BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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Neighbour Problems – Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper has a sure-fire solution

Mrs Finnegan’s advice is FREELY GIVEN to all manner of people, being both a celebrated authority on nearly everything AND the housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE 

What can I do with my over-familiar neighbour? I realise now that it was a mistake to say ‘good day’ when I moved in.

While never rude, except to the lower orders, my butler is well-trained and shoos away ANY uninvited guests. I understand she attempted to leave her card three times last week.

Without being properly introduced she invited me to a soirée which appeared to be specifically organised to ‘welcome’ me to Brighton. I didn’t reply.

Thinking matters were resolved, I was surprised to be approached by her in the street in tears. She was distraught because some relative had recently passed away. I do not think it was appropriate for her to be crying in such close proximity to me.
 
Mrs Finnegan, do you have effective methods of dealing with unwanted neighbourly attention?
Hetty of Haughty House

Mrs Finnegan replies

Yes.

Move away. It works every time.

PS
I THINK I know the lady in question.
She is notorious for such behaviour. Really, you might call her a PUBLIC nuisance for the way she is always welcoming newcomers. True her parties are WELL attended by the nobility when in town because of the glittering conversation that can be had there. I SUPPOSE the poets and authors who flock to her drawing room account for that
I daresay it also helps that her cook is said to be THE BEST not working in a Royal household, although I do NOT think that statement is strictly accurate given the lady’s own regal connections.
And have you noticed how often she smiles? (When not in mourning for a Crown Prince) That surely must be her MOST irritating characteristic, if you ignore the profligate way she CONTRIBUTES to charity.
Of course, I might be exaggerating a mite but you, dear lady, will never know…

Tell me, Mrs Finnegan, did you have fun at Halloween?
Was there special food? I long to know.
Did Miss Martha glimpse her one true love?
Did you, Mrs Finnegan?

A Jolly Faithful Reader

Mrs Finnegan replies

Blushes and good BREEDING prevent me from answering such questions, the very idea!

I can tell you, however, when I was growing up my turnip carving abilities DID NOT go unnoticed (just like the lad above). The old folk in the village called this time of year Samhain (the end of summer) and while I don’t make a fuss about it I do like to do a bit of baking.

Last Sunday – Hallow’een itself – I was ready to produce a TASTY barmbrack and tell our fortunes. All manner of things have to be baked into the fruit bread: a match means CONFLICT and a piece of cloth poverty. A ring signifies you will be MARRIED within 12 months and a thimble that you’ll REMAIN an old maid. Some also add a button which is intended for the men in the family (if it appears in his slice he will remain a bachelor) but I wouldn’t have BOTHERED as no man regularly sits at our table.
At present.

Then I hit on something better – making a DUMB cake!
Unmarried young ladies gather together in the evening to bake a cake in COMPLETE silence. That is hard especially when you know that so MUCH as a squeak will break the magic. Once baked you carried a slice up to bed walking BACKWARDS all the time. Getting undressed backwards too. Do all that and you are bound to DREAM of the man you will marry.

I THOUGHT it would be such fun for Miss Martha and Susan. As it was VERY unlucky to have an even number of women participate I would be FORCED to take part myself, being currently unwed.

I even practiced walking BACKWARDS. I still have the bruises.

Did it happen? No, it did not.

ALAS! I was banned from the KITCHEN. The cook stood in front of the door and BARRED my way. After last week all the niceties have gone and I lost the battle of Halloween.

No matter. I have every intention of WINNING the war.

PS

The house is in CHAOS! No mortal soul is allowed to FORGET for one fleeting glance of a moment that the Dinner Party To End All Dinner Parties is next week.

Every time I go to the linen CUPBOARD something has been taken out or put in, the same for the SILVER store and last week I discovered the fire screen in the parlour had vanished. It’s been taken for some other room I suppose but I searched high and low and could find it nowhere. What I have FOUND, however, is a temporary army of maids to clean the place from top to bottom. Here are three of them: too giddy, too timid, too bold…

But they know how to polish and mop and sweep and I am GLAD to have them for we were solely in need. I would say everything was under control except that Mrs Hankey is behaving very, VERY strangely.

One evening after supper she asked me to bank up the fire in her bedroom, although it was a MILD night. She bade me leave and not RETURN under any circumstances.

Which of course I did DIRECTLY, although I ALSO needed to check the state of the wainscoting outside her room before going downstairs. So it was that a few minutes later I was witness to the MOST alarming GRUNTING sounds coming from her room.
Silence followed.

Then Mrs Hankey started talking TO HERSELF. I could not hear every syllable but some phrases RANG clear.

“…I am often complimented on my…”
“How extraordinary! That reminds me of something that happened to me….”
“…it is rather fine, isn’t it?…”

It was at this point she started GASPING for breath.

What could I do? Concern for her welfare FORCED me to look through the keyhole. I saw….a woman entirely red from her turbaned head to to the VELVET hem of her dress. A combination of this.

And this.

And a ruby face as red as a BLIND cobbler’s thumb.
Ideally, you want the Mistress of the House, the oddest looking woman in Brighton and the VILLAGE idiot to be three different people.

It was only when I discovered Mrs Hankey’s diary that I UNCOVERED what had been happening.

THURSDAY
My dress is a glory. It is made of an abundant amount of deep red velvet and I am determined to wear it at all costs. However I must confess on first try, it seemed to me to be very hot. I am resolved to practice and wear it when there is no one else around but when I am seated by a fire in order to imitate the heat of a dinner party.
I shall have to practice leaning forward and becoming animated.  
I am slightly concerned.     

When I read those words the DAWN of understanding began to break…

FRIDAY
I have done myself a terrible disservice.
To put my red velvet dress to the test meant putting it on all by myself. A vexatious experience I have no desire to repeat.
I then sat by the fire and preceded to talk in a very engaging fashion as if I were at a dinner party.
In a very short time I felt a spreading dampness under my arms. Then, to my utter consternation, there was moisture on my upper lip and more trickling down my chest.    
I was extremely uncomfortable. I looked in the mirror and every inch of my exposed skin had become the colour of my dress!   I felt as though I was on fire. I looked as though I had been boiled.
Under no circumstances can I wear that dress to my dinner party.
This is a disaster. 

This explains the UPROAR. Miss Susan was woken from her sleep and ordered to appear before the mistress. The POOR girl looked like a cat who had just discovered there were giant mice in the world with very long memories. She was cross examined by Mrs Hankey about the exact location of the PURPLE silk she had been GIVEN weeks earlier.

Somehow it was retrieved because next morning the poor dressmaker was installed in the drawing room and has been there ever SINCE. She is like a prisoner the way she is sewing, sewing, sewing all the time, but she is allowed home BEFORE midnight and doesn’t have to be back until oh, five or six, sometime before the cock has woken up..

By the way, I should perhaps mention there has been another visitor this week. Owen Talbot, our new temporary butler called as promised. He is at least reliable. And he did help me gather together the extra staff that were needed.
But is he especially close to the cook? Are they friends? Are they in league together?

I asked straight out.
“Mr Talbot,” I said.
“You promised to call me Owen,” he said. “Although my special friends call me by my middle name,” he added.
“Which is?” I enquired.
“Merryweather. Merry for short. Can I be Merry to you?”
And then I quite forgot what I was going to say.


Later in the day I happened to be in the yard when the cook was snipping at her pot of chives. By way of conversation, I remarked that Merry had left.
“Who?” she said.
“Merryweather,” I said.
“Who’s that?” she said and I think that was an ANSWER of sorts.

That was going to be the end of my chronicle for this week, but then I happened on Mrs Hankey’s diary again (she is putting it in the oddest places – in the locked drawer of her desk this time).

I flipped back a few pages before the red dress episode and found this.

…I have noticed some items missing: a pair of earrings that Thomson had given me, hideous but that is not relevant; my mother’s silver teapot which was a personal  treasure, and – most strange – a fire guard.   
Mrs Finnegan reported the last item, but I think she is being too clever when she is in fact the culprit…. 

Dear reader, can it be true? She suspects ME?

MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook, working with 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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10 comments on “Neighbour Problems – Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper has a sure-fire solution

  1. The Regency Cook
    November 2, 2021

    I cannot wait until next week.

    • bridget whelan
      November 3, 2021

      Ah, YOU may not be able to wait Master Paul, but I most certainly can.

      Looking forward, I can only see a sennight of scheming duplicity that I would much RATHER sleep through, especially as the outcome is by no means certain. But fear not, I am not giving up the fight. Support from friends such as your GOOD self give me courage…

      (I am right in thinking that I have your support, am I not? While there may be a natural INCLINATION to side with a fellow culinary artist I trust you can see through the COOK’S perfidiousness. Judge her not by what she says, but by what she does. That and the NUMBER of things that have gone missing. )

      With the UTMOST respect etc etc
      Mrs Finnegan .

  2. Eileen Field
    November 2, 2021

    We know you are innocent Mrs Finnigan

    • bridget whelan
      November 2, 2021

      I shall relay the message – I’m sure she will be grateful for your support

    • bridget whelan
      November 2, 2021

      Dear Mistress Field,
      My sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your kind, KIND words. So many thoughtful messages have I received that I exhausted the house’s supply of ink* and was forced to MAKE some more.
      So moved was I by your words, I would have no objection to your embroidering them on a banner (useful if a procession was organised) or on cushions.
      Yours in SISTERHOOD
      Mrs Finnegan
      * Yet I recall that when I checked last week there was a pint of the stuff in the storeroom. Has Mrs Hankey started another diary or is something even odder going on…?

  3. Jenny
    November 2, 2021

    Dear Mrs Finnegan

    Why on earth would anyone WANT to take a fireguard? Unless it was particularly lovely… but it seems a STRANGE thing to COVET. Has Mrs Hankey lost her mind?

    No; don’t answer that. I think it is clear that she has.

    I think there is TREACHERY afoot. I think you need to get to the bottom of it.

    I have COMPLETE faith in you.

    P.S.—

    Don’t you think it rather FAMILIAR of this butler to ask you to call him by such an INTIMATE appellation? I’m NOT sure I liked how he phrased it.

    • bridget whelan
      November 2, 2021

      Mrs Finnegan’s reply:
      My thoughts EXACTLY, Sir. The fireguard was not an object of beauty. It was serviceable. It did its job without attempting to add grace or dignity to the SPACE which it occupied so why would anyone go to the BOTHER of stealing it? Once the dinner party is out of the way I shall indeed investigate.

      On the question of Mrs Hankey’s state of MIND, I couldn’t possibly comment.

      I am nourished by your faith and kind works, but I’m also baffled by your reference to the butler. I can’t see anything in his remarks that would cause an eyebrow to be raised….

      • bridget whelan
        November 2, 2021

        PS It has just come to my attention Jenny that you are a lady. There was something in your copperplate handwriting that suggested a masculine inclination. I was clearly wrong.

  4. Joan MacGregor
    November 2, 2021

    Dear Mrs Finnegan
    Mrs Hankey is so clearly becoming deranged that she would believe anything. Is it possible that the cook is poisoning her mind against you? Is it even possible that the cook has designs upon your position in the household? I am truly sorry if this last suggestion gives you even greater cause for distress but it is best to be aware of all eventualities and to be on your guard against them!
    With sincere Best Wishes,
    Perturbed of Preston Park

  5. bridget whelan
    November 2, 2021

    From Mrs Finnegan
    Dear, dear Perturbed
    After the events of the last two weeks, I would believe ANYTHING of that cook. I assure you that I am watching her every move. Something is going on, but now my great fear is that Mrs Hankey will not believe me EVEN if I were to uncover a den of thieves and nest of VIPERS under her roof.
    Yours
    Bemused but not Broken of Brunswick Square

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