Thursday 1 December 2016

Festive Obligations

With the festive season upon us, I am in the throes of my annual round of pre Christmas, early evening drinks gatherings. For once again it is my duty to entertain local groups and dignitaries at The Hall.

Indeed, my hostess commitments, I note, increase on an annual basis. This is mainly due to the many institutions whose inauguration I continue to initiate, of course. And whilst it is true that some such bodies take a while to gain momentum, I have always found a correctly worded, hand delivered epistle or two stimulates sufficient interest.

This year I was obliged to commence social arrangements earlier than usual as I have been frantically busy of late organising Christmas gift parcels for the needy. Not that everything went to plan, a lack of efficiency being far too commonplace in my experience. Yet despite my remonstrations there has still been a lengthy delay in delivering the shoe polish and brush leather bound gift sets for those needy people around the globe. I simply cannot imagine their distress! Belated presents are no more acceptable than under starched linen. Next year I will acquire my offerings from other, more reliable, sources.

            In the meantime I have decided to call upon my wine merchant in order to sample his wares and choose an acceptable selection of sherry for our New Year’s Eve cocktail party. Being preoccupied with an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Haberdashery Society last year, I foolishly left the choice to the manager of said establishment. My disappointment, nay surprise, at his assortment warranted a stern rebuke. He clearly is as unfamiliar with the notion of Vintage as he is unwilling to extend his education. New World, I remonstrated, equates to inferior quality. The latter has no place at Farthing Hall.

Whilst on the premises, I will also take the opportunity to request a deliverer who shows a little more diligence than their previous employee. It has taken the housemaid months to eliminate a brace of scuff marks from my watercolour infused cellar walls following last December’s fiasco. Not that the youth displayed any regret for his carelessness. Indeed, I am still astonished he was permitted to visit valuable customers without first scrubbing his soiled digits.

To think he could have fingered my aperitif.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Seasonal Duties

Whilst the duty of purchasing provisions customarily falls within Cook’s remit, each November I savour the prospect of a trip to the village when I personally acquire ingredients for my Christmas puddings. Preparation begins on Stir Up Sunday, a ritual that has long been a Gosworthy-Pringle tradition. As an impressionable young girl, indeed, this was the one time of year when Mama granted me permission to access the bowels of Farthing Hall. There I assisted Cook in washing and picking over bowls of currants and sultanas before stoning a pound or two of raisins. How I recall my euphoria when first handling a cleaver. Several ounces of mixed peel had never before been so uniformly chopped.                       

(Such is my fondness for the custom that the precious annual details are ritually transferred to my calfskin monogrammed diary each New Year.)                  

Before embarking upon my mission, I listed the necessary items. Heavens, their familiarity requires little prompting yet the act of transcribing inevitably provokes an invigorating level of exhilaration.                   

My shopping assignment, however, served more to stem my enthusiasm than swell my dried fruit. Suet was stocked neither in the ageing delicatessen nor boutique of a food emporium that is more rustic superficiality than functional containers of ripened ovaries of seed bearing plants. Nutmeg, I was assured, is only available in powder form within small jars. Similarly, almonds are pre ground. Since one of my pleasures is to crush said drupes to my required consistency, my disappointment was tangible.                               

Such an unacceptable situation cannot be allowed to flourish.  Hence, whilst striding back to The Hall, I determined to summon a meeting of the Parish Council to discuss villagers’ requirements and retailers’ priorities.                               

Meanwhile I handed over responsibility of acquiring pudding components to Cook, though that is by no means the end of my involvement.

                In an outreach gesture, I have decreed that mastication of my delightful Christmas puddings will no longer be limited to seasonal Farthing Hall guests. Members of The Promotion of Classic Garments in a Society of Falling Standards Association are to benefit from the donation of more modest (in size, quality is to remain unaffected) versions. Although the community was, initially, a little tardy in embracing this recent haute couture initiative, my skills of persuasion have since resulted in several housewives joining. In addition, I am compiling a growing list of others who must be approached for I sense a spot of encouragement is required. Members of the lower classes are, after all, rarely forthcoming in admitting their flaws. It is likely that such women, whilst devoid of any tailoring instinct, are equally failing in home economics. My input, therefore, will inevitably enhance their lives on both levels.  

Monday 3 October 2016

Tricking and Treating

The season approaches when an astonishingly popular, yet somewhat unnecessary, import from one of our ex colonies will once again infiltrate village life.

I do not subscribe to this annual pastime known as, I believe, Tricking and Treating. Indeed, only last month I lobbied the Parish Council to actively deter outdoor pursuits during the hours of darkness when youths should be in their drawing rooms perusing textbooks. Whilst the PC’s negative response was disappointing, it is undoubtedly indicative of a universal attitude designed to appease youngsters. Sadly, my vocal dissent was as solitary as it was earnest. That is not to say my opinions weren’t shared by others, of course, only that some residents were probably precluded from taking up the cause due to a lack of standing in society.

So, given Halloween’s prevalence amongst the younger generation, I feel it is incumbent upon me to lead the way. At least this will proffer me the opportunity to raise standards. No doubt the local children will revel in a rare opportunity to over indulge in boiled sweets and peppermints.

Hence, following my exchange with Cook - during which I made one or two amendments to supper arrangements - I ventured into the village to purchase a supply of edible treats. The purveyor of the sweet shop – a girl of modest years and immodest hemline - seemed a little taken aback at my preference and suggested the addition of a few chocolates might enhance my batch. So I selected a quarter of dark almond truffles - a particular favourite of my dear mother.

Upon returning to Farthing Hall and reminding Cook, yet again, that accurate seasoning is the make or break of a béchamel sauce, thence headed for the orangery to indulge my design instincts. The resulting pastel sketch is quite delightful and will adorn the oak notice board adjacent to the lodge. It clearly states the availability of treats is limited to between afternoon tea and six o’clock.

I see no reason for this frightful foreign ritual to pervade an evening I have assigned to tapestry work. The church kneelers are crying out for attention and some strategically placed needlepoint will surely satisfy the Vicar.

My insistence that youngsters should be dissuaded from roaming the locality for treats has still not received the backing it deserves. No matter. I have instead taken it upon myself to ensure that quality confectionery is available via the servants' entrance at tea time. Along with freshly starched linen napkins, of course.

Wednesday 31 August 2016

Harvest Offerings

Local produce. Surely the prospect of a brace of double syllables being misconstrued is negligible? Yet villagers continue to bombard me with queries that attest to what I have long believed: their knowledge of freshly grown foodstuff is in indirect proportion to their enthusiasm for inhaling tobacco. Not to mention alcohol consumption at a nearby hostelry, a venue which adheres little to the licensing laws. It is a crisis I will be taking up with the Leader of the Council when his schedule eventually permits him to join me for afternoon tea.

In the meantime, I continue to advise, ‘local’ does indeed refer to our community. In addition, ‘produce’ denotes nutritionally ripe fare. My efforts are in aid of Harvest Festival which will take place in the Parish Church. For the past year or two the Vicar has restricted donations to tinned goods which have thereafter been shipped across the world to nations which, with a little more diligence, should be perfectly capable of cultivating their own rations. Lengthy transportation was never part of the tradition of Harvest Festival hence my insistence that beneficiaries should this season reside within the county. I used the opportunity of my monthly morning coffee (a Sumatra and Java blend my importer was persuaded to mix) with the clergy to mention the proposal.  Rarely has discomfort so invaded Farthing Hall. Yet never before have I witnessed a Vicar hovering on the periphery of hysteria. Intellectually, geographically and emotionally, I pointed out - my natural calmness a vehicle for restoring harmony - my proposal had merit. Yet some moments passed before my idea was accepted. How I wish it had been embraced with a little more gusto. Instead, I was left with the distasteful conviction that sighing is but a reflection of immaturity.

Nevertheless, the elderly of our community will benefit. A plethora of vitamins and minerals will surely meet their requirements. Cleansing products and hygiene accessories would not go amiss, it is true, but that is a challenge to be tackled on another occasion.

I have selected a retirement home - The Final Phase - whose residents, I observe from my occasional ventures into the village, make a modicum of sartorial effort though I doubt this includes changing for dinner. A diary note for next month will prompt me to speak to the Manager on this latter point though for now my efforts are focussed upon food donations.

One of my still life paintings, I have decided, will make the perfect backdrop to the food collection at the Harvest Festival service. The Vicar uttered some minor objection based on health and safety foolishness yet I hardly see how a gilt frame could constitute a threat. Farthing Hall's Maintenance Manager will see that it is mounted on an easel designed for such proportions. I cannot wait to see my artichoke and quince with spinach backdrop nestling on Spode’s Delamere Rural atop the altar. It will, of course, be the talking point of this year’s Harvest.         

Monday 25 July 2016


can barely describe my euphoria at the proliferation of bunting adorning the village this season. Doubtless on other occasions such decor could well incite accusations of unnecessary flamboyance. And rightly so. Yet this year patriotic emphasis is a must. I concur with the local view that a fervent display of nationalism is quite in order.

            Not that those elected to oversee village jubilations were originally quite so focused. When I first perused the minutes of the Parish Council’s Extraordinary General Meeting – despite stepping down from said body last year I have insisted the Secretary forwards a copy of all paperwork – in which our elected members debated public beautification, I was somewhat alarmed at the initial proposals. I mean, really, window stickers! As I frequently insisted when chairing this vital body, the ability to access excessive quantities of inferior objects at minimal rates does not make said articles an acceptable choice. My hastily compiled – though simultaneously concise - epistle reminded my ex colleagues of this most obvious fact.

            Thankfully, the Councillors took little persuasion to my proposals and I am obliged to concede that my timely intervention prevented a public calamity. For with minimal delay I was asked to assume the sourcing of alternative regalia obliging me to rekindle the flagging Haberdashery Guild with my bespoke bunting initiative. A most satisfying task. I confess my imported silks rather extended the original, ridiculously modest, budget. Yet as I indicated to the High Sheriff while declining a slice of mass produced cherry sponge at the Recycling for the Over Eighties Awards, to be restricted by price is to renounce quality.

            Since then the village hall has overflowed with bobbins and fabric. Indeed, I have been quite astonished at how the whirring of sewing machines has rekindled fond memories of Nanny. How I used to revel in the dexterity of her fingers when she laboured over the outfits I annually designed for my china doll collection.  

            I am gratified to note that even those less creative ladies of the village have, with a degree of direction, contributed to the production. Some, admittedly, have been restricted to administration. Nevertheless, box labelling is a necessity if we are to keep track of bunting distribution.

            I have not been in a position to personally take on all quality control. Pressing domestic commitments at Farthing Hall have taken precedence. A couple of the helpers, however, once fully trained and instructed in acceptable stitching techniques, have proved, well, acceptably useful.

            Just a few hundred yards more and the agreed requisition will be complete.

Thursday 30 June 2016

Summer Fetes, Backhanders and the Royal Box

My passion for, and commitment to, that most quintessential English celebration which infuses my diary at this time of year is well documented. And rightly so. I have been a regular attendee of The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club since Papa first settled me on a velvet seat in the Royal Box. He may have momentarily popped down to the locker room to partake of a hand rolled Havanna or two with HRH, but his absence was sufficiently lengthy for me to cultivate what quickly became a lifelong ardor for backhanders.

            Yet despite my obligations, I have been obliged to return to The Hall where, with more than a soupçon of displeasure, I find myself undertaking crucial work for the Village Fête. It is all quite intolerable at such a late stage. Indeed, the event may have been my inspiration but, really, despite an initial and healthy burst of enthusiasm from the ladies of the village, the Committee has dwindled to myself (Chair), the Deputy Librarian who rarely attends our weekly meetings despite my frequent postal reminders, and the local Meals on Wheels representative, who turns out to be more mince and mash than scones and cream.

            With the celebration a mere two weeks hence, planning time is now of the essence.

            Immediately after perusing today’s luncheon menu, therefore, I contacted a number of potential benefactors to persuade them of our need for both quality and copious raffle prizes. I look forward to the arrival of appropriate deliveries from my chosen donors. Heaven knows, if the county’s Care Home is to stand the remotest chance of replacing those blemished mattresses, generosity is paramount.      

            My subsequent task involved penning a note to the village school Headmistress requesting further details of her somewhat courageous suggestion of a fancy dress competition. There were mutterings, reported to me by Cook, that a cluster of senior girls, overflowing with unregulated hormones, were contemplating transforming the event into something akin to a St Trinians débacle. Clearly, there is no room in village life for such outlandish behaviour. I shall do my utmost to ensure both skirt lengths and conduct remain within the boundaries of polite society.

            As far as catering is concerned, Farthing Hall will, of course, lead the way. The kitchen staff are fully aware of my expectations.

            After a somewhat exhausting day, reasonable headway in both marquee décor and ticket design has, I believe, been achieved. Barring any unforeseen hitches, I shall return to the Championships after breakfast tomorrow. The Master is likely to accompany me. After all, there’s nothing that satisfies him more than the occasional double handed lob.


Friday 27 May 2016


What a frightfully bad start to the day! For once, I do not refer to the latest cutlery fiasco. Though it remains a mystery to me how the correct placement of butter knives should prove such an ongoing dilemma.

               No, on this occasion the error was infinitely more basic. For I was greeted at breakfast by my late Victorian, pink peacock, gilt-edged, fluted vase awash with mismatched peonies of a migraine-inducing variety of tones. I confess to momentary speechlessness. Indeed, it was not until after the silverware had been cleared away that I regained sufficient composure to enable me to take the recently-appointed housemaid aside to instruct her in some basic rules of flower arranging. She listened; indeed that much is true. Yet she managed to do so without portraying a hint of deference.

            To relieve my frustrations, I walked the estate accompanying the hounds for their morning perambulation. Whence, refreshed and de-robed of my waxed and waterproof garments (which provided excellent coverage during a plethora of summer showers) I was attending to my daily epistle duty when a tradesman distracted me by peering into my front entrance. The servants access is clearly indicated so I can only assume the delivery boys command of written English is as inferior as his apparel. Old School standards are as rare as seamed 10 deniers it seems. Even in the Shires.

            Nor did my day’s challenges end there. For subsequently I was faced with a further trial during luncheon. The new Vicar had joined me for a local society debrief and organic soup (I believe, despite the Revd contributing little to our social intercourse, that he enjoyed both in equal measure) when my sight was drawn to a misalignment of the condiments. Thankfully my guest failed to notice the faux pas and the young attendant was summoned immediately upon the Minister’s departure and informed of her error. To my horror she remained singularly unperturbed.

            How I yearn for a healthy smattering of subservience amongst the staff.

Friday 29 April 2016

May Day Festivities

Whilst I inevitably adhere to customary national and spiritual pursuits on public junctures, I am mindful, over recent decades, of May Day celebrations being hijacked by left wing elements intent on indulging the work-shy classes.

I have, therefore, decided to restore more traditional pastimes.  Familial entertainment is, after all, the essence of a jolly day out.  A generous portion of Farthing Hall’s grounds - not within sight of my West Wing quarters I might add – has been allotted to the hosting of May Day merriment for village folk. Springtime festivities, dancing and floral displays, together with iced buns and tea, will surely delight the crowds and revive an aura of English gaiety.  

            In true Gosworthy-Pringle style the event has warranted my personal attention.   Indeed my keenness to reproduce an array of authentic stalls and activities led me to instigate some research.  In that regard our local Librarian rather let me down. She not only refused to delve into her archives, but urged me to spend an inordinate amount of my valuable time in front of a computer screen undertaking my own enquiries. Clearly this was an unreasonable proposal. Hence I was forced to insist she request some aged documentation from the nearest substantial Reference section which I perused in the comfort of my pink chintz quarters.

Admittedly, the local florist appeared a trifle overwhelmed at the decorative garlands which I sketched, yet with a little coaxing she delivered the requisite number of circlets.  I only trust the village school has invested in sufficient dance / ribbon rehearsals to guarantee a quality and coordinated display around my recently erected pole. 

The May Queen was selected last week.  This goes against convention for it has been the previous practise for attendees to vote for their chosen Queen on May Day.  However, not trusting those who are unused to making decision, I took on that responsibility.

            The fête has resulted in a little extra work for the staff, of course. The gardening personnel are required to facilitate parking, my maintenance team has been assigned security duties and Cook is such an excellent producer of cakes and pastries, I was obliged to suggest she forego her Public Holiday entitlement. The festival’s inevitable success will, however, placate all members of Farthing Hall’s staff, particularly as my generosity extends to allowing spouses and offspring to attend.  At a generously reduced entrance fee, I should add.

            As to publicity, I have renewed my acquaintance with the local newspaper editor.  I expect that both he and a photographer will bless us with their presence. Several messages have been left on said editor’s office and mobile telephone lines. Such a pity he has, so far, been too busy to return my calls.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Spring Cleaning

Spring is upon us, and not an instant too soon. This winter has summoned an unprecedented level of grumbles and grievances to which I have been needlessly exposed. It seems that certain elements of society are not only challenged by bodily ailments incurred during a spate of frost, and heating bills doubtless due to inefficient budgeting, they insist on vocalising their petty complaints. Even an amble into the village this week was spoilt by a quite unnecessarily public bemoaning. In all likelihood I shall not venture to the Library again for witnessing such negative attitudes at close quarters ruined my day. My book recommendations will henceforth be entrusted with the Royal Mail.

            On a more positive note, the change of season also instigates our annual spring clean. And not before time. When I last embarked upon an impromptu inspection, albeit more exhaustive than usual, of Farthing Hall, I was dismayed to discover that dust mites have infiltrated my crevices to an alarming degree bringing to my formal quarters an unacceptable level of what I am forced to concede is filth.

            However, the staff have now been summoned and assigned their duties and, with a concerted effort by everyone, The Hall should be in tip top condition within the week. I believe I can rely upon their sense of duty, despite their lack of verbal acquiescence.

            Of course, some furnishings - I am referring specifically to those silk drapes which bedeck the White Drawing Room - remain in pristine condition but then I have lavished much personal attention upon them. Given the self imposed task last year of arranging importation of the fabric from those industrious little fellows in the Far East I felt it necessary to maintain and monitor their allure myself. There is nothing more beneficial than regular hand treatment, as The Master frequently testifies.

            Yet it is not my duty to oversee every cleansing and polishing task that encompasses the Gosworthy-Pringle pile. An abundance of my time is already allotted to charity commitments on top of which my numerous social obligations make daily supervision of domestic duties simply impracticable.  

            No, it is beholden upon my employees to respect the standards I prescribe. And for which they are adequately rewarded, I might add. I trust they will put my instructions into practise though I will, however, note all neglected areas and include details of any lapses in the relevant staff appraisals.