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Confidante to the great and the GOOD, the confused and downright unreasonable, Mrs Finnegan administers advice while ALSO tending to her duties as housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE
May I broach upon a delicate subject?
I am a vicar and write my sermons at home. Believing in the wholesome value of fresh air, my windows are always open.
Unfortunately every weekday at half past three the children who live at the house opposite are joined by other merry playmates. They are all delightful creatures I am sure, but they are so loud — laughing and rolling their hoops up and down the street.
Is it unreasonable to ask they desist? Should I suggest that their time would be better spent digesting the contents of edifying books? Indoors.
I am afraid that last Sunday’s sermon was a rather poor effort. My mind was so distracted all I could produce was a scant 20 pages on the importance of St Paul’s subordinate clauses in his epistle to the Galatians.
My pulpit needs your diligent deliberations.
The Reverend I. M. Ernest of East Wittering
As I pen this reply I have been disturbed by a dust cart (late), a fishmonger (early), a gig arriving, a fly unloading, a neighbour’s dog howling, two babies crying, three men gossiping, four maids comparing aprons (I have no idea why), a delivery of coal and a flock of gulls.
I anticipate more interruptions in the next hour, more still this afternoon and so on and so forth. I do not wish to thread on your theological toes, but I call this the STUFF of life.
Dear Sir, there are WAYS of combining your devotional work with the CHATTER of innocent child’s play.
My dearest friend is using flowers to display her unspoken disapproval of my child-rearing. She has bought twenty large pink camellias for my special birthday. I can overlook the extravagance, but she knows well that my own garden is restricted to green and white, my aesthetic being a reflection of my personal philosophy.
We have long-standing differences in how to bring up our children. She has six daughters, I have eight. She lets her daughters dress in pink – the most frivolous of all colours – and they are allowed to dance and sing. They are also permitted to play with dolls and hug her, quite freely.
I import French nannies and nursemaids who know how to impose a healthy regime. My girls are clothed in serious hues that do not excite the passions – durable grey, restrained umber – and in the half hour I see them each day they are expected to be silent unless directly addressed (which I do on a rota basis to squash the slightest suspicion of favouritism). Smiling is not encouraged. Laughter is forbidden.
The pink camellias are an affront! If I keep them they undermine all I stand for, but if I throw them away I appear ungrateful.
What would you do with a friend like this?
Madam Mannerly Morals
In the meantime, I know a vicar who would welcome you and your children as neighbours.
The Mistress gave me barely a day’s notice of the IMMINENT arrival of the new cook.
It’s a blessing Mrs Hankey leaves her diary lying around otherwise I would be in a real fix trying to organise the household. As it was I could leave the room with a DEMURE smile and the serene superiority of a swan gliding on a painted lake.
The bed was already MADE UP, the room aired and the mattress turned.
MOREOVER the kitchen was immaculate.
Mrs Pole would have nothing to complain about.
She is on trial or is temporary, I am not entirely sure which…her references speak highly of her skills and her character, but the woman doesn’t seem to STICK anywhere.
She arrived on Friday and I saw at a GLANCE she is a trifle younger than myself – that is to say in the PRIME of life – well-padded (the proper proportions for a cook) with a pleasing, open countenance which in certain lights might EVEN be called handsome.
I do not allow that to influence me. I have no truck with MODERN science that says you can tell INNER character from outward appearance. The biggest liar I ever met was a kitchen maid with BUTTERMILK curls, bright eyes and a ready rose-bud smile.
And I remember a meanly-made neighbour from my youth with a TWISTED back and skin as knobbly as turkey wattle. He had the manners of a prince and NO SAINT had a kinder heart.
So, I reserve judgement BUT I will SAY she conducts herself with a QUIET competence.
Her first test came last Saturday night when Mrs Hankey asked for a simple supper
It was my half day off which I thought would give me A CHANCE to observe how Mrs Pole managed.
But the Mistress would have none of it.
She ORDERED me out of the house under the pretence that it would be best if I enjoyed myself ELSEWHERE.
My presence might DISTURB the cook, she said.
The very idea!
My scrutiny would make Mrs Pole FAIL and fumble!
But OUT I had to go and I put on my best hat as if I INDEED had somewhere I’d rather be, but the truth, dear friend, is that I had no one to call upon.
I walked out with a STRIDE that suggested FIRM purpose, but I had none.
I wandered up the Chain Pier and then ventured as far as the cricket ground, although I get no pleasure out of men indulging in a boy’s game. The TIME pressed heavily on my shoulders. Minutes were like HOURS. Hours were veritable days.
And THEN it rained.
Thunder crashed. Lightning TORE the summer evening asunder.
Drops as big as a baby’s head fell on the dry earth and BOUNCED UP again, hitting me on the way down and splashing my face on the way up.
It rained and rained and rained.
And then it stopped.
With my dress SOAKED and my hat ruined, I limped back to Brunswick Square in shoes that squelched with each WATERY STEP.
I hoped to slide into my own SWEET room unnoticed, but Mrs Pole would have NONE OF IT. She INSISTED I take a seat in the kitchen to dry out.
“I had an uncle who got soaked to the skin once,” she told me. “Had an inflammation of the lungs. Dead as a herring within the week. I’ll not see you go the same way.”
She took my wretched hat away to STEAM it back into head-shape and presented me with a tray saved from the supper so I could dine AS FINELY as Mrs Hankey and Miss Martha. The last touch was when she placed her OWN shawl around my shivering shoulders.
And HOW did the supper go?
Let Mrs Hankey tell you herself….(If she didn’t WANT her diary read she surely would leave it in a less convenient place)
Supper on Saturday evening was a delight.
We had Cream of Asparagus soup, oysters, poulard à la Duchesse and a most delicious chocolate mousse.
Since the company was just myself and Martha there was rather too much.
I have to admit that I ate accordingly, so happy was I to be released from the straitjacket of Mrs F’s ideas about the cooking appropriate to a house of wealth and distinction.
Sadly, I suffered on Sunday because of my enthusiasm the night before. I was very nearly embarrassed in Church.
However, I do not believe anyone attributed a certain disturbance in the air to myself. Although my blushes may have given me away, not helped by the laughter hiding in Martha’s eyes.
I warned my daughter with a look, so nothing arose. But I wonder if I am perhaps too quick to take the blame.
I hope that there was not something amiss with Mrs P’s cooking.
We shall wait and we shall see.
MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook and a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers. This week a big thank you to Catherine Page.
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