A lady’s maid to brush your hair, someone to turn down your bed (and make it the next day), bells to pull to summon a cup of tea, a footman ready to pull out your chair at the dinner table, a car presented to step into at the front door, friends to visit and amusing guests to welcome with all the delights of gossip and consequently excellent wit – this is part of the world we see or dream of in Downton Abbey.
Of course, Highclere Castle is the Real Downton Abbey and 120 years ago was just such a terribly grand establishment. There were no less than 3 butlers, 14 footmen, a valet, a lady’s maid, a Groom of the Bedchamber, several cooks and a French chef, one hundred gardeners and so the list goes on.
Today the grand inspiring castle remains much the same with beautiful welcoming rooms and tranquil gardens. However, Geordie and I are somewhat more hands on than our predecessors and real life is a little less glamorous than that depicted on the television and big screen.
At the moment, the glamour of the morning begins with the puppies. Early each day we enter what can only be described as the land of poo. In reality, it is not quite so bad as the room is well set up with paper on the floor, bins to hand, cleaning fluid and mops but nevertheless it is a half hour operation to get everything shipshape again.
We have found it is simplest if the puppies are shut in two large dog cages (dog biscuits tempt them in at speed, tails wagging furiously with excitement). They then sit there watching us with the most angelic and curious faces and I tend to talk to them, using them as a sounding board to plan my day ahead.
The radio is on so they and I listen to the world news on Radio 4 before switching over to the more peaceful tones of Classic FM. Turning back to their area, they have usually torn up the paper, played musical beds, turned anything not actually tied down upside down and then trodden in everything so that even the lower walls may need a clean. The enthusiastic mucky chaos is really quite special.
Next comes feeding time and I can safely leave them to eat their food at a desperate rate, often standing inside their bowls, whilst I take the other dogs for a walk. On our return, it is time for their breakfast. Meanwhile, Geordie has been out for a run, had a shower and would quite like his breakfast too. Having sorted that out, inevitably I return, mop in hand again, to the puppies. I have a double gate system to puppy land as they squirm their way out to explore and do not listen to the word “stay”. Food once more gets them all back in and at last it is my time.
I tend to go and have a cold-water swim and then get ready but before I start the “real” day and head to the office. Before that however, I shut all the other dogs up in order to give the puppies a chance to explore the garden. Again, I make sure I have a pocket full of kibble so that they follow me when I call them and we all play together. I have constructed a large pen under an apple tree which has shade, water and toys.
Once again, I have double gate system to enter it and the puppies tend to spend the day there if the weather is nice. They usually have a stream of visitors throughout the day for company and playtime and if there is rain, it is a mad collective dash to collect them and carry them inside. They are all getting heavier but this is another chance for cuddles and kisses. At various times the pen needs clearing up but it gives the inside puppy area a good chance to air out. It is quite a good system and if am away, a lovely lady called Debbie is in charge of cuddles and poos.
Unlike my Downton Abbey counterparts, my fashion choices thus far in the day consist of old clothes that go into a washing machine and plimsolls which may well need the same fate. Then, the morning reverts to its more usual course, hopefully looking somewhat smarter, of meetings, diaries, marketing and visitors as well as gutters, tiles and the usual estate matters that have gone wrong.
Despite the hard work, I would not swap these precious moments with the puppies. I cannot keep them all but want to make sure they all set off to their future homes as happy, relaxed and confident as possible. I find parting with (some of) them just awful but they and I still have a few more weeks together before that moment comes.