I listened to Julian Fellowes play called, 'Snobs', yesterday (twice - the BBC is deserted at Christmas), and it reminded me of one Christmas I spent in Norfolk. I may have already told you this one, but what the hell...
My girlfriend's mother was a well to do and successful author of childrens books - she had more of her own books in public libraries than Agatha Christie - and was a best friend of sometime local resident, the Queen Mother.
The weekend was exactly like the plot of an Agatha Christy novel as well, but without the murders, and began for me with a breakdown of yet another old Volvo on the M4, about 150 miles away from Norfolk. I dumped the car in a service station and took a series of taxis and trains, then got picked up at Norwich to be driven to the family seat, just South of Cromer.
The house itself was a miniature pastiche of a Palladian villa, designed by the architect who the hostess eventually married, and was built for someone who - after he moved in - discovered he was about to be enobled. The building and estate was called something like 'Crinkly Bottom' (the area had the word Bottom in it somewhere), but the owner changed the name to something more dignified rather than be addressed as 'Lord Crinkly Bottom' every time he went to a party. When the owner died, the house was bought by the architect, and this is where he lived until the event, leaving our hostess in residence. I think I have got that right, but I think my old friend may occasionally glance at this blog, so she could correct anything if needed.
The house party consisted of a group of quite young people, plus our hostess. Amongst them was a young American woman who obviously was both petrified at putting a foot wrong in the complex and inscrutable procedures of British ettiquette, and equally anxious to seamlessly fit-in as a social equal, despite being from the Colonies. In short, she tried too hard. She could not relax and put everyone else on edge by seeming to constantly be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The mother spent most of her time in her study, occasionally coming out to issue a new decree or dictat, which didn't help the American girl's nerves. The more time she spent in her study, the more extreme the dictats became, so I think she was doing more in there than just reading and writing.
We were all relaxing by a huge log fire one evening, when hostess appeared, stood in front of us and said, "I have decided there will be no more smoking in this house. Please put out your cigarettes at once," before going back into her den.
I looked at her daughter incredulously and asked what I should do. "Just ignore her. She's pissed." So we all carried on as normal - or what was normal in the days when nobody forbade smoking indoors at Christmas.
It was agreed that I should cook the goose for our lunch, as I was probably the most experienced for the job, and hostess would have either been too drunk or had servants to cook it for her. The American girl, sensing an opportunity to stand out, began insisting that she had cooked hundreds of geese in her time, and was bound to be a better person for the job than I was.
We tried to talk her out of it, but she began fussing about with the dead bird, refusing any help from me whatsoever - until she unwrapped it to find a spot of taint on its skin, the sight of which made her almost scream with anguish.
"WE CAN'T EAT THIS! WE WILL ALL DIE OF FOOD-POISONING" she yelled.
A quick consultation with Mrs Beaton instructed me to rub vinegar into the taint (taint being a polite word for 'mould') after which the bird would be perfectly good.
When this was done, the American took over again, ignoring our advice as to how to prepare or wrap the thing for cooking, virtually ordering us to either start peeling sprouts or get out of the kitchen. She wanted all the glory, and she got it.
We all sat down and the food was dished out. The goose was pretty much inedible - tough, dry and tasteless, as was immediately pointed out by our hostess.
"You have ruined this goose. What the hell did you do to it?", she ungraciously said.
The American girl slammed down her knife and fork, burst into tears and ran to her room. She finally cracked, but she did get her moment of attention. I think she had seen it coming for hours, and was slowly building up to it.
Just before we left, hostess asked, "Would you like to come to tea with the Queen Mother next weekend? She is staying on Saturday."
"No we would not," was her daughter's response. "She's a horrid old bag and I don't like her."
So I never did meet HRHQE2M. Shame.
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