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

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Note To 'Sir Walter Quintin'

Just a quick note this Saturday morning. A poster calling himself 'Sir Walter Quintin' posted with great gusto on this blog overnight. He posted with so much gusto, in fact, that he repeated himself roughly fourteen times (at the last count). Now, I am not one of life's great conversationalists I admit. I could not exactly hold members of the Carlton Club entranced with witty anecdotes about my global travels. In short, I sometimes repeat my favourite stories. I am guilty of this, as the best of us are. Fourteen times, however, is a little overwhelming. Not entirely sure that spamming a post about my sister's health was particularly pleasant either. Not really British, that. But, I have found that worse things happen at sea, and even worse things happen on the internet.

'Sir Walter' was rather offended by this blog. Offended by practically everything associated with it: content, writing style, its veracity, probably even the colour of my socks annoyed him. In short, my humble jottings almost gave poor Sir Walter apoplexy. He felt a little like Senator Joseph McCarthy would have felt if, on a crisp Christmas morning, he had skipped down the staircase in his beautiful Wisconsin home, and excitedly unwrapped his first Christmas present only to find that Father Christmas had left him a copy of 'Das Kapital' by Karl Marx.

I removed most of 'Sir Walter's' repetitive posts because they were simply the same thing over and over again. But, I enjoy debate, and would never willingly censor anybody's comments. I have left one of Sir Walter's messages on the post 'Mr Forrester's Nocturnal Tour' which can be found below. The poor man deserves to be heard. Hopefully he has now settled down with a stiff drink to soothe the nerves that this blog had unwittingly frayed.

It is never my intention to offend or upset anybody. Apologies if I have.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Comfy Again

To my very great delight my chair has returned and I must confess that I find the new upholstering to be rather splendid. I have found every possible excuse to settle into it over the past couple of days. If anybody wished to find me, they would have to look no further than the now shining mid 19th century arm chair tucked next to the fire in the Butler's Pantry. There they would stumble across a butler content with his lot in life.

Mr Miles has been in bed for almost a week now. His influenza has quite knocked him for six. Sir Geoffrey, who never gets ill, but occasionally gets 'seriously ill', firmly believes that his son is faking illness to avoid accompanying him to the re-opening of the village hall tomorrow. If he is, Mr Miles has missed his calling, rather than penning mystic poetry, he should be treading the boards in the West End, or lighting up a screen in cinemas across the globe. His temperature remains high. He looks not a little green about the gills. In fact, his gills resemble a village cricket pitch at the moment. Dr Morgan has been called but merely diagnosed what we already knew: ie influenza which requires rest, and absolutely no opening of village halls in cold weather.

Dr Morgan enjoys visiting Carstone House, with good reason. He never leaves without a drink in the Servant's Hall, and a hot meal prepared for him by Mrs Styles.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hitting The Bottle

Mr Forrester left at half past eight this morning in order to catch his train back to London. He left behind a package he desired be passed on to Mr Miles, who remains ill in bed with a strain of influenza. I check on Mr Miles at regular intervals and have taken him a hot water bottle. This brought back vivid memories of my first day as a footman here. An elderly aunt of Sir Geoffrey's had fallen ill and the first interaction I had with the family 'above stairs' was the taking up of a hot water bottle to her room. Of course, that bottle was not a modern, rubber affair, like the one I just took up to Mr Miles: Sir Geoffrey's Great-Aunt received from a nervous, tentative footman, (whose white-tie was a little erratically tied) an earthenware 'bed warmer' complete with cork stopper. How times have changed in the hot water bottle department.

I am as discreet as possible as butler of Carstone House, but I shall now reveal a secret that if the News of The World ever found out, would be plastered sensationally on their front page on Sunday. 'Tis a dark secret........

Every hot water bottle owned by Sir Geoffrey Carstone has a cover with his family crest and motto upon it.

In fact practically every piece of linen, and certainly every piece of stationery in the house, also has the Carstone family crest upon it, so perhaps my exclusive is not quite as sensational as tabloid editors would have hoped.

I said I was discreet...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mr Forrester's Nocturnal Tour

At 10pm I walked, with a heavy heart, to the Banqueting Hall to meet Mr Miles and Mr Forrester. To my surprise I found only Mr Forrester there. He explained that Mr Miles had felt rather unwell and had retired to bed. The plan for me to accompany him around the House remained the same. I began the short tour in the Library. I was not exactly certain what was expected of me, so I merely opened the Library door for Mr Forrester, and waited in the doorway as he entered, looking around him constantly, with a keen interest, like a cat in an aviary. He approached one of the bookshelves yet seemed rather disappointed with the contents. Obviously Mr Forrester was not a collector of First Editions. Perhaps the absence in Sir Geoffrey's collection of anything by Aleister Crowley or Madam Blavatsky troubled him somewhat.

He explained to me that he was about to publish a volume of 'esoteric poetry with primary focus on the occult and mysticism'. I nodded. He seemed to be examining the shelves looking for the place where his book will one day rest. I am sure Mr Dickens would be delighted to learn that some of his First Editions will be in such exalted literary company. But, perhaps, Mr Forrester converses with Mr Dickens most evenings, and his plan has already received approval.

Next, we went into the Italian Drawing Room. Something seemed to stir inside Mr Forrester and he proclaimed in hushed tones that it was his 'firm belief' that the painting on the ceiling 'at one time hung upon the walls.' This seemed a rather startling suggestion. One would have thought that all that plaster would have looked out of place hanging on a wall. It would also have needed a rather immense frame. I confided to Mr Forrester that in every probability he was incorrect in his proclamation. At this he looked at me sharply, as if I had kicked his cat and enjoyed it, and snapped "I would need a second opinion!" It is likely that if he digs further into this topic he will find many opinions in agreement with my own.

This continued throughout much of the House. We would enter a room, Mr Forrester would peer around him, sometimes close his eyes, as if deep in concentration, and then nod to me when his meditations were at an end. Nothing remarkable had occurred until we reached the Bell's Passage. Here, he suddenly stopped me, and grabbed my wrist. "There is a lady here!" he almost hissed.

"Indeed, sir?" I replied.

"Yes, a lady, quite young, she is in a hurry to get somewhere."
"Perhaps she is answering a call, sir?" I thought considering the fact that above our heads were 39 bells, and that Mr Forrester might have missed them, that I would lend a hand here.

"Yessss!" the excitable psychic whispered. "She is desperate to answer the call. She fears for her job."

Well, the ghostly servant would of course be quite correct in her assumption that her status of employment would be jeopardised by a laxity in answering a call. Ignoring a ringing bell is not a good pastime for those who wish to keep their jobs in establishments such as this. So far, I was finding Mr Forrester to be rather vague, and my temples were starting to ache. I was starting to wonder how long all this would go on for. Time seemed to drag. Perhaps his psychic abilities had stopped it?

Finally, after visiting room after room (Carstone seemed larger than it usually is) Mr Forrester informed me that he felt drained and desired to be shown to his bedroom. After conducting him there, I was dismissed, but not before he told me of an elderly spirit that was following me around the house. He intimated that this spirit was very proud of me and the way I was dressed. "She is an ex-Housekeeper here!" he confidently informed me. "She follows you everywhere. I saw her next to you in the Library, in the Entrance Hall, the Drawing Room, and she was peering at you as you were putting the port on the table after dinner."

I bid Mr Forrester good night and headed back downstairs to ensure that all windows and doors were tightly locked.

As I listened to the familiar clunk while turning the large key in the main lock of the Front Door (always a satisfying sound) I reflected on this rather strange character that was settling down to sleep in the Green Bedroom in the North Tower and of the many pronouncements he had made over the past hour and a half. One bothered me more than any other: A Housekeeper who strayed into the Dining Room when the gentlemen of the house were having port? I went to bed firmly believing that standards of service in the Spirit World were really rather tardy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Disappointing Duty

Just a quick update. I have been given rather an unpleasant duty for this evening. Mr Miles has asked me to accompany him and Mr Forrester around Carstone late tonight. I can only presume that Mr Forrester will attempt to 'converse with spirits' or whatever it is that he does. It may sound disrespectful of me to refer to a guest of Carstone House in this way, but, considering I almost froze to death the last time I attempted a similar task, you may place me firmly in the 'sceptic' camp.

Also, the knife polisher (which is kept in the Plate Scullery) seems to have broken. The handle was loose and came off in my hand about half an hour ago. I presume that Simon did not know who to telephone for a replacement. This is understandable.

Sir Geoffrey In The 21st Century

I have been asked by two curious readers whether or not the gift of a computer has proved to be a hit with my Master or not?: Does his birthday present from Lady Carstone sit on Sir Geoffrey's desk glowing with use, as an indispensible tool without which his day-to-day life would be a struggle usually only read about in Russian novels, or does it sit there, unused, (I would say 'gathering dust' but you know I would never permit such an atrocity), unloved, straining the wood of his oaken desk, as the largest white elephant in gift-buying history?

The truth lies somewhere between these extremes. The computer (beautifully dusted, of course) is often humming with use in Sir Geoffrey's study. If truth be told, however, it is rarely used by Sir Geoffrey himself. He sometimes gets summoned to the screen by Lady Carstone who will point out one of it's myriad uses. At this point Sir Geoffrey, like an obedient pet dog, nods with great enthusiasm. He is rarely enthusiastic enough to approach the computer under his own steam, however. He needs to be led to it, reluctantly, and the look on his face at such a juncture reminds one immediately of a poor unfortunate missionary being led towards a large pot by a less than well-meaning cannibal.
I cannot, in truth, ever see Sir Geoffrey Carstone fully embracing the modern age. He is barely on speaking terms with it.
I am quickly settling back into my old routines. I did have one unsettling moment upon my return to work. My favourite arm-chair in my pantry was missing. This startled me. Its replacement was adequate but not ideal. I settled into it gingerly. I discovered upon questioning Simon in the Servant's Hall later that day that my 'old faithful' chair had not become firewood, but it had been sent for re-upholstering. Secretly I think it likely that Simon, or somebody else, had spilt something upon it in my absence. It did not need re-upholstering. Nevertheless, no harm has been done. The chair is due back on Wednesday. I do hope they are punctual. My pantry does not feel quite the same without it.
Llywelyn also gave me some unsettling news at the Carstone Arms the other evening. He gave me some information about a guest that arrives here on Monday morning: a friend of Mr Miles, who goes by the name of Peter Forrester. This Forrester chap has business cards that claim he is a 'psychic medium'. My last brush with the spirit world at Carstone did not result in a pleasant experience. I do not wish to repeat it. With a little bit of luck the whole affair will not concern me. Perhaps Mr Forrester will find that the spirits of Carstone do not wish to converse with him. Quite frankly, if he is as odd as some of the people that Mr Miles has invited here, I would not blame them in the slightest.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Pint To Catch Up

Am off to the Carstone Arms in a couple of hours for a pint of their finest in the company of Llywelyn. He has promised to update me on all I have missed during my unfortunate absence. I am looking forward to it. I like the Carstone Arms; like all proper public houses, it has history to it. No fashionable name changes there! I firmly believe it is unlucky to change the name of a pub. Some use that maxim for ships. I use it for pubs. It has I am glad to say been known as 'The Carstone Arms' for as long as history records. It used to be a coaching inn, and was even used for the odd hanging on occasion in the 18th century.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Back In The Saddle Again

Actually, nothing would upset me more than being in a saddle. I have a great deal of admiration for the beauty of horses; I frequently make a trip to the stables, and have a chat with Sir Geoffrey's Groom, but, I do not believe my constitution could survive actually riding one. I know from the archives here that it was usual in Victorian times for both the Housekeeper and Butler of Carstone House to each own a horse, which would have been stabled here alongside the family's steeds. Indeed, (thumbing through the notes that Llywelyn gave me) I can tell you that the butler's horse here in 1876 was named 'Preacher'. No doubt this was an excellent animal but it would not have got on well with me, I fancy. Horses don't. They eye me with suspicion. Obviously, to them, I resemble a horse rustler, or a hay-stealer, and consequently am not to be trusted.

Many thanks for all the kind messages and emails. I have for some time been looking after my sister who was struck down with an illness that, happily, now seems to be in full retreat. I do not blame it. I sometimes think that if my sister had been stationed at Rorke's Drift in 1879 that the fearless Zulu warriors would have taken one look and decided that the odds weren't so massively stacked in their favour after all. They would have fled to the hills, all the time checking over their shoulders, to assure themselves that my sister was not following. These are, nevertheless, the words of a relieved and very grateful brother.

These last few months have been the longest period I have been away from Carstone. I missed it dreadfully. All seems to be well here. Simon, the footman, had been attending to my duties throughout my absence, and, aside from an understandably tentative first few days, he has, by all accounts, performed admirably. I left a letter of thanks for him to find, as well as a homemade chocolate fudge cake, which is one of my sister's specialities.