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Much Like Rabbits

September 23, 2010

We are staying in the rolling Yorkshire countryside at a beautiful and spellbinding manor owned and inhabited by my 33rd cousin in law.

The estate has been in the same family since it was built in 1597 on 2000 acres of hills sueded with green and studded with sheep.

How we met this guy and got invited to stay with him is nothing short of a brilliant coup orchestrated by my father in law. It makes a fascinating and delightful experience in class study and family study and character-driven history and inheritance law and everything else.

I have far more to say about it, but am blogging from my phone, so here’s just a smidgen.

On arrival, after meeting the manor residents in the great hall and seeing the conservatory, which has grapes growing high in the arches of a room composed entirely of glass, I set off to look for a bathroom. The rest of the party went outside to look at the grounds around the house, which include two mazes, a fountain, and several statues.

The bathroom, I’d realize later, could be viewed as the house in microcosm. The toilet with wooden seat and wooden tank, is certainly worthy of admiration, and it may work as well as a sixteenth century toilet could be expected to. Still, there could be improvements. The door to the room won’t even think about properly closing due to that wing of the house settling. “These tiles may be from the Holy Roman empire,” I thougnt, looking at the blue crumble on the walls. And the wall-to-wall carpeting seemed to be from the ’80s. Nineteen, that is.

But then, as punishment for my uninvited scrutiny on the loo, I lost my way and could not find my family when I was done. Though the house has 80 rooms, they are spread over 4 floors, only two of which are entirely functional for the purposes of a guest. Many in the lowest floor or the top floor are things like “relics from the Boer War stored in plastic tubs” rooms, or “the broken china room,” where piles of shards await attention.

About eighteen rooms on the second floor are bedrooms. To keep face, I really only need to keep track of the bedroom where Matthew and Henry and I stay, as well as the rooms we regularly visited on the ground floor.

Still, “We’re convening in the Tandoori room for champagne in 15 minutes,” someone will say, referring to a room that has been restored to gilt and red furnishings with green and gold velvet wallpaper. (The joke is that it looks like an Indian restaurant.)

And I never seem to find the Tandoori room on the first try, or the library with its secret passages hidden behind replicas of 16th century volumes, indistinguishable at first glance from the real ones, or the dining room with its heavy silver and enormous mahogany table.

But on the first day, no one could even expect me to know my way around, and I was led into the Red Room for a proper English tea.

The Red Room is adjacent to and yet distinct from the Tandoori room in every way. Name aside, it is rose colored, not red. It has umpteen low chairs covered in a faded thick weave linen printed with flowers and birds. It is further characterized by a fleet of china parrots and unspeakably heavy tapestry drapes so old that they are simply disintegrating.

In the Red Room, we ate squares of some spicy moist cake, plus dense chocolate brownies prepared by the chef, and of course, we drank tea.

The children we’d brought set to work on the destruction of a set of delicate French nesting tables from the year 17whatever and, acting wholly in character, my child poured tea down my leg in a mad clamor for more bites of cake.

Just as I was perfecting the facial mask of a guest faking not having a tea-sodden leg, our host asked whether I write. At least, that’s what I thought he said, though he has one of those proper lockjaw accents, so it was hard to be sure.

“I do write,” I shouted as politely as possible towards the functional ear.

“Well then, you might enjoy the hunt we are having on the grounds on the weekend.”

Oh. Do I ride. I was finding that I need frequent clarification in our communications. So does he, owing to the fact that he is 86, and his hearing is typical of someone in the ninth decade of life. And then, there is the question of the language we share, but can still stumble upon.

He explained that they will be having a practice hunt here on Saturday, pack of hounds and all.

Just as they no longer keep 12 live in servants around anymore, they no longer own a pack of 30 hounds for hunting. Rather, they have a “subscription pack.” The wealthy in Yorkshire band together and share them.

The real hunting, which is very traditional and for which everyone wears red and which is actually illegal, doesn’t start til October. The Saturday event is mostly to exercise the dogs and horses and prime the onlookers for the season.

My host informed me that they don’t hunt foxes here but rather, hares, distinguished from rabbits by the fact that they weigh about twenty pounds.

Me: How are they prepared?

Lord of the Manor: They’re not. They live in the wild and they have simply no idea what’s coming for them.

Me: No, the rabbits, when they’re dead. How are they prepared to be eaten?

Lord of the Manor: They’re not rabbits. They’re hares. Much bigger. There’s quite a difference.

Me: I see. So how are the hares prepared?

Lord of the Manor: Much like rabbits.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    September 23, 2010 2:43 am

    I think you should bring your host and Celia together. And then listen at the door, note everything down in shorthand, and tell us all about it! Glad you’re having fun.

  2. Meg permalink
    September 24, 2010 7:58 am

    Hilarioushilarioushilarious! I feel like a hare today. . .

  3. Karen permalink
    September 24, 2010 12:44 pm

    I second the hilarious. That was entirely too perfect:)

    Have a great time. And… I hope you get a good rabbit recipe. But steer clear of those hares, they sound a little fierce. 20 pounds?!

  4. Axuve Espinosa permalink
    September 25, 2010 9:40 am

    Love it! I had no idea that the manor came with all these traditional activities. And btw, you’re blogging from your phone?? That’s dedication. If I had a hat I’d take if off for you.

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