Whirling and paddling: just another week in a castle
It has been windy today, a westerly that has filled the sky with leaves whirling from the trees. The colour is being whisked from the landscape, leaving the bare branches of winter.
My life has been in a bit of a whirl too these past couple of weeks. I apologise for writing less than I’d like here recently: other concerns have pushed out blogging. Since Dancing Beastie claims to be about life in a Scottish castle, however, here is a taste of the very varied goings-on which have been keeping us busy.
The week after half-term, we hosted a concert in the family chapel. An unusual and beautiful building, the chapel formed a wonderful setting for a concert of folk songs by a well-known local singer. The event was sold out and we are full of great memories. We love being involved in the local folk scene, if only peripherally: it’s a friendly and laid-back group of people who are a pleasure to work with. Plus we then get to sit and listen to some of our favourite music!
Last week we were back to more core business, with the Fishings AGM. Salmon fishing is an important part of our estate business. When the factors, accountants, laird, beat representatives and so on congregate here for their annual meeting, it is my job to provide the lunch. I am told that this annual lunch at the castle is their favourite business lunch of the year, so the pressure is on.
As my husband found with putting on the concert, a one hour event can take two days to organise. I made life as easy as possible for myself, cooking a casserole and preparing the vegetables the day before, so that on the day I needed only to make the pudding and lay the table and do the flowers and walk the dogs and prepare a tray of coffee and cook the main course and finally whip off my apron and appear, calm and smiling, in the drawing room to welcome our guests in to lunch. And then run back to the kitchen again once the visitors had gone, to get started on the clearing up before the afternoon school run. Oh yes, an awful lot of paddling goes on beneath the surface to keep life in a castle running smoothly!
On the morning of the concert, I had opened the back door to the man delivering my groceries when I discovered a puddle on the floor made by one of the dogs. So I was busy with mop and bucket, as well as boxes of groceries, when a stranger with a Canadian accent appeared, looking for the concert venue. I wiped my hands on my pinny and used the mop-free hand to point out the chapel to him. Later that afternoon – after he had sung a couple of rousing songs in the concert, for he turned out to be the guest artist from Cape Breton – I spoke to him again and introduced myself properly. He simply could not believe that the dishevelled woman at the back door with the mop was also the lady of the castle, and that we have no house staff. ‘Nope, just me and my mop,’ I insisted cheerfully.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. My husband is also a dab hand with a mop when necessary. In fact he is brilliant at knuckling down to anything that needs doing for events, from mending fuses to scrubbing loos. We have a stalwart clerk of works whom we rely on to co-ordinate any building repairs which are needed, and a hard-working and unfailingly cheerful cleaning lady who comes on Mondays to do laundry and general cleaning. But we have no permanent house staff and, while we like it that way on the whole, it does make it frankly impossible to run the castle in the style to which it was once accustomed. Downton Abbey we are not. Hence the paddling.
This week I am occupied in family events, as we have been looking at new schools for our elder son (for the next stage of his education) and preparing for younger son’s birthday this weekend. The daily round of family life takes up a good deal of time, and unpaid work outside the home seems to swallow a fair bit of the rest. In addition to my regular work (how did that happen?!) on behalf of our parish church, I have also been much taken up recently with collaborating on an article for the national press aimed at raising awareness of the brain injury charity Headway. The article was finally published today. Within hours, Headway told me that someone had already contacted them for help as a direct result of the article; which makes all the effort worthwhile. It is very satisfying to be able to bring something positive out of my own experience of head injury.
Before you think I have become a cross between a saint and a Stepford Wife, let me reassure you that I do still manage to think for myself sometimes. Even if one of the things I found myself thinking wryly last week was, ‘Here I am come full circle, cooking business lunches just like I did in my first full-time job when I was eighteen. Whatever happened to (quote the newspaper article) my ‘high-flying career’?’
I have to let you in on a secret, however. I’d rather be paddling at home than flying high in an office: I feel very lucky to have the choice. And if that does, after all, make me a bit of a Stepford Wife, here’s another independent thought. I don’t care.