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Mrs Finnegan, the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT, is answering letters at The Regency Town House She is waiting for one of her own with hope in her heart.
My Mama is sure that I will be a great success when I enter society. I have prepared well: I can talk for at least a minute on horse racing and Italian opera without repeating myself and have made a thorough study of this year’s bonnets. My complexion is clear, my eyes a laughing grey and my hair the colour of demerara sugar.
One thing worries me, Mrs Finnegan. How many offers of marriage can I hold before committing myself to a definite answer?
I feel it would be unwise to jump at the first offer in case a better one comes along, but I acknowledge it would be foolish to dismiss an eligible suitor too soon. I’m inclined to think that four proposals are probably the most a young lady should have simmering close to the boil at one time. Would you agree?
Miss Glorious of Peckham Rye
Do you know, my dear, of all the animals the good Lord made I admire the hen the most. It only ever crows AFTER it has laid an egg.
Please settle a quarrel in our otherwise happy family. Can a man carry an umbrella? My husband says no and my son says yes and has gone to London to buy himself one.
You will think me a fond and foolish mother but I rather approve of the latest fashion that protects my boy from a downpour. My daughters and I always carry an umbrella or parasol.
Mrs Soft-Hearted from the South Downs
Are umbrellas unmanly? No! But they are LETHAL and best left in the hands of the women of your family.
The truth is that men don’t know how to carry an umbrella and I doubt they can be taught. Some men carry them UPRIGHT as if they were a musket while others clasp them under the arm with the sharp end pointing up.
They GESTICULATE with them and tap the ground to make a point they can’t make with words.
And ALWAYS, always they forget that there are people behind them, beside them and in front. They tear dresses, knock spectacles from noses and hats from heads: they stab toes, wound children and sweep china from tables.
And then the clouds grow dark and they try to to open the wretched things!
I don’t want to crawl over the entrails of family disputes, dear lady, but I BELIEVE this is the time to side with your husband.
Only a woman can be trusted with an umbrella.
I have been waiting for Mrs Hankey to pass JUDGMENT on her daughter’s desire to host a tea party. She won’t like it but will she forbid it? Most times I prefer the word yes, to the word no, but this isn’t most times.
This is fancy-cake time and cooking-twiddly-little-pastry-niceties time. It’s Finnegan-out-of-her-depth time.
And Miss Martha might be sad for HALF A DAY, but she’ll soon be thundering down the stairs again with a new scheme.
The postman knocks twice and delivers the letter I’ve been waiting for.
Miss Martha is hanging over the bannisters.
She thinks I can’t see her but she shouldn’t wear EMERALD green if she wants to fade into the background. She’s guessed I’ve written to her mother and we are both anxious to know whether it is a yes or a no. I tear open the envelope.
Dear Mrs Finnegan
Thank you for your letter. I am comforted that your various indispositions have somewhat abated and thus allow you to re-engage with the house and more importantly with my daughter, but I am profoundly disturbed that she wishes to have a tea party.
Profoundly disturbed. That’s a good start.
I have not heard from Martha for some days. I know she fancies that she has charge of the house in my absence, but this is obviously a delusion.
Delusion is a little hard, but if Miss Martha is not in charge…well, that only leaves me.
However I confess that I am wary of forbidding her to entertain at home because she will become restless and argumentative and this way, at the very least, you will be able to keep an eye on her guests. Therefore, despite much perturbation, I have decided that she is to be allowed to proceed with her plans, on my terms.
Hope gone. Killed. A paper knife through its heart.
As you know, tea is very expensive, a fact which Martha may not fully appreciate. Presently the tea caddy is full and locked and you will find the small key to it on your chain.
Does Mrs Hankey think I don’t know where the key to is? Or how to turn it? She is gone two months and assumes the tea caddy is still full. I’m quite touched.
You may not use our best porcelain tea set which has been handed down through the Hankey family. For Martha’s little entertainment you may use our second best set made from bone china. It is very convenient since it has only eight cups, saucers, and plates and thus will limit the number of her invitees, however please be very careful when you handle these.
There are only six cups left of that particular set after a trifling mishap, nothing worth reporting.
You will find the silver tea pot, the milk jug, the spoons and small knives stored with the tea tables at the back of your room and somewhere there are lace cloths to go on the tables.
Has Mrs Hankey forgotten that I am the housekeeper? Housekeepers know better than the lady of the house where the silver and the lace are kept. Especially if the lady has been away some time and the housekeeper needs the solace of silver to keep the loneliness of a big empty house at bay.
Thinking about giving a tea party brings to mind the elevated tea parties I used to give and will give again soon. I am most anxious that Martha understands that her attempt at playing the gracious hostess must in no way rival my own. It is imperative that I see a guest list and that I have the final veto. I have resolved to write to her, saying that you have told me about her plans. Please keep me informed.
Mrs Hankey: a woman congenitally incapable of seeing a problem without making it very considerably worse.
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This is a regular feature created and written with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook