BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Words, children and a disaster in the kitchen ADVICE from the 1830s BRIGHTON HOUSEKEEPER AND AGONY AUNT

Mrs Finnegan, the Celebrated Authority in affairs of the HEART and HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT, is engulfed at The Regency Town House in more ways than one…

Tell me what to do with an annoying 9 year old. I recently married a very nice man with three children. His first wife died a year ago. I care for the twins as if they are my own, but the eldest girl spends most of the day in a sulk.
My husband is very clear: the children are my province and when he comes home he wants peace and happiness to reign.
Exhausted Stepmother from near Camber Sands

I’m told these girls are very sweet….

Has your husband also ordered that no rain should fall until after dark?

I would like to give him a piece of my MIND, but he hasn’t asked for it and you have…

My dear, yours is a hard task and there is only way to tackle it and that is to become an actress. And not just any old actress but the BEST Drury Lane actress you can be.

Pretend you don’t find your stepdaughter’s behaviour the LEAST bit annoying (you are apparently well able to overlook your husband’s unrealistic expectations so you are already practised in the art.)
Pretend you can’t see the frown that SHADOWS her face.
Pretend you can’t see the DOWN turned mouth.
Pretend you have found a REASON to praise her at least once a day (make it twice a day by the end of the week – any more is just plain silly).

Pretend when you are talking to her father.
Pretend when you’re talking with friends
Pretend when she can hear what you say and pretend when she can’t.

Annoying children have a way of turning into thoroughly DECENT children without you noticing if you pretend hard enough.
And if she doesn’t, you will have the CONSOLATION of knowing that you have not added to the burdens that this little girl is carrying because, make no mistake, she is still grieving for her Mama. Her world is a sad, dark place. Act your part and you will let a little light shine in.

oooOOOoo

Why can’t people say what they mean, Mrs Finnegan? Holding a conversation with some folk is like sinking into a quagmire. You seem a straightforward sort of woman, can you give me some tips?
A no bluff or bluster Sussex farmer


While I am cognisant of the honour you do me, I’m not entirely conscious of straightforward-ness being my most salient attribute, hailing as I do from a Hibernian home.*
However, I think that I can craft a translation guide that will be useful in most situations.
I shall think about it.
means: No.
I hear what you’re saying
means: No.
That’s an interesting proposal.
means: No.
I’ll bear it in mind.
means: No.
With the greatest respect
means: NO!
That’s a brave proposal.
means: You must be mad! NO!

* A rough translation of this sentence is something like: I know you mean it as a compliment and I won’t take offence, but I’m Irish (the name might be a clue) and our native tongue has no word for yes or no because surely you would not want to send a lonely word out on it’s own when it can be accompanied by the jewels of a language rich in...this might go on for some time and you’re a busy man, suffice to say that where the English are polite we Irish are poets. I can be straightforward Sir, but only when riled! (Or short of time.)

Yours respectfully

Mrs Finnegan

PS
The tea party is tomorrow. Miss Martha is in high excitement and has already been down to the kitchen twice today.
Under her darting eyes:
I have weighed out the flour I will need in my baking.
I have washed a bowl of currants, and rubbed them clean
The same of plump sultanas.
I have mashed blades of mace in a mortar.
I have made a goodly quantity of orange water (more than we will ever use if Miss Martha has a tea party every other day for a month)
The butter is ready, the cinnamon is ready, the finely ground sugar is ready.
Mrs Finnegan is NOT ready.
A batch of cakes I can turn out but never have I attempted so many and so various all at the SAME TIME without so much as a scullery maid to assist me.
The Mistress has not yet approved the list of visitors and there are a few rum folk included…so there is a chance it yet may be cancelled. But I fear they are all irredeemably respectable.

I believe this lady is on the guest list…
….along with this lady who is a very Wednesday looking piece of limp lettuce. I fear I may forget myself and tell her to sit up whenever I pass her chair.

Hark! I hear Miss Martha’s foot on the stairs again. She is calling me for something I know not what…Shouting! Well, really there is no need before I start baking….
Water? What water?
WATER through the ceiling. A flood. A torrent. A deluge. Of BIBLICAL proportions. Coming from I know not where, but come it does.

It FEELS like this

My shoes are wet. My feet are wet. I do believe the water almost reaches my ankles. Miss Martha is quite hysterical. I try to maintain a quiet dignity.
‘We’re doomed!’ I cry. ‘We’re going to drown!’ I add for clarity. ‘Or the ceiling will collapse and crush us.’ I expand, wishing to cover all eventualities, and when I look up the ceiling is a treacherous shade of sodden grey.
‘My tea party is ruined,’ wails Miss Martha. The flour has indeed turned into a watery glue, the currants and sultanas are floating in the direction of the overturned slop bucket, and the flood has a distinctive orange hue.
Oh dear, how sad.
And I do believe the water has stopped.
I take the liberty of reaching for Miss Martha’s hand and helping her back up the stairs.
‘We live to fight another day, Miss’ I tell her with all the warmth and maturity of a lifetime in service.

Follow @_Mrs_Finnegan on twitter and join 1,235 followers. She’s there every day – she just keep away.
This is a regular feature created and written with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook


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This entry was posted on July 28, 2020 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , , .
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