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How to live in a stately home

Foreword

This Page of my bogl STILL gets more views than any of the 603 really interesting, up-to-date Posts to be found under the heading: Home. What is it, I wonder, that attracts four or five views a day, from people who apparently NEVER look at any of the hundreds of other interesting articles on this, my site? Maybe you are all members of the hideous National Trust?

I wish to point out that it was written nine years ago, before the owners of the house finally got the money together to turn it into a provincial hotel, and I was ‘let go’ and replaced by something like 20 staff, including a man with an umbrella who parks your car (I kid you not!) the five yards across the track, in the car park they built on top of my scented rose garden.

Stuff like that can happen to you, when you live in somebody else’s stately home.  Now, you can read on…

– Uncle Bogler

I have an interesting and unusual job, that some people might think is ‘to die for’. Actually, it’s more like one has already died and been posted to heaven. Not: I work – at least, I am on call -164 hours a week at a rate I calculate as £1.60 an hour.

Yes, I am paid money to live in a grand old stately home, in a beautiful valley near the sea. The owners, my employers, live eight thousand miles away and visit twice a year. Those are times I need to panic about, say, valeting their car, which normally has an inch-thick layer of dust, its chocolate-smeared leather interior a drift of balding dog fluff and Crunchie-bar wrappers. Once, I had three days’ notice of their impending visit, but they arrived a day early and had to drive around uncomplainingly for three weeks in a filthy car. Most of the time, I’m the only person here. Me, my dog, a 50-inch TV and the key to the bar. It gets lonely, believe me.

Rattling around an oversized house with vast, empty rooms and twelve-foot-high ceilings is an odd feeling. Were people in Georgian times really that tall? Alexander Pope, Isaac Newton, Lord Nelson – they were virtually midgets. But with ceilings that high, you imagined the rich landowners must have been giants!

Cooking for guests, washing and ironing sheets, lighting fires, and knowing how to put them out; doing minor maintenance jobs and dealing with builders; writing management reports, planning and grant applications; as the manager, I wear an astounding array of hats. I’m the housekeeper, the gardener, the health & safety man and the marketing manager. I buy the Toilet Ducks and the advertising space. Recently, I unwisely took part in a ‘reality’ TV show with American ghost hunters in which I had to pretend they had found the ghost they had read about in the guidebook, who was just a made-up dead person.

Only a housewife could boast of a more demanding domestic schedule.

Some days I do very little except read over old e-mails and think about writing articles like this. But at other times, I might have to work my entire week’s hours in a weekend. That’s when I put on my rather lovely YSL suit bought in TK Maxx for £99, and try to cobble together enough staff to cater for 150 pre-alcoholised wedding guests, all queuing with their tongues out at the tiny cocktail bar. One bride arrived at the door and promptly threw-up: she and the groom had been drinking non-stop for three days.

I might start work at six, cleaning and provisioning, and go through until four the next morning, paying off the casual staff out of the bar takings, only to be up again at seven, scrambling eggs for twenty hangoverians. I usually have to clean up after the caterers. There are not many worse things than having to wrestle with a floppy bin-bag stuffed with half-eaten portions of rapidly deliquescing onion quiche.

Weddings make even the drunkenest downtown binges look like a collective outbreak of Calvinism. To be honest, I hate doing them, because I am the only one who has, by law, to remain sober. As a bar manager, or as we are known, Designated Premises Supervisor, you see the British at their worst, especially at closing time when they think that because they’re paying for the drinks, you have to stay open. By ten o’clock on a Saturday night, I might have to rush into town to buy up the last four litres of Smirnoff in Thresher’s, or six cases of bottled Mexican lager. After Thresher went bust, life as the bar manager got harder. It’s a game, planning for what the guests are all suddenly going to want to drink far too much of. Fashions change from week to week, and I always manage to guess wrong. So, if anyone really wants a large quantity of past-its-best-before-date Archers, you’re welcome to call. You can help mop the floor while you’re here.

B&B guests frequently turn up to find that no-one is in, or that the welly-booted rustic trundling up and down on the lawn-Ferrari is also the urbane, public school-educated host who bows them in to their £100-a-night rooms, whose bath-rings he has forgotten to erase that morning; while the Nigella-alike flambéeing their organic sausages whilst expatiating on the theme of ‘So when are the owners going to do this place up, then?’, pops up next in reception as bungling Basil, who can’t remember how to swipe the card thingy. Stunned couples may be left in charge while he dashes to Morrisons to buy food for the morning, or maybe left all night at the mercy of the ghosts while he sneaks out to visit his GF. Many come back time and again, just for the laugh. My favourites were the Baptist minister and his wife who found a used condom stuck to their bedroom wastebasket.

But the job has its compensations. In fact, I’m feeling quite guilty now because, having negotiated a hefty pay rise last year, on the grounds that I was doing at least five people’s jobs, the balloon has collapsed with the decision by the owners to stop for eighteen months while we do the old lady up. There are parts of the house that haven’t been seen since the nineteenth century, the wiring gives the fire officer nightmares, and there’s not enough water to power the showers. It’s not an excuse to put my feet up, it’s bloody cold with the heating off, you need to keep running around, but it’s a relaxing change from rustling-up dinner for parties of Koreans who’ve stopped off in Bath and don’t arrive until midnight

So what do you need to get a job managing a stately home?

A perspective on history is useful, together with a doctor’s note you’ll never have time to use, signing you off with exhaustion. A rhino’s hide will deflect the spears of unpaid creditors. Thanks to a portfolio career in the Media, which, after thirty years, has left me with a CV like a colander, I am qualified to take on the complex task of managing a historic house by virtue of having cleaned people’s toilets and dug gardens for £5 an hour between contracts. A classical education prepares one for any eventuality – in the case of our local tradesmen, non-eventuality.

And you will need some knowledge of wine, to appreciate glugging a well-frosted Chardonnay on the terrace after work, while the sun sets across the valley.

It’s not who you know in the stately homes business, it’s how you carry it off. A hefty discount usually does the trick.

(And be sure to have somewhere else to go to, when you’ve been ‘let go’! I’ve given up looking for another caretaking job after eight years, in which I’ve had only three interviews. Bad.)

  • UB

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