Baron Crapulence
The witterings of
Baron Crapulence of Chugley Harvard
As recorded by Felicity O'Toole
'Christmas, Now and Then'

baron crapulence he depressing thing about Christmas nowadays is the enormous problem of servants. Just at the time that one wishes to invite several guests some of them think they are entitled to a day off. Incidentally Lady Honoria, my good lady wife that is, not my prize sow, thinks I ought to start referring to them as ‘staff’. I can’t think why, they would still come up with all sorts of odd reasons why they should have time off just when we need them the most. It isn’t easy entertaining about thirty or forty people for a couple of weeks but fortunately Nanny (who now acts as housekeeper) helps my good lady wife, and both my mother-in law and my mother chime in from time to time, not to mention a good percentage of daughters and everything gets sorted out. I tend to keep a pretty low profile during this run up and leave them to it as nerves become a little fraught in certain quarters and otherwise I might end up feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

My mother, the Dowager Baroness, has to come of course, that’s not so bad because after stuffing herself she tends to doze off in an odd corner, but what really annoys me is that her dreadful ‘companion’ — she used to be her lady’s maid — dines with us in Great Hall at my good lady wife’s insistence. I think she should be set to eat with the servants and if my mother likes to keep her company downstairs so much the better. I received a rather old fashioned look for this suggestion, so I didn’t pursue the topic. Amazing, this solidarity that my wife and mother have, I have found that you can’t fight womens’ conspiracies.

Another equally unwelcome guest as far as I’m concerned will be Gonoria’s friend from the village. She used to be a parlour maid here, for goodness sake, that makes two servants dining in Great Hall. My father will be turning in his grave. At least they won’t be spending long here, Gonoria never stays very long at a time, she actually seems to prefer to spend her time with the poor people in the village.

Apart from the immediate family, we always have a substantial cast list of appalling relatives over the festivities, some good friends of mine and inevitably the hangers on that my children invite. Thank God the only time we are all in the same room is at dinner in Great Hall.

This year apart from the ageing Aunts and Uncles, fortunately gradually diminishing in number annually, and a plethora of cousins whose names I can never remember, there is a mysterious third cousin once removed, or it might be a first cousin thrice removed — whatever the difference is — named Agatha; yes — another one, I hope she’s not as awful as my cousin Guy’s wife is, who is apparently bringing some horrid Colonial with her, Australian I am given to understand. I suppose we will have to put up with listening to him wittering on about ‘diggers’ and sheilas’ and other quaint ethnic terms. I shall try to avoid him.

At least my good friend Simon Cholmondeley-Bibulant J.P. will be coming so there will be someone sensible to converse with, well when he’s not eating, at any rate. I shall arrange for a fire to be lit in my dressing room so that we can retire there after dinner, sitting in the very comfortable armchairs in front of the fire with a bottle of Bruichladdich.

Christmas doesn’t change very much from year to year at Crapulent Towers. We wake dear old Dr. Chasuble up on Christmas Eve in time to prepare for Mass as he’s inclined to hit the madeira rather heavily nowadays — the wine that is, not the cake, which is attended by most of the household and many from the village. It is generally very well attended. On Christmas morning I always give Lady Honoria some acorns, beech nuts and truffles as a special treat. That's my prize sow, not my good lady wife, I always get her lady's maid to purchase something for her on her afternoon off. I usually then go and have a chat with Gherkin or Jerkin or whatever his name is — my gamekeeper — about the morrow's shoot and then visit the gun room to check over the equipment. The remainder of the day is mostly devoted to eating, drinking and avoiding the most boring or awful of the guests. It is fortunate that Crapulent Towers allows one to avoid people at all times except meals, how people manage in smaller houses with only a couple of dozen rooms or so never fails to amaze me.

Personally, I always look forward to Dog Day* the most. I now no longer hunt, but many of the party do, not least some of my children, but I do look forward to the private shoot we hold, especially so as it the last of the season we hold here. We don’t have a shoot on New Year as my good lady wife and I always go away to the West Indies at the beginning of January for six to eight weeks, where we keep our yacht. It is the only holiday we ever get and a welcome relief to the hard graft of daily life.

I don't understand the ingratitude of servants nowadays. Christmas was very different in years past. We always indulged the staff at Christmas time, giving them the pick of the dinner leftovers and turning a blind eye to the then butler Gayethorpe’s assault on the remains of the Port, as long as he didn’t actually fall over in front of the guests. Or at least not guests that we liked.

Of course anything the servants couldn’t cope with was sent down the next day to the Village Hall, an erection paid for by my grandfather in uncharacteristically philanthropic humour, for the benefit of the children of the poor. The leftover leftovers that is, not the Village Hall. It was good to see them tucking into the remains of pigeon wings and stringy bits of asparagus with ruddy-cheeked endeavour, although I must admit that I never actually saw them myself as I was usually too busy at Crapulent Towers. My friend Simon Cholmondeley-Bibulant J. P., however, claims he did see them on one occasion after mistaking the place for a disused barn whilst looking for somewhere to relieve himself.

I remember one year Sir Hugh Grossly-Featherstonehaugh, Bart., climbing up to the flagstaff to fly Lady Forthright-Amplebrass’s knickers from on high, a garment so voluptuous that I must admit they had me seriously thinking of investing heavily in the Silk Futures market. As we expected he fell from the tower roof but we nevertheless couldn’t help laughing as he was carried off, which might sound uncharitable but he enjoyed laughing about it himself when he was back on his feet again at Easter.

Oh, happy days! Alas, no more. Poor Gayethorpe never really recovered from the occasion when Lady Tufnell’s youngest strung a wire across the pantry and he (Gayethorpe, that is) went flying and hit his head. The poor fellow went into a sort of decline after that and we had to let him go, which was a pity because he had been here ever since I can remember and the place has never seemed the same since. But there I go, sentimental to the last. When he died we sent a splendid bunch of Chrysanthemums to the funeral, a miserable affair from all accounts, but I like to think he would have appreciated flowers from our own gardens. Lady Tufnell’s youngest had pulled them up a few days before so we really had to do something with them.

*Boxing Day, the 26th December.

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I: Noblesse Oblige

II: London

III: Cook

IV: Some Daughters

V: More about Cook

VI: A Cricket Match

VII: A brief engagement
and cider

VIII: Children Going and Not Going

IX: A Shoot

X: Christmas, Now
and Then

XI: A Night in Soho

The Watley Review