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

Friday, September 25, 2009

Love 'Below Stairs'

I am quite aware that the title of this entry sounds rather like that of an early Barbara Cartland novel. I can imagine its cover now: the lovesick footman, face exhibiting all the pain of unrequited love, gazing adoringly through the serving hatch at an oblivious 3rd Housemaid. No doubt the dominant colour of the tome's cover artwork would be pink.

The reason for all of this is a question put to me on Twitter (I cannot claim to have mastered the technology as yet): "Fielding, have you read 'Remains of the Day?'". The answer is yes I have. I think the book is a splendid one. It touches on many interesting points. In the 19th and early 20th century here at Carstone, staff falling in love was deeply frowned upon. The idea of female members of staff having 'followers' was the source of many a headache for the butler and House Steward of the day. Anything that would disturb the smooth running of Carstone House was deeply disturbing to them. Indeed, in the attics (where all the Servant's Bedrooms are - including my little butler's flat) all the female bedrooms are in one wing, and all the male bedrooms are in another. There used to be a gigantic leather-bound dividing door which separated the two which had to be ceremoniously locked each night by the Housekeeper.

Nevertheless, love often finds a way through even the stoutest of defences. There is a story that is still told here at Carstone of the time that the butler and the housekeeper fell in love (this was in the 1920s). Evidently, the then baronet, Sir Charles Carstone, gave his blessing to the match, but, when the butler finally plucked up the courage to express his feelings and proposed marriage, he was refused. The Housekeeper felt that it would upset the running of the House too much. She put her staff ahead of her own personal happiness. Heartbroken, the butler asked to be moved to the Carstone family's London house. Neither of them married, although the Housekeeper was always referred to as 'Mrs' as a courtesy title, as was customary for housekeepers at that time.

I only have time to dwell on such matters of the heart as I have been ordered to rest my knee by the local doctor. I currently have my leg propped up on a small stool, as I gaze out of the window of my flat. I can see the steep hill that leads to the Summerhouse from up here. Somebody seems to be striding purposefully up said hill. It is possibly Mr Barton, but it is difficult to tell (he really does wander all over the estate. He would be tricky to catch in a butterfly net). There is no way I could get up there at the moment. Getting upstairs was effort enough for me. This evening, knee permitting, I shall go and visit Llywelyn at the Lodge Gates (or possibly the Carstone Arms).

I am eager to return to work.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Jarring Experience

The great writer P.G. Wodehouse once admirably described a butler's walk as a "stately procession of one". Today I am certainly not living up to that noble ideal. Walking is beyond me at the moment. Hobbling is my current mode of transport. I rather unfortunately jarred my knee while descending into the cellars yesterday. It was very dim (as cellars are oft to be) and my foot slipped on the penultimate step. This morning the offending knee was rather painful but I am hoping that all shall be well. It is not a good thing for a butler to hobble. My equilibriam is affected, so, whereas I could serve my master a cup of tea with ease yesterday, my attempts at breakfast this morning were less successful. Indeed, the saucer became so full of tea, the cup looked like a small china castle surrounded by a forbidding brown moat. I wisely left Simon to serve at table for the rest of breakfast, while I hobbled forlornly into the darkness.

I obtained my injury whilst making one of my regular checks of the contents of the cellars. Novels and popular entertainment have given we butlers a rather rough deal when it comes to this particular part of our duties. It seems common for a butler to be portrayed as a man forever sucking peppermints to disguise the fact that he has just dipped liberally into his master's wine cellar. Nothing could be further from the truth at Carstone. I don't even like peppermints.

I use the term 'cellars' rather than 'cellar' because we have several of them. There is the Wine Cellar, the Family Beer Cellar, and the Servant's Beer Cellar, as well as a room that was used years ago for the bottling of both wine and beer. They are cavernous subterranean rooms; more 'chambers' really. I am the only member of staff that has access to all the keys to the cellars. Double doors lead to them. Each morning I open the outer-door, walk through the small lobby which contains a folding-table against the wall, unlock the inner-door which leads into the Wine Cellar, place the wine-for-the day on a tray, and then place the tray on the folding-table. I then lock the inner-door, then the outer-door, and the footman only gets a key to the outer-door. This means he can have access to the wine-for-the-day but can't actually get into the Wine Cellar itself.

Phew. I hope you got all that. Perhaps the pain from my knee is making me garble a bit.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Invasion of Carstone House

I wonder if using Carstone House for civic occasions will become a regular affair. It is a very strange experience. It was akin to being occupied by a small army; and not a cheerful army at that. There was no Grand Armee bonhomie from the visiting hordes of caterers. They were grim, glum; life, it seems, had treated them unfairly. Even their uniforms were black and white. Colour would not have suited them. In they trudged through the Tradesman's Entrance at 5pm to set up for the event. Robert kept an eye on them. I asked him later if he spotted a smile from one of them at any time. He thought he had, but admitted it could have been merely the beginnings of a sneeze.

Their Dining Table (which sat 50) looked adequate for the occasion, but, unsurprisingly, they laid the table "by eye" which is something that I would never permit from our own staff. I did offer them the use of both the ruler and measuring stick (which is kept in a corner cabinet in the Dining Room) but they looked at me as if I had just escaped from a secure institution. I thought it best to make a strategic withdrawal at this stage.

The Mayors (each one in their own chauffered car) started to arrive at around 6.45pm for a drinks reception in the Great Hall. I was not on duty, but insisted that Robert (by now rescued from the cold draught of standing near an open Tradesman's Entrance) be present at all times to oversee things. The assembled throng seemed to enjoy the occasion and it carried on late into the night. Robert finally retired to bed in the early hours. It had been rather a long day for him.

One thing did annoy me however. Catering were supposed to take everything with them at the end of the night (within reason that is) from the Kitchen and service rooms that they used. I did not expect it to be spotless. Indeed I expected spots aplenty. What I did not expect was the horrified shriek from Mrs Styles as she entered the Kitchen early the next morning to start preparing breakfast. Apparently things had been left in a shocking state. Unfortunately the staff here had to spend much of the morning clearing up the mess. By then, of course, the black and white Grand Armee had trudged, grimly, far, far, away from the battlefield.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Solution?

I know, I know, don't look at me in that disapproving, disappointed way. I am aware that I promised to update this diary with a lot more regularity. My head is hanging in shame. However, a solution appears to have popped its head over the boxhedge. I have been inspired. Archimedes had a similar feeling upon taking a bath on one notable occasion.

I am not particularly familiar with a lot of modern technology. Neither, however, am I a luddite. You would not find me hurling the Carstone family copeland-spode dinner service around the Kitchen in protest at the Scullery Maid being replaced with a dishwasher for example. Progress is inevitable. I was explaining my blog situation to a friend at the Carstone Arms last night and he suggested that perhaps I should open a Twitter account in conjunction with this diary. That way there could be more regular updates, and a more indepth write-up when time allows. I confess I was unfamiliar with Twitter. I had read something about it in the newspaper but had no real idea. It sounded vaguely ornithological to me.

It is likely that I will make a complete hash of it at first. So, as ever, I beg patience from my small band of readers.

The reason I wanted to re-ignite this diary at this stage is that we have a rather busy week ahead of us here at Carstone. This evening, for example, we are playing host to a function for the Mayor. He is dining here with a clutch of other mayors from all over the country ('a gaggle of mayors'?, 'a melody of mayors'?; 'a gang of mayors' sounds too sinister..). There will be chains of office as far as the eye can see. I am told that they are encouraged to wear them. A mayor without a chain is a sad sight indeed. Other mayors look at them askance and mutter darkly behind their backs.

So perhaps this gives me a wonderful opportunity to try out this Twitter experiment. I shall twitter throughout the evening (when possible of course), and then pen a more in-depth description of proceedings on here in the morning.

The twitter address is: http://www.twitter.com/butlerfielding

Incidentally, for those of you who have no desire to own a Twitter account, you can see a feed of my updates by scrolling right to the very bottom of this screen.