Monday 2 July 2018

Godfather Aristotle and Josiah Wedgwood

There is no doubt my ongoing exuberance for the delightful craftsmanship spawned by Josiah Wedgwood Esquire and his porcelain empire is as fervent as ever. Dear Godfather Aristotle initially introduced me to the white on saxon blue design. Indeed, it was he who presented me with my first piece. The occasion, as I recall, being a modest celebration following completion of my inaugural watercolour of Farthing Hall. The gilt framed artwork still hangs in the Library where Papa proudly unveiled The Masterpiece (as it become known, despite my protestations) before - notwithstanding my tender years - permitting me a sip of champagne.Such a gay aura infused the Hall that evening.

Over the intervening decades my Godfather oftentimes related the tale behind this purchase. Apparently, whilst journeying through Staffordshire - not a regular route for him though a passion for his property portfolio occasionally took him to less familiar counties - he offchance came upon
the pottery premises. Eager to honour me with a keepsake from a most successful trip, he insisted on acquiring what became one of my most precious jewellery items.

Not surprisingly, the Classic Pin Head has remained in my affection ever since.

Such a munificent act was typical of my Godfather, of course. He exuded refined taste. Though that is no more than one would expect from a gentleman with connections to European aristocracy.

Only recently, whilst spending a satisfying morning perusing those contents nestling in the velvet lined mahogany jewellery box I inherited from my maternal grandmother, I came upon yet another cherished gift: a Classic Muse Brooch ensemble. For Godfather Aristotle ensured he took an annual trip to the aforementioned county, always returning from said journeys with a keepsake for his favourite Goddaughter. 

His demise a year or two ago sadly resulted in the stagnation of my collection. In a bid to revive it, however, the other day over a smoked salmon luncheon accompanied by the most delightful Chablis which we imported from our vineyard in France last year, I speculated as to the possibility of The Master contemplating a northern trip. Unfortunately, he explained, what with his business commitments in the Capital and obligations to his Club, opportunities to fit in random shopping expeditions to unfamiliar counties simply do not arise.

Friday 1 June 2018

Dust Sheet Debacle

The presence of tradesmen in Farthing Hall – a frequent occurrence since preserving standards is imperative - inevitably generates challenges, I find. This morning offers a fine example. As I was exiting my Jewellery Room, having selected my favourite ruby ensemble which complements my chosen jersey twin set with such clarity, I spotted an overalled youth wandering the corridor. Given that he was some considerable distance from the refurbishment area, I confronted him aside the aspidistra.

He justified his presence by insisting he’d lost his bearings whilst negotiating the west wing. I directed him to the servants’ staircase, made a mental note to dissuade Cook from being so generous to labourers and headed for the gift wrapping room.

As I crossed the threshold, however, I was overcome with displeasure. Indeed a lingering aroma of hand printed wallpaper and bespoke paint did imply a measure of progress. Yet instead of appreciating newly honed décor, my gaze was drawn to swathes of unacceptably filthy fabric which coated my weave, my bureau and my custom-made walnut with suede inlay shelving. Curled edges of said fabric revealed a multitude of stains on both sides.

The function of dust sheets is to offer a resting place on which the result of labour can accumulate. Yet what I fail to understand is their lack of cleanliness. Surely regular removal of grime is crucial? For otherwise dirt is merely left to infuse those very items the fabric is designed to protect.

This preponderance of filth and air borne particles ingratiating themselves upon my belongings induced much angst on my part. In truth, a resolution to personally purchase fresh ones came perilously close. Yet this is far from my responsibility.

Meantime, a brace of workers acknowledged my presence. The more responsible of the two (though, in all honesty, the difference was marginal) engaged his listening skills when I vocalised my disaste of dirt riddled equipment. Yet his subsequent incomprehension at my grievance prompted a ripple of angst the like of which I have not experienced since a chandelier restorer attempted to convince me he could cleanse my finials for a mere three figure sum.

                Who knows, I emphasised, what germs could be invading Farthing Hall and smearing my treasures with infested grime.

                I went on to suggest, in as authoritative manner as I could summon, the provision of new cotton calico or, at the very least, the laundering of the present supply, before the continuation of further work.

                The boy’s disdain was barely credible. The business, he enlightened me, is unable to produce unsullied kit for every customer.

                I took a moment to remind him of the value of my patronage. His mother’s position on the Embroidery Federation Committee and the local Council vacancy to which his father publicly aspires was also mentioned.

                Pristine dust sheets, he murmured, will be in situ tomorrow morning.

Monday 30 April 2018

Unkempts Herbs and Lady Garden Undergrowth


            How I adore pottering around my raised beds when the sun’s rays adorn my lawns. Rodgers, our ageing Head Gardener, has done a splendid job over the years though I cannot help but notice the herbaceous borders are in danger of overshadowing my forking larkspur. Upon further, more detailed inspection, indeed, I note the shabbiness of my lady garden; it has clearly been denied periodic trimming.  

            My disappointment, momentarily abated by the evocative call of a lone mistle thrush, returns with vigour when I observe that the bird baths not only lack fresh water but reveal a somewhat unkempt exterior.

Yet matters further deteriorate when I venture beyond the box hedges. Really! I must take Rodgers to task for allowing the herbs to proliferate in such an unstructured fashion.

Being a kitchen garden is no excuse for disarray. Indeed, it is of no surprise that Cook’s new assistant was unable to locate the oregano on Saturday evening. Though how she could have selected borage as an acceptable substitute, I cannot imagine. It is hardly to be wondered that the beef failed to reach an acceptable standard. Thankfully, my guests - local dignitaries from the Enterprise Award Scheme – were not blessed with the most sophisticated of palettes and therefore remained unaware of the herbal mishap. (They may have originated from the lower end of the social strata, but I am grateful they limited their use of napkins to the correct facial function. I still recall that ghastly incident last year when a despicable representative from the Mayor’s Office blew his wretched nose on my starched linen.)  

In the meantime Cook must take her supervisory role a little more seriously. We have another dinner engagement a week hence and I do not want a repeat of this culinary débâcle. Indeed I will see to it that she details to her young charge both the location and merits of our wide range of free range herbs. 

            As far as the gardens are concerned, this shameful situation cannot be allowed to continue. I shall invite Rodgers to partake of a pot of coffee with me in the orangery tomorrow morning and use the occasion to air my increasing unease over my foliage and his commitment. The standards of Farthing Hall’s gardens, I will stress, are not negotiable. The simple question is whether or not he has the desire to retain the responsibility of managing my undergrowth.


Tuesday 3 April 2018

Blemishes and Tarnishing

Frankly, I am most disappointed. Standards are slipping and I have had to call on all my reserves as an employer and archetypal mistress of the house to retain a modicum of sanity.

In short, my silverware has never been so tarnished. The candelabra are overrun with fingerprints, giving the family heirlooms an aura of common bric-a-brac. Such slackness should have been avoided. Each member of the cleaning staff is given clear and concise instructions at the onset of their employ as to my requirements, cotton gloves to be worn whilst dusting being one of the most imperative.

Who knows what damage a young girl’s pasty digits have caused to my beloved father’s wine stopper? His demise is almost a blessing given that he is unable to witness such second rate values.

Revised instructions will be compiled and posted prominently in the servant quarters and in the meantime extra duties are paramount. I expect my silver salvers to be gleaming by the end of the week.

The debacle prompts me to examine the main guest quarters where the brass with mother of pearl inlay fountain pen holder has clearly received no more than a cursory wipe and now appears decidedly second rate. Thank heavens no influential visitors have required an overnight stay since my last in-depth inspection.

Of course, if I had not been lately so preoccupied with charity matters, I would surely have noticed the blemishes. I make a diary note to continue with regular, though unannounced, assessments until I am satisfied that buffing levels are of an acceptable standard.

Wednesday 28 February 2018

Ideals and Expectations

That references form an integral prerequisite of the recruitment process is a given. Never have I employed a member of staff - even one below stairs - without first availing myself of their moral standards, willingness to adhere to rules and personal principles via a preceding employer. Should a prospective Chambermaid harbour any distasteful flaws, or Under Housekeeper endeavour to conceal a dishonest defect or two, then I expect to unearth such transgressions for, doubtless, such minutiae will play an important role in influencing my decision whether or not to offer the candidate a coveted position at Farthing Hall.

A lack of referees accompanying a job application, therefore, invokes an air of suspicion on my part. I am, you see, in the process of replacing a Scullery Maid. The previous occupant fulfilled her obligations admirably but has decided on an adjustment to her career. The Antipodes beckons, apparently. The notion of journeying with little more than a rucksack was touched upon during her exit interview for why any young lady would choose to voyage without the assurance of a silk lined leather trunk and hotel in which afternoon tea takes precedence over bar based entertainment, eludes me.

Still, her decision made, I at once contacted Quality Appointments to The Gentry Agency. Disappointingly, their initial candidates bordered on mediocre. Clearly my demand for someone with experience went unnoticed. Cleansing and scouring may, to the unversed, be unskilled tasks but I venture that attention to detail, not to mention physical robustness, is essential in fulfilling my expectations.

A second batch did, I confess, reflect a modicum of improvement, at least in terms of basic competence. Yet I note several Curriculum Vitae failed to list referees.

Should such a transgression prompt me to conclude this to be their first such appointment or, rather, that a prior role was so inadequately executed to deny the appearance of a testimonial?

Further calls to the Agency proved to be unduly lengthy and simultaneously frustrating.  I insisted I had no intention of inviting candidates for interview without prior sight of a hand written endorsement. Twice during our exchange the telephone line clicked into inaction forcing me to redial whilst making a mental note to contact the Telephone Exchange. I will report the fault later.

Meanwhile, this negative encounter has impelled me to bypass agencies. Instead, I will rely on my society equals. Hopefully they will either recommend an alternative organisation - one which still prides itself on established values - or even be in a position to personally recommend a replacement.

If there is one thing that this debacle has proved, it is that ideals and expectations rarely infiltrate the class divide.

Thursday 1 February 2018

Bentley, Marmande tomatoes and top shelf magazines

My Bentley is undergoing a spot of maintenance work today.  Only after extensive deliberation did I resolve to permit a nearby, independent enterprise to undertake the labour.  Previously, our London dealer has undertaken any necessary overhaul of our vehicles but with the economy under sufferance - at least according to gossip I overheard at a recent Demise of Subservience Discussion Group - I am eager to declare my support of local businesses. I trust their professionalism matches their eagerness.

            The proprietor appreciated my commission and, indeed, offered to dispatch an underling to collect the vehicle. Unwilling to allow an adolescent in oily overalls to indulge in a motoring experience way beyond his calling, however, I drove the car to the garage this morning.

On my meander back to Farthing Hall I took the opportunity to call upon several retail outlets in the village. A rare but thoughtful gesture and one much appreciated, no doubt, by those shopkeepers whose products I procured. Yet not all the choices on offer fully met my expectations.

In the bakery, for instance, I purchased a granary batch ‘baked on the premises’ though heaven knows where it else it could have been cooked. The adjacent trader, a greengrocery, was also singularly unimpressive. Being most unhappy with the original choice of Marmande tomatoes made by the owner, I determined to handpick a pound and a half from the more succulent selection tucked away at the rear of the counter. I trust my reprimand will prevent the reoccurrence of this display débâcle.

My final destination was a crowded news agency. And a most distressing visit this turned out to be. For I was forced to suppress my shock at the sight of a number of top shelf magazines which must surely be illegal imports and certainly warrant a stern letter to my MP whence I returned to the Hall. 

Nevertheless, undeterred, and having composed myself aside the broadsheets, I chose a number of quality glossy journals which I hand delivered to the surgery. The alarmingly youthful looking GP accepted my donation. Such a pity he demonstrated marginal distress at being called away from a patient. Given the ageing and inferior array of periodicals in the waiting area, I’m astonished he didn’t show more gratitude.

Following an afternoon of intense correspondence, at 4pm, just as a fragrant tisane moistened my lips, I received a telephone call from a young apprentice informing me that my motor vehicle would be returned to me within the hour. Only if the manager himself is behind the wheel, I insisted.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Ongoing Duties


I have begun the New Year with a much needed assessment of my Charity and Community Commitments.  Given the demands upon my time - ongoing and relentless committee obligations not to mention the occasional lecture for how unselfishly eager I am to share my skills with less knowledgeable villagers - I have taken on the duty of monitoring my diary. Further clashes are to be avoided at all costs.  How grateful I was for The Master’s forgiveness when his post Boxing Day shoot conflicted with the raking of my internal labyrinth.

The débacle would never have arisen, of course, but for the inefficiency of my junior administrator. Had I not repeatedly told her to distinguish between mine and The Master’s duties? Why, I even purchased two tones of writing implement. Such a shoddy attitude has been noted in her personnel records and henceforth I will mastermind my own diary entries.

Meanwhile I have taken to compiling several lists. The first consists of organisations whose function would be unfeasible without my guidance (Rub and Buff for the Inexperienced – an ongoing series of workshops revolving around brass maintenance) and The League of Traditional Housewifery to name but two). A second inventory is devoted to institutions such as the Parish Council and Church. I have, for some years, provided each with a backbone in terms of well informed opinion and refreshments (though I will no longer waste imported Jasmine tea on individuals whose preference is rationed to powdered leaves confined within what I can only describe as flimsy packaging). Whilst yet another inventory contains those societies whose practical assistance is matched only by my determination to raise standards. Some improvements were recorded towards the end of last year. On one unannounced inspection of porches, for instance, I was pleased to witness the majority had recently been swept if not washed. A written reminder posted through a number of letterboxes prompted somewhat belated action in the remaining households.

After weighing up my commitments, however, I am currently nursing a dilemma. Although I had probed the notion of stepping down from one or two organisations, how could I possibly abandon my duties without stimulating an unnecessary plummeting of values? The core of village life cannot be abandoned. I will, therefore, retain all my committee roles, doubtless to the infinite gratification of the community.