The Servant Question
My usual routine has been shot to pieces by having a bunion removed and being encumbered by an enormous boot still occupying my lower leg and foot – which means I can’t do hands free going up the stairs. So, I can’t carry a tray with tea things up to my bedroom early in the morning. That was the time I used to answer emails and write blogs and do anything else that wasn’t The Servant Questionto do with writing a book. The prelude to the day. This, of course, is when you miss being rich and privileged – because I find myself thinking – as I drink my tea in the kitchen on cold November mornings and staring mournfully at what must be one of the ugliest surgical appliances ever devised (though its benefits are legion) – that a servant would be nice.
This thought has probably come about because, in the times when I do my duty by the foot and lie down, and try not to think of England (because I can’t get out in her and enjoy her), I’ve been listening to the quasi-biography of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown. This was recommended to me by one of my more cutting-edge writer friends, whom I won’t name because it might destroy him, but he recommended it as his ‘dirty little secret’ after I confessed to mine of taking three or four unread Spectator magazines on holiday with me every year- not something a dyed-in-the-wool liberal leftie is supposed to embrace.
Anyway – Princess Margaret is brought to life in an extraordinarily vivid, sometimes horrible, sometimes saddening, sometimes shocking, way – and none more so than when her footman spills the beans about his life with her. Never mind bringing up the morning tea-tray: To have a servant with whom there is no compunction about keeping him up at night so that, when you are tired of the television and too snuggled up on the sofa with your lover to get up and turn it off (no remote controls in those days), you ring for him to come and turn it off for you – is – let’s face it – indulgence beyond the call of his duty and her good manners. It makes me think of Kim Jong Un or Grace Mugabe or any spoilt and power-mad creature under the sun. And it also makes me think how very, very lucky we were that Margaret Rose’s sister, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary – came first.
On the other hand – would I like a servant, really? The Princess’s footman watched her every move beadily and then told the world all about it in a book. And much as we – or certainly, I – find his commentary both fascinating and repellent – I can’t think of anything worse than my quips and quirks being published for posterity. I mean, this morning, for example, I swore very lustily at the front door. It had not done anything. It had merely been a front door doing what a front door is supposed to do – impede the progress of either people on the way out or people on the way in. Which is what, in its role as front door and guardian of my estate, it did to me. And if I was determined to be offensive then it was my lack of mobility that should have received the – may I say – rich and colourful swear words that rent the air, not the poor old front door. I ever I was drawn to share this moment with the world (which, of course, I would never do) the world would have every reason to condemn me for unjustifiable treatment of an inanimate object, monumental insensitivity – and the possibility that I am of unsound mind. Happily, since I do not have a servant hanging around, no-one will ever know…
The bright dawn will come. Once more the tea-tray will be carried up the stairs by its owner – and the ritual will be restored. Can’t wait.