A TIMELY CHANGE OF DIET
When Corrie and I toddle in from the lawn, no one seems to be about – one of
those ‘no one there’ silences. Mind you, that sort of silence at Amblewick does
not necessarily mean there’s a total absence of people – they’re just not in that
part of the house – not quite your average bungalow, Amblewick, what?.
Telephone shrills on my desk in the library and Corrie services it.
Gather it’s Parsons on the blower via the house intercom line. Unusual. The
old chap doesn’t normally use that facility on principle - ‘Should I feel a need
to communicate with your Lordship then courtesy demands that I do so in
person’, is his way of going on. Clearly something untoward is ‘afoot’, as they
“Yes, Parsons, dear – we quite understand. We’ll be in the library when
you’ve finished your reconnaissance….. Good Heavens! Of course we
She tosses the old blower back on its nest and joins me – perching on the arm
of my wing chair near the fireplace.
“Seems to be a hell of a mess, old thing…”
I stuff the old specs a dash higher on the nose so I can focus on her properly.
“Where’s the flood then – kitchens, and so on?”
“I fear it’s somewhat more widespread than that, old chap. Top of the house
and all the way through to the basement in the West Wing, and spreading
beyond. Parsons seems concerned”
“Well at least the library still seems watertight. Thank God for small
Parsons cruises in from the first landing.
“Milord, we appear to have a considerable flooding problem in the West Wing.
I assumed that the inconvenience stemmed from the reservoir in the roof.
Inspection was essential, and as I can no longer access those constricted
areas myself, Milord, I was compelled to enlist the assistance of young Julian
in that regard.”
“Jolly good show, and what did he discover ‘up in the gods’, so to speak?”
“There appears to have been a blockage in the main West Wing water tank,
Milord – rather as I had feared. The tank has overflowed and water has now
been flowing for some time. The nature of the different levels of the house has
meant that flooding has occurred through the ceilings of many rooms – and is
now heading in the direction also of the library….”
“I say, can’t have that, can we, dash it? Can’t we unblock it – turn it off in some
way – I mean to say…..”
My voice drifts away in a depressed sniff.
At this point Julian throttles in.
“Corked it, Mr P!” he pants. “’Eck of a mess, though…. Even that bedroom Mrs
Thingummy-Wotzername used is ankle deep – and the pitcher gallery - then
right down into our rooms below stairs.”
Parsons takes over.
“I have taken the liberty, Milord, of informing the insurance company of
the current situation. In the meantime, Julian has managed to close the
stop cock in the attic area and no further water should now overflow. As
we speak, Richardson, his garden staff, and various other estate workers
are endeavouring to mop up the mess. Their efforts are at this point
somewhat ‘bucket and chuck it’ - to employ a colloquial metaphor. However,
I have requested Gillingwater to bring up the mobile motor-pump from the
Estate Office. Thereafter, I am in hopes that we will be able to redirect the
floodwaters into the moat, Milord.”
“Pictures in the gallery?” Corrie enquires
“Once we have removed the water from the Red Chamber,
beneath the offending reservoir, I have directed that all efforts be made to
pump out the Portrait Gallery – all windows will remain open to avoid damp
settling into the paintings, Lady Constance.”
“And your rooms, Parsons – can’t have you washed away, can we, old thing?”
I enquire – to my shame - somewhat as an afterthought.
“Everything appears to be under control, Milord.”
“Not too upset, Mrs Fenner, is she? I’ll pop down and see her when we’re
That, of course, is Corrie.
“Mrs Fenner was on duty at our Eaton Square, London residence, Lady
Constance, on the evening it was bombed - during the last war. She is
happiest when challenged. Something of the wartime spirit appears to have
lingered in her soul. I, too, had been concerned that the immersion of her
kitchens in floodwaters might well have perturbed her.”
“Not affected too badly, then?”
“Not in the least, Milord. Her first words to me when I went to commiserate
with her were to the effect that the prevailing climate would be ideal for
There is, however, a small hiccup in the matter of dinner this evening, Milord.
All water has been cut, and in the wake of inundation the Aga has been
rendered inactive. Catering, if you will, is at a temporary standstill. I am in
hopes that all will be restored to comparative normality by the time Your
Lordship takes breakfast in the morning.”
“Jolly good show….”
There is a giggle from the direction of Corrie and Jules who appear to have
been in quiet conference while we’ve been discussing the practicalities of life
after the flood.
Julian coughs up their conclusions
“Fish ‘n Chips, Guv’! Why don’t we send aht for Fish ‘n Chips?”
We all look at each other as though gifted with divine revelation.
“Why not, indeed - haven’t had them for years. All right with you Parsons, eh?”
An uneven battle between propriety and taste juices quickly ends in victory for
“Perfectly in order, Milord. If you will all submit your orders, I will despatch
the estate van to collect them. Frying stops at half-past-ten, I believe.”
I glance at the old Rolex.
“Plenty of time then, what?”
But I am struggling with myself here.
“Tell you what, though - absolutely starving – stomach thinks its throat’s been
cut. Come on, let’s have’em right away!”
“Cor! High Tea! Wicked!”
A jubilant, and clearly astonished, Julian.
Parsons winces at the concept, but inks his way most efficiently through our
I’m a Cod man, meself – Rock and double chips with a banger for Julian
– Plaice and the old Tartare for Corrie. I join Jules in the ‘extra banger’
“What’s your poison, Mr P?”
“I confess to a mild preference for the Skate, Master Julian. Despite its
somewhat uninspiring name, the biological structure of the fish permits
comparison with the noble Turbot – albeit a fleeting comparison. And now
with your permission, Milord – Lady Constance - I shall retire and ascertain the
He shimmers from the presence.
Our ‘High Tea’ is the greatest possible success and Parsons enters very
much into the spirit of the occasion. He makes no protest when we all decide
to consume our ‘Chish and Fips’ sitting on the terrace wall outside the
Conservatory - and directly from the newspapers they are wrapped in.
“I am aware, Milord, that the method you employ for consumption of the dish
is, indeed, the traditional one.”
No sooner have we bolted our ‘nosh’ - and wiped the grease onto our trousers,
jeans, and in Corrie’s case, dungarees – than Parsons produces a serious
rabbit from the hat.
A huge, golden, freezing-cold, rice pudding!
Julian and I are thrilled to bits – even more so when we are permitted to scoff it
out of the bowl with ‘Langues de Chats’ - the last scraps with our fingers.
Needless to say, there will be be a price to pay for all this license.
As we all scrumple up the newspapers and lick our lips, Parsons comes out
“Milord, the inspector will arrive at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“Inspector? What inspector? Blighted taxman again?”
“The assurance company inspector, Milord - sometimes euphemistically
referred to as “the assessor”.
“Presumably to assess how little, if anything, his company is at risk of having
My tone is sub-acid to say the least, and would have done credit to ‘the aged
Duchess of Athlone’……...
“It is true, Milord, that appointees to this position are selected more for their
conservatism in matters fiscal than for their philanthropy. Mrs Fenner will
bring early morning tea to Your Lordship’s rooms an hour earlier than usual
tomorrow morning – at eight o’clock precisely."
“Very well, Milord, Julian and I will return to the library in time for the
“Readings”, a little later.
With the ghost of a smile, and a wink from Jules, they are gone.
Corrie and I take refuge in a brace of stiff Gins.
“Bung ho, Biffo, dear…” says Corrie.
“Scots wa’hey wi’Wallace bled” I offer, a little sourly.