt very low over the past few days. I take it quite badly when an event I have had a major hand in planning goes dreadfully wrong. I should have the experience to know that, no matter how good the planning, one cannot always legislate for the behaviour of guests. Below Stairs we can only do so much. Events of the weekend did not run smoothly.

Eighteen people sat down to dinner a few nights ago. The guest list included the local great and good, as well as a few of Mr Miles' friends thrown in for good measure. Things started well enough. I announced the guests as they arrived. Mr Thomas greeted them. So far, so good. Before dinner conversation seemed lively and all seemed well. It was after I had struck the dinner gong that the problems began. As I served the starter I noticed that the guests were not sat in their correct places. I had organised (with Mr Thomas) the correct placements for all the guests. I had inspected the Dining Table minutely moments before the guests processed into dinner. I could not understand what had happened. The guests could read, they knew the protocol involved in dining: What had gone wrong?

This unsettled me slightly but it could not be helped. Perhaps things would turn out splendidly in any case. The two footmen served the next course, while I supervised. As I was filling up the local MPs glass, I noticed that an animated conversation was occurring at the far end of the table where the Bishop was sat next to one of Mr Miles' friends. This friend, who was not in correct evening dress, seemed to be expounding loudly and with much vigour his thoughts on mysticism, and proceeded to give a detailed explanation of how and why organised religion had got it all wrong. The Bishop seemed strained. Mr Thomas looked pained, and, suspiciously to me, Mr Miles looked amused. The tense atmosphere seemed to slowly seep throughout the table. Laughter became more nervous. Polite conversation seemed to die down. Guests became fascinated either by the 17th century plasterwork on the ceiling, or by the splendid job the Housemaids had made in cleaning the chenille carpet that morning. Awkward is the word that could best be used to describe dinner at this point. The atmosphere begged to be carved more than the meat.

Guests left early and from the look on Mr Thomas' face, I knew that the evening had not improved after dinner. It had died a slow death, but not a quiet one, as Mr Miles' friend, not taking the hint, had continued his tirade against religion, over the port. Dreadfully bad manners. It was like being invited to Windsor Castle, being placed next to the Queen, and then spending all night singing the praises of the French Revolution, all the while expressing a hope that a similar craze would soon break out in Britain. I felt dreadfully sorry for the Bishop. What a terrible evening he must have had.

Later that night, long after the guests had wearily departed, I entered the Servant's Hall to thank the staff for their hard work that evening. There was much muttering about the dinner. I asked Simon (a footman) about the place settings. He told me that just before dinner, Mr Miles had entered the Dining Room, and had switched the settings. He had deliberately placed the loud mystic next to the Bishop. Puck would have been proud of that one, but I cannot say that I was.

Something deep within me can never trust a gentleman who attends dinner improperly dressed. This prejudice, I am sorry to say, has now been reinforced. I should have realised that a man who wears a lounge suit with multicoloured tie to a (semi) formal dinner would only cause trouble. Spirits are low. Hopefully the Summer Servant's Ball tomorrow evening will cheer me up. Mrs Berry has been splendid with the organisation.


Blogger Tea & Margaritas in My Garden said...

Oh dear..naughty Mr Miles! I`m sorry to hear things didn`t go well. But you know Mr. Fielding, it had nothing to do with your organization. Forgive me, but it would have been good makings in a movie I would think. A rebel slipped between the cracks with a bit of help. It was probably planned for awhile and chuckled over.


5:39 pm  
Anonymous Butler said...

Oh my Lordy! Well not only can a man who turns up in the wrong attire be frowned upon but lets not forget the mastermind behind the cutain pulling all the strings to spice up his evening....how interesting but on other thoughts my hotel is bracing for a tropical storm! All the guests have cancelled so cut to my in the butler pantry saying a hail mary!!

9:07 pm  
Blogger Mr Fielding said...

Thank you Tea. It just makes you feel deflated after all the effort, even after all these years. It seems that everything was planned by Mr Miles. An odd thing to do, but not unlike him.

Butler: (who I presume is the inestimable Mr Bruce?) I do hope your hotel holds up well to the tropical storm. You are a butler, so I expect your upper lip to be stiff, and your attire to be unruffled by all but the fiercest storm.

In all seriousness, I hope everything will be fine for you. Take refuge in your pantry sir!

11:11 pm  
Anonymous The Hon. Brian said...

Multicoloured tie? My word, all of a sudden purple doesn't seem quite so bad! No doubt you will show them all how to dress at the Servant's Ball. Can't wait to read about that.

Mr Fielding, how awful that you were let down so badly. Really, the upper classes should know their place!

I thought of you last week when I entered an antiques shop that was playing a CD of Noel Coward's 'The Stately Homes of England'. Very apt, I thought.

9:02 am  
Anonymous Aunt Agatha said...

Tut tut, Fielding. What's wrong with a bit of boisterous banter with a bishop?
Stiff upper lip, young man.

12:25 pm  
Anonymous Aunt Agatha said...

Unfortunately, a return in the wrong place cut me short in my comment.

I was going to add:
As long as the Ris de Veau à la Financière was impeccable you have nothing to worry about.

Aunt Agatha

12:45 pm  
Anonymous Tim said...

Boisterous banter with a bishop is fine Aunt A, but it sounds, from Fielding's description of proceedings, that the Bish was pestered all evening.

His Right Reverence appears to have been pounded on the theological ropes all night by this mystical muticoloured tie wearer. The towel was thrown in. But nobody seemed to spot it.

Unpleasant I call it.

8:05 am  
Anonymous The Mixer said...

--"Unpleasant I call it."--

Indeed, yes. Rather like P. C. Ernest Dobbs, the village atheist in King's Deverill, popping out of side streets to make offensive cracks about Jonah and the Whale to the local vicar, the Rev. Sidney Pirbright in "The Mating Season".

The Rev. Sidney chafed like the dickens so one can readily imagine how the Bish felt being compelled to sit beside the obnoxious fellow through a seven-course dinner.

10:53 pm  

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